"What's the best boarding school" has been coming into earshot and sight with alarming regularity of late. Having touched on the issue several times over the years- most recently in the onBoarding Schools post title Boarding School Rankings: Ignore Them! - it seems a good time to tie together some thoughts on the matter.

No Best School Exists
Our position comes across loud and clear. No, one, best school exists.

The notion of the 'best school' is much like the concept of 'best kid'- prompting the follow-up questions: Best, how? Best at what? What exactly do you mean by best? Best athlete? Best Latin scholar? Best calculus student? Best behaved? Best debater?

Several schools are quite rich with endowments larger than many colleges. Some schools have students with astounding SAT scores. Some schools produce a disproportionate number of high caliber athletes.

Which school is best? It all depends.

You get the point. The idea of overall “best” breaks down under scrutiny and complexity. No self-declared "best" school has any real claim to legitimacy.

Toss the notion of hierarchy out. Each school is unique in the kind of student who will do well in its environment.

The goal when researching and applying to schools is finding the best match between student abilities and school strengths.

A good fit requires thorough understanding of both student and school. Not every school fits every student and not every student fits every school.

The match between student and school requires research, nuance, and analysis.

Match Student and School Strengths

If notions of overall best prove null and void, how, then, should one consider schools? I think the process is easier than it seems.

I liken the school search process to applying to graduate school. Applying to graduate school, you tend to know what you want to study and have some direction. Seeking to grow from these interests and strengths, you apply to academic departments that work with students who have your direction.

The larger university is immaterial. As a grad student, you seek a fit between your pursuits and an academic department that direct and help you grow.

Think of each boarding school as a focused university academic department with a perspective on the world and a particular approach to a subject- its students.

Similar thinking brings clarity to the private school search. Let go your notions of "best school."

Boarding schools come in all flavors, perspectives and sizes- just like families and kids. Each boarding school offers a particular perspective or way of working and this method works best for students who benefit from the approach.

Frame your thinking about the opportunities and programs that my student needs. Does this school have these programs and support what's best for my student?

Putting this Perspective into Practice

Begin your school search with these concepts in mind:

  • What kind of student do I have? How does he/she learn best? Does he or she need a particular set of circumstances or support to thrive?

  • Is the focus and perspective of the school the best for growing and supporting my student?

  • What’s the best school? The school that provides the most fertile environment for your student’s growth.


We offer this simple basic beginning when speaking to families about the search process:

  1. Know your student and the kind of environment most likely to support his/her success. What kinds of programs or activities does he/she need?

  2. Read catalogs and materials closely; ask questions of the schools. What kinds of students go to this school? Does a student like mine do well here?

  3. Be forthright. Ask questions of admission officers. Few know better about the types of students who do well in the their school.

We offer this basic beginning, but it is just that- a basic start.

School Search Support
You can begin researching boarding school options at our site, where we also offer more writings and research on the admission process.

Admission can prove time consuming and at times frustrating. If you run up against a problem or wall, you might consider professional advice.

An educational consultant can help with everything from student assessment to final school selection. Their services are not inexpensive, but many families find their contributions invaluable.

To learn more about the ways that an educational consultant aids and supports a school search, visit AQ Educational Consulting.