Many families who are betting on higher education abroad see boarding schools as an excellent opportunity for their children to acquire the skills of successful students, adapt to life in another country, and make a smooth transition to US institutions of higher education. These schools offer great educational advantages, but not all families can take the radical step of sending their children away from the family at such an early age. If you are still considering this option, then this post is for you. Let’s talk about the different types of boarding schools in the US, the requirements, the submission of required documents, the deadlines, the order of admission to schools, the cost of boarding school education and potential funding sources, and their advantages and disadvantages. And, perhaps, after reading this post, you will decide for yourself whether they are worth your family’s consideration.

What are Boarding Schools?

Before we get into the details, let’s remember what boarding schools are. A boarding school in the United States is a type of educational institution that involves students studying and living on campus for a year or several years. Boarding schools not only organize the learning process in the classroom and provide students with food and shelter, but also provide great opportunities for extracurricular activities. On the territory owned by schools there are libraries, sports facilities, fitness centers, technology centers, premises for clubs and organizations, and more. For most people, the word boarding school is associated exclusively with a private institution. There is some truth in this, since 90% of them are private, but there are also public ones (https://boardingschools.us/public-boarding-schools/#:~:text=There%20aren’t%20that%20many,a%20small%20fee%20for%20boarding). The common characteristics of these types of schools provide rigorous curriculum, interactive discussion-based learning, individual attention to each student, small classes (10-25), low student-to-teacher ratios (7-12), stellar faculty who live in dorms on the territory of the schools, excellent facilities, and high tuition fees).In general, we can say that these are very prestigious educational institutions and among their graduates you will find the names of such famous people as Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook), President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Uma Thurman (actress), James McLamore (founder of Burger King), and media mogul Malcolm Forbes).

Some Facts and Statistics

There are more than 300 boarding schools in the USA, with the largest number in Massachusetts (36), Connecticut (29), California (22), and New York (22). Interestingly, one third of all schools (102) are in the six states of New England. The reason for this is the high population density in this region and the presence of a concentration of wealthy residents per capita, all of which are benefits of their close proximity to the large industrial and economic centers as New York and Boston.

Types of Boarding Schools

Boarding schools are very diverse in terms of classes, programs, student body (all-girls, all-boys, co-ed), cost, scholarship opportunities, rules to follow. They also differ greatly in their aims. Here is a brief description of the different types of schools:

  • College Preparatory School

Most of the schools belong to this group, and our earlier description of boarding schools is generally reflets all the peculiarities of this group. The word preparation, which is included in the name of this type of these schools, speaks for itself. This is preparation for successful study at a university, life in society, work, and so on.

  • Sports Academies

There are commercial or non-profit institutions that provide educational programs and intensive training in one or more sports. Sport academies are suitable for teens who are focused on sports and may want to continue playing sports in college and professionally.

  • Religious Boarding Schools

These are schools that focus on the values of religious organizations, such as Baptist, Catholic, Christian, Quaker, among others, though they often allow students to practice the religion of their choice. The degree of influence of religion on the educational process and life varies from school to school.

  • Therapeutic Boarding schools

Boarding schools of that group offer educational programs combining with therapies treatment (wilderness therapy, cognitive, behavioral, etc.) The special structured supportive environment allows troubled kids to cope with their problems and achieve better results in study and in life.

  • Junior boarding schools

Those are similar to prep schools but focused on programs for middle school-age students.

  • Performing or Fine Arts Boarding Schools.

The goal of these schools is help students to explore their talents and creativity, imparting knowledge of art, music, theatre, painting and creativity. All boarding schools have art classes, but these schools go beyond the ordinary by offering unique curricula and classes in that sphere.

Admissions and Document Checklist

The process of applying as well as the required documents vary from school to schools and in many ways similar to the procedures for admission to U.S. Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs). But still, boarding school admissions have their own nuances and peculiarities. In many places, it may start with completing the online inquiry after which a family gets a viewbook and FAQs on application process, study and campus life of the respective school. Then, you will be offered to fill out an application form that is usually available starting in September. Most of the deadlines are in January, and you will receive the school’s decision by March. The application process to boarding schools is best to start a year or two before the expected start date of study. To begin with, you will need to assess your child’s academic ability and the family’s financial resources. Before you start compiling the list, you need to decide on the selection criteria. Particular attention should be paid to whether the school of choice accepts foreign students, how selective it is, where it is located, what programs it offers, what the total number of students is, etc.

Many schools have become test optional because of pandemic, but some of them still require most recent results of one of the following exams the choice of which depends on what grade a student is entering:

  • Independent School Entrance Examination (ISEE) https://iseeonline.erblearn.org/, 
  • The Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT) https://www.ssat.org/
  • The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test  (PSAT) -https://satsuite.collegeboard.org/psat-nmsqt
  • Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) – https://satsuite.collegeboard.org/sat
  • American College Testing (ACT) https://www.act.org/

In addition to testing and completion of the forms, the applications also require submission of:

  • Transcripts (list of courses/subjects for the last 3 years, translated in English).
  • Recommendation letters from a school director and current teachers. Some schools ask for personal and special interest recommendations from adults (employers, family friends, coaches, mentors, etc.) describing the applicant’s character traits and interest in certain disciplines or spheres of endeavor.
  • Payment of the application form fee.
  • Writing samples 
  • The result of the TOEFL or IELTS or an analogous exam*. “Some schools have a special exam for international students.” if English is not their first language.
  • Bank statement from the parents to cover the expenses of the study and Parents’ Financial Statement (PFS).
  • Interview with school representatives
  • The Parents’ Statement (PS) may also play an important role in admission process. It is the document composed by parents where they provide additional information about their child, describe their family, explain their desire to send their child to a particular school. In the letter, they show how the values of the child, the family correlate with the values of the school.
  • Valid passport for six months
  • The Character Skills snapshot – (an assessment tools that measures character skills by identifying student’s patterns of thoughts in different situations 

Cost of Tuition and Financial Aid

The cost of studying at boarding schools includes tuition, accommodation and meals, student fees and medical insurance. This can be compared to the cost of tuition at private colleges and universities and typically ranges from $35,000 to $85,000 per year. Ensuring the high quality of faculty, equipment, facilities, sports entails high costs, hence the high prices.

Families of international students should rely mainly on their own financial means when choosing boarding schools, although some of them provide financial assistance. There are times when private schools are willing to provide scholarships to children who are gifted in academics, sports, the arts, or who have somehow established themselves as leaders and volunteers in helping their community. Students must apply for financial aid when they apply for admission, not after enrollment.

Study and Life

Programs, extra-curricular activities, school life in general varies from school to school. Uniforms are compulsory in some schools, but not in others. An average school day usually includes early rising, a quick shower, breakfast, a meeting with faculty members, classes, lunch, classes, participation in different extracurricular activities (clubs, orchestra, sports), dinner, homework, and going to bed. On weekends there is more time to communicate with friends, participate in various events, competitions, excursions, and volunteering. These days, there is time to travel to nearby towns and cities to make necessary purchases and see the sights.

Boarding schools offer students a huge selection of courses (200 – 450). The program usually consists of several compulsory and elective ones. Students also have a chance to take Advanced Placement (AP) courses, which are more rigorous than standard ones. To get recognition (a credit) for the AP course from a college or university, a student needs to take an AP exam and score 3 or higher on the exam on a scale of 1-5.

The Pros and Cons of Boarding Schools

Boarding schools undoubtedly have a lot of positive characteristics, including academically strong programs, access to the best resources and equipment, and a brilliant teaching staff, which will develop the students’ outstanding communication, analytical, and study skills that impact their future lives and careers. The individual approach and interactive classes allow students to build a strong student profile and become a competitive applicant when it comes time to apply to colleges and universities. A rich selection of extracurricular activities will help to identify and develop the talents and interests of students.

At the same time, there are issues that stop many families from sending their children to such educational institutions. Not every teenager and not every family wants to live so far from each other, especially if the child and parents have a close relationship and are not ready to be parted. Despite the many advantages of boarding schools, you must keep in mind that they are all very different, and the quality of education and life in them varies. There is no completely ideal situation. The school may have a very good reputation, but the child may encounter difficulties developing relationships with other students. For some children, the programs in schools may seem too difficult, and then the pressure on them may be excessive. And of course, not every family can afford a school because of the high cost.

Наталия Розанова
Старший консультант информационного центра EducationUSA Russia
Москва
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