Before we get down to any of the specifics, I’d like to start by asking you, “Why do you want to go to boarding schools in the US?”
We are living in an age where tiger moms or type A kids can embrace and celebrate their values. I am Chinese too, so I get it, but does this phenomenon really describe you and what you want in life?
Why does it matter? You might ask. And you might think you don’t really have an option but to go with the flow because that’s what your parents want or what your peers do. But if you don’t really want it, then you will find the whole search and application process a chore and couldn’t be bothered with putting in more effort whatsoever.
What if I tell you motivation is the question above all other questions, will you believe me?
II. My story
When I was fourteen years old, I went to the US with my parents. We lived in the university town where my dad was studying for his MBA for a year and half. I went to the local public school and for the first time in my life chose my own classes and extracurricular activities. It was fascinating to be able to follow my interests and determine my own schedule, which was unthinkable at my school back in Beijing.
If you have tasted freedom once, could you go back to a designated routine again? I don’t think so; well at least it was unbearable for me. Ever since the day we came back to China (as my dad’s study ended), I had been thinking, “How do I go back to the US?”
This was a burning desire that kept me thinking day and night. I researched all kinds of options I could find online, from exchange programs to boarding schools. In other words, I had a goal and I am prepared to do anything to achieve that goal.
What is your goal? What do you want to achieve and what will make you feel fulfilled? Could you describe those thoughts that come into your head and jot them down? Maybe some are definitive, some are less certain, and some are “am-I-even-allowed,” be honest and give each thought the attention it deserves. Write all down and separate them into different categories (of definitive, uncertain, and unsure if needed).
III. Tailored Search
Once you have made a list of what you are interested in pursuing, you have just created your own criteria of a tailored boarding school search. Schools, just like humans, have relative strengths and weaknesses: some are stronger than others in the areas of your interest, whether it is music, sports, debate or fine arts. Schools also have distinct characters that define them, be it academic rigor, religious affiliation, size, location, study abroad programs and student support system.
Use individual school websites, industry sites like The Association of Boarding Schools and Boarding School Review, informational interviews and school visits to find the best “fit” for you. Stay flexible as you might discover new information along the search and application process, or your perspective might change upon visiting a school and having talked with the students there.
Now for those tiger moms and type A kids who care about college placement more than anything else, don’t come up your target schools on the sole basis of college placement history. Admissions to a prestigious boarding school no longer guarantee entrance to top ranking colleges. The competitive landscape for college admissions is fiercer than ever and the profile of a “privileged” student from an elite boarding school is increasingly lackluster when compared against the “diverse” applicants colleges are trying to attract.
IV. YOLO (you only live once)
Own your list and own this application process, it is your life. Do not outsource everything. Parents and consultants can help support you at critical junctures and provide valuable guidance, but they are not going to the school. You are.
Empowerment and fulfillment come with ownership, remember: “You are the designer of your destiny; you are the author of your story.”
Teresa is a native of Beijing, China. She went to Phillips Academy Andover as a one-year senior and graduated from Yale University with a Bachelor of Arts in History. She studied in France and Japan on exchange programs while at Yale and lived in Korea briefly in between jobs. She currently works and resides in Hong Kong, and is a feature writer of Ampla.
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