The Pros & Cons of Studying Abroad in High School
There’s a lot to consider when making the decision to study abroad in high school. Check out the main pros and cons to understand if this option is a good choice for you.
- The decision to study abroad during high school isn’t always an easy one and comes with both pros and cons.
- Studying abroad in high school can benefit you personally, academically, and in the future, professionally.
- Although studying abroad in high school can be pricey, there are scholarships available.
- Being away from home for an extended period of time can lead to homesickness and loss of the safety net of family and friends.
- Even if you aren’t yet thinking about college, studying abroad now can boost the competitiveness of your university applications. It can even help you figure out what you want to major in.
- You parents may need some convincing to let you go but we’re here to help!
Are you considering studying abroad while you’re still in high school? There are lots of things to consider: the destination, the length of the program, the accommodation options. But, it might be good to step back for a few moments and consider whether it’s really necessary to study abroad before you get to university.
As someone who studied in Japan at 15 and then in the Czech Republic while I was in college, I have seen the study abroad experience from a number of angles. For all the pros around studying abroad during high school, there are also a few cons to consider.
Pro: You get international experience at an early age
Your first time traveling internationally is always a challenge, whether you’re 15 or 35. So why not master this skill early in life, when you’re more adaptable, open to new experiences, and a bit more resilient? While you’re never too old to try something new, if you start traveling young the experiences and knowledge you gain will help shape you in your adulthood.
You have no idea how many travel options are open to you until you take that first step. One trip to Mexico leads to another to Spain. One year of studying abroad in Germany during high school leads to a college semester abroad in Australia. Slowly, you learn about all the opportunities this world actually has to offer you and you’ll already have the confidence to take advantage of them.
Con: You may struggle more with homesickness
Anyone of any age can feel homesick and miss their friends and family. But this is likely to hit you harder when you’re young and still reliant on your parents or caregivers (however much you like to claim independence!). Don’t underestimate how much homesickness can ruin an otherwise perfectly good trip, so seriously ask yourself whether you think you’ll be able to cope with it before signing up.
Studying abroad in high school can be a way to figure out whether you thrive in an unfamiliar environment. If you choose a shorter program (such as summer vacation) rather than a long-term one (like the whole year!) you have the safety of knowing that you’ll get to go home soon if you are homesick.
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Pro: The benefits extend to your college career
Depending on the program, you may have the opportunity to earn college credits during your study abroad. Usually, general electives, which are required at all US universities, can be transferred to your university of study. It may seem far off now, but any preparation you can do to ease your course loads in college will be warmly welcomed by your future self. You can take a lighter workload for a semester, or take a totally random class in another field of study that interests you. You may even opt to go abroad again.
Studying abroad in high school can also help you narrow down your college major. There are so many exciting things you could major in at college, and it can be hard to decide on just one. Perhaps you excel at Spanish or are really fascinated by different styles of architecture. Maybe you love how math and science break down language barriers. Your future major — and career path — may reveal itself in unexpected ways while studying abroad during high school.
Con: High school abroad can be expensive
You may want to consider the financial cost that your desire to study abroad in high school will have on your parents. College isn’t cheap, and some parents start saving for their kids’ education as soon as they’re born.
If you’re dead-set on studying abroad, your parents may have to pay for it out of your college fund or other savings that were intended for something else. Everyone’s financial situation is different, and parents often protect their kids from the realities of money. But, it’s worth taking a mature role in this discussion and finding out whether studying abroad would be too much of a strain on your parents.
Pro: There are scholarships available
While studying abroad in high school can be costly, there are scholarships available to help offset major costs. Scholarships can range from a few hundred dollars to over $20,000. Applications may require a minimum GPA or they may be granted by the study abroad organization itself, meaning you’ll already need to be enrolled in one of their programs.
There are also opportunities for free or cheap high school study abroad programs. Do your research to find the best option for you and your family.
If you can’t secure a scholarship or find an affordable program to attend in high school, remember that you can get loans for study abroad in college.
Con: You might find it hard to cope without your familiar support network
Studying abroad in high school isn’t like traveling independently, or even studying abroad in college: there will usually be some kind of support network to guide you through. Despite however much support you get while studying abroad, if things go wrong, you don’t know how you will cope without your usual support network around you.
As a high school student it’s understandable if issues like losing your wallet, getting lost, falling ill, or having an accident freak you out and disrupt your trip more than they would an adult because you don’t have the same level of experience with being independent. If you feel you would struggle with such setbacks and that they’d ruin your trip, you may want to hold off on studying abroad until you’re older.
Pro: You’ll boost your college apps and/or resume
Many colleges and potential employers like to see a sense of initiative and an ability to think independently in their applicants. They also like to see life experience beyond good grades. Studying abroad helps develop these things, and may set you apart from other applicants who have never left their home state, let alone studied in a foreign country.
Universities across the USA receive millions of applications a year, so you really have to have an edge to get into the top-tier places of study. Travel definitely gives high school students that “something extra” on a college application. After all, spending an entire school year or even a term learning in a foreign country is not something many high school students can say they’ve done! Match that with your language skills and a strong sense of independence – you’ll have a viable edge over the competition.
Plus, you may discover a passion for something unexpected while studying abroad, such as speaking Japanese or cooking French food. These passions could become a career if you let them.
Pro: Your experience will shape your worldview
We are at the mercy of the places and circumstances we grow up in, but that can easily be changed. Every corner of the world works differently from the others, but you won’t realize that until you experience it firsthand. You’ll see how young people in other countries live and study and you’ll learn about their interests and priorities. You’ll realize that, while life throughout the world certainly is different, there are also many similarities that unite people.
Travel, especially when it’s long-term, gives people a different perspective on how the world works and what is important. If you can learn about this at a young age, you’re a step ahead of your peers in realizing what you want in life and what really matters. Studying abroad could influence the direction to go with your future career, with friends, even with where you want to live.
Con: You may have trouble convincing your parents
Even if you’re 100% sure that studying abroad during high school is the right move, your parents/guardians may not be so sure, especially if this will be your first time abroad by yourself. Of course, they only want to keep you safe. They know that you’ll benefit in many ways from the experience, but having you so far from home probably leaves them a little nervous.
Making your case will likely take some work. You’ll need to be clear on major things like the program details, safety, cost, and transportation. Before you get started, make sure you understand the basics. We’ve got you covered here, answering the The 9 Most Popular (and Important) Questions About High School Study Abroad.
Need some help getting them on board? Share our guide for parents to ease their mind.
Pro/con: If you’re not ready, you’ve got time
While life is short and it’s important to make the most of opportunities if you really don’t feel ready to travel abroad in high school, don’t stress. There are usually study abroad opportunities available during college. If not, there’s nothing stopping you from traveling abroad independently when you’re a bit older or getting an internship or work experience abroad. It’s not like you’ll miss the travel-abroad boat if you don’t do so in high school.
Sometimes studying abroad is lonely, scary, and hard — especially if you try it in high school, which is earlier than most people have the opportunity to do so. But more often it is fun, exciting, and memorable. You don’t know until you try it for yourself!
The good and bad of school holidays
When we think about summer school holidays we imagine families playing on a sandy beach. We hear the laughter of kids enjoying days out with their parents and the smell of barbeques and suntan lotion.
Basically, we imagine all the best bits of a travel agent’s TV advert – couples in love, parents at ease and relaxed with their kids. Everyone having a great time.
Perfect school holidays versus the reality
For some parents the reality can be quite different. Instead of helping bring mum, dad and the kids together the summer school holidays often raise more issues than they resolve.
They naturally put more pressure on the relationships within a family unit. The idyllic family scene from the holiday website glosses over the many challenges and practicalities:
Who will look after the children? Will I be able to get that time off my boss promised me? My parents are exhausted, can they handle more days looking after kids from 8 am until 6 pm? Can we afford childcare if they can’t? The kids will get cranky if they are not busy! Have you seen how much it costs to take them (plus friends) to the cinema?! Why won’t my partner help out more during the holidays?
The big school holidays gamble
If mum and dad’s relationship is already creaking under the pressure of modern life, these extra pressures can be difficult to handle.
Instead, couples often place their bets on summer ‘sorting’ things – because sunshine makes everyone happy – and keep their fingers crossed that their relationship will somehow be better come August.
Unfortunately, the end of the school summer holidays sees a rise, not a fall, in the number of couples coming to The Spark for counselling and support.
Though it may seem like the time of year couples are least likely to need counselling, the run-up to the school holidays is actually when they need it most.
At The Spark, we specialise in relationship counselling for couples, individuals and married couples offering support to those who may be facing high levels of conflict, sadness and pain.
Speak to someone early
There is no right or wrong time to start counselling as it is a big step for couples and individuals to take.
You could well think time with the family will help things improve and it may well do this. You might think you do not have the time or believe it will be months to get an appointment anyway, so what’s the point in calling?
Worst of all, you may believe that things have got so bad your relationship is unsalvageable and you are left contemplating the emotional pain of separation/divorce, plus thousands of pounds of legal fees.
The good news is that The Spark is here to help before, during and after the summer school holidays.
Making summer more manageable
The Spark’s counselling centres operate as normal during the summer school holidays, offering flexible options for relationship counselling. In fact, 95% of our clients are offered a first appointment within 2 weeks of contacting us.
Whether that is for couples counselling or marriage counselling, face-to-face appointments or telephone counselling, The Spark offers safe and confidential support. Find out more about our relationship counselling services for couples.
Even if you have holidays planned or any commitments during the summer we can help to accommodate counselling sessions around them. The Spark offers the flexibility to start sessions before the summer holidays and return in the autumn. We also offer evening and weekend appointments in selected locations.
The summertime can be fantastic and a wonderful opportunity to spend more time with your partner, kids, family and friends.
Sometimes the Scottish weather even obliges with some sunshine and warm weather. It may well be the time you and your partner need to recharge and reconnect.
If you don’t think it will be, The Spark is here to help and our only request is simple: speak to us before things reach crisis point.
Get help and relationship support now
If your relationship is feeling under pressure and you need someone to talk to, The Spark are experts in couple counselling and marriage counselling. To discuss counselling for you/you and your partner complete an enquiry form.
The Spark provides a free Counselling Helpline on 0808 802 2088. Speak to a member of our team in confidence about the issues you are struggling with Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 am – 2 pm. Alternatively, find out more about counselling with The Spark.
Dropping Out of High School: Why It’s A Bad Idea
Throughout the 20th Century and so far into the 21st Century, high schools have successfully educated students to the point where they have become assets to their communities. Despite this success, public schools have been under attack, and dropout rates have factored into the attacks.
To make matters worse, stories about entrepreneurs who have defied the odds and become successful despite dropping out of high school have entered into the mythology of the US. For this and many other reasons, dropping out of high school has been romanticized as schools have been blamed for not adequately preparing graduates for the real world.
Is it a good idea to drop out of high school? No, it is not a good idea to drop out of high school. Most people do not live happy, fulfilling lives without a high school diploma. In fact, the data show that most dropouts live in poverty that can continue for generations.
Why Dropping Out of High School is a Bad Idea
Dropping out of high school in the US is a bad choice because dropouts are more likely to struggle throughout their adult lives. Data shows that they earn significantly less money than high school and college graduates. Therefore, they are more likely to live in poverty than people with diplomas and training certificates.
What Happens to High School Dropouts: Real World Consequences
Even though some people find success despite never graduating from high school, in general, dropping out of high school is a bad idea financially, healthily, and psychologically. Fortunately, according to statistics from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), drop out numbers have decreased since 2004 until 2016 from 10.9% to 6.1% (source).
Around the US, dropping out of high school creates a lifetime of problems including:
- Declining wages
- Continual unemployment
- Reliance on welfare and public services
- Higher rates of incarceration
- Reduced productivity
- Billions of lost wages and tax revenue
One of the significant consequences dropouts will deal with is having difficulty finding a job that pays a living wage. This results in people who become a financial drain on society rather than becoming an asset. The consequences can extend into future generations as children of dropouts live in poverty and have related traumas in their young lives, feeding a cycle that is difficult to break.
Why Students Dropout of High School
According to a study conducted in 2013, students who drop out are pushed out, pulled out, or they fell out of school. Push factors involved the school removing the student from school. Pull factors meant the student chose to drop out while falling out of school was the result of someone or something other than the school or the student (source).
Some of the reasons why students drop out are:
- Failing school
- Didn’t like school
- Too many absences
- Changed school
- Found school too difficult
- Thought GED would be easier
- Forced to support their families
- Had to get a job
The reasons students leave school have changed throughout the decades. Getting married and/or pregnant, joining the military, going to work, being expelled, wanting to travel are just a few. However, there is one certainty: in today’s world, students are more likely to be pushed out rather than being pulled or falling out of school.
Why are students pushed out of school? The most common reason is missing too many school days. After that, the other reasons include being unable to achieve graduation requirements, being unable to keep up on school work, and being unable to get along with classmates and teachers.
Looking at the reasons why students are pushed out of school, it is easy to see why high school dropouts can have difficulty finding and keeping work. According to Monster.ca, some of the common reasons why people get fired include not being productive, not being able to complete tasks, and not fitting in with other employees (source).
Financial Problems for High School Dropouts
To put this into perspective financially, the differences in weekly ranges between people with a high school diploma and without is staggering. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average weekly wage for all workers in 2017 was $2147 (source).
But, when the numbers are broken down, people with high school diplomas earned between $395 and $1,489 per week. Men and women who dropped out of high school made between $330 and $999 per week. People with a bachelor’s degree earn between $580 and $2609 per week. Remember, these are averages for full-time and salaried workers in 2017.
Throughout their adult lives, high school dropouts stand to make at least $500,000 less than people who earn their high school diplomas. And, since many dropouts rely on public assistance, they actually end up being drains on society rather than contributors to society.
In 2012, PBS Frontline looked at the numbers relating to high school dropouts. They found that high school dropouts were twice as likely as college graduates to live in poverty (source). The poverty rate among dropouts was at 30.8 percent. Even though the unemployment rate was low in 2018, the numbers of children living in poverty are high.
According to the NCES, the percentage of children under 18 living in poverty in 2017 was highest for those who had parents without a high school diploma. This is because most employers want their employees to have foundational skills like reading, writing, and understanding numbers (source).
The most common jobs for high school dropouts are in the service, agriculture, and construction industries. Unskilled workers in these industries often make minimum wage salaries, so low unemployment does not mean that everyone is making living wages.
Psychological Issues Relating to Poverty
High school dropouts do not just suffer financially; they have mental health issues, too. The McSilver Institute for Poverty and Policy at NYU found psychological problems and poverty are connected. Adults living below the federal poverty levels had a higher chance of having a mental illness, suicidal thoughts, and substance abuse (source).
Adults living at least 100% or higher than the federal poverty levels were less likely to have any of those issues. Children living in families with incomes below the federal poverty line had more likelihood of trauma and food insecurities, too. Since dropouts are more likely to live in poverty, these are realities that they may have to live with long into the future.
Jobs Available to High School Dropouts
Without a high school diploma, dropouts have difficulties finding jobs that have educational requirements. Instead, dropouts often get jobs that involve physical labor like those in the construction industry and landscaping. While these might not be bad choices for young adults who are at their physical peak, the long-term effects of manual labor are not healthy.
Most of the jobs that high school dropouts can get are the same type of jobs that high school students can get. These tend to be menial jobs that offer no benefits. Many are part-time, and those that are full-time involve heavy-duty manual labor. They include:
- General landscaping
- General construction
- Delivery work
- Hotel or motel housekeeping
- Farm labor
- Line cook
- Retail clerk
- Restaurant server
- House painter
While these are jobs that need to be done, they are not intellectually rewarding, and most people find that they do not want to do them for a lifetime. Those who work in these jobs often live under the federal poverty line and find that they need more than one job just to make their monthly bills.
Unfortunately, when teens drop out of high school, they are looking at their present status in life. They are not looking into the future and how the decision to quit school could affect them as they enter adulthood.
How Those Jobs Affect Dropouts in Adulthood
Wages are often tied to educational levels, so employees who do the physical labor in the construction industry and other manual-labor careers do not usually make high wages that include retirement benefits and health care. Consequently, employees end up needing to work farther into later adulthood than people who work in higher paying jobs.
While physical activity has proven to be healthy, physical activity at work has not. In a study published in 2006, researchers found workers in blue-collar jobs had poorer physical health than those in white-collar jobs. Physical activity in leisure time improved health, but physical activity at work did the opposite. The group that was studied worked in the metal industry (source).
The physical work required in manual labor jobs is different than physical activity performed in leisure time. As laborers age, they see problems with osteoarthritis in the hips, knees, and hands. They also struggle with joint and muscular problems. People in less physically demanding jobs do not have the same issues as early in their lives as laborers have them.
When it comes to longevity, a 28-year study (source) found that physical and mental job strain from manual-labor jobs were more likely to produce problems in adulthood, including:
- Increases in chronic diseases
- Increases in in-patient hospital stays
- Higher health care costs
While a high school diploma isn’t guaranteed to improve health for working adults, not having one increases the chances of having adverse effects on wellness. Having a diploma opens up opportunities to work in careers that reduce the chances of hospital stays and increased health care costs.
Finding Jobs Getting More Difficult for Dropouts
While high school students who are considering dropping out have difficulty imagining an unhealthy lifestyle in their future, those who have dropped out can share how difficult life has been for them.
In an NPR interview, two high school dropouts shared their challenges of finding work without a diploma (source). One dropout shared that several years ago, it was easier to find factory jobs, but this has changed. People complete applications on computer apps, and if applicants do not have a diploma, the apps stop the process automatically.
What dropouts are finding is that employers want more than a high-school diploma; they want a secondary certificate from a trade school, college, or other post-high school training credentials. It is difficult to get into a post-secondary training center without a diploma, so dropouts do double the harm to themselves by quitting school.
Doing the Math on Dropping Out
When you look at the amount of time that students spend in high school, quitting is a bad idea that lasts much longer than the four years spent in school. Sadly, all too often, students who leave do it in their senior year, after completing 12 previous years of school. And, some decide to quit with only a few months or less remaining of the school year.
In the US, life expectancy is between 68 and 72 years of age. People are in school from age 5 to 18, so 13 years of their lives. Of those 13 years, students spend about 6 hours in class for 180 days each year. Let’s break down the math and how many hours students spend in school. If you take 13 years, 180 days, and six hours, students spend about 14,040 hours in class.
But, if you look at how many hours kids have total during their 13 years of school, 14,040 doesn’t seem like much. In 13 years of life, 24 hours per day, and 365 days per year, there are 113,800 hours. That is only 12% of a child’s life between the ages of 5 and 18 spend in school. Those four years of high school include 4,320 of those hours.
If you live to age 70 and you have earned a high school diploma, you have lived for 613,000 hours. Those 4,230 hours of high school do not even add up to 1% of an average person’s life. Dropping out to have a lifetime of struggles with money, health, and mental wellness just doesn’t seem worth it for those other 455,520 hours of life that comes after age 18.
Real-world Skills Taught in School
Students might complain that high school does not teach them real-world skills. You might not learn how to do your taxes or complete an insurance form, but you do learn valuable skills. For example, students learn:
Getting along with others
How to work in a team
Working through struggles
While dropout data doesn’t apply to everyone, the data exists because dropping out has negative consequences for most people who do it. Of course, no drop out thinks that bad things will happen to them, but quitters tend to keep quitting. Failing and quitting are two different things, as failing means you have tried, but quitting means you have given up.
When it comes to high school, there will be moments of failure. However, students who stay in school despite any level of failure, learn to work through struggles by solving problems and advocating for themselves. Quitters do not get the chance to do this, as they have already given up. Quitting is actually an easy thing to do; it doesn’t involve working through something difficult.
However, just because something is easy, it doesn’t mean that it is the right thing to do. School isn’t always easy, but every day that students stay in school is one day closer to graduation. That’s one day closer to having the necessary credentials to get a decent job. It’s one day closer to achieving a significant life goal.
After teaching for 25 years, I have built an extensive network of graduates. As they look back on the struggles that they had in high school, they all say that those struggles are minor compared to the ones they face in the adult world. They long for the ease of high school and teenage life.
Of course, they aren’t discounting any challenges that kids are facing today. However, with hindsight, they know the value of graduation. They see that high school wasn’t as hard as they thought it was while they were in the thick of it. Many who didn’t do well in school wish they had worked harder because they would’ve been able to get better jobs as adults.
None of them wish they had dropped out. None of them regretted graduating from high school.
Hi! I’m Dr. Patrick Capriola, a father of two girls who is always looking for ways to be a better dad. I am a career educator and have served at the classroom, administrative, and university levels. I created this site to share high-quality research-based content on kids, parenting and navigating the school system.
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