Every week I write about the benefits of boarding schools, but what I haven’t shared are my own reasons for choosing boarding school versus public school. I attended my local public schools through the end of my ninth grade year, but enrolled as a day student at a local boarding school beginning in tenth grade. While I can’t speak for everyone, I can give you my answer to one of the most common questions asked: are boarding schools better than public schools?
The academic environment was better at boarding school
In middle school, I was fairly shy and reserved. I hid in the back row, hoping that someone else would answer before the teacher could call on me. I got flustered if I had to respond, and always got nervous when I had to speak in class. When I did have something to say, my shyness would make it hard for me to contribute, and the few times I tried, by the time I got the courage to speak, the class had moved on and my response was no longer relevant. So, I avoided raising my hand and did my best to stay in the background, watching and observing.
I was a good student though; I had strong grades and made the honor roll consistently. But I wasn’t excelling to my fullest potential. In my large public school classes, it was easy to hide in the background, and I could always count on someone else to get their hand in the air quickly, meaning my chances of having to participate were reduced.
That’s where boarding school made a difference, even as a day student. The smaller classes and personal attention meant there was no back row to hide in, and I wasn’t able to just get by. My teachers knew me, and knew me well; they pushed me to be an active participant in class, challenged me to think more critically about the subject matter, and didn’t allow me to just observe. My teachers weren’t just available in the classroom either. They would stop me in the hallway to talk, meet with me in the dining hall at meal times, and even open their apartments in the dorm to me and my classmates for study sessions after school. I couldn’t not succeed academically at my boarding school.
The arts were were better at boarding school
Arts classes were required at my boarding school, and that’s where I started to develop my love for art, design, and photography. At my public school, I wouldn’t have dreamed of trying a new class for fear of showing my lack of ability. But at boarding school, everyone had to try, so I wasn’t alone.
I took sculpture classes where we welded wire into pieces of art and built cardboard boats that we actually rowed across the school’s pool. I enrolled in drawing classes where I learned the basics of line work, perspective, and shading (I never mastered them though). I even tried my hand at ceramics; my mom still has most of my creations on display at her house all these years later. Having the opportunity to try these new classes made my educational experience so much richer and more rewarding, and for me, it sparked a new interest that later morphed into my career.
There were more athletic opportunities available at boarding school
And the benefits didn’t stop there. The after school environment was better for me, too. At my public school, when the last bell rang, it was time to go home, so you pretty much just went to class and did homework. My involvement in activities was limited, and the one activity that I was involved in didn’t meet consistently. I wasn’t a natural athlete, so playing town sports wasn’t really an option, plus I was too embarrassed about my lack of ability to even try.
My boarding school changed all that. Sports and activities were required. It terrified me, and I dreaded learning how to play sports, but I tried. In fact, I tried three different sports my sophomore year. I opted to stick with soccer each fall, and did my best to learn and grow as an athlete. Even after three years on the varsity soccer team (there weren’t enough girls to have a JV team), I was still probably the least skilled player, but I wouldn’t give up that experience for the world. Because my boarding school made me play a sport, multiple sports actually, I met new people and made new friends, learned new skills, and got to have fun doing something that I wouldn’t have tried at my public school.
I was more involved in activities at boarding school
My after school experience didn’t just involve sports either. My school had requirements for us to earn community service credits and enrichment credits, and my teachers even pushed me to try new things in the arts. I got involved with community service projects, became a peer counselor, and started working on my school’s literary magazines. In fact, in my junior and senior years, I became the editor in chief of both of the literary magazines and earned prizes for my work at the Academic Awards in the spring.
My poetry teacher encouraged me to get involved in one of the drama productions. So, my senior year I took on the role of stage manager and student director of my school’s production of “Cabaret.” Before coming to boarding school, I would never have considered something like that. One of my teachers used to laugh and say I was the classic case of the student saved by boarding school. My freshman year resume was empty. My sophomore, junior, and senior year resumes? Loaded with sports, activities, leadership roles, and awards.
I even took part in weekend and evening activities with the boarding students, getting to travel to ropes courses, theater events in the city, beach excursions, athletic events, and more. These activities helped me meet even more students from around the world who became my friends.
I was better qualified for college after attending a boarding school
My boarding school experience prepared me more for college than I expected. The confidence I gained as a student, citizen, artist, and yes, even athlete (despite my lack of skill) made me feel like I could handle anything that college threw at me.
Plus, my school offered support in applying for college. I had a college counselor who knew me well and helped me identify the right colleges for me, including safety schools and reach schools. He helped me find small colleges with strong writing programs, and even colleges with riding programs, since outside of school I was a competitive horseback rider. Thanks to my experiences at school and the help of my college counselor and advisor, I applied to and was accepted at all nine schools, and they even helped me look for scholarships.
Boarding school connections last a lifetime
A bonus of attending a boarding school is that your experiences aren’t just limited to your years as a student. As an alum, the connections are priceless. When I was in college and feeling uncertain about a career path, I went back to my boarding school to meet with our headmaster. He spent an afternoon talking with me about my college classes, interests, and gave me advice that truly helped guide my career path. He even offered me an internship at my high school, working with our communications director and alumni to see if I might enjoy that line of work. I most certainly did, and I’ve returned to the boarding school world as a marketing & communications professional now.
As a graduate of a boarding school, I’m part of a network of thousands of alumni across the globe, many of whom I’ve connected with throughout my career. When I took a job in Los Angeles and moved 3,000 miles from home just a year out of college, I connected with one of the trustees from my high school who lived near me. She invited me over for dinner, introduced me to people, and made me feel like I wasn’t all alone in this new city. Fast forward a decade and I once again found myself in a new state, without knowing anyone. But, I had friends from my high school nearby. With a global community like you find at boarding school, there truly aren’t many places I can go and not find someone to connect with.
Boarding school, even as a day student, was more than just attending classes and earning a high school degree. It was a new and exciting way of life that I will never forget, and it helped prepare me for college and for life.