As a parent, you think it’s a great idea for your high school student to apply to boarding school.
Your high school student is, well, not so sure.
How do you get buy-in from your child to consider boarding school and to take charge of the application process? And once the application process starts, what should a parent’s role be?
For starters, entice, don’t cajole.
That’s the advice of Ross Blankenship, founder of Top Test Prep and StudyHall.com and a graduate of Northfield Mount Hermon School, a boarding school in Mount Hermon, Mass. He’s also the author of “Admit You,” a guide to applying to boarding and private schools.
“It’s a constant process of showing, not telling,” Blankenship said in a recent interview. “It’s almost always the parents who … entice them with, ‘This is what you can do at boarding school that you can’t do at your high school.’”
In “Admit You,” he writes that a little nagging might be worthwhile if it convinces your student to take charge of the boarding school application process.
“When your child is the driving force in the application process, it makes a positive impression on admissions officers who perceive this applicant as a go-getter. ... Try your best to avoid picking the schools, finding the websites, locating the applications, and printing them out. By putting the onus on your child, you avoid your son or daughter relying on you because they believe you will finish the job if they do not.”
But beware the nagging doesn’t go too far, he warns. The goal is to excite, not to badger.
“It’s like, never do your kid’s homework or you’ll be a crutch,” he said.
Parents should act as support staff, helping to brainstorm solutions to problems and roadblocks and addressing concerns about going away to school. It’s the same if your student is considering a private day school close to home.
So how do you get your high school student excited about boarding schools? Here are some more suggestions from Blankenship and his book on how to get your student involved in the process of discovering what boarding school is like and whether it’s the best choice.
Visit boarding school campuses together. Don’t just send a student off to look at a school. “You want to show them you want to be supportive along the way,” he said.
Once you’re on campus, sit in on a class. “These boarding schools are gorgeous,” Blankenship said. “Show them the small student ratio (and) say, ‘You can have a voice in this school.’” Blankenship said he decided to go to boarding school after sitting in on a class at Northfield Mount Hermon where the Latin teacher posted his phone number on the board for students needing extra help.
Take an “unguided” tour of the boarding schools you visit. Check out the activities on the campus center bulletin board, Blankenship suggests. See which departments get the best space – hockey or theater? Help your student discover the opportunities that might not be available at his or her local high school. Talk about boarding school myths and realities. Sit on a bench in the middle of campus, check out the rhythm of life at boarding school and discuss the advantages for your student.
Once your student seems to be interested in boarding school, become a coach during the application process, not a nudge. Here are some of Blankenship’s suggestions:
Let your student be in control of the admissions technology. For example, more than 60 boarding school applications are consolidated on the portal Gateway to Prep Schools. Students can create a list of schools and keep applications organized in one spot. “Kids are super excited about technology,” Blankenship said. “Why don’t you empower your kid to download the application and figure it out. Challenge them.”
Encourage your student to be aware of his or her strengths and what will impress adults on the admissions committee. But control the urge to take over the writing sample or admissions essay. Admissions staff read a lot of essays. They know how to recognize an authentic voice. And heavy rewriting will only create conflict with your student.
Empower your student to feel confident during the boarding school interview (and beyond!). Teach and practice good social and presentation skills for the boarding school interview: sitting up straight, looking an interviewer in the eye, answering questions with full sentences. No doubt this will earn you a few teenage eye rolls, but your student’s demeanor will make a big difference in an admissions officer’s perceptions.
Start early. Don’t be the family that’s trying to pull together five boarding school applications over Christmas break. Start contacting schools the spring before applications are due to lessen the last-minute pressure and rush. Your student will need time to set up school visits and interviews, do test-prep and register for test dates, and write essays and fill out applications. As the adult, your job is to set the timeline and help your student be realistic about how long tasks will take.
Finally, be sure that this is something that both you and your student want. Boarding school does require a certain level of maturity, Blankenship noted. “If you find yourself nagging in the four-to-six-week period after the boarding school process starts, the boarding school process may not be the right experience for your kid.”