The Boarding School Glossary

The Boarding School Glossary
Boarding schools have their own jargon just like any activity or affinity group has.

Boarding schools have their own jargon just like any activity or affinity group has. Here are some of the more common terms and acronyms which you are likely to encounter as you explore boarding schools.


ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder was previously known as ADD or Attention Deficit Disorder. In all probability, you won't notice signs of ADHD until your child starts school. If he exhibits any symptoms of ADHD, the school will bring it to your attention. The next step is to him evaluated professionally. The syndrome is treatable. There are hundreds of private schools which have the experienced, professional staff who can work effectively with children who learn differently. Explore that option thoroughly.

This video shows Forman School's approach to teaching students with learning differences.


ACT is an acronym for the American College Testing program. ACT and the SAT are the two most common college standardized tests of academic readiness for college-level studies. Most private schools offer test preparation for the SAT. If you prefer to have your child take the ACT, make sure that you advise the school as soon as you can.


Crew is the ancient sport of rowing. Rowing in shells is a popular sport in many boarding schools. Typically, crew is offered in the fall and spring. Schools participate in regional and international competitions called regattas. Events such as The Head of the Charles and Henley draw rowers from all over the world. In many ways, Crew is the quintessential team sport. It teaches participants lessons valuable in adult life. 70 boarding schools offer crew as one of their athletic activities.

Day School

The term day school describes a non-residential private school, as opposed to a residential or boarding school.

Dorm Master

If the term sounds a bit scary, it is actually quite the opposite. A dorm master is a teacher who is in charge of and supervises a residential house of boarding school students. He or she in many ways becomes a surrogate parent providing stability and guidance for the mercurial adolescents in his care. Boarding schools take their responsibility for your child's safety and security very seriously around the clock, not just when she is in class. Residential administrator has replaced dorm master in 21st-century usage.


ESL is an acronym for English as a Second Language. When a student whose mother tongue is Spanish, for example, learns English, he has to approach it differently than the student whose mother tongue is English. Over 200 boarding schools offer ESL classes with instruction at the intermediate and advanced levels. Their ESL teachers have the skills, qualifications, and experience to teach students to speak and write English effectively and competently.


A fieldhouse is a term that describes an indoor sports arena where basketball, ice hockey, and other indoor sports are held. Fieldhouses and other athletic facilities at many boarding schools rival those found at many colleges and universities. Boarding schools take sports very seriously. Most schools set aside Wednesday afternoons and all day Saturday for sports. Both students and teachers participate in a sport. That allows students to see their teachers in the role of a coach, helping them to understand the multi-faceted nature of their teachers' responsibilities.

This video shows the ice rink and fieldhouse at Ridley College.


Form is another term for grade. It derives from the British public or private secondary schools. Form I is seventh grade. Form VI is twelfth grade and so on. You will come across the term in many older American boarding schools.


Headmaster or the head teacher is a British term for a high school principal or chief administrator of a high school. It is commonly used in older, more traditional schools. The term has been mostly replaced by head of school or director or some other less sex-specific appellation.


House is another British term that has emigrated to American boarding schools. It describes a physical grouping of students in a residential or boarding facility. It is the essence of the boarding school ethos, as it is the houses that provide the structure and social framework within which adolescents interact, compete and enjoy a range of social activities.


IB is an acronym for the International Baccalaureate program. This is a curriculum that is used at 34 American boarding schools. You will find the core curricula at most boarding schools concentrates on the AP or Advanced Placement courses.

Here is an overview of the IB program.


ISEE or Independent Schools Entrance Examination is a standardized admissions test used by many boarding schools. The test is administered by the ERB (Educational Records Bureau) which "is a not-for-profit organization providing admission and achievement assessment as well as instructional services for PreK – Grade 12."


The ISL or Independent School League is a group of 16 New England schools that compete in various sports. ISL was founded in 1948.


LD or Learning Difference is a term that describes the difference in the way a person's senses and brain process information. Many boarding schools offer programs for students who learn differently. Highly trained, well-qualified teachers typically work in very small classes or one-on-one with students at those schools.


A master is a teacher. The word takes its roots from the Latin magister which means teacher. The term is commonly used in older, more traditional boarding schools.


NAIS or The National Association of Independent Schools is a national organization that provides a wealth of data and support for its 1500 member schools. It also lobbies for private schools in the various Washington, DC, fora and legislative chambers.


The PG or Post Graduate Year is a gap year students often take before going to college.


Prep is short for preparatory. You will frequently see a school styled So-and-so Preparatory School. The term comes from the mission of schools which are devoted to preparing their students for the rigorous academic work to be encountered at the college level. In the U.S. it refers to K-12 schools with a college preparatory curriculum.


The SSAT or Secondary Schools Admissions Test is the most widely used standardized admissions test.


TOEFL or Test of English as a Foreign Language is a test of English language proficiency administered by the Educational Testing Service.


Uni is boarding school slang for 'uniform'. Uniforms and dress codes are an integral part of boarding school culture at most schools.

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