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Where to start? 

This is the first, and often most challenging question facing families who have decided they want to pursue a boarding school education. There are so many wonderful boarding schools out there; the websites are all equally attractive (and occasionally labythine!) and it is hard to narrow down the list to schools that may be a great fit.

Finding a great boarding school, however, does not need to be an endless and uncertain research project. With the right approach, it is a process that builds confidence and life skills while simultaneously helping you to find a great school.

The first step is to create a list of schools based on the most important priorities for your family. Some qualities of schools will be non-negotiable for you, and in that case you should consider schools that meet those criteria. Some example questions:

  • Do you have a geographic range of schools you are willing to consider?

    • Distance from home

    • Urban or rural setting

    • Climate or nearby amenities

  • Are there certain programs that are “must-haves?”

    • Academic programs and electives

    • Sports

    • Arts

  • Are size and structure of the student body important factors?

    • Co-educational or single gender schools

    • Student body size: under 300, 300-500 or 500+

    • Percentage of students and faculty who are boarding

Once you have your criteria, you may want to use the great search tools you can find at The Association of Boarding Schools and Boarding School Review. These tools can help you generate a list of schools that meet your needs. Be wary, though, of the lists and rankings that you see on social media or that come up when you google “boarding schools;” the sourcing and research that goes into them are not always the best.

The second step is to ask for advice! You may know families who have children at boarding schools. Your teachers may know of or may have attended great boarding schools. Some schools have placement counselors who know the boarding school world deeply. The word-of-mouth recommendations of those who know you and know boarding schools are often a great source of direction in starting a search. 

You may also want to retain the services of a certified independent educational consultant. These paid professionals will help guide you through all the steps of the application process.

Third, once you have the beginnings of a list of schools, start filling out inquiry forms and arranging to visit campuses. The information you receive after you complete and inquiry will help you further refine your thinking, and of course there is no way to understand a school like visiting. You may want to visit a few different types of schools in the spring or summer on a “preview tour” After those experiences, you’ll be able to decide which types of schools best suit you. You can return in the fall for a full tour and interview.

Fourth, don’t be afraid to ask admissions officers for advice. We love to share our knowledge of the boarding school world, and even though we may want you to attend our school, our main hope is that you find your best fit. We’re happy to recommend schools you might want to explore based on your hopes and needs.

Finally, don’t be afraid to adapt your list as you gain more experience and confidence learning about schools. Keep good notes and have great family conversations throughout the process. Avoid the temptation to focus all your energy and hopes on one particular school and allow your choices to evolve as you become more knowledgeable. By the time you submit your application, we hope you have developed a list of schools you know well and would be happy to attend for lots of reasons.

Best of luck in your school search!

Matt Wolinski Director of Admission St. Andrew’s School