A Guide to Boarding Schools in America: An Alternative High School Option

Defining Boarding Schools in America

Boarding schools in America are independent, residential educational institutions that provide students with a comprehensive learning experience. They are distinguished from traditional day schools by their unique focus on both academic and personal growth, as well as their commitment to fostering a well-rounded education. These schools typically cater to a diverse group of students from various backgrounds, who come together to pursue a rigorous education in a structured and supportive environment.

Origins and Evolution

Boarding schools in America have their roots in the colonial era and have since evolved to meet the changing needs of society. The first boarding school in the United States, the Collegiate School (now known as Rutgers University), was founded in Elizabeth, New Jersey, in 1766. In the years following the American Revolution, the concept of boarding schools expanded, with new institutions emerging throughout the country, such as Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts (1778), and Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire (1781).

Over time, boarding schools have transformed to reflect the needs of an increasingly diverse and global society. While they have maintained their emphasis on academic excellence, they have also begun to prioritize the development of essential life skills, exposure to different cultures, and the cultivation of strong social and emotional intelligence.

Goals and Core Values
Boarding schools in America aim to instill in their students a set of core values that will serve them well throughout their lives. These values often include:

  • Academic Rigor: Boarding schools are committed to challenging their students and fostering a love for learning. This rigorous academic environment prepares students not only for college, but for future careers in competitive fields.
  • Personal Development: In addition to academic pursuits, boarding schools emphasize the importance of personal development and the cultivation of character. They encourage students to engage in extracurricular activities, volunteer work, and community service, which helps students grow both personally and as citizens of their larger communities.
  • Global Perspective: With students from diverse backgrounds coming together on boarding school campuses, these institutions play an essential role in preparing their graduates for an increasingly interconnected world. Boarding schools often offer language programs, study abroad opportunities, and international exchanges, exposing students to different cultures and broadening their perspectives.
  • Independence and Self-Reliance: Living away from home at a young age teaches students to manage their own time, make responsible decisions, and become more self-sufficient. Boarding school students learn to balance their commitments, identify their priorities, and advocate for themselves, skills that will serve them well after graduation.

These core values and goals form the foundation of boarding schools in America, shaping the educational experiences of students and preparing them for success in college, career, and life.

Types of Boarding Schools in America

Boarding schools in America offer different types of programs and cater to a diverse range of student needs. In this section, we will outline the various types of boarding schools available, detailing their unique features, focus areas, and demographics.

Co-educational boarding schools

Co-educational boarding schools, as the name suggests, are institutions that enroll both male and female students. These schools are known for providing equal opportunities for all students and promoting a sense of camaraderie among them. Co-ed boarding schools usually offer a wide range of academic programs, extracurricular activities, and facilities catering to the diverse interests and needs of their student body.

Single-gender boarding schools

Single-gender boarding schools, on the other hand, admit only male or female students. Proponents of single-gender schools argue that eliminating distractions from the opposite gender can help students to focus more intently on their studies. Additionally, they believe that it fosters a supportive environment where students can freely explore their interests and build confidence in their abilities without conforming to gender stereotypes.

Specialized boarding schools

Specialized boarding schools in America focus on certain areas, such as arts, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), and sports. These schools provide a concentrated and immersive learning environment that allows students to develop their talents and interests in a specific field while still receiving a well-rounded education. The specialized programs equip these students with valuable knowledge and skills that will benefit them in their future careers and pursuits.

At arts-focused boarding schools, students are exposed to various art forms, including theater, music, dance, visual arts, and creative writing. They receive intensive instruction from expert faculty and participate in numerous performance and exhibition opportunities both on and off-campus. STEM-focused boarding schools, on the other hand, have state-of-the-art research facilities and cutting-edge equipment. They encourage students to engage in hands-on projects and contribute to real-world problems while developing their critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.

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Sports-focused boarding schools provide a balance between academics and athletics, preparing students for both higher education and elite athletic performance. They often have outstanding coaching staff, world-class facilities, and robust athletic programs that help students excel in their chosen sport.

Boarding schools for students with learning disabilities

Boarding schools specifically designed for students with learning disabilities provide a supportive environment, tailored curriculum, and specialized instruction to address the individual needs of these students. The goal is to equip them with the necessary skills to succeed academically and personally, while fostering their self-esteem and independence.

Boarding schools with religious affiliations

Boarding schools affiliated with religious organizations also exist and cater to students looking for an education that aligns with their spiritual beliefs. These schools usually provide students with opportunities to participate in religious rituals, worship services, and spiritual retreats, in addition to their coursework. They often promote values such as compassion, humility, and servitude to others.

In conclusion, the wide range of boarding school options in America allows for different approaches to learning and growth. Parents and students should carefully consider the unique features, focus areas, and demographics of each type of school before making a decision that best suits their individual needs and preferences.

Advantages of Boarding School Education in America

Attending a boarding school in America presents numerous benefits for students. These advantages can impact various aspects of their lives, from academics to personal development. In this section, we will explore the key benefits that boarding school education has to offer.

Academic Rigor and Preparation for Higher Education

One of the primary reasons parents choose to send their children to a boarding school is the rigorous academic environment it provides. With a strong emphasis on academics, boarding schools challenge and support students in their pursuit of knowledge. Small class sizes and dedicated faculty ensure that students receive individualized attention, helping them excel in their studies:

  • Advanced Placement (AP) courses and honors classes are common at many boarding schools, offering students the opportunity to tackle college-level material while still in high school.
  • With a focus on critical thinking and problem-solving, boarding school students develop the skills necessary to succeed in higher education and beyond.
  • Many boarding schools also offer international baccalaureate (IB) programs, which are widely recognized for their rigor and college preparation value.

Emphasis on Extracurricular Activities and Personal Development

Boarding schools recognize the importance of a well-rounded education, providing students with a wealth of extracurricular opportunities to explore their passions and broaden their horizons:

  • Athletic programs are a vital part of boarding school life, fostering teamwork, sportsmanship, and physical fitness.
  • Students can also get involved in a wide range of clubs, from the arts and music to community service and student government.
  • Participation in extracurricular activities helps students build strong communication skills and develop valuable leadership abilities.

Strong Alumni Networks and Connections

Boarding school education fosters long-lasting connections between students and with their alma mater. These networks can have a lasting impact on students as they transition into higher education and beyond:

  • Alumni networks provide students with valuable connections and resources as they pursue their desired careers.
  • Boarding schools often hold alumni events and provide opportunities for students to network and learn from accomplished graduates.
  • The strong sense of tradition and camaraderie between boarding school alumni can lead to lifelong friendships and mentorship opportunities.

Nurturing a Global Perspective and Cultural Diversity

One of the distinct advantages of boarding school education is the diverse student body, which fosters an international perspective and deepens cultural understanding:

  • Boarding schools often attract students from different countries, bringing a multitude of perspectives and experiences to the classroom environment.
  • Exposure to diverse viewpoints and traditions enriches students’ educational experience, preparing them for an increasingly globalized world.
  • Many boarding schools offer exchange programs and international trips, giving students the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of global issues and cultures.

Development of Independence and Self-Reliance

Residing on campus and managing their own schedules, boarding school students gain independence and self-reliance, which are vital skills for college and life beyond:

  • Living away from home helps students develop self-discipline and responsibility, as they must balance academics, extracurricular activities, and personal obligations.
  • The supportive environment of boarding schools encourages students to become self-advocates, working with teachers and counselors to set and achieve their personal goals.
  • Fostering life-long resilience, boarding school experiences teach students to adapt to new environments and situations with ease.

As we have seen, boarding school education in America provides numerous advantages that can impact students academically, personally, and professionally. While each student’s boarding school journey is unique, the benefits of such an education are undeniable and long-lasting.

The Admissions Process

The boarding school admissions process can be intricate, and it is crucial to research and identify schools that align with the student’s unique needs. This section will guide prospective students and their families through the various aspects of the process, from research to application submission, and beyond.

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Factors to Consider When Selecting a Boarding School

  • Location: Deciding whether to attend a boarding school closer to home or farther away is an important decision.
  • Size: Consider the size of the student body, which can range from small, close-knit communities to larger institutions with more resources.
  • Academic Programs: Ensure that the school offers the right curriculum, ranging from traditional subjects to specialized tracks like arts, STEM, or athletics.
  • Extracurricular Activities: Evaluate the assortment of clubs, sports, and other non-academic opportunities available at the school.

Understanding Application Procedures

Application procedures may differ across boarding schools in America. Typically, applications include the following components:

  • SSAT (Secondary School Admission Test): Many boarding schools require the SSAT, a standardized test that assesses the student’s skills in reading, math, and writing.
  • Interviews: Students may participate in interviews with admissions officers, sometimes conducted in-person or via video conference.
  • Essays: These written pieces allow the student to express their thoughts on various subjects, showcasing their personality and perspective.
  • Transcripts: Providing academic records from previous schools can demonstrate the student’s academic achievements.

Preparing for the SSAT

The SSAT is an important component of the boarding school application, and preparation is essential to achieve the best possible score. Students are advised to:

  • Study the exam format: Familiarize themselves with the structure of the SSAT, such as the number of sections, types of questions, and time limits.
  • Practice with past papers: Use practice tests and past papers to understand the content and question types they will encounter.
  • Identify strengths and weaknesses: Assess their skills in reading, math, and writing and focus on improving their weaker areas.
  • Take SSAT preparation courses: Some students may benefit from taking specialized courses or working with tutors to enhance their SSAT performance.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

Financial aid and scholarships are important considerations for many families. Most boarding schools offer financial aid packages based on demonstrated need or merit, and the availability and criteria can vary widely. Some key factors include:

  • Need-Based Aid: Financial aid for boarding schools is primarily need-based, meaning it is awarded to families who demonstrate financial need through an application process.
  • Merit-Based Scholarships: Some schools offer scholarships to recognize exceptional talent, skills, or achievements in areas such as academics, athletics, or the arts.
  • External Scholarships: Besides school-based scholarships, students can apply for external scholarships from organizations, foundations, or community groups.

Navigating the boarding school admissions process can be challenging, but careful research, planning, and preparation can pave the way for a successful and rewarding experience for students and their families.

Life at a Boarding School

Life at a boarding school in America is an experience that combines academics with personal growth and self-discovery. Boarding school life offers students an opportunity to learn and develop in ways that can be quite different from those experienced at traditional day schools.

Living Arrangements

The foundation of life at a boarding school is the dormitory system. Students typically live in dormitories with house parents, who oversee daily activities, enforce rules, and provide guidance and support to students. Depending on the dormitory, students may share rooms with one or more roommates, fostering a strong sense of community and camaraderie.

Dormitory Features Description
House Parents Resident mentors and authority figures who help ensure students’ well-being and enforce dormitory rules.
Living Spaces Rooms designed for students, with shared living areas such as common rooms and kitchenettes.
House Rules Guidelines established to ensure a respectful environment and promote safety and responsibility.


Academics at a boarding school are rigorous, with students benefitting from close relationships with faculty members in smaller class sizes. This close interaction provides students with crucial support in their studies and encourages a strong work ethic. Study hours are typically a mandatory part of the daily routine and are monitored by faculty or house parents.

  • Class Structure: Smaller class sizes enable students to engage with instructors more effectively and participate actively in class discussions.
  • Faculty-Student Relationship: Strong connections between students and faculty provide personalized support and guidance in academics and personal growth.
  • Study Hours: Students are expected to dedicate specific time each day to studying, fostering discipline and responsibility towards their academic work.

Extracurricular Activities and Sports

Boarding schools emphasize the importance of a well-rounded education, and extracurricular activities are a central aspect of life on campus. Students can engage in various sports, clubs, and arts programs. These activities provide students with the opportunity to explore interests outside of academics, acquire new skills, and develop a sense of teamwork and camaraderie.

Weekly and Weekend Schedules

Boarding school schedules are often structured with a mix of academic classes, extracurricular activities, sports, meals, and personal time. Weekends may include more lenient schedules and opportunities for students to explore the surrounding area, visit family, or participate in off-campus events.

Rules and Regulations

Boarding schools maintain strict rules and regulations to ensure a safe and productive learning environment for all students. These guidelines, which can vary from school to school, cover topics such as behavior, attendance, dress codes, and drug and alcohol usage.

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In conclusion, life at a boarding school in America offers a unique opportunity for students to grow and develop academically, personally, and socially. The combination of a strong academic foundation, diverse extracurricular activities, and close-knit community enables students to experience a well-rounded education and prepares them for success in college and beyond.

Preparing for Life After Boarding School

Boarding schools in America pride themselves on providing students with the tools and resources they need to excel in college and beyond. With a strong focus on academics and personal growth, these institutions strive to equip students with essential life skills and prepare them for the challenges ahead.

College Counseling Services

Boarding schools often provide comprehensive college counseling services to guide students through the complex college application process. These services can include:

  • Individualized Counseling: Counselors work closely with students to identify their strengths, interests, and aspirations, helping them choose the right colleges and universities.
  • Essay and Application Support: Students receive assistance with the crafting of personal statements and the completion of college applications, ensuring they present their best selves to admissions committees.
  • Visitation Programs: Schools may organize college visits or ‘college fairs’ where representatives from various institutions come to campus, allowing students to explore their options firsthand.
  • Test Preparation: Assistance is often given for standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT, preparing students to achieve their best possible scores.

The college counseling process at Phillips Exeter Academy, for example, emphasizes the importance of self-discovery in the college search.

“Exeter’s College Counseling Office understands that each student embarks on a unique college search process. We work to ensure that each student discovers the educational path that will best serve their intellectual, social, artistic, and emotional needs.” – Phillips Exeter Academy

Achieving Balance

Boarding schools also recognize the importance of balance between academics, extracurricular activities, and social life. They encourage students to develop a well-rounded profile that is attractive to colleges and prepares them for the demands of higher education and beyond.

  • Time Management: Students learn to efficiently manage their time, balancing the demands of academic work with participation in clubs, sports, and other activities.
  • Social Skills: Living in a diverse community fosters the development of strong social skills, which are crucial for networking in college and beyond.
  • Leadership Opportunities: Boarding schools provide numerous leadership roles, from student government to club leadership, which can be valuable on a college application and in future careers.

Developing Life Skills

Beyond college preparation, boarding schools focus on instilling life skills that will serve students throughout their lives.

  • Independence and Self-Reliance: Living away from home teaches students to be self-sufficient and resilient.
  • Responsibility: Students learn to take ownership of their actions and their futures, promoting a sense of accountability.
  • Critical Thinking: The rigorous academic environment encourages students to think critically and creatively, skills needed for lifelong learning and problem-solving.
  • Cultural Competency: Exposure to diverse perspectives and global issues prepares students to navigate an increasingly interconnected world.

Alumni Networks

The strong alumni networks that boarding schools cultivate can be a powerful resource for students during and after college. Alumni often provide mentorship, internships, and job opportunities, helping graduates transition successfully into the workforce.
The Hotchkiss School, for example, has a robust alumni network that offers opportunities for current students to connect with successful graduates.

By focusing on both academic excellence and personal development, boarding schools in America aim to provide a solid foundation for students as they step into the next phase of their lives. The experiences and skills gained during their time at boarding school often prove invaluable in both college and beyond.

Real-Life Success Stories and Alumni Perspectives

Numerous successful individuals from various fields attribute their achievements and personal growth to their experiences at boarding schools in America. In this section, we will explore the lives and achievements of several notable alumni and how boarding school education has played a significant role in shaping their personal and professional development.

  • Meryl Streep, Actress (Bernards High School):
    Meryl Streep, a legendary actress with numerous accolades, including three Academy Awards and eight Golden Globe Awards, shared her experience at Bernards High School in an interview with Vogue:
  • “My boarding school experience taught me a lot about independence, managing my time and the importance of education.”

  • Tom Wolfe, Author (Washington and Lee University):
    Best-selling author Tom Wolfe is known for his contributions to New Journalism in the 20th century. Wolfe credits his education at Washington and Lee University for fostering his passion for writing:
  • “The writing programs at my boarding school were rigorous and pushed me to think critically and creatively.”

  • Martha Stewart, Businesswoman and TV Personality (Emma Willard School):
    Martha Stewart, a billionaire known for her home and lifestyle empire, believes that the focus on personal development and self-reliance at Emma Willard School was key to her success:
  • “Living away from home at a young age taught me to be organized, responsible, and resourceful. Those were invaluable lessons that shaped my career and life.”

In addition to these renowned figures, there are countless other alumni from various fields and industries who credit their boarding school education for skill development, discipline, and an appreciation for lifelong learning. Boarding schools in America have a history of fostering well-rounded individuals who not only excel in their chosen fields but also contribute to society in meaningful ways. The holistic approach to education offered at these institutions empowers students to grow into successful, compassionate, and well-informed individuals.

Furthermore, boarding schools maintain strong alumni networks, which can provide invaluable connections for graduates as they navigate college and career opportunities. Alumni frequently return to their alma maters to mentor current students or support them through internships and job placements. The nurturing environment and extensive resource base at boarding schools help students develop a strong sense of self-awareness, resilience, and determination, which serve as the foundation for a fulfilling and successful life beyond high school.

Category: Education