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Why Day Students at Boarding Schools Matter

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The label “boarding school” implies that all the students live on campus. But that’s not always true. Often schools accept both day and boarding students. It’s up to you – the prospective student – to decide how the ratio of boarders to day students affects the ambience of the school and whether that’s a good fit for you.

At schools that offer boarding, the average percentage of boarders is about 70 percent, according to boardingschoolreview.com. But, that can vary widely depending on several factors: whether a boarding school is in a rural or urban area; whether it offers a specialized program, such as a military-school curriculum; whether it is focused on therapeutic programs or learning differences; or whether it simply limits day students in order to strengthen the common experience.

Why does the percentage of boarders matter? Here are some things to think about or ask when you tour schools:

  • What are weekends like on campus and if there are day students, how are they included in weekend or after-class activities?

  • Would you like the opportunity to get to know local kids or would you rather have a tighter-knit school community? If you make friends with day students, what are the rules about visiting their homes?

  • If there are few, or no day students, how do boarders get to know the community or city? Are there activities, clubs or community service projects that get you off campus?

  • Does the school have the economic, racial or social diversity you want and how does the boarders-to-day-students ratio affect that?

All boarding schools, no matter if they accept day students or not, try to create community. They do this different ways. At the Holderness School in Holderness, N.H., for example, about 85 percent of of students board, according to the school’s website. But the junior class, both boarding and day students, goes on Out Back, an 11-day adventure in the White Mountains in March.

Here’s how some different schools handle boarders and day students:

St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., requires that all students and faculty live on campus – even students from nearby communities. The co-ed school states on its website that this tight community is part of what distinguishes it from other schools and allows faculty to be available both day and night.

Valley Forge Military Academy is another school that is virtually 100 percent boarding. The all-boys military-style school offers both the usual full-time board as well a a weekday boarding option for students who live nearby.

Squaw Valley Academy, a small (85 students) school in Olympic Valley, Calif., says its high number of boarders (95 percent) allows it to be a “24-hour” community that is focused on the outdoors and its location in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

At Tabor Academy a co-ed boarding and day school in Marion, Mass., about 70 percent of the students are boarders, according to the website. All students have the opportunity to participate in the Caribbean Studies Program offered each winter. It takes place on a schooner in the Virgin Islands and focuses not just on sailing but also on marine science.

And, at the Dana Hall School, an all-girls school in Wellesley, Mass, only about 35 percent of students board, according to the school’s website. But the school, founded in 1881, leans on its long history of traditions to build community among students. And because it’s close to Boston, boarding students get to know girls from all over the city.

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Written by Susan Moeller

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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.

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