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Boarding School Size

DaddyHoosierDaddyHoosier 4 replies2 threads New Member
Let me preface by acknowledging there are many other factors that will come into play other than just size. Curious as to how parents determined or helped their kids determine the right size school for them? My son's mother is adamant that he needs small, unfortunately without giving much other than "he's an only child" and as such he would do better in small.

Having attended a small boarding school myself with an enrollment of around 350, my experience was that it was a little limited in several respects, but with other advantages over large. I won't go into why but I think it also would apply for my son. He is definitely the type to wait on the perimeter until comfortable but once he finds his niche he's good. He plays sports but is not a star, he doesn't do anything exceptional, he's just a well-rounded regular kid. The last 2 years he attends a school that is 25 total boys in his class but before that was in a public middle school of 800. There were no issues in public other than the average class size being 32 and the more engaged students not getting enough attention.

Any advice is much appreciated.
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Replies to: Boarding School Size

  • busymommyof4busymommyof4 144 replies20 threads Junior Member
    We found that we really liked the “mid size” schools with around 400-500 kids. 800+ felt like college lite and 250-300 felt too small. The 4-500 range seemed to still include plenty of activities/sports, sit down meals, small classes, a friendly, small community, etc.
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  • ceruleanisticceruleanistic 29 replies2 threads Junior Member
    My school has about 600 kids, yet we remain a tight-knit community. I know everyone in my grade, most in the grade above, and a lot of the upperclassmen. I'd say that 600 is the perfect number (at least for my liking).
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  • buuzn03buuzn03 1849 replies16 threads Senior Member
    edited March 31
    Our kids prefer small. My son is an introvert (as is his dad and I) and we all get overwhelmed by large crowds and people we don’t know. Small schools allow him to know everyone on campus and never be overwhelmed by too many people (all school meetings, for example). He knows practically every faculty and staff member, even if he’s never had them for class or EC. It’s been perfect for him.
    DD is an extrovert (I’m not sure how) And initially thought she wanted a bigger school. But she has decided she does not want a large school, either. She has two mid-size schools on her list but they felt much smaller than most. The rest of her favorites were all below 400.

    IMO, well-rounded kids who are not stellar in one area have more opportunity to try new sports or ECs and potentially shine in small schools. Larger schools can select their sports teams with very accomplished players from all over, orchestras with extremely talented musicians, etc and that’s what those kids do. They won’t usually be three sport varsity kids. But in a small school, the solid but not star athletes fill the varsity teams (around a few stars) and bands/orchestra. I feel DS has been able to try new things more because of the small school he’s in. And he’s on teams with some really good, accomplished athletes instead of all thirds players, so he gains more knowledge and skill by working with these experienced players. He’s done both choir (never sung before) next to an opera singer that went on to Juilliard and band, playing with professional artists. But kids in small schools have to wear more hats to help fill the gaps.

    I think it will depend on your kid. Find out what he liked about the big public school and what he didn’t, vice versa for the smaller school. It’s going to be a personal preference for him and where he feels he will be most comfortable.

    The schools, o matter what size, are all very comparable in academics and offerings of sports/ECs. So, no matter what the student population, you will get your money’s worth.
    edited March 31
    Post edited by Erin's Dad on
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  • Golfgr8Golfgr8 1581 replies24 threads Senior Member
    My kiddo preferred mid-size schools (450-600). One factor was class size - so Freshman year a class that was smaller (@ 100-110 students in total). For us, we wanted a school with a true sense of community. So, that meant saying “goodbye” to a couple of larger schools or schools where that wasn’t going to be the reality. Also, for our family, we didn’t want a school with a lot of day students or commuters. One school was the right size, but we learned that many students scattered on the weekends to their homes. That would be really lonely for our student.

    One goal for my kiddo was to know the name of every kid in the school - all grades -and this did happen by the end of Freshman year.
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  • CateCAParentCateCAParent 540 replies6 threads Member
    Small/large and isolated feels very different than small/large in a town. So the environment should be factored in.

    Kiddo surprisingly really likes small and isolated. He likes the bubble. He is an only child, and I think to him it feels like an extended family, with big and little sibs and the typical family drama/support that comes from it. He (weirdly, imo) has no desire to leave campus on weekends. If a person is more of an explorer, small and isolated would be stifling.

    I think he has learned to be open to trying new things - and he wouldn’t have if he went to our lps. But he probably would have grown in that way at a mid-sized school, too. Large, not so much. My guess is that in larger schools, kids find their niche (not a bad thing) and are more inclined to stay there. It is a trade off, though - since larger schools can provide more options.
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  • D1swim2kidshoopD1swim2kidshoop 27 replies1 threads Junior Member
    My son who is leaving LDS to go to BS for Jr and Sr year realized during 8th grade that he didn't want to be in a classroom with 25-30 kids as it was too distracting so his focus in selecting BS to apply was the average class size and student to teacher ratio. Interestingly his top two schools are the largest two he applied to both have between 400 - 500 students....which is roughly the same size as his LDS.
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  • CaliPopsCaliPops 386 replies3 threads Member
    edited April 4
    I don't think being an introvert or being an only child necessarily means that a student would be happier in a smaller school. For example, our kiddo, an only child who skews introvert (but similarly feels very comfortable among a group of friends), loves their school of 1000+ students and was interested only in larger boarding schools, i.e., schools that had at least 100 students per grade. Our child came to this conclusion while we were exploring the schools to which they would apply, based in large part on the middle school they attended, which had about 60 students per class. For DC, that felt too small on multiple levels. For others, I'm sure DC's school would feel too large.

    Based on your child's experiences in both larger and smaller environments, I suspect he will have some preferences. I would explore those with him. And if he doesn't have strong preferences, perhaps that weighs in favor of focusing primarily on other factors when targeting schools. Either way, I think you'll enjoy the process of finding out what he thinks and why he thinks it. Personally, I enjoyed the pre-application discussions we had, which gave us an opportunity to learn about the views our kiddo held about many things that we may not have otherwise explored at that time.
    edited April 4
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  • Happytimes2001Happytimes2001 1971 replies13 threads Senior Member
    We looked at ~100 kids per grade and only a single large school 300 ish per grade.
    Well my older kid deliberately wanted a smaller school. Loved the idea of tiny classes and getting to know people in a community. Also liked the idea of being able to try everything ( without everyone already being an expert in that field). The thing with a small school is, teachers really get to know the kids. Opportunites are roughly the same in terms of kids going to things like Science fairs, or Championships but with a smaller number of kids, your kid will get picked more often. A good example is sport. My kid took up a sport, was immediately in Varsity and went to some high level regional meets. Would not have happened in a larger school. It's not even my kids' main sport. And if kids are stellar coming into 9th grade, they can shine for 4 years not 1.

    Younger kid liked the idea of a larger school. Wanted to jump into having more odd classes and even odd languages available. The idea of kids being good in a sport and recruited wasn't an issue as kid is a great athlete in one sport. But it was also an issue of being top on the team and being low ranked for a few years. Very different. Also, theatre. At one school, the likelihood of being a lead in a play was low ( some kids are pre-professional when they get to the school) or pretty good. Again, do you want to be really strong in a single field ( or two) or be into everything?

    We often thought that BS should be 150 kids. But few were. The 150 would allow for a large enough class to accommodate a wide range of kids but not be too large.

    Small size plus: Know everyone, more opportunities for all, might be easier for introverts, community+, tiny classes in specialized subjects. Also some small schools might have the ability to make your own class and learn alongside a specialist or teacher. This can fill in the gap if your kid wants to study something really specific. Can join most clubs, teams, events you want. You can be a leader in multiple areas. You can also excel in multiple fields. You have the ability to try new things in high school and excel at them.

    Cons: Athletic teams can be less competitive, all teams might be less competitive as there are fewer kids to apply. Can be fewer kids who are similar. You might not have enough kids to do unusual activities.

    Large Size plus: Building and classrooms tend to be more impressive. The theater is larger, the track is bigger, the classrooms might be nicer. Campus is larger ( might be positive or negative). Might be easier to find people like yourself.

    Large size cons: Kids can be anonymous ( get lost). Might/might not happen. Might not be able to get into that great class because it's full. Might not be able to represent your school at an event because it's Juniors/Seniors only or your skillset isn't good enough. At the top schools, kids are stellar. So when you run track you are running against kids who will likely go Div I. Or when you are on the debate team some might be doing that as their only activity. If a kid is really into a single sport or thing, a large school can be an easy on ramp.


    We find the small school vs. large school issue not to be specific to BS. If our kids had gone to the large public school, the issues would have been the same. Their peers have confirmed that there are X kids and Y kids but few kids who do multiple things equally well across fields.
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  • ChoatieMomChoatieMom 5752 replies270 threads Senior Member
    edited April 28
    Loved the idea of tiny classes and getting to know people in a community. ...The thing with a small school is, teachers really get to know the kids.
    You need to look at the student:teacher ratio. Even a larger school community can have small classes. Choate is one of the larger schools, but our son had several classes with only 7 or 8 students, never more that 12-15. At every school discussed on this board, teachers really get to know their students. That's a big part of what everyone is choosing BS for.

    Also some small schools might have the ability to make your own class and learn alongside a specialist or teacher. This can fill in the gap if your kid wants to study something really specific. Can join most clubs, teams, events you want. You can be a leader in multiple areas. You can also excel in multiple fields. You have the ability to try new things in high school and excel at them.
    Again, a larger school like Choate offers all of this. Nobody's getting lost at any of these schools. If they were, what would be the point?
    edited April 28
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  • CateCAParentCateCAParent 540 replies6 threads Member
    ^ I disagree. Maybe a kid can’t get lost, but they can hide more easily in a larger school. Everyone knows everyone’s business in a small school. Adults who have no professional reason to interact with my kid know him. He has real relationships with teachers he has never had and don’t live in his dorm. I am pretty sure there isn’t an adult on campus who he doesn’t feel like he knows personally. That said, by public school standards, Choate, and any boarding school, is small. Of course close relationships happen at Choate, too. But not so overwhelmingly.

    In a small school, there aren’t thirds sports teams. For some sports, there is only varsity. For theater, a very high percentage of the student body is actually in the play, or does the tech or plays in the orchestra. It isn’t for just the “theater” kids. It is a matter of necessity that students get pulled into activities they wouldn’t necessarily think to try on their own.

    Kids at Choate wear multiple hats, try new things, etc and do so with great success. Not saying they don’t. It is just different. If you have a very confident self-directed student, a small school could be stifling. If you have a perfectionist kid who won’t try new things for risk of failure, a small school forces kids out of their comfort zone in a supportive way.

    One distinction: I think there is more opportunity to meaningfully mix with students in higher grades as a freshman In a smaller school. The hierarchy is flattened. That was a huge plus for my only-child-looking-for-a-big-brother kiddo.
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  • Golfgr8Golfgr8 1581 replies24 threads Senior Member
    It’s like the Goldilocks & 3 Bears: This one is too small, this one is too big, but this one is just right. IMHO it’s not just about “size” of school. Some schools have built-in programs and traditions that enable students of different grades and groups to interact with each other on a regular basis. We went to one school where Uppers sat in a different dining hall than Lowers. By contrast, Deerfield has sit down meals (6 or 7) times per week where students from each grade sit together at a table with a faculty member. This has made the community stronger and makes the school feel smaller. DA and other schools have a variety of structured ways for students of all ages to get to know one another and build community.

    Parting golf tip: No matter where you end up, commit to getting involved with some organization, team, club, arts group, community service, etc. This will help make your school feel “just right”.
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  • cinnamon1212cinnamon1212 1088 replies9 threads Senior Member
    One son went to a school with 300 students, two sons went to a school with 600 students. Both schools knew their students, but the smaller school REALLY knew the kids, and could appreciate them more for who they were. Larger school offered a larger stage; if you are a star, you are REALLY a star, but if you are not, if you are "just" a good kid who's OK but not amazing at anything you get a little lost in the shuffle.

    All this said, I love both schools and it really comes down to what is a good fit for your particular child.
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  • Happytimes2001Happytimes2001 1971 replies13 threads Senior Member
    And some small schools have thirds in sports. ....
    I think the school size matters less than the kid ( and fit). Some kids will do well anywhere and some need the smaller size ( for a multitude of reasons). Also, in most respects, all of these schools ARE small when compared to many public schools.
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  • CaliPopsCaliPops 386 replies3 threads Member
    As the parent of someone who skews introvert, the comment by @Altras above resonates with me. Well stated.
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  • Golfgr8Golfgr8 1581 replies24 threads Senior Member
    Along with what @Altras posted, I now know (from being a parent and host parent) that sometimes it’s not so much about the size of the school, but more about how much support, checking in, structured social time, and attention they will get from adults on campus - not just students. You can find that some larger schools do offer a lot of “eyes” to watch over your kiddo (especially first year). I know that concern and have heard it from other parents “How is my kid doing?”, “My kid is crying after the first weekend away from home”, “Will my kid be alone in his room all weekend”, etc.
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  • CaliMexCaliMex 2247 replies35 threads Senior Member
    In general, "spikey" kids who are already quite proficient and passionate about a particular subject or activity will have more opportunities at larger schools. That's because there is the critical mass needed to develop more specialized course offerings, advanced performing arts ensembles, competitive sports and academic teams, etc.

    Smaller schools are counting on kids being courageous enough to try new things -- and to engage in multiple areas. They can't keep their programs going -- sports teams, theatrical performances, music and dance ensembles, newspaper, yearbook, etc -- if kids aren't willing to wear multiple hats and to get involved with no prior experience.

    RE: Introvert/Extrovert... I think the size of the school is less of a factor. In middle school, our kid loved the anonymity of attending an enormous public school. When it came to boarding school, they chose a school where all freshmen and most sophomores and juniors have singles -- introverts need down time!

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  • CateCAParentCateCAParent 540 replies6 threads Member
    For the record - I don’t think “hiding” is a bad thing. Or being found is a better thing. As an introvert myself, I totally get needing personal time and space. And I certainly agree you can get tons of attention at bigger bs.

    As people say above it is the culture that drives fit. I am going by my response to how kiddo describes his school’s culture of probably more intense community than I expected
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  • Happytimes2001Happytimes2001 1971 replies13 threads Senior Member
    Also @Calimex, if a kid is spikey and the school is small and does spikey, then there can be a fit. Less to do about size and more to do about fit. We knew a kid who wanted water polo and found it. School wasn't large.
    I'd also say there are kids who want to do everything at both small and large schools. I do think that small schools might recruit kids because they want that sport/club/event to happen.

    At the larger schools, it's more difficult to make the Varsity team or be the leader of a club. But someone has to do it.

    Check carefully. And my favorite was the tiny school that had a link to a thing my kid was really into. When we clicked on the link nothing happened. Upon further investigation, that "thing" was something the school had discontinued but was still on the web page. My kid picked another school. Check and double-check that your "thing" is real at any school you are planning to apply. And also ask questions. Does it run every year? Only if there are enough people? Is it competitive? Open only to upperclassmen? Etc.


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  • Golfgr8Golfgr8 1581 replies24 threads Senior Member
    We had a similar situation that @Happytimes2001 mentioned when we looked at Groton a few years ago...there viewbook had a photo of students engaging in an EC that actually is not a consistent program now and was only offered in the winter at the time. So be good consumers of the materials that are out there - some may be outdated. On the other hand, some schools may not do a good job promoting programs they do have! Ask questions!!
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