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What’s It Like to Go to Boarding School? When to Apply? GEC Shares the Info to Know

As seen in ScoopCharlotte

Boarding schools have long captivated the imaginations of parents and students alike. For those who walk the hallowed halls of these educational bastions, the experience transcends learning and spills into the realm of personal growth, independence, and a truly global perspective. Yet, for all its promise, the boarding school world remains somewhat of a mystery for many outside its gates.

Katie Garrett and Martha Anne Krisko from Garrett Educational Consulting (GEC) recently interviewed two boarding school admissions directors, Teddy Wenner from Blair Academy and Scott Conklin from Episcopal High School, on their new podcast, Educational Journeys: Beyond Basic Admissions Advice, to shed some light on what life is truly like for a boarding school student.  


Boarding schools are living and learning communities.  Students benefit from interacting with their teachers in the classroom, on the sports field, in their extracurricular activities, and in their dorms at night and on the weekends.

“One of the huge benefits of the academics is not just the curriculum and the labs that are there but the relationship that is formed with the teacher outside of the classroom, which enhances the experience inside the classroom,” said Teddy Wenner, Dean of Enrollment at Blair Academy in Blairstown, NJ.  “When your science teacher is also your soccer coach and could be your dorm parent and sees you at night during study hall and is checking you in as she is wearing her sweats and going around in her slippers and just kind of popping in your room and seeing how you are doing – I think that relationship is incredibly important in building the rapport the enables the classroom experience to be even more impactful.”

Academic Support

Boarding schools offer a wide range of support. Many offer peer tutoring services in a writing, math, or language center, and if needs arise, professional support systems can be implemented at school through an academic support department.

The beauty of boarding school, though, is that the teachers are on campus. “It is not uncommon for students to coordinate meetings with their teachers at breakfast, when they have dorm duty in the evening, or even on weekends,” says Scott Conklin, Director of Admissions at Episcopal High School. ” So I would say that’s a big thing, the accessibility of the teachers and their willingness to want to work with students.”

Extracurriculars, Enrichment, and Empowerment

Beyond the lecture halls lie a myriad of opportunities that enrich the student experience. Boarding schools are renowned for fostering well-rounded individuals through a wide range of extracurricular activities.

Beyond the Classroom

The life of a boarding school student is far from one-dimensional. Participation in sports, art, music, and a range of cultural and interest clubs is not just encouraged but seen as integral to a student’s growth.  After class ends, all students on campus will participate in some extracurricular activity.  “I have found that many of my students try things they might not have if they had stayed in Charlotte,” says Katie.  There is more time to do activities because you aren’t packing up to drive across town to soccer practice and then trying to make it to play practice afterward.  “There are athletes who are great artists, who are also musicians and in the school orchestra and in their off-season are also doing the spring play… That is celebrated in our schools; you are not pigeonholed into being just one thing,” adds Teddy.

Leadership and Empowerment

At its core, boarding school life provides students with opportunities for leadership development. “Most boarding schools are going to be scaffolded,” says Scott, “the older you get, the more leadership opportunities there are.”  Whether leading a debate team to victory, guiding a community service project, serving as a dorm prefect, or as a tour guide, students at boarding schools are offered many opportunities to develop their leadership skills.

Creating a Home Away From Home

The transition into a boarding school can be intimidating to many students.  They wonder how they will make friends and become a part of the community.  Many students worry because they don’t know anyone at the school they are going to.  “Neither does anyone else,” says Teddy.  “All the other ninth graders are coming in from different parts of the country and different parts of the world on that same day and getting to know each other for the first time. It is amazing to see kids’ anxiety levels drop during orientation when they realize everyone is in the same boat.”

Boarding schools put thought and effort into school-wide orientations, dorm orientations, and grade-level activities to ensure that no matter what grade a student is coming into, they will have help integrating into the community.

Many kids entering 10th, 11th, or 12th grade especially worry about breaking into existing friend circles. “I tell my students, the new kids are like rockstars,” says Katie. “Everyone wants to know who they are and learn more about them.”

Weekends at School

There is no shortage of things to do on the weekends at boarding school.  Depending on a school’s location, the surrounding town or nearby cities offer opportunities for shopping, day trips, and cultural adventures.  On campus, the community is bustling.  “Our schools have activities committees that will organize 10-15 activities every weekend,” says Scott, “but there is also downtime where students will go play pickup basketball or get together in a friend’s room to watch a movie.”

For parents, there are always eyes on the kids and a system of check-ins and supervision.  “There is faculty on dorm duty making sure that students are engaged and accounted for.  There are curfews when students have to be in on Friday and Saturday night, so as a parent, it is nice to know that there is accountability there,” adds Scott.

The Application Process

Students who are interested in boarding school can start the investigative process as early as the spring of their 7th grade year.  Starting early can give families more time to visit schools at their own pace and gather the information they need to be ready when it comes time to submit their applications.

“There are many students who start in the fall of their 8th grade year, and that is just fine too,” says Katie. “The students that work with us are guided through the same process regardless of when they start.”

Students applying to boarding school can expect the following steps:

  • Develop a school list

  • Research schools on the list and narrow in on the ones to visit

  • Schedule school visits/interviews – this typically happens in the fall of 8th grade for most students

  • Attend boarding school fairs (if available) – Garrett Educational Consulting hosts a boarding school fair, Boarding School 360, in September of every year, where admissions reps from around the country come to meet with students and families.   

  • Standardized Testing – most schools use the SSAT as their admissions test.  Determine what schools require this test and get signed up for a test date.  Additionally, determine if you are going to engage with a tutor for test prep.

  • Applications  – There are 2 platforms used for admissions, SAO and Gateway.  Determine which platform(s) your schools use and begin completing the application.  Note: there are essay prompts for students to complete and questions for parents as well.  Make sure to identify what each of your schools require.

Applications are generally due by January 15 (although some schools differ so be sure to check the schools you are applying to), and schools release decisions in early March. After release, schools host revisit days so admitted students can see what the schools are like in a little more depth and meet some of the kids they may be classmates with in the fall. “These revisit days are a good way to help make your decision. I always highly encourage my students to go,” says Katie.

Interested in learning even more about boarding school and the admissions process?  Get insights and tips from Katie Garrett, Teddy Wenner, and Scott Conklin, including some insider tips on the interview process, by listening to our podcast Episodes:

Make sure to subscribe to our podcast to get all of our insights on college and boarding school admissions, parent and student tips, and more.  Upcoming episode topics include the college application process, mental health awareness month, senior summer, and more!  


Garrett Educational Consulting provides comprehensive application support to students going through the college admissions and boarding school admission process.  Learn more about their services by clicking HERE.

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