Experience of Christian students at boarding schools

Would love to hear some first-hand experience of what it is like to be a Christian student at a boarding school like Exeter, Andover, or Lawrenceville.

Our 8th grade son currently attends a private day school in the Seattle area and is very happy with the school and his circle of friends. But, he is still open to exploring the option of attending a BS far away from home. We know of a couple of students who have transferred to Exeter for high school from my son’s current school in recent years.

Potential pros of boarding schools listed above that we can envision include:
-bigger (can be a con), greater diversity of student body, esp. in terms of international students
-Harkness method (if my son were to apply, we think Exeter would provide the best fit given my son’s focus on math)
-better overall opportunity for personal growth, maturity, and college readiness (not necessarily in better academics but in terms of developing greater independence and self-advocacy skills)

The most prominent concern or question mark for our family is how attending boarding schools may affect our son’s Christian faith, which is still very much evolving and growing, in light of the expected challenge of finding and being able to attend a “good” church that is probably off-campus, the presence (or lack) of “peer” Christian students/groups, etc.

Would love to hear your thoughts, esp. based on first-hand experiences. Thx. a ton in advance!

I suspect that it would depend on one’s definition of “Christian”.

Members of the Eastern Orthodox Church consider themselves to be Christian.
Roman Catholics consider themselves to be Christian.
Methodists consider themselves to be Christian.
Baptists consider themselves to be Christian.
So do Christian Scientists and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

If you have a particularly narrow definition of “Christian”, you might not fit in with those of Christian faiths that you do not recognize as “Christians”. While each Christian denomination thinks that they’re the best, the one true religion, it’s kind of narrow minded not to recognize that denominations other than your own call themselves “Christian”. At the type of schools you mention, it’s preferred that students respect each other.

If, instead, you are using the term “Christian” because you are uncomfortable making the discussion about a specific denomination, it might be less of a problem fitting in.

I think you should widen your search a lot, Focus on schools that support your values and/or have active student groups for those of your faith tradition. There are many wonderful boarding schools that are academically challenging. Don’t just focus on Harkness - many schools have something similar to Harkness, sans trademarked table.

Have you thought about applying to Christian boarding schools such as St. Paul’s, Groton, or Kent?

All three schools are Episcopal but allow students to attend other church services on Sunday’s if they are Catholic or another Christian denomination. Additionally, all three schools have weekday chapel multiple times a week.


Current Lawrenceville student here:

There is a non-denominational chapel on campus, but it does hold services for various religious traditions (both Christian and non-Christian) each Sunday.

Each December, there is an event called “Lessons and Carols” which is very clearly Christian-inspired.

Most Houses hold events for Easter and the like, and Good Friday is one of the only holidays we actually get.

There are a few Christian student groups, and they seem to be well-supported. The school reverend is an incredibly nice person.

I’m unfortunately not that familiar with religious life, but I hope this helps. There are certainly a number of religious Christian students who get along fine here.

Groton and Brooks (perhaps also St Paul’s?) offer the opportunity for confirmation classes in the Episcopal Church. There are also Catholic New England boarding schools, e.g. Canterbury.

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Groton is technically an episcopal school (as are the other two mentioned) but just a word of warning they are not strongly christian. Groton is a progressive school and Christianity is not considered any kind of standard, for anything. I assume the same thing for St. Paul’s but am not familiar with Kent. We are strongly atheist and my kid does not feel any kind of Christianity pressure at Groton. There is a “Christian club” :woman_shrugging:. I suppose if your kid feels strongly about his faith he will find some other kids like him. If he thinks Christianity is the only way he is in for a world of argument at a school like Groton.


OP needs to confirm, but IME, when someone speaks of “Christian student” they are using a narrow definition of conservative Protestant denominations. That student may, or may not, be comfortable at schools founded in the Episcopal tradition.


It was our experience that several of the schools (if not all) we applied to had different religious organizations/clubs with meetings. I know of schools (including our own) that provided transportation for students completing confirmation. Also, transportation provided for Easter services to different churches. The Christian club at our kiddo’s school was popular a few years ago - also good cookies and brownies were served at meetings :innocent:

Thank you first of all for your responses. For a while, I thought no one might respond!

Just a couple of clarifications.

  1. Yes, by Christian, I meant an evangelical Christian.

  2. Given my son’s interest in math, Exeter w/ Zuming Feng and a number of strong mathy peers is really the only school that we are considering in earnest. However, my son is completely happy at his current school, which seems to be comparable to Exeter and other BS in college placement, SAT/ACT averages, etc. In math as well, his current school has had a recent IMO gold medalist, multiple USAMO winners, moppers, Mathcounts winners, etc.

Plus, he has known most of his classmates since 5th/6th grade. It will take a compelling reason to transfer to another school. As a father, I have been wondering whether a combination of Harkness method, a more diverse student body, and the challenge (and the growth that may come as a result) of being on one’s own at a young age, might be compelling enough.

At this point, we are leaning towards staying at his current school, although we do want to visit Exeter in person at some point. Plus, it seems that it might already be a little late to start an application for 9th grade.

Thx. again for your inputs.

Frankly, if your son is happy where he is, then don’t push it.

Looking at Exeter just because of Zuming Feng… Well, I remember talking to one of the late Vaughn Jones’ grad students back in the 90’s. It’s a big feather in one’s cap to be able to say that one has a Field’s Medalist as one’s doctoral advisor, I guess, but it sounded like he was advisor-in-name-only, because he had little time for his advisees (over committed). It did not sound like the mentoring relationship one hopes for.

It sounds like you have a great educational set up where you are! Your child has excellent resources AND personal attention. It does not sound like he’s a big fish in a little pond - more like he has access to a lake!


In agreement!

Still, as you may know, pursuing math at a high level (olympiad and beyond) for pre-college students can often become isolating and therefore lonely. While there are some great mathletes (moppers and 2021 USAJMO winner with a perfect score) at my son’s current school, all of them are at upper school. I thought and hoped that at Exeter, there probably is a critical mass of serious mathy students, which would not only be helpful and motivating to my son, but could make math more fun and social for him.

Plus, many math tournaments like HMMT and summer or year-long math research opportunities are found on the East coast near Boston, which would be another plus for Exeter. I believe the highly effective OTIS (Olympiad Training for Individual Study) traces back its genesis to the material that Evan Chen (IMO gold medalist and USA Math Olympiad coach) developed while teaching Exeter students several years ago.

Funny, but we chose a different school than Exeter for our child partially because of concerns that pure Harkness would be a risk for high-level math. We were afraid our child might not understand advanced concepts clearly if class were only discussion-based, even though he/she has high ability in mathematics. I know that Exeter has an excellent reputation for mathematics, but several other boarding schools are likely in the same ballpark in quality of mathematics teachers and students, with a mixed mode of instruction that is lower risk, in my opinion.


I agree with @ameridad that there are quite a few BS that have great programs for the very high-achieving math kid. Exeter is but one!

I also wonder, though, if BS is really a great option for you. Most people pick it for the whole package – community, ability to pursue different interests in one place, quality academics, etc. If you are merely trying to optimize in one subject where you already have pretty good resources, and you’re ho-hum on the rest of it, it may not be a great choice.

If you are still game after the last paragraph, I would suggest you take a look at George. Very strong math (both classroom and competitive) and Quaker, so emphasis on developing and supporting a spiritual life.


Please note that Zuming Feng is no longer with PEA. He joined St Marks in TX.


Tito Andreescu is at UT Dallas. Coincidence?

It has to be. Feng’s parents are in Dallas. They are in their 80s and have health issues. He moved in order to help them. That’s what I heard.

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Thanks for sharing this rather pertinent info re Zuming Feng. I find the reason for the move away from Exeter quite admirable.