Boarding School Pros and Cons: History and Common Misconceptions

Boarding School Pros and Cons: History and Common Misconceptions
We address common misconceptions about boarding schools, shedding light on the actual experiences versus perceived notions. Ideal for parents contemplating this educational choice for their children, the essay provides a balanced perspective on the topic.

We live in the misinformation and disinformation age. That applies to boarding schools as it does to anything you can think of. While I've previously written about boarding school misconceptions in Boarding School Myths, I thought it would be helpful to parents investigating sending their child to a residential school. After all, your child will hear a chorus of misconceptions on social media before you tell her the facts. That's the downside of our receiving information and opinion from social media. Journalism investigates. Social media postulates.

The History of Boarding Schools

The history of boarding schools in the United States is as complex as it is profound. They originated in the colonial period, but their importance grew significantly during the 18th and 19th centuries. The first boarding schools were established by religious groups aiming to provide education to the children of the wealthy elite, often integrating religious teachings with a more traditional curriculum. Many of these early boarding schools were single-gender institutions, instilling a rigidly structured environment that shaped young people according to the societal expectations of the time.

President George Washington visited the Academy during its first year, and spoke in 1789 as part of his tour of New England.

Source: History of Phillips Andover Academy

The 19th century saw the emergence of Native American boarding schools, a less lauded chapter in the history of boarding schools in the U.S. This system was an attempt by the U.S. government to assimilate Native American children into mainstream society. This move has been widely criticized for its cultural eradication implications. Students in these schools were often prohibited from speaking their native languages or practicing their cultural traditions, leading to a loss of cultural identity and heritage.

This video offers a glimpse of Phillips Andover's ethos and purpose as one of the nation's top boarding schools.

In the 20th century, the landscape of boarding schools started to shift. The advent of progressive education theories began to influence their methodologies, moving away from strict, regimented curricula to a more holistic, student-centered approach. Boarding schools began to emphasize character development, leadership skills, personal growth, and academic achievement. Single-gender schools became co-educational, reflecting the broader societal move towards gender equality.

Today, American boarding schools are diverse institutions serving a wide array of student needs and interests. From those that cater to students with specific talents or academic focuses to others designed for students needing more structured support, the scope of what a boarding school can be has significantly expanded. Despite their varied forms and functions, they continue to share the foundational goal of offering a comprehensive, immersive education experience.

Character development, leadership skills, and personal growth alongside academic achievement

In today's fast-paced, interconnected world, success extends beyond simply excelling academically. Education is no longer just about learning facts and figures. Instead, it's about producing well-rounded individuals capable of thinking critically, solving problems creatively, and working effectively with others. This is where boarding schools, with their emphasis on character development, leadership skills, and personal growth, play a significant role.

Firstly, character development is central to boarding school education. Boarding schools often strongly emphasize values such as honesty, respect, empathy, and resilience. When ingrained in students from an early age, these values form the foundation of their character, shaping them into responsible, compassionate, and conscientious individuals. Students develop maturity and a strong sense of personal responsibility by learning to interact with a diverse set of peers and adults and managing day-to-day duties on their own.

We launch women who change the world (for the better!). Tomorrow’s world-changers are made at Madeira – because Madeira is made for today’s young women.

Source: Madeira at a Glance

Secondly, leadership skills are nurtured within the boarding school environment. Schools provide ample opportunities for students to take on leadership roles in academic projects, sports teams, student government, or other extracurricular activities. These experiences foster confidence, decision-making abilities, problem-solving skills, and teamwork, all of which are critical leadership qualities. By offering real-life opportunities to lead and influence, boarding schools foster a leadership mindset among students, preparing them to succeed in future professional and societal roles.

Lastly, the focus on personal growth ensures that students are academically proficient and emotionally and socially skilled. The boarding school environment encourages students to explore their interests, discover new passions, face challenges, and learn from failures, leading to a greater understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, and potential. This self-awareness is critical for personal growth and lifelong learning.

Thus, the holistic approach adopted by boarding schools cultivates balanced growth in young people. By integrating academic learning with character building, leadership training, and personal development, boarding schools prepare students for life beyond the classroom, equipping them with the competencies and character traits needed to thrive in the 21st century.

This video overs a glimpse at the famed Madeira School in Virginia.

Current perceptions and misconceptions

Experiences, societal notions, and popular culture often frame the perceptions of boarding schools. Many people, particularly those familiar with the boarding school environment, recognize the potential benefits these institutions can offer. These include high-quality education, structured learning environments, rich extracurricular activities, cultural diversity, and robust character development. The successful alums that many boarding schools produce further reinforce the perception of these institutions as conducive to academic and personal growth. However, several misconceptions about boarding schools persist, leading to misunderstanding or skepticism.


One of the most common misconceptions is that boarding schools are exclusively for the wealthy elite. While it's true that many boarding schools carry a hefty price tag, many others offer scholarships and financial aid packages that make them accessible to a broader socioeconomic range.

Lack of Family Contact

Some people believe that boarding school students are isolated from their families, which is not typically the case. Most schools have regular visiting hours, family weekends, and breaks during which students go home. Moreover, modern technology allows for frequent contact between students and their families.

Emotional Hardship

Another misconception is that boarding schools are emotionally harsh and lead to feelings of abandonment or severe homesickness. While homesickness is a natural phenomenon, especially in the early days, most schools have support systems, such as mentorship programs, counseling services, and a nurturing community to help students adjust.

Uniform Education

There's a misconception that boarding schools provide a uniform, one-size-fits-all education. However, many boarding schools offer a diverse curriculum with many courses and a focus on individual learning styles.

Discipline and Rigidity

Some perceive boarding schools as overly strict and rigid, influenced by outdated stereotypes. While boarding schools provide structure, they also value personal development and encourage students to explore their interests and express their individuality.

Understanding the reality behind these perceptions and misconceptions is crucial for parents and students considering a boarding school education. It's essential to research, visit schools, and speak with current students, alums, and faculty to gain an accurate and comprehensive understanding of the boarding school experience.

Questions? Contact us on Facebook. @boardingschoolreview

#BoardingSchoolLife #Education #HolisticDevelopment #CharacterBuilding #LeadershipSkills #AcademicExcellence #CulturalDiversity #BoardingSchoolMisconceptions

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