Amazing Travel Scholarships and Programs for Students

Want to travel or study abroad before college? These merit and need-based scholarships can help high school students fulfill their desire to explore the world.

If you found your way to this article, you’ve probably spent hours reading through travel blogs and Pinterest boards waiting for the day you get to travel the world, or maybe even just outside your hometown. Whatever the case, wanderlust is real, and with good reason. Travelling is a life-changing experience that many dream about, but it can often seem costly or out of reach. The good news is that travelling abroad is not just for expensive family vacations or a college study abroad excursion years down the road. You can travel and study abroad—funded by scholarships—in high school too! Below is a list of merit and need-based scholarships to help fulfill your desire to explore the world (and contribute to it). 

National Geographic Student Expeditions

Looking to craft your photography skills in Prague with the guidance of professionals? Eager to learn about anthropology and local cultures in Bhutan? Or maybe you’d like to hone your creative writing skills on Ireland’s coast or be a part of a community service project in Costa Rica. Every year National Geographic leads high school students on week- or two-week long expeditions to over 30 destinations around the globe. These expeditions have projects for everyone, and you are eligible any time between middle school and the summer after your high school graduation. If you can raise the money to go on one of these trips, go! If not, National Geographic sponsors trips with around 22 scholarships for students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford them. This financial assistance makes it possible for students to have the most memorable experience of their lives—though my opinion might be biased as a 2017 scholarship recipient!

National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y)

Learn a new language? Yes, please! NSLI-Y is an immersive language program for high school students and recent high school graduates (meaning if you apply your senior year, you can go the following summer). Sponsored by the US Department of State, this program allows students to receive in-depth training in a critical language for either a summer or an entire academic year! The eight offered languages include Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Bahasa Indonesia, Korean, Persian (Tajiki),  Russian, and Turkish. No prior language study is required. This is a merit-based scholarship, which means you do not have to demonstrate financial need to be eligible for this award. The NSLI-Y is a fully funded immersion program to all who are accepted. 

Putney Student Travel

Putney Student Travel offers student trips to over 20 countries with a variety of focus areas, including community service, cultural exploration, Discover Putney, language learning, middle school, and pre-college. Putney collaborates with National Geographic Student Expeditions and The New York Times Student Journeys (another cool travel opportunity to check out) to fund multiple trips for students with financial need. After leading trips around the world for 67 years, you can bet there’s something about this program that keeps students coming back.

Related: 7 Scholarships to Help You Study Abroad


AFS USA offers study abroad, volunteer, and language programs for summers, semesters, or a full academic year. These programs are available to students between the ages of 13–18, and both merit and need scholarships are available. AFS USA also sponsors AFS Project: Change. If you have ever brainstormed an idea for a volunteer project abroad, this is your chance! AFS Project: Change allows students to submit a written or video proposal of their volunteer idea in one of five issue areas, including education; hunger and nutrition; sustainability, arts, and technology; or human rights and cultural understanding. The grand-prize winner is given a full scholarship to implement their project in one of seven countries, and the next few winners are offered a chance to join the grand-prize project on a scholarship as well.

Year-long programs

Is one summer or semester not enough? Then spending a year abroad might be perfect for you! The Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs lists two year-long exchange programs funded by merit-based scholarships. The Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for High School Students is in Germany, and the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study (YES) Abroad is offered in countries with significant Muslim populations. Both programs allow students to live with host families and be “youth ambassadors” of the United States. Alternatively, if full-immersion, year-long travel with the world as a classroom is what you’re looking for, consider taking a gap year before college. Global Citizen Year (GCY) is a global gap year program in four countries—Ecuador, India, Brazil, and Senegal—where participants learn a new language, engage with a new community, and develop leadership and service skills. GCY offers both partial and full aid awards based on merit and need—making an accessible travel opportunity like this once in a lifetime.

Related: All the Study Abroad Advice You’ll Ever Need

Each of the aforementioned programs encompasses the best aspect of travel—it changes you. Don’t wait until college to see, shape, and be shaped by the world though. Go now, because it is only an application away.

Find more travel scholarships to help you follow your study abroad dreams with our Scholarship Search tool.

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About Sarah G. Hill

Sarah G. Hill

Sarah hails from and attends college in the great state of Missouri. She loves politics, travel, and—of course—writing! She took a gap year of service before entering college, where she is now a Political Science and International Relations major. As a low-income first-generation student, Sarah knows the difficulties youth encounter as they apply to college, and she hopes her articles will be of help to other students along the way!


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