Boarding School 101: What is Boarding School?

US Boarding SchoolBoarding School 101: What is a Boarding School?

Boarding schools are residential private schools, which means students live at school during the academic year. They resemble colleges in that students live in dorms or residence halls, but they primarily serve secondary school students. A boarding school’s main goal is to provide a learning community where students can concentrate on their studies, mature and reach their full potential.

Whether you must send your teenager to boarding school for work-related reasons or simply want your child to receive the best education possible, read on to learn about the different types of boarding schools in the United States.

Two Main Categories of Boarding School: Therapeutic & College Prep

 There are two main categories of boarding schools: therapeutic and college preparatory (or college prep).

The mission of therapeutic boarding schools is to provide a nurturing setting and the mental tools and support young people need to overcome self-destructive behavior

The mission of college-prep boarding schools is just that: college preparation. Students who attend these schools must complete a curriculum that meets college admissions requirements.  These schools offer high-level courses, such as Advanced Placement (AP) and dual enrollment classes, so students can gain the knowledge, work ethic and study habits required for college.

The majority of boarding schools are college prep, so the remainder of this article will focus on the three main college prep models and their educational advantages.

 Three Types of College Prep Boarding Schools: Religious, Military & General

 Military Boarding Schools

Military boarding schools maintain a structured and disciplined environment, and they teach students about leadership. A military boarding school is ideal for boys or girls who are intelligent but unmotivated. Students who attend these schools are not expected to enlist in the military; on the contrary, they are expected to attend college.

Because they are good at turning around youth with low grades or poor attitudes, military schools are often misperceived by some as “boot camps” or “reform schools,” but these schools do not accept very troubled teens or those with criminal records.

Religious Boarding Schools

Religious boarding schools normally teach students about a particular religion and encourage them to practice it in their lives. A religious boarding school is best suited for a boy or girl who comes from a strong, faith-based household or seeks a spiritual direction. Students who graduate from these schools are also expected to go to college and are not pressured to enter the ministry field.

General Boarding Schools

Unlike military or religious boarding schools, general boarding schools do not stray from the core academic curriculum. They are similar to the best public schools except for the large student population. A general boarding school is usually best for a high achieving student with a very clear college and/or career goal.

Co-Ed or Single-gender

With college-prep boarding schools, you also have the option of choosing one that is co-educational (or co-ed) or single-gender.

Though girls and boys live in different halls in most co-ed schools, they still take classes together. Co-ed schools believe their environment mirrors the “real world,” a place where men and women compete with each other and work together.

Single-gender schools believe students can better concentrate on their studies if the opposite sex is not there to distract them. Pressure to impress the opposite sex may also keep students from asking or answering questions in class.

There are pros and cons to both options, but most parents will know which setting is best for their teenager.

The Benefits of Boarding School

 Safer Environment

Boarding schools do a good job of filtering out the negative influences that are seen too often in public schools, such as violence and drugs. Overall, these schools have strong security and checks in place to offer students a safer learning environment.

Distraction-free Environment

Boarding schools often limit the distracting technology teens encounter at school and at home. Marine Military Academy, for instance, only allows cadets to watch television, play video games and use their cell phones on the weekends. Policies will differ, but these schools commonly set a clear structure to keep the students focused on their studies.

Small Classes

Boarding schools historically maintain small classes to help students achieve academic success. Students stand a greater chance at excelling when the student-to-teacher ratio is low. With fewer students, teachers can spend more time working with students individually.

Built-in Learning Community

Boarding school students have a built-in learning community in their dorm or residence hall and can easily gather for study groups. Help is always nearby because they can easily find tutors or study pals in their own “home.”


Because they must rely on themselves, boarding school students learn to become organized and prepared. These teens are very independent and mature when they graduate high school and have an easy time transitioning to college.

Character Development

Nearly all boarding schools place a strong emphasis on character and try to instill values of honesty, respect, and hard work. Boarding school graduates are known to carry themselves with integrity and dignity.

 Lifelong Friends

Most people make lifelong friends at boarding school. They form strong bonds with their classmates as they go through the same educational journey.

Learn More

To learn more about the benefits of boarding school read:

The Benefits of Boarding School
How Military Boarding Schools Help Build Good Character
Boarding Schools, Not Just for Troubled Teens
Military Boarding School Can Help Good Boys with Bad Grades
Why International Students Should Attend an American Boarding School
Letting Go, 7 Coping Tips When Your Child is Away at Boarding School

Interested in learning more about Texas boarding schools? Visit these resources:

Boarding Schools in Texas: Why Boarding School
Boarding Schools in Texas: How to Choose the Right One
Texas Boarding School’s Missions
Five Good Reasons to Choose a Texas Boarding School
Boarding Schools in Texas: A Map

To learn more about choosing a boarding school read our guide A Parent’s Guide to Boarding School or  Boarding School 101 What is Boarding School.

Marine Military Academy is an all boy military boarding school located in Harlingen, Texas.