The Western Boarding Schools’ Difference

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The Western Boarding Schools’ Difference
There are almost 40 boarding schools west of the Mississippi River.
There are almost 40 boarding schools west of the Mississippi River. If you were to drive west from this great river, the landscape and climate slowly change and, likewise, a perhaps previously unexplored region of boarding schools will begin to unfold before you. Like the Louis and Clark expedition many years ago, this voyage of discovery will be an astonishingly educational experience.

Start anywhere west of the Mississippi, from Manitoba down to Texas; head west across the Great Plains and even past California and British Columbia all the way to Hawaii.  On this voyage, you will find the many boarding schools represented by the Western Boarding Schools Association.  These boarding schools can rival anything found in the East and, quite often, we offer more! For example, did you know that Hawaii Prep has 80% of the world’s ecosystems and a LEED Platinum Energy Lab? Or that one can safely predict that many of the ice hockey medalists at the Sochi Olympic Games will have attended high school at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Minnesota? Or that you can simultaneously watch condors fly overhead while on your way to surfing each day at Cate School in Carpentaria, California? Or that at my school, Brentwood College School, we can integrate marine biology and oceanography into our curriculum because we are situated directly on the Pacific Ocean?

Academically, our western boarding schools stack up with the best of them.  Unfortunately, there still permeates a mindboggling misconception that the closer one geographically gets to the ‘Ivy League Schools’, the better chance students will have in getting into them. Ironically, the opposite is often true: the Ivy Leagues want diversity and they seek students from all geographic regions. Parents and students would be well served to examine the university placement records of many of the western boarding schools; they will soon realize that our students are getting into the same universities, at the same rates, as the eastern schools.

Arts. Hollywood and Los Angeles. Need I say more? There are, in fact, schools like Idyllwild Arts Academy that are dedicated to the arts, but families will surely be impressed with the quality of the visual, performing and technical arts at many of our western boarding schools. Most western schools tend to be highly creative and modern. I invite you to explore the myriad of innovative artistic options at many of our western schools.

Athletic opportunity. Obviously western schools have produced many top-level athletes, just like the eastern schools; however, what western boarding schools can offer that is unrivaled is a proximity to a terrain that allows for some amazing opportunities (think Rocky Mountains, desert and Pacific Ocean!) that just can’t be found anywhere else in North America. Our geographic region is blessed with a diversity of schools, many of which, like Athenian and Stevenson School offer exciting and unique access to these spectacular areas. 

As well, consider the proximity in the West to the most exciting regions of the continent in terms of innovations in technology and social media (think of the origins of Twitter, Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Yahoo or even the Internet itself!) and in learning (think Salman Khan and blended learning). Our culture of innovation is one of the big reasons many students choose to come west. Quite simply, the West is abuzz with the future and moving forward; it does not tend to harp on the past.  Perhaps it is easier to think out of the box when one is not engulfed in a hundred years of tradition?

So if you are looking for a boarding school, you will be well served to look west.  Step out of the box. Expand your horizons and surely you will be amazed at what you will find.

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.
Questions? Contact us on Twitter. @boardingschoolreview

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