Is a Boarding School Actually Worth It?
By Kim Dixit
People often ask me the generic, open-ended question, “Is a boarding school better for our kids?” And, like everything else, I reply that it depends on the child and the particular family situation. Residential/boarding schooling is not for everyone, but sometimes there are compelling reasons to explore this option.
For some families, boarding school is looked at as a rite of passage and is a tradition within the family. However, if this is not the norm within your family, a boarding school might still be something to consider for your child if their school is falling short in multiple ways, or if your family is facing a major change that will disrupt education. Boarding school might also be worth considering if your child excels at a particular skill or subject, which residential schools could cater to; in these cases, sometimes, a student does not feel challenged enough at their current school, or conversely, may feel their current school is too academic and stressful to permit them to really be themselves. Either way, residential schools may offer healthier and more robust learning options in such cases. And finally, if your child is determined to get into a highly selective college, boarding school can be a helpful educational path.
Boarding schools are known for being academically sound. While this doesn’t always mean kids experience a high-pressure environment, it does mean that a certain level of quality is assured. While there are many fine private day schools in India, not everyone lives within easy access to them; even for those who do, selective admission may still be a barrier. Boarding schools can help a family make sure their child receives a good education, when the nearby day options are undependable or inaccessible.
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Relatedly, many boarding schools were founded or have evolved to foster excellence in one or a handful of pursuits. If your child is very clear on what skills they want to build, residential schools can be a way to help them focus on and build those skills to a level a typical school, which lacks specialized resources, wouldn’t be able to help them achieve.
For example, a student seeking more challenge in science and engineering could consider Hawaii Prep, where students work on college-level projects in environmental science, finance and virtual reality in the state-of-the-art Energy Lab on campus. Charterhouse, in England offers a high-end design technology studio for students looking for challenges in tinkering and robotics. Boarding schools with serious resources for sports, the arts, even debate can be found around the world.
Boarding schools, as private schools, are also freer to define their own learning and teaching philosophies. If it’s a rigid, test-based curriculum students seek to avoid, a boarding school like Trinity-Pawling School for Boys, in New York, which is committed to project-based and experiential learning (a paradigm that, research suggests, produces superior learning outcomes for boys, especially) could be an option.
Since boarding schools are sometimes considered as a bridge to access the most selective colleges in the world, many families accept the trade-off of paying for kids to live away from home in order to leverage this advantage. While it is true that the best prep schools across the world boast the highest admission rates into Oxbridge, the Ivy League and other highly selective colleges, families must also recognize that the school alone cannot make a student successful. If I tell you that 40% of students from Phillips Academy Andover go Ivy League colleges, this would also indicate that the majority does not. Furthermore, this number drops to around 15-20% acceptance into Ivy League colleges at other elite boarding schools.
A top-end boarding school gives students opportunities to hone and polishes their skills through access to more resources, which in turn help them shine and excel in a way that makes a difference in admissions to highly selective universities (for example, Appleby College offers the Global Leadership Diploma, which can give students an advantage). However, as with anything, student have to put in their best effort to seize these opportunities. Expecting kids with average motivation to emerge from a top boarding school as Ivy League material is not realistic; such a student might be better off in a school that focuses on helping students develop new passions and find interests that motivate them inherently.
If, after you and your child both take stock of the situation and still feel boarding school is a good idea, you will need to do your research regarding school options. Look for an educational environment that will help your child maximize opportunities, develop a love for learning and achieve his/her goals, even if that goal is simply to have a happy and balanced childhood or adolescence.
This is not a decision that can be taken lightly or quickly. If your family decides to pursue a boarding school, you will need to examine admission cycles, which vary typically by country. For instance, in the UK, usual entry points into residential schools for new students are year 9 (age 13+) and year 12 (age 16+), because these timelines correspond to the beginning IGCSE or A level curriculum. On the other hand in the US, 9th grade is the typically entry point, and the bulk of student intake at Woodstock, in Mussoorie, occurs in the 8th and 11th grades. Other countries and schools have their own criteria and timetables that need to be checked on a case-by-case basis. There really are choices at every point in the process, and families should not feel pressure to compromise.