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Day School vs. Boarding School

By Taylor Smith

At the end of their child’s eighth grade school year, parents are faced with the conundrum of where to send their teen to high school. In areas like Princeton, the options are plentiful. Private day school is an attractive choice to most since it combines academic rigor with the creature comforts of home. Some may even consider being a day student at a local boarding school, the Peddie School, The Pennington School, Hun School, and The Lawrenceville School being four examples. There are also a group of students, who at the age of 13 and 14, dream of the pre-college experience that only boarding school can offer. These teens crave independence, adventure, and the unknown. Knowing your teenager – their strengths, weaknesses, sociability, and adaptability – will help parents to decide whether being a day student or a boarding student is right for their child.

Private day schools in the Princeton area like Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart and Princeton Day School offer excellent college preparatory experiences. When they enter in the ninth grade, students will have the option to hand-pick from a diverse assortment of classes, clubs, sports, arts, science, and music programs. Student to teacher ratios are small, which means that most class sizes average twelve students. Guidance from teachers, coaches, and faculty members lends the school a familial atmosphere. In addition, much emphasis is placed on the whole student, so that a student’s happiness is seen as being just as significant as their A.P. Chemistry scores. As a private day student, your child will travel locally to compete in athletics and come home at night to have dinner and to sleep in their own bed. Academic demands are strenuous, but the aspects of living at home remain intact.

The Northeast, and particularly New England, is home to some of the most elite and picturesque boarding schools in the world. Just visit St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire during the height of autumn to watch a cross-country meet and be overwhelmed by the history and majesty of the place. Partake in new levels of school spirit at an ice hockey match at Avon Old Farms in Avon, Connecticut or watch the spring musical at Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, Massachusetts. All of these experiences will help your teen to decide whether or not they would like to apply.

Applying to boarding school is not unlike applying to college. More often than not, both require campus visits, interviews, teacher recommendations, standardized test-taking and application fees. The application process ideally begins during your child’s seventh grade school year. Go to any school’s website to read about the faculty, facilities, boarding to day student ratio, and much more. Then, plan a road trip. It makes sense to visit when school is in session, between September and May. During this time, you can schedule a student-led campus tour through the admissions office.

If you are not set on one school, it is best to visit as many as you can. There are a high concentration of schools, located relatively close together, stretching from New Jersey to Connecticut and Massachusetts to New Hampshire. You can easily drive from one campus to another over the course of a few weekends. Once you have selected a list of schools, you will have to schedule formal interviews through the school’s admissions office. Interviews are part of the application, so remember to dress well, to be gracious, and to write a thank-you note to each interviewer.

Now, it is time to organize your paperwork. TABS (The Association of Boarding Schools) developed the uniformed Boarding Schools Admission Application Form to simplify the admission process. Visit to see a list of schools that currently accept the TABS Application. If your school is not on the list, you will have to download that school’s particular application from their website. All of the applications contain a slew of forms that include a student information form, questionnaire, student essays, parent statement, and teacher recommendation forms. The final application must also include a copy of the student’s transcripts/academic records and their official SSAT (Secondary School Admission Test) scores. Lastly, you must submit an application fee, which is indicated on each school’s website. If you are applying for financial aid, all forms must be submitted at the same time as the application.

The SSAT is a required test for most private and boarding schools. The Upper Level SSAT test is designed for students in grades 6 through 8 who are applying for matriculation in grades 9 through 12. The test includes quantitative (math), reading comprehension, and verbal multiple choice, along with a written essay. It seems imperative that students prepare well for this test in order to succeed. For students, learning the syllabus holistically might be important, whether it be a complex mathematical chapter like Algebra or something as straightforward as converting normal time to military time. This is because having a holistic understanding of the material can help students to better understand the questions and figure out the most efficient strategies for tackling them. It also helps them to better recall the material during the test, so they don’t have to spend too much time trying to remember information.

For fall admission, most schools have a January deadline. Keep in mind that all components of the application must be completed and received by this time. Getting the application in before the winter holidays is always a good idea. Notification of acceptance usually occurs in March. Students are asked to notify each school of their final decision by May, at the latest.

Be it at a private day or boarding school, both routes will have a large impact on a child’s personal development and success in college. However, what is most important is that they enjoy their preparatory experience and eventually graduate with positive memories and a greater sense of self.

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