Erin’s parents liked the idea of sending their teenage daughter to boarding school. They embraced the concept of an all-encompassing environment where academics, sports, socializing, and extracurricular activities take place in one location, under constant adult supervision. They thought the smaller class sizes and greater opportunities for intellectual enrichment would help Erin get into a top college. They liked the freedom of not having to chauffeur her to all her individual extracurricular activities. They wanted her to broaden her circle of friends. And they thought that living and learning away from home would help Erin to become more self-sufficient and mature.

Erin, though, wasn’t so sure. She was afraid she’d miss her friends, her dog, her siblings, her room, and her mom’s cooking at a boarding school. She was worried about living in an unfamiliar place with so many strangers, and adjusting to a new school and teachers. The all-encompassing environment appealed to her parents, but she was afraid she’d find it to be regimented and stifling. She thought she might find the same high level of academic challenge at a private day school.

To help them decide together whether Erin should attend a boarding school or a local day school, she and her parents made a list of the pros and cons of each.

Day Schools

  • Day schools are less expensive than boarding schools.
  • Parents can have hands-on, daily involvement with their teens.
  • Teens can more easily maintain relationships with their local friends.
  • Day schools expect a high level of parental involvement.
  • Daily transportation to and from school may be a problem, although many schools offer transportation services for an
  • additional fee.

Boarding Schools

  • Boarding schools generally have small class sizes, so students get more individual attention.
  • Students can develop relationships with teachers in many settings outside the classroom.
  • Most of the faculty members hold advanced degrees.
  • Resources such as the library, theater, or athletic facilities may be better than those at local schools.
  • Academics include a diverse menu of courses from which to choose, many AP options, and—at many boarding schools—opportunities to study abroad.
  • There tend to be broad and varied athletic and extra-curricular programs.
  • There are many intangible benefits: learning to take personal responsibility; forging intense friendships; being part of a community; and more. These help with the short-term goal of adjusting to college life, and the long-term goal of becoming self-sufficient.

Choosing a school

Once everything was on paper, Erin realized boarding school was a better academic option for her, but said she’d feel more comfortable studying within a 100-mile radius of home. She and her parents researched schools online and identified three where they thought Erin would flourish; all had college-counseling offices that were well staffed with experienced counselors. They made appointments for site visits so Erin could see if she’d fit in. She took the SSAT (Secondary School Admission Test) and ISEE (Independent School Entrance Examination). Finally, she sent off her applications and is waiting to see whether she’ll be accepted.

If you’re grappling with the same dilemma for your teen, make a list of the pros and cons of boarding vs. day schools as they relate to your own family and your own family’s finances. For example, if you and your spouse travel a lot on business, boarding school and its constant supervision may be the right choice. But if you’re not yet ready to have your child live away from home, day school might be the way to go. By including your teen in the process, gathering as much information as you can, and considering as many variables as possible, you’ll make a decision that’s comfortable for all of you.