When you think boarding school, most likely you think of ivy-covered Gothic buildings on a leaf-strewn campus somewhere in New England. Students are outfitted in blue blazers or Irish Fishermen sweaters, while faculty don bowties and sports jackets with suede elbow patches.
Of course, these are images of the traditional New England prep school perpetuated by film and folklore. While there may be some truth to them, today's New England boarding schools offer a fresh new perspective on prep school life.
Yet, it's important to understand that when it comes to independent schools, New England may have the most from which to choose, but there's more to boarding schools than New England.
When making a decision about where to attend, here are a few reasons New England boarding school may or may not be on your list.
Pro: It's About the Tradition
For many New England boarding schools, it's a who's who of former presidents, scholars, esteemed actors and business leaders. Not only is it inspiring to walk the hallowed halls where the likes of Ulysses S. Grant (Phillips Exeter) John F. Kennedy (Choate) once did, but chances are the school will feature notable alumni as guest speakers throughout the year and at graduation. Being a part of an institution with a storied legacy can be empowering. With strong alumni networks at their disposal, graduates of New England prep schools may be able to leverage connections with other graduates that can lead to exciting opportunities.
Con: You're Not Always Near a Big City
Unlike prep schools in California and New York, many New England private schools are located in remote parts, far away from metropolitan areas. While being on a 300-acre campus, complete with equestrian stables, a hockey rink and ski mountains isn't a bad thing, it may not be ideal for students who want to spend time in an urban environment. Though trips to New York and Boston may be scheduled throughout the year, they're not exactly places you can get to easily on a weekend.
It's important to visit a school before deciding to attend, as the location of a school can affect the types of extra-curricular activities available as well as the time spent traveling to athletic events and internships
Pro: There's Something For Everyone
Because the New England area has more private schools than other regions of the United States, there is a bigger variety of schools from which to choose, which means finding a school that caters to your specific needs or interests can be easier.
The odds are good that if you're looking for it, a school that meets your demands exists somewhere in New England.
Con: Winters Can Be Brutal
Winters in New England sure are beautiful, but they are also very cold. The romance of the first snowfall will quickly dissipate after you've hiked up Alumni Hill in a pair of Bean boots, wearing three sweaters and a parka for the hundredth time only to realize you've left your notebook in your dorm room. It's not only that winters can be cold; they also last forever. In some places, you'll have you're first snow before Halloween, while it's not unlikely that you might never see flowers bloom before graduation in May. Also, at most schools faculty live on campus so the prospect of snow days diminishes quickly.
Pro: Athletics Rule
Athletics are a strong part of the private school experience. With so many schools, New England boarding schools have strong school athletic leagues for a variety of sports. Whether you're playing football, hockey, cross-country, soccer, lacrosse, tennis, baseball, crew, field hockey, golf, sailing, skiing, softball, squash, swimming and diving, track and field, volleyball, or wrestling, there's a league for you, with at least a dozen other schools in a conference against which to compete.
Con: An Old-Fashioned Air
Many New England boarding schools have been around for more than one hundred years. They are steeped in tradition and history. While many have progressed into the new millennia by becoming co-ed and offering contemporary curricula, some New England prep schools can still come across as stuffy or have reputations for being pretentious compared to schools out west, which may be much younger and more progressive when it comes to dress codes and disciplinary matters. If you're looking for schools to radically redefine secondary education or to challenge traditions, you may want to expand your purview beyond New England.
Park Your Car in Harvard Yard
After living in the New England area for a while, you may find that a car-trip lasting longer than 45 minutes requires extra planning and that swimming in the Atlantic Ocean isn't a realistic endeavor. Attending a New England boarding school is more than about attending classes, it's about absorbing the local culture. With a host of prominent professional sports teams, a bevy of historical landmarks and a plethora of cultural attractions, New England offers some of the most diverse and interesting experiences around.
There are many reasons why a New England boarding school could be the right fit for you, just as there are many reasons why a school in the south or on the west coast could be as well.
Though, it's easy to get caught up in the pomp and circumstance of New England boarding schools, it's important to choose a school because it meets your needs as a student and offers activities and experiences that interest you and will challenge you.