How to Choose a Boarding School

Boarding schools are just that: places where children live together and go to school. The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) lists approximately 300 mainstream, non-therapeutic schools. Roughly 40,000 students, from the US and abroad, attend. The boarding school year mirrors the North American public and parochial school calendar – Fall to Spring, summer off. Some boarding schools also operate special academic programs in the summer months. Others run arts or sports camps.

Each institution’s academic and residential culture is unique.  Mason Associates’ commitment to help parents find the right “fit” between their child and a school has been refined and honed by over 20 years of consulting practice.  Our familiarity with the schools and their admissions procedures is comprehensive.

Some schools only accept students in the spring of the year they plan to attend.  Others may still be considering candidates into late summer.  Many will consider new enrollments at trimester or semester breaks, usually after the Christmas vacation. Some even have “rolling’ admissions.

Students seeking admissions to the most competitive schools must follow a carefully-orchestrated process.  Some steps may be eliminated or “fast tracked” for mid-year or late summer applications.

Free “How to Choose a Boarding School” Guide (printer-friendly format)

Types of Boarding Schools

It is important to understand the makeup of each boarding school’s community. How many students live there full-time is a critical question. There are three possibilities:

  • All boarding: Every student, even those living close-by, live full-time at the school. There are very few of this type left.
  • Boarding-day: A mix of students from too far away to commute and kids who come and go daily from their own homes. The ratio of boarding to day students is a critical factor in the development of the character of these schools.
  • 5-day boarding: Schools where there is a mix of students who can choose to spend weekends at home, combined with daily commuters and full-time boarders from a distance.

Boarding schools are also sometimes differentiated by the ages of the students they serve:

  • Junior Boarding Schools:  These schools accept children grades 3–9; most serve grades 6-9.
  • Boarding High Schools:  Most provide grades 9-12. Some also offer a 13th (PG) year. A handful of these schools also may offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma. (
  • College transition schools: These are boarding schools sponsored by a college or university to admit students in grades 10-12 directly into the sponsor. They offer college-level courses without requiring a high school diploma. Students live in college-managed residences and often attend classes with college-age peers. Social maturity is assumed.
  • PG-only schools: These provide one level, Grade 13, to students who have received their high school diploma. Such schools are rare.

Finally, there are important qualitative elements that further differentiate the traditional boarding schools:

  • Coeducational
  • Boys-only
  • Girls-only
  • Military schools
  • Pre-professional arts schools
  • Pre-professional sports academies
  • Pre-professional trade/technical schools
  • Religious schools
  • International schools
  • Experiential schools

Finding the right mix of boarding school features to fit your child can be a formidable and time-consuming challenge. Mason Associates has been working with families for over twenty years to help explain and manage the options development, application and selection process for families from around the world.

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