Admissions Perspective: Choosing a Boarding School

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Admissions Perspective: Choosing a Boarding School
Get admissions officer's Clayton Johnston's perspective on how to choose the best boarding school for you.
Recently I landed in Jakarta on a recruiting trip. Immediately upon exiting the terminal, as happens in many countries, a small crowd of entrepreneurial ‘taxi drivers’ surrounded me, all trying to grab my suitcase and waving their ‘Official Airport Taxi ID’ badge in my face.  Had I not been a seasoned traveler, it would have been very difficult for me to determine which of them, if any, to believe?  They all looked authentic and sounded sincere.  
Like inexperienced travelers, most prospective families know very little about boarding schools when they first start looking.  They need support in determining which school is right for them.  They must rely on word of mouth, the research they can do themselves, and their own intuition.  But this is easier said than done; if you visit enough schools (which you should), they all can begin to appear quite similar.  So it can be a daunting task to determine which school is ‘right’ for your family.
If you read the mission statements, vision statements, school philosophies, tag lines, and Head’s Messages of all the boarding schools on their websites, they all pretty much say the same thing.  They offer a well-rounded education, character development, top-level academics, small classroom sizes, modern facilities, great mentoring and a safe learning environment.  
So what makes them different from one another?
This is where doing your homework is important.  Each boarding school tends to have at least one differentiator; something that makes them stand out from the crowd.  For instance, at my school, Brentwood College School, it might be that we are on the ocean.  At Thacher School in California, it may be that they have a program involving horses; or it may Berkshire’s two ice hockey rinks at their Athletic Center.  So finding out something special that appeals to you is a good starting point.
However, if you are looking for a boarding school, of primary importance should be the “culture of boarding” at each school.

What truly differentiates many boarding schools is the strength (or weakness) of their boarding program.  This is where you need to ask as many questions as possible to each of the schools you are visiting.  Typical questions might be: what percentage of your school are boarders compared to day students?  Do you consider yourself to be a day school with some boarding, or truly a ‘boarding school’?  What are the demographics of your boarding student population (is it mostly international or North American)?  Are the dorms run by teachers or by non-faculty members?  Will the school share contact information of willing current and past parents with you so that you can do more investigation?  Is there an established Residential Life Program?  If so, will the school share it with you?  Can prospective students spend 24-hours on the campus (a sleep-over might tell you a great deal about the culture)?  The answers to these questions and many more will help you determine the right boarding school for your family.  It involves direct questions, honest answers, and digging deep. 
This video tour of Hopkins School in New Haven, Connecticut gives you an overview of this New England day school.
There are many fantastic boarding schools in both America and Canada and you will certainly find the right one for your family.  It can be daunting at first but Admissions people appreciate families who are diligent and have done their homework on our schools.  We also encourage you to look at many schools; compare and contrast a wide variety of boarding schools (using websites such as is important before visiting; it will help you narrow down your search).  Visiting many campuses (even repeated visits) will also be important.  While at first they may seem similar, with the right kind of exploration, the differences between schools will become very clear; a school that fits all of your needs and criteria is out there!  All of us in the Admissions world are keen to answer your questions and support your journey of discovery. 
Good luck and welcome to the wonderful world of boarding.

Clayton Johnston is the Director of Admissions at Brentwood College School in British Columbia, Canada. He blogs regularly at Brentwood Admissions Blog about his school and about life in the Admissions Office at Brentwood College School. You can follow him @bcsadmissions, or visit to learn more.

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This section covers the basics of choosing a boarding school. Learn more about educational consultants, explore the dos and don’ts of making the right choice, and learn why you should trust your instincts. When is the right time to attend boarding school? What is a post-graduate year? How can an educational consultant help? Here you’ll find the answers to these questions and more.