Q&A: Differences in US and UK Boarding Schools Applications

Q: My husband and I are split over a US or a UK boarding school for our daughter. Jessie is 11 years old and attending a top local school. Can you tell us about the two application processes and what are the key differences that we should be aware of?

– Michelle

A: Dear Michelle,

I am sure if Jessie has read the Malory Towers series by Enid Blyton or the well-known Harry Potter series, she would have a good idea into the lives of a boarder. Boarding school can be a life-changing experience with invaluable opportunities for academic and personal growth. Preparing early and understanding what US and UK boarding schools look for will be instrumental to admissions success.

In general, the application process (and the education system) for UK boarding schools tend to be more academically focused, whereas US boarding schools review candidates more holistically. The table below is a summary of some key differences between the two application processes that you should be aware of.

Both UK and US boarding schools will require students to have solid academic achievements and examination results. US schools require the SSAT which covers English and maths, whereas UK schools will require multiple exams that cover a wider range of core subjects, such as English, maths, sciences and sometimes history, geography and a foreign language. Many of our students start preparing for their exams at least months in advance. Students who don’t have the grades and exam scores simply won’t make the first cut.

Interviews are a critical part of the process for both US and UK boarding schools. Interviews with UK schools will be more academically focused and Jessie should expect to be asked academic questions for which she should demonstrate a breadth and depth of knowledge and interests. US schools would cover more personal questions as well, such as what are Jessie’s favourite activities and interests, and why. This is why starting the process of exploring various interests outside of school at an early age, and building that profile, is important. Both UK and US schools will ask Jessie why she wants to attend boarding school and reasons for wanting to attend each specific school.

Do note that US boarding schools require students to write multiple essays and parents to write multiple statements. Usually, the US advisors spend countless hours each year working closely with students and parents to ensure they have well-crafted essays that really puts our students’ and their families’ best foot forward. So don’t underestimate the amount of time and effort needed for them!

Offers from UK schools are usually conditional, whereby Jessie will be required to pass the school-specific exam or the Common Entrance exam in the spring/summer before entrance in the fall. This is not the case for US schools.

One last tip is to remember that Jessie will be spending a few of her critical teenage years at boarding school, so finding the best fit environment for her is key. We highly recommend visiting some U.S. and UK schools to help her understand where she would feel most comfortable in.

Good luck!

Fun Fact:

US boarding schools may require students to take the TOEFL or IELTS exam if they attend schools that aren’t taught in English. Be sure to check with each school directly to ensure that you don’t miss this required step!

UK boarding schools do not require applicants to take the IELTS exam, but may ask international students to sit another English ability test, such as the UKiset.

Any further questions? Please reach out to us!

This original version of this article was published as “Q&A: Differences in U.S. and U.K. Boarding Schools Applications” on SCMP Education Post.