American pupils normally start secondary school at level 7 and obtain their high school diploma after 12 school years. Private boarding schools usually begin from level 9.

In the USA the school year begins in September, finishing mostly at the end of May . The exact date varies from school to school. Depending on the school, the year is split up into semesters or trimesters. Generally students take 5 – 6 different subjects which are taught daily. Subjects are offered at various levels. Guidance counsellors at the respective schools work together with the students to devise a study plan tailored to their individual needs. The so called AP (Advanced Placement) courses have the highest academic recognition.


Boarding schools in the USA are closed during vacations and over long weekends. Even international boarders have to leave the campus during this time.

Often international boarders are invited to stay at other boarders’ homes for the weekend, thereby experiencing life in typical American families. Should this not be possible, the boarding school can offer help in finding a host family for the weekend or vacation. Some boarding schools even work together with official organizations in arranging this kind of service (against payment). Study trips to various regions in the country are often organised during vacations (also against payment).

Sport and Art

Traditionally US boarding schools lay a lot of emphasis on sports and art. There are many different courses for all kinds of sports and the sporting facilities are usually of a high standard. Some schools even have their own ice hockey hall and/or swimming pool. Provision is made for various activities in arts and crafts, which range from drawing, painting, sculpture and pottery to photography. Some schools even offer dance classes and nearly all schools give pupils the opportunity of participating in theatre plays several times a year.


Especially in the IT sector US schools are way ahead of other schools around the world. Computers are frequently used during lessons and sometimes part of the homework needs to be done on the computer. Many schools offer voicemail and internet connections, even in bedrooms and dormitories, and most students have their own email address.

Types of Boarding Schools

All Boarding
Schools with boarders only. All students are accommodated on campus.

Boarding-Day Schools

The majority of the boarders study and live on the school campus; a few commute from the neighbourhood or surrounding towns.

Military Schools

These schools follow military structures, most insist that uniform be worn and the students are educated very strictly.

5-Day Boarding Schools
All week boarders, learning and living on campus during the week and spending the weekends at home.

Junior Boarding Schools
Junior Boarding Schools accept students ranging from level 1 – 8, usually the levels 6 – 8 live and learn on campus.

Co-Educational Schools
Student intake is both male and female.

Boys’ Schools
Boys only

Girls’ Schools
Girls only

Pre-Professional Arts Schools
Pre-Professional Arts boarding schools teach within specialised fields, such as music, fine and visual arts, theatre, ballet and creative writing. The students are prepared for entry into traditional colleges or special schools such as Academies of Music.

Religious Schools
These schools belong to specific religions and usually require their applicants to be affiliated to a particular denomination.


Parents should start planning their child’s stay at a boarding school in the USA well in advance. It is recommended to start gathering information from the respective schools approximately a year ahead. Most schools have an enrolment deadline, frequently between January and February. The official letter of acceptance or refusal is mostly sent to the student in March. In some individual cases, schools have places left approximately 2 months prior to semester begin and offer the possibility to apply for these places. Consideration should also be given to the strict guidelines for vaccinations. Most vaccinations need to be done before departure.

Furthermore at least 4 weeks should be allowed for visa formalities: for some nationalities even up to 3 months.

Admission & Language requirements

As entry requirements for boarding schools, special entry examinations and language certificates may be required. The admission offices of the respective schools will supply information on specific acceptance tests. Depending on the school, they require either the 'Secondary School Admission Test' (SSAT) or the 'Independent School Entrance Examination' (ISEE). International students can prove their English language skills through the 'Secondary Level English Proficiency Test' (SLEP) or the 'Test of English as a Foreign Language' (TOEFL).

Minimum Age

The minimum age for international students is generally 15 years. In rare cases 14 year olds are also accepted if their English skills are adequate and they are mature enough to spend a year in a foreign culture.


There are various financial plan options available for boarding schools in the USA. Generally the legal guardian is responsible for the basic education of the child. However, all schools offer different kinds of financial aid which need to be requested individually.

Need-Based Financial Aid

Boarding schools can grant financial aid covering the schools fees. This aid need not be repaid, depending on the economic situation of the family. To asses a claim, an application for funding must be filed. This can be obtained at the financial aid department of the respective school. The application is called Parents’ Financial Statement (PFS). A service of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) offers advice in the form of Student Service for Financial Aid (SSS). Please approach this office if necessary. The amount of financial aid varies from school to school and is dependent on the equipment, school fees and financial aid guidelines of the boarding school. If you wish to send your child to a private boarding school, but require financial aid, it is advisable to apply to more than one school.

Merit Awards
Many boarding schools grant a ‘gifted student award’. These awards are disbursed in order to encourage specific talents, for example in the fields of sports, art and academic talents. If your child possesses above average abilities, you should ask the school for the requirements of the ‘gifted student award’. Further information on boarding schools’ financing schemes can be obtained from the National Association of Independent Schools

Payment Programs

School fee payment programs are not loans, rather they allow the parents to split up the school fees into separate instalments. The exact conditions must be negotiated individually. You can obtain a list of payment programs at the financial department of each school and select the appropriate program.

Tuition Loan Programs

The special tuition loan programs for school fees allow families who could usually not afford it, to enrol their child at a private boarding school. This payment program spreads the costs according to a pre-arranged period of time. The financial aid offices of the various schools can supply you with a list of renowned credit institutes upon request, from which you can choose the appropriate one.

Discounts for siblings
If more than one child from the same family is enrolled at the same boarding school, it is possible to receive a financial discount in individual cases. However the discounts are not very high and are only offered by a few schools.

Further information on the subject of boarding schools is available through the American Association

The Association of Boarding Schools
2141 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Suite H
Washington, DC 20007
Tel: +1 202 965 8982
Fax: +1 202 965 8988

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