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10 Ways To Help Your Student Adjust to Boarding School

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Heading off to boarding school is exciting – and nerve-wracking. And having made the commitment, your student now has the entire summer to think – and worry – about it.

Understand that high school students are nervous about any new social situation. While you might consider boarding school life a great opportunity and adventure, your student might be imagining a strange new world with its own cliques and secret codes.

What can you do to help your student make the transition to boarding school? For starters, make listening a top priority this summer. Don’t patronize or undervalue your student’s concerns. No matter how excited students may be about boarding school, there are always under riding anxieties, some of them based on boarding school myths. This is the time to address them. Don’t hover, but try to make yourself available, whether it’s a trip to the mall to buy towels or a ride to the movies. These opportunities will be more scarce once your child is away at school.

And, know when to back off. Encourage your student to take charge of getting ready this summer – after all, you won’t be there to issue daily reminders come September. These next couple of months are an opportunity for your student to practice responsibility and for you to understand when your support or intervention is necessary and when it’s not.

To make it easy for you to be supportive and avoid being the nag, we’ve put together a suggested to-do list that you can give to your new boarding school student.

1. Create a timeline.

Set a deadline for important tasks: Shopping for dorm supplies. Ordering summer books from the library or the bookstore. Checking that you have the right sports gear. If you don’t follow your schedule exactly, that’s OK, but you don’t want to discover the day before school starts that you need new shin guards. The school will send you reading and packing lists. Make sure you take a look at them when they arrive and take an inventory of what you need. And, plan for how much time it will really take to read and take notes on “1984.”

2. If possible, make one more visit to the school.

No need for interviews; just walk around campus, get your bearings, make sure you remember how to get from the dining hall to the gym to your dorm. You’ll feel more confident in September if you know the geography of the school.

3. Clean up your social media accounts.

You’re going to be meeting a lot of new friends (and adult mentors) who are going to check you out. You want to put the best face forward on all your platforms. And tidying up your social media accounts now will help you present the best impression when you apply to college.

4. Consider an academic booster shot.

It could be an online class, a pre-college summer program, a few sessions with a high school tutor, or even a high school summer program at your boarding school. You may find boarding school to be more challenging academically than your current school. This summer is a time to build strength in a weak subject or to sharpen your study skills.

5. Plan some time with your family.

It could be a hiking trip, a special dinner or a night on the couch watching a movie. Believe it or not, some things at home may seem a lot better to you after you have been living in a dorm for a while. And your family is going to miss you, too.

6. Connect with your roommate.

Don’t be hesitant to be the one who reaches out first. Get to know each other through email or Skype before you walk into the dorm on the first day. Boarding schools are much more restrictive than colleges about what you can have in your room, but you might be able to coordinate who can bring an area rug or the standing lamp.

7. Figure out which basic skills of independence you have and which you don’t.

Handling money. Doing laundry. Being on time. Keeping yourself organized. What support will you need at school, and how will you get it? What can you improve now? (Tidiness and laundry come to mind….) And, if you’re on prescription medicines, make sure you understand the school policy on who handles medication and refills.

8. Brush up on your etiquette.

No, really. Practice shaking hands and looking someone in the eye. Learn good conversation skills so you won’t be shy around adults. Work on your table manners. Many boarding schools have weekly family-style dinners where you’ll be seated at a table with other students, faculty and/or dorm parents. You don’t want to be the one slurping your soup in front of the head of school.

9. Get healthy.

Dorms are notorious germ traps – sometimes a virus settles in and just gets passed room to room all winter. Make sure you are in good shape when school starts so your body has a strong immune system. Make it a goal to avoid sleep deprivation and to eat well.

10. Have a great summer with your hometown friends (but don’t do something dumb that’s going to jeopardize your acceptance to boarding school).

Make plans to stay in touch and get together your first weekend home. You’ll feel better knowing you have a plan to stay connected. Enjoy this summer before your next great adventure!

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Susan Moeller-profile-picture

Susan Moeller is a former newspaper editor and reporter who has directed education coverage as well as written about schools and children. She lives on Cape Cod, has three children and is a veteran of the boarding school and college search process.