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Families entering the BS world with eyes open: know the DOWN SIDE

GMTplus7GMTplus7 Posts: 6,762Registered User Senior Member
edited December 2013 in Prep School Parents
Many of us parents could spend pages expounding on how great the BS experience has been for our kids— we are no exception. But parents who are considering to take the plunge should also be aware of the down side:
Know what you are getting into…

Some thorny issues:
- INTENSE academic pressure at the elite schools such that kids are sleep-deprived, or to the extreme that kids cheat and are expelled
- Social pressure to “keep up with the Joneses”, but the Joneses are Rockefellers
- Significant additional costs for sports, travel during breaks and parent weekends, etc.
- Lack of parental awareness of eating disorders
- Substance abuse
- Dating

These issues are not unique to the boarding school world, but the physical separation from child can magnify problems.


What advice can you share to address the DOWN SIDE?
Post edited by GMTplus7 on
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Replies to: Families entering the BS world with eyes open: know the DOWN SIDE

  • SEWinterSEWinter Posts: 71- Junior Member
    I'll add having to deal with too many older kids (repeaters) in boarding schools and some indifferent dorm parents leading to some kids falling through the cracks unnoticed, to your list of downsides.
  • 2prepMom2prepMom Posts: 1,038Registered User Senior Member
    GMT, thanks for suggesting this topic.

    In some high-end boarding schools, 25% or more of the class does not continue. Academic failure, disciplinary committees (drugs, alcohol, lying), academic dishonesty (yes, someone did get expelled from a BS for plagiarizing HERSELF without citing her previous year's paper reference). Bring this up with your child, warn them of the risks of "typical" adolescent shenanigans while at boarding school. Do not find yourself and your child sitting outside the principal's office with packed bags. Especially important if on financial aid.

    Adolescence is rarely the happiest, calmest or most contented period of anyone's life. Add the pressure of high expectations, the stress of a new environment, and even the most solid kids have moments of dysfunction. Fragile kids can utterly decompensate. Thankfully schools are better at picking this up than they used to be, but chances are your child will know several classmates who have to leave school due to psychiatric problems. Suicide can rock the whole school. If you have not talked about this already, certainly bring it up before boarding school "what if your friend says....who should you tell."

    Boarding school will likely utterly change your child's reference points. If they were always the best math student, they will face better math students. Always the best batter, they will be surpassed. There will be richer, prettier, better musicians. Talk with your child about that in your adult life. How does one find happiness, and a sense of place, without having the most or being the very best? I think this is probably the definition of growing up, come to think of it. But very painful when one is self-referenced and has just gotten into a school for "the best".
  • InternationalDadInternationalDad Posts: 13Registered User New Member
    2prepMom, sure, eligibility for graduation is not guaranteed. But, a 25% or more drop rate? Wow!! I did quick check, and at DS school, this Fall, about 7% of last year sophomores and juniors did not continue.
  • ChoatieMomChoatieMom Posts: 1,614Registered User Senior Member
    Also, you can't assume from the drop rate that either academics or behavior was the main reason for leaving. Kids also choose not to continue because they find they don't like the school or its culture (fit), weren't ready to leave home, transfers to other programs, family circumstances, etc. Unless the school is publishing the attrition breakdown, don't assume.
  • classicalmamaclassicalmama Posts: 1,943Registered User Senior Member
    Most schools don't publish their attrition rate, and with new students added to each class each year, I think it's nearly impossible to ferret out the actual attrition of, for example, the original 9th grade class over a 4-year period. I'd agree, though, that there is a fairly high percentage of students (more than 7% over the four year period and perhaps as high as 25% at times) that doesn't graduate. While the reasons definitely do vary and are not all related to trouble, most are related to the reasons outlined so eloquently above. BS is not for everyone, and along with its many advantages come an entirely new and different set of challenges and difficulties.


    For those of us with kids doing well, it's easy to pat ourselves on the back for discerning a great fit early on. But after watching more than one nice kid with caring, thoughtful parents leave by choice or otherwise, I now feel that it's luck of the draw as much as anything. A school that ends up truly being a good fit (something you won't know for sure until dc is there); a healthy dorm community; a club or team or group that the student connects to and does well in; and, most importantly, a good adviser and close connections to a teacher or two can make all the difference.

    So what to do? We can make good guesses about some of those things during the admission season. Even more important, I think, is establishing a good, friendly connection to the child's adviser early on. I can't tell you how much that connection still makes a difference in our lives, three years into boarding school life. We've come to know and trust one another's judgments, which makes a huge difference when ironing out the inevitable rough patches.
  • hola3hola3 Posts: 135Registered User Junior Member
    I've had many years of experience with both "top" tier schools and others. 25% attrition for the "top" schools is far too high an estimate, it simply doesn't happen at that rate. Yes, a "bad" class at a big school A,E,SPS,H,D (schools I'm most familiar with) will lose 10-20 students over 4 years (bigger schools have bigger #'s) but that is a far cry from 25%. JMO
  • classicalmamaclassicalmama Posts: 1,943Registered User Senior Member
    hola: You're probably right though I'd guess that 10-20 over four years (for a big school) is probably typical and not a sign of a "bad class" (again, we're including in this number kids who leave for any reason, not just kids who are expelled.) International Dad's stat. suggests that a four-year attrition rate of 15% for one class would be about right, and that would jive with your numbers.

    But the point here is to not argue over attrition rates; it's that there are unique stressors at bs that are worth considering. Some kids leave; some are asked to leave; some get put on probation or academic warning; some do okay but feel miserable and end their years of school by writing about how unhappy they were in the school newspaper, immediately capturing the attention of someone on CC who posts the article here as an example of why hidden gems are a better choice than those Big Bad Tier 1 schools (note tongue firmly in cheek).

    Many others, of course, thrive and have an experience at bs that far surpasses anything they could have experienced at home. But I think the intent of the original post is to promote awareness of the things that can cause stress or trouble, so that we can spot and address them early on.
  • hola3hola3 Posts: 135Registered User Junior Member
    classicalmama,
    Completely agree. AND I agree that this thread is meant in good faith, I just thought that someone stating (with conviction) that 25% of students at "top" schools don't "make it" bordered on hyperbole, especially citing "Academic failure, disciplinary committees (drugs, alcohol, lying), academic dishonesty" as the reason for attrition. In reality, those factors DO lead to a little attrition but FAR more likely, lack of "fit", homesickness and interesting opportunities (pro hockey/pro Ballet, I know of 2 for dancing!) are more often the culprits. Just trying to reframe the reality......in my opinion.
  • friendlymomfriendlymom Posts: 332Registered User Member
    I think attrition is only part of the story. Just because a kid makes it through 3-4 years and ends up graduating does not mean that BS is the best choice for that kid or that family.

    The reason I thought that boarding school would be a great experience for my D was because she loves to be surrounded by activity and 110% involved in what's going on. I think the lack of "down" time at boarding school is also a reality that people should consider when thinking about this decision. We have a younger son and this is just the reason that I don't think boarding school is a good option for him - he really needs some quiet time and escape, and I don't see the grind of boarding school as a setting in which he would thrive.
  • 2prepMom2prepMom Posts: 1,038Registered User Senior Member
    I suggest searching posts on CC under whatever school name and "attrition", here is one post I found, there are quite a few others that suggest that the 25% attrition rate per class may be more widespread than the posters above appreciate.

    "I think a good metric to look at would be graduation rates... How many kids start and graduate the school. I would venture to guess that any school outside the norm would not be particularly neuturing. This is not a statistic that is readily accessable but I have seen people post it on this site for various schools. For example, I believe a saw a rent post that said only around 74 percent of kids graduate from one of the schools you listed." by brendan1, July, 2012

    Many of these posts are by students who notice how many of their friends or original dorm mates leave. Of course, the schools admit replacements, so the actual data will be nearly impossible to find. But 6% of the class leaving each year does add up to 24% over 4 years, so it may be in how one calculates total attrition per class that is leading to the various numbers being tossed about.
  • 2prepMom2prepMom Posts: 1,038Registered User Senior Member
    One more data point on attrition

    Andover Class Size
    06-08-2012 | 12:37 PM
    swimdude006
    The senior class was hit hard this year as to how many of the original actually graduated. Dorm councilor said in our final meeting that at this year's senior dorm reunion, only 26 out of the original 40 were able to come, everyone else had gotten kicked out/left.
  • Mainer95Mainer95 Posts: 361Registered User Member
    I think it's a good idea to ask about the annual attrition rate when you interview. We did at Exeter almost 3 years ago, and we were told it had recently been 1-2%. Indeed, that's just about exactly what it has been since our son has been there. And, as already noted, there is a full spectrum of reasons that kids leave. Some leave of their own volition, for a variety of reasons. Some are asked to leave. A few are told to leave. In any event, the total attrition rate is FAR less than the 25% rumored earlier.
  • classicalmamaclassicalmama Posts: 1,943Registered User Senior Member
    Leave it to us CC prep school parents to seize on a statistic and obsess over it at the expense of the fuzzier, harder to pin down original topic. :-)
  • VelveteenRVelveteenR Posts: 46Registered User Junior Member
    I can attest to the fact that intense academic pressure also leads to substance abuse (there is an Adderall problem at my kid’s school), but I’m sure this is not limited to boarding schools. Kids also rely on obscene amounts of legal substances like uber-caffeinated drinks to keep them going as well. Internet shut-off hours for first years also caused my child to get up at an ungodly hour of the morning to get back to work before classes started. Kid was pretty burned out by the end of the school year.

    One surprise to us is that academics are posing more of a problem second year than first. Child did well last year, but is struggling in these first few weeks with two favorite (honors) subjects. Neither teacher thinks kid should move down, but the bar has been raised significantly this year and it’s painful to watch from afar. If your kid is thin-skinned or preserves his GPA at all costs, some boarding schools may present an unwelcome challenge and this challenge may not present itself right away.

    The OP asks for advice to address the downsides. I don’t have any advice about the substance abuse other than to beware it exists in boarding school as it does everywhere else. Our kid’s school is very aware of the problem and our child knows we find any form of substance “enhancement” an integrity issue that is absolutely counter to our values.

    As for the academic struggles, the school’s support system was there for our child before we were. From what I read here, all of the schools have good academic support and advocacy programs, so just make sure your student knows where and how to seek help at the first sign of trouble. Getting extra help is a sign of strength, not weakness, and carries no stigma. We don’t consider academic struggles to be a real downside as we sent our child to this school for this challenge. Guess we're getting our money's worth. My advice for this issue is to make sure that you and your student are OK with less than perfect grades which means you need to be very clear on your reasons for choosing boarding school, especially if it’s one of the more academically challenging programs.
  • SinkOrSwim123SinkOrSwim123 Posts: 235Registered User Junior Member
    also, for some it's a problem going away from home at a young age, especially if they were really close to their family before. The work will be intense while they'll see peers who just went to a regular high school. So, homesickness can be an (often unexpected) issue
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