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10 Great High School Exchange Programs That Should Be On Your Radar

High school is a critical time for students to seek out fresh and diverse experiences. An international exchange program can seem like a big commitment but the value it offers is unique. The kind of language and cultural immersion exchange programs offered is unlike any course on international relations or cultural studies that can be done within the US.

There are several benefits to exchange programs, such as:

  • Learning a foreign language in an immersive way

  • Exploring a new culture through real-life experiences

  • Making long-lasting cross-cultural relationships

  • Networking with international peers and professors

  • Expanding your global knowledge and perspective

These experiences can be a useful stepping stone, particularly for those who plan to pursue careers in fields such as international relations, diplomacy, global business, and more.

In this carefully curated list, we're focusing specifically on high school exchange programs – distinguished by the fact that students live with host families and attend local schools in foreign countries. Study abroad programs conducted by universities have not been included. It's also worth noting that while these experiences are incredibly valuable, they are limited to U.S. citizens.

Let’s have a look at our top 10 picks.

Application deadline: November 1, 2023

Eligibility: Students aged 15 – 18 years old who have a minimum GPA of 2.5. No prerequisite knowledge of German is required!

Program length: One year (From late summer to June or July of the following year)

Location: Germany

Fee: Free

The Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) program offers high school students the opportunity to spend a transformative year in Germany. Participants typically stay for approximately 10 months, living with carefully selected host families. During your stay, you will attend a German high school, take language classes, and engage in cultural activities. Since the program is funded by both governments, you will also meet with US and German government officials. This program is ideal for those looking to get an immersive experience in another country and enhance their independence, global awareness, and leadership skills.

This is a reciprocal exchange program which means that while you stay in Germany, your family is welcome to host a German student if they so wish. Graduating students can also consider the program’s vocational track or young professional track, both of which include an internship component.

Application deadline: December 6, 2023

Eligibility: All high school students

Program length: One year

Location: Select countries with significant Muslim populations

Fee: The program covers all major costs and even provides a monthly stipend to cover basic needs in the host country. The only costs you need to cover are those related to obtaining a valid U.S. passport and personal expenses that go beyond basic needs.

Another initiative by the U.S. Department of State, this exchange program will take you to countries with relatively high Muslim populations like Ghana, Bulgaria, India, Malaysia and more. While you do get to state your preference on the application, the program is the ultimate decider of your destination. So, it’s best to opt for this program if you aren’t looking for a specific location.

Apart from attending the local school and learning the country’s language, you will also work on an independent capstone project which you will present once you are back in your home country. You are free to select a topic and a medium. Previous topics have included creating a city guide, translating a book, and even making a traditional dress from scratch.

Application deadline: November 2, 2023

Eligibility: Students aged 15 – 18 years old who have a minimum GPA of 2.5

Program length: Year-long program (8-10 months beginning in August or September) but there is also a summer program option

Location: Locations speaking the following languages: Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Persian, Turkish, Russian, Arabic

Fee: Costs related to obtaining a passport, medical examinations, and personal expenses over and above basic needs will have to be covered by you. The rest is covered by the program.

The NSLI-Y places greater emphasis on language than the other entries on this list since it aims to increase the number of Americans with linguistic skills and improve overall international cooperation. As an exchange student, you will attend ten hours of intensive language training every week, in addition to other school and cultural activities. However, the program will assign you the language and destination so keep that in mind while applying.

This is a fairly prestigious program since it is funded by the U.S. Department of State and has previously boasted a 15% acceptance rate, so it can be competitive. Also, consider that most programs require you to participate in pre-program language studies usually beginning in mid-April.

Application deadline:

Eligibility: Students aged 15 – 17 (at the start of the program)

Program length: 3 weeks between June and August

Location: Options include Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador

Fee: Free. You are only responsible for passport and vaccination fees

Spanning only 3 weeks, this program is ideal for those who want the experience of an exchange program but cannot commit to longer durations. The focus of this program is on cultivating civic responsibility, community development dedication, global awareness, and strong interpersonal leadership skills. You get to choose between an English Language Program or a Spanish Immersion Program, and in both cases, you need to be proficient in the language of exchange. You will also network with community leaders and explore ideas in the field of social inclusion, innovation, and environmental protection. World Learning is a non-profit organization and receives sponsorship from the US government’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for this program.

Application deadline: Varies with each rotary club

Eligibility: Students aged 15 – 19

Program length: Long-term (one academic year) and short-term (up to 3 months) exchanges are available

Location: Varies with each rotary club

Fee: Room and board are provided but you will have to arrange for all the travel costs and personal expenses

For those who are unaware, Rotary International is a network of organizations known for its commitment to promoting peace and community service. The Rotary Youth Exchange Program, sponsored by Rotary clubs worldwide, offers high school students the opportunity to live and study abroad. While the specifics of each rotary club’s program will differ, as a whole the experience is meant to develop leadership skills and international understanding. You can expect the program to fall within the Rotary’s aim of spreading positive change. To apply, reach out to the Rotary club nearest to you and find out more about the processes and criteria.

Application deadline: Varies by program

Eligibility: Students between the ages of 15 and 18 and a half. You must also rank in the upper third of your class or have a B grade average

Program length: Summer, semester, and school-year tracks are available

Location: Options are available from the regions of Asia/Pacific, Europe, North America, South America, and South Africa

Fee: Varies depending on country and program length (can range from $5,000 to $15,000)

Financial assistance: Scholarships are available

Like most exchange programs, the American Scandinavian Student Exchange gives you the chance to fully immerse yourself in a foreign culture, attend classes at local high schools, and live with a host family. However, one of the highlights of the ASSE is the wide range of locations it offers, including countries from all around the world. According to the program’s brochure, 95% of applicants get their first choice of destination. So, if you’re looking for an experience in a specific country, this program offers a good shot. The downside is that it isn’t funded, like a lot of the other options on this list.

Application deadline: December 6, 2023

Eligibility: Students between the ages of 15 and 18 and a half

Program length: One academic year

Location: Georgia, Kazakhstan, or Poland

Fee: Free, all costs are covered except those related to obtaining a passport and undergoing medical examinations

As an exchange student of the FLEX Abroad program, you will be sent to either Georgia, Kazakhstan, or Poland. While language learning will be an important part of the curriculum, you will also focus on school studies and exploring the culture. The primary goals of FLEX Abroad include enabling you to represent the United States in an international setting, developing cross-cultural and long-lasting relationships, and learning how to become a global leader. This program is fully funded by the US government!

Application deadline: Varies with each program

Eligibility: Varies with each program

Program length: Summer, semester, and year-long options are available

Location: 40+ countries available

Fee: Varies with each program

Financial assistance: Scholarships are available

AFS USA is a non-profit organization that aims to educate students and help them become global citizens. The organization’s study abroad program has all the characteristics of the other exchange programs on this list — local school, host family, and personal development. The difference is it offers multiple programs, each with a different destination and duration. Your application will be to one of these specific offerings. AFS USA has even provided a handy guide on how to choose the right location for yourself.

Application deadline: Varies with each program

Eligibility: Generally, students must be between the ages of 15 and 19 and have a minimum GPA of 2.4 but each program will come with its own criteria

Program length: Short-term and long-term programs available

Location: Select countries in Asia, Europe and Latin America

Fee: Varies with each program

Financial assistance: Discounts are offered to students whose families have hosted an international ICES student

International Cultural Exchange Services (ICES) is a well-known non-profit organization in the field of youth exchange programs. Flexibility is the key here since you can choose which country you would like to apply to. Various options for the duration are also available. The curriculum is more focused on language learning than the other components. Students gain global perspectives, enhance language skills, and engage in community activities.

Application deadline: Applications are accepted on a rolling basis

Eligibility: The general age range is 15 – 18 and the expected GPA is 3.0, but it can vary with each program

Program length: Summer, semester, and year-long options are available

Location: 35+ options available

Fee: Varies with each program

Financial assistance: 200 merit-based and a few need-based scholarships are available

The wide range of available destinations in the YFU’s study abroad programs include countries like Japan, Korea, France, Austria, Spain, Paraguay, and more. Apart from the usual school work and cultural learning, your curriculum may also include extra-curricular activities like cricket or musical theater as well as excursions to explore the country. Some of the programs even include a special interest component. For example, the Belgium program has options to study fashion or visual arts.

Not all exchange programs need a large commitment. Consider this bonus program:

Application deadline: 8 weeks prior to the program start date, but applications are accepted on a rolling basis

Eligibility: Students aged 14 – 18

Program length: Varies with each program but ranges between 10 days and one month

Location: Select cities in Argentina, Costa Rica, Mexico, Spain

Fee: Ranges between $2,595 - $5,395

The Arcos Spanish Immersion Program offers an opportunity for high school students to delve into the Spanish language and culture. Academically, most of the focus is entirely on learning the language. Culturally, you will get to participate in a number of activities like cooking classes, lessons in the traditional dance form, and visits to museums. This option is slightly different from the others on this list as your accommodation would be in a homestay instead of a host family. However, because of its in-depth look at culture and language, we have deemed it a worthy entry.

If you are interested in doing university-level research, then you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students that I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.

Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a Ph.D. student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.

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