Every year, elite secondary boarding schools like Andover, Exeter, and Deerfield admit only a fraction of the hopefuls who apply. There are many qualified candidates who boast high test scores, athletic prowess, and an impressive amount of volunteer experience, and are not offered acceptance. With these top schools passing over so many excellent applicants, what can you do to give your son an edge?
As Associate Director of Secondary School Counseling at The Fessenden School, Scott Duddy has helped families focus on finding the secondary boarding school that is the right fit for their son. After completing junior boarding school here, Fessenden’s graduates have gone on to top schools like Andover and Groton.
But, Scott says, even with his experience, it’s impossible to know for sure who one school will accept and who another will reject.
“What is an admissible profile one year might just be slightly on the outside looking in the next year,” he says.
So if your family has its eye on an elite boarding school, Scott says, it’s best to focus on what is important to you. Rather than trying to be the applicant that you think the school wants, it is more important to focus inward and find your voice.
Your child is unique given the fact that no one has lived his life, no one has seen the world through his eyes. A powerful sense of self and ability to articulate this, both in the interview and on the application, is the best way to stand out from a crowd. The greater continuity that an admissions office sees in an application/applicant, the more likely the process will be successful. Scott offered three tips for helping your son stand out during the highly competitive boarding school admissions process.
1. Encourage him to make long-term commitments.
The more passionately an applicant has been involved in sports, an artistic endeavor, or a volunteer opportunity, the more meaningful it is to boarding school admissions departments, Scott says. What they’re looking for is “consistency of growth and development and the consistency of involvement,” he says.
“Schools want to be able to say, ‘He didn’t just pick up the violin. He didn’t just pick out all the best community service programs when he was in eighth grade because he knew he was applying that year,’” Scott says.
2. Make connections — but not too early.
Whether you’re trying to get your son into a specific school or trying to find the right fit for him, you should get to know the schools in a variety of different ways. Scott recommends connecting with other families that have relationships with the schools you’re interested in to get a perspective on admissions, as well as the day-to-day lives of students there.
“Other families can certainly be helpful both in assessing the school and in making relationships with the school,” Scott says.
But, he warns, “I certainly caution parents not to try to make those connections too soon.”
“We don’t think there’s value in trying to ‘game’ the world of admissions because, in doing that, you sometimes unintentionally hurt yourself,” Scott says. “If you introduce your son to one of these top schools in sixth grade, you’ll find that, one, admissions offices are not ready to meet a sixth grader, and two, a sixth grader is not ready to meet the admissions office.”
3. Help your son get to know his resume.
The interview plays a big role in boarding school admissions, but middle school boys are not always confident telling their stories to adults. Your son might have a great resume, but to shine in a boarding school admissions interview, he should be able to talk about the experiences he has had.
“I tell boys to know their resume, because they want to be able to talk knowledgeably about what they’re doing and where they’re going,” Scott says. “This is their one opportunity to present who they are.”
This can be challenging for boys who’ve been told their whole lives not to brag.
“Certainly, you don’t want it to come across as boastful, but if your son doesn’t bring up a particular experience, how is the interviewer going to know?”
Getting a Head Start at a Junior Boarding School
There are a number of excellent reasons to consider a junior boarding school like Fessenden for your son’s middle school years. Among them are that, at a junior boarding school, your son will gain many of the traits top secondary schools look for, like a willingness to make long-term commitments and confidence speaking with adults and other students.
In addition, the relationships your son will build in a junior boarding school community — with faculty, staff, students, and other families — will serve him through the rest of his academic career, wherever it takes him.
Has this got you interested in junior boarding schools? Follow the link here or at the bottom of this article to read more about the benefits of a boarding school education.
And if you have any tips for families looking for an admissions edge at the nation’s top secondary boarding schools, please share them in the comments section below.