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Five Tips for Getting Into a Top Boarding School

Updated: Apr 5, 2019

As a current student at Phillips Academy Andover (and a former boarding school applicant!), I know the challenges that the application process presents. It isn’t easy to write essays and track down recommenders —  and it certainly didn’t always go my way — but I learned a lot from the process.

Getting into an elite boarding school is, without a doubt, a difficult feat. When I applied to boarding schools, I didn’t know what to expect. The truth is that not every school will accept you — but that’s okay. Throughout the application process, it’s important to remember that when a school doesn’t accept you, that this decision is not a reflection on who you are as a person, but a reflection of the school’s needs.  When I applied to boarding schools, I was not accepted to every school I applied to. It is important to remember that these schools get so many applicants every year and can only accept a few, so don’t be down on yourself when a school doesn’t accept you. But to maximize your chances of acceptance, there are a few strategies that I recommend. Here are my 5 tips on how to get into an elite boarding school:

1. Show Your Passion

When schools look at your application, they don’t just want to know about your academic successes. They also want to get a sense of who you are — your passions, in other words — and what you will contribute to the life of the school.  My passion has always been politics and law, so in my application to Andover I made sure to stress that in my essays and demonstrate it through my extracurriculars. I made sure to mention my political aspirations, and what I had done to support my political beliefs. It is important that you participate in extracurriculars and write essays that get across what you are passionate about in addition to your letters of recommendation, so that the school can get a good idea of what you would be doing there and how you’d impact the spirit of the school.

2. Your Fit

It is important to get across why you are a good fit for the school. One of the best ways to do this is to connect your experiences to the school’s motto. For instance, a motto commonly used at Phillips Academy Andover is “non sibi,” which means “not for self” in Latin. When applying to Andover, I made sure to mention times I helped and advocated for others in my essays. Most boarding schools have some sort of motto that when connected to your experiences in your application can be a very effective and persuasive tool — that shows that you have done your research on the school!

3. Choosing recommenders

Recommendations are an extremely important part of a boarding school application.  Although some recommendations must be written by certain teachers, others are chosen by you.  For the recommenders you choose, there are a couple important criteria. First, your recommenders should know you beyond the average student-teacher relationship.  It is important that your recommenders can write responses that go in depth on your strengths — not just as a student, but as a person. Second, your recommenders should be good writers.  For me, a great recommender was my choir director, who I had a good personal connection with — and who I knew wrote very good recommendations. This doesn’t mean your recommenders have to be English teachers or that they must be the best writers ever, but they should be pretty good at expressing themselves.  In my application process, I made sure to choose important mentors in my life — who I had good relationships with — to be my recommendеrs.

4. Summer Programs

If there is one thing that selective schools —  and really any institutions for gifted students — love, it’s students who are active during the summer.  It can be hard to spend summer break doing more academic activities, but it really pays off in the long run. There are countless summer programs for children of all ages, backgrounds, and interests that can help you learn and grow — and look great on your applications. Programs like this, on top of being great portfolio builders, can be amazing ways to explore and find new passions. If you do your research, you can find some great summer programs that can help you grow as a person and get into the high school of your dreams.  Examples of programs that I participated in prior to going to Andover are the Davidson THINK institute and MITY (Minnesota Institute for Talented Youth). There are so many summer programs all across the country, all aimed at different types of people, so do your research and don’t miss out.

5. Additional material

At the end of most applications, there is a space to add anything you missed.  This section is great for talking about your achievements that you didn’t get to mention in the rest of your application. If there is an important achievement or special experience you had that you feel could help your chances of getting into the school, you should talk about it here. The people reading your application only know what you tell them; using this section is a great tool for making sure the school knows as many good things about you as possible. When I applied to Andover, I added that I won my school’s chess tournament, successfully ran for my school’s student council, and received a new, higher ACT score.

I hope these tips provide you with some insight on a successful boarding school campaign. I wish you the best of luck!

Max Ehrlich is currently a Freshman at Phillips Academy Andover and a recipient of the Caroline D. Bradley Scholarship.  When not studying in school, he enjoys playing baseball, attending model United Nations meetings, and playing the trumpet in his school band.

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