The Asymmetric Boarding School Search

The Asymmetric Boarding School Search

After watching the 2014-2015 boarding school admission cycle from our stop in a family’s boarding school search, we can tell you that families now do more research and consult more references than ever.

Finding The Best Fitting School Is Now Akin to Making a Large Purchase Such as a Car

Think about it, a lot of us, do a great deal of research before we buy a car.

We visit a site to get the data, or specifications, on a vehicle, but that’s just the start. Maybe you go to a car review site to gather more observations and opinions.

Then, you might move on to consumer reviews; watch videos posted to YouTube; a blog written by a mechanic who works on the vehicle; you might also seek reviews of the dealership selling vehicle. Is the dealer straightforward, honest, above board?

Most of us go to great lengths to make sure that we eliminate as much as much of the potential downside as possible before making a major purchase. We don’t want a lemon.

The boarding school search is no different.

Years ago (when I applied to school), and frighteningly recently, the boarding school research path was more linear.

You bought a boarding school reference book; more recently, you hit online catalogs. You called schools. You received their information. You might have met with local families with students at a school or two. You might have visited with a local school-approved alumnus or two. You visited campus; toured; talked with some students and faculty; asked some questions; then, headed home evaluate and make a school choice.

This process was closer to linear; less fragmented; more top-down; with information coming primarily from the school. The boarding school search process was less informed and, certainly, less opinionated.

This old, closer to linear, more symmetric, school search was simpler and certainly more genteel. But, also less thorough, more trusting, and less informed; in the old school search process one might never encounter a critical opinion or observation.

But, we’re all better-informed, savvier consumers than we used to be.


Big ticket items- like boarding schools- cost a whole lot more than they used to, making the stakes of the best school fit very high. We now have the information at our fingertips — often through our phones.

The Modern, Asymmetric Boarding School Search

The boarding school reference books are, for the most part, gone. Families type in your school name. They hit one of the three big online references; they hit your school site.

Then, they’re off to look for- what I call- the real story with three questions in mind:

  • Does this school do what they say they do/are they the school that describe themselves to be?
  • What does it feel like for a student to go to school at [school]?
  • Does this school offer what my student needs from a school fit/match up?

Then, every family is off on a web search to find as much honest information as possible.

Quickly diagraming how a family might move about in their online researching of a school, I can easily come up with more than a dozen sites & services that families will use. Then, consider all of the exponential growth of the content on these platforms, and it’s easy to see how families can get their questions answered without ever consulting your school.

What We See As Families Research Boarding Schools

From our stop in the admission funnel, we see four tools that families especially use and like.


As the curators of the YouTube BoardingSchools channel, we can tell you, with a high degree of certainty, that a huge percentage of families making boarding school decisions rely on videos.

In our case, we offer student voiced tour videos in which students answer the question, “why is [school name] a great place for you to go to school?”

We also know that, if a family is considering your school and you have a video on the YouTube Boarding Schools channel, a family will more than likely watch it. Take a look at the view counts below to get a better feel. The first is a bar graph showing lifetime view counts for our most popular videos. The second, displays similar

Take a look at the view counts below to get a see what we mean. The first is a bar graph showing lifetime view counts for our most popular videos. The second, displays similar data, but in a list view.



View of the Boarding School Youtube Channel

A graph showing lifetime view counts for our most popular videos on Youtube.

Boarding school campus video tour views

A list view of our most popular videos on Youtube.

Expert Reviews

Some of the strongest performing posts on the Boarding School Blog are school reviews written by AdmissionsQuest Educational Consulting’s Marylou Marcus.

Marylou looks to answer questions similar to those of parents with an expert’s eye.

  • Does the school practice what they preach?
  • What types of students do well in this school’s program?
  • Is the school safe?

Marylou Marcus' Reviews of Boarding Schools

Articles That Inform the School Search Process

Reference articles that address either pieces of the search process, school programs, or the various ways to consider programs allow families to inform themselves and independently negotiate their school search.

Families can get a handle on everything from the on-campus interview- to learning differences programs- to schools with ice hockey programs.

Boarding School Data

Good, current data still matters. It’s where families start.

We see families still spending a good deal of time considering a school’s data portrait. This makes sense. Data helps families focus and narrow their school search — single-gender or coed; school size; geographic region; academics; athletics; learning differences?

Selectivity? Believe it or not, selectivity is the most popular data point in our school profiles.

What the Asymmetric Boarding School Search Means for Families and Schools

All of these references and observations are free — available on smartphone and computer — a far cry from toting the doorstop boarding school guides (with only official voices) home from the bookstore or library.

The common thread through the asymmetric boarding school search and modern resources is honest voices from students, parents and teachers.

As a school, you need to produce content and materials that connect with families, and that answer their questions and concerns.

If you’re a family, beyond the dry data, you want to look at as many honest, valuable references as possible. Does the school and its programs nurture and grow my type of student?

As I wrote in February, How Private Schools and Families Connect: Modern Tools But Relationships Stay Fundamental, families want the insight of voices. For schools, presenting these voices is the strongest way to demonstrate who you are; what you do; and why your school is the best choice.

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

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