What is School Year Abroad (SYA)?
Founded in 1964 by Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts and now a consortium of 44 high schools, including top independent high schools across the country, SYA is the only secondary-level program which requires high school students to live with a European or Asian family for an entire academic school year while earning U.S. graduation credits and preparing for selective U.S. colleges and universities. Every year, each of our schools in Italy, France, Spain and China enrolls approximately 60 students to complete their junior or senior year of high school.
The central elements of SYA—the homestay and an academic program emphasizing foreign language acquisition—ensure that students return home with real mastery of a second language. At the same time, instructors from U.S. high schools guarantee that they do not lose ground in their core American courses: math and English. One of the most rewarding aspects of our educational travel trips is the chance for SYA students to spend quality time with their classmates. Extracurricular activities are provided at each school for students, as we believe that it's important to give back to the communities in which our students are immersed for the year.
Since 1964, over 7,500 high school students have taken the opportunity to become competent internationalists. One early graduate spoke for many SYA alumni when he said, "SYA was the most significant and enriching educational experience of my life. Period."
Current world events and global economic developments have only confirmed our belief in the necessity of such an experience for more and more young American high school students. We're committed to maintaining our high standards as we work with future generations of adventuresome high school students eager to gain mastery of another language, a new perspective on themselves and a deeper understanding of the complex world beyond our borders.
What makes SYA special?
SYA's unique academic program, for one thing. English and math courses (as well as history in China) are taught in English by American teachers, while other subjects are taught in Chinese, French or Spanish by native instructors. In Italy, all courses except Italian language are taught in English. In all four schools students receive intensive language training without giving up graduation credits at their home school.
Also, a full-time Resident Director, comfortable in the foreign country and sensitive to the needs of American high school students, oversees all aspects of the program, from selection of local host families to college counseling. The directors are usually chosen from the faculties of member schools and serve extended terms abroad. They guarantee the academic integrity of the program and help students make the most of the many opportunities offered by a year in a foreign country.
Finally, SYA is small. Each year we send approximately 60 carefully selected high school students to each one of our schools abroad. For 50 years, we've devoted our energies to perfecting the programs offered in these centers. We are proud of our success.
consider SYA to have been the most valuable experience in their educational careers and remember it as the most significant year of their entire lives.
Why should high school students consider studying abroad?
High school students in the 11th or 12th grade are mature enough to respond to the challenges of living abroad while young enough to absorb new experiences fully and integrate successfully into a foreign host family. They're much more likely to see another country from the inside than are students three or four years older. Students headed for careers in math- or science-related fields find the high school years ideal for a year abroad because they're not yet locked into a college major; students who think they may major in languages or other liberal arts will have the chance to take a second year abroad in college.
All SYA graduates find that the transition from high school to college is smooth, thanks to the independence, self-confidence and renewed academic motivation they gain abroad. As one alumna put it, "I returned from SYA with a new thirst for knowledge."
What about extracurricular activities?
SYA host cities are lively communities with a tremendous array of active clubs, teams and youth groups. Cycling, soccer, swimming, church fellowship, photography, aerobics, fencing, cooking, instrumental lessons, choir, internships, orchestra, hiking, basketball, martial arts, community service, kayaking, acting, sculpture and painting are only a few of the activities SYA students have pursued in recent years.
While not all of these activities are available in all of our host cities, SYA students always have a number of choices for healthy engagement with the local community and culture.
Isn't it difficult to go away for such a long time?
SYA is designed as a year-long program because experience has taught us that high school students learn and grow in two semesters more than twice as much as they do in a single semester. Many students don't hit their stride in the second language until December, and most do not begin to achieve mastery until early spring. We therefore don't accept one-semester applications, with the exception of SYA China.
It's normal to wonder about passing up familiar activities and hoped-for achievements at home. Once settled in Italy, France, Spain or China, however, students cannot believe they ever hesitated to take the big step. Of course they give up certain things, but they enjoy new adventures and challenges in their place; and SYA students inevitably consider themselves winners in the exchange.
Two things are certain:
- The time abroad will seem too short, not too long.
- The experience away from home helps students to see things in a new and broader perspective.
What happens if I don't get along with my host family?
What does SYA cost?
Living with a caring host family is one of the defining components of SYA. You'll be placed with a family that is excited to share in your experience. They provide far more than just a place to eat and sleep, and together you'll weave memories that will last a lifetime. Each SYA country has a dedicated Host Family Coordinator who not only matches you with a family, but is available throughout the year to help guide you through the process of adapting to a completely different set of norms. The families we select after interviews in their homes are of varying sizes, configurations and social classes. What they have in common is a desire to incorporate an American teenager fully into their lives and the flexibility and warmth necessary to make that work.
We spend long days during the summer studying student folders and questionnaires, matching interests and personalities with those of our host families. If we misread a folder, or for any other reason the relationship isn't working, we try first to help the student and family to get along. If counseling efforts fail, we move the student to a new family. The great majority of students are very happy from the start. It is extremely rare for any of the few students who move to be dissatisfied with a second family.
What do colleges think of SYA?
College admissions officers know that successful SYA students are proven risk-takers who have responded well to the combined challenges of a rigorous academic program and life in a foreign culture. Students who make the most of SYA are regularly accepted at top colleges and universities.
Click here to view the colleges which enrolled the most SYA students in the past five years.
SYA students take all ACT, PSAT, SAT and AP examinations while abroad. The SYA administration works closely with home school counselors to assure that all transcripts, recommendations and other application papers are sent to colleges in time to meet U.S. deadlines.
Who may apply to School Year Abroad?
Students from any accredited high school may apply to spend their junior or senior year abroad with SYA. Students from approximately 1,100 schools have participated since SYA's founding. Click here to read more about the application process.
is lower than the fees at most U.S. boarding schools. Financial aid is available to families with demonstrated need. No student should hesitate to apply because of financial considerations. In a typical year more than $3 million will be given to over 40% of our students who qualify for financial aid. Grants are calculated according to family need and may be large enough to cover full tuition, airfare and books. There are also scholarships
available for each full-year program. Click here to learn more about affording study abroad
SYA does not and will not discriminate against any applicant for admission to its programs on the basis of race, ethnicity, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, or sexual orientation.