The Best Study Abroad Summer Programs for High School Students

After attending classes in the same city (and often, in the same building) for 180 days out of the year, it’s no surprise that many students desire an opportunity to broaden their horizons via a summer study-abroad program. 

Offering much more than academic enrichment, experiences across the world’s continents provide the chance to hone leadership skills, deepen cultural competency, and form ever-lasting friendships.

There’s no easy way to summarize all the available programs – some are more focused on academics, while others are service-oriented or adventure-bound. 

Most of the projects on this list encompass all three elements. Journeys also range from two weeks to two months, with many including a language-learning component. Many programs also offer scholarships or stipends for families who can demonstrate financial need.

When deciding what summer study-abroad program to pursue, you’ll undoubtedly want to investigate a sponsor company’s history and process for ensuring the safety of its participants, as most will be minors. 

Additionally, students are generally housed with “host families” who are vetted via extensive background checks. Again, you’ll want to do your research before enrolling in a program or making an initial deposit.

Many people who have engaged in summer study abroad programs remark that the experiences were pivotal in helping them identify ideal college settings and clarify their career aspirations. 

There’s also an indescribable phenomenon you may experience in pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone – things that once felt daunting suddenly feel more attainable and exciting.

Here are our top 10 picks for the best summer study abroad programs for high school students. We’ve selected these locations based on their sponsor company’s reputation, accessibility, and inclusion of academic, service, and adventure components. 

As a note, the majority of sponsors on this list offer excursions in countries different than the ones highlighted on this list – we have simply done our best to highlight the most exciting programs in diverse geographic areas of the world. Whichever program you select, we wish you a bon voyage!

Academic Programs International (Spain)

Universidad de Salamanca
Matthias Bethke, Universidad de Salamanca, CC BY-SA 4.0

Earn between two and five college credits at the Universidad de Salamanca – the oldest university in Spain and the perfect location for high school students to improve their Spanish-speaking fluency. 

API offers a two-week or four-week option, depending on what fits your busy summer schedule best. Rising juniors and seniors can apply as long as they have earned a B- or higher in at least one year of high school Spanish.

The two-week option propels participants through dynamic cities like Madrid, Toledo, and Santander. Visit art galleries like the Reina Sofia, be captivated by medieval architecture, and enjoy delicious coastal food by the Cantabrian Sea.

The four-week option includes everything from the two-week program; in addition, participants travel to Segovia for walking history tours and further language study. Most classes occur in the mornings, while cultural and recreational delights thrill in the afternoons. 

Local instructors teach classes in Spanish, and a placement exam is distributed upon arrival to ensure you’re put in the most appropriate level.

Rustic Pathways (France)

Open to students ages 14-17, this summer study abroad program encompasses 15 days of travel through seven incredible French cities. 

Equal parts educational, service-focused, and adventurous, the French tour will challenge participants to engage all of their faculties.

Start your excursion in Paris, where you’ll tour sustainable city gardens and participate in painting classes inside the Montmartre district. 

Next, you’ll spend a day at the Palace of Versailles as you come to understand the impacts of one of France’s most revolutionary eras. 

Hop on your bike to tour the city of Bordeaux and the UNESCO World Heritage Site Centre Urbain before setting up camp for two nights in Arcachon.

In this coastal town, you’ll climb sand dunes, engage in the age-old practice of oyster farming, and go fishing in the Atlantic Ocean. Engineering feats await you in the quaint village of Saint Emilion while not-so-quaint waves beckon for surfing in Biarritz and the Basque Country. 

Perfect for students with a burgeoning wanderlust and interest in sustainability, Rustic Pathways’ newest summer study abroad program will not disappoint.

Projects Abroad (Ghana)

High school students interested in pursuing a career in the medical field will gravitate toward the Medical Internship in Ghana for Teenagers experience, sponsored by Projects Abroad. 

A two-week program designed for participants ages 15-18, the Ghanaian internship affords opportunities to shadow doctors.

You can expect to learn many skills in just two short weeks: diagnosing illnesses, measuring blood sugar and blood pressure levels, treating minor wounds, and promoting disease awareness and prevention. 

There’s no need to have prior experience to join, but you should have the desire to focus your aid on underprivileged communities, in particular.

When you’re not working in the Akuapem Hills of eastern Ghana, you’ll have the chance to observe wildlife at national parks, visit historical museums, peruse local markets, and relax on the beach.

Where There Be Dragons (Bhutan)

“Here there be dragons” is an allusion to the uncharted locations on ancient maps drawn by apprehensive cartographers. 

In the 21st century, Where There Be Dragons has a mission to launch passionate students into places they might never have envisioned visiting. 

The Bhutan experience leads high school students deep into the Himalayas, where they immerse themselves in rural life, practice meditation, and interrogate the intersection of Buddhist philosophies with Bhutanese governmental policies on conservation and sustainability.

Much discussion is centered upon Bhutan’s “Gross National Happiness” index, which participants will come to understand through their village homestay, hike to a sacred cliffside monastery, and independent study project. 

Possible topics include traditional medicine, the national sport of archery, and Bhutanese customs and religious rituals.

Broadreach (St. Martin & The Leeward Islands)

Looking for a summer study abroad program that will rock the boat? Apply to Broadreach’s Caribbean quest in St. Martin and the Leeward Islands! This 12-day sailing and island exploration positions participant as crewmembers aboard a ship of experienced crewmembers. 

You can expect to earn three sailing certifications as you discover the inner mechanisms of large yacht operations via jaunts to St. Kitts, St. Barts, and Statia. Develop skills in navigation by stars, mooring and anchoring, and tacking aboard a 50-foot vessel. 

On land, you’ll trek through rainforests and tap into local culture, completing at least five service hours in community-focused projects. All students in grades 9-12 are eligible to apply, and you need not have any seafaring experience to participate!

Youth for Understanding (Paraguay)

Paraguay – with its diverse wildlife, beautiful people, and delicious food – provides an ideal backdrop for improving your Spanish-speaking skills as a high school student. 

Reserved for new high school graduates, previous Spanish language study is recommended but not a requirement for participation. 

What can you expect once you arrive in Paraguay? You’ll first meet your host family before partnering with a local nonprofit to focus on community service endeavors in social work, public health, or education.

Truly an immersive language experience, you’ll hone your Spanish-speaking abilities by visiting local shops, museums, and restaurants. 

You can also expect to spend significant time outdoors. Pack your hiking boots and rainjacket to prepare for incredible treks through mountains, rainforests, and waterfalls.

Greenheart Travel (New Zealand)

In the southern hemisphere, your summer study abroad session will actually take place in winter! Greenheart Travel’s New Zealand experience places students in the town of Rotorua, where they’ll have the opportunity to play various winter sports, go whitewater rafting, experience mountain biking, and more!

Open to high school scholars ages 15-18, participants must maintain a cumulative GPA of at least 2.75 and be in exceptional mental and physical health, simply due to the physically demanding aspects of the program. 

Students can expect to take various academic courses in geography, history, and math, while almost all participants opt to engage in outdoor activities.

Host families undergo extensive training; in addition to picking up the Kiwi language so essential to New Zealand life, you’ll also gain exposure to Maori culture and embark on excursions to geothermal springs. 

This summer study abroad program is undoubtedly for young thrill-seekers intent on pushing their physical and intellectual boundaries!

Putney Student Travel (Morocco)

The following location on our list is just one ferry ride away from Spain in the captivating country of Morocco

Putney Student Travel organizes a three-week service and cultural preservation-focused excursion for any high school students. A standard group comprises 14-16 students dedicated to completing up to 50 hours of community service.

In addition to supporting indigenous Amazigh (Berber) communities in their various endeavors, you’ll savor the flavors and colors of cosmopolitan Marrakesh, learn about saffron production, and surf the beaches of Essaouira.

Community service projects range from year to year. On one end, you may assist with historic architectural restoration, while on the other, you may teach English to young scholars. Students additionally complete independent projects on topics like the effectiveness of nationwide plastic bag bans.

Experiment in International Living (Japan)

A unique program designed for budding artists, EIIL’s Anime & Manga program challenges participants to refine their illustration and design skills via interactive classes led by industry professionals.

The experience takes place at an anime school in Tokyo, where classes are taught in Japanese. 

You can even learn voice acting and scene-dubbing skills in a real studio! Animation skills you may learn include color blending, screen-toning, and proficiency in platforms like Adobe Premiere and Photoshop.

Of course, a summer study abroad experience in Japan wouldn’t be complete without immersion in Tokyo pop culture. 

From embarking on a culinary scavenger hunt and navigating public transportation to visiting iconic landmarks like Shibuya Crossing and the Harajuku neighborhood, you’re guaranteed to enjoy a holistic immersion in Japanese culture.

EF Languages Abroad (Costa Rica)

Costa Rica is one of the most popular summer study-abroad locations for high school students. 

Drawn by the allure of “Pura Vida,” EF Languages Abroad offers participants the chance to truly understand the meaning of the “pure life” at Playa Tamarindo, one of the top eco-tourism hubs in the world.

The school is housed within a gorgeous colonial building adjacent to forests brimming with wildlife. Only a five-minute walk from the beach, you can easily transition from the classroom to the local village.

Choose the course schedule that makes the most sense for your language-learning needs. The most recommended option stipulates 32 40-minute lessons weekly for a six-week time frame. In addition to speaking and writing skills, you’ll also gain expertise in research and communication.