Growing up in Germany, Daniel Posmik says he always had a fascination with American culture and way of life. So he was excited when he was offered a full-ride academic scholarship to attend Lakota East High School in Ohio for 11th grade.
“Attending an American high school helped me in communicating and understanding foreign cultures more effectively,” says Posmik, who earned the scholarship through the international student exchange organization ICES and its German partner organization Stepin.
Now a freshman at the University of Cincinnati majoring in international business management, Posmik says the experience allowed him to develop an open mind.
He’s not alone. The number of international students who went to the U.S. for high school more than tripled between 2004 and 2016 to nearly 82,000, according to the Institute of International Education.
Prospective international students may want to consider attending their last year or two at an American high school to help them prepare for attending a U.S. university. Keep in mind that international students must pay the full cost of education. Also, those planning to study at U.S. high schools for more than a year require an F-1 student visa, experts say, while those participating in a one-year exchange program through the U.S. Department of State require a J-1 visa.
Here are two ways attending high school in the U.S. can prepare prospective international college applicants.
English language practice. International high school students can not only get English language practice by speaking with their American classmates, but many high schools also offer English as a Second Language programs to assist nonnative English speakers. Students may also have access to English language tutors who can work one-on-one with them.
“Spending a year or two in a U.S. high school, often offering ESL programs, can greatly hone an international student’s English skills, which is demanded by college studies in the U.S.,” says Sharon Tan, academic director at Educatius Group, which helps international students enroll in international high school programs.
For students with stronger English-speaking skills, two years in a U.S. high school can be helpful, says Stephen Lanier, director of international undergraduate admissions at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma. But for a student whose English ability is low, he says the best option is three or more years, which “allows the student to improve their grades and earn a better cumulative GPA.”
Korean national Juyoung Seo attended 10th and 11th grade at Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic School in Michigan and 12th grade at Orono High School in Maine. Seo says taking an ESL class at her first high school really helped her with papers she had to write for English class. She learned how to check grammar, brainstorm paper topics, cite references and use MLA and APA academic styles – useful skills for studying at U.S. universities.
Jon Weller, director of international enrollment at the University of Cincinnati, says a U.S. high school experience can allow students to improve English communication skills as well as “feel more comfortable in American social situations.”
Posmik says while he didn’t take ESL or have a tutor at his high school, being around his American peers allowed him to sharpen his English and communication skills.” My English improved to the point that I even lost my accent,” Posmik says.
Adjustment to the American education system, including extracurriculars. Attending an American high school can expose students to a different education system and offer them opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities and take courses at a local college.
By attending a U.S. high school, Weller says, international students will become more familiar with the U.S. grading system. Tan says the experience ensures a smoother transition into U.S. higher education, as high school is intended to prepare students for studies at American universities.
“We have observed that students who have spent a year or two in a U.S. high school adapt more quickly to college-level academics, create a more diverse set of friendships, seek additional academic support and join extracurricular activities,” says Orlina Boteva, director of the Office of International Programs at the University of Maine.
Posmik says his experience with the American education system helped him enormously. He says not only did he know what to expect on standardized tests like the ACT or the TOEFL, but it also helped him write more eloquent college scholarship and application essays.
Lanier says students who attend U.S. high schools have opportunities to participate in cocurricular activities connected to academics and extracurricular activities, which may not be available at their schools overseas.
“U.S. universities are looking for students who can contribute to both a school’s academic and social communities,” Lanier says.
Seo says in Korea it can be difficult to participate in extracurricular activities due to the emphasis placed on studying in Korean culture. During her senior year in Maine, Seo took advantage of her options by joining the soccer and basketball teams. She also took a calculus II course at the University of Maine campus – the university she now attends, where she is majoring in accounting.
At his high school, Posmik says he played varsity sports and made a lot of athletic progress. He says he was nominated as an all-state linebacker in 2016 and received an athletic scholarship to a university in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics in 2017, though he ended up transferring to the University of Cincinnati.
He says for students considering attending a U.S. high school, it’s important to have an open mind and be active in the school’s extracurricular programs. “Both of these points will be important for your personal and academic success,” Posmik says.