How to Study Abroad: High School, College, & Beyond

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How to study abroad?

So you’ve decided you want it all—not just high school, college, and a swanky degree, but also global, life-changing experiences that will change who you are as a person and how you see the world. In other words, you want to study abroad. The hardest part (deciding to go) is over! Next up: planning, packing, and exploring!

How to Study Abroad: High School, College, and Beyond

The process of applying to and actually studying abroad can be an overwhelming one, but that’s where we come in. Here’s everything you need to know about how to study abroad in high school, college, and beyond:

1. Start Your Search

Sometimes it can be hard to get started, whether you’re interested in studying abroad in high school or college, but in this case, the old adage really is true: do your homework. There are literally hundreds of thousands of study abroad programs out there, all for you to choose from! Start doing research on them by using MyGoAbroad to help narrow down your choices and figure out what sorts of programs interest you most. 

Other sources of information that can help you make your decision are program reviews written by students themselves, check out thousands of them directly on GoAbroad’s extensive list of study abroad programs! These study abroad program reviews, as well as reaching out to program alumni, are two excellent ways to get first-hand accounts of programs you are interested in, so you can learn more about what the programs are actually like. 

Melbourne, Australia lit up at night
Don’t be Melbourne(d) if you don’t get to study abroad in high school, there’s still college, and grad school, and your phD.

2. Pick Your Passion

In order to choose the best program to fit your needs, first evaluate what you’re looking for: are you interested in studying a specific language, subject, or in a certain country? If you love the Spanish language, do you want to study the Catalan dialect in Spain or the Antiguan variety in Guatemala? If you’re dying to study the hospitality field abroad, do you want to go to an area where tourism is firmly established – like Europe – or do you explore countries that might still be new to the game, like those in Southeast Asia?

Take some time to yourself and really think about what you are passionate about, and what you would like to learn more about in another country.

When figuring out how to study abroad, another important thing to decide when choosing your study abroad program is the length (summer, alternative spring-break, a semester, a year?), the focus (service-learning, language-learning, subject-based?), and even whether you should directly enroll in a foreign university or go through an affiliate program

Whatever you decide, be sure to pick a program that will best suit your academic and personal needs. Studying abroad is just as much about personal development as it is about academic pursuits, and you should choose to study abroad in college (or high school) in a country and with a program that will inspire you and make you happy!

Bologna, Italy from above the red roofs and busy streets
Yes, it IS possible to study abroad in high school and in college, that’s not Bologna.

3. Convince the ‘Rents (or your Legal Guardian)

So you’ve narrowed it down, you’ve picked out at least three of your dream programs, and you’re already planning all of your weekend trips down the coast of South Africa. Now all you have to do is convince mom and dad (or your legal guardian)!

Depending on your parental figures, this can be an easy or challenging conversation. The difficulty level of nailing down parental approval will vary, depending on whether you’re interested in studying abroad in high school or you’re wanting to study abroad in college.

Who knows! Maybe your parents have been dying to kick you out of the house for a year and would be more than happy to have you study abroad in South Korea (just kidding, they totally love you). If your parents are still in need of some convincing, be sure to sit down and speak with them about why studying abroad is so important to you.

Of course, you should take their concerns into account, but come to the table prepared to negotiate! Be ready with facts on why studying abroad is so great for a student’s success or how to afford study abroad and not break the bank. If all else fails, write a letter, but most importantly: let your parents see why you are passionate about studying abroad. If they understand your reasons for going abroad, and how sincere and motivated you are, they will be far more likely to get on board (and help you pack).

Paris, France view from the eiffel tower
There isn’t even a joke here, Paris is just a great city for studying abroad in high school and college.

4. Get that (Admin) Stamp of Approval

Whether you are a high school or a college student, chances are you’re going to need an administrative stamp of approval before studying abroad. If you are a high school student who wants to study abroad during the academic school year, you will most likely have to get approval from both your parents and your school to do so. If you plan to study abroad during spring or winter break, or during the summer, you may still have to speak with your teachers and school counselor to make sure you’ll receive academic credit for the courses you take while abroad.

As a college student, there are a few people you should absolutely talk to before sorting out study abroad plans. First, stop into your university’s study abroad office to discuss your study abroad goals with them. Not only are they extremely informed on the subject, they will also be very eager to talk to you about all of your exciting plans (it’s literally their job to get excited about your travels). Your study abroad advisors will most likely have a series of forms and steps that they’ll need you to go through in order for your summer, semester, or year abroad to be approved by your university. And if you don’t, they might not be very happy with you. Study abroad advisors are the key to how to study abroad in college.

Even if things seem to be smooth sailing in the study abroad office, you should always approach your professors and be sure that every course that you will take abroad will be counted for academic credit when you return from studying abroad. While the cultural experience is important, so are those credits – if you’ve earned them, make sure they make it on your transcript! 

Reykjavik, Iceland
Budget your time so when deadlines roll around you don’t (B)Reykjavik a sweat.

5. Get it Together

Here’s what no one tells you about how to study abroad: it’s a lot of paperwork, so don’t wait till the last minute to get everything together. Send in your application and other necessary documents as soon as possible; this may include recommendation letters, so be courteous to your professors and ask them well enough in advance for help in writing you a letter and aiding you along on your lifelong dream of studying abroad. Be sure to apply to any and all scholarships to get the most financial aid you can far in advance – you’d be surprised by how many scholarships are out there for study abroad students! 

Don’t forget! Aside from your passport (you have one of those, right?), you will probably also need a visa (the type varies, depending on the country you’re studying in and the length of your stay) and other supporting documents that your host country requires such as bank statements or a clean bill of health. Check requirements in each country with your designated embassy

PRO TIP: before you fly off into the glorious sunset that is your semester abroad, make a copy of everything. From your program acceptance letter to your passport to your visa, make a paper photo copy and carry it with you in a folder or binder. Not only will you might need those documents at the gate, these can also come in handy if you accidentally lose your passport while on your travels (just try not to do that).

Grenoble, France
Be sure to get your parents approval (even to study abroad in college), it’s the Grenoble thing to do.

6. Submit Months of Work

Double-check your application one more time. Triple-check that you’ve filled in all of the boxes. Take a deep breath, close your eyes and – click.

Congratulations! (*confetti exploding emoji*) You have officially submitted your application to study abroad! While you wait with bated breath (and maybe sweaty palms, but don’t tell anyone about those), be sure to send out a few thank you notes to the parental figures, teachers/professors, and advisors that have helped you get this far. 

If you haven’t heard from the program you applied to for a few weeks past when you expected an answer back, be assertive and follow-up! You’ll stand out from all the other applicants, but after all the hard work you’ve already put in, you’re practically guaranteed a seat in that awesome marine biology class on the Great Barrier Reef

7. GO!

Your application was accepted, you landed all of the best scholarships, and now you’re on your way to one of the most incredible experiences of your life. Congratulations – you are officially studying abroad! That wasn’t so hard, was it? 

You’ll probably have a thousand more questions about studying abroad, which can all be answered in our endless directory of travel articles and resources, written by people have been there and understand all of the challenges. Don’t worry, you’re about to have one of the best experiences of your life.

Remember, you don’t have to choose between studying abroad in high school or going on to study abroad in college. Por que no los dos? Study abroad isn’t even just for students anymore. So don’t worry, once you’re done with undergrad, graduate, and post-doc study abroad, you can continue to seek meaningful travel experiences!

Getting ready to study abroad can be a whirlwind of a time, and those deadlines will approach shockingly fast, but once you’re on that plane heading to your semester abroad, take a moment to yourself. Soak it all in. It’ll go by in a blink of an eye and before you know it, you’ll be back here at GoAbroad, wondering how to study abroad...again.  Don’t worry – we’ll be here.

Read more advice on How to Pick the Right Program Abroad for You