Unsure About Boarding School and Looking for Advice

Hi everyone! I have been lurking in this forum for a couple months now, reading over many, many threads and I first wanted to say thank you to all of the parents who come on here and help the other parents feel safe and comfortable and able to ask all of our newbie questions.

I am here because we are considering boarding school for our youngest child. However, we are really not sure about this (as I’m sure many first-time boarding school parents are hesitant). We worry that she is at a vulnerable age (vulnerable in many ways - socially, emotionally, physically) and are looking for a place where she can grow, thrive, and be safe.

A little about our background:
Parents - mom attended public school; dad attended PEA as a day student
Family - Both brothers attended public school for high school and one is about to graduate college and the other is taking a gap year after graduating high school last spring.

Important to note - of utmost importance to our family is the fit of a school, not the prestige. We have always told our children that our definition of “success” as parents will be to have adult children that can support themselves independently and are happy and safe. No other expectations. I find myself already anticipating defending the choice of boarding school as people might assume we are “elite” in some way, which if you knew me in person, you would know is not our mindset at all.

We are currently stationed in Asia and our daughter is attending a private school here (current 7th grader). We have the potential to be moved every 2-3 years to other countries around Asia so we are considering boarding school to offer her some stability instead of changing countries and schools every two years.

More about our daughter: Of course she is a lovely young woman and we love her tremendously. She is very active in Scouts (both Scouts BSA - currently working on Star rank and Girl Scouts - currently working on her Silver Award), loves hiking/outdoor activities/backpacking, has discovered drama at her private school (was not offered at the public school she attended) and is in love. She is also an avid drawer/cartoonist and watercolor painter (nothing crazy in terms of skill, but she loves it). Academically, she says she really likes Science, English, and French. She is easy to be friends with, but is quite shy (if we go the boarding school route, she will need some prep for interviewing!). This girl loves to read! She started reading early and hasn’t stopped. And, she loves many genres (with fantasy and dystopian probably vying for the top spot). She just finished And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie and that was her first foray into the murder mystery genre (and she loved it). She is a runner like everyone else in the family and, based on her times from 2019 (last time she was able to actively train and compete), she would have been fairly competitive at many of the boarding schools as an elementary schooler. She starts track today so we are eager to see what her times are now and are hopeful they might lead to interest on the part of a coach if she decides to go the boarding school route. Her grades are solid, with straight As at her public middle school in a tough school district in the US in 6th grade. Now that we are in Asia, she is at a school that doesn’t give grades for middle school. Her grades are all in the Meeting or Advanced level on the scale.

Her private school here has kids applying to boarding schools every year and has a track record of acceptances to PEA, Loomis-Chaffee, and Choate. We were warned, however, that the kids that are being accepted are citizens of the country in which we live (our daughter is a US citizen living abroad), are full pay, and are seen as a “get” by boarding schools because there aren’t a lot of citizens from this country applying to boarding schools. Regardless, we don’t even know if those schools would be a good fit for our daughter (which is why I’m here).

What I’m looking for help with: Finding a good fit for our daughter in terms of a school that works really hard to not have cliques and makes it easy for kids to get started right away with activities and making friends. A school that has a good cross country running program with a caring atmosphere and coach. A school where kids can do both arts programs (drama particularly) and sports at the same time. A school that is not hyper-competitive in terms of the pressure the students are putting on themselves or the competition amongst the students - she would not do well in that environment. She is a hard worker and a strong student, but is not competitive and would likely feel inadequate in a high-stakes/high-pressure environment. Another key is that we only want a school in the New England/Upper Mid-Atlantic area as we have family in that area that could visit her or she could leave and visit them over long weekends. We are not open to schools elsewhere in the US where she wouldn’t have that support available if needed.

I would also love to hear from parents who were hesitant about sending their kids really far away to boarding school and what that experience was like (good and bad). Our daughter is definitely open to the idea, but that’s because she’s open to just about anything! I’m not sure she’s really thought through that this won’t be like another summer camp (she has been attending residential camp since she was in first grade). Although maybe that’s just me. Maybe there is a school that feels like school combined with summer camp and we can find that place for her!

We would love to get some ideas for schools you think would fit with what we are looking for and we’d also love to hear if anyone knows if there is a way to continue with Scouting at any boarding school. Also, we will likely be full pay if that matters (as much as we would love financial aid, I don’t think we would qualify - we don’t qualify for any aid except the unsubsidized federal loans for our older kids in college). We will be back in the US this summer and would love to have a short list of schools to visit while there!

Thanks!

I think you might like to look at George School. It has everything you are looking for – excellent art and XC/T&F and of course excellent academics. It is known in the BS world for its culture of kindness and for having a gentler vibe than most BS. It feels quite a bit different than its closest neighbor, Lawrenceville, for example. (We know several local families who have kids at both.) It is very diverse and would value the experience your D would bring.

I think that in most places, continuing with scouts may be made easiest by finding a day student classmate who she can tag along with.

NMH has also always been popular with the foreign service community. St. Andrew’s is smaller and has a tight community as is Mercersburg.

You may also want to consider some of the girls schools. They differ from each other but overall have a different feel.

I think you are 100% on the right track in looking for the right environment and fit first. The academics at all the schools are very good. I would also ask, when you visit, about how the school helps new students make school home and be candid about how this path has come to be yours. Some schools are better fits for the kid who is just chomping at the bit for independence and others essentially recreate versions of home.

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Does your daughter want to go to boarding school? I think that would be of the biggest factors on whether or not she transitions well to an away environment.

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Yes, sorry that info got buried in the novel I wrote, but I did say she is open to the idea. She is interested in learning more as are we.

Thank you for the recommendations! I will take a look at those schools.

Welcome to the CC world!

I would recommend that you broaden your search to also include some of the all-girl schools. For example, Emma Willard has amazing writing programs as well as very strong STEM courses. My DD benefited from spending 2 summers there. I believe there are teachers from RPI (up the road) who also teach at Emma. A few girls we know did their senior project with researchers at RPI. Also, the close proximity to Albany provides opportunities for internships with policy makers, political organizations, government agencies, etc. When you explore the school’s offerings do also inquire about the research and internships the girls have done (even with COVID restrictions). We have found the community to be warm and authentic. It is the oldest girls school in the USA (1814).

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Your daughter would have a huge advantage at Exeter. Especially if you are an alum. But its is not an easy place to thrive at, as I’m sure you’re well aware.

If you are full pay, and living abroad as an ex-pat, I think your daughter would bring valuable diversity to many schools. Boarding schools also like students who can participate in athletics: at the JV or Varsity level.

Having said this, there are many many schools that would fit the bill. The usual suspects are: Lawrenceville, George, Taft, Loomis, Deerfield, Choate, Groton, Hotchkiss, PEA, Andover, Brooks, Millbrook, Milton, Middlesex. I agree with the suggestion to look into all girls schools as well.

I’m not sure I’d include many of the schools on your list in the sort of “warm and fuzzy” category that the OP seems to be looking for.

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Thanks for your advice. We will look at a few of the all-girls schools as we explore the option of boarding school.

Do you have any advice for campus tours? We cannot visit during school sessions, so we won’t be able to see the schools in full swing.

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Thank you for your input. She likely would not apply to PEA as it doesn’t seem like a good fit just on the academic pressure side of things.

Good to know that even sports at a JV level to start can be useful in the admissions process if this is a route she chooses.

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We used an educational consultant to help us find the right fit for boarding school for our son. He’s started in 9th grade and is now a sophomore. She was so helpful in narrowing down the choices based on his academic interests and needs as well as his social style. Both social and academic fit is important. My son landed at a small school in New Hampshire, one that wouldn’t have been on our radar had we not worked with her. Happy to help if I can!

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IMHO, I would speak with the admissions counselors at the schools about tours and visits. Before COVID, some of the schools had weekend open houses in the Fall.

I will DM you about the girl schools.

You might also want to look at the “Hidden Gems” thread on the Prep School board. Lots of good information there.

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I have a daughter, who also did some time at a foreign school in Asia, and is now at St. Andrew’s. There are tons of places to go running and it’s a small enough community that one can develop close friendships. Choate is another place that also seems to be on the more progressive/accepting side that we found, although I think there is academic pressure there. I’ve found Mercersburg to be a great balance of not too much academic pressure, but the opportunities to challenge yourself are there if you seek that. I don’t know what the girl’s side of Mburg would look like, but everyone seems supportive and the staff and faculty are very available and care about the students’ well-being. I did find that if an alum reached out to me and said something along the lines of “that place changed my life” or gushed something similar, then it was usually a good bet that it would be a great balance. Other schools I’ve heard of spoken like that are Tabor and NMH. @Calliemomofgirls went through a search that had some overlaps with you, so she might have some advice. Good luck!

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Hi @DroidsLookingFor - we had Millbrook and Middlesex on our list of schools that looked like they might potentially work. Are those two ones that you would dismiss as being too academically high-pressure? For reference, our older kids did the IB diploma program at their public school (oldest) and full-time dual enrollment junior and senior years (middle guy). We expect that our daughter will do something similar so we’re not looking for academically easy or laidback, but just not academic overdrive/overkill if that makes sense. We don’t want her in a cutthroat atmosphere. When @sgopal2 recommended a list of “usual suspects” and you said many on that list were not what I seem to be looking for, would that have included Middlesex and Millbrook as not a good fit in terms of cutthroat atmosphere? Thanks for your help!

@Golfgr8 - Thanks for offering to send more info about the all-girl schools. We are fairly unfamiliar with those so that would be incredibly helpful. Also, I did read through the Hidden Gems thread over the past couple months. It is where we found Millbrook! Do you have any advice about getting over the anxiety of sending a young woman off to boarding school? Especially after reading the Prep Schools in the News thread - that was sobering.

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Happy to DM you about your questions @RoonilWazlib99

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One of my sons went to Millbrook. It is not cutthroat/high pressure at all. They saw him for who he is(was) and allowed him to flourish. He’s very bright and has adhd, and entered with no confidence (coming from a school that didn’t know what to make of him, or how to work with him). By the end of 4 years he left, full of confidence, knowing how to manage his academics. He’s at a t20 university now, doing well academically.

There are a range of classes. Kids can challenge themselves, for sure, but not every class is at max intensity level (vs, say, Hotchkiss, where 11th grade English which every student is required to take, is (the equivalent of) an AP course).

I cannot say enough good things about the school. The new Head is phenomenal, and continuing the good work of the previous Head, who was there for 20+ years. The Zoo is extraordinary, and can be life-changing for some kids. I’d be happy to answer any questions you have!

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If you’re looking at Middlesex, how about the nearby Concord Academy? We’re in the UK but nearly moved to MA a few years ago and looked at different schools for my D22 (we ended up not moving). CA has a nice campus in the middle of historic Concord and it’s known for being a bit more laid back.

If you’re open to boarding schools in Asia, South Korea’s Jeju Island is home to a number of them, including British schools (the highly regarded NLCS has a campus there offering IB). Or United World Colleges in Singapore, Hong Kong and other locales.

We’ve come across a number of American families living in the UK with children in boarding schools in the US. I have not sensed being an American expat is a big issue.

Thanks for the feedback. We will take a look at Concord Academy.

To reply to your other notes - our daughter has told us directly she does not want to go to a school in Asia.

The comment about her school counselor was just that she was warning us that our daughter might not be as desirable to a boarding school as a true citizen of the country where we are right now. She didn’t want us to think that because other students were having success at highly-selective schools that our daughter would as well and even that if there are students next year applying to the same schools as her, our daughter might be considered “second tier” in terms of which student they want simply due to citizenship status and a school’s desire to be able to say they have a student from here. Hope that makes sense. I’m not concerned that her being an expat will be an issue, but her counselor wanted to be clear that she would not have the same hook as a citizen here would.

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I think your counselor is slightly off as to how your daughter will be evaluated but it really doesn’t matter because the highly selective schools she’s thinking about are full of super high stress kids and your daughter doesn’t want that environment. That knocks Exeter, Andover, Groton, Deerfield off the list. Probably also Milton, Middlesex is iffy - they are pretty intense especially since they’re always competing with Groton.

Concord academy is lovely. I know several kids who go there and it does seem less intense. I don’t know what it’s like junior year when the college mania kicks in. That’s really when the stress measure shows in a school.

I second the St. Andrews and mercersburg rec.

Brooks is “meh” in my book right now due to absolutely terrible leadership around some clearly racial undertoned events. The asst headmaster who is great is leaving and the headmaster is horrible.

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