Does High School Study Abroad Experience Help in College Admissions?

At Signet Education, we advise parents and students on the educational issues they encounter from middle school to graduate school and beyond. Between tutoring subject material, coaching study skills, tackling standardized tests, and navigating college and graduate admissions processes, we’ve helped thousands of students achieve their academic goals.

When SPI asked us to blog about how a program like theirs could benefit a student academically, we jumped at the chance. After reading thousands of personal statements, it’s clear to us that students always benefit when they understand how to build character, challenge themselves, and have mastered a skill such as proficiency in a foreign language. With their expanded horizons, students are better equipped to do the kind of introspective and long-term thinking that successful college applications require, and their oversea adventures often also lend nuance and strength to their application profiles.

This latter point on strengthening an application is worth clarifying. How exactly can a language immersion program in high school strengthen your college applications, you ask? There are two main ways: one related to your development of language skills and the other related to your development as a person.

First, a language immersion program is a huge benefit to language learning, retention, and fluency. Surrounding yourself with the sights, sounds, and even smells of another culture can help you internalize that culture’s language. I tell my students all the time that they need to embody the language they’re trying to learn. Interacting with native speakers will teach you gestures, intonations, facial expressions, and other types of language etiquette that will not only help you speak the language like it’s your mother tongue, but it will also help you retain the language. You’ll be forced to speak it and hear it on a regular basis, which will go a long way towards increasing your comprehension, vocabulary, and level of comfort in speaking.

So how does mastering a language help you in your college career? Most colleges require their applicants to have at least two years of foreign language study and many also require further language study during college. Demonstrating fluency in a foreign language can help you meet these requirements faster or even test out of them. Moreover, knowledge of a foreign language—and even better, familiarity with a foreign culture and place—is becoming more and more essential in today’s globalized economy.

Second, a study abroad program can help you learn about the world and your place in it. By getting you out of your comfort zone, introducing you to new people and experiences, and giving you a taste of living independently from your family, a study abroad program can broaden your perspective and build life skills that are important for both college and your career. Experiencing a foreign culture and a different part of the world can be a life-changing experience for young adults, especially those who haven’t traveled overseas before. You’ll begin to understand your potential as an individual, separate from what your family and hometown friends might expect from you. While you’re exploring your independence, you’ll also gain a lot of self-discipline and confidence from having to manage on your own and make friends with strangers, some of whom don’t even speak your language. All of this is a sign to admissions officers that your adjustment to college will probably go more smoothly. They’ll see that you can adapt to new settings and that you’re comfortable living on your own. Admissions officers will also appreciate the open-mindedness and willingness to take risks that a study abroad program implies. Moreover, spending your vacation time studying can demonstrate your passion for a subject and might underscore your interest in a longer study abroad program offered by the college of your choice. Also, it’s likely that the experience you have will introduce you to something you want to study further or give you something interesting to write about in your college applications. (Note: While travel essays can be cliche, a heartfelt and sincere essay about your experience doesn’t have to be.)

Now, after saying all this, there is one huge caveat to consider: above, I said that programs like this often strengthen application profiles. They don’t automatically make you a stronger candidate for college. You still have to choose the right program for you and you have to make the most of it. Just signing up and going won’t give you the “life-changing” experience everyone talks about. You have to be present, and adventurous, and willing to commit. You need to resist speaking English while abroad and try to interact with locals as much as possible. You should also consider whether a language immersion program makes sense with your application narrative (i.e., do you actually hope to use a foreign language or your knowledge of a foreign culture in your future career or studies?). Be honest with yourself about your goals and your ability to commit, and if it makes sense for you, take advantage of the opportunity to travel!


Author: Sheila Akbar

A Life-changing Experience!

Get ready to experience and SPI Abroad program yourself. Learn more about our programs or request more information today.

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Request Your Catalog Today.

Fill out the form below and we will send you a catalog and get in touch. Please note all fields are required.

A Life-changing Experience!

Get ready to experience and SPI Abroad program yourself. Learn more about our programs or request more information today.

Request Your Catalog Today.

Fill out the form below and we will send you a catalog and get in touch. Please note all fields are required.

On-Site Supervision Team Abroad

We hire bilingual high school teachers, university professors, and caring local staff who, as a team, serve as international “moms and dads” throughout the program. Directors actively participate in all aspects of the immersion experience: helping with housing adjustments, checking in on classes, and making sure students are taking advantage of the wonderful excursion and activity opportunities. All SPI staff go through extensive reference checks.

Training & Experience

Directors are selected based on their experience working with teenagers in an international setting, their ability to communicate fluently in the language of study, and their academic & professional background. All on-site staff go through an intensive training process.

Daily Supervision

Students are expected to be respectful of their directors’ guidelines and abide by the SPI standards of conduct at all times. SPI directors and program staff are available 24 hours a day. Directors check in with students on a daily basis in the mornings, afternoons, and evenings; they also frequently monitor all aspects of each student’s progress. Homestays and residence directors are contacted to learn how students are adjusting, and to handle any concerns. Daily curfews are enforced.

Student Behavior Expectations

Since 1996, we have proudly attracted an academically-minded student body focused on improving their language skills and growing from cultural experiences. At SPI, we take our role as teachers seriously — we recognize that we are responsible for guiding students through one of their most life-changing experiences. We expect students not only to abide by our standards of conduct at all times, but also to serve as ambassadors of their local communities, schools, and cities.

No Alcohol Policy

SPI maintains a strict policy against the use of alcohol. Directors check in with students in the evenings; however, parents are expected to review our standards of conduct with their children and set clear family expectations prior to the start of the program with regards to their behavior abroad.

Afternoon Elective Activities

Our meaningful afternoon elective activities make local culture, art, architecture, museums, sports, and attractions come to life! Each program offers a variety of engaging activities designed to combine serious fun with truly inspiring “once in a lifetime” experiences. Electives are not included in the program price, and we suggest students budget $100 per week for participation in these incredible learning experiences.

Common Afternoon Electives

CULTURAL: Cooking, Dance, Art & Architecture, Museum & Theater Visits, Local Sporting & Cultural Events

SPORTS: Surfing, Volleyball, Soccer, Kayaking, Snorkeling, Hikes & Walks

ENRICHMENT: Photography, College Prep (Essay Writing, Admissions Prep), Photography, Guest Speakers

Sample Travel Excursions

SPAIN: Bilbao, Pamplona, Santander, San Sebastian, Guernika, Biarritz (France), Comillas, Picos de Europa

FRANCE: Bordeaux, Bayonne, Anglet, San Sebastian (Spain), St. Jean de Luz, Pyrenees Mountains

COSTA RICA: Liberia, Cloud Forest, Puntarenas, Rincon de la Vieja, Tamarindo Beach

ITALY: Florence, Orvieto, San Gimignano, San Vincezo, Castiglione della Pescaia

Our Screening & Selection Process

Students live with roommates in a local homestay or student residence that is experienced in hosting foreign students. SPI has worked with most participating homestays and student residences for a number of years, and they understand students are there to learn the language and experience the culture. SPI diligently screens each homestay and student residence facility with the following in mind: safety, location, cleanliness, and previous experience hosting students.


Most homestays have hosted students for many years and take their jobs and duties as cultural ambassadors very seriously. Our foreign schools also work with each family on a year-round basis to ensure a positive experience is had by each student. It is critical to understand that most homestays come from humble means and different dynamics.

Location of Housing

All housing options are located within a 10-30 minute commute from the school. Students will walk or take the local bus, which is a safe and normal way for students their age to get around in our host cities. The majority of our housing options are located in the same areas where students will be close to each other.

Evening Curfews

Student curfews are set based on what a culturally appropriate weekday and weekend curfew would be for teenagers in the country of study. This is normally between 10 PM – 11 PM on weekdays and a little later on the weekends depending on location and group dynamic. As an important safety measure, program staff diligently monitor student curfews. Specific curfews are listed on each program page for your reference. 

Typical Housing Dynamics

Students are well supported in all housing options and are provided with: meals, a living and study space, laundry service or facilities, linens and towels. It is fundamental that students have an open mind to trying new foods and living in an environment different than “home” to benefit from this transformative experience!

Although SPI homestays come in all shapes and sizes, the majority are older couples or single/widowed women in their 50s – 60s who have extra room in their home and are eager to host students. We have found this dynamic provides the best support, the most interaction, and the most culturally rich experience. Some homestays do have children, but students should keep in mind that homestays with children are busier and often offer less interaction — much like a busy American family.

Language Course Overview

The language courses focus on developing communication skills by simulating real-life situations through interactive class activities that include writing, oral expression, film, music, food, and literature.

> 2 Hours – Grammatical Concepts

> 1-2 Hours – Conversation, Culture, Literature, Film, etc.

> Small class sizes with levels 1 through AP/IB

College Credit Opportunity

SPI uses foreign universities and accredited language institutes for coursework abroad. These institutions provide high school students, upon successful completion of their courses, with an official transcript that they may use to petition college credit from their future university or college. Official transcripts are first sent to SPI in September, and then we will mail an official copy of the transcript in a sealed envelope to each participant. You will mail the official transcript packet directly to your U.S. university once you are enrolled.

Credit Hours vs. Credit Granted

Most SPI language immersion programs give 30-80 contact hours, or classroom hours, enabling for a potential of up to 1-6 semester college credit hours by your university. Contact hours are treated differently at every school. Some schools will grant specific class credit for the hours (e.g., Spanish), although most give a general foreign language or elective credit. Normally, 15 Contact/Class Hours = 1 College Credit Hour.

IMPORTANT:  Due to the nature of college credit granting by each individual U.S. university, it is impossible for SPI to guarantee credit for any student.