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The elusive prep boarding school (for the sake of this article, prep school and private school will be used interchangeably) brings all sorts of different images to different people. Some envision something similar to a Harry Potter movie. Some may think of private schools that recruit some of the most athletically gifted people in the country to create one “super term” in a particular sport like lacrosse, basketball, or wrestling. Others may think of spoiled rich kids sent off to fancy boarding schools where butlers cater to them 24/7. On the more extreme end, some people even think you get sent to boarding school when you do something terrible and need some serious help. Truth be told, the answer is probably somewhere in between those extremes with a unique twist to each school. Two well-known examples you may be familiar with are Blair Academy and Wyoming Seminary.
Private boarding schools create this unique environment where people all over the world come to study in a particular school, which results in a student body as diverse as New York City. Academics tend to be very challenging, but you’ll have some incredible resources at your disposal (sail boats, architecture studios, black box theaters, and state of the art athletic centers just to name a few). Your teachers are also your dorm faculty and sports coaches, so they will get to know you beyond your knowledge of Calculus or American History. Similar to living in college, you’ll be living by yourself, but you’ll also have some structure built into the school. In terms of personal development in and out of the classroom, you’ll have a hard time finding anything that comes close (outside of your personal growth as a wrestler, of course). This unique experience comes with tons of benefits, which is what I’ll try to convey to you in this post.
College Before College
If you still have a hard time understanding what a private boarding school is, consider it to be the pre-college experience before college. The rules are ultimately more structured than college (for example, depending on the school, you may be required to be back in your dorm room by 8pm or 9pm on weeknights, etc.)
The application process for prep schools is very similar to the college application process, so it’s great practice. Financial aid is also available (both merit and need based), so you may be able to afford boarding school despite the initial price tag that you see. This is because some of these schools have such massive endowments (alumni donations to support the school) that they can afford to support students as long as the student seems to be a good fit for the school. However, the unique twist to boarding school is that you can enroll at any year of high school, which makes it different from college. For the most part, you’ll see students enrolling in their freshman or sophomore year of high school. Some high schoolers choose to repeat their senior year of high school in prep school to get more academically prepared for college. This is called a Post-Grad or PG year. Additionally, if you demonstrate that you are receiving financial aid for prep school, colleges may be more understanding of your need for financial aid and will put that into consideration when you apply to college, which works in your favor.
Prestige and Academic Rigor
Personally, my senior year of high school in boarding school was harder than my freshman year of college. I made Dean’s list more often in college than in high school (though admittedly, I still had plenty of room for maturity in high school). Many of my classmates found their college freshman experiences to be similar.
During the application process, some colleges seem to recognize prep schools for their academic rigor as well. In some cases, they will inflate your GPA up if they see that you are from a boarding school since they know how difficult it is (to provide context, many admissions offices will actually deflate high school GPAs). For example, I went to what was (and still is) considered an elite prep school and about 25% of my graduating class went on to Ivy league schools. If you’re aiming for some of the best colleges and universities in the US, it may be worth looking into a solid boarding school to prepare you for it.
Similar Benefits to College
People generally pursue a college degree for several reasons- education, professional opportunities/networking, extracurriculars, social life, and other particular needs. In many cases, you’ll be able to find these same benefits in prep school. We already covered education, so we’ll explore the other categories.
As you would expect from a school with such an impressive academic turnout, your professional network grows pretty well as a result of this. For example, to my knowledge, my friends from high school went on to work at firms like JP Morgan, Google, Goldman Sachs, Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte & Touche, and KPMG. At the time of this writing, some were still pursuing MBAs and JDs to get into prestigious consulting and law firms in various large cities like New York City, Boston, and Chicago. A brave few have gotten involved with various startups and have succeeded. Some of the older alumni go on to run (or own) large multinational companies as well, so you have an expansive network to tap into.
Some prep schools will actually have more extracurricular activities and options available than certain colleges. For example (and to be fair this isn’t even common within prep schools), some prep schools have an on-campus golf course or ski hill. This all depends on what you’re searching for, of course. You can find a club or sports team for virtually anything. In terms of social life, boarding schools vary in terms of structure and freedom, so you’ll have multiple options to choose from. Depending on the size of the school (it ranges anywhere from 300 to 2000 students), schools will also have a different feel (similar to the choice of living in the suburbs as opposed to living in a city, but on a smaller scale).
Take a Look!
To start, you may be interested in checking out which schools attended Prep Nationals to have an idea of how good each school is in terms of wrestling. There may be consistent front runners at Prep Nationals, but some of the smaller schools may be just as good while being in places with less wrestling depth. For what it’s worth, the most “prestigious” boarding schools tend to be located in the New England region, so you’ll have plenty of schools to search from based on those two criteria.