Flourishing mind concept

An Inside Look at Boarding Schools

American boarding schools (and private day schools) are highly competitive. Today, more and more students are realizing the value of an education at boarding schools and are seeking admission. At Shanghai EDGE Consulting, we update our records on an annual basis for all of the boarding schools we work with to track valuable information such as new student enrollment and overall acceptance rate, plus unique characteristics about the schools and what they expect of new student applicants.

In general, a school’s admissions committee reviews all completed applications to assess academic achievementstrength of character, and readiness and enthusiasm for their program. They are seeking well-rounded students who are personable and of good character, possess strong academic ability, participate in or show interest in extracurricular activities, and demonstrate responsibility for themselves and the community. This can be said of all schools. But there is more to the story.

Our goal is to help you gain a greater understanding of the schools and the people responsible for enrolling new students, and by doing so, give you a closer look into the boarding school world and better prepare yourselves for the journey ahead. The information we present below comes directly from several of the boarding schools themselves. Please read on to learn important details about school selection process, what they seek from new students, and important parts of the application.

Schools Are Highly Selective

Admission to private school is very selective. Some schools receive applications from more than 1,000 students for the upcoming school year! The Admissions Committee seeks students who are curious, adventurous, and committed to high standards of intellectual and personal growth.

International student admission is also highly selective. With more and more applicants coming from foreign countries, schools have to find the way to strike a balance with foreign student enrollment while still maintaining a reasonable proportion of deserving local students. International students must be fluent in English in order to be considered for admission. Some schools don’t offer ESL (English as Second Language) courses and so depend on results of the TOEFL test to determine a student’s readiness for their program.

“Our selection process is designed to determine which students will be best served by the Academy and which can make the greatest contribution to the Andover community.” —Philips Andover Academy

Another school added: “We currently enroll 24 students from mainland China, around 5% of our student population. We are comfortable with that number but do not plan to go any higher: however, next year will be a bit lower, since we believe that balance and diversity are healthy and it is not beneficial to have a single culture or language group to become too large.”

What Is the Criteria for Acceptance?

  • A number of factors play into the acceptance or denial of an applicant. A student’s transcript, teacher recommendations and the personal interview are just as important as SSAT scores and application essays. No one piece is more significant than the other. All members of the Admissions Committee carefully read and discuss each applicant’s file in an effort to determine the student’s individual strengths and personality. All of this is, of course, to ascertain whether our school is a good match for the student.
  • In evaluating your application, we focus on the content of your school experience, particularly your transcript and letters of recommendation. We also consider your personal statement, comments from parents or guardians, your interview, additional documents that you might submit, and standardized tests results.

Samples of What Schools May Look for in a Potential Student

1.) The Peddie community commits itself to the intellectual, social, and moral growth of our students. Remarkable for the range of their talents, abilities, interests, and backgrounds, our students distinguish themselves through their excitement, curiosity, and character. They help make Peddie an open, dynamic community where a passion for learning thrives. —Peddie School

2.) At Phillips Exeter, we look for students who have a zest for learning and the maturity, responsibility, and self-discipline necessary to thrive here. —Phillips Exeter Academy

3.) At St. Mark’s, we look for students who are superior, not only academically, but also in integrity and maturity. Here, we believe that the measure of student achievement is more than grade point average. “St. Markers” are eager to try new things, experiment, and challenge themselves. —St. Mark’s School

4.) Westminster seeks a diverse community of students who demonstrate intellectual curiosity, achievement, character and leadership. We look for strong students who are additionally accomplished athletes, leaders, musicians, actors, artists or writers. We seek students who are hard-working, fun-loving performers who share our core values: community, character, balance and involvement. We seek students who bring Grit & Grace to everything they do. —Westminster School

5.) CSW looks for a student body that is racially, culturally and geographically diverse. We enroll students from 45 Massachusetts communities, nine states and eight countries. We carefully weigh a student’s transcript, application essay, letters of recommendation, test scores and extracurricular activities. These tools, along with the personal interview, help us to determine how a prospective student can benefit from, and contribute to, CSW. —Cambridge School of Weston

6.) Each student meets one-on-one with an interviewer and a parent interview follows. The interview is an opportunity for the applicant to discuss special interests and accomplishments, and for an interviewer to determine whether Milton is a good match for the applicant. Students are evaluated on their academic achievement, intellectual curiosity, maturity, personality, character, confidence, commitment to or leadership in extracurricular activities, and citizenship. —Milton Academy

7.) Groton seeks highly motivated students of great promise. We are especially interested in people who are inclined to be of service to others. —Groton School

8.) When selecting students, at Concord we consider academic achievement, intellectual curiosity, character, maturity, particular talents, hobbies and passions, the capacity for positive relationships with adults, individual expression and open-mindedness, community involvement, and potential for growth. —Concord Academy

9.) The admission committee at Canterbury selects students who possess character, scholarship, an interest in being part of a rigorous and diverse community, and a willingness to share extracurricular talents or interests. —Canterbury School

10.) Saint James seeks a variety of qualities in applicants. In addition to a strong commitment to academics and athletics, we seek students with an eagerness to be involved in our community, a desire to form close and mentoring relationships with faculty, and a commitment to developing their capacity to be leaders for good in the world. —Saint James School

11.) In the admission process at Athenian, we look beyond the typical qualifications. While strong academic performance and test scores can show a student’s readiness for academic challenge, that student’s fit with Athenian’s philosophy and mission is also important. We look to see what each applicant will add to the mix of experiences, talents, backgrounds, and perspectives that forms the Athenian community. —The Athenian School

12.) The Governor’s Academy believes that all students should also be engaged in activities that are community centered. —The Governor’s Academy

13.) We look for academically talented students with a strong record of academic achievement and potential. Tabor has a strong sense of community, so we also look for International Students who can make friends outside of their cultural group, are willing to try new activities, and can contribute significantly to the co-curricular life of the school in athletics, music, the arts, leadership, and other areas. —Tabor Academy

14.) While strong scholastic achievement (as shown by a student’s academic record, standardized test scores, and teacher recommendations) is important, it does not guarantee admission. Other important factors at Mercersburg include the applicant’s character, personality, motivation, extracurricular interests, and ability to live compatibly with others. —Mercersburg Academy

15.) At Hotchkiss, we look for well-rounded students who not only have strong grades and testing, but who like to be involved with varied hobbies (sports, music, etc.) and community service. —Hotchkiss School

Parent Statements (why they’re important)

  • Our active learning environment, in and out of the classroom, emphasizes discovery and discussion, and the curriculum is writing-intensive. In addition to the academic materials submitted by your child’s current school, your answers to the following questions will help the admission committee assess the fit between your son or daughter and our school. We appreciate your candid and thoughtful responses.
  • We prepare the questions for parents to learn more about your child and to get a sense of your expectations. We view parents as partners who will help us to establish the right conditions to support their child. By adding our educational expertise to your knowledge and expectations of your child, we will be able to help your child reach his or her potential.
  • Parents know their children best, and it’s our goal to get to know each candidate as well as possible. The parents form can help us do that, just as the interview helps us. —Phillips Exeter

Student Portfolios (for submission)

Our philosophy on portfolio work, however, is that “less is more.” A high-gloss postcard of a student’s best painting, or a short online video/DVD of a performance, packs the most impact. Portfolios that include every certificate of merit back through 3rd grade and a 30-page scrapbook are not as effective.