Where to apply for BS?

Our daughter is about to enter 8th grade, the last grade offered at her private day school. She’s been bitten by the BS bug and we are generally supportive of her quest for more challenge and independence.

I have been reading along for a few months and have already benefited from the insights shared by many. (A world of thanks for all who share on these boards in the hopes of smoothing the way for other families and students.)

We would love seasoned, bdtd advice on where to apply:

Our daughter is well-adjusted and well-rounded. We’ve allowed her to explore many interests, but she doesn’t have an EC focus. She plays piano (has perfect pitch), loves 80s music, makes beautiful artwork and is a terrific skier. She also has mandatory sports at her current school - definitely not a ball person, but more of a runner and would like to try crew. She is 99th percentile in terms of horse-power (we know her IQ), which translates into very good grades and so far, strong SSAT practice scores.

We’d like a school that recognizes her intellect and stretches her to achieve…but want to avoid the achievement anxiety culture. We’re full-pay but not obviously wealthy- would like to avoid the uber-wealthy culture that sometimes accompanies private school communities. (Btdt at downtown Manhattan private.)

Here is the list so far, which we’re attempting to keep to 6:

  1. Exeter - she loves The Harkness method and had a great tour. She wants to be around really smart kids who care about school.
  2. Brooks - we have known families there and like them
  3. Choate - know alum; daughter likes the web-site
  4. Gunn - Reputation for being very well run (seems rare!) and welcoming
  5. Middlesex- I like the advisory program but just read about the former HOS meltdown - would like to avoid culture war issues in general…
  6. Need a 6th! Hotchkiss?

I’ve eliminated from consideration: DA, SPS, Concord Academy, Andover

What should I add/delete/consider? Kent? Groton?

Attempting to stay within driving distance of North Shore of Boston.

Thank you in advance for any insights shared.


You may want to take a look at Berkshire and Northfield Mount Herman. I think Groton may be more pressure cooker than you want. You might also want to look at Loomis, Pomfret, and Westminster.

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Neither of my kids who went to Hotchkiss found it to be a pressure cooker. However I am pretty sure that depends on the kid.

There are uber wealthy families at all boarding schools, but perhaps fewer at schools with big endowments because that means they can offer robust financial aid. There is a big range of income at Hotchkiss (as Im sure there is at similar schools).

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FYI Gunn’s Head became the Head at Taft over the summer. No clue if the “well run” part was attributable to the him though… My knowledge of either school is very old.

Middlesex has more intense sports requirements than many, FYI. You must be on an interscholastic team all 3 seasons for 9+10th. No exceptions for plays, no intramurals etc.

Loomis? Taft?

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I think the schools you listed are very different - offering very different things. I believe Berkshire and Northfield both have big ski teams and are in the next tier of schools away from the pressure cooker. Agree they are worth taking a look at.

Exeter is considered one of those pressure cookers with little oversight. Groton is considered a pressure cooker but is small intimate school with lots of oversight. Andover is very similar to Exeter, so wondering what led you to take that off the list? Not sure if you considered Lawrenceville (perhaps further than you want to drive). Our child just left for the school yesterday, but so far we have found it to be a very welcoming community. We are excited for the new Dean of Campus Wellbeing and feel like it is a great time to be at the school. They also led with small harkness table classes. It might help for you and your daughter to define what a pressure cooker will look like for your family and use that to help evaluate the schools. Boarding schools have mixed student bodies. The larger the endowment, the more schools can subsidize tuition. Also, how committed is your family to going to BS, Top schools admit 9-15% of all applications, most of which are accepted because of a clear hook that they offer to the schools. Smart kids with lots of EC and gifts abound on this site and in the process, with many not securing any acceptances (lots about this in other threads)also few get off waitlists. I suggest focusing on what you really want and evaluate each accordingly - just because your favorite people love a school does not mean it is right for your child. I would also recommend doubling your list if boarding school is really what you want.


I think they mentioned that Harkness was important. Exeter and Lawrenceville are very committed to Harkness.

Pretty sure most boarding schools use the Harkness method!



Not for math and science (labs), thats my experience


I recommend visiting as many schools as you can while school is in session this fall. We had some of the same schools on our initial list, and my son ended up hating Middlesex, but loved Gunn. Gunn is very small compared to say Choate or Exeter, which in my opinion makes for a very different school experience. My son knew he wanted a small school, and he is also not a very competitive person (he wanted a “chill” school haha), so we eliminated Choate and Loomis right off the bat after our tours and did not apply to those schools.
Others we toured were Berkshire, Hotchkiss, Kent, St. Marks, St Georges and Williston. He applied to 6 schools and had a hard time deciding between Gunn, St Marks, and Williston, but ultimately chose Williston because it felt the most friendly and welcoming to him. We drop him off on Tuesday, but so far we have loved everything about Williston, so I will put in a plug for adding it to your list.


We looked at many of the schools on your list-- Middlesex, Gunn, Hotchkiss, & Brooks. However, my ds is an athlete and not really much into the arts. All seemed like warm and friendly communities. Hotchkiss is not a pressure cooker from what I’ve been told, but it wasn’t really a fit for ds. I would say all 4 of those schools appeared to have amazing music facilities. Also, you want to consider school size. Gunn is the smallest school at around 325 students with Hotchkiss around 600+ students. Also another school mentioned in this thread is Loomis. They too also have amazing music facilities but they also have 750 students and is a much different feel than Gunn, or even Brooks or Middlesex (both around 400 students). I have also been told by more than one person that it is an academic pressure cooker. DS ended up at another school which was the perfect fit for him. But honestly you need to go and see them in person so your dd can figure out where she feels at home.

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That’s what struck me as well.

I think understanding why some schools were eliminated from the list would help in making appropriate suggestions.

The Putney School would check a lot of boxes in theory, except that it has little in common with the schools that they’ve looked at so far. And Vermont is a bit of a schlep from the North Shore of Boston.


+1 to the points mentioned and question asked.


Thank you everyone!

This is helpful, and you’re all very right to point out that the schools may read very different from one another. There are so many wonderful schools, but we recognize that it is a bit of a lottery at the alleged tippy top and trade-off will need to be made.

While I’d like to avoid applying to more than 6 schools, there is wisdom in the suggestion that we add more names. Thank you for that.

In general, if I saw schools taking political positions on social media, I took them off the list. (Andover)

Other: went to a regatta and the Deerfield team (crew?) was amazing. Blew the other boats out of the water. When they got on land, the young men looked 25. I suspect there was a lot of re-class athletes and this gave me pause. (But love the dinner tradition and the dress code.)

Putney: know the school, know a few graduates; daughter likes it but says it’s not for her.

Also: I read the HOS letters and profiles very carefully. Also, time as HOS. I read the strategic plans - gives a sense of how the institution views itself and overall health of board governance.

Daughter says she wants competitive! But not sure my lamb really knows what that means. It’s all a process of discovery, and everyone’s input here is really appreciated.


Good advice given here.
I would add that it’s not so much you should add more schools but maybe go visit some because breathing the air will be VERY informative especially given the very differently-vibed schools on your list.


Why not Milton?

You know your kid better than us, so you are in a better position to judge just how much pressure she can take. How will she handle getting her first B? How will she handle it if she’s not in the top 10% of her class?

I assure you that ambitious children can find a way to challenge themselves at the non-pressure cooker schools.

Also, take a serious look at housing. Since, like, she’ll be spending over 1/3 of her time in a dorm. Some schools have stricter rules than others. Some schools have perks that others don’t.


They are all political, and very liberal at that. Don’t get the impression that Andover is any more or less political than any others (especially) due to a social media post


Yes, some schools are just more open about it.

I think you and sm16 are very right to point this out. Definitely my experience in Manhattan. I’d prefer to enroll dd in a school that doesn’t encourage her, and her tender age, to take on all of the world’s problems. It is a very fine needle we’re attempting to thread!

It was interesting to see the Hotchkiss is, by their telling, is the only BS to adopt the Chicago Principles.