Prepared for Preparatory School? from Life in the USA: The Complete Guide for Immigrants and Americans

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Life in the USA
Education in America
Private and Religious Schools

Prepared for Preparatory School?
This material courtesy of Meghan L. Stone

Since the turn of the 20th century, the boarding school tradition has held a prominent place in New England culture. However, this once esoteric concept, germane to only America's white, wealthy elite, has progressively evolved into a culturally diverse and socio-economically representative institution. As one Connecticut school puts it, “the world is our campus,” and with a student body comprised of over more than 20 countries and nearly all 50 states, it most certainly is. Improvements in diversification, financial aid, and international outreach programs, paint a drastically different picture of boarding school today, perhaps even resembling an equal-opportunity catalyst along the way to achieving the American Dream.

However, the picturesque landscapes of the campus, the architectural beauty of the buildings, and the reputable academia of the classrooms, still set a pricey precedence. While there are ways of lightening the financial burden of boarding school, having to shell out any amount of the college-priced tuition for a pre-college education surely imposes limits on the applicant pool. Further, the acceptance rate at these schools rivals most Ivy League colleges. Those who achieve student status, often prove themselves to be exceptionally talented and impressively well-rounded individuals, as gifted scholars, musicians, theologians, and athletes, even at 14 years of age. Thus, while the doors of New England boarding schools are open to all, the opportunity to attend one remains exclusionary; a privilege.

Therefore, monetary considerations aside, privilege and prestige still come at a cost. Academic success does not come without some degree of sacrifice, neither does leaving home at a tender, influential age. While noble in its inception, the social construct and educational concept of boarding school is in need of careful scrutiny. To ensure one's survival in such a rigorous, demanding environment, it makes perfect sense to admit only those who have evidenced their capabilities; however, striving for acceptance, and thriving after admittance, perhaps teaches these children much more than just reading, writing, and arithmetic; but rather, to become adults. Structure, ambition, and perseverance are all wonderful virtues of the boarding school experience, but are frequently exchanged for youth. During those malleable, adolescent years, these kids enter the life of a college student, and take on responsibilities well beyond their years.

What you will not find in the alluring brochures or on the illustrious campus tour, is the behind-closed-doors subculture of boarding school. While there are faculty members living on each floor of the dorms, and strict disciplinary governances confronting rule-breakers, there exists a sophisticated and disturbing student-run underground. Essentially, when very bright, very stressed teens are in the absence of their parents and in the close confines of a dormitory, there is also increased amounts of hazing, drug-trafficking, mental health issues, and after-hour debauchery. Unlike public high schools, there is no escape, no respite, you go to school, and school is your home.

Conversely, there is an obvious and notable flip-side to the coin. There is a unique camaraderie shared among boarding school peers, there is a ubiquitous and intoxicating pride in school spirit, and endless opportunities to foster one's abilities and pursue intellectual goals. It would be remiss not to say that preparatory school undoubtedly prepares you; for college, for adulthood, for success. But the question still begs: Are you prepared for preparatory school?



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