When should you go off to boarding school? It depends. Most students enter prep school in 10th grade. But you have choices.
Does it matter when you go off to boarding school? What is the most common point of entry? Are there any advantages to entering in 9th grade versus entering in 10th grade? What about attending boarding school just for 11th grade or 12th grade? Does that make sense? Is it even possible? The answers to these questions depend on you and your circumstances.
10th Grade Entry and Academics
The most common entry point for American college prep boarding schools is 10th grade. That makes sense for many students because college preparatory studies usually cover a three year cycle. Most schools follow the Advanced Placement or AP program. This begins in 10th grade, as a rule, and ends in May of the senior year when students take the national AP examinations. The AP courses offered vary from school to school, so be certain to scrutinize the academic curricula carefully as you search for the right boarding school for your child. WHile most boarding schools will offer ten to fifteen AP subjects, many of them frequently offer highly specialized AP courses such as Mandarin and Japanese. These AP courses are difficult to find in many private schools. They also are not commonly found in public schools.
10th grade is also a sensible entry point at boarding schools which offer the IB or International Baccalaureate programme. The IB programme has many programme specific features which are best started at least by10th grade.
A top prep school such as Exeter offers over 450 academic courses spread over 19 departments. The depth and breadth of course offerings such as these are simply not found at most publc schools in the U.S.
While Exeter and other top boarding schools such as Choate, Andover, Hotchkiss, Groton et al, represent the pinnacle of academic offerings, most boarding schools offer strong academic programs because, after all, their role is to prepare their students for college level academic work. 70-80% of most boarding school faculty hold advanced degrees in their subject.
Superb libraries, arts facilities and labs support these serious academic offerings at most schools. Take a look at Hotchkiss' Edsel Ford Memorial Library, Choate's I.M. Pei designed Paul Mellon Arts Center and Andover's Gelb Science Center which are good examples of the high quality facilities the best private schools typically have. How can they afford such expensive buildings and equipment? Because of the generosity of their graduates or alums as they are called.
Another thing to consider is sports. If you aspire to playing sports at the varsity level, you will want to enter at least in 10th grade, possibly even earlier. Experience, training, conditioning and ability combine to create a successful varsity team member. Most prep schools offer 10-15 varsity level sports including less common sports such as crew, golf, tennis and water polo. Boarding schools usually have purpose built athletic facilities including natatoria, gymnasia, hockey rinks, equestrian facilities, golf course, tennis courts, squash courts and more. Check out The Lawrenceville School's athletic facilities to get an idea of the sort of thing the top schools offer.
9th Grade Admissions
Most prep schools take in a much smaller number of students in 9th grade than they do in 10th grade. There are several reasons for this. One of them is the cost of boarding school. That is certainly a factor for many families. Paying for four years of private residential school is simply more expensive than three years. Consequently, most families will wait until 10th grade to send their children to boarding school.
Emotional maturity is another factor to consider. Some teens are more prepared than others to leave home for 9th grade. Sometimes family circumstances will determine whether beginning in 9th grade is preferable to entering in 10th grade. For example, if your organization is going to transfer you overseas, you may decide that it is better for your child to stay stateside in boarding school. Being a teen has enough pressures. A modicum of stability and familiarity in his routine might just be what he needs to get through this rough patch in his family life. Because boarding schools create such a strong sense of community, they can provide the security and stability which children need when their family life at home is in a state of flux. Boarding schools focus on the development of the whole child. You will always know where your child is because the school staff monitors his whereabouts both inside and outside of the classroom. Unsupervised downtime is virtually non-existent. Somebody in the school is always aware of what your child is doing.
11th and 12th Grade Admissions
Getting into a boarding school for 11th or 12th grade is never easy. Your child will need to have everything the school is looking for and offer no problems. In other words, don't try to get into 11th or 12th grade if another private school has expelled your child. Once the school has determined that your child meets their requirements, the school will then have to have an available place. That usually won't happen unless a student leaves, freeing up a place. Students entering in 11th grade have to get up to speed academically and socially very quickly. That usually requires the kind of student who is smart, adaptable and self-motivated. 11th and 12th grade admissions happen, but they are not guaranteed.
If your child is an international student, it makes sense to plan to enter school in 9th grade. She will benefit from the extra year to become acclimatized to her new surroundings, being a long way from home and family as well as getting used to a new culture and language.
In the final analysis, which point of entry you choose to enter boarding school is up to you and your circumstances, as well as your requirements. No matter which grade you decide upon, you will be making a wise choice.
Questions? You may contact me via Twitter. @privateschl