Boarding School Tips!!

Hi guys, I wanted to start a thread where people can share previous experience and tips on going to boarding school:) Any information is welcome, from navigating the new lifestyle to what clothes to buy to other boarding school essentials!

I’m going to attend Exeter as a new junior, so if anyone here has any advice for that please feel free to send in some tips!

(if there is already a thread like this, please tell me and link it in this thread, thank you!)

Here are some lessons I learned as an Exeter prep last year. Some of these might not apply during the term of online learning though:

  • Sign up for a billion clubs. You’ll filter out your favorite ones pretty fast.
  • Bring lots of socks. It’s gonna be cold and wet and muddy for half of the school year, so brace yourself.
  • Go trick-or-treating in town on Halloween. If you’re lucky, the candy supply will last you for the whole year (and I can’t emphasize how important food is in BS). And stock up on dorm snacks.
  • If you have a library project due in a day and don’t have time to go to the library, you can use its ebooks and other online resources (but also don’t repeat my mistakes)
  • Be creative in the dining hall. The food gets boring sometimes, and there are D-Hall Creations articles in the Exonian for inspiration. My personal favorite is putting cheese and spaghetti sauce on a bagel, then putting it in the panini press.
  • Get. Sleep.
  • Drink. Water.
  • Those two above are a no-brainer, but you’ll be surprised how many people forget about it.

I’m a rising 3-year upper at Exeter. My advice would be:

  • Advocate for yourself. If there’s something you need or want, if you have an idea you’re really excited about, etc., make sure to speak up about it. Even if you think you’ll probably be told “no,” ask anyway, because if you say “no” to yourself you never give anyone else a chance to say “yes.”
  • As an extension of my first point, ask for help when you need or want it. This applies to academics, mental and physical health, extracurricular things, dorm stuff, pretty much everything. People really do want to help you. But you need to ask.
  • Exeter-specific: Explore the trails behind the sports fields if you have a chance. They’re really beautiful, especially in the fall, and a lovely peaceful and unhurried contrast to much of the rest of campus.
  • Echoing HappyCria on the sleep and drinking water points.
  • Try new stuff. Take courses on topics you know nothing about. Try new clubs. Don’t box yourself into whatever it is you already do.
  • Have the right balance of scheduled/full time and free time. The specific amount is sort of different for everyone, but you do really need some time to relax, spend time with friends, read books that aren’t for class/doodle/watch netflix/whatever it is that you find relaxing and enjoyable. If you never relax, you will be stressed, miserable, and burnt-out before the end of the term.
  • I’m going to say this of Exeter because I don’t want to generalize for school I don’t know well, but I think it may apply some other places too: There are very few stupid people at Exeter. There are a great many people who think they’re stupid at Exeter. Agonizing about being stupid because there are people who are better at something/lots of things than you are is not a fun or productive way to spend time. There are things that you’re good at and things that you’re not. You as a human are also more than the sum of your academic and extracurricular skills.
  • As an extension of my previous point, everyone (including you) at Exeter/whatever school is a human (at least as far as my sampling goes . . . perhaps there are a few cyborgs in the mix, but I haven’t met them yet . . . :wink: ). Everyone is flawed. Most people are nice and understanding. Everyone (including you) has made before and will at some point make mistakes. If they’re yours, apologize or do whatever can/should be done to fix them, and move on.
  • Annotate with some kind of pen or pencil that you can actually see during a discussion. It’s a lot harder to participate meaningfully if you spend half the class squinting at your markings.
  • In addition to having friends, it is really nice to have a few adults on campus whom you trust and feel comfortable asking for help if you need it.
  • Take care of yourself. Sleep, drink water, eat breakfast (and lunch and dinner), go to the health center if you’re sick, and don’t be afraid to reach out to friends, dormmates, or trusted adults if you’re having a rough day or week.
    Sorry if that’s kind of a lot, hope it helps!

Here are some additional tips to add to the great ones above:

  • Do find your voice quickly in class - especially English & History. Do not hold back. Do not hold back because you are a First Year. There are students who will try to dominate conversations, who will interrupt you/others, “mansplain”, and position themselves as Harkness Hogs. Your grade may very well be influenced by how much you speak in class - just speak!
  • Office Hours -Do go to Office Hours. At some schools, this is where the real teaching happens. Unlike the local public school, Office Hours at BS is actually a power move for some kids instead of a life raft. You will most likely see other students there and, for some teachers, this is like a tutorial. Going to Office Hours also shows the teacher that you are invested in the course. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or clarification.
  • Know your resources for health, wellness, & counseling before you actually need them! Put the health center’s phone number in your contact list. Know where/whom to go to for counseling, also.
  • You are not married to your advisor (at least at most schools). So, if you are assigned to a clueless, indifferent, burned-out, or novice advisor who is not able to help you - then, make a change ASAP. For some students, this means enduring ineptitude for an entire year before you can change.
  • Do get involved with clubs - this is a great way to meet students in upper grades who can share great advice with you, in addition to being friends. Try to get involved in clubs and/or service organizations that also provide food, meals, or swag.
  • Don’t bring too much stuff to school the first term - your family can always send stuff to you and you can bring your winter stuff after break.
  • Make friends with students outside of your home-base bubble or your frame of reference. Take the advice from the rock group YES, and also from chess, don’t surround yourself with yourself. You didn’t come all this way just to hang out with the same type of people you could have stayed home for.
  • Try a new sport - don’t be afraid to try a new sport. This is also a great way to make friends. Many schools have 3rds and 4th teams where you can actually learn while you play. Now is the time to take risks and expand your interests. Plus, there are several sports offered at BS that are rarely offered back home in middle school.
  • Don’t take things too personally. You can’t control how other people behave.
  • Try not to compare yourself to others - “Comparison is the thief of joy”
  • See above. Be prepared for different types of competition at BS. Some schools have students that not only compete academically, but also tend to compete for popularity, sports, outrageous behaviors, attention getting, and even how they dress. Just let them do their thing and you be you.
  • Be brave enough to move on from friend groups that are not serving you well. For example, you may find yourself with dorm friends or kids from sports who you like to hang out with - but these same students might not work well for studying together - or may have priorities that are not in line with yours. You may find it better to study alone or with another group of friends. Be brave enough to do what you believe is best for you.
  • Be prepared to assess what you can control at BS and what you can’t control. Things that come under the category of what you can control include your mindset, how you react, your goals, how much you study, not over-eating at feeds, etc. You will learn pretty quickly that there are just some things out of your control at BS - usually stuff that involves the Academic Dean’s office.

Check your email all the time. Most BS are not sending copies of every email to the parents so if you don’t attend to the “sign up for whatever” email, your parents won’t know and will not remind you to do it. You are on your own and lots of kids cannot handle this level of organization right away.

Similarly, check your assignment platform many times. Teachers post work at all times of the say and night and you not checking it after 8pm isn’t going to fly as an excuse for not having done the work.

Agree with the speaking up in class immediately. Also, if there is anything at all that you don’t understand 110% go ask the teacher. If you still don’t understand, go ask again. My daughter once said “I already asked and I didn’t really understand the answer” and I freaked out on her and yelled in the car for the whole drive to school that the reason I was paying both an arm and a leg for BS was so that she could ask the teacher 20 times if that’s what it took for her to understand. Sometimes kids need a little “they are there to help you” injected into them becasue normally kids are trying to be the pleasers in the student/teacher relationship.

Also, if you only barely understand it in class and it’s an honors class it is very likely to be harder on the test so understanding 110% is a very real necessity.

I disagree with the “sign up for everything” mentality. I think it’s super easy to get really overwhelmed with all the new activities and the new freedom. It’s ok to take things slowly and get involved in just one or two activites your freshman year. (If you are an older student then you need to jump in with both feet, sorry but you don’t have the luxur of time).


Oh! I forgot. It’s ok if you don’t find your people/group until spring semester. Lots of kids go through phases and friends don’t really settle down until the end of the year. Of course, kids missed spring semester because of covid so maybe I should amend this to your second fall. So sad ?

If you go to Andover or Exeter walk to local rail depot, take the train to Boston and explore the city

If you go to Choate, take the train to New Haven and explore Yale

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thank you for listening to my TED talk :smile:

More Tips!

If you check out my earlier post (above from Sept ‘20), you will find tips about speaking up in class right from the start. Now, many teachers are using an App that tracks how much time you are spending in the discussion or conversation. This has been utilized over the past few months with online/hybrid learning. Also at least 2 teachers we know have used a template to track discussion points a student has made.

Some kids come to prep school knowing how to posture and position. Things have heated up. Please share the salvos you may have heard/witnessed from Harkness Hogs this year. Here are some common openers that kiddo has heard fellow students say this year:
“I respectfully disagree with your point, PrepKidd”.
“ You were not clear on your argument and left out what Mr. XYZ taught us about…”
“I think you are forgetting the cultural context…”
“Your argument leaves out … (you choose words) considerations that in fact reflect your narrow (you choose words)”
“From my cultural perspective…”
“You missed the point completely…”
“What I heard you say…” (which is actually completely different from what the kid actually did say)
“I don’t think you made your point, maybe you can come back to us later with a reference” (when you actually did).

Feel free to add to the list to help out properties and new Harkness Hogs!

I can offer some mundane advice:

Exercise, study, and eat healthy foods each day.

Avoid drugs & alcohol.

Focus on positives; avoid negative thinking.


Thanks a lot!