Have you ever wondered why getting a kid into one of the top U.S. boarding schools, particularly one of “Elite Eight” or “the Group of Seven” is such a big deal?
Reputation & Prestige
When people speak of traditionally “elite” boarding schools, they refer to the reputation and prestige of the school. And since reputation takes time to build, the oldest schools are usually also the most elite and are often thought of as the traditional preserves of the privileged and wealthy.
The “Elite Eight” are widely known to be:
Phillips Andover Academy, Andover, MA
Choate Rosemary Hall, Wallingford, CT
Deerfield Academy, Deerfield, MA
Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, NH
Hotchkiss School, Lakeville, CT
Lawrenceville School, NJ
St. Paul’s School, Concord, NH… (Group of Seven schools in the Northeast plus … the next listed school …)
Groton School, MA (make up the Elite Eight)
According to a U.S. News & World Report article (published in the Fri, May 11, 2001 issue of Daily Yomiuri), “the endowment per student at six of the seven schools exceeds that of such Ivy League colleges as Penn, Brown, and Cornell, and five exceed the endowment per student at the prestigious “Little Three”–Amherst, Williams, and Wesleyan.
With such deep pockets, it’s not surprising then that many of the boarding schools are found in breathtaking settings with science centers, libraries, theaters, galleries, gymnasiums, hockey rinks and swimming pools … facilities that more like those of liberal arts colleges than your ubiquitous public school.
“Private school is a luxury, and rich families want the best facilities,” Michael Gary, director of admissions at Exeter said in an interview with NY Times. The NY Times also reported that “Exeter’s 619-acre campus boasts two swimming pools, two hockey rinks, the largest secondary school library in the world, a cafeteria with made-to-order omelets for breakfast and classes with a typical student-teacher ratio of no more than 12 to one… Andover has a world-class art gallery; Lawrenceville, near Princeton, N.J., has its own nine-hole golf course.”
Academic achievement and excellence
According to the US News & Report, the most common reasons why parents choose from these elite boarding schools are the record of student achievement, educational excellence, the challenging curriculum and for the teaching and pastoral care that focuses on the individual.
Boarding schools can provide more facilities, richer resources, more specialist teachers so they have more to offer to kids seeking greater opportunities to stretch themselves academically, to play sports at a higher level, to try new things such as acting, modern dance, debating or community service.
“Having a big endowment permits all the wonderful touches: computers in the classroom, trips, enriched curriculum,” NY Times reports Susan Fuhrman, president of the Teachers College of Columbia University as having said.
According to the US News & World Report article, “The best boarding schools offer college-level courses in almost every discipline”. Andover’s Chase is quoted saying “To be able to take kids from breadth to depth in a curriculum that’s really guided by an effort to present liberal learning in all is magnitude and glory–that’s what you’d like all families and students to be thinking about.”
According to Carnegie Corporation, “Teacher Quality Most Important School-Based Factor in Boosting Student Achievement.” Classrooms are small with few students to a teacher. Smaller class sizes and dedicated teachers are able to move through material quickly and offer enriched learning experiences. Teaching methods are good, classes are held sometimes using the Harkness or Socrates methods, which require that students think on their feet, develop arguments logically or learn from each other in discussions facilitated by the teacher…these are strengths that prepare them for college studies.
College prep expertise
A Top Ten ranking by Boarding School Ivy League College Placement is as follows:
1. St. Paul’s School 31%
2. Deerfield Academy 30%
3. Phillips Academy 27%
4. Groton School 27%
5. Milton Academy 25%
6. Phillips Exeter Academy 24%
7. Lawrenceville School 21%
8. Middlesex School 20%
9. Choate Rosemary Hall 18%
10. Hotchkiss School 18%
(**Note: Beyond the Elite Eight and the Top Ten Ivy League College Placement rankings, there are other rankings “Top 20 and First Tier-Second Tier-Third Tier rankings, etc. based on various criteria such as SAT scores, GPAs, Harvard-Yale-Princeton placements, college matriculations, etc)
Parents and students with their hearts set on Ivy League colleges consider that the Ivy League schools have had traditional and special relationships on athletic and academic levels with certain prep schools. While attending one of these schools is no guarantee of an Ivy League acceptance, it can definitely put your kid in the running if the your kid justifies himself/herself in one of these schools: Deerfield Academy, Deerfield, MA; Hopkins School, New Haven, CT; Choate Rosemary Hall, Wallingford, CT; Taft, Watertown, CT; Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, NH
St. Paul’s School, Concord, NH; Phillips Andover Academy, Andover, MA; Milton Academy, Milton, MA.
Many American boarding school programs have long arm experience in prep’ing for college admissions. Many conduct mock interviews and prepare an entire career unit. This helps students understand the amount of work necessary to reach their goals such as becoming a doctor or a lawyer. Writing teachers help students prepare for interviews using a free resume maker or cover letter template. Even physical education and health teachers may become involved by teaching students the finer points of a handshake or careful grooming the day of an interview.
Obtaining entrance to the finer universities requires much more than a simple form. There are counselor referrals, essays to write, and a rather large stack of paperwork to complete. Competition for placement in quality schools is intense. Guidance can be crucial to get students past the complicated procedures and help them avoid missing an important deadline or turning in a faulty application.
While top boarding schools are highly successful in preparing students for elite colleges, they don’t monopolise the cream of the crop of students admitted to Ivy League colleges. According to Peterson’s Prep Review, 7 out of the top 10 prep schools are actually NYC day schools, by contrast only 1 out of the 10 is a boarding school.
In fact, many independent day prep schools are said to have academic programs that are even better than those of boarding schools and more of their students do better in securing admission to Ivy League colleges. These prestigious day schools are giving boarding schools a run for their money, so to speak, in the college admissions race.
Often, the richness of the curriculum and breadth of the extracurricular program, as well as the intensity of the boarding school life, actually work against the students’ grades. Boarding school GPAs of 4 years are generally lower than the GPA of 3rd and 4th years’. Boarding school kids are said to be stretched so hard in their first year, that many actually struggle especially in their first year, lowering their GPA overall averages.
Pastoral care and supervision
Obviously, achievement rankings obviously don’t tell all. Boarding school parents believe in the benefits of the kind of experiences that boarding schools can allow: the process of discovery, the kind of confidence and independent spirit that can come from having to leave home at 14 or 15. Hotchkiss’s Mattoon described boarding school as “a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week proposition that provides a total life experience for kids.”
Some parents actually turn to boarding schools to help their children find the discipline they’ve lost. According to the US News & World Report, “With family life under increasing strain, either because of divorce or work demands on both parents, boarding schools offer the comfort of close adult supervision and experiences outside the classroom that are positive and fulfilling.” Some parents like that boarding schools provide secluded and exclusive grounds and provide supervision and pastoral care for their kids.
The old-boys’ culture vs global network
There are those parents who choose boarding schools because they offer selectivity, or for that old boys’ network culture and a more exclusive peer group. Exeter’s principal, Tyler Tingley was quoted saying of Exeter’s students, “[T]he fact we’re able to draw students from all over the world brings a kind of student here that you simply don’t find at a day school. We also have kids who all have ambition, who have an interest in being independent, who want to live on their own. That gives them a quality of confidence that I think contributes a lot to their ability to learn”. Boarding school alumni reportedly regard their school as “the place they learned habits for a lifetime and made friends that they kept up with for a lifetime,” as well as the place that shaped them, that made “a profound lifelong impact on them”.
Today’s boarding schools, headmasters say, are no longer the preserve of privileged families and prestigious folk.
“The easy stereotype is to say a boarding school is a rich school filled with rich people, but that’s not the case,” says Craig Thorn who taught English for 20 years at Phillips Academy in Andover and editor of “Second Home: Life in a Boarding School”, a collection of essays by boarding-school students and faculty.
Boarding school headmasters say that the “old-boys’ network” is giving way to a “new network” that transcends sex, kin color, socioeconomic background, and national borders” quote Deerfield’s headmaster Eric Widmer. Reportedly 10-15% of elite boarding schools are international and in some schools more than 1 in 5 students is actually a minority (with a huge increase in African-American and Asian-American students).
Regarding boarding schools being the preserve of the privileged wealthy however, it is argued that the fact that the Group of Seven boarding schools receive such huge endowments allows them to give financial aid to one third of their students (up to 6% points in the past dozen years) with the average grants covering more than 71.4% of tuition, up nearly 5 percentage points in the same time.” “With schools such as St Andrew’s, Deerfield and St Paul’s officially make their admissions “need-blind” basis–which is, without regard to an applicant’s ability to pay” …meaning that such boarding schools are able to take in more students on the basis of merit. And “with a number of other schools doing so on a de facto basis, and often with even greater outlays of aid, the notion that boarding schools are the preserve of the rich has become obsolete.” ( – quotes from the US News & World Report article). The diversity of boarding schools (drawing from all over the US as well as internationally) is one of the top reasons why students choose boarding schools over independent day schools.
What about career prospects of boarding school graduates?
For those parents concerned about the returns on the large sums forked out in tuition fees, boarding schools are good investments for parents it seems, according to U.S. News & World Report, boarding schools produce “an outsize number of lawyers, doctors, educators, investment bankers, and presidents”.
Keep your goals in mind
In short, while school rankings provide a general idea of overall quality, they should just be a starting point.
On-campus visits, personal assessments, interviews, etc are more valuable in finding a good fit. Bear in mind that parental and students’ considerations can differ considerably. Parents tend to choose schools based on school reputation, alumni affiliations, quality of the university prep program and university placements (especially true for non-US applicants).
Students, on the other hand, tend to care less about the prestige of the schools and are more likely to make their choices based on their strengths and peculiar extracurricular interests and school setting, campus atmosphere and facilities.
The top boarding schools vary quite a bit in character and strengths. There are nearly 300 independent, accredited, nonprofit boarding schools in the USA. Not every student desires to opt for an Ivy League college, there are other boarding schools not on the Elite Eight list that could be the “right school”.
Large schools tend to be strong in science facilities and depth and breadth of their programs, eg in offering college-level science. However, individual students may think they will thrive better in less competitive environments of smaller schools. Also, elite and top ranking boarding schools may not provide specific courses or extracurriculars that the students want. And frankly speaking, the fun factor figures HUGE in a student’s considerations.
Boarding may also not suit students who jealously guard their privacy and who don’t like being in a community or living with others. Boarding School Finder warns parents that boarding school may not be right for your child if:
– “it becomes obvious that he/she will have to repeat a year. In order to move forward to the next class, students must demonstrate the ability to study independently, show good work performance and pass their exams.
– being sent to boarding school will be seen as “a punitive measure for inappropriate behaviour or unsatisfactory study performance. Children who are rejected by their families and sent to a boarding school close themselves off from relationships with peers and teachers, which is not beneficial for either side.
– your child is “strongly attached to your [their] family [families]. There is a danger that through loneliness they may become frustrated and socially isolated.
US boarding schools may not be the choice … there are many parents who favour European, UK, Canadian or Australian ones. Diversity is thought to be one of the foremost goals for choice of college prep boarding schools. In fact, the 10-12% international foreign student makeup of the student body in typical US boarding school may be considered low by some parents who look to IB schools, such as Swiss boarding schools which tend to be more international because of the quota requirements or restriction caps in place on any one nationality.
Ultimately, the sum of the boarding school experience is what the student makes of the enriched curriculum and the opportunities given him/her and relationships he/she will encounter.
U.S. boarding schools, unique educational experience: Students of all backgrounds get best learning money can buy. By Stephen G. Smith U.S. News & World Report (republished in the Daily Yomiuri Fri, May 11, 2001 edition) (Originally published in the U.S. News & World Report; May 14, 2001; Smith, Stephen G.)
Age of Riches: At Elite Prep Schools, College-Size Endowments NY Times/2008/01/26
All aboard: boarding schools are trying to broaden their base and diversify their student bodies. Insight on the News Article, November 12, 2001 By Fleming, Alexandra Rockey
The Washington Post December 1, 1992 by Mary Jordan
Boardingschoolsusa.com lists US boarding schools by state and also lists boarding schools ranked according to those with the highest SAT scores as well as a university prep schools listing.
Ranking of Top USA Boarding Schools. PrepReview.com
The Newman School in the Back Bay. College Prep in Boston. Co ed American and Int’l students.
Private Schools San Diego; Preschool thru grade 12; Montessori Creative & Perf Arts, college prep. www.ccpaasd.com
Study in the U.S. Interlaken Inn & Resort: Adjoins the Hotchkiss School, with deluxe rooms & resort amenities. www.interlakeninn.com
Deluxe boarding and placement at the best high schools in the U.S. www.lexingtonprep.com
Northeastern Prep Schools Highbeam Encyclopedia
Aspen Education Group is known for their exceptional programs for troubled children, teenagers, and young adults and offers the largest and most comprehensive network of therapeutic schools and programs with services including a variety of therapeutic interventions such as boarding schools, wilderness therapy, residential treatment, special needs summer camps, and weight loss programs.
America’s top boarding schools. (Directory and article) Town & Country August 1, 1996 By Biggs, Melissa; Weiner, Kate Johanna
** Beyond the “Elite Eight”, there are over a couple hundred boarding schools that have been ranked below. However, these informal “over-the-grapevine” rankings are highly changeable and hotly argued over. So one should bear in mind that while these numerical rankings exist, they can be less than useful.
– Deerfield Academy
– The Hotchkiss School
– The Lawrenceville School
– Phillips Andover Academy
– Phillips Exeter Academy
– St. Paul’s School