A student works alongside a local on their summer community service program in Peru.

Getting accepted to your dream school is an increasingly difficult endeavor, and many students are wondering what will make them stand out among the sea of applicants. International travel can make a world of difference.

Being a savvy world traveler is seen by college admissions boards as a valuable part of any applicant’s life experience. Dan Logue, Guidance Counselor for the Preparatory Charter School in Philadelphia, PA knows first hand what a difference international travel can make on a student application. “In the hyper-competitive world of college admissions to the most prestigious institutions in the country, it is the meaningful extracurricular activities, such as that set successful students apart. Everyone is a great student, everyone has the test scores, everyone is an athlete or in clubs and activities. The question then becomes how do your other experiences help you stick out. Is what you’re doing meaningful? Are you connecting with the global community? Travel is above all a sign of maturity.”

Claudia was accepted to her first choice school, Middlebury College. She shares her thoughts about how her experiences with teen travel company Travel for Teens gave her an edge during the admissions process: “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.”The willingness to step outside your comfort zone and travel abroad speaks volumes about your motivation, curiosity, and initiative. All traits will set you apart from the crowd.

A student participates in community service projects at a school in Costa Rica on her teen tour.

One of the greatest ways to have a life-changing travel experience while racking up points for college admissions is by participating in a trip with a cultural learning or volunteer focus. Students interested in traveling or volunteering abroad have a wide variety of options available to them through the many teen travel companies who specialize in various types of travel. Of course, not all travel experiences are created equal in the discerning eyes of the College Admissions Office. Lying out on a tropical beach for a week is great fun, but it doesn’t put you in contact with the local culture, traditions and history of a place. Meaningful travel abroad will put you in touch with an entirely new way of living and thinking about your world. When you make the effort to speak a few words of a foreign language, or sample a dish that you never thought you’d have the courage to taste, you inevitably grow and add valuable new experiences to your life. Having perfect grades is great, but when you find yourself in a college interview or writing your personal essay, you need more to go on than having an A+ in AP Rocket Science. Today’s teenagers are finding that travel abroad gives them the confidence, worldly experience, and global outlook that resonates with college admissions boards.

You can help build a playground in South Africa, work on a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Italy, learn about the rainforest in Costa Rica, or study marine biology in the Caribbean – the list goes on and on.

High school students complete service hours on a beach in the Cinque Terre on their summer teen tour to Italy.

There are tons of great travel opportunities out there for all types of interests and budgets. Do you want to study Spanish in Madrid or go to Fiji to learn about traditional Fijian culture and do community service work? It’s easy to get started. Pick a destination and a type of trip that genuinely interests you, and then explore it online. Michael Hawthorne, a student at Flagler College in Florida, found that his experiences roving the world with Travel for Teens helped him enormously when it came to applying to college: “Traveling had a huge bearing on my life and me getting into college altogether. Colleges see traveling as something that takes responsibility, integrity, enthusiasm, intelligence, and maturity, which colleges look for extensively in their application process. Teenagers who are experienced in traveling tend to show all of these qualities and more.”

Remember, college admissions officers are looking for well-rounded students who will bring their own set of unique characteristics and experiences to campus. Travel abroad will set you apart, so get out there! Add some stamps to that passport and give a huge boost to your college applications while you do it.

Nic Emery
Italy Director