Living and learning

By Amy Rowe

Everything parents need to know about boarding schools and why it may just be the best educational choice for your family


As parents, we’re often overwhelmed by the plethora of educational choices facing our children. There are benefits to both public and private high schools, but each comes with its own challenges.

Boarding school is yet another option, one that some families may not have considered because of some common misconceptions.

The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS) – with 285 preparatory schools in its membership, including 26 from Canada – helps families become better educated about this option.

Recently TABS Executive Director Peter Upham and TABS Director of Member Relations Andy Hirt presented a webinar about boarding schools, hosted by the Secondary School Admission Test Board. Here is a portion of the Q&A session:

Q: What exactly is boarding school?

A: Boarding school is a university preparatory institution where students and teachers live together in a safe and secure campus environment. You can find boarding schools within a short distance of nearly every major metropolitan city in North America. And most schools offer some sort of financial aid, be it need-based or merit-based, making this unique education more attainable.

Q: What type of student is most successful at boarding school?

A: Generally speaking, students who excel are those who are self-motivated, adventurous, engaged in the classroom, interested in learning and excited about the future.

Q: How do we choose the best boarding school?

A: Honestly, the best school is the one that’s the best fit for your family. Don’t get caught up in the name, location or reputation. Try to find the school that best suits your child’s personality and interests. And don’t limit your exploration. Cast the net wide and visit as many campuses as you can. You’ll know when it’s right!

Q: How competitive is the admission process?

A: Some schools are very competitive and take only 10-15 per cent of candidates who apply, while others accept 50-60 per cent of applicants. It just depends on the supply and demand. When financial aid is involved, acceptance rates decrease because there are almost always more qualified candidates than dollars available.

Q: Are interviews conducted at the school or will interviewers come to us?

A: Both. Generally, interviews take place on campus, although sometimes schools will interview students at their school after an event, at a local coffee shop, on the phone, or via Skype. It really is best to do your interview on campus, though, to give your child a full sense of the place and whether or not he or she will fit in there.

Q: At what grade level should we consider entering our child in boarding school?

A: Most boarding schools start in Grade 9 and go through Grade 12. However, there are many TABS member schools that offer boarding to younger students, and some that offer only “junior boarding.” It really does depend on your child and his or her level of maturity.

Q: How are boarding school teachers selected?

A: Boarding schools look to their faculty to do many things in addition to teaching – coach, advise, supervise afternoon activities, live in the dorms, etc. Schools hire not just for competency in the subjects taught, but also for a round-the-clock brand of leadership and commitment to perform the additional duties that come with a residential environment. Again, it is a calling versus a job.

Q: Our family is very close. Can parents visit campus? And how often are students allowed to go home?

A: Of course parents are welcome to visit campus any time. You will want to attend your child’s sports games, performances and special events. In order to maintain continuity in the day-to-day lives of students, most schools place some limit on the number of weekends they can leave campus. There are plenty of opportunities to go home. Remember, the best part of boarding school is the connections kids make with friends and teachers – and the chance to deepen those connections often occurs on the weekends.

Today, the power of technology makes it possible to convey better what the boarding school environment is actually like. Short but comprehensive videos at take you from the classroom to the athletic field to the dining hall to the dorm – and offer personal insights from teachers, students and graduates.

It is often said that at boarding schools, students “live to learn,” since they spend large parts of their day engaged in learning activities. But they also “learn to live” by shouldering the greater responsibility that comes with greater independence cultivated in a supportive community. Without question, boarding schools shape lives for the better.

Why consider boarding school?

Many families choose boarding school for these reasons:

1. Unequalled academics supported by small classes heighten interaction between students and their teachers, who see their work as a calling, not just a job.

2. Residential campus environment promotes the camaraderie of common experience, friendship among peers, and trust and honesty with mentors and adults.

3. Graduates, on average, arrive at university better prepared for both the academic rigour and social challenges of campus life.

4. Graduates advance rapidly in their professional careers and are more civically engaged than their peers.

5. An unparalleled setting for learning how to live with and among others offers countless opportunities to become fully prepared for the challenges and responsibilities of adulthood.

The Association of Boarding Schools serves a voluntary membership not-for-profit organization of 285 boarding schools across Canada, the United States and abroad, and is the public voice for university-preparatory boarding schools and the central resource for boarding school education. Learn more at

Photo: © michaeljung