BEST IN CLASS
By Mitch Hurst
By Mitch Hurst
Each fall, Lake Forest Country Day School (LFCDS) hosts an Independent Boarding School Fair where parents and students can learn more about offerings from across the country. Last year’s event featured more than 75 boarding schools from California to Maine.
This Wednesday, May 3, LFCDS is offering families the opportunity to meet with admissions staff from 10 top schools located on the East Coast with its “Explore Boarding School” event. The schools partner with the Ten Schools Admission Organization (TSAO), a more than 45-year-old group that works to, “effectively communicate with, inform, and meet the needs of students and families hoping to learn more about all that the nation’s top boarding schools have to offer.”
The 10 schools include Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, CT; Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, MA; The Hill School in Pottstown, PA; The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, CT; The Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, NJ; The Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, CT; Phillips Academy-Andover in Andover, MA; Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, NH; St. Paul’s School in Concord, NH; and The Taft School in Watertown, CT.
“The idea of the Ten Schools Admissions event at LFCDS began when Dana Brown (Director of Admission) from Lawrenceville visited LFCDS. We discussed the secondary school placement process and how it has evolved over the years,” says Ted Stewart, Director of Student Programs and Engagement at LFCDS. “Historically, families would begin their high school search process in the fall of 8th grade, but recently, we have noticed that families are eager to start exploring high school options as early as 6th grade.”
As a result, Stewart says, boarding schools have begun to travel extensively in the springtime, both domestically and internationally, to build applicant pools for upcoming cycles.
After touring LFCDS, Brown was interested in collaborating on a smaller, more intimate spring event, unlike the larger boarding school fair each fall. The partnership came about with TSAO because many LFCDS graduates have matriculated to TSAO member schools.
“Hosting an event that introduces boarding school as a high school option to the North Shore community is incredibly valuable for middle school families,” says Stewart. “As we say during the secondary school placement process at LFCDS, it’s our goal to find the right ‘fit’ for each of our 8th-grade students and educating families on different high school options is a win-win for everyone.”
Brown says her goal is to provide families with insight into some of the nation’s top boarding schools and the things that they have to offer, whether it’s more rigorous academics or opportunities to play sports at a more competitive level. It not only benefits Lawrenceville but the other partner schools within the organization.
“It’s more of a collective voice that we use to amplify what the options are, and it’s also an opportunity for families from a wide variety of financial backgrounds to learn about how we provide scholarship money,” Brown says. “We have a very robust financial aid package to support families who have students who will show promise across the time they’re at our institutions.”
For some schools, it can take eight to nine months to apply, Brown explains, so the spring event at LFCDS is an opportunity for parents with rising 8th graders to both learn about boarding school options and get a head start on their school search. But it’s not just for parents of 8th graders. There may be older students who can benefit from the boarding school experience.
“For families who have students who are in the upper grades and who might be thinking of wanting another year to build out their athletics, say they didn’t get picked up by a college or a university and they want to use get use a year to get faster, stronger,” Brown says. “You can see what’s out there. A postgraduate year is also helpful for us too. We know that in the (Chicago) area you’ve got awesome schools, but sometimes the postgraduate year at a boarding school will assist in giving them an extra year to just get themselves organized before they launch into the college process.”
Brown says for those student schools set aside special classes for them that are focused on more advanced analytical writing that they may see in their freshman seminar.
“If there are things that the college recommends that they take, then we try our best to get them in those upper-level classes,” she says. “Oftentimes what will happen is colleges may say, ‘I don’t have enough room on my roster for you this year, but if you take a postgraduate year and go spend it at, you know, Lawrenceville or Deerfield or Choate, then you’ll be better prepared’.”
Brown says the overall value add boarding schools bring are the relationships beyond the network that it opens up for them beyond graduation. Students make lifelong friends that will come out and continue to support each other because boarding school is a unique and formidable experience.
“Post COVID, I think these schools are going to become more popular because not only with the residential component but trying to get them back to focusing on the wellness and mental health,” she says. “Boarding school is a gift of time—you’re not dealing with traffic; you’re not jumping in the car at 9 p.m., dealing with hockey practice and then having to come back and do your homework at 11 or miss classes.”
She says because the students are there around the clock, schools are able to give families unique insights into their children, particularly when they are away. In addition to small class sizes and more personal attention from professors and administrators, one big advantage of boarding schools—many have significant percentages of international students—is that students are exposed not just to others from around the country but around the globe.
“This is the first time in their lives, and maybe the last time of their lives, where they’ll be able to live next to and engage with students from all corners of the world and to listen to their stories, whether it’s in the classroom or casually at night when they’re watching movies or playing on sports teams, or even taking advantage of the local area,” Brown says. “We’ve got Princeton in our backyard, so you’re going to find an influx of culture because it’s so accessible.”
Erby Mitchell, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid for The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, CT, says the LFCDS event and other events like it around the country give parents and students that might not have had access to much information about boarding schools a better understanding of what their options are. Illinois is one of the top five recruiting markets for Hotchkiss.
An example of the benefits of boarding schools can be found in how they were able to weather the COVID-19 storm. Other than the Spring 2020 semester when students did not return after spring break, Hotchkiss, with teaching faculty living on campus, were able to continue in-person classes.
“Kids could be here, and we were able to keep them safe,” Mitchell says. “With our 287- acre campus, a lake, and a farm, kids were able to study outside and stay active.”
“Explore Boarding School” will take place at Lake Forest Country Day School on May 3 at 6 p.m., with a mini-fair to follow. For more information visit LFCDS.org.