I was formerly Board Chair of School Year Abroad (SYA), a yearlong study abroad program for high school students that my three children and I each attended. Listening to the podcast, I was struck by parallels with SYA. SYA has struggled in recent years to attract the 240 students it seeks to fill its four schools in Spain, France, China and Italy. Two of the biggest challenges in recruiting students are parental resistance and the attraction of short-term alternatives — issues also cited by IIE. Parents are often concerned that a high school year abroad will be a detriment to their child in the college admissions process. Despite arguments and evidence to the contrary, many parents think it’s more important for their children to take multiple APs, participate on a sports team or edit the school paper than it is for them to immerse themselves in a foreign culture, learn a new language and acquire valuable social skills. I am convinced that each of my children was accepted to his or her first choice college (Bowdoin, Yale and Penn), largely based on the essays they wrote around their year abroad.
The growing number of short-term options presents another challenge. High school students think they can check the study abroad box by spending spring break or the summer on a program. College counselors should push back and get the word out that such experiences count for very little. If an experience does not change one, it is hard to see the value.