How to Find the Right Boarding School

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Thursday, September 26, 2019

Celeste M. Brooks P'12, '21, Director of Communications

A prospective student’s mother once asked, “Do your dorm rooms have deadbolts on the bedroom doors?” She went on to say that she had just returned from picking up her son from another boarding school-- which shall remain nameless-- and that those dorm rooms did in fact have several locks on the doors. After describing the boarding school, which sounded like something out of Stephen King novel, it was clear she needed reassurance that not all boarding schools are the same.

Finding the right boarding school for your child is critical for their intellectual and emotional health.

I'm guessing that the boarding school had legitimate reasons for having deadbolts on their doors. But it was obviously not what her son needed. So how do you avoid this type of unfortunate situation? How do you know if the boarding schools you are considering will resemble Hogwarts or use more hard metal than a rock concert? 

Research, research, research. And then visit. 

Now I'll give you the inside scoop on school rankings before we get into some other tips. Ready? Rankings cannot tell you if a boarding school is the right fit for your child. They are a marketing gimmick. I could go on about that, but I don't want to get too far off topic. Just know that ranking systems were created to make someone money, not to help you find the best boarding school for your child.

That being said, there are a few great resources out there that will help you start your search for the right boarding school. Many of the following websites have reviews from parents and students and they may even have lists--but the lists are not rankings, just helpful comparisons.

Boarding School Review: This website is an internationally-used resource with reviews of boarding schools by type, state, and grade level.

Private School Review:  The sister site to Boarding School Review, this is a user-friendly search tool and tips from admissions counselors make this website a great tool for prospective families.  

Our Kids: This one focuses more on Canadian options, but a few U.S. schools are listed as well. 

The Association of Boarding Schools: The site offers you three ways to search: by browsing, by criteria, or by lists. 

Small classes allow for personal attention at boarding schools--your child is never just a number.

Although many websites can direct you to information on boarding and college-prep schools, only you can know which school is best for your child. “Will my child have opportunities to play sports/ participate in the arts?” “Do I feel comfortable with my child staying at this particular school for months out of the year?” “Will my child thrive here academically, and socially?” These are all important questions to ask. 

A final, and most important, tip for choosing the right boarding school is to always visit the schools being considered when possible. There are some aspects of a school you simply need to experience in person. The best times to visit a potential choice of boarding school is during the school year when classes are in session. Many schools even offer “Shadow Days” where prospective students can go to classes, eat in the cafeteria, and stay in the dorms to get a true sense of what that school is like on a day-to-day basis. After experiencing the school firsthand, your student can decide if it is a good fit as their second home, and you can rest a little easier. 

Questions? Our friendly admission staff will be happy to help you out! Send them an email or call 540-636-5484.

Jonathan Pederson '15 contributed to this blog.