You’ve decided to send your kid to a private boarding school — that is, a school where children live in dorms or other student housing and return home rarely or never during school terms.
Boarding schools have pros and cons for every student, but you’ve made your choice. Now you need to make another one: deciding on your child’s academic home for the next several years.
All you can do here is make what you believe to be the best choice for your family.
Not sure how to begin? Here are five things to consider as you narrow down your boarding school choices.
The School’s Overarching Philosophy
Evaluate each school’s mission and guiding philosophy. You’ll need to read promotional literature carefully and, frankly, learn how to interpret the buzzwords and euphemisms you’ll quickly encounter.
It’s a learning curve, yes, but not rocket science. Many schools make no secret of what drives them. For example, Delphian School, a residential institution in rural Oregon, emphasizes conceptual mastery over memorization and dicta. Other schools have more or less opposite philosophies.
Curriculum and Core Areas of Academic Focus
Some boarding schools are “generalist,” while others are renowned for specific academic disciplines. The clearest distinction is often between humanities-focused schools on one hand and science, technology, and math (STEM) on the other.
To figure out who’s who, ask fellow parents on social media, in education forums, and in real-world social settings. For instance, websites like College Confidential have asynchronous message boards where parents swap stories and ideas about not only higher ed but K-12 schools too — like this thread about the best boarding schools for STEM studies.
Continuity Throughout the Student’s Academic Career
Changing schools is difficult at any age. It only gets more so as kids move from elementary school to middle school and finally to high school.
If you’d like this to be your child’s last academic transition until they go off to college, choose a school that’s ready for them now and will carry them through 12th grade. Some boarding schools begin with 6th or even 9th grade, making another transition inevitable if your kid is any younger.
Physical Setting and Distance From the Child’s Home Base
Boarding schools by definition become homes away from home for their students. But the distance between the two homes is an important consideration for many families.
Are you okay with putting your kid on a plane before and after school breaks, or getting on one yourself to visit them? Do you prefer them to be within a few hours’ drive at most?
A related question: What sort of physical setting do you think they’ll thrive in? Many boarding schools have sprawling rural campuses. Others are more compact, sometimes tucked away in residential neighborhoods of larger towns and cities.
The School’s “Place” in the Real World
A simpler way to frame this might be: What’s the school’s reputation? Does it have much of a reputation outside the relatively small world of private education? For better or worse, some boarding schools give graduates a leg up by the sheer force of reputation and alumni network, both in the college admissions process and in the post-graduation job market.
Making the Best Choice for Your Student
Use each of these considerations to inform your thinking about where to send your kid to boarding school and you can be confident that you’ll be closer to solving the problem.
But they won’t get you all the way there. You know your child best, after all, and you’re the best person to decide what’s in their interest and what’s not. Think carefully and trust your gut.