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The Benefits and Boundaries of Boarding School Education

November, 2013
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hotchkiss-schoolThe beginning of a new school year often brings fresh questions about the excellence of Shanghai International schools in terms of teacher quality, course offerings and college admissions.  Boarding school is often looked at as a panacea against the concerns that parents have about school outside of their primary country. Parental concern is increasing as college admissions, including admissions to top colleges and universities grow ever more competitive, particularly in the United States and United Kingdom.
Let’s begin by dispelling the basic misperception that drives many parents to consider boarding school in the first place: the belief that admissions to a top boarding school will guarantee admissions to an Ivy League university.  The truth of the matter is that admissions to any of the top 20 colleges and universities is largely dependent on the academic success and personal factors of the individual student, not the name of the school that a student comes from. This holds true whether the student attends a public school with few resources, an international school or a top boarding school. Moreover, colleges and universities seek to admit a broad range of diverse students who have made the very most of their secondary school experience.
lawrenceville_schoolNow that we have established that boarding school is not THE BEST PATH, we will assert another truth: There is NO SINGLE BEST PATH to college. The best way to ensure that your child will be accepted into the university of his or her choice is to have them attend the best fit of high school for them. Encourage them to make the most out of their high school experience and do their academic best.
Boarding school is just one of a number of possible excellent choices for your child’s secondary education, and the decision to send your child to boarding school should not be taken lightly. So how might one decide whether or not a child would really benefit from attending boarding school?  We strongly recommend that the process begin with a rational assessment of your child’s current school. If your child is currently attending a foreign international school in Shanghai or Beijing, there is a great likelihood that the breadth of courses offered is comparable to a good number of boarding schools. Foreign international schools also offer a good number of clubs and activities covering a wide enough range of interests to appeal to most students. Moreover, schools in these locations are filled with a good number of bright and ambitious students, which results in good classroom discussions and a sense of competition. Also, many of these schools can boast of a reasonable number of admissions to a range of foreign universities and colleges, including those considered to be among the most desirable. Given that the key components for education and college admissions are well covered, why might a family consider sending a child to one of the 400 boarding schools located in the UK, the 400 in the USA, the 100 in Australia or the handful in Singapore?
choate-rosemary-hallWhile the reasons for sending a child away to school are highly personal and varied, some of the key considerations for international families who may be considering boarding school are as follows:
Quality and Consistency of Teaching Staff: The majority of boarding school teachers have advanced degrees in their subjects or in general education. Also, many boarding school teachers are vested in the communities they live in and move infrequently, therefore improving the chances that the teacher your child cultivates a relationship with in 10th grade will be there to write their letter of recommendation for their college application. That being said, boarding school is not a guarantee that your child will like all of his or her teachers or that they will suddenly perform well in classes.
Breadth and Depth of Course Offerings: Many, but not all college preparatory boarding schools offer great breadth and depth of courses in all of the key academic areas. Others have impressive curriculums developed around subjects such as oceanography and environmental science or offer top-notch studio art, theater or music programs. This is of particular relevance to students whose interests or level of expertise require more than schools can offer here in China.
Outstanding Facilities: While many international schools offer good facilities in terms of theatre, music and athletics, overseas boarding school facilities are often outstanding. In addition to large expanses of private land, boarding schools often boast top quality laboratories, athletics buildings and art facilities. Additionally, boarding school facilities can give students the ability to learn or compete in sports such as tennis, soccer, American football, rugby, cricket or rowing at a significantly higher level than what is available in China.
Stability: One of the harder things for many international students to deal with is the constant attrition of dear friends whose families are called to move away long before high school graduation. Boarding school students generally stay on through to graduation, thus the opportunity for intense and close friendships are one of the benefits of attending.
Independence: While boarding school students generally enjoy close relationships with their teachers and advisors, they are fully responsible for managing their own schedules, deciding their own activities and maintaining their living spaces. This offers considerably more independence than many international school students have at home, especially in China where their ayis, drivers and parents can sometimes make life too easy and impair the development of adolescent independence.
Country Specific College Admissions Expertise: Boarding schools generally offer excellent and personalized university admissions advice specific to the country in which they are located. Admissions to outside countries however may largely be lacking, so parents should carefully consider in which country they wish their child to attend university and focus on boarding schools in that location.
Despite the apparent positive aspects of boarding school, parents would also be wise to consider the following:
Colleges and universities seek to admit students who have made the most out of their high school experience.  The question asked in college admission offices will be “Did you push yourself to take advantage of all that was available to you?” It would follow that the more that is available to students, the more they are expected to have taken advantage of. Also, the top colleges and universities, particularly those in the USA and UK, largely limit admissions to the top 10 per cent of the senior year class. Parents should carefully consider the type of environment and support their student needs in order to perform at his or her very best. The value of support and discipline that comes simply from living at home should not be discounted. Moreover, it is not a good idea to send a child away to school who clearly does not want to go, as they are less likely to thrive.
By  Tess Robinson,
Founding Partner, TEAM Education Consulting.
Tess is a graduate of Harvard Business School where she earned an MBA and Stanford University where she earned an AB in International Relations. Tess speaks English, French, and Spanish and is conversant in Mandarin Chinese and brings 12 years of college advisory experience in addition to 3 years in finance and 8 years in marketing to benefit students and families with excellent counsel advice and career planning for both Undergraduate and Graduate applications. 2013 admits include Harvard, Columbia, UC Berkeley, Bryn Mawr College, Occidental, Harvard Business School, Columbia School of Business, Chicago Booth School of Business and NYU. Tess is a member of NACAC (National Association of College Admissions Counselors) and OACAC (Overseas Association for College Admissions Counselors).




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