US Boarding Schools: Expectations for the International Applicant
Marybeth Hodson is the Director of US Boarding School Counseling at ARCH and she has personally visited 28 boarding schools in the US this admissions year while accompanying prospective families and students during the interview process. She is here to share with us some insights and latest observations.
In this year’s boarding school application process, have you noticed any new trends among schools?
A trend I am noticing in speaking with admissions officers is the volume of applications and the yield for each expected incoming class. Last year’s yield was higher than expected at many schools, so this year has been even more competitive for fewer spots at the schools. At the beginning of the process, many schools have put in barriers to eliminate the students who are not qualified even before they visit the school. They have asked for official TOEFL and SSAT scores or might require that an independent interview company conduct an interview as a prescreening process, so the quality of the applicants at some schools we visited was really impressive. What is now becoming the focus is how the kids identify themselves as special outside of academics. Admissions officers are looking for kids who have a unique passion and demonstrated some type of leadership. Knowing that the student has experienced peer leadership before gives the sense that they will contribute to the greater community at the school.
What kinds of student do you think US boarding schools are looking for academically? How do you think that parents can help in these aspects?
In looking at SSAT prep and what parents can do, is to give their kids exposure to those qualities that are valued in Critical Reading. The Critical Reading and Debate programs at ARCH are really helping kids to decipher or recognize what is important in their reading, and to express themselves on paper in a deeper way. Schools get excited about kids who have had an American debating experience; where they are able to express, articulate, and support a certain opinion, because this is really the foundation of all these schools – to be able to sit with all your peers and defend and support why you think what you think.
What would you say is the hardest aspect of the application process for international students?
The hardest part is managing expectations and having a balanced school list. Parents and students also need to go through the tough process of advocating for themselves at these schools as well. The continued advocacy for kids is hard, parents and children must constantly remind the admissions officers and schools about themselves and their interest in the school they are visiting.
How do you think parents can best help students during the application process? Any specific details?
Well, I think the biggest thing that parents can do is to start early in this process. If you look at a student’s profile as three different areas, there are academics, testing, and extracurricular activities. The extracurricular activity part gets the least emphasis, but in the end, everyone who is competing already has good scores and academic talents, so the extracurricular activity becomes a distinguishing factor in who gets a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. Something that parents can do is actively plan opportunities for students to develop their outside interests and passions over time. Another pointer is to have parents introduce their kids to adults in social environments. Essentially, an interview is like that – a conversation. Students who are able to hold a conversation, rather than discuss their CV, are much more appealing. Situations where students are able to replicate these types of social interactions with adults gives them practice, poise, and confidence during admissions interviews.