Finding the Right Boarding School for You

Finding the Right Boarding School for You

Find schools for students age 10-18

The right school will encourage you to accomplish your goals and ambitions while providing the environment to help you succeed.

Finding the right boarding school can be daunting: You want a school that brings out the best in you, and a community that accepts your quirks and boasts your talents. The right school will encourage you to accomplish your goals and ambitions while providing the environment to help you succeed. Transferring schools is stressful, time-consuming, and can weaken a student's university application. So you really need to make the correct decision the first time you apply.

Compatibility is the broadest and most important factor to keep in mind when finding the best school for you. Here are ten ways to determine your compatibility with your school:


Nothing can put a greater strain on a relationship than the difficulty of traveling long distance. Families should consider things like the availability of direct flights, a school's proximity to international airports, the distance from airports to campus, and students' access to public transportation. Does the school provide transportation from the airport when you arrive? If you have to take a taxi, how far is the ride to campus? These may seem like minor details for a student who is moving into a dormitory, but convenience should not be underestimated.


Every school has a distinct personality. Unfortunately for students applying from abroad, the Internet is not always great at capturing a school's character, or "true colors." Yes, the Internet will list single-gender schools, traditional coed schools, religiously-affiliated schools, schools in New England or California, and so on. It's easy to find the general "type" of school that suits your needs, but within that category there are sometimes hundreds of schools. If you can, visit a school before deciding to enroll. If not, ask current students and alumni from your country what life and education are like on the campus, and whether the school "culture" is compatible with your lifestyle.

Educational Philosophy:

Know your strengths and weaknesses. Do you excel in classes or subjects that are straightforward, concrete, and heavy in rote memorization? Or are you creative and stronger at evaluations that lean more heavily on meaningful reflection? Considering how you think and learn will help you find a school that uses a methodology that will play to your strengths while also helping build in areas of weakness.

Students typically apply to boarding schools because class size is small enough to afford the teacher opportunities to move away from rote memorization and strengthen higher order learning skills. These are the skills that will ensure you are prepared not just for university, but also for the real world. Being good at memorizing is nice, but most students have honed that skill by the time they are teenagers. Students need to be able to problem solve, do research, and communicate effectively. Ask about school's day-to-day teaching methods. Try to determine where you will excel, and find a school that will develop you into the strongest problem solver and most effective communicator you can be.

Academic Rigor:

Make sure you will be challenged. Students rarely succeed when they are overwhelmed. Likewise, students become bored and underachieve in learning environments that are not challenging enough. Trust the admission offices, which are trying to enroll students that will fit in socially and thrive academically.


The size of a boarding school can Directly affect its personality, traditions, sense of community, and academic rigor. As one could guess, schools that serve 200 students are likely to serve a broader range of students in terms of cognitive abilities. The smaller the school, the more emphasis there will be on individual achievement and community. The larger schools tend to be the most academically rigorous. They are also the schools that do not accept a wide range of students in terms of their cognitive abilities or social development. Students entering one of the bigger schools will need to have a heightened level of independence and a stronger sense of self.

Special or Distinctive Programs:

If you already know what you want to study and what field you want to enter, read the course catalog carefully. Pay particular attention to extra-curricular activities and "field trips" that fit with your hobbies, sports and interests.

Faculty and Facilities:

Look at the list of teachers at the school. You may find that one school has a science chair who formerly worked as a physician or a veterinarian. Some of the teaching faculty may still have one foot in the "real world" and be practicing what they teach and applying what they know. Obviously this is ideal. Contact specific teachers by email, ask them questions, and try to arrange a time to meet if you visit campus. Could you see yourself being spending significant time learning from this individual? These are crucial things to investigate.

This is also true for artists, musicians, and athletes. Make sure you are comfortable with a coach or instructor's philosophy and approach. These are the people who shape your experience.

Tour the facilities and buildings, or look at them on line. This is where you will spend the most time. Though the faculty is more important to success, it is also nice to have a facility that is up-to-date.

Weekend Activities:

Ask about weekends, on- and off- campus activities, and longer trips. There will be stretches in the school year where students are on campus for five to eight weekends in a row. This is where location may come into play again in determining compatibility. For most students, especially those traveling abroad for cultural immersion opportunities, weekend activities can make all the difference. Many, if not most traditional boarding schools are located in rural towns and small suburban neighborhoods. If you like city life, ask if you will travel regularly to nearby big cities.

University Placement and Counseling:

Look at where the most recent group of graduates are attending university. Of course a school with 250 graduating seniors will have more students enrolling in Ivy League schools than a school with 80 graduating seniors. Families should focus on the percentage of students who were admitted to one, or all of their top three choices.

International Student Ratio and Diversity:

For students whose native language isn't English, it is imperative that you understand the composition of the student body. Request more information about the percentage of international students living in the dormitories and, most importantly, how many students come from your country or speak your native language. Many students attend boarding schools in the United States for cultural and language immersion opportunities, both of which can be hampered if you live in a dormitory where ten of your best friends come from home. Aside from losing the opportunity to branch out and make valuable connections with other students, many international students will find that their TOEFL scores will not rise as quickly as they should when they speak their first language in the dorms and between classes.

A boarding school's student body should have between 10 and 15 percent international students. Within that percentage, look at how many countries are represented. It is a healthy sign to see 20 or more countries represented within the international student body. This usually ensures that you will be among a diverse group of domestic and international students, increasing the cultural immersion opportunities and likely preventing any language acquisition hurdles.

Last Pointer:

Use the Internet to gather as much information as you can, but if possible, visit the schools on your list. Visiting the school won't just give you that chance to "match personalities" or determine compatibility, it will also give the admission office a better sense of who you are and how you can contribute to the school's community. Although Skype interviews have become increasingly common, a personal visit will give you a better chance of admission.

Best of success to you in your decision-making and your studies in the U.S.A.!

Thomas Rossini is Associate Director of Admission The Masters School, Dobbs Ferry, NY.

Show More

By Thomas Rossini
Thomas Rossini is the former Associate Director of Admission at The Masters School, Dobbs Ferry, NY.

Download Study in the USA® Magazines