Expert Throws Light On Nitty Gritties Of Choosing The Right Boarding School

Expert Throws Light On Nitty Gritties Of Choosing The Right Boarding School

The trend of boarding schools has gained momentum with the news institutions like Wellington College, Harrow School, and Shrewsberry School opening in Bhopal, Bangalore, and Mumbai.

FPJ Education DeskUpdated: Tuesday, October 03, 2023, 05:36 PM IST
Aarti Anand, Head of the Boarding School Admissions Team at The Red Pen. |

Mumbai: Lately, there has been a noticeable trend where Indian families are increasingly looking to enrol their children in domestic and global boarding schools. This trend has gained momentum with the news of boarding schools like Wellington College, Harrow School, and Shrewsberry School opening in Bhopal, Bangalore, and Mumbai.

Recognising the significance of inquiries about selecting the right school, navigating through application processes, and understanding prerequisites, we decided to engage an authority in boarding school admissions.

Meet Aarti Anand, one of India’s leading boarding school admissions experts and Head of the Boarding School Admissions Team at The Red Pen. She is organising The Red Pen’s first-ever World Boarding School Fair in Mumbai on October 7 at St. Regis and Delhi on October 8 at JW Marriott Aerocity. This in-person event will enable families with children from kindergarten to grade 12 to interact one-on-one with representatives of 20+ boarding schools from the UK, Switzerland, India, Singapore and various other countries. 

1. What factors should parents and students consider when evaluating boarding schools?

When selecting the right boarding school for your child, carefully weigh several critical factors. To begin with, always consider the school's location. Decide which country aligns with your comfort level, as each nation boasts a unique academic calendar and application prerequisites. For instance, many esteemed UK boarding institutions necessitate the presence of a local guardian while the student is studying there. Switzerland, on the other hand, often offers a truly immersive language experience, allowing students to become fluent in multiple languages while receiving a top-notch education. This exposure to different cultures and languages fosters a global perspective and equips students with a unique skill set that can be invaluable in an increasingly interconnected world. Additionally, the proximity to an airport and access to a bustling city should be factored in if these aspects hold significance in your decision-making process.

You must also review the curriculum options offered by the boarding school. Determine whether the school follows the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme, the A Levels, the American High School system, or another curriculum. Each option has distinct characteristics, subject offerings, and pedagogical approaches. It is essential to align the curriculum with your child's academic aspirations and learning style.

Another pivotal consideration is the residential facilities provided by the boarding school. Many institutions offer day and boarding programmes, which can be classified into weekly and full boarding. To understand comprehensively, inquire about the school's weekend occupancy rates and planned weekend activities. This information will help you assess the degree of immersion your child will experience in the boarding community.

The quality of pastoral care is another vital aspect. Investigate how the boarding houses are structured and the level of care provided within them. Explore whether the boarding arrangement is vertical, spanning across different year groups, or horizontal, involving students of the same year. Moreover, assess where the boarders dine. Some schools offer dining within their respective boarding houses, while others have centralised cafeterias. These factors greatly influence the sense of community and support your child will receive during their stay.

Lastly, pay attention to the co-curricular and extracurricular activities available at the boarding school. Ensure the institution offers diverse activities aligned with your child's interests, whether in sports like swimming and golf, performing arts like drama, or intellectual pursuits such as robotics. These extracurricular opportunities contribute to your child's overall growth and development and significantly impact college admissions. 

By carefully assessing these aspects, you can make an informed decision that aligns with your child's educational and personal needs, ensuring a fulfilling and enriching boarding school experience.

2. Please give us an overview of the admissions process for boarding schools. 

An overview of the admissions process for boarding schools varies from country to country. Boarding school applications are a meticulous and often highly competitive process designed to select students who exhibit academic potential and demonstrate character, leadership, and a commitment to personal growth. It is a multi-faceted journey that involves a combination of several components. 

Typically, the journey towards securing a spot at a boarding school begins a year in advance, requiring prospective students and their families to register for the process. The UK is an exception where you may need to start processes three to four years in advance. This initial step comes with a registration fee, which serves as a formal expression of interest in the school and an indication of the student's intent to apply.

Following registration, students must complete a comprehensive application form. This document often encompasses a range of questions, including essays that allow applicants to express their academic interests, extracurricular activities, and personal aspirations. These essays offer a crucial opportunity for students to showcase their unique qualities and motivations.

In some regions, such as the UK and the US, students may need to take standardised tests as part of the admissions process. Such assessments include the UKISET, ISEB, and CAT 4 exams for UK schools, while SSAT and PSAT are commonly required in the US. These tests serve as indicators of a student's aptitude and academic readiness. 

Beyond standardised tests, you may also encounter school-specific entrance exams. These exams typically encompass verbal and non-verbal reasoning, mathematics, and English. These exams assess the student's aptitude for the school's curriculum. 

Additionally, students applying for higher grades, such as grade 11, may need to take subject-specific papers, further evaluating their proficiency in specific academic areas. 

An integral component of the admissions process often includes interviews or group discussions. These interviews allow the school to interact with the applicant directly to assess communication skills, interpersonal abilities, and character. Interviews provide a valuable platform for applicants to convey their enthusiasm for the school and clarify any queries.

In the UK, it's essential to note that the application and registration process for grade 8 can begin as early as grade 4. Understanding and adhering to these timelines is crucial to ensure prospective students do not miss out on the opportunity to pursue a boarding school education. 

Prospective students and their families should approach this process with thorough preparation and a clear understanding of the specific requirements of the schools to which they are applying.

3. In your experience, what qualities do top boarding schools typically look for in prospective students?

In my experience as a boarding school admissions consultant, I’ve observed that top boarding schools carefully evaluate several key qualities in applicants to ensure they not only thrive academically but also contribute positively to the school community. These qualities often serve as crucial indicators of a student's potential for success in a boarding school environment.

Academics occupy a central and pivotal role in the admission process of prestigious boarding schools. Admissions committees typically seek students who demonstrate a solid academic foundation, as evidenced by excellent grades, standardised test scores, and a rigorous course load. Beyond just achieving high marks, top schools look for students who exhibit a genuine passion for learning, intellectual curiosity, and a willingness to challenge themselves academically. Schools believe that students with a track record of academic excellence are more likely to thrive and succeed in the rigorous and demanding curriculum they offer.

Curiosity to learn and explore is another highly prized quality that top boarding schools value in prospective students. These institutions foster an environment that encourages intellectual growth and the pursuit of knowledge beyond the classroom. Students who thirst for knowledge, ask thoughtful questions, and are willing to explore diverse subjects are often preferred. This quality not only enriches the educational experience but also contributes to the overall intellectual vitality of the school community.

Adapting and dealing with change is fundamental in a boarding school setting, where students are often away from their families and face a dynamic and diverse social environment. Admissions committees seek applicants who demonstrate resilience, flexibility, and emotional maturity. Prospective students must prepare to navigate the challenges of living away from home and be open to embracing new experiences and perspectives.

Top boarding schools highly regard strong communication skills. Effective communication is essential for building positive relationships, resolving conflicts, and participating in classroom discussions. Students who can articulate their thoughts clearly, engage in meaningful dialogue, and actively listen to others are likelier to thrive in the collaborative and discussion-based learning environments often found in boarding schools.

Finally, an interest in and excellence in co-curricular and extracurricular activities are qualities that top boarding schools look for in applicants. These schools emphasise a well-rounded education that includes participating in sports, arts, clubs, and community service activities. Demonstrating passion and accomplishment in one or more of these areas showcases a student's talents and interests and indicates their potential to contribute positively to the school's vibrant community.

While each school may have its unique criteria, these attributes are generally the cornerstones of an ideal candidate in the competitive world of boarding school admissions.

4. What common misconceptions have you encountered about boarding schools, and how do you address them? 

I’m so glad you’ve asked this question. There are several misconceptions about boarding schools, and it is essential to set them straight and provide families with accurate information when making important educational decisions. I’ve encountered some common misconceptions: 

Myth 1: Single-sex schools inhibit social interactions with the opposite gender and can reinforce gender stereotypes, not equipping students for diverse real-world experiences. 

Single-sex boarding schools offer numerous opportunities for students to interact with peers from other schools. Whether through joint classes, extracurricular activities, or social events, boarding schools actively encourage socialisation to ensure a well-rounded and diverse educational experience. 

Myth 2: The International Baccalaureate (IB) programme is inherently "better" than A Levels and guarantees superior college admissions outcomes. Therefore, one needs to select boarding schools that offer the IB curriculum.

While both the IB and A Levels are rigorous academic programmes, the reality is that the suitability of one over the other depends on the student's strengths, interests, and career goals. We work closely with families to understand their children's unique needs and guide them toward the curriculum that aligns best with their aspirations.

Myth 3: Boarding school students have individual rooms with ensuite bathrooms.

While some boarding schools may offer private accommodations, many provide shared living spaces to foster social interaction among students. Families should know that specific housing arrangements can vary widely among schools.

Myth 4: (This is my favourite) Boarding schools resemble military camps where students are confined and restricted from using phones or leaving the premises.

Boarding schools prioritise students' personal growth and independence, often allowing them responsible freedoms within a structured environment. While specific rules and guidelines exist for the students' well-being, they have plenty of opportunities to engage with the outside world, access phones, and maintain essential connections. While classes and homework take up most of their time, students are involved in activities on and off campus in sports, clubs, and community service opportunities. There’s rarely a dull moment.

In our counselling sessions, we prioritise working closely with families to understand their unique requirements, motivations, family dynamics, and plans. These interactions allow us to address any concerns or misconceptions, ensuring that families receive accurate information about boarding schools to help them make informed decisions. Through these discussions, we provide reassurance, clarify misunderstandings and ultimately guide them toward the most suitable boarding school. 

5. How do you anticipate the landscape of boarding school admissions evolving? 

The global boarding school landscape has experienced rapid growth and evolution in the past five years. More parents now recognise the competitive advantage of access to high-quality international curriculum schools for college admissions. 

Parents are also exploring schools in Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, and Dubai. To facilitate this exploration, The Red Pen has proactively organised webinars and fairs to introduce new schools and countries to Indian families. 

Indian students are also highly sought after in the international school landscape. Schools abroad widely appreciate their academic excellence, study habits, and positive attitude towards learning. This demand for Indian students has led to international schools opening campuses within India. Bearing testimony are Harrow International School in Bangalore, Wellington College in Pune, and several others in the pipeline. They recognise the value of providing a world-class education to Indian students within their own country.

6. What advice would you give to parents and students just beginning to research and apply to boarding schools?

To ensure a successful and fulfilling experience, reflect on why you are considering a boarding school for your child. Is it for academic excellence, character development, extracurricular opportunities, or a combination of factors? Identifying your family's unique requirements will help you narrow your options effectively. 

While relying on school rankings and league tables is tempting, remember that the "right fit" for your child may not always align with the most famous or highest-ranked institutions. Instead, focus on finding a school that nurtures your child's interests, talents, and values rather than chasing prestige.

Always involve your child in the process as much as possible, as it will empower them to take ownership of their education and transition smoothly into their new environment. Most importantly, thoroughly research the boarding schools you want your child to attend. Examine various aspects such as academic programmes, faculty credentials, campus facilities, extracurriculars and the school’s approach to a holistic education. Educational events like the World Boarding School Fair are the best place to start.  

7. Tell us what parents can expect at the World Boarding School Fair

  This in-person event will enable families with children from kindergarten to grade 12 to engage one-on-one with boarding schools worldwide and get direct answers from the participating school representatives. 

Attendees will explore 20+ leading boarding schools from the UK, Switzerland, India, Singapore, and several other countries. Some participating schools include Harrow International School, Bengaluru, Wellington College International Pune, Cardiff Sixth Form College, United World Colleges, Swiss International School, Dubai, Shawnigan Lake School and Surval Montreux, among others. Families can compare curriculum options, admission prerequisites, timelines, specialised facilities, pastoral care, and vibrant boarding life across diverse institutions. 

My team and I will also be there to guide families at every step. 

8. Does one buy tickets for the World Boarding School Fair

Absolutely not. Attending the World Boarding School Fair is free of cost. But for ease of navigation, I recommend you register for the event and show your exclusive QR code at the registration desk on arrival. 

9. What tips can you give parents to navigate the World Boarding School Fair efficiently

Parents should know their motive to optimise their time at the World Boarding School Fair. Whether you’re at the exploratory stage or have decided to send your child to boarding school, letting your school representatives know where you stand will help them guide you better. 

They may also want to carry their child’s report cards to allow school representatives to assess their child’s academic standing and address specific requirements. Parents can list their children’s extracurricular activities and interests. This list will provide excellent talking points. The purpose of this fair is to gain insights. I encourage parents to prepare a list of questions on the boarding school application process, campus life, and safety measures. Some of the questions they can ask are: 

1.How many students at your school are boarders versus day scholars? 

2. How many international (Indian) students currently study at your school?

3. How do international boarders spend their weekends at your school? 

4. What support will you give my child when they apply to US universities?

5. Is your school and SAT/ACT centre? 

6. What will the school do if my child gets homesick?

World Boarding School Fair in Mumbai at St. Regis on Saturday, October 7, and in Delhi at JW Mariott on Sunday, October 8. Register here:


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