What Is a Boarding School?

Phillips Exeter Academy campus on a sunny day.

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Do you have questions about boarding schools? We have answers. We're tackling some of the most common boarding school FAQs and introducing you to this unique and often highly beneficial type of academic institution.

Defining Boarding School

In the most basic terms, a boarding school is a residential private school. The students actually live on campus in dormitories or resident houses with adults from the school (dorm parents, as they are typically called). The dormitories are supervised by these members of the school's staff, who are usually teachers or coaches, in addition to being dorm parents. Students at a boarding school take their meals in a dining hall. Room and board are included in a boarding school tuition. 

What Is Boarding School Like?

As a rule, boarding school students follow a highly structured day in which classes, meals, athletics, study times, activities, and free time are predetermined for them. Resident life is a unique component of the boarding school experience. Being away from home and learning to cope gives a child confidence and independence.

In America, most boarding schools serve students in grades nine through 12, the high school years. Some schools will even offer eighth grade or middle school years. These schools are typically referred to as junior boarding schools. Grades are sometimes called forms in many older, traditional boarding schools. Hence, the terms Form I, Form II, and so on. Students in Form 5 are known as Fifth Formers.

British boarding schools are the main inspiration and framework for the American boarding school system. British boarding schools tend to accept students at a much younger age than American boarding schools. It runs from primary grades through high school, whereas the American boarding school typically begins at 10th grade. Boarding schools offer an inclusive approach to education. Students learn, live, exercise, and play together in a communal setting under adult supervision.

Boarding school is a great schooling solution for many children. Explore the pros and cons carefully. Then, make a considered decision.

What Are the Benefits?

I like the fact that a boarding school offers everything in one neat package: the academics, the athletics, the social life, and 24-hour supervision. That's a huge plus for busy parents. Boarding school is a great way to prepare students for the rigors and independence of college life. While children are at a boarding school, parents won't have to worry as much about what their little darlings are getting into. Best of all, your child will have very little time to be bored.

Prepare for College

Boarding school provides a stepping stone experience for college by introducing students to life away from home in a more supportive environment than they might find at college. Dorm parents play a large role in student lives, reinforcing good behaviors and helping students develop life skills like time management, work-life balance, and staying healthy. An increase in independence and confidence are often reported in students who attend boarding school. 

A Diverse and Global Community

Students get a taste of world cultures at many boarding schools, thanks in large part to most boarding schools offering comprehensive international student populations. Where else are you going to live and learn with students from across the world? Learning how to speak a second language, understanding cultural differences, and getting new perspectives on global issues is a huge benefit to boarding school. 

Try Everything

Getting involved in everything is another perk of boarding school. When students live at school, a whole world of opportunities ​is available. They can get involved in activities all week long, even at night, which means they have more time to try new things.

More Individual Attention

Students even have greater access to teachers at boarding school. Since students literally live within walking distance of teacher apartments and houses, getting extra help can happen before school, in the dining hall during meals, and even at night during evening study hall. 

Gain Independence

Boarding school is a great way for students to learn how to live alone in a supportive environment. They still have to adhere to strict schedules and rules for living in an environment where it's the student's responsibility to stay on top of everything. When a student falters, and most will at some point, the school is there to help correct behavior and help the student move forward with better decisions in the future.

Improve the Parent and Child Relationship

Some parents even find that their relationships with their children improve thanks to boarding school. Now, the parent becomes a confidant and an ally. The school, or rather the dorm parents, become the authority figures who ensure that homework is done, rooms are clean, and students go to bed on time. Discipline primarily falls to the school, which holds students accountable for their actions. If a student's room isn't clean, what happens at home? A parent can't give detention for that but a school can. That means parents get to be the shoulder to cry on and ear to bend when a child complains about the unfairness of rules, meaning you don't have to be the bad guy all the time.

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Kennedy, Robert. "What Is a Boarding School?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-boarding-school-2774226. Kennedy, Robert. (2023, April 5). What Is a Boarding School? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-boarding-school-2774226 Kennedy, Robert. "What Is a Boarding School?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-boarding-school-2774226 (accessed June 1, 2023).