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The Modern Guide to The Thing Before Preppy

Monday, May 27, 2019

A Reader Question on Schools: Boarding vs. day, single sex vs. coed, public vs. private?

Since we are on the topic of education, I would love to hear your readers' views of public vs private, boarding vs day, and single sex vs coed. I have some long-held beliefs from my own academic experiences which have been challenged as I have started touring private prep schools for the children. My children are in an excellent public school and doing very well. I'm thinking if it ain't broke don't fix it. Thoughts from those who have been in the trenches? Best regards.


  1. I attended a truly excellent public school and a private, single sex boarding school. Academically, there was no difference but boarding school is a much more immersive experience. One's character and habits are more likely to be shaped by the boarding school experience. If the student lives at home his or her family will likely have a bigger influence. Excellent public schools are usually found in towns with very high property taxes, so most of the students in both types of schools will probably be from well off families.

    Some people think that it's easier to focus on academics at a single sex school because there are fewer distractions, but I don't think it makes much difference. The student's maturity and motivation are much more important than whether there are members of the opposite sex at school. At my boarding school we had to wear a jacket and tie to class, but I don't think that makes any difference. My public school was in a very preppy town and most of the students wore polo shirts and button downs every day.

    Overall I enjoyed both about equally. If your children are doing well at a very good public school, I see no reason to change.

  2. In my experience (3 boarders, one K-12 day), today’s schools are academically rigorous and competitive and will help get your kid into a good college without having to pay bribes. However, the traditional prep school mission of educating the complete child, inculcating values such as piety, duty, patriotism, consideration for others, fair play, reticence, command of language, etc. has diminished if not disappeared entirely. The good news is your children will not lack in something called “self-esteem”.

  3. I'll second the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" approach. If your current public school is working to everyone's satisfaction, then stick with it.

    Best Regards,


  4. Having attended both excellent private and public schools the private was rigorous, academically superior and taught one to think. Public was more fun and less productive. Today, having educated three children and observed seven grandchildren at highly regarded private and public schools it very much depends on the particular school, private, or public to determine which is the better experience. An excellent private school would be my preference, because it prepares the person better for the reality of life.

    1. My perception of “the reality of life” would cause me to prefer an excellent public school.

  5. There's an excellent series on Amazon Prime called Harrow, A Very British School. Highly recommended, even though it is repetitive in parts. It may change (or reinforce!) your ideas about boarding schools.

  6. Speaking from my experience during college. Education does not just come from the time you spend in the classroom it is also the time you spend in the dormitories.

    I transferred to the college I graduated from and was in the first class that contained both sexes. Before that it was all male. I asked my roommate if he thought there was a difference with women on the campus. He said yes. "Know we have to take a shower and dress appropriately."

  7. I believe it depends on the school. My children attended an excellent public school, pre K to
    sixth grade. It was a very small school, with some of the finest teachers, as well as an excellent Principal. The remainder of their education was spent at a private religious prep school. When they entered the prep school, they were academically advanced. They lost some ground in the transition.
    In hindsight, I would have chosen the same sex private religious prep school that was a considerable distance from home, as opposed to the one we chose. Research the school, and the credentials of the teaching staff, and administration, as well as how they spend the tax dollars or tuition. I will say uniforms level the playing field just a tad, which allows for the focus to be on academics. Lastly, children have not changed, but parents have. There is no Utopia. Look for a school district or private school where the values of the students and their parents are in line with
    your values.

  8. Both my children attended parochial school K to 8. They both went on to public high schools, one the local, high rated high school and the other attended a highly competitive "satellite" school which you had to apply for and get in (but is also a public school). Both kids went on to highly prestigious universities -- with no bribes! So public school really is OK in my book.

  9. The main advantage I see to boarding school life (I attended a single sex one that went co-ed in my last year of four) was that I was more used to the kind of living arrangements and self-scheduling (keeping a room clean, using a reference library, making travel arrangements) that I had to do for myself in college. There was less of an opportunity for 'helicopter parenting'. Our children went to a private co-ed day school K-12 and all did well without much prompting by us and got into the (excellent) colleges of their choice no problem. My son is a case manager at Amherst College, helping students who get into difficulties (of many kinds). His wife is a psychotherapist who serves many college students in the Five College setting. The main issue for most is the stress level of imposed expectations and fear of failure. The students with boarding backgrounds seem less stressed.

  10. I spent 30 years in a small public school. We were hired to prep kids for college of whatever. We went kids to Rice, Tulane, Vassar, Georgetown, UT- Austin, etc....And the kids were prepped for that next step. That said, with retirement, attrition, etc, I would not send my child now to that school. ( The last serious core teacher retired last week. For years he was a consultant for the a state oyster board.)
    Do research on the school. Private, Parochial, Public. If they care more about the football program than academics, run away.

  11. Thanks to each of you who took the time to respond. Each comment was extremely helpful!


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