Send Your Kids to Study Abroad Without Spending a Fortune

Like all parents, you want to seize on great opportunities for your kids. You want them to see the world, experience unique cultures, learn languages, and become global citizens. But sometimes, the price tag for these types of adventures seems a little extreme.

When you factor in visas and immunizations, overseas flights, high school tuition, room and board, mature supervision, excursions around the countryside, language classes, specialty equipment for a specialized course, and spending money, the price tag can end up at $4,000 - $8,000 for a one-month summer course, or upwards of $12,000 for a semester of study abroad.

It’s enough to make any parent shudder, even ones who know the priceless value of international travel and foreign language skills. But don’t fret. Scholarship programs are a great way to send your kids abroad, and there are plenty of programs that accept scholarship funds, or that fully-fund participant programs, giving your kids the opportunity to see the world without plunging them – or you – into debt.

You’ve got college tuition for that.

State Department Programs

For ambitious kids who are born leaders and maintain high GPAs, dig through the slate of fully-funded State Department study abroad programs on the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs website. There are summer sessions, semesters, and academic year programs that place kids in group or individual settings in a whole host of countries.

The American Youth Leadership Program sends a group of kids overseas to participate in a service project and see how another country solves a pressing social or environmental challenge before implementing their own program back in the United States.

Kids interested in learning German can apply for the Congress-Bundestag exchange, which sends about 200 American teens to Germany each year, while nearly the same number of German teenagers make their way to the United States.

The Youth Exchange and Study (YES! Abroad), sends high school students on a culturally-enriching year at an international high school in one of about a dozen countries that have a high Muslim population to increase understanding between Americans and the Muslim world.

Perhaps the most ambitious State Department program that sends kids with a specific interest in languages the State Department values highly is the National Security Language Initiative for Youth, or the NSLI-Y program. This one-year program sends teens to countries where Arabic, Hindi, Mandarin, Korean, Russian, and Turkish are spoken to learn these languages, which are not commonly taught in schools. A summer Persian language intensive option is also available.

All of these State Department scholarships are highly competitive, but very comprehensive, leaving parents with maybe a plane ticket or some spending money as their only expenses. Students stay with carefully-vetted host families and join an exclusive alumni program that will help them apply for jobs and scholarships with the State Department in the future.

Rotary Exchanges

Rotary International, a private club made up of professional citizens, sponsors local students – regardless of their parents’ membership – to travel all over the world to cities and towns with their own Rotary associations. The group finds teenagers host families and pays for their room and board, as well as any school fees. Often, the Rotary Club will also set the student up with a small stipend in-country.

This leaves parents to pay visa and immunization fees, airfare, and additional travel and spending money, which significantly alleviates the cost involved in study abroad, without giving up the adult support and individual mentorship that the club provides.

Rotary Clubs choose their study abroad participants based on exceptional leadership capabilities, flexibility, and independence. While there is definitely a selection process with a minimum GPA requirement, this program is less about academic excellence than cultural openness, so it does attract students with slightly different goals than the State Department programs do. 

Scholarships Opportunities

A number of organizations offer limited need-based or merit-based scholarships for exceptional students who will benefit greatly from a travel exchange.

The Martha Bigliani Scholarship Fund for kids participating in the Youth for Understanding program supports 20 kids for study abroad programs annually. Along with the student application, a teacher or community leader must recommend the student for scholarship merit. Winners are chosen by a national committee.

The Council on International Education Exchange, a non-profit organization dedicated to facilitating study abroad, also releases a limited number of partial, merit-based scholarships each year. You can apply for these when filling out your application for a CIEE study abroad year. Award amounts vary.

Exceptional students going through AFS-USA to a study abroad year in Japan can apply for the Yoshi Hattori scholarship, a full-ride, merit-based scholarship opportunity. Every year, the fund grants one scholarship to a deserving student. AFS-USA also offers the $2,000 scholarships for 3-5 students studying in Italy (called Viaggio Italiano) and another 3-5 students studying in Latin America (called Vaya a America Latina). You can check out AFS-USA’s other partial scholarships on their website, too.

A variety of scholarships are available for homeschooled kids, kids from geographically underrepresented areas, and kids focused on a specific, thematic area of study who are traveling through the Experiment in International Living programs. Scholarship amounts range from $250 - $3000.


Of course, there are ways to send your kids abroad without involving intense study, too. Most of these don’t offer scholarships or require certain academic achievements.

A notable exception is the Israeli Birthright Tour, a trip for 18-26 year olds who have finished high school and have a biological or religious claim to Jewish heritage. This unique opportunity is a fully-paid, 10-day trip sponsored by the Government of Israel, meant to strengthen Jewish identity and introduce kids from all over the world to the land of their cultural and spiritual heritage.

Is your teen considering studying abroad? What programs (and scholarships) have they been looking into? Share with us!

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