What are the benefits of attending boarding school? The popular adage of being “sent away” to boarding school is overstated and outdated. Today, more than 35,000 students are enrolled in boarding schools in the U.S., according to the Association of Boarding Schools. Boarding schools can provide a tailored learning environment that enables students from many backgrounds to succeed academically, personally, and socially.
Though boarding school is an option for pre-K through high school education, the experience better parallels the college search and application process that many students embark on toward the end of public schooling. So what’s the benefit of figuring out if boarding school is right for you? Finding a school that helps you can bring a world of knowledge and skills—and, among the 250 schools that appear on Fortune’s inaugural list of the world’s leading boarding schools in 2023, you can probably find a school that best suits you.
The benefits are really endless, argues Holly McGlennon Treat, a partner at the Bertram Group, an educational consultancy that appears on Fortune’s list of top boarding school advisers. “[Boarding school] is a wraparound growth experience for the whole child, not just the student within the child, but who they become as part of a community, being a leader within that community, living within a community, and contributing to the community.”
We’ve outlined several benefits—and a few potential drawbacks—of attending boarding school.
Boarding schools offer a more tailored educational experience
Boarding schools can provide a more tailored educational experience compared with the traditional public education system. They often feature much smaller class sizes, which allows for individualized attention, says Amelia Buckworth, senior education coordinator at Quintessentially Education, an educational consulting agency.
“You quite often see—particularly in boarding schools—smaller class sizes. Kids are getting more attention, more one-to-one support, and also it’s easier to identify when somebody is either doing well and needs to be pushed further or perhaps struggling and needs additional support,” Buckworth tells Fortune.
Boarding schools offer more opportunity for exploring extracurricular activities
Individualized attention expands beyond the classroom, adds Treat, who has more than 30 years of experience as a boarding school adviser.
“This really goes to sports, extracurricular activities, artistic pursuits, and then also character,” she says. While activities differ by boarding school, she notes that typical offerings include debate, model United Nations, orchestra, private music lessons, sports, and leadership opportunities in student government and beyond.
By allowing more time for students to devote to extracurricular activities, boarding schools can help students hone particular interests, Jess Harris, head of education at Quintessentially Education, says.
“The opportunities tend to range from school to school, and also from interest point to interest point,” Harris tells Fortune. “If you have a student who’s particularly interested in sporting opportunities, the honest truth is within a boarding environment, you’re going to get more time for your sporting activities and at the same time, you’re more likely to be exposed to a wider range of opportunities because of that time allowance.”
Boarding schools can help students with time management
Boarding school often provides an environment that facilitates structure and time management, making it easier for students to participate in extracurricular and academic activities, Harris says.
“There are also expectations in terms of the allocation of your evening hours, so making sure that you have a schedule for completing your schoolwork to facilitate extra time for things that are academic and other capacities,” Harris says. “Whether it might be societies or whether it might be competitions, they’ll have structures in place that support students to engage with such a wide range of opportunities.”
Although some students can do well wherever, when students find their best “cultural fit” at a boarding school, they thrive, Treat says.
“Many students can be successful in a range of schools. But where is it that they’re going to feel the most comfortable, really be able to find their voice, and thrive?” Treat says. “If you don’t feel like you fit in, if you don’t feel like you’re in a culture that supports who you are, or who you want to be, then the whole thing is a bust first. You have to be comfortable to thrive.”
Boarding schools are expensive
While attending boarding school touts a lot of potential advantages, it does come at a significant cost. With an average tuition of nearly $38,000 among the 260 private boarding schools in the U.S., according to the Education Data Initiative, the price tag isn’t something many can ignore.
Although cost is a vital consideration, the value of a boarding school education is a case by case matter, Harris tells Fortune.
The cost of boarding school is one piece of the puzzle families must consider, she says, adding that the expense is weighed differently based on a number of family factors. “When you’re looking at that you need to take into account what the student will be gaining in their experience and what they might be missing out on.”
The biggest barrier that prevents students from entering boarding school is finances, according to Treat. Though, like college, many boarding schools offer scholarship opportunities, she adds. “It’s mostly need-based financial aid, which is different from a scholarship, though.” In the U.K., Harris says, scholarships are available options as well.
Boarding school may require a social adjustment for students
Homesickness is another common concern of parents and students alike, Harris says.
“The most obvious concern of a parent when they’re first sending their son or daughter to a boarding environment is are they going to be happier. Are they going to settle. Are they going to be okay away from home,” Harris notes. “There is a significant transition that needs to be made when a student first goes into that environment.”
That said, boarding schools offer families more options to obtain a top-tier education for students, including “flexi-boarding,” Harris says. “It might be that when students are first preparing to go to full boarding, they actually start on a couple of days a week.”
SOURCE: Fortune Education