Interview: How boarding prepared us for university

Stephanie Cheah, founder of BESSA, speaks to students at the schools show about how their boarding school experiences will help them at university.

There are many reasons why parents decide to choose the boarding school route for their children, but one of the most common is because it prepares them well for university.

At BESSA, the British Education and Schools Show in Asia, we asked a few students currently studying at some of the best British boarding schools how they felt full-boarding would ease the transition from school to university.

“I have learnt to live with all sorts of people”, said Marina.  A few of her friends agreed wholeheartedly.  The boarding houses are not only filled with students that come from a variety of cultures and countries, but they are also a melting pot of many different personalities and characters.  “You have to adapt and be flexible, and this lays the foundation to encounter all walks of life when you arrive at university.”

Boarders develop a lot of independence.  They learn the chores of daily living, like doing their own laundry, and also plan their academic studies and future career paths.  Isabella told us that she enjoys the freedom of being able to make her own choices.  Although the days are quite structured, she can organize her own timetable for homework and extra-curricular activities.  She enjoys sports and likes the flexibility of scheduling her own fitness programme between the gym, the pool and the climbing wall.

Most boarding schools have a lot of their staff living within or very near the school, which results in a warm community of staff and students co-existing.  Alistair McConville, Director of Innovation and Learning at Bedales School, says that what makes the school special is “undoubtedly the quality of relationships between kids, and between kids and staff. It’s a confident, warm community, engaged in all of the worthwhile sporting, cultural, intellectual activities you can possibly imagine.”  Everyone knows each other and will offer help, whether in the classroom or outside.  This open-door policy is similar to what students will encounter at university, so boarders find they naturally have the confidence to speak up and ask questions.

Dylan, a Sixth Former, only started boarding when he was 16 but said it was a very good move for him.  “I can fit much more into my week because everything is on-site”, he explained.  At his old school, he spent more than an hour commuting every day and then had to travel again to after-class activities.  He estimated a total saving of 60 hours a month as a result of being at boarding school!  Dylan has used this extra time on preparing his university applications.  He also reads more widely now in order to deepen his knowledge in history, which is the course he hopes to study at university.

All the schools that exhibit at BESSA have excellent facilities for sport, drama, art, music and much more.  Upon opening any brochure, you will find a long list of clubs and societies that students can join or participate in.  “My school gives me so many opportunities over and above the academics”, said Michael.  During his four years of boarding, he has played 5 new sports, taken up drumming with a band and joined the astronomy society.  As amateur astronomers, they stargaze through the school’s telescope, map the skies and invite professional scientists to their school for lectures.  “I had the chance to dip my feet in lots of things I was interested in, so now I can narrow down and know exactly what I will focus on at university”.

All the students were full of effusive enthusiasm about their schools and re-affirmed our supposition that boarding would set them up rather well for their next steps in life.