What you do when you’re there matters more than where you go

What you do when you’re there matters more than where you goI’m responding to a recent Forbes article “America’s Best Prep Schools” (Raquel Laneri). The advice in an accompanying piece “What Parents Need To Know About Boarding Schools” (Tim Hillman), although brief, is good.

But, Laneri’s perspective seems myopic and makes me wonder about her personal and professional exposure to a larger world.

As my native “Upper East Side” wife explained to me- New York is so big and so vast that if you work there and live there you feel as if you understand it. Of course, if you understand something so large, it must mean that you understand everything, and this is simply not true.

Using Tim Hillman’s statement “Unless you’ve attended one, you don’t have a clue” as my entree into Laneri’s “America’s Best Prep Schools,” I get to claim that I, indeed, have a clue. I attended as student and worked as and adult in boarding schools. I’ve attended both private and public universities.

My clue leads me, not to a cause-effect relationship- ‘boarding/prep school-private college-privileged life’, but to a more nuanced vision about choosing a school, achievement and success.

Foremost, the schools covered in Laneri’s article are all great schools and do their jobs exceptionally well. My concern isn’t the schools or their work. My issue is how thinking and reasoning like Laneri’s leads to narrow unrealistic views of achievement and success.

The one thing that I’ve come to understand is that rankings don’t matter. You find a program that fits a student. Success results from a program that truly fits a student’s interests and abilities and encourages that student’s best effort.

The measures used in “America’s Best Prep Schools” seem mostly measures of wealth. I find myself responding the article’s assumptions and methodology with a thought along the lines of “These students should be achieving. For the most part, they’re warm, safe, dry, and fed before they come to school and they don’t have to hold down a job after the school day ends.”

The blunt fact is that the single strongest correlation to high SAT scores is household income as measured by real estate property value.

Laneri writes to reinforce families who have the students in these schools or see them as ‘the best’- making them comfortable and secure in their decisions and creating an other worldly-ness for those who don’t.

This is a myopic and outdated way to approach boarding/prep schools.

The simple fact is that like colleges and universities, there is a ‘prep school’ (boarding or day) for everyone. Again, like colleges, it’s not about being the best but finding the environment best suited to a student’s learning and success.

Prep schools can be a great path for many students. However, when considering an educational approach for any student, analysis and planning need to begin from the fundamental outward. A student’s success begins with understanding him or her and the kinds of school environments that best foster the student’s growth. Who is the student? What academic environment will grow his/her academic abilities and confidence the most during his/her time in the school?

If the answer is a prep school, go about considering and choosing the school the best way- from the student’s abilities and talents outward- not the perceived prestige of the possible schools.

A Few Random Observations on the Assumed Private School-Private College Path to Power and Privilege Model

Do you know that the University of Mississippi has produced more Rhodes Scholars than this random smattering of prestige:


Undergraduates in public American colleges and universities outnumber their private college and university peers by a roughly 3-1 margin.

Public Undergraduates 13 million
Private Undergraduates 4.5

Public Universities, or no degree, outnumber their private college graduates 7 to 3 in Businessweek’s “Top 10 CEO Undergraduate Alma Maters.”

Photo credit: jamilsoni

Brian Fisher

A product of both private and public education, Brian Fisher served as a teacher, coach, dorm parent, and administrator at three different boarding schools. Brian also fills the role of Director of Development at Wolfeboro, The Summer Boarding School, in NH along with being a partner at AdmissionsQuest.

More by Brian Fisher

Subscribe for email updates: