Does attending a boarding school affect how admissions officers perceive a student? I attend a small, highly selective boarding school with no honors classes, because everything is assumed to be taught at a higher level than most regular high school classes. There are many amazing options and opportunities, but I don’t have access to some of the same opportunities (e.g. community service, academic recognition/acceleration, etc.) as students in public or day schools. Are admissions officers generally aware of this, and do they perceive good/bad grades and school involvement through a different lens as a result of boarding prep schools’ different culture and academic standards?
Admission officials typically take great pains to understand the high schools that their applicants attend. So it’s very common for them to realize that, at some schools—especially the most rigorous boarding schools—earning a “B” in a tough course can be like earning an “A” at a less challenging high school. They also realize that the extracurricular options, awards, etc., that are available to students who live in a dormitory can be unlike those offered to students living at home. These officials usually keep copious records of past applicants from each high school so that new admission officers can see how the pattern of acceptances from one high school can vary from that pattern at others.
So, yes, admission committees are indeed using a “different lens” when they evaluate candidates from a demanding private school. That’s the good news. But there’s some bad news too: Many of the celebrated private schools will send dozens of applications to a fairly short list of prestigious colleges. These colleges, however, are keen on admitting a diverse freshman class and, for them, such “diversity” includes diversity of high school background. Thus, even if all of the candidates from one private boarding school are well qualified, it’s unlikely that all will be admitted, in order to save spaces for students from a range of alma maters.
Thus, as compile your college list, try to include not only the “dream schools” that are on many of your classmates’ lists too, but also some “think outside the box” schools that could be very attractive to you but not as popular with your friends. Although admission officials have great respect for students who have been successful at rigorous boarding schools, I have known some wonderful seniors from the top boarding schools who were turned away from all of their favorite colleges because they were “competing” with scores of equally talented classmates (even though admission officials will rarely own up to such “competition”) and they ultimately didn’t stand out in the crowd.