Let’s begin by diving into the various types of schools and how boarding schools differ from traditional schools. To simplify, there are four main categories: private day schools, private boarding schools, public schools, and charter schools.
At private day schools, students attend classes and then have options to participate in sports, clubs, and other activities after school. A main difference between a day school program vs. boarding is that day students do not reside on campus. Therefore, day students do not receive any of the evening, and in some cases, the benefits of weekend activities.
By contrast, boarding school students take all meals on campus, receive support during study time, have access to evening office hours with faculty, and tutoring or peer tutoring services. After classes end, they benefit from coaching and mentorship from coaches and campus life staff. They also often report benefits from roommate experiences, enhanced leadership opportunities, transportation services, and enjoy special weekend offerings.
Most boarding schools, when they are not in remote locations, offer a day option. Therefore, some boarding schools are 100% boarding, while others could be 70-90% boarding, with a smaller day student population. In some cases, there are even boarding schools that are predominantly day schools, with a small boarding program.
So, as you can see, many boarding schools in the U.S. do offer a day option for students living locally. Many boarding schools attract international students, so some of these students could even be hosted by local families. Regardless of whether a student is domestic or international, most students tend to prefer living on campus to gain the full boarding school benefit.
To help further differentiate boarding schools vs private schools, here are some frequently asked questions:
Are most boarding schools for high school only? It depends. While most private day schools begin as early as elementary school, the majority of boarding schools offer middle and/or high school only.
Are boarding schools single gender or coeducational? Both private day schools and boarding schools designate single-gender (all boys or all girls), or co-ed.
Are there faith-based boarding schools? There are faith-based boarding schools, as well as many that are non-denominational. Some boarding schools offer religious education, services, or transport students to services of their choice.
What are military boarding schools about? The military boarding schools in the U.S. emphasize college and life preparation. They also incorporate leadership and character development. These schools are traditionally attended by college-bound students; however, there are typically some students wishing to attend the top service academies or attend an ROTC university program following graduation. In the JROTC program (secondary school level), there is no pressure or requirement to enlist in the military. Most students take JROTC for leadership training and character development. Perhaps surprisingly, most military high school graduates matriculate to public and private universities.
What are boarding school campuses like? Unlike a traditional private school, boarding schools are often similar to college campuses. Imagine a liberal arts college set on a sprawling campus with academic, sport, and other facilities. Boarding school settings vary widely from east coast lakefront campuses to beachfront properties on the west coast. Some are nestled in small towns or village centers, whereas others are located in suburban or urban settings.
What’s the difference between a boarding school vs. a residential program? Sometimes there is confusion, so it is important not to confuse boarding schools with therapeutic or wilderness programs. Residential wilderness and therapeutic programs are typically shorter term, offer academic classes, but also address psychologically diagnosed disorders and/or rehabilitation issues.
Why would a parent send their child away to boarding school? Sometimes people have the wrong impression of boarding schools. They think something must be wrong at home or with the teenager. To the contrary, it doesn’t mean there is something wrong at all. It simply means you are making a choice to help your child prepare for college and life. The decision may center around greater independence, resilience, responsibility, learning life skills, or receiving more intensive academic support. It could even be related to future goals and college plans, especially given that boarding schools can give applicants an extra edge. Students often matriculate to Ivy League, top military service academies like West Point and Annapolis, and other prestigious public and private universities.
Do boarding schools offer specialized programs? Although this can also be true in private day schools, many private boarding schools offer highly specialized programs including: aviation, computer science, equestrian, JROTC leadership, or a specific approach to academics.
What academic approaches are used at boarding schools? Most boarding schools are college preparatory and many boast impressive matriculation to the Ivies, to top military service academies, and top universities. Academic approaches can range from single-gender Gurian Model School approaches to Harkness methodologies.
Do boarding schools accept international students? Most boarding schools in the United States are very open to international applicants and may even offer classes to learn English (ESL, ESOL). To be accepted, some boarding schools require advanced English, whereas others are geared to beginners or intermediate learners. Students come from all over the world to attend boarding schools of their choice in the U.S.A., Canada, UK, Switzerland, and many other countries.
Do boarding schools offer programs for learning differences? In some cases, absolutely, but the programs vary widely. Therefore, it is important to see if they accept students with mild, moderate, or severe learning differences. It is also very critical to disclose any learning issues and supply documentation so the school can determine if it is the right fit. In addition, boarding schools may specialize, so ask questions about how they support ADD, ADHD, Dyslexia, Auditory Processing, and other learning differences.
What kinds of facilities are on boarding school campuses? Unique to boarding schools, students reside on campus in dorms. Students have roommates and have everything they need right on campus, including: classes, tutoring, college planning services, and counseling. They also generally have well-equipped athletic facilities for sports, as well as exercise facilities (gyms, pools, weight rooms). In addition, most boarding school campuses have a health center, dining hall, residential halls/dormitories, bookstore, recreation hall, and various departmental offices to serve students and families.
How are the departments organized at boarding schools? Departmental offices handle a variety of functions, including: enrollment, re-enrollment, tuition payments, transcripts, sports, clubs, academics, and much more. The departments normally include: academics, athletics, campus life (dorms, health center, transportation, bookstore), admissions, advancement, finance/business office, IT, administrative or an executive office.
Do parents have to transport their students? Similar to college settings, parents no longer shuttle their kids. The school handles transportation to athletic events, medical/dental appointments, weekend excursions, field trips, and much more. As you would imagine, students at boarding schools become quite independent. Most students even learn how to use local transit, board airlines, and even help make travel arrangements. For this reason, boarding school students have a chance to really mature, grow, and become resilient.
Why Choose Boarding School over Public School
Unlike public schools that are federally and state funded, boarding schools rely on tuition to cover operating expenses. Most of them operate under a nonprofit status, so they do fundraising for capital improvements and annual campaigns to support the education and school programs. In order to help families with tuition and fees, most boarding schools offer payment plans and financial assistance to families. Unlike colleges and universities, private schools generally cannot offer athletic scholarships due to state regulations. However, they may offer merit awards and other types of tuition credit programs.
When you compare a public education to a boarding school, it is important to understand school funding. The cost of a public education is supported through local, state, and federal taxes.
In public schools, most classes are quite large and school quality varies widely depending on the school district. Where it is not unusual at a boarding school to see 5-20 students in a class, it is not that unusual to see 30-40+ students in a public school classroom.
In addition, it is important to note that charter schools are part of the public school system. Parents seek these schools out to give their child a chance to be in a more specialized school or one with higher standards. A case in point is a nationally recognized charter in San Diego, High Tech High, where students engage in thematic projects. In many cases, charter schools are tough to get into due to high demand and the lottery system employed (if demand exceeds the number of available spaces).
Boarding schools by comparison to public schools, require admission applications, and may be quite selective. As noted, they generally offer small classes, more individual attention, and a chance to receive greater support from faculty.
If your child has a special interest or talent, it can be useful to check out some of the specialized programs at boarding schools. Programs range from aviation, sailing, visual and performing arts, equestrian, band, learning differences, JROTC, STEM, STEAM, and ESOL.
If your child is getting lost in large classes or struggling with time management, homework habits, and motivation, a boarding school has some definite benefits, including:
- Boarding schools offer small classes and a level of academic support that is hard to find even at the best private, public, and charter schools.
- Boarding schools typically offer a mandatory study time at night, faculty office hours, and a counseling department to help with academic schedules, arranging tutors, and college planning services.
- Unlike public schools and private day schools, boarding school students have the chance to live away from home. During the formative years in adolescence, teens develop independence, confidence, and a high level of resilience.
- Due to the specialization at boarding schools, students have unique opportunities to pursue personal interests and passions that can later lead to college majors and careers. They are with like-minded students and build strong friendships that often last a lifetime.
- If you compare statistics on public vs. boarding, there is compelling evidence that demonstrates boarding school students study more, go to college at a higher rate, gain entrance to top universities, and are more likely to get graduate degrees, and earn more over their lifetime. National associations support this data and provide some compelling research on this topic.
In conclusion, check out this top 20 list below of the many benefits of a boarding school education. Think about your current school and evaluate the importance of these by priority for your teen.
- Independence and resilience
- Time and project management
- Self-discipline and responsibility
- Academic support, small classes
- Mentorship and on-site counseling
- Values and character development
- Communication skills
- Leadership opportunities
- Outdoor education, optional trips to other states/countries
- Exposure to domestic and International diversity
- Better study habits
- Higher acceptance to colleges
- Higher percentage with masters
- Higher income once employed
- Scholarships to college
- College planning services
- Strong friendships and network
- College preparation
- Broader sports and club participation
- Lifelong and meaningful friendships
Note: If you would like to check out boarding schools, remember some families choose a boarding school close by, while others choose one in another region or state. To find a boarding school near you, Boarding School Review can be a great place to begin. You can compare up to three schools at a glance.
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