3 Ways to Tout High School Study Abroad in College Applications

Brian Witte

There are many reasons to pursue a study abroad program while in high school, including opportunities for cultural exchange and personal growth. On a more practical level, you may also find that studying abroad in high school can be a tremendous advantage come college application season.

The key lies in finding the right balance between emphasizing the experience and recognizing that it is just one aspect of you, the soon-to-be college freshman. To help ensure this balance, be honest, maintain perspective and discuss your high school study abroad experience in the right areas of your application , such as these three places.

[See how studying abroad in high school can develop college skills.]

1. The activities section of the Common Application: As you may already know, the Common Application includes an activities section. While it is technically optional, this portion of the application is an ideal opportunity to discuss your high school study abroad experience.

You can list up to 10 activities here. If the majority of your extracurricular involvement revolves around after-school groups, you may find that you have this in common with many applicants. Listing your study abroad experience first may help you stand out from other students.

In the description of your high school study abroad activity, you will see two fields. The first allows you to name the activity. If you assumed a leadership role during your study abroad experience -- such as assisting in the organization of expeditions to local attractions, or rallying your fellow students for service projects -- this is a great place to state your role in a few succinct words.

Do not force the issue, however. The name of the organization you traveled with is also sufficient for this field.

The second field allows you to describe your study abroad experience. No experience as profound as learning and living in a foreign country can be adequately summarized in the space that the Common Application allows.

Instead, your goal is to pique the interest of the admissions counselors who will review your application. Choose several moments from your high school study abroad experience that are especially relevant to your academic and career goals, and highlight those.

2. Your personal statement: There are two potential areas where you can expand on your study abroad experience : the personal statement and the additional information section of the Common Application. Study abroad experience is a gold mine for college application essay topics, but you risk sounding one-dimensional if you use this experience in both areas.

In many ways, the additional information section is like a second college application essay. Consider reserving the traditional personal statement for a discussion of some other aspect of your academic life, and then u s e the additional information section to reflect on your high school study abroad experience. The exception to this advice is, of course, if you had a deeply life-changing experience that far eclipses any other aspect of your life.

If you choose this route, write a brief essay that outlines your experience and how it affected you. Begin with your summary and your lessons learned, and then delve into the specifics of where and when you studied abroad.

Include details about your living situation abroad -- did you live in a home or a hostel? You should also mention your degree of independence, such as if you did daily or weekly independent travel. And don't forget to include and any language skills that you developed.

Finally, try to include a line that invites further exploration. For example, writing that you "engaged in frequent games of wit with the local, thieving primate population , " is creative and will help draw your reader's attention. If your reviewer finishes your essay hoping to learn more about you, you have done your job well.

[Learn to develop the top soft-skills every college student needs.]

3. A college admissions interview: If you take part in a personal interview, be prepared to answer questions that specifically address your high school study abroad experience. Better still, practice answers to the standard character or leadership questions that refer to your time abroad.

Even if you lived in a dorm and attended classes with English language instruction, simply traveling overseas demonstrates independence. Even asking for directions when you do not fluently speak the local language can be a significant display of bravery.

Before your interview, write an overview of your experience with a focus on your personal academic growth and how your previous views of the world were challenged. Did you learn a bit more about how immigrants in the U.S. must feel, for instance? Keep in mind that this is not a full application essay. Writing is just one way to explore your experience.

Your high school study abroad experience places you in a still-rare group of college applicants. It is also part of the unique narrative of your life. Tell a compelling story, and you may soon receive those college admissions letters.

Brian Witte is a professional SAT tutor with Varsity Tutors. He earned his Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and holds a Ph.D. from Ohio State University.