10 things you need to know about boarding school in 2023

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10 things you need to know about boarding school in 2023
10 things you need to know about boarding school in 2023

10 things you need to know about boarding school in 2023. In the U.S., public school enrollment in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 dropped 3% from fall 2019 to fall 2020, according to the National Center for Education Statistics 2022 Report on the Condition of Education. This decline brought total enrollment back to 2009 levels—about 49.4 million students—completely erasing a decade of steady growth in the public sector. Boarding schools may be benefitting from this shift.

While boarding schools are still not the status quo for the largest portion of the American student body, they are a unique schooling opportunity that can set students of all ages up for success. And, among the 250 schools that appear on Fortune’s inaugural list of the world’s leading boarding schools in 2023, parents and students alike can find a school that’s a good fit.

Still, navigating the process of selecting and applying to boarding schools can be overwhelming, especially if your only knowledge of the subject is from the likes of various books and media like Netflix’s Wednesday TV series. To demystify the process, Fortune spoke with two experts who appear on Fortune’s list of the top boarding school advisors. They shared the following 10 things you need to know about boarding schools.  

10 things you need to know about boarding school in 2023

1. Boarding schools have day or flexi-boarding options 

A traditional boarding school refers to student living and literally “boarding” away at a school, but there’s a lot more flexibility in school offerings. Many U.S.-based boarding schools offer alternative options, such as a day school status, where students get to return home as they would after public school, or weekly-only boarders, where students return home on the weekends but board during the week. 

“Most boarding schools have primarily boarding students with a small population of day students,” Holly McGlennon Treat, a partner at The Bertram Group, an educational consulting group, tells Fortune. She has been a boarding school advisor for 30-plus years. “But it’s a completely same experience, it’s just some kids go home and spend the night at home and other kids go home to their dorm.”

These types of “flexi-boarding” arrangements are an increasingly common trend in the U.K., says Jess Harris, head of education at Quintessentially Education, an educational consulting agency. “It might be that when students are first preparing to go to full boarding, they actually start on a couple of days a week, almost having a big sleepover with their friends.”

Flexi-boarding can help combat homesickness and worry as well as provide more options for families. “A lot of the schools are offering weekly models whereby [students] can come Monday through Friday and they can still have the freedom to return to their families on the weekend,” Harris tells Fortune

2. Boarding school isn’t only for wealthy people  

While finances are still the “biggest barrier” to some students looking to go to boarding school, the tide is changing, Treat says. “Boarding schools are doing everything they can to recruit and support families in a range of socio-economic statuses,” she adds.

An important distinction to consider is that many boarding schools offer need-based financial aid and occasionally scholarships. In fact, Treat says organizations such as A Better Chance are designed to help with the expenses of boarding school. “There are community-based organizations that support low-income families to have access to boarding school and help them entirely with the process.”

Oftentimes, Harris says, the U.K.’s top boarding schools offer scholarships for up to about 30% of the students, which is resulting in a shifting environment at boarding schools.

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“If you went into those same schools 50 years ago, you’d see a much different sort of cohort of students,” she says. “The schools are doing a lot to make sure that they’re introducing diverse year groups and making sure that they’re supporting pupils as well. It’s not just that sort of top, top, people who can necessarily afford it.”

3. Boarding school isn’t a punishment 

While it’s easy to associate boarding school with the well-known colloquialism of “getting sent away to school,” Treat says this is the furthest thing from reality and implies that boarding school is used for discipline.

“The exact opposite is true: Boarding schools are looking for engaged kids who are excited to learn,” she adds. “Now they don’t have to be perfect, but being in a more engaging environment is going to be the key to someone’s success.” 

And the boarding schools portrayed in media and pop culture is again, not entirely accurate.

“The old-school strict nature of boarding is something that we often have to dispel for families,” Harris says. “We’re in 2023. Your students do not need to be taking freezing cold showers because they’re not entitled to hot water anymore. It’s a much more liberal, forward-looking, open-minded environment than the very traditional idea of boarding school.” 

10 things you need to know about boarding school in 2023

4. Boarding school offers diversity

Another common misconception about boarding schools is that their student bodies are lacking in diversity. “I think that there’s a mystique around boarding school that it is primarily—or that it’s only—upper-class white kids and it’s really much more diversified than it ever has been historically,” Treat says. “Living among people who are different—with different thoughts and belief systems—is obviously incredibly educational.” 

In the U.K., Harris adds, there’s a rich history of boarding schools popularized by famous Britains, like members of the monarchy. But people need to be much more realistic about what boarding school actually is like for the majority of students. 

“Understanding that you’re not necessarily going to live in a castle, you’re not necessarily going to meet the future king,” Harris says. “Those bits are important to like take into consideration.” 

5. Individualized academic and personal success are emphasized 

Students in boarding schools benefit from the small classes and very individualized attention that extends beyond the classroom into sports, extracurricular activities, and artistic pursuits, Treat says. “Because of the 24-hour nature of boarding school, the growth experience is truly a wraparound growth experience for the whole child—not just the student within the child.” 

What’s more, the consistent environment of boarding school provides students with a position to continually thrive, Harris says.

“The opportunities that are created when a student is in an educational environment full-time are obviously further reaching than when they’re only attending during set hours of the day,” she explains. “By being involved within the educational environment on a 24/7 basis, you are typically in a very well-structured position that has a whole bunch of opportunities that account for learning that goes well beyond the classroom.”

Beyond the classroom, learning can reflect in the extracurricular or engagement opportunities at boarding school, sports, volunteering components, and social development, Harris says.

6. The ideal student is the one who wants it

The best fit for a boarding school student is the one who wants it, Treat says.

“Any student can go but they have to have the desire. It’s just a willingness,” she adds. “There are boarding schools out there that can accommodate a wide range of learners.”

Although boarding school can be a “very unique and intense environment,” it’s all about finding a good fit, Harris says. The right student in the best school for them can prosper there, she adds.  

10 things you need to know about boarding school in 2023

7. Boarding school fosters well-rounded students 

Boarding schools can be good for teaching necessary life skills such as independence and self-responsibility, which make these students more prepared for the college experience, Treat says. “It’s more college readiness, having had the experience of living independently, having the academic skills and having the academic skills and preparedness for college, the organizational and planning skills.”

Not only are students better prepared for the shift from post-secondary education life, but they may also stand out more on college applications because of the experience and opportunities that they’ve had at boarding schools. This includes leadership qualities such as “excelling in the arts or the athletics,” Treat says. 

Students build independence and life skills by being away from home, even if it’s on a weekly basis, adds Amelia Buckworth, senior education coordinator at Quintessentially Education. “When it comes to the sort of preparation for university and adult life, gaining those independent skills from a young age, I think, can be really, really beneficial.”  

8. Don’t focus on name brands 

Oftentimes, parents get caught up in the “name brand” image of some popular boarding schools, and measure success based on those metrics, Treat says.

“Parents focus too much on name-brand schools and thinking that it is the path to success. But the truth is the path to success is finding that special sauce that really helps your kid thrive—the culture, the sense of connection—that’s the key,” she says. “I can’t emphasize enough how important a sense of connection is for kids, not the name of the school or the bumper sticker on the back of your car.”  

The brand is meaningless if it’s not the “best fit” school for a student, Harris adds. “As parents and as families you’re going to have the best understanding of your own values and ethos and you need to make sure that your family values align with the values of the school,” she says. “So we class that as ‘best fit’ and make sure that you are choosing a genuine match for yourself and your students. The best fit might not be the best name school in the country. It’s not all about name and brand—it’s about an environment that’s going to suit your student.” 

9. Boarding schools require applications 

The applications for boarding school are not to be taken lightly. While the process is similar to college applications, Treat says applying to boarding school is a bit more complicated.

“There are student essays, parent essays, teacher recommendations, grades and sometimes standardized tests, or an entrance exam,” she says, adding that students who can’t travel to a school will do a Zoom interview in lieu of an in-person interview.

And, like college, boarding schools often have recruiters. “There are admission folks who go to various regions all around the United States and the globe and meet with kids,” Treat says. 

10 things you need to know about boarding school in 2023

10. Boarding school is worth it

Attending boarding school can be “a game changer,” Treat says. “It puts kids on a completely different trajectory in terms of opportunities. They can really thrive during their middle school and high school days, because those are really hard growth years.”

The specialized community of boarding schools is pivotal, Treat notes. “Being in a community that really specializes in helping kids thrive during that period of time offers a lot of individualized attention towards that effort. It really helps kids elevate themselves.” 

Even though a boarding school education is often a massive “financial commitment,” Harris says each family values its worth differently.

“The majority of the time because education is such an influential and game-changing stage of life, I do think it is worth it,” Harris says. “But at the same time, it probably depends on what your other local options were, and what your alternatives might look like.” 

SOURCE: Fortune education

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