How to handle five basic challenges involved in choosing a boarding school.
As your child enters middle school, you will probably begin to think more seriously about her high school and college plans. With that in mind let's take a look at some of the challenges we parents face. I admit that the whole subject is daunting, confusing and even intimidating. However, if you approach the project just like you do any other major project/decision, you will be able to stay out front. Playing catch up is never fun, so let's start our planning early so we understand what is involved.
Getting your child to buy into the idea
The first challenge is a basic one: you must get your child to buy into the idea of going away to school. Yes, you are her parent and you can make that decision yourself. Unfortunately making this kind of decision unilaterally will do more harm than good. The trick is to get her to think that going away to school is her idea.
How do you accomplish that? By starting early. Begin the process of shaping her decision at least 3 to 4 years beforehand. If a member of your family currently attends boarding school, schedule a visit to see that relative while he is in school. The more comfortable your child feels with the idea of going off to boarding school, the happier she will be.
As she progresses through grades 7 and 8, begin to discuss the academic game plan for high school and beyond. Sometimes special considerations will make your decision process easier. For example, if your child displays a real talent for a sport such as hockey or has musical gifts which you all agree need to be nurtured, then focus on boarding schools which will permit him to pursue the kind of rigorous daily regimens necessary to fully develop those talents. Certainly by 9th grade he will see that advantage of attending a residential school very clearly for himself.
Perhaps your child has special needs. Boarding schools offer a consistent 24/7 approach to re-mediating and dealing with children who have special needs. Tons of skilled supervision and teaching coupled with enormous amounts of positive reinforcement will make all the difference.
Finally, you might want to try our approach. We were two professionals with busy careers living in the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut. Everything was miles away. Shopping, banking, after school activities. Everything. Our daughter wanted to join as many groups in her tiny public high school as she could. After a year of becoming a taxi service on a daily basis, we were able to convince her that boarding school was the perfect solution. We got our lives back. We didn't have to worry about transportation and supervision. And, yes, it was her idea to go off to school.
Visiting schools is a schedule challenge more than anything else. You will have distilled your school choices down to a short list of 3 or 4 schools. Now you need to visit each one and experience the schools personally. Those school visits will make a lasting impression on you and your child. They will help you decide which school you would really like to see her admitted to.
Allow plenty of time for travel. Try to arrive the evening before your appointment so that both of you are relaxed and rested. You will have enough stress during your visit. You don't need the additional stress of arriving at the last minute, or, even worse, late.
Take time to prepare your child so that she knows what to expect when she is asked questions. Your careful preparation and anticipation of what will happen will contribute to a positive experience for your child. That is very important for you to achieve.
Preparing for admissions tests
You know your child better than any teacher. If she has gaps or deficiencies in her transcripts, fix those well ahead of time. That way when the official transcripts are sent your child's progress will be apparent. Admissions staff are much more forgiving when they see an issue has been identified and dealt with. You may have to hire a tutor to re-mediate an issue. Perhaps some extra practice is all that is needed. There are plenty of online resources to help you and her.
Once you have any issues dealt with, make sure your child works several admissions tests. At least one practice test should be timed just like the real thing. Again, none of this is difficult for either you or your child to accomplish. You just have to ensure that it does get done.
Meeting all the deadlines
At the beginning of this article I mentioned starting the school selection process when your child enters middle school, preferably in grade 7. The deadline you have been aiming for is the application deadline which is typically middle or end of January prior to the September opening of school. If the school you are interested in has rolling admissions, try to get your application submitted before the Thanksgiving holiday. Submitting your application involves a major deadline which you have to meet.
There are other deadlines to keep on top of. Requesting transcripts, asking for teacher and principal recommendations and registering for the standardized admissions tests are very important. Each of these tasks requires followup so factor that into your thinking. You cannot assume that anything has been done until you have confirmed that it has been done.
Paying for it
In many ways how you plan to pay for your child's boarding school education has most likely been part of your discussions and planning from the beginning. If you need financial aid, be sure to discuss that with the school well in advance. Complete the financial aid application as soon as you have all the documentation and data which that process requires. In any case do not be late submitting your financial aid request. Schools have a pool of money allocated for financial aid. Once it is spoken for, it is gone.
To sum up, none of the five challenges listed above in and of themselves are impossible challenges. They merely have to be thought about, discussed and dealt with. Plan your work. Work your plan.