12 Best Study Abroad Programs for High School Students

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There will come a day when your teenage child approaches you and mentions casually, “I’m thinking of studying abroad.” Like clockwork, you’ll start to panic and think, “Across the ocean in a foreign land with a bunch of strangers? No way!” It’s true, the prospect of sending your bundle of joy overseas is scary, but in reality, traveling abroad can open a young student’s heart and mind like no other experience.

[Watch this: High School Study Abroad is LIT]

Burano Island, Venice, Italy, canal with gondolas and colorful buildings at sunset

Sure, they might eat their weight in ravioli on high school study abroad programs in Italy, but you would, too.

Luckily, after that brief moment of uncertainty, you decided to give it some more thought, and after reading about how studying abroad is a life-changing experience for high school students, you’ve started doing your research. Good job! A big part of making sure your child has a great experience is choosing the right provider. Whether your student wants to spend a summer exploring Europe or get muddy trekking across Nepal for a semester, these are the best study abroad programs for high school students. 

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Why should your family consider high school study abroad programs?

What if you could guarantee your child’s success—academically, personally, professionally? Wait a minute...What if WE could guarantee your child’s success? Well, we basically can. Taking advantage of study abroad opportunities for high school students will only create more opportunities for them later in life. Teens who choose to study abroad will carry the experience through to college and adult life. So, not only do admissions counselors LOVE to see study abroad on college applications, but all that independence, creative problem solving, and cross-cultural learning will serve them throughout their academic and professional careers. Not to mention, your seemingly directionless teenager will come home with new insight into themselves, their goals, their passions, and their life path. It just really sounds like a win-win-win, right?

It might seem counterintuitive, but sending your teen halfway around the world could just bring you closer together. As you go through the process of choosing a location and program, applying for scholarships and grants, and ultimately preparing for the experience/researching their future host culture, you’ll learn just as much about the world they’ll be exploring. You can help them learn a few key phrases, have a night of cooking (or, attempting to cook) local cuisine, and take the time to watch a movie or documentary together.

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12 safe—and fun—study abroad programs for high school students in 12 great places

Volcano and green countryside in Costa Rica

No such thing as coasting through life after high school study abroad in Costa Rica.

These top-notch high school study abroad programs are so well-crafted that students won’t have a minute to feel homesick, so don’t take it personally when your child tells you he or she don’t want to come home!  

1. Study Spanish in Costa Rica with SPI Study Abroad

This is a great program for novice travelers who’ve already begun Spanish studies and want to practice their skills in real-life situations. It easily makes our list of best study abroad programs for high school students. Students spend two weeks to a month living with a host family, attending afternoon language classes, and exploring the rainforest and the Pacific coast. After a summer of ziplining adventures, wildlife hikes, and tico cuisine, don’t be surprised if you start getting meal requests for gallo pinto after your child returns home!


2. Volunteer at a Zoo in Australia with Rustic Pathways 

Who wouldn’t want to care for a baby wombat or take a cheetah for a walk? Aspiring veterinarians and animal lovers alike might need to be dragged home after this adventure in Australia. Students will spend two weeks alternating between caretaking tasks at the Australia Zoo and learning about all sorts of animals in the wild, from feeding dolphins to spotting koalas. If that’s not enough fun already, excursions to Surfer’s Paradise and Brisbane will ensure a solid night’s rest at the end of each adventure-packed day down under.


3. Study Art in Italy with Spoleto Study Abroad 

Student creators of music, film, and the visual and written arts will find paradise in Spoleto, a quiet, historic town in Umbria. They’ll spend three weeks engaged in directed lessons while also participating in excursions to nearby towns, learning about Italian culture, and indulging in local cuisine. The slower pace of life gives students time to focus on their craft, connect with other students, and experience the ultimate joy of watching a sunset from a Roman aqueduct with a gelato in hand.


Eiffel tower at sunset

Put on your France-y pants and get ready for a great adventure abroad!

4. Study French in France with AFS Intercultural Programs

There’s no better way to learn a new language and culture than by truly immersing yourself in it 24/7. AFS participants spend 11 months living with a host family, attending school with their French counterparts, and learning about la vie française by experiencing it firsthand—all of this is what makes it one of the best study abroad programs for high school students. From daily stops at the boulangerie to mastering the intricacies of French grammar, students who devote a year to living life in France will truly feel like they’ve gained a second home.


5. Travel Across South Africa with Westcoast Connection 

Westcoast Connection travel abroad programs for high school students seamlessly weave together adventure travel with a chance to serve local communities, providing students with a well-rounded understanding of this complicated country. Students travel overland from Johannesburg to Cape Town, visiting nature parks and contributing to environmental and youth service projects along the way. While the program is only two to four weeks long, students are sure to return home with a changed outlook on their place in the world (and more photos of elephants than you can ever imagine!).


6. Explore Underwater in the Caribbean with Broadreach 

A leader in underwater adventures for students, Broadreach ensures that students from beginner to expert learn the necessary skills to enjoy diving and sailing. Participants live aboard a catamaran as they travel from one island to the next, practicing water skills and learning about leadership, Caribbean cultures, and each other. There’s a strong possibility your child will return home with 12 new lifelong friends and a fierce determination to major in marine biology!


Budapest, Hungarian parliament building lit up at night

After high school study abroad, your teen will be Hungary for more— encourage them to study abroad in college!

Wander Eastern Europe with Travel for Teens

Some students may want to head off the beaten path to a less touristy destination, which is right where Eastern Europe, and travel abroad programs for high school students with Travel for Teens come in. While everyone else has their eyes on Paris and London, why not spend a summer exploring the fascinating histories of Budapest, Krakow, and Prague? Students will not only participate in cultural activities like pierogi making and thermal bath soaking, they’ll also learn about history’s dark side during visits to Auschwitz in Poland and the House of Terror in Budapest.


8. Spend a Summer in Senegal with Where There Be Dragons

Older students will have the chance to experience a life very different from their own when they embark on a four-week journey to Western Africa. Spending time with several host families around the country, they’ll learn about the impact of development on urban and rural environments. This will allow them to think critically about their own experiences as they observe the world around them, from the mighty baobab tree to the gentle call to prayer to a heaping plate of yassa. Life after a summer in Senegal will never truly be the same.


Learn Japanese in Japan with Youth For Understanding

Japan is much more than cherry blossoms and Tokyo’s busy subway cars, and living in a rural seaside town or a tight-knit urban neighborhood is one of the best ways to understand what this country is all about. On this program, students can spend a summer, semester, or academic year perfecting their language skills, learning judo, or practicing the art of calligraphy. All students live with a host family and attend a local high school, ensuring that they’ll be fully versed on Japanese life, culture, and chopstick etiquette by the program’s end.


red and white paper lanterns with japanese characters on them

Meet some characters, learn some characters, and build some character with travel abroad programs for high school students in Japan.

Spend a month in China with the Experiment in International Living 

China can be intimidating to visit on your own, but traveling with a group makes it easier to explore this vast nation. Students will visit the country’s important historical sites in Beijing and Shanghai as well as have the chance to live with host families in China’s rural areas. Chinese lessons complement daily activities such as biking around town, meeting traditional Mongolian herdsmen, and tasting everything from baozi to mooncakes. Sounds like the perfect formula for the best study abroad programs for high school students. After a whirlwind trip across such a large country, you can bet your student will be plotting a trip back as soon as the plane lands! 


11. Live in Peru’s Sacred Valley with Putney Student Travel

Machu Picchu is only the tip of the iceberg in the high-altitude Sacred Valley. Students will get a chance to visit these well-known ruins, but they’ll also spend time completing service projects alongside local Peruvian residents. Volunteer work is balanced with excursions to nearby villages and hikes up mountain trails, ensuring students learn about Peru’s history as well as its present. This month-long summer program is great for those who want to practice their Spanish and learn some Quechua as well.


12. Explore Past and Present in Cambodia with API

This summer program allows students to dive deep into Cambodian culture while performing community service projects in and around Siem Reap. After a visit to the Angkor temple complex, the group will learn about local cuisine, practice making traditional Khmer crafts, and complete a variety of service projects like teaching English and planting trees. Students will also place their experiences in the historical context of the region as they learn about Cambodia’s past and hear from locals about its future.


Machu Picchu, Cusco, Peru

High school study abroad programs are incredibly worthwhile, and we can Peruve it to you.

Next steps for you to organize study abroad opportunities for high school students

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with all of the amazing opportunities out there for your child. Now that you have some idea of what options are available, it’s time to narrow down the focus and make your student’s dream trip a reality!

  • Sit down and have a heart-to-heart discussion with your child. Ask why study abroad is so important and find out what his or her goals are. Here’s a cheat sheet of all of the important points to cover.
  • Once you’ve discussed all of the details, it’s time to find a program that fits those goals. Check out MyGoAbroad or chat with an OnlineAdvisor. This will allow you to compare programs and get customized advice from a travel expert.  
  • At this point, you’ll likely have found a couple of programs that seem really great. Do some more research, read reviews online, and talk to past participants or their parents to get the scoop on each program.  
  • After deciding on a program, it’s time to consider how to pay for it. There are many scholarships that high school students can apply for, and fundraising tools allow them to raise additional funds on their own.  
  • Finally, when it gets complicated and you feel like it’d be easier to throw in the towel, remember why you want your child to have an experience abroad. Not only will it be a summer, semester, or year he or she will remember forever, it’ll look pretty great on college applications too.

Now you have all the tools you need to help your teen succeed, not only on their study abroad experience, but in life! After participating in any of these best study abroad programs, high school (and college) will be a breeze. Trust us. 

Broaden horizons with high school study abroad

Spending time in another country is one of the best gifts you can offer your child. Having the opportunity to discover the world and meet a group of fellow travelers will transform him or her into a stronger, more independent, and more thoughtful individual. You may not be on the plane, train, or boat with your child, but your support makes all the difference!

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