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How Boarding School Prepared Me for College

Max Schaefer '10

Written by Max Schaefer '10

Feb 14, 2017

When I first headed off for boarding school, I had the distinct feeling that I was being “shipped away.” I had read Roald Dahl’s books that detailed his many stories of strict parochial boarding schools, heard accounts from friends about these being places where “the bad kids went,” and generally understood it to be a punishment of some sort.

Nonetheless, I was going to be a boarder.

In my first year at boarding school, I felt no measurable effects on “who I was” as a person. I was having a great time, enjoying my classes, and quickly making friends that, unbeknownst to me at the time, I would still have years later. But if someone had asked me, even during my senior year, “Are you ready for college?” the answer would have been a distinct, “No.”

I suppose now, in retrospect, that not realizing I was slowly being armed with the tools I needed was kind of the point. Had I arrived to a slew of various scheduled activities and workshops, “Making Friends,” “Learning to Study,” and “Getting to Class on Time,” I would have resented it; it would have come off as fabricated, because it would have been. Fortunately, that’s not how boarding schools are designed, at least not anymore.

So, in that first year, I started learning things I was unware would be of benefit to me in the future. I learned how to tolerate other people being in my space. I learned how other people might also need to tolerate me being in THEIR space, an earth-shattering realization that, no, not everyone would want to talk with me or even be my friend.

These were the types of immeasurable differences that living at boarding school made in my life.

Beyond learning how to live with people, both friends and maybe some people who I didn’t like so much, I also developed habits (good ones) that I still possess today. In college, it was no great shock to me that, at some point, I would have to sit down and do my homework or write the papers I had been assigned. It had been ingrained in me that carving out this chunk of time would remain valuable throughout my life. While my new college friends struggled with balancing between their workload, extracurricular activities, and generally adapting to living away from home—I felt mostly at ease.

There were certainly some anxieties; these always come with new territory, but they were largely diminished because of the experiences I had at boarding school.

Eagle Hill will surely try to sell you on its small class sizes and student-to-teacher ratio. This is not part of their pitch—it is the single biggest asset the school offers. It doesn’t make immediate sense that being in a class of 10 in high school can prepare you for large seminars in college, exceeding 50 students or even 100. But the level of engagement that was necessary during my time at boarding school taught me to be a focused and vocal participant in class. Most of all, the relationships I made with teachers while at boarding school gave me the confidence to seek out those same relationships with professors at college, which I did (I can’t confirm or deny whether or not that had a positive effect on my grades…).

Put simply, I left boarding school ready to be on my own—with the support of my peers and family when I needed it. There were times at college that were very tough for me—I took classes way over my head—but I always could fall back on the foundation Eagle Hill helped me build, and I can say with certainty that I owe a large part of my success at college to that.

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