I have been teaching high school international students for the past 10 years. Through this experience, I have come to realize that many international families interested in sending their child overseas for school, have some basic misunderstandings about the process, opportunity, and end goals of this pathway to learning. For this reason, I decided to write this blog, which will shed some light into the inner workings and advantages of a K-12 boarding school.

What is K-12?

In Canada, and in most of the United States, high school is generally referred to as “secondary school”. This is because it is the “second” journey in education after “primary”, or elementary years. Secondary school is grades 8-12; primary, grades K-7. However if we are to refer to both the primary and secondary years of education, we can use the term “K-12”. This is helpful when understanding the full scope of options for international students in Canada and the U.S.

When is the best time to send my child to boarding school?

There is never a “too late” or “too early” time to send a child to school in Canada or the U.S. The industry, which is largely made up of boarding schools, is built for entry into any grade, at any time, at any level. Having said that, there are some key advantages of sending your child earlier. I will go through each advantage below.

Understanding The English Requirement

It is true that for many international students, English is a second language. The proven level of language for your child (in English) is the single most important factor to consider when applying to schools. This is because a growing number of schools will not accept students unless they meet minimum language requirements. In fact, most schools have similar standards for “main school entry requirements”. If the student is unable to understand the language, or express himself in English, the school will consider him not “mission ready”, regardless of how much money you have, how good his grades are, or how well suited he is for the school’s extra-curricular programs.

Consider a Bridge Program

Due to the increasing demands of the international community, many schools are providing English “bridge” programs for students who do not meet the minimum level of language. I run a program like this at the school I work at. I highly recommend this option since it will give your child an “in” at the school, and will allow him to make an impact, get to know the teachers, and make new friends – right away! I have known families to be hesitant about these types of programs since they usually don’t offer credit and will not guarantee a grade. But I will also argue that the success rates for these schools is very good. They work, and the students benefit enormously from the experience. It is also a “way around” the sticky language requirement rule.

The Younger the Better

Many top boarding schools in Canada and the U.S. are now offering grade 6-7 boarding options for international families. This is because in many cases, as stated above, language is the dominant deciding factor in the success of the student at the school. For this reason, these schools have opened the doors to children as young as 11 to come study and improve their language before the pressures of the senior grades start. Although this option is not for everyone, I see great value in this program because it will allow families to send their child with very little to no English level. Also, at this age, children are much more receptive to language development and they will become conversational within months of being there. You will be pleasantly surprised during their first break from study, on how much English they have picked up and how many friends they have made. Of course this route has its inherent risks. I would not recommend this option for anyone who is not certain their child will survive away from the nest. This option is only for the “independent” type. If you have a child like this, consider yourself blessed; they are rare and top schools are lucky to have them.

The Cost and Decision

No doubt that sending your child away from home for school is the single most important decision you will ever make as a parent during this stage. I am also a father of 3 boys, and to be honest, if they didn’t already attend the school I work at, I would be very hesitant to send them away unless they showed interest in doing so. Take your time and consider the options. That is the only advice I would give on this. If you do decide to do it, congratulations, you have just changed your child’s future. The fees of most of these schools is high, but it is for a very good reason: they are worth it. Consider the cost that you would spend on your child if he were to stay home and attend a top private school. Now consider the cost of a top boarding school, and given all the parameters at stake, they are not too far off. I can also mention that many top schools in Canada and the U.S. do not offer financial support for international students. Having said that, this is the best boarding school in the country, and 9 times out of 10, your child will completely exceed your expectations. Again, the younger the better.

The Process

Let’s pretend now that you have carefully thought it through and decided to send your child to boarding school. You have researched some options and you’re ready to apply. A common practice to take at this point is to hire a consultant in the industry that has relationships with these schools. Why should you do this? Because for the most part, although these schools have adapted their programming to accommodate international kids, they are largely “conservative” institutions, and will only deal with people whom they trust. This is because the applicant has been “vetted” so to speak, to some degree, by the trusted consultant first. Get the right consultant, and your chances of being accepted into a top school will increase in ways you don’t even know. Of course there are many, many more insights and benefits of a boarding school, but they are too many to go through in one blog!