The number of students participating in foreign exchange programs at the post-secondary-school level in any given year is a surprisingly large number--1.4 million. Of those, approximately one-third of them choose the United States as their destination. The number of exchange students at the level of secondary-school or below is smaller, but still considerable. Hosting foreign exchange students has been a decades old tradition in some circles of American society. Families that have hosted students often form close, lasting relationships with them. Learn how to participate in this experience.

Know what you are getting into. Realize that hosting an exchange student is like adopting him or her for the time they are in this country. These students have financial resources and are almost always covered with medical insurance policies, but their housing, supervision and emotional support come directly from the host family. It is also true that because of cultural differences, exchange students sometimes have difficulty integrating into the hectic and competitive society that exists in American high schools and junior high schools.

Go through a rigorous placement process. Prior to 2006, background checks were optional and at the discretion of the entity responsible for the exchange student's placement. Following a series of articles from all over the world that documented apparent abuse of students during their stay in the United States, legislation was initiated to establish oversight of the placement process. At that time, many if not most exchange student agencies voluntarily began requiring criminal background checks on the adult members of prospective host families.

Decide which organization you want to use for placement. There are a large number of entities that handle placement of exchange students. Some of these organizations work with designated countries, some with designated religious affiliations, some with specific educational organizations and others without a defined population of any kind. The Council for Standards on International Educational Travel (CSIET) is such an organization. CSIET has a list of vetted programs throughout America.

Check the websites of three of the oldest exchange student organizations: the American Field Service, The Rotary Youth Exchange and The Youth for Understanding Foundation. These organizations have long standing reputations. They place a large number of students.

Check smaller organizations, and organizations that serve specific populations of students. AYUSA, The Center for Cultural Exchange and The World Heritage Student Exchange Programs are examples of such programs.

Apply with one of the organizations after considering the responsibilities inherent in the program and the type student you would like to host.