International Student Exchange Programs

International Student Exchange Programs

PresidentMary Anne Grant
LocationWashington, D.C., United States
Website []


The International Student Exchange Programs (ISEP) is a network of 275 post-secondary institutions in the United States and 38 other countries cooperating to provide affordable international educational experiences for a diverse student population. As a non-profit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., ISEP is governed by a Board of Directors, supported by member fees and fees for services, and administered by a central office.

ISEP offers access to education abroad for students from member and affiliate institutions through Reciprocal Exchanges and ISEP-Direct fee-paid study-abroad programs. The ISEP Network provides access to a wide range of higher education institutions and academic disciplines in Europe, Latin America, Asia, Canada, Africa, the South Pacific and the United States.

An ISEP Experience offers undergraduate students the opportunity to study for a summer, semester or academic year in another country. ISEP students are integrated into the host institution and host culture as fully as their language competence and non-degree student status allow. A designated ISEP Coordinator administers the ISEP program at each institution, providing guidance and support to students throughout their experience.
Participating ISEP institutions send students to study in one academic field and receive participants in another field. They cooperate as equal partners to further the internationalization of their campuses and offer access to high-quality programs in diverse locations. Members agree to terms of participation that facilitate students’ integration into the host institution and host culture as well as transfer of academic credit to the home institution.

Organizational Philosophy

ISEP is committed to international educational exchange as an integral component of higher education. ISEP programs are accessible to all students regardless of social and economic background and differences between cost of living in home and host countries.
For nearly three decades, ISEP has championed ‘democratization of study abroad’ in the United States and around the world. ISEP seeks to broaden the educational experience of participating individuals, to foster the development of mutual understanding, peace, goodwill and respect among people and nations.
ISEP programs are intended to have a strong academic base and contribute to cross-cultural education through immersion in the host culture. It is hoped that students reap the benefits of immersion in a foreign culture while making steady progress toward their degree, combining opportunities for intellectual and personal growth with immersion in another culture. This type of exposure to education and everyday life in a country that is different from their own instills a deeper understanding of the host culture while enabling students to continue work in their chosen field of study. As a result, these students return home better prepared to become active members of a global society.



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 1980’s and early 1990’s 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 275 universities in the US and 38 other countries.


Basic information

ISEP is a member-based non-profit organization. Therefore, its success depends on its network of 275 post-secondary institutions in the United States and 38 other countries.
Members are committed to ISEP’s core principles of study abroad: accessibility, affordability and diversity in international education. They cooperate as equal partners in a spirit of trust and mutual support to further the internationalization of their campuses and offer high-quality programs.
In order to become a member or an affiliate, institutions must undergo an extensive membership application process and meet the following criteria:
*Regional accreditation (U.S. institutions) or recognition by their government or ministry of education (non-U.S. institutions)
*Commitment to internationalization and likely to make substantial use of ISEP.
*Dedication of at least one staff member to serve as an on-campus ISEP Coordinator to advise outgoing and incoming exchange students.
*Seeking a wide range of education abroad destinations for their students.
*Offer an addition to the geographic diversity of ISEP destinations and/or increase ISEP’s ability to meet current members’ demand for a particular region or type of institution.
*Offer support services and a broad range of academic programs that meet the needs of incoming students from other countries.
*Have an interest in the campus diversity that incoming international students bring.

Benefits for ISEP Members

As a Member, ISEP provides many benefits in several functional areas: Member Relations, Communication and Information, Placement, Health Insurance and Financial Services.

Member Relations

*Continuously assess member needs and interests and develop programs to serve members.

*Carefully review new member applications.

*Provide stewardship of resources to achieve optimum balance between quality and cost.

*Monitor membership standards to maintain quality.

*Mediate in case of disputes between member institutions regarding benefits or balances.

*Provide training of new coordinators.
*Organize ISEP conferences and annual member meetings.

Communication and Information

*Maintain a website that serves the needs of coordinators and students.
*Provide access to information about programs based on information supplied by member institutions.
*Develop and distribute publications that enable coordinators to recruit and inform students.
*Respond to coordinator inquiries in a timely manner.
*Advise coordinators about programs available, supplementing published information.


*Review applications in a timely manner and provide information about placement progress.
*Fairly consider all applicants for placement.
*Implement J-1 program.
*Provide assistance when participants experience problems and support in emergency situations.
*Distribute transcripts received from host institutions and help with interpretation and resolution of discrepancies as needed.

Health Insurance and Financial Services

*Offer a quality health insurance program and process student enrollment.
*Maintain contact with insurance providers in medical emergencies.
*Send invoices and record payments in a timely and accurate manner.

Member responsibilities

In addition to ISEP’s responsibilities to its members, Members have their own responsibilities with respect to its relationship with ISEP, their students, and other Members.

Relationship with ISEP-Central

*Monitor ISEP communications.
*Respond to questions from ISEP-Central.
*Notify ISEP-Central of administrative and emergency situations.
*Follow application deadlines.
*Ensure that membership fees are paid by due date.

Responsibilities towards Outbound Students

*Be familiar with ISEP programs and services.
*Guide students through the application process, providing them with accurate information and imparting realistic expectations.
*Ensure that students understand the contents of ISEP placement materials and provide pre-departure orientation.
*Facilitate the integration of returnees into the home institution including credit transfer.

Responsibilities towards Incoming Students

*Update description for the ISEP Directory annually to reflect actual conditions.
*Provide course information on the institution's website.
*Complete the Institutional Information Sheet (IIS) on time, providing accurate information.
*Respond to student inquiries after confirmation.
*Adapt standard information materials sent to visiting students to reflect ISEP conditions (e.g. with regard to payment of rent, tuition, etc.).
*Provide housing that meets acceptable standards for safety and cleanliness.
*Provide orientation and general assistance with integration into the host institution and registration.
*Ensure that coordinator or other designated advisor is available at appointed times and in emergencies and designate a substitute during absences from the office.
*Allow participants to take those courses for which they have pre-requisites unless exceptions are stated clearly in information provided to ISEP.
*Issue transcripts in a timely manner.

Responsibilities toward Other Member Institutions

*Coordinators will observe appropriate lines of communication.
*The ISEP coordinator and/or other institutional representatives will participate in ISEP conferences and annual member meetings.
*The Institution will channel exchanges with ISEP member institutions through ISEP.


[ US Members]
[ International Members]



ISEP-Exchanges are based on the concept of reciprocal exchange and are open to students at 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 from the USA and 36 other countries to exchange places at member universities for a semester or a year. There are two types of ISEP-Exchanges:
# US-International ISEP-Exchanges are between members in the United States and other countries (for example, Texas- France). All ISEP countries except New Zealand and Australia participate in US-International exchanges.
# International-to-International ISEP-Exchanges are between the members outside the United States (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 US students.


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. ISEP-Direct offers access to over 30 universities in 20 countries. 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.


ISEP Summer programs outside of the US 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 Member institutions only. Summer ISEP-Direct programs are available to students at ISEP Member and Affiliate 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 43 states as well as Puerto Rico.


Changing the face of ISEP

Within the last couple of years, ISEP has redirected 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

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 China, India, and the Middle East; and exploring international exchanges for faculty, staff, and education executives.



Study Abroad

Student Exchange Program

[ ISEP-France]

[ ISEP Affiliates]

[ GuideStar]


[ Handbook]

[ CGE Student Handbook]

[ Frontiers]

[ Journal of Studies in International Ed]


[ CIA World Fact Book]

[ US Department of State]

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