3 Opportunities Abroad That Impress Colleges

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

2 students in the riverbanks

3 Opportunities Abroad That Impress Colleges

Applying for colleges can feel like a marathon, but there’s one experience that can help you truly stand out: going abroad. Immersing yourself in a new culture, honing a language, and gaining independence before college are all qualities that can impress admissions offices and can help make your college essays stronger. But the benefits go beyond just academics. Studying abroad can also significantly expand your network and connect you with people from all over the world.

Here are 4 ways you can incorporate an international experience into your academic journey:

#1 High School Abroad

Experience life as a local student by spending a summer, semester, or a full year abroad during high school. Living with a host family, attending local or specialized classes, and exploring an international city will not only improve your skillset but also build your confidence and adaptability – all things you can write about in your college application essays. And direct experiences abroad can help youbetter connect with the subject matter in and out of class.

You’ll also have plenty of experiences to share in your college interviews after returning from a high school abroad program. You will be able to discuss overcoming cultural barriers, adapting to new teaching styles, and navigating unfamiliar situations. Plus, the friendships you build with locals and fellow students can last a lifetime. These connections can be an invaluable resource for future travel, as references, or even on your career path.

students outside the colosseum

#2 Gap programs abroad

The high school to college transition can be stressful. A gap program abroad offers a refreshing alternative, allowing you to explore the world, gain valuable skills, and enhance your college applications all at once. Research shows that participating in a gap program gives students maturity and focus that translates into college success. From a study of GPA results by Robert Clagett, former Dean of Admissions at Middlebury College, on average, gap students have a higher college GPA than predicted, based on their high school academic credentials.

Here’s how a gap semester or year abroad can benefit you:

  • Develop valuable skills: gap programs allow you to hone your independence, resilience, and problem-solving skills – all highly sought after qualities by colleges and future employers.
  • Better Your College Applications: Demonstrating that you gained skills and had unique experiences during your time abroad is a great way to impress admissions offices.
  • Immerse Yourself in a New Culture: Live with a local family, participate in excursions, and connect with other adventurous students from diverse backgrounds. This exposure to different cultures broadens your perspective and fosters personal growth.
  • Language Immersion: We recommend taking intensive language classes and living with a local host family in your chosen destination. This immersive experience can help you go up a full language level – a major advantage for college admissions.

2 students in the riverbanks

#3 Spend your freshman year abroad

You can kickstart your college education in an international city abroad and earn credit while doing it. Then, you can transfer to the college or your choice in the U.S. and start your higher education journey with having had an experience that will make a real difference on campus and set you up for success.

Plus, being a transfer student with international experience can  give you an edge in the admissions process. Colleges often welcome transfer students with a strong academic record and a clear sense of direction. Studying abroad demonstrates both – you’ve earned college credit while pursuing a unique and enriching experience. Additionally, some colleges have higher acceptance rates for transfer students compared to traditional first-year applicants. This means that studying abroad your freshman year could increase your chance of getting into your dream school! For example, Northwestern University’s transfer admission rate is 13% compared to their 7% Freshman admission rate.

And, it’s very common to be a transfer student. In fact, nearly one-third of college students in the United States transfer schools before earning their degree.

AdmissionSights’ recommended organization for a high school, gap, or first year experience is CIEE (The Council on International Educational Exchange).  As the country’s oldest and largest non-profit exchange organization, CIEE has over 75 years of experience helping young people enhance their global perspective by participating in high-quality international exchange and study abroad programs. Each year, they help 50,000+ young people experience a new culture and unique benefits including:

  • 24/7 Support: CIEE prioritizes student safety and wellbeing. Their dedicated in-country staff are available around the clock to ensure a smooth and rewarding experience.
  • Language Learning Advantage: CIEE programs provide classes in sought after languages, often paired with immersive experiences like living with a host family. This can significantly boost your fluency and impress colleges. In fact, the average growth for high school students in a CIEE one month program approaches or exceeds the national average growth that students achieve in one year of a high school world language course.
  • Global and Diverse Community: CIEE operates its own study centers in over 30 countries, fostering a supportive community with participants from diverse backgrounds. This allows for the opportunity to expand your network and connect with people who share your passion for global learning.
  • CIEE Grants and Scholarships: CIEE awards millions in grants and scholarships each year. Annually, they provide $8 million+ in scholarships to 3000+ high school and college students.

Ready to embark on your adventure abroad? Check out CIEE’s website for more details on their high school, Gap Year Abroad, and First Year Abroad programs.


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