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Boarding Schools: Answering All Your Questions Through an Ultimate Guide

Boarding schools have long been institutions of learning and development for students across the world. This guide seeks to shed light on common questions and misconceptions, offering insight into what boarding schools truly represent today (vs. what the movies portray).

What Is a Boarding School?

A boarding school is an educational institution where students live on campus, either full-time or for extended periods, while receiving academic instruction. Unlike traditional schools, boarding schools incorporate both the living and educational experience into a cohesive program.  

Do Boarding Schools Still Exist?

Yes, boarding schools have existed for centuries and continue to flourish today. In the US, their numbers have seen fluctuations over time, but they have remained an integral part of the American educational landscape. 

What Are the Different Types of Boarding Schools?

There are numerous types of boarding schools, each catering to unique needs and interests.  Here’s an in-depth look into the ten types of boarding schools.  As a student looking for a boarding school, you need to evaluate what type of community you are looking for and what type of academic environment you are looking for. 

Is a Boarding School Public or Private?

Historically, many boarding schools have been private institutions, funded by tuition, donations, and endowments. 

In 1998 the first Public Charter Boarding School was established in Washington, DC SEED Charter School. There are also several Academy boarding schools in Maine and Vermont that have public funding and boarding students from the state, communities and abroad.   

How Many Boarding Schools are in the USA?

The exact number of boarding schools fluctuates year by year. According to the Boarding School Association there are 221 boarding schools in the USA.   These are the boarding schools that are members of the association.   This does not include the public schools or smaller boarding schools.

Why Parents Send Their Kids to Boarding School?

Parents decide on boarding schools for various reasons. Some of the most common include:

  • Academic Excellence: Many boarding schools offer rigorous curricula and individualized instruction.
  • Personal Development: The boarding environment fosters independence and resilience.
  • Extracurricular Opportunities: These schools provide myriad activities from sports to arts.
  • Diverse Social Environment: Students interact with peers from various backgrounds.
  • Specialized Programs: Some cater to specific talents or needs, from arts to STEM to learning and social supportive communities.

What Age Does Boarding School Start?

Boarding schools typically start accepting students from the age of 11 or 12, corresponding with the beginning of middle school or junior high. However, some schools may offer programs for younger students.  The schools that are for younger students are called, Junior Boarding Schools.

How Long is Boarding School?

The duration of a student’s stay at a boarding school varies. Most follow a traditional school structure, starting in middle school and continuing through high school. This equates to roughly 6-7 years. However, it is not uncommon for a student to matriculate into a boarding school during high school.

How Much Does Boarding School Cost?

Boarding school tuition varies widely, depending on factors such as location, prestige, and amenities. On average, prices range from $25,000 to $60,000 per year, though some elite institutions may charge over $70,000. Specific costs often vary by the type of boarding school. Schools that specialize in supporting students who need more support and expertise range from $60,000 to 90,000.

What is the Cheapest Boarding School in the US?

While pinpointing the single cheapest boarding school is challenging, there are affordable options available. Additionally, many schools offer scholarships and financial aid to make attendance more accessible.  There are several academy boarding programs that promote a range of prices based on the semester or type of student — international vs. local. 

What is Boarding School Like?

Boarding school offers a unique blend of academics, extracurricular activities, and personal growth opportunities. Living and learning with students from all over the world opens up new opportunities for friendship, thought provoking conversation and new experiences. (LOUIS — if you are from Oxford — put a quote in about Oxford, like “the boys who attend oxford xyz….” With a close-knit community, students often form lasting friendships and learn vital life skills.

Is Boarding School As Bad As Some People Make it Seem?

Hollywood makes boarding schools look really good or really bad. Nothing in life is that black and white. Additionally, some former students may have negative experiences, many others find their time at boarding school transformative. It’s essential to choose the right fit for each student.

Is Boarding School Safe and a Good Choice for Students?

Modern boarding schools prioritize student safety and well-being. With rigorous accreditation processes, they strive to provide a nurturing environment where students are held accountable for meeting their commitments and participating in community life. 

Can Boarding School Be Fun?

Absolutely! Living in a community with other students from other states and countries is an amazing opportunity. Dorm living provides time to make close friends and learn how to be more independent.  From sports competitions and clubs  to art shows and dances, boarding schools offer numerous activities for enjoyment and relaxation. 

What Kind of Child Is Not Suited for Boarding School?

Boarding school might not be ideal for students who struggle with homesickness, have specific medical needs, do not want to be there, or have a history of being thrown out of a school.  If your child is not attending school at home and has no interst in visiting or interviewing at a traditional boarding school – you do not want to enroll them.  Your child might need a therapist or an Expert about types of schools that might be a better fit. 

What is a Therapeutic Boarding School?

Therapeutic Boarding Schools (TBS)

Therapeutic Boarding Schools (TBS) are a type of residential therapeutic program. Most have an integrated education program. Therapeutic Boarding Schools is also a type of license that a state will give to a program and each state has different licenses. The reason for this is that state governments license schools and programs differently and the labels do not mirror between states; some states do not license adolescent therapeutic programs. These schools generally integrate education and varying levels of structure and supervision physical, emotional, behavioral, familial, social, intellectual and academic development. All residential treatment (& TBS) should have an accredited school that can give diplomas or credits that transfer to other secondary schools. The average length of stay for these programs vary widely.

If you are investigating therapeutic boarding schools here is how to vet them.   Learn the differences between a therapeutic boarding school and residential treatment program here.

Additional FAQ’s About Boarding Schools

Dive into more specific questions about boarding schools with our detailed Q&A section.

Do Boarding Schools Allow Phones?

Most boarding schools allow students to have phones, but usage policies vary. Typically, phones might be permitted during free times but restricted during academic hours, study periods, or lights-out. Some schools may also regulate internet and social media access to ensure students’ focus on academics and community engagement.

Therapeutic Boarding Schools (RTC’s) most often do not allow cell phones or they are part of the transition process towards the end of the stay.

“Students may use their phones — just not during classes, community meals, and sports. As with most boarding schools, students are busy with academics, sports, co-curricular, and socializing with peers, so they aren’t using their phones as much as they would at home.” 

~ Matthew Woodhall, Head of The Woodhall School in CT.

Do Boarding Schools Have Uniforms?

The uniform policy depends on the school’s tradition and ethos. While many boarding schools require uniforms to instill a sense of community and discipline, others may have a dress code or allow casual attire. Uniforms are often seen as a way to level the playing field and reduce distractions.

“Students at Rock Point School are encouraged to express themselves in many different ways – that includes the way they dress! Uniforms are not required because we want our students to feel comfortable being themselves. ” ~ Hillary Kramer, Director of Admissions

“Woodhall students have a dress code for the class day which can be best described as “neat casual.” Once a week, the boys wear jacket and tie for formal dinner. They also wear jacket and tie for end-of-term assemblies and graduation.”  ~ Matthew Woodhall, Head of The Woodhall School (CT).

Do Boarding Schools Have Dorms?

Yes, boarding schools, by definition, provide residential facilities. These dormitories range from historic buildings with shared rooms to modern facilities offering private spaces. Dorms become a central part of the boarding experience, fostering camaraderie and personal growth. 

At schools that have a smaller boarding population there might be a homestay.

Do Boarding Schools Have Lockers?

Most boarding schools provide lockers or similar storage facilities for students, especially in academic buildings. They allow students to store books, materials, and personal items securely. In dorms, students typically have wardrobes or closets for their belongings.

Do Boarding Schools Have Weekends Off?

Boarding schools generally follow a traditional school week, with weekends off from formal academic instruction. Some boarding schools have classes on Saturday mornings with athletic competitions in the afternoons.  However, weekends at boarding schools are often filled with structured activities, outings, sports, and sometimes supplementary classes or study sessions.

“Weekends are a time to have fun, be active, relax, do a favorite activity, try something new, and enjoy friends. At Middlebridge, weekends are all these things. Students choose from a wide variety of weekend programs that include recreational, educational, and cultural activities in Rhode Island and New England. Off campus activities include local festivals, restaurants, museums, bowling, natural areas, concerts, athletic events, shopping, adventure and wilderness trips, and amusement parks. On campus activities include movies, cooking, athletic programs, art projects, community service, and special event parties.” ~ shared Shannon Leventhal, Director of Admissions of Middlebridge School (RI)

“At Rock Point School, students often work with staff to design weekend activities they are interested in doing. We offer skiing, snowboarding, biking, hiking, and other outdoor activities most weekends, but students also love having game nights, going thrift store shopping, seeing movies, cooking and baking, crafting, and more! The weekends are always a mix of downtime to relax and fun outings, and students get to choose from a wide variety of activities on campus and in Burlington, VT.” ~ Hillary Kramer, Director of Admissions

“Weekends are a time to have fun, be active, relax, do a favorite activity, try something new, and enjoy friends. At Middlebridge, weekends are all these things. Students choose from a wide variety of weekend programs that include recreational, educational, and cultural activities in Rhode Island and New England. Off campus activities include local festivals, restaurants, museums, bowling, natural areas, concerts, athletic events, shopping, adventure and wilderness trips, and amusement parks. On campus activities include movies, cooking, athletic programs, art projects, community service, and special event parties.” ~ Matthew Woodhall, Head of The Woodhall School (CT)

Do Boarding Schools Have Prom?

Many boarding schools host a prom or similar formal dance, especially for upper-grade levels. These events offer students a chance to socialize, celebrate their school experience, and foster community spirit.

Some boarding schools are invited to other local girls school’s proms and dances.  

Other boarding schools do not have proms, instead connect with other local high schools through community service options

Do Boarding Schools Have Sports?

Sports are integral to most boarding schools. They often boast a range of athletic programs, from traditional sports like football and basketball to activities such as equestrian or crew. Participation in sports not only offers physical benefits but also teaches teamwork, leadership, and discipline.

“Woodhall has an athletic and activity option for every student: competitive soccer, cross-country, basketball, wrestling, lacrosse, plus outdoor education  and drama.” ~ Matthew Woodhall, Head of The Woodhall School (CT)

Rock Point School students are encouraged to be active that they find rewarding and enjoyable. For some students, that might mean learning to skateboard with Burton CHILL and for others it could mean playing soccer at PE. We offer yoga classes, opportunities to explore our campus trails (both on foot and on skis), biking on the Burlington bike path, and other more traditional sports during PE. Our students also can have memberships at the local YMCA to swim, take workout classes, or lift weights. The goal is to stay active and healthy, and that might look different for each student.” ~Hillary Kramer, Director of Admissions

Do Boarding Schools Have Summer Break?

Yes, boarding schools typically have a summer break, similar to other schools. The length of the break can vary but usually spans a couple of months. During this time, schools might offer summer programs, camps, or courses, but participation is often optional.

Are All Boarding Schools Religious?

No, not all boarding schools are religious. While many were founded on religious principles and maintain a spiritual foundation, there are also secular boarding schools. Even within religious schools, the emphasis on religion varies, with some offering religious courses and regular services, while others might simply uphold certain values or traditions.

Additional Articles About Boarding Schools

For more insights into boarding schools, explore these selected articles:

This guide aims to address common queries about boarding schools, but always consider visiting potential schools and speaking to current students or alumni for a comprehensive understanding.