How to prepare your exchange student for school

At school, your student will take new courses, make friends, learn more about American culture and improve their English. Here are resources to navigate the school registration process, helpful tips to get your exchange student involved and details outlining expectations at school.

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School registration and grade level

In order to finalize your student’s placement, your IEC secured their enrollment in your local school. Before your student arrives, connect with your IEC about the process of registering your student for classes. Your IEC should help arrange student registration, but they may not be able to go with you. See our school registration checklist to help you with that process.


Depending on your high school's policies, your student's grade level might not be based on their age, but rather their previous academic experience. You may find, for example, that your 16-year-old exchange student has already completed the courses normally required for a junior and may be placed as a senior. Grade level placement is at the discretion of the school.


If possible, share your school's course catalog with your student and ask them which classes they're most interested in taking during their exchange.

Course load

Students are strongly encouraged to take a full course load, including English and either US History or American Government. Your local high school may also require students to take certain subjects such as math, science or physical education. This depends on the high school.


Your student's school back home is likely very different from their American school. This could be the first time they have the option of selecting their own classes, so they may need some guidance during that process.


Your IEC and school may also give advice about course levels. For example, a science class may be available in regular, honors or advanced placement. Exchange students are not familiar with these levels or their requirements, so ask the guidance counselor to provide advice about their level of difficulty. When helping your student select classes, keep their English level in mind


Most of our students come from countries where sports and extracurricular activities are not arranged by high schools. Check your high school's website to see what is available and talk with your student about what activities they’d like to try. Many sports may require tryouts either before school starts or shortly after. If your student is interested in trying out for a sport, ask the school about that process.


Students are not guaranteed participation in sports or graduation; this is at the discretion of the school. Check in with your IEC and school to see what options are available for exchange students.


Many students do not receive credit in their native countries for their study in the US and must repeat the school year at home. However, students from some countries such as Austria, Italy, Norway and Spain may obtain credit if they fulfill certain requirements. The process to receive academic credit for an exchange year in the US is called convalidation.


For students who are convalidating, grade level placement should be guaranteed at the time of school enrollment, and the student should meet with their guidance counselor before school starts in order to schedule the required classes. Ask your IEC about any specific convalidation requirements for your student.

Find the right exchange student for your family

Does your family have any hobbies or interests that you'd like to share with an exchange student? Are you looking to learn more about a particular region of the world? Consider some of these topics and start browsing student profiles today.

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© EF Education First 2011-2021. EF High School Exchange Year is operated by EF Educational Foundation for Foreign Study, a non-profit corporation designated by the U.S. Department of State to operate a J-1 student exchange program. Note: Featured photo/videos do not include prospective students, and are representative of program participants.