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The 3 Best Ways to Travel in High School

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As a high school student, you’re probably super pumped about potentially studying abroad. After all, who hasn’t dreamt of escaping for a semester, exploring European cities, trying new foods and wooing native guys with her third-year French skills, all while earning course credit?

The good news is you no longer have to wait for those distant college years to embark on an educational or cultural adventure. Traveling and studying abroad in high school are great ways to enhance your college applications and make the most of your valuable teenage years. Whether you’re looking to immerse yourself in a new culture, volunteer in a third-world country, grow in your faith or get a sneak peek at the college experience, there’s an opportunity waiting for you out in the big, wide world!

1. Community service or mission trips

Mission trips and community service trips offer a variety of opportunities to get involved on both a local and international level while helping those in need. There’s plenty of flexibility, as trips can range anywhere from one week to one month and can happen at any time of year.

Many churches and religious organizations sponsor trips throughout the year, so if you’re looking to travel in a faith-based group, start by reaching out to a youth pastor or other small group leader. “I’ve been on a total of four international trips and one domestic trip with my church,” says Amy Bennett, a freshman at Purdue University. “These trips have really helped me discover my passion for helping others and [have] led me to pursue a career in nursing.”

Find what you’re passionate about—whether it’s delivering food and medical supplies to a third-world country, helping to rebuild disaster-stricken towns or working at children’s summer camps—and go for it.

If you’re having trouble finding mission or community service opportunities on a local level, try reaching out to a national organization like the Center for Student Missions (CSM). “In high school I went on three mission trips [with CSM] to Chicago; Washington, D.C.; and Los Angeles,” says Gloria Kimbulu, a collegiette at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “Your group or church is paired with a city host and they plan pretty much everything for you.”

However, it’s no secret that traveling internationally can be expensive. If you’re reaching out on a missions trip overseas, you’ll have to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for plane tickets and lodging, unless your church or other community service organization is sponsoring these elements of the trip.

Luckily, many missions and community service trips offer fundraising opportunities such as selling baked goods, starting a blog to track your progress and writing letters to your family and friends asking them to make donations. Talk to a youth leader or someone who has been on the trip before about creative ways you can fundraise.

2. Pre-college programs

If you’re looking for a taste of the true college experience, a pre-college program may be the best option for you. While the trip may not always be international, these programs allow you to live on a real campus, explore a new city and earn credit by taking college preparatory courses.

Sarah Dilick, a freshman at New York University, attended various pre-college programs throughout her high school years. “Everything about pre-college programs [makes them] worth the time and money,” she says. “You spend time away from home, which helps improve your social skills by introducing you to more new people than you’d get to know in high school. Experiencing a new place also teaches you to adjust faster to change in environment, which pays off when it’s time to really go to college.”

Not only will exploring and living in a new city offer diverse cultural experiences (such as weekend excursions to nearby tourist destinations, outdoor adventures and exposure to local arts and performances), but it will help you determine what kind of college you’d like to attend, whether it’s big or small, public or private, urban or rural.

Start by making a list of the schools or universities that you’re interested in attending in the future and research which ones offer summer pre-college programs. A directory of the hundreds of pre-college summer programs available nationwide can be found on Usummer. Depending on the school and what you choose to study, the program could range from a few weeks to the entire summer.

Second, find out how academically rigorous and competitive the programs are that you’re pursuing. Some programs have special admission requirements that you’ll have to meet in order to gain acceptance, such as a minimum GPA.

Not only are pre-college programs a great way to familiarize yourself with the college lifestyle, but the experience will stand out on future college applications. Earning stellar grades in college-level courses while you’re still in high school is sure to impress college admissions officers!

“Being able to successfully navigate a college course and get a recommendation letter from a college professor is a huge plus of the pre-college program,” Sarah says. Not only are pre-college programs a great way to see the world, but you’ll head into your senior year of high school feeling prepared and ready to take on college applications with your newfound experiences.

Fall is a great time to look into pre-college programs, as many applications open in September and October (like real college applications would). If you’re really interested in a specific pre-college program, research not only the academic opportunities each program provides, but the application deadlines and financial commitments they require. Depending on the credit hours you’re enrolling in and where you’re living on campus, prices will vary.

3. Language exchange/academic trips

If you’re enrolled in foreign language classes at your high school, talk to your teacher about the various language exchange and/or cultural immersion programs available for high school students in your area. Emily O’Connor, a freshman at the University of Missouri, participated in a seven-week language exchange program in Mexico through the Indiana University Honors Program the summer before her senior year of high school. “I grew during the experience and became independent and self-sufficient—two necessary qualities to have before heading off to college,” Emily says.

Similar to pre-college programs, many of these trips require a competitive application process that includes essays and interviews, but the programs are great assets to future college applications. “Because of the program, I tested into a high level of Spanish and now have a hope of double-majoring,” Emily says.

Not to mention, cultural exchange trips closely resemble the college study-abroad experience, where you may be expected to take classes, interact with students from other schools and live with a local family.

While language exchange trips focus primarily on academics, there’s plenty of time for exploring after class and on the weekends. Many exchange programs send multiple students to a city at one time, so you’ll have peers to travel with during your free time.

You don’t have to wait until your college years to embark on an exciting cultural or educational adventure. There’s a world (literally!) of opportunities available for high school students looking to travel, make a difference and pursue their passions.


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