I Can't Find Any Rankings!

Updated  January 12, 2017 |
I Can't Find Any Rankings!
This cry is heard throughout the land as parents try desperately to compare one boarding school against another.

"I can't find any rankings!" "Which is the best boarding school in Massachusetts?" Hardly a day goes by without somebody asking about rankings of boarding schools. I know that you are trying to figure out how one boarding school compares with another so that you can choose the one which is best for your child. You probably even have tried looking for a site which ranks schools. Well, good luck! If you find one, let me know. There is no ranking system for boarding schools that I know of. 

Try it yourself. Google "boarding school rankings" or "ranking boarding schools" and review the results. Yes, you will find several lists of "the best schools." However, what are the criteria used to select those schools? Maybe some of them are a good fit for your requirements. Maybe not. So, let's look at the reasons why this is the case.

1. Boarding schools are unique

This is the main reason why it is impossible to rank boarding schools. Each school is unique. Each school does its own thing.  Schools are overseen and managed by trustees and faculty who have a particular point of view. For example, a Jesuit boarding school such as Georgetown Prep has a quite different approach to curriculum and teaching than The Putney School does. Yes, as you look at schools, you can compare basic criteria such as the number of students, what they teacher and the sports programs which they offer.

The broad strokes of the program may be similar on the surface. Most schools will offer courses in core subjects such as English, science and math, sports and extracurricular activities. But exactly what courses and at what levels they are offered, what teams are fielded and how many extracurricular activities are offered varies widely from school to school. This video offers an overview of Asheville School.

So, how do you find the best school for your child? You start by deciding what is important to you. Do you want her to attend a small school or a large school or something in between? A school which has a student population of 250 students in grades 9-12 has a different vibe to it than a school which has 1,000 students in high school. Is location important or can it be anywhere? Think about how you will feel if you have to fly across the country to get to your child in an emergency. What about religion? Do you want her attending a school which will allow her to continue to practice her beliefs? Does she learn differently or have special needs? Do you prefer a traditional college prep education for her? Or would a progressive school be preferable? What about financial aid? Answer these questions as honestly as you can. Those answers will help you determine which is the best school for your child. Read 5 Reasons You Might Be Looking At The Wrong Schools for some guidance on choosing schools.

2. Boarding schools do not divulge data.

The second reason why you cannot find rankings of boarding schools is that boarding schools do not have to participate in ranking surveys or other tools which the media and websites use to rank schools. The National Association of Independent Schools has taken the lead in this debate. And for all kinds of very good reasons. It and all the state and regional associations have for many years counseled their members not to talk to the press. That's why there are no rankings for boarding schools such as you find in Newsweek or U.S. News and World Report for colleges and high schools. Things like where graduates matriculated, SAT test scores and so on, must be discovered either by checking individual school websites or by asking the admissions staff. The data is readily available. It's just not gathered and neatly packaged in one convenient place. Here is another fine boarding school. Review its website and see if it meets some or all of your requirements.

3. The best school is the one which works best for you.

The third reason why rankings don't matter is that choosing a boarding school is similar to choosing a college. You are looking for the best fit. The fit matters most. So, how do you determine the best fit? You need to have a serious discussion about exactly what you desire in a school. Let that determine which schools end up on your short list.

Put another way, we all know that Exeter and Andover are top boarding schools. But there are hundreds of other boarding schools out there. They have great academic programs, superb facilities, dedicated, highly credentialed teachers, and all manner of athletics and enrichment activities. Most do an excellent job of preparing your child for college.

How do you find these schools? It takes doing a lot of research. Hire an educational consultant if you can afford it. Consultants have forgotten more about boarding schools than you and I could ever know. The fee which you will pay a consultant virtually guarantees you a good fit. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but you get the idea. In this video you can explore Harkness Learning at Lawrenceville School.

One of the things which boarding school admissions departments look at very carefully is your child's ability to handle the academic work. They assess that ability by reviewing the results of admissions testing, as well as scrutinizing your child's transcripts from her previous schools.

As you can see, there are several steps to the process of finding the right school for your child. Allow yourself plenty of time to research schools. Develop lists of ones which generally meet your requirements. Then visit and evaluate a short list of 3 to 5 schools. Choosing the right boarding school will take time. It is not something which you can do in 2 or 3 weeks. I always recommend allowing at least 18 months for the school search process.

In the end, ranks don't matter. Only the fit does. Get the fit right, and you will have a happy child and great learning experience.

Questions? Contact me via Twitter. @privateschl


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