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
Role models, knowing how girls learn and constant encouragement are just some of the ways girls' schools work their magic with your daughter.
As I read research and data in preparation for writing this article, I was struck by how much real progress has been made in girls' education versus boys' education over the last decade. I hope that you will read the resources listed at the end. They are just the tip of the iceberg but they will get you started in your exploration and evaluation of girls' schools. Since the subject of single-sex education seems to be gaining traction in the public school arena, I suspect that we shall continue to see some serious academic papers being written on the subject in the coming years. This short clip offers a glimpse inside an AP Biology class.
Personally, having raised two daughters, I can speak with some experience on the subject of single-sex education. Both girls went to coeducational boarding schools. But the benefit of hindsight tells me that going to an all girls school would have been a better solution for both of them. Here then are the reasons why I am such a huge fan of girls' schools.
Girls' schools provide relevant 21st century role models.
It is a fact that there are more visible, relevant role models for girls these days. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi and Harvard President Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust, to name just three highly successful prominent executives, provide our daughters with the very best kind of role models. That's important. You can read about these leaders. You can hear
Four reasons shaped our decision. I share these and other insights with you.
Deciding whether to send your child to boarding school instead of day school is a decision most of us parents make early on in the private school search process. Here is our story. I had taught in day schools and was a Deputy-Director of one of them. Nancy and I chose to send both daughters to boarding schools for the following reasons. I hope that our experience will help to inform you as you make this critical decision about which kind of private school will be best for your child.
At the time we were considering sending our children to private school we were fortunate to be living in an area which had good schools. My late wife Nancy indeed had graduated from the local high school. In fact, she was chair of the local school board when we decided to explore other options for our daughters' schooling. So it wasn't the schools per se which were the issue. Four factors shaped our decision.
The high school curriculum was solid. The teachers were experienced and competent. The school was small as high schools go, with a student population of 400 students in grades 7 through 12. There were football and basketball teams, a highly-acclaimed marching band and a couple of clubs. That, however, was what made us want more for our daughters. We wanted them to read five Shakespeare plays a year. Not just the one play a year which she learned in her current high school. The same thing was
Choosing a boarding school involves sifting through and reviewing lots of information. Never lose sight of the fact that you know best. Trust your instincts.
Part of the fun of parenting is that there is no owners' manual issued when your child is born. You and I buy cars, televisions and computers with reams of documentation. But nothing came with your daughter or mine. You had to rely on your instincts, judgement and common sense in order to raise her to become the young adult who now is poised to head off on a great adventure, namely, going off to boarding school.
Your daughter is unique. So are boarding schools. While no two schools are alike, they all share a common aim: to educate your daughter academically, spiritually and athletically. They strive to build on the solid foundation which you have so lovingly laid over these past fourteen or fifteen years. Now it is time to let her go and advance and grow in this next important stage of her maturation.
Still, all of us parents approach the process of finding the right school with more than a little trepidation. Questions keep popping up. Some questions even nag a bit.
"How do I know which boarding school is the best one for her?"
"How can I compare schools which all seem so wonderful yet are so different?"
"How do I know that she will be prepared properly for college work?"
"Will the school see the potential which I see in my daughter or will she be just another child occupying a place?"
Take a deep breath. Trust your instincts. You possess finely-honed parental instincts. After all, these
Visiting schools on your short list is very important. During your visit observe and ask questions.
Many parents feel that they know a boarding school because they have spent time on its web site. They 'liked' the school's Facebook page and are following it on Twitter. They also have watched all the YouTube videos the school has posted on its YouTube channel. They and their child are convinced that the school is a good fit for them and their requirements. So why bother actually hopping on a plane, renting a car, booking accommodation and taking all that time to go and visit the school? It goes without saying that you need to visit any school to which you are thinking of sending your child. The school will insist on it because they want to meet you in person whenever possible.
Your educational consultant may have given the schools glowing reports. Your great uncle has always spoken about his years at one of the schools on your short list with great fondness. In fact he has given generously to his alma mater. One of your colleagues in the Boston office has a daughter at another school on your short list. She apparently loves her school's equestrian program. But that's their opinion. You and your child need to set foot on each campus on your short list, scope each one out and use your own judgement about whether your child will be happy there for three or four years. Here is a list of things to look for and questions to ask.
Things To Look For and Check Out
No shortcuts exist to filling the seats in your private school. It requires savvy, effective marketing. More here.
The quality of a summer camp depends very much on the quality and experience of the folks running it. When you select a summer program run by a boarding school, you are getting a program with experienced, well-organized professionals at the helm. More here.
What makes some schools really better than others? What makes them the best schools?