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Boarding School 101: Primer from the pros

Pop culture may paint boarding schools with a broad brush: rich kids or problem students getting sent away to be reformed. But that couldn't be further from the truth. And unfortunately, that false stigma could dissuade students from considering a school where they'd truly thrive.

“People think boarding schools are for the super-smart, super-wealthy, or people who have gotten in trouble. But that’s just not the case,” says Katie Garrett, founder of Garrett Educational Consulting and Boarding School 360. “The truth is, there are many different kinds of boarding schools, and most have robust learning resources that benefit so many different types of students. And for those students, boarding school improves their academic trajectory — and their career trajectory — for life.” Is your child an advanced learner, or does he have a diagnosed learning disability? Does she learn best in a hands-on environment? Is he having trouble finding his social circle in school? All of these could be reasons to give boarding school a look. Katie gave us the breakdown:

Academics “If your child is way behind in school — or way ahead — boarding school might be an option,” Katie says. “Boarding schools are equipped to handle a large range of academic needs.” Most boarding schools aren’t the end of a pipeline from exclusive private schools. Their enrollments include students from public, private and international schools, as well as kids who have been home-schooled. “From an academic standpoint, boarding schools have the ability to give students more class offerings,” Katie says. “For example, if your child has surpassed everything their school could offer them in math, a boarding school may offer more higher-level math classes. That can help your child’s academic trajectory every year in the future.” Experiential learning It’s not just core classes. Boarding schools offer more electives and chances for students to apply their learning in real-world situations. “Your child might get his SCUBA certification through his marine biology class, or visit a working genetics lab in science class,” Katie says. “If your child is more successful with hands-on learning, a boarding school with a focus on experiential learning might be the perfect way for them to learn.” Social life Children who have trouble finding their social niche often thrive in boarding school, Katie says. “The social gatherings are built-in,” Katie says. “It’s not like at other schools where your student didn’t get invited to a party or the mall. They’ll be at dorm gatherings, having dinner with their advisory board or going on an off-campus excursion to the movies or the ski slopes.” Also of note: boarding school students typically live with a roommate, so they’ll have an in-house companion off the bat. Structured days If your child needs more structure, boarding school could be the answer. The boarding school environment is designed to keep the kids busy. And busier kids are less likely to get in trouble,” Katie says. “In addition to the school day, they also have a required afternoon activity: athletics or a club like theater, music or yoga. Then they have dinner, and most schools have required study hours.” Finances Think your bank account precludes your child from attending boarding school? Not necessarily. Even if your child’s school of choice seems out of reach financially, many schools offer scholarships and need-based financial aid. “Your socioeconomic status should not keep you from sending your child to boarding school,” Katie says. “If you feel boarding school would truly benefit your child, it’s worth looking into.” Choosing the right fit Think boarding school might be for your child? Now it’s time to narrow down your school options. “Identify some schools that fit your parameters,” Katie says. A few things to consider:

  • Geographic location

  • Co-ed vs. Single-sex

  • Percent of boarders vs. day students

  • Specializations and learning resources (i.e. science labs etc.)

  • Athletic and extra-curricular offerings

“Narrow your list down to between five and eight schools,” Katie advises. “And then plan to visit the school in person.” Most boarding school applicants apply to between five and eight schools. All boarding schools require a student interview either during your visit or virtually. See Katie’s interview tips for students here. “The interview piece is a huge portion of it,” Katie says. “Some of these schools have a single-digit acceptance rate.” Lots of schools’ applications are due in January and they typically involve student essays, parent statements, teacher recommendations and more.

Learn more at Feeling overwhelmed? Call Katie for help at 980-677-0311 or email

Boarding School 360 is designed to help students and families who are looking to explore boarding school options. Search member schools to learn more about their academics, athletics, arts, extracurriculars, and more. Connect with schools to directly from their page to access virtual tours, online admissions events, and connect with the admissions department to get more information or to schedule an appointment. Boarding School 360 hosts events throughout the year to give families the opportunity to connect directly with boarding school representatives. From school fairs to our Tuesday Tutorials series families have opportunities to connect live with schools to gain a full perspective of boarding school life.

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