International Student Exchange Programs

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International Student Exchange Programs (ISEP)
International Student Exchange Organization
Genre non-profit organization
Founded 1979
Headquarters Rosslyn, Virginia, United States
Number of locations
50+ countries around the world
Area served
300+ institutions of higher education in more than 50 countries
Key people
Dr. John Lucas, President and CEO

The International Student Exchange Program is an international network which encourages student exchanges all around the world. It was founded in 1979 and has enrolled more than 37,000 students.



Established in 1979 under authority of the Fulbright-Hays Act as the International Student Exchange Program at Georgetown University, ISEP was supported by a grant from the (former) United States Information Agency (USIA) until 1996.

The first year of exchanges involved Georgetown University and six international universities. However, throughout the 1980s and early 1990s there was a focused effort to widen the network. By 1997, there were over 240 US and international institutions.

The loss of funding from the USIA in 1996 led to ISEP’s incorporation as an independent, non-profit membership organization.


After ISEP’s incorporation, the organization refocused its energies on obtaining financial stability while aiming toward continued membership growth and program improvement. By 2003, ISEP achieved these goals through an ambitious evaluation and implementation of new financial structures and program options such as ISEP-Direct (formerly ISEP II). Currently, ISEP has an annual budget over $4 million with a membership base of over 300 universities in the US and 44 other countries.[citation needed]


Throughout 2014 and 2015, ISEP underwent an organizational rebrand in order to further align the company's goals towards helping all students overcome financial and academic barriers to study abroad. The rebrand included a new visual identity focused on representing the diverse community of members and students that make up ISEP. In 2016, ISEP launched a new website focused on human-centered design principles.


Benefits for ISEP Members[edit]

ISEP member institutions make up a community of more than 300 accredited academic institutions in over 50 countries.[1]

ISEP Program Types[edit]

ISEP Exchange[edit]

ISEP Exchange programs are based on the concept of reciprocal exchange and are open to students at ISEP Exchange member institutions only. Each outbound participant pays the cost of an academic term (tuition, room, and board) at home while, for every student sent abroad, the institution receives one in return. ISEP facilitates exchanges between U.S. and international members as well as exchanges among international institutions. ISEP Exchanges allow students students to exchange places at member universities for a semester or a year. There are two types of ISEP Exchanges:

  • ISEP Exchanges between members in the United States and other countries (for example, Texas- France). All ISEP countries except India participate in US-International exchanges.
  • International-to-International (also known as I-toI) ISEP Exchanges are between the members outside the United States only (for example, Mexico-Finland). Not all international ISEP members take part in International-to-International exchanges.

Exchanges are based on the balance of students exchanging places rather than a monetary exchange, so a university abroad can only accept as many students as it sends out. Students pay a fee to their home university based on the cost of tuition, fees, housing, and a full meal plan at the home institution. This program fee creates a "place" and a set of benefits for an incoming student. Abroad, students receive the same set of ISEP benefits covered by the fees that the outgoing student paid to that university. An application/placement fee is paid to ISEP. Financial aid and scholarships usually apply for U.S. students.[2]

ISEP Direct[edit]

ISEP Direct is a fee-paid option that was developed as a non-reciprocal alternative to ISEP Exchange in order to provide more students access to institutions that are in great demand. ISEP Direct placements are open to students at ISEP member and affiliate Institutions. Students pay a fee to ISEP which covers the host institution's program cost. The program fee covers tuition, orientation, student services abroad, and often room and meals. Financial aid usually applies for US students. At most sites, there are no limits on the number of ISEP Direct students that can be accepted, so the chance of placement for qualified students is very good. Courses offered are usually the same on ISEP-Exchange and ISEP-Direct unless otherwise noted. Some ISEP-Direct programs focus on area studies such as language and culture, and others are primarily language-acquisition programs.[3]

Program Features[edit]

ISEP Summer programs outside of the U.S. are good for students who wish to improve their language skills or learn about a special academic subject in another country for a shorter period of time. Some summer programs are offered as ISEP Exchange and others are ISEP Direct. Summer ISEP Exchanges are available to students at ISEP Exchange Member institutions only. Summer ISEP Direct programs are available to students at all ISEP Member institutions. Not all ISEP Members offer summer programs, and the participating universities vary from year to year.

Students enroll directly at their host institutions and have access to many academic programs and courses for which they have the pre-requisites and language skills. ISEP participants take courses in language and area studies, international relations, humanities and social sciences, as well as in “non-traditional” study-abroad fields: business, engineering, applied sciences, environmental studies, and education. They have studied geology in Iceland, computer science in Japan, criminology in Sweden, social work in Argentina, sports science in Finland, geography and resource development in Ghana, increasing their understanding of the international dimension of their field and developing critical intercultural communication skills.

ISEP offers diversity in destinations. Most member institutions in Europe are in smaller cities, where it is easier to become one of the locals than in capital cities, and many are in countries that do not usually receive large numbers of US students—such as Finland, Poland, Hungary and Malta. ISEP students have the option to study in ‘non-traditional’ destinations in Latin America, Africa, Asia and Oceania. International students can apply for ISEP placement at ISEP member colleges and universities in 45 states as well as Puerto Rico.


Changing the face of ISEP[edit]

From 2005-2009, ISEP began refocusing its strategic plan in order to reenergize and modernize its image as a frontrunner of study abroad. It has introduced a new logo, a revamped website, and streamlined publications. Additionally, it has sought new ways to recruit and connect students through special projects such as the ISEP Facebook community, Student Ambassadors Program, and annual photo-essay contest.

Future programs/projects[edit]

ISEP hopes to broaden its membership base and deepen its commitment to current and future members and the study abroad community by introducing a new database and online application system; pursuing options in non-traditional locations such as the Middle East; and exploring international exchanges for faculty, staff, and education executives.[citation needed]


External links[edit]