As headmaster, I have the opportunity to meet often with educators and admissions representatives from colleges and universities throughout the world. What attitudes and mindsets, I ask them, are most important for our children’s future success? What are the defining qualities of character we should seek to cultivate in our students? What do you want to see in a King’s graduate when they arrive on your campus?
I always get versions of the same answer. First, they tell me that they want to see a record of academic achievement. But they are quick to add that academic achievement is no longer sufficient. They also want to see evidence of what they call “citizenship.” They want applicants who are engaged in their communities, who lead through influence, and who are committed to service. They want to see the “soft skills” I spoke about during our Fall Parents Weekend, a capacity for empathy, an openness to difference, and what a recent report from the Harvard Graduate School of Education calls “ethical engagement and concern for the common good.”
We know that all successful people learn these things – and there are many ways to do so. But I believe that residential boarding schools like King’s are uniquely equipped to impart these important qualities of character. Indeed, it is what a school like ours does best. Schools that confine themselves to mere academic outcomes, as important as those may be, fail to equip young people with the skills, attitudes and mindsets they will need to meet the many challenges they will face in the future.
What are the advantages of boarding? Here is my top seven list, based on my own experience as a boarding student, a lifetime in boarding schools, and seven years as Headmaster of King’s:
Our own research suggests that boarding students show greater academic improvement over time and tend to graduate with higher levels of academic achievement. Our graduates also tell us that they are better prepared for the challenges of university.
Our students learn to take care of themselves, and, ultimately, of others. The ability to communicate in an open and honest way when problems arise, to advocate for oneself, to resolve conflict, to bounce back from temporary stumbles, and to take responsibility for one’s everyday habits (cleaning up after oneself, being punctual, managing one’s time, prioritizing, meeting one’s responsibilities) – these are the things our boarding program requires. All of these qualities are essential for success in university and career, especially during the critical first year of college, where patterns of success are established and fortified.
Does boarding require sacrifice? It does – on the part of parents, who naturally want their children with them, and for children, who may be accustomed to the ease and comfort of home. But it is a sacrifice worth making. Parents and students often report that their bonds strengthen rather than diminish when they board. And because we continue to provide the flexibility for our local students to go home during the weekends, there is ample time for children and parents to share meaningful family time.