Finishing school is a formal training program that helps young women become more polished personally and professionally before going to college or entering the working world. The original finishing schools of the 1800s were full time and centered on training young women to become polished, accomplished wives and socialites. These days, though, etiquette professionals now offer shorter, professionally oriented finishing school programs for boys and girls.
Miss Porter’s School, one of the original finishing schools, was founded in 1843 by Sarah Porter, a minister's daughter and sister of Yale president Noah Porter. Porter's intent was to provide young women with an advanced education not typically available to them at the time. The original focus of her program was to train young women to become principled adults and good wives and mothers. The training emphasized social grace and etiquette. Miss Porter's remains open as of 2013 in Farmington, Connecticut. It operates as a boarding school where female students engage in a traditional high school liberal arts curriculum.
Contemporary Finishing School
The contemporary finishing school is much different than those of the 1800s. While etiquette remains a central premise, finishing schools for young girls emphasize training to help them develop into young women, prepared to balance careers and family life. The Final Touch Finishing School website notes its focus on four key disciplines of a polished image: grace, elegance, confidence and strength. Many finishing schools for young girls focus on the development of business etiquette skills, such as dining, handshakes and nonverbal body language.
Finishing school formats vary. The traditional schools, such as Miss Porter's, function similarly to a boarding school or college. Many contemporary finishing schools offer much more abbreviated experiences, including overnight camps, one-week conferences and month-long residential training programs. Costs vary as well. An overnight camp can cost from $1,500 to $2,500 at an elite school. Some schools also offer programs specific to elementary and middle school students, while others focus on teens. You can also select niche programs that train in a specific area, such as dining etiquette, as opposed to a broad program.
Topics vary by program, but full sessions usually include an array of etiquette training topics. Making a good first impression, a professional handshake, proper dress, dining etiquette, making conversation, communication basics, navigating difficult foods, conveying confidence and the art of civility are all common elements of finishing school programs. Parents may have the option of sending students to programs over time that build skills as girls get older. Final Touch Finishing School in Decatur, Texas, and Gloria Starr, an international provider, are among notable finishing schools as of 2013.