How International Experiences
Boost College Applications

The college application process can be stressful for high school students, feeling like a high-stakes exam where they compete to stand out from other qualified applicants. That’s where international experiences e.g., study abroad programs, volunteering, cultural exchanges, can become your secret weapon. Beyond offering picturesque landscapes and memorable souvenirs, traveling abroad equips you with invaluable skills and perspectives that capture the attention of admissions officers. Admissions officers value international experiences for their role in developing skills such as independence, intercultural communication, adaptability, and more.

Broaden Your Horizons

College admissions committees look for well-rounded individuals with a global mindset. Immersing yourself in a different culture allows you to step outside your comfort zone and develop adaptability. You’ll learn to navigate new environments, communicate effectively despite language barriers, and appreciate diverse perspectives. These skills are invaluable in college, where you’ll encounter classmates from all walks of life, different cultures, faiths, and countries.

Sharpen Your Skills

Whether you volunteer at a wildlife sanctuary in Costa Rica or participate in a language immersion program in France, international experiences offer practical learning opportunities. Volunteering abroad cultivates your compassion and allows you to contribute to a cause you care about. Studying abroad fosters language fluency and enhances communication skills. These experiences showcase your initiative, critical thinking, and problem-solving abilities – all highly sought-after qualities by colleges. In short, international experiences boost college applications.

Fuel Your Passion

International travel often ignites new passions or deepens existing ones. Maybe witnessing the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef sparks a love for marine biology, or perhaps volunteering in an underprivileged community inspires a dedication to social justice. Highlighting these newfound passions that you gain thorough international experiences in your college essays showcases not only your interests but also your willingness to explore and grow.

How International Experiences Boost College Applications 1

Tell Your Story in Your College Application Essay

College applications are more than just numbers on a transcript. International experiences provide a wealth of material for compelling essays and interview topics. Share anecdotes that demonstrate your personal growth, cultural understanding, or how you overcame challenges abroad. These stories breathe life into your college application and reveal the unique individual you are beyond your GPA and test scores.

Claudia was accepted to her first-choice school, Middlebury College. She shares her thoughts about how her international experiences boosted her college applications: “I have done community service work in Honduras and in Sicily. Both were life-changing experiences and when it came time to pick a topic for my personal statement essay the choice was clear. My trips also made great conversation topics in college interviews, especially since experience traveling abroad is indicative of independence and initiative, which are appealing traits to admissions officers.”

Lisa Haubenstock worked in the Admissions Office at Boston University for three and a half years, as an Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions. She says, “International experience is great because it helps broaden your horizons, it makes you think about people who were brought up in a different way than you were, and (hopefully) allows you to try some really good food.”

However, similar to other extracurricular activities, the impact of this experience will primarily depend on how you engage with it. For example, deeply engaging with the local community, undertaking a meaningful project, or learning a new language can significantly enhance your application. In your application, you’ll want to articulate how the experience has shaped you, potentially through your essays. What skills have you gained? Did the experience spark any academic interests or new perspectives?

In order for international experiences to boost college applications, you must position your experience right and you’ll be able to be an even more competitive applicant.

Conclusion: International Experiences Boost College Applications

The impact of an international experience extends far beyond college applications. It shapes you into a mature, adaptable, and globally-minded individual. However, it’s crucial to ensure that your travel is purposeful and culturally respectful. Focus on volunteering, community service, language learning, or academic programs that demonstrate engagement and depth.

International experiences aren’t just about ticking destinations off a list; they’re transformative journeys that enrich your life and make your college application stand out from the crowd. So, pack your bags, explore the world, and showcase all you’ve learned to colleges eager for well-rounded, globally-aware students!


In the competitive landscape of college admissions, high school students often feel the pressure to stand out among qualified applicants. International experiences, such as study abroad programs, volunteering, and cultural exchanges, offer a unique advantage in college applications. Traveling abroad equips students with valuable skills and perspectives that catch the attention of admissions officers.

International experiences broaden horizons by fostering adaptability and effective communication across diverse cultures. They also sharpen critical skills like compassion, initiative, and problem-solving through volunteer work and language immersion. Moreover, international travel provides rich material for compelling college essays and interviews.

To leverage international experiences in college applications effectively, students should strategically position themselves to showcase personal growth, cultural understanding, and resilience in overcoming challenges abroad. By articulating the impact of their international experiences, students can present themselves as well-rounded, globally aware individuals with the maturity and independence sought by colleges.

Ultimately, international experiences are transformative journeys that enrich students’ lives and make their college applications stand out, demonstrating engagement, depth, and a readiness to contribute to a diverse academic community.

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