In the United States, it is culturally traditional for students to live at home with their families through high school and then leave for college, where they live away from home. However, many U.S. families send their children to boarding school, either within the U.S. or abroad. Many parents believe that boarding schools provide the best educational atmosphere and the best opportunity for students to become independent adults.
Are Boarding School Students Successful?
Despite the fact that the U.S. is a relatively young country, it is home to what many organizations have ranked as the top boarding schools in the world. There is a reason to believe that boarding school students are more successful than private day school or public school students.
It is possible that they are more successful in college than their non-boarding alumni counterparts because they are already used to living away from home and do not need the same period of adjustment that students who are used to living with their families require. It is also possible that these students gained their personal and intellectual independence earlier and are thus stronger, self-driven students who are more internally motivated to succeed.
Top Boarding Schools in the World
Whatever the reason, parents are often eager to learn which are the top boarding schools in the world so they can send their children there. By many assessments, the top boarding school in the world is Philips Exeter Academy, located in Exter, New Hampshire. In addition to excellent faculty, beautiful facilities and a stunning campus, Exeter describes itself as modeled after the Harkness method. This educational model prizes dialogue-based learning and discussion over traditional lecture classes and has a unique math curriculum that focuses on student-lead learning versus textbook-based work.
Though Exeter, as it is colloquially known, is staffed by many faculty members who hold advanced degrees and has the traditional New England appearance of an Ivy League college, the school prides itself on its progressive philosophy and its insistence on encouraging students to think for themselves, to think outside of the box and to come up with innovative and compelling ideas in a supportive, growth-oriented environment.
What Are the Best High School Boarding Schools?
Aside from Exeter, many of the very best boarding high schools are located in the United States. Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey is consistently rated as one of the top 10 boarding schools in the country. Philips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts is equally strong, and both schools have prestigious alumni and faculty.
The Putney School in Putney, Vermont is known for its unorthodox approach to hands-on manual labor as well as to education. In addition to arts programs and challenging academic work, students are required to work in food service, in the barn, in the land crew and in cleaning up, cementing work ethic as a value that is typically absent at elite private schools.
What Are Some Other Top Boarding Schools?
Episcopal High School outside of Washington, D.C. is another prestigious boarding school, attended by such luminaries as former presidential nominee John McCain. There, students are required to attend chapel three times a week as part of their curriculum.
The school's adjacency to Washington, D.C. has given rise to its unique academic programming that allows students to concentrate in four areas: entrepreneurship, public policy, cultural awareness and sustainability. A focus on one of these four areas is declared, and an externship characterizes the bulk of the student's final year in school.
The Thacher School in Ojai, California is the oldest coeducational boarding school in the country. In addition to a demanding academic program and formal dinner requirements four nights a week, students at Thacher are required to learn horsemanship, both in terms of riding and caring for horses, and they take frequent camping trips on horseback.
What Is the Youngest Age for Boarding School?
While in the United Kingdom it is customary to send students off to boarding school as young as 7 or 8 years old, the prevailing custom in the United States is to reserve boarding school for the high school years, although some schools do admit students beginning in the sixth grade. Many parents fear that their children will experience homesickness or other psychological turmoil if they go before high school and so opt to keep them at home until they are around 14 or 15, which is typically the age of a high school freshman.
Many people think of boarding school as just high school with dorms, but there is an identity that comes along with a boarding school experience. Unlike a day school where you leave and come back, students at boarding school identify strongly with the place where they go to school and build very close relationships with their classmates.
Boarding schools also offer a strong alumni connection, which can help students who are looking to break into the professional world after college. Indeed, a tremendous factor in choosing a boarding school is the possibility of using the alumni network to build professional relationships in the future.
What Are the Benefits of Boarding School?
In other countries, boarding school education begins early because boarding school is the standard means of getting a good education. For many parents, boarding school benefits far outweigh the sacrifices. Children are assured of quality meals, a quality education, a disciplined home life and significant opportunity to pursue activities and to socialize with other children their age and older.
Boarding school also offers the opportunity for the child to begin to foster a sense of self early, independent of his place in the family unit. The separation from family may also encourage a child to embrace interests and subjects he encounters away from his parents and to not be limited by their tastes, opinions and perspectives.
Boarding School vs. Military School
Many children who have behaved badly during their childhood may recall the threat of "being sent to military school." Aside from free military schools for troubled youth, military school is understood as being a strict, regimented, highly conservative educational experience. The goal of a military school is to instill in all children the competitive values and strict discipline of the military.
Many parents who attended military school themselves or a similar educational environment think that there are many benefits, while other parents believe that it is too harsh of an environment and does not help children process their emotions – it merely forces them to ignore or suppress them. As emotional intelligence and expression is a relatively new consideration in educational philosophy, military school parents can be seen as having decidedly more conservative values.
How Are Boarding Schools Similar to Military Schools?
Boarding school, on the other hand, does not have an affiliation with the military whatsoever, and in many cases is a liberal, permissive environment with a strong emphasis placed on communication, the exploration of personal interests and the arts.
Boarding schools are not typically a place for students with disciplinary problems, although parents with troubled teenagers often see them as a way to pass the challenges of raising a difficult child to someone with more experience.
While military schools are the traditional high school boarding schools for troubled teens, there are many therapeutic boarding schools with much kinder and more liberal philosophies for students. These schools combine academic rigor, arts, athletics and social opportunities in addition to therapy. They may also have classes and support for teenagers with learning disabilities, emotional or behavioral issues and other problems that may prevent them from connecting and thriving in a traditional school environment.
Ashley Friedman is a freelance writer with experience writing about education for a variety of organizations and educational institutions as well as online media sites. She has written for Pearson Education, The University of Miami, The New York City Teaching Fellows, New Visions for Public Schools, and a number of independent secondary schools. She lives in Los Angeles.