Student exchange in the USA

The USA is the most popular country among exchange students. Learn all about the requirements for a USA student exchange and how you can get one of the desired scholarships for a high school year in the USA.

What is a student exchange?

On a US student exchange, you travel to the United States just before the start of a new school year to live with a host family for three, six, or twelve months and go to an American school.

In the family chosen for you, there will be young people of your age - your so-called "host siblings." During the exchange period, you will be part of everyday life in the USA and have almost all the same rights and obligations as your host siblings.

Student Exchange USA

Reasons for a scholar exchange in the USA?

With a USA student exchange, high school students fulfill their desire to get to know the United States, the English language, and American culture better. Along the way, they lay an important foundation for their careers.

The desire for more independence, intercultural skills, and preparation for adult life also prompts many parents to sign up their offspring for a year of study abroad.

USA student exchange: finding the right organization

Before you and your family decide on a student exchange organization, you should ask yourself a few questions. Namely:

  • How long do I want to stay in the USA?
  • Do I want to go to a certain region of the USA?
  • What should be the maximum costs for my USA student exchange?
  • Do I need a scholarship, and do I meet the requirements?
  • Do I want to go to a public school or a private school in the USA?

The prices and services of the exchange organizations vary greatly, which is why you should give yourself enough time to decide. We also recommend talking to some organizations to understand each offer better.

Requirements for a student exchange in the USA

In addition to openness, resilience, and curiosity, you must also fulfill some bureaucratic requirements for a school year in the USA. However, these are usually not enforced mercilessly, and you will have some room for negotiation, e.g., concerning the required grade point average.

Minimum age for a student exchange year in the USA

The earliest age for a student exchange in the USA is 14. If you are younger than 14 but still want to go to school in the USA, you can find out about boarding schools in the USA together with your parents.

Grade point average for a USA student exchange

If you apply for a student exchange in the USA, you will usually be asked for your grade point average when you apply. Among other things, this is because you must not fail your exams shortly before the start of your school year in the USA.

Also, due to the language barrier and the additional hurdles it creates in daily (school) life, your grade point average should be between B and C and your English grade should be no worse than a B.

Financial means

The cost of a USA exchange year has increased within the last few decades, which initially acted as a deterrent to many families and caused the annual number of participants to drop somewhat.

More non-profit organizations have formed to promote education and financially support students in their American Dream in response to this trend. However, a basic budget is still necessary, as you will also need pocket money on-site, for example.

There are exceptions to the rule:
Those who fall short of the required grade point average or need financial support can convince student exchange organizations with their personality, commitment, and creativity. A good example is the The American Dream scholarship, awarded by Partnership International e.V. to particularly committed and creative students.

Language skills for a student exchange in the USA

For a student exchange in the USA, you should communicate fluently on essential topics in English. Beyond that, however, there's not much to worry about, because in everyday school and family life, you will learn English faster than you ever thought possible.

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Applying for a student exchange in the USA

Once you have found the perfect exchange program for your high school year in the USA, it's time to apply. This is done online (sometimes even via app) and usually involves several steps:

  • Application form
  • Selection meeting/interview
  • Submission of documents or creative contributions and letter of motivation
  • Test of language skills
  • Acceptance, signing of the contract

Student exchange USA: What to expect

Once you have been accepted for an exchange year in the USA, the organization will take care of your accommodation and organize your school visit.

Of course, no two host families are alike, and the states, schools, and daily life in the USA are very individual. Nevertheless, there are a few things you can prepare for before your trip.

Host family

Most of the time, you will only get in touch with your new host family shortly before you arrive in the USA (about 2 - 4 weeks in advance). In some cases, a host family is found at such short notice that you may be placed in a temporary solution ("Welcome Family") for the first couple of days.

Less than 10 % of all exchange students change host families during their exchange year in the USA. This means that it is rare for an exchange organization to make a mistake in the "matching" of students and families. However, should this happen, the desired change usually takes place quickly and without complications.

School in the USA

You will probably spend most of your time in your American high school during your exchange year. Your classes will start early and not end until the afternoon. They will be accompanied by many extracurricular activities such as school sports like American football, baseball, basketball, softball, cheerleading, or other school projects.

Rights and responsibilities

As an exchange student, you are a contributing member of American society. This applies to your rights as a student and family member, as well as your responsibilities.

If it is customary in your host family, you will participate in household and garden chores, join common activities, and also be held accountable for your mistakes. Attending school in the USA is also a duty for you.

Of course, you will have to abide by American laws during your stay in the USA. In this regard, inform yourself beforehand about the USA and also take a look at the Constitution of the United States of America.

Everyday life in the USA

What you won't find on the websites of authorities and organizations are practical tips for everyday life in the USA. This includes the peculiarities of American life as well as the typical faux pas that foreign tourists in the USA may encounter.

A good tip, for example, is to bring a little gift from home for your host family. It is also helpful to inquire about your host family's special house rules and habits shortly after your arrival.

Preparing for the USA student exchange

Your USA student exchange should be a success for you, your host family, and any sponsors and organizations. Therefore, you should carry out your preparations thoroughly. The best way to do this is with a checklist.

 Checklist for a student excahange in the USA
Finalize contract and schedule
Apply for passport
Apply for USA visa
Apply for a credit card (18 years and older)
Obtain needed insurances (e.g., international health insurance)
Buy an American SIM card
Compile travel documents

Ask your exchange organization about preparation seminars for students and parents if you need more support. They will prepare you for everyday life in the USA.

Visa for student exchange in the USA

For a student exchange in the USA, you usually need a J-1 visa. However, in some cases (e.g., privately organized high school years), an F-1 visa may be required.

You can get an ESTA travel authorization if you are only making a short language study trip (up to 3 months) in the USA, which does not include more than 18 hours of classes per week. ESTA is cheaper and faster to get than a visa.

ESTA – visa-free to the USA

With an ESTA, you can stay 90 days visa-free in the USA. Apply online now!

Costs for a student exchange in the USA

The costs for a student exchange in the USA depend on the duration of your stay in the USA, the US state or city, and the organization that arranges the exchange year for you.

The program prices vary between € 2,000 and € 30,000, whereby the very high price categories include many inclusive services that are not essential for a good student exchange.

When choosing your exchange program, pay attention to the following criteria:

  • Is the flight to the USA included?
  • Is health insurance included?
  • Is liability insurance included?
  • Are there free preparatory seminars and mentoring?
  • Are there any additional fees for attending the school?

You should also calculate the amount of your pocket money for the stay in the USA beforehand. It should be based on the general cost of living in the US state and city to which you are moving.

Cost coverage through a USA scholarship

In order to create more educational equality and make a stay in the USA possible for young people even without a lot of money, non-profit organizations have created various USA scholarships.

The criteria for awarding scholarships often include social commitment, personal background, unique talents, or excellent grades. However, the selection criteria vary from organization to organization and from school to school.

Those who do not receive a scholarship for a USA student exchange can usually arrange to pay in installments instead.

Student exchange USA: Which US state?

Not all, but some organizations allow you to choose the US region for your year abroad for an additional fee. You haven't made a trip to the USA yet and don't know exactly where you like it best? Then you can get detailed information about the different regions, states, and cities of the USA.

The Northeast of the USA

New York, Vermont, Maine, or New Hampshire? Thanks to its romantic New England flair, the European-influenced Northeast of the USA is very popular with exchange students and has many excellent schools and universities. You will understand the locals well here because they speak clear and partly British-influenced English.

The Southern States of the USA

Tropical heat, wetlands, and the best food in the United States await you on a student exchange in the southern United States. If you go to school close to Mexico or Cuba, you will perfect your Southern English and even pick up some Spanish. Whether Florida, Texas, or North Carolina: nature and people in the Southern States are simply sensational!

The West of the USA

A year in the Western USA is fascinating because you have a vast choice of climatic conditions, vibrant cities, top universities, dream beaches, and landscapes. How about a student exchange in Alaska or a high school year in California? Even a year in Hawaii is possible!

The Midwest of the USA

The Midwest attracts an enormous number of exchange students every year. This may be due to the good educational institutions around Chicago in the US state of Illinois, or the down-to-earthiness and warmth of the Midwest region. Especially the social vein of the people and the tremendous voluntary commitment of the "Midwesterners" make the Midwest a real feel-good place.

USA student exchange FAQ

Do you have any further questions about the student exchange in the USA? Then you will undoubtedly find what you are looking for in our FAQ:

Does a student exchange count towards school hours?

The regulations for crediting a student exchange with the USA vary from country to country. A year abroad can be credited before the 12th grade in many cases. Afterward, the time spent abroad usually has to be made up. Find out about the special rules in your country and state as early as possible.

Can I do a gap year instead of a student exchange?

Some foundations offer you a so-called "gap year" instead of student exchange, including school attendance, during which you do voluntary service. Typically, the gap year is completed between two important stages of life, e.g., between school and training or between school and university. Summer school programs or au pair stays in the USA are also popular as gap fillers.

Is there a travel cancellation option for student exchanges?

A good student exchange program is crisis-proof. This means that you usually have a travel cancellation option in the package. Ideally, this is free of charge and offers you 100 % protection.

However, suppose you cancel an already confirmed exchange year shortly before your departure. In that case, you may be obligated to reimburse cancellation costs for services already rendered, such as seminars or enrollment at a school.

Can I choose my host family?

Normally, a "matching" between exchange students and host families is made on the basis of the information provided during the application process. This involves selecting according to common interests and the age of the host siblings. At best, both host families and students are sent a shortlist to participate in the decision.

Am I insured as an exchange student?

Both liability and international health insurance are part of the package in good exchange programs. Be sure to clarify this before committing.

Will my host family receive money for hosting me?

Whether your host family participates in the exchange program out of pure cultural interest or with an additional financial motivation depends on your exchange program. However, organizations usually work with families who have a genuine interest in people from different countries and do not receive money for hosting a guest student.

How can I change host families?

If you find that you are not comfortable with your host family, communicate this to your local supervisor and, at best, directly to your host parents. Afterward, you can work out a move to a new host family together.

By the way: A little homesickness is quite normal during a year abroad. That's why it's not uncommon to have a lot of contact with your friends and family back home during the first few days or weeks. In almost all exchange programs, counselors are always ready to listen to your thoughts and concerns.

How can I stay in touch with my family?

Ideally, you should get a US SIM card for your stay in the States with a flat rate phone plan and a data plan that suits you. However, you can assume that your host family has an Internet connection anyway, so you can keep in touch with your loved ones at all times.

When should I apply for a year abroad?

Since the selection of a suitable host family, including all formalities, takes a lot of time, you should apply for the desired exchange program at least one year before your planned trip to the USA.

Living in the USA

Have you already submitted your application for a school year in the USA? Great, now you can take your time to prepare for your trip, polish up your English, and get ready for living in the USA.

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