The Best US Boarding Schools: A Definitive Guide
The USA is home to some of the most prestigious and well-known boarding schools in the world, from Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire to Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts.
You’ll also find some exceptional reformist and experiential-based institutions across the States, including at Putney School in Vermont and at The Thacher School near Ojai Valley, California.
In this article, we’ll do a rundown of the 15 best boarding schools in the States, as well as a list of the most important factors to consider before enrolling in any one of these academies.
What to Look For When You’re Choosing Between the Best US Boarding Schools
Before you make any decision on which US boarding school to apply for or to enrol in, you should take into consideration several important factors.
These include the institution’s annual or term-time fees, its academic record, its college counselling programme, and its rate of student satisfaction.
Here’s a checklist of the main factors to consider when you’re choosing the right US boarding school for you or your child.
Annual fees and overall affordability
Firstly, you should make sure that you can afford that spot at your dream boarding school. Many of the top institutions in the country are pretty exclusive when it comes to annual boarding fees, with tuition, food, and board costs often totalling over $45,000 per year for each student.
However, you’ll find that many of these schools also have generous and far-reaching financial aid programmes. Therefore, if your heart is set on a particular institution but you’re worried that you can’t afford enrollment, get in touch with the school directly to find out about their financial aid initiatives and scholarship opportunities. For example, Phillips Exeter Academy actually offers completely free tuition to families with an annual income of $75,000 or less.
You should also check the levels of student satisfaction at the school in question. Unlike universities, most secondary schools won’t have specific sets of data on this, but there are other ways in which you can find out about the institute’s academic and boarding environments.
Book in for an open day, so that you or your child can spend some time meeting the other students and getting a feel for the place. You don’t want to enroll in a boarding school where you’ll be miserable for 3 or 4 years, so make sure you’re happy with your decision.
Extracurricular activities and facilities
Another simple yet effective way to tell whether the boarding school in question is the place for you is to find out more about the on-site facilities and extracurricular clubs and activities that the institute offers. For example, if you’re determined to play women’s soccer at a high level, you should search for a boarding school that has an excellent fitness centre, strength and conditioning programme, and competitive soccer team.
On the other hand, if you enjoy producing plays and musicals in your spare time, make sure that you’re enrolling in a school that has a well-equipped and modern auditorium or theatre on-site.
College counselling programme
If you want to earn an offer at one of the most prestigious universities in the States or around the world, you should aim to enroll in a boarding school that has an extensive and helpful college counselling programme.
This type of mentoring and support can be a great help when it comes to building an academic portfolio and gaining exceptional teacher references to send off to your dream college.
Student-to-teacher ratio and classroom sizes
Another surefire way to tell if a boarding school provides a top-quality education is to check out its student-to-teacher ratio. Generally speaking, the lower this ratio, the more hands-on and effective the teaching will be. That’s because the teacher will be able to spend more time with each student individually, providing them with more guidance and useful advice.
You might also want to check the rates of teacher or student turnover in the school you’re looking at: if these rates look a bit high, this could be a sign that the institution has an unwelcome and unhealthy learning environment.
If you’re unsure about the faculty and want to find out more, get in touch with the school’s headteacher to see if you can arrange an in-person meeting with them. The best headteachers will be accommodating and more than happy to help with this request.
If you want some more information on factors to consider when choosing a school that’s the best fit for you or your child, check out some of the other articles on the Definitive School Guides section of our website.
15 of the Best US Boarding Schools
Here’s a detailed rundown of the best boarding schools that you’ll find across the whole of the United States, from reformist institutions in Vermont and innovative colleges in Ojai Valley to prestigious academies in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Texas.
The Putney School, Vermont
This excellent boarding school is located in Putney, Vermont, a couple of miles north of the famous Connecticut River. Nearly half of all the pupils that attend this liberal and open-minded school will receive some form of financial aid to help them with fees and boarding costs.
Putney takes a reformist stance when it comes to educating young minds, believing that the best way for students to learn is for them to take part in a number of jobs and forms of independent study during their time at the school. Pupils must work as a member of the barn crew and land use team when they’re in senior school. They also need to engage with an art extracurricular for at least two nights each week.
This type of “experiential education” allows young people to grow up on their own terms and to mature into hard-working, accountable, and successful adults.
Phillips Academy Andover, Massachusetts
Phillips Academy Andover was founded in 1778 and is one of the best US boarding schools around. It’s also one of the oldest and most prestigious boarding schools in the United States. The school’s motto is “non sibi,” a Latin term which translates to pursuing a meaningful life where your main priority is not an egocentric, singular drive for personal success at all costs, but to think about, care for, and respect those around you: “not for self.”
This prestigious school is also an exceptionally diverse place, with a student body that contains pupils from over 50 different countries from around the world. If you attend Phillips Academy Andover, you’ll receive excellent and comprehensive teaching from some of the best educators in the business. The school has a student-to-teacher ratio of 5 to 1.
Woodberry Forest School, Virginia
This all-boys boarding school teaches pupils from grade 9 through to 12 and is situated in Madison County, Virginia, just a few miles from the charming town of Orange. Woodberry Forest School has a dazzling reputation when it comes to academic excellence.
Sporting enthusiasts and budding athletes will appreciate the Leonard W. Dick Gymnasium, Reilly Wrestling Room, and Glover Fitness Center facilities, while those who prefer more artistic pursuits should check out the Black Box theater and the gorgeous and impressive Baker Gallery on-site.
Groton School, Massachusetts
You’ll find this Episcopal high school around half a mile south of the town of Groton in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, just under 40 miles northwest of downtown Boston.
There are only 379 students enrolled at the school, making it a small and exclusive college with an excellent teaching record and a nurturing, comfortable, and laid-back environment.
Groton School has a fantastic college counselling support system, allowing you access to a wide variety of resources that can help you to decide which university and career path is the best fit for you and your skills.
Episcopal High School, Virginia
This small school is home to just 440 talented pupils from all across America, serving students from the ages of 13 or 14 through to 17 or 18. Every pupil who enrols in the Episcopal High School will board there, and this encourages the young people to mature quickly and impressively during their time at the college.
Classes are small, with an average size of 11 students to one expert teacher, while there are 48 separate interschool teams that play sports like lacrosse, ultimate frisbee, crew, and soccer. The on-site sports facilities are second to none, with a state-of-the-art fitness center and a remarkable football stadium that seats just under 3,000 people.
The Hockaday School, Dallas, Texas
You’ll find this all-girls boarding school near the Loryland and Asian Trade districts of northern Dallas, Texas. The Hockaday School has an esteemed reputation when it comes to mentoring young women on the path to becoming the best, and most realised, version of themselves.
In 1914, school founder Miss Hockaday laid out what she called “The Four Cornerstones” that make up her institution’s mission statement: these were Scholarship, Character, Courtesy, and Athletics. To this day, the Hockaday School encourages students to be respectful of others, dignified in sporting victory and defeat, and to hold themselves to a high standard when it comes to personal integrity.
St Paul’s School, Concord, New Hampshire
This exclusive boarding school is located a mile or so to the west of downtown Concord, the capital city of New Hampshire.
St Paul’s has an excellent student-to-teacher ratio of 5 to 1, and 38% of their pupils receive some form of financial aid, demonstrating the school’s continued commitment to creating opportunities for those talented young people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
The St Paul’s campus stretches across 2,000 acres of leafy woodland and crystal-clear lakes, presenting the students with ample opportunity to take cathartic walks and enjoy the beautiful New Hampshire countryside on study breaks.
This school also has some incredible facilities, including the 10 squash courts, boathouse, and the breathtaking Ohrstrom Library.
Deerfield Academy, Deerfield, Massachusetts
Deerfield Academy was founded at the very end of the 18th century when Founding Father and Massachusetts Governor Samuel Adams issued a charter to build an exceptional school in Franklin County.
Nowadays, Deerfield is one of the best boarding schools in the country, with an accomplished faculty body and a continued commitment to inclusion and creating a safe, non-judgmental environment for kids.
Deerfield offers students the chance to study any one of 172 courses in their course catalog, and you can play one of 21 different sports when you’re a pupil.
The Holderness School
You’ll find this boarding and day school nestled in amongst the gorgeous White Mountains of New Hampshire, just a kilometre or so to the east of the Pemigewasset River.
One of the best US boarding schools, the Holderness School was founded towards the end of the 19th century and has a diverse and vibrant student community. 15% of the student body are from international countries like Vietnam, Thailand, the UK, and Nigeria.
The school’s student-to-teacher ratio is an impressive 6 to 1, while each pupil on campus must enrol in the innovative Jobs Program. This means that students have to work a part-time job while they’re at school, teaching them how to practice accountability and time management at a young age.
St Andrew’s School, Middletown, Delaware
This distinguished Episcopal school is located in Middletown, a town just a few kilometres to the east of the Maryland-Delaware border. St Andrew’s School was originally founded a few years after the First World War, in 1929, with an eye to providing students with the opportunities to study in excellent facilities for a distinctly low price.
Nowadays, St Andrew’s School is home to just over 300 students of different ethnicities from a wide variety of backgrounds.
Indeed, 40% of the student body are actually people of color, with an impressive 13% of pupils coming to study at St Andrew’s from overseas. Perhaps most importantly, a disproportionately high number of pupils receive some form of financial aid from the school: 43% of students enrolled during the current academic year cycle are being guided through their educational journey with the help of school funds.
Shattuck-St Mary’s School, Faribault, Minnesota
Shattuck-St Mary’s School is situated in the northeast corner of Faribault, a small city that’s also the county seat of Rice County in the midwestern state of Minnesota.
Founded in 1858, this institution aims to fully “embrace innovation,” encouraging students to develop personal responsibility and accountability while pursuing their dreams and curiosities.
This college has a relatively unique approach to mentoring and guiding pupils. This approach centres around their “10 Centers of Excellence,” which include expertly-run BioScience and Engineering faculties, the innovative Major Center (which encourages students to pursue their own individual passions), and the exceptional Soccer and Hockey Centers.
Western Reserve Academy, Hudson, Ohio
Western Reserve Academy is nestled in between Hudson Springs Park, Cascade Park, and the Ohio Turnpike toll road in Hudson, a small and attractive city in Summit County, Ohio.
Reserve (as it’s more commonly known) serves young men and women between the ages of 14 to 18, mentoring these talented students and helping them to earn places at prestigious universities like Harvard, NYU, Stanford, Imperial College London, St Andrew’s, and Berkeley.
Astonishingly, Reserve sees 100% of its graduating Seniors head into institutions of higher education every year. The school’s campus is just under 200 acres in size and includes state-of-art athletic facilities and an entire outdoor cross country course for runners and joggers alike.
Students can also take time off at the weekends to visit the nearby Cuyahoga Valley National Park, with its gorgeous Brandywine Falls and well-maintained historic canal waterways.
Verde Valley School, Sedona, Arizona
Verde Valley School is in Sedona, a small town next to the breathtaking Red Rock State Park, with its 286 acres of geological wonders and crystal clear creeks.
The school itself is home to 117 students from across the United States. Of these 117 students, 80 are boarders while 37 are day pupils.
The distinguished Verde Valley faculty place a lot of emphasis on getting kids out of the classroom and into the dazzling natural environment that surrounds the school’s campus. Teachers guide senior students through the prestigious International Baccalaureate programme, using their successful and “fully developed experiential model” which encourages students to be hands-on with their learning process.
Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, New Hampshire
It’s impossible to talk about the best US boarding schools without mentioning Phillips Exeter Academy. This prestigious institution lies just off Main Street in the town of Exeter, New Hampshire, not far from the Squamscott River and the Swasey Parkway.
The school itself adopts the Harkness approach to teaching methods, named after the 1930’s donor Edward Harkness. This pedagogy champions the innately “democratic” nature of a proper education.
As the school states on its website, when a group of students engages in intellectually challenging conversations with each other and a teacher, “it’s a collaborative approach to problem-solving and learning.”
In terms of facilities, Phillips Exeter Academy has some of the best around, with the exceptional Class of 1945 Library, a state-of-the-art Fitness Center, over 30 acres of sports fields, several gymnasiums, and the gorgeous Saltonstall Boat House.
The Madeira School, Washington D.C., Virginia
This all-girls boarding school is situated just a mile or so south of the Potomac River and the Virginia-Maryland border. The Madeira School is only 12 miles northwest of downtown Washington D.C., where students can visit epochal attractions like the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Capitol building itself.
The Madeira’s campus is vast, with just under 400 acres that’s home to impressive facilities including the state-of-the-art classrooms, a dance studio, a large auditorium building, playing fields, and horse stables for the school’s equestrian programme.
This Virginia-based college also has an excellent college counselling programme: each pupil receives personal guidance when it comes to selecting the right college and course for them. Expert counselors help girls with a whole host of administrative matters, including the all-important letter of recommendation from the school that is sent to the college admissions office.
Receive a Stellar Education That Sets You Up for Life With One of These Schools
Whether you’re looking for a school that has a great reputation for competitive varsity sports, an academy where you can experience hands-on and outdoors-based learning, or a prestigious institute that can help earn you a place at an Ivy League university, you’ll find the perfect option for your needs with this list.
If you’re looking for more information on how to choose the school that’s the right fit for either yourself or your child, get in touch with us at A&J Education to set up a free consultation with one of our experts.