College is a key milestone in every student’s academic career. In the best scenarios, all the hard work of middle school and high school pays off, with learning experiences that lay the groundwork for exciting career opportunities and a productive and meaningful life.
The top American colleges accept students with diverse passions and interests: artists and authors, math whizzes and budding scientists, volunteers and athletic superstars. But the two categories where top colleges don’t compromise? Academics and character. Even now, top universities are reshaping the admission process to shift the focus away from “just” grades towards ethical and intellectual engagement.
Your child’s performance in high school is the primary way that colleges evaluate these criteria, and some high schools are so good at preparing their students to be competitive candidates that they are referred to as “feeder schools,” since their students enjoy a comparatively high rate of acceptance at Ivy League schools and other top colleges.
Here’s a piece of insider information: those feeder high schools are exceptional at educating and building character in high schools students, but keep in mind that their selective admissions process allows them to choose students who already possess many of those traits. A middle school student who struggles academically or who has not clearly demonstrated effort, leadership, or character is unlikely to be seriously considered for admission at a competitive secondary school like Exeter or Deerfield Academy in the first place.
As a result, it’s critically important to make sure academics and character development are key areas of focus during your child’s middle school years. In this way, you increase the odds of securing placement for your child at a secondary school that is a good match, which will in turn boost your child’s chances of gaining admission at a great college.
How can you help? There are numerous strategies you can implement, from tutoring and summer programs, to moving to a city or town with a strong middle school.
You should also consider junior boarding school. Now, it’s possible (even likely!) that you have never even heard of junior boarding school as an option. Junior boarding schools are schools that offer five-day and seven-day boarding programs to students in grades five through nine, and they offer a terrific option for families who are committed to giving their children the very best foundation for high school and college. Here are a few reasons why:
Junior boarding schools provide structure and academic rigor.
You’ve given your child years of love and guidance on how to be a good student and a good person. But once they get to college, students are on their own. It will be up to your child to decide how much time he or she spends studying, socializing, exploring new opportunities/interests, and relaxing.
To successfully manage their time and their workload once they’re in college, students must already have a strong foundation of discipline and self-awareness. They need to have a good sense of who they are as learners (should I write an outline before drafting this essay? Do I need to read each assignment through multiple times?) and know how to advocate for themselves when they need help. With challenging academics, daily study halls for homework, scheduled sessions for extra help, opportunities to develop productive relationships with teachers and advisors, and 24-hour supervision and care, junior boarding schools offer unique opportunities for students to develop the skills and the mindset that will set them up for success in future years.
Junior boarding schools focus on the development of the whole student.
Given colleges’ focus on ethical and intellectual engagement, it’s important to know that most junior boarding schools focus on character development as well as the development of academic skills. Time is scheduled every week for wellness classes and meetings with advisors, where students can discuss and reflect on key developmental issues, such as making good choices, managing technology responsibly, being a good friend, and resisting peer pressure.
Most junior boarding schools also make time for service learning opportunities where students can have hands-on experiences as volunteers and learn first-hand about the importance of helping others. Here at Fay School, for example, our ninth graders spend a week in the Dominican Republic teaching English to children in an underserved community. This trip is, for many for students, an enlightening and transformative experience that marks the beginning of a long-term commitment to helping others.
Junior boarding schools help students get used to the boarding school environment.
Academics are by far the top focus at the most competitive secondary boarding schools. In order to increase the odds of earning a spot at a top college, students at these schools must distinguish themselves to college admissions counselors by succeeding at a high level, which requires investing significant time and energy into their studies.
It’s hard to achieve this level of focus when a student is still getting used to the boarding school environment. Settling into a routine, assimilating to a new social circle, and getting used to living away from home are all challenges for new boarders. If your child is already accustomed to this environment by the time he or she enters secondary school, there will be less times spent adjusting and more time dedicated to coursework and extracurricular activities.
Junior boarding schools are part of the “feeder” system for top colleges.
Eminent universities like Harvard and Princeton have diverse applicants from all walks of life. However, admissions counselors still consider a prospective student’s high school while evaluating their application. According to research published in the Chicago Tribune, 6% of Harvard’s Class of 2017 came from just 10 high schools – several of them being secondary boarding schools.
By attending a junior boarding school, students have a better chance of getting into one of these “feeder” secondary schools that send graduates on to Ivy League-caliber colleges. But it’s not just about reputation or personal relationships – top secondary schools offer the academic rigor and curriculum that prepares students for the competitive college environment.
Junior boarding schools help international students perfect their English.
For students coming to the U.S. from foreign countries with fewer English-speaking opportunities, it is imperative to develop strong English speaking, reading, and writing skills. While many countries begin teaching English in early elementary school, this education doesn’t compare to the immersive nature of the language instruction your child can receive at an American junior boarding school. At Fay, for example, all students participate in a public speaking program, and they have numerous opportunities to present speeches to peers and adults. Not only does a strong command of English help students socially and academically, it provides a foundation for the kind of excellent writing and communication they’ll need while applying to the best colleges in the world.
College is one of the most important milestones in your child’s life, and a meaningful college experience is one that will help your child mature as an individual, hone academic skills, and formulate life goals. By enrolling your child in a junior boarding school, you give him or her a strong start on a path that can lead to a top-notch secondary school experience, and, in turn, the opportunity to attend a great college.