Perhaps one of the most memorable movies ever made about life at boarding schools is Dead Poet's Society, starring the late Robin Williams. Other scenes concerning boarding school also come from later episodes of the TV series, Mad Men. Making the decision to send a son or daughter away to a boarding school is a significant task, perhaps made easier if an older sibling has already made that journey or is currently attending a prep school.
The competition for prep school admission can be just as sharp as that for competitive colleges, sometimes even more stressful. Don't believe me? Take a look at the Prep School Admissions forum on College Confidential. There you will find 250 pages of threads that discuss the quality of various prep schools and the sagas of getting in or not getting in. It's a mirror of the college process but focused on a much younger demographic.
Speaking of the competitiveness of boarding school admissions, many parents think of prep schools the same way they think about colleges — getting their child into one of the “best" prep schools will pave the way to one of the best colleges or universities. This is where the prestige factor comes in. As I always say, “… prestige (whatever that means)."
Along those lines, while doing some research on boarding schools, I came across an interesting article that speaks to the competitiveness and academic quality of boarding schools: The 24 smartest boarding schools in America. To clarify what the author, Melissa Stanger, means by “smartest," she says:
You can argue forever about which boarding schools have the best campus, faculty, alumni, or students, but the question of which have the highest SAT scores is more clear-cut.
This standardized test, until recently scored out of 2400, is one of the top factors colleges look at when considering applicants. It is a decent estimate of raw intelligence, though SAT skills can also be taught, and many of these schools offer tutoring programs for just that.
For those of you who want to get right to the point, here it is:
The schools whose students have the highest average scores — 2140, 2130, and 2104 — are St. Albans School, The Hockaday School, and Groton School, respectively.
But what about the other 21? Well, here's a sampling from Melissa's list:
24. St. Mark's School — Southborough, Massachusetts
Average SAT score: 1940
Advanced or AP classes offered: 32
St. Mark's students can choose between 32 advanced and AP courses, including Latin, studio art, and physics, as well as 70 extracurricular organizations including yearbook, badminton, and jazz band. St. Mark's is constructing a new campus building that will provide state-of-the-art facilities for STEM subjects.
20. Georgetown Preparatory School — North Bethesda, Maryland
Average SAT score: 1975
Advanced or AP classes offered: 25
The all-boys Georgetown Prep offers more than 60 courses, with more than two dozen following the AP curriculum. This year 27 students from the class of 2015, about one-fourth of the grade, were inducted into the National Honor Society.
16. Deerfield Academy — Deerfield, Massachusetts
Average SAT score: 2000
Advanced or AP classes offered: 27
One of the oldest schools on this list, founded in 1797, Deerfield has a 15% acceptance rate, and it offers college-level courses in all subjects. One-hundred percent of Deerfield graduates go on to attend four-year colleges and universities.
12. St. Paul's School — Concord, New Hampshire
Average SAT score: 2028
Advanced or AP classes offered: 50
Students at St. Paul's School can choose from 50 advanced or AP classes across numerous disciplines, including chemistry, Japanese, and art. Over the past four years, the most attended colleges by St. Paul's grads have been Georgetown, Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth, Harvard, Michigan, Stanford, and Williams.
8. Phillips Academy Andover — Andover, Massachusetts
Average SAT score: 2076
Advanced or AP classes offered: 30
Phillips Academy Andover's acceptance rate is lower than that of Cornell University. In 2013, 92 students — nearly one-third of the graduating class — went on to Ivy League colleges. The Academy offers both AP and advanced courses; the 500-level courses are often beyond AP level.
4. Phillips Exeter Academy — Exeter, New Hampshire
Average SAT score: 2100
Advanced or AP classes offered: 14
Phillips Exeter Academy is known for producing some of the most successful alumni in the world, including many millionaires and even a handful of billionaires. In 2015, 107 students became National Merit Commended Scholars, and 34 became National Merit Semifinalists. A whopping 85% of students score 4 or 5 on AP exams.
1. St. Albans School — Washington, D.C.
Average SAT score: 2140
Advanced or AP classes offered: 13
The all-boys St. Albans School claims 22 Presidential Scholars among its graduates, as well as 45 National Merit Semifinalists since 2007. St. Albans also awards students with its own academic awards and honors, including the Bishop Freeman History Award and the Satterlee Medal for academic achievement. Over the past five years, Harvard and Yale were the two most attended colleges by St. Albans grads.
And what kinds of things are posters on the College Confidential discussion forum talking about concerning prep schools? Here's a sampling of thread titles:
My comment above reflects the fact that prep school admissions (and application angst) is almost exactly the same as that experienced with the college realm. The good news: It's a good training ground for what to expect senior year. The bad news: Sometimes it's a little overwhelming for youngsters who barely have had a chance to experience the “poetry of youth."
Whether you're considering applying to a prep school, as a student yourself, or a parent contemplating sending your child to a boarding school, there's a lot to consider. As always, find the answers you're looking for on College Confidential. You'll be glad you did.
Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles on College Confidential.