Having trouble getting a school to say "Yes!" to hosting an exchange student?
Try some of these tips:
- When reaching out to schools for placement requests, a good practice is to call the high school main office first to ask who the correct contact person might be in reviewing the acceptance of an AFS student. Always send a follow-up email that includes the school and district leadership (principal and superintendent) if the main contact is a different individual.
- Remember that lots of schools that are quick to say “no” – so think of “no” as a step on the way to “yes.”
- Ask “what are the steps to enroll this student?” rather than “do you accept exchange students?” You aren’t really giving them the option to say ‘no’ this way.
- If you are trying to place a Sponsored Programs student (CBYX, FLEX, or YES), consider sharing this letter with school administrators. This letter was provided by the US Department of State and provides some context about Sponsored Programs students.
- Try to include all the decision makers from the beginning such as the superintendent, the principal, etc.
- Know your facts! Create a packet of AFS Information for Schools in your initial email request that describes what an AFS exchange program is, the support that we provide to students and host families, and the differences between J-1 cultural exchange visas and F-1 international student visas. This is especially important for schools/districts new to AFS.
- The host family is often the key to turning “no” to a “yes,” especially if the family is fully screened and hooked on a student. The family's status as residents and tax payers is important; having an exchange student is no different from having a child of their own attending the school. Ask the host family if they have any connections to the PTA or on the school board or in the administration.
- Read through any policies the school and district have on exchange students. Sometimes you can fin these by googling the name of the school district and the phrase “exchange student policy.” Sometimes the decision makers aren’t familiar with the policies or have forgotten about their official policy. This can work in your favor!
- Note right away that the AFS students are on J1 visas, and there is no cost to the district to host them. The school doesn't need a designated school official/officer. And AFS students aren’t enrolled in ESL or IEP classes. An document describing the difference between F1 foreign students and J1 exchange students can be found on the Build Relationships with High Schools page.
- Note if there is an AFS partner school nearby, and don't hesitate to name drop. “We have had x number of students in the neighboring high school______; feel free to reach out to Principal So-and-So there to have him share his experience with AFS.”
- It is okay to ask why they have said "no." Sometimes getting to the root of the issue can help. If they don't know why they have a particular policy they might be more likely to reconsider it. Or if they had a bad experience with a different program, you talk about AFS’s support and screening processes.
- Even if in the worst case scenario and you get an ultimate ‘no,’ when things settle down, see if you can schedule an appointment to talk more about it. We will always have interested families, so can the school reserve a spot for us or reconsider a deadline or something? It is one thing if the school is full and another if their deadline is very early. Look for solutions for the future even if it means waiting until winter to talk about upcoming years.
You may also want to review the article on Building Relationships with High Schools.