Choosing a Boarding School

People often associate boarding schools with “troubled” or “at-risk” students, and while they can help guide a troubled student they also offer excellent and unique learning opportunities for students who simply want the chance to excel and prepare for the future.

What is a boarding school?
Boarding schools are private schools that offer not only an education but also residential facilities for both students and faculty. The residential aspect offers students a chance to experience college life in a smaller, more personal setting. Because many of the faculty also lives on campus, boarding schools are often tight-knit communities where students have learning opportunities that extend far beyond the classroom. Students and faculty getting to know each other enable the faculty to give their students focused attention in the areas where it’s most needed.

Though there are dormitories at boarding schools, living on campus isn’t always required. In some schools, less than half the students live in the dorms; the rest commute. For those who choose to live on campus, they get the added benefit of a team of “house advisors” who oversee the day-to-day happenings in the dorms. House advisors are a team of adults – typically faculty who also teach at the school – who live in or near the dorm. Students have almost 24 hour access to the house advisors, who act not only as residential managers, but often become mentors for the students.

What types of boarding schools are available?
Though there are a wide variety of boarding schools, most of them fit into one of three categories: college-prep, junior and therapeutic boarding schools.

College-prep boarding schools are specifically designed to prepare students for college. College-prep schools are great for students who are academically motivated and want the opportunity to thrive in a more challenging environment. College-prep schools typically offer advance courses and opportunities for additional study or focus in a particular area of interest.

There are several different types of college-prep boarding schools and each type offers its own style, focus and culture.

Single-sex boarding schools are just what they sound like, either all boys or all girls. The general academic focus is the same in a single-sex school, but many parents and teachers believe that students are better able to focus in a single-sex setting. Studies have indicated that, free of some of the pressure that exist in co-ed settings, both boys and girls feel freer to explore areas of interest that might be less accepted in a co-ed environment. For example, more girls pursue technical-related courses in an all-girls school, and more boys express interest in language arts.

Military schools are also typically college-prep focused. In the past, military schools have carried a stigma that they’re for “troublemakers”, and while the structure provided in a military school can be beneficial, most people choose this type of boarding school because it teaches a specific set of values along with academics. Most military schools call their students “cadets” and the cadets are required to wear uniforms. A stricter schedule, exercise program, and leadership opportunities are often part of a military school experience.

Another type of college-prep boarding school is called the “pre-professional art school”. These schools focus heavily on fine, visual and performing arts, and are intended for very gifted students who intended to pursue a career in the arts or go on to study in a conservatory like Julliard. Most art academies require potential students to audition in their area of interest as part of the admission process.

The final type is a religious college-prep boarding school. These schools focus not only on growing the students academically, but also in a particular religion or faith.

Junior Boarding Schools
Junior boarding schools are for students in 1st through 8th grades. Most junior schools are part of a larger campus that includes middle- and high-school grades as well. A junior school can greatly benefit younger students who have trouble developing the discipline necessary to study and stay organized. The smaller class sizes also enable teachers to give each student more focused attention.

Therapeutic Schools
Students that have special learning needs or issues, or have an unstable home life often find the support and stability they need at a therapeutic boarding schools.

These schools typically hire faculty members who are uniquely qualified to handle learning issues like ADHD or Aspergers, and who are trained to effectively work with students who have emotional and/or behavioral issues.

When trying to choose a boarding school, there are some important questions to consider:

  • Where does the student most struggle academically?
  • What are his extra-curricular interests?
  • What type of environment does he thrive in?
  • What are his goals?
  • What are your goals for him?

If possible, visit the schools you’re considering. Though two schools may have a similar focus, the on-campus cultures can differ greatly.

Know ahead of time how much you can afford or are willing to spend for a boarding school, and whether you’re willing to seek financial aid.

Take the time to thoroughly research the possibilities. Many schools, because of location, admission requirements, or tuition will self-eliminate quickly. However, of the remaining potential schools, there will be subtle differences in academic focus, campus culture, faculty experience and involvement and extra-curricular activities that will impact a students experience and overall success.