Studying Abroad : High School vs. College

While there are many resources and tons of information for college students considering studying abroad, there is less information for students who wish to study abroad while still in high school.  It’s hard to find hard data on how many U.S. high school students choose to study abroad, but the number is significantly less than the number of college students who do the same. As someone who chose to study abroad in high school, I can attest to the fact that there are both benefits and drawbacks to doing so.

When I was sixteen I went to Rancagua, Chile, where I lived with a host family and went to school for seven months. I had a wonderful experience and wouldn’t hesitate in recommending study abroad to high school students; not only is studying abroad a great way to see the world and learn another language, its also a great way to set yourself apart from other applicants when it comes time to apply to colleges. While studying abroad in high school versus studying abroad in college may not seem like two incredibly different options, there are a few major differences to consider when making your own decision.

Age Plays a Factor in Your Experience

Though it may not seem like it now, who you are now as a 16/17 year old is much different then who you will be as a 21 or 22 year old. Studying abroad, while an invaluable experience, often presents you with new and complicated situations. I do not mean to imply that a high school student is not mature enough to handle the situations that will confront them abroad, but be aware you will have to deal with new freedoms and responsibilities. The same can be said for college students studying abroad, but college in itself serves as a practice in independence; this is why studying abroad in high school can be more of an adjustment.

High School Programs Vs. College Programs 

Unlike a lot of college programs, most high school programs are complete immersion experiences. This means that you live with a host family and go to school with students from your host country; depending on where you are placed it is possible that you will have little if any contact with other exchange students. This can be a major benefit to studying abroad as a high school student, depending on the type of exchange experience you want.

Studying Abroad Sets You Apart

Studying abroad as a high school student is a great way to set you apart from other college applicants and is an experience you should definitely talk about in your applications. However, you should view this as an added bonus and not as the sole reason for going. Living and studying abroad is a great way to learn a language, meet new people, and experience a different culture. Living abroad can also be lonely, isolating, and confusing. These highs and lows are part of the experience; while there were both positives and negatives to my experience, studying abroad in high school was one of the best decisions I ever made. Go abroad because you really want to and make sure you are dedicated to learning a new language and a new culture, as this will ensure the best experience possible.

Studying abroad sets you apart in other ways. If you decide to study abroad in high school it is likely you will be one of the only students in your grade or school, as not many choose to do so. Some students worry that going abroad will cause them to miss too much of their high school experience or isolate them from their friends. While these are valid concerns, don’t forget that you will get to experience high school in another part of the world and meet new friends that you will keep in touch with even after you have gone home. Your friends from home will still be there when you get back. 

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Brianna Low

Brianna Low

Brianna Low is a rising senior at DePaul University pursuing a double major in English and Spanish. Brianna enjoys reading, writing, and traveling. She currently works for DePaul's Art Department as a receptionist and hopes to one day work in a library. Brianna is happiest when surrounded by books.
Brianna Low

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