Why attend Swiss college prep boarding school

Throughout the year, I tour college prep boarding schools. It’s an opportunity for me to learn about schools that could potentially be a fit for my students, meet new colleagues, and stay current on what’s happening in the boarding school community. I have previously worked with students who attended school in Switzerland, so traveling to visit college prep boarding schools there was particularly intriguing. After an intensive week of touring campuses, hearing new languages and accents, driving through mountains, riding on trains and boats, and eating cheese and chocolate to my heart’s content(!), I understood more about why families around the world choose to have their teen attend school in Switzerland.

The Swiss schools that I visited included:

Aiglon College, Brillantmont, Ecole d’Humanité, Le Rosey, Leysin American School, Rosenberg, TASIS, Zuoz

Each school offered a unique experience. In future posts, I will share more about individual school offerings. Overall, the Swiss college-prep boarding schools have much to offer families who may be seeking a premier education in Europe.


Why Swiss schools

In my conversations with students, faculty, administrators, and alumni, there were several common reasons noted for why they chose to attend high school in Switzerland:

Curriculum offers – There were several curriculum options among the Swiss schools. Diploma offerings included International Baccaulaureate, Advanced Placement International Diploma, French Baccalaureate, and British A Level. Depending on a student’s aspirations after high school, these academic programs can meet a range of interests.

Opportunities to travel – Given the proximity of other countries and the cultural freedoms in Europe, students attending Swiss schools had ample opportunities to travel throughout Europe. It was not uncommon to hear students discuss their trips to Italy or France during the weekend or taking service trips to ___ during Spring Break.

Global community – The Swiss schools had incredible diversity among its student body and faculty. (I even met several staff and faculty from Ohio on the campuses . . . O-H!) The students remarked about the advantages for them to live in a community where they interact with and learn about cultures as varied as Russian, Chilean, or Saudi Arabian.

These are global experiences that are not easily matched during high school. I must admit though that I wondered . . . “If students have these kinds of experiences in high school, what does it mean for the types of experiences that will engage them in college?” What are your thoughts about such global experiences during high school?


Buxton School: For the outdoorsy, curious student who wants a community


The Buxton School, located a stones-throw away from Williams College, is truly a unique high school. Across grades 9-12 there are about 85 students. That alone doesn’t tell you much about all the opportunities that this school provides to its student body.

Bali-Buxton Program and School-wide Trip

I was particularly impressed by the Bali-Buxton program. Do you know of another high school exchange program with Indonesia? Well, Buxton offers this opportunity for their students. An instructor from Indonesia spends time at Buxton in the spring. Students then spend three weeks in the summer learning the language, arts, and culture in Indonesia. Throughout the school year, students learn traditional Balinese dance on their home campus. When the students visit Indonesia in the summer, they perform the traditional dance there, as well.

Every year, the entire school takes a trip together. Recent trips have been taken to El Paso, Nicaragua, and even Cuba. Generally, the trips are domestic with an abroad trip taken every four years. Parents . . . don’t worry . . . the trips integrate an academic component along with taking advantage of local culture.

Nature all around campus

The outdoorsy student will appreciate the rugged, hilly setting of Buxton. The view from the main hall is breathtaking and nature is all around. In the winter, students can participate in ski and snowboard trips three times a week. Year-round outdoor activities are plentiful, like gardening and chopping wood (that’s more like work than a fun activity, huh?). The campus is on the site of a farm, so the buildings are somewhat spread apart. Students spend time outdoors every day by walking to class, going to their dorm, walking up the hill to the music or art studio. By the end of my tour, I felt like I had a real workout.

What Kelly Clarkson says to Boarding School Applicants

Today there were thousands of families gathering around their computers to learn the admissions decisions from boarding schools. Some went to a website with their login information, while others checked email accounts to see the opening line. If your letter began with “Congratulations” then you can pat yourself on the back for a job well done. A number of boarding schools, such as Hotchkiss, saw a record number of applicants, so this application season was quite competitive.

In a competitive application season, there are many more well-qualified students who opened their admissions notices to learn that they were either “Waitlisted” or “Denied” admissions. Ouch!

Now what? if you were Waitlisted or Denied to Boarding School

For students who were waitlisted or denied to boarding school, keep in mind the words of Kelly Clarkson, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!” You can even “stand a little taller” even though you’re disappointed in the results. Here are 3 ways that you can indeed stand taller if you plan to submit a stronger application next year:

  • Continue to do well in the classroom – If you’re not understanding the content, ask for help from your teacher or work with a tutor. Sometimes, it’s not so much the content as it is a student’s organizational skills. You can improve your organizational skills by having a study routine or using a planner or other tool that helps you keep track of assignments.
  • Manage your teacher relationships from the start – Many boarding school applications require that students submit recommendations from current teachers. Students are surprised by this every year, especially when they haven’t developed a relationship with their new teacher!
  • Set a study plan for the SSAT – Taking any standardized test without prior review is risky. For the SSAT, plan to spend about 3-4 weeks of prep time.

These decisions provide good information, so you can use it as such. Keep on hanging in there!

Admissions decisions released in March

Students around the world will learn in March the admissions decisions on applications to summer programs, boarding schools, and colleges. The month of March is an emotional ride of highs and lows. Years ago, students would receive notices via postal mail. Now, many students find out either in their email inbox or through an online website. At least with the postal mail, you could sometimes tell the decision by the thickness of the envelope. All you have to do now is hold your breath when you click to see whether the top line begins with “Congratulations!”

If you’re admitted

I encourage all students who gain acceptance to a boarding school or college to take advantage of the special Admitted Students events. These events offer an opportunity to see the campus again (or for the first time) more personally. Sure, there will be alot of “wining and dining” to get you to come to their school, but that’s OK. You will have an opportunity to meet faculty, current students, administrators; eat in the dining halls; and maybe stay overnight. It’s during these events that you really decide whether you want to attend this institution. In the past, I’ve had students change their minds altogether about which school to attend. (On a personal note, I visited an Admitted Student event at Columbia University, as a high school senior. It was so much fun that I knew I couldn’t attend college there. . . . too many distractions in Manhattan for my personality type!)

By May 1

You must notify all colleges or your decision by May 1 (For boarding schools, it’s usually in April. Please check your letter.) This means that even if you’ve decided that you’re not attending that college, you must still let them know. And please, please, only send one deposit!

All the best to families as they wait to hear the news!

Where have you been accepted?

What to do While Waiting to Hear Admissions Decisions…

It’s a bit quiet in my office these days as students are waiting to learn their admissions decisions for colleges and boarding schools. The notification date for boarding school applicants is March 10. Seniors applying to college through regular decision can expect to hear from colleges at the end of March.

Boarding school applicants generally notify the schools of their decision: April 10

High School seniors notify colleges of their enrollment decision: May 1

On these dates, please remember to notify all the schools/colleges, not only the campus where you will enroll in the Fall.

While Waiting

The waiting period to learn the outcome may seem unnecessarily long. Here’s a way that families can get the most of that waiting period:

  1. Complete all financial documents, which includes prior year tax statements and other filings
  2. Continue to perform well academically – It can be tough to stay motivated when you know you’re likely to start at a new campus the following year. Keep in mind that your new campus may request final transcripts. If your grades have dropped, their admission offer can be rescinded. Just a warning . . .
  3. Stay on alert for Admit event announcements – Some campuses may announce their admit event dates. However, don’t purchase your ticket until you know you’ve been admitted! Once you learn the exciting news, do plan to attend all Admit events. The Admit events will help you determine the best match school or college for you!

How are you using this loooong wait??

Taking the SSAT: How to interpret the score reports

It’s the season for secondary school admissions so we continued our conversation about the SSAT, on The Education Doctor Radio show.

I met with some parents just today to discuss secondary school admissions. They are considering both day and boarding schools for their son. Given the number of college preparatory independent schools around the country, their son has a lot of opportunities to select from varied schools that could be a great fit for him. I visit independent schools around the country and in fact this week, I’m visiting some wonderful boarding schools in western CT. In all my campus visits, each school is different. However, the application process is a common denominator. All the schools require some form of standardized testing. For many of those schools, it’s the SSAT.

Last week, we had Aimee Gruber, Senior Director of Outreach for SSATB join us to talk about the SSAT, what it is, and how to take it. We covered some great tips and strategies, so I highly recommend that you listen to that SSAT podcast as well. Our show is only a half-hour each week and there was more that we didn’t get a chance to cover.

Today’s show is, therefore, part two of the SSAT! Aimee returned this week to discuss how the schools use the SSAT, interview questions that every student should ask about how the SSAT scores are used as admission criteria. Then finally, we discuss how to interpret the SSAT score report. As we discussed in last week’s show, the report to schools is different from the report to families and you will hear from Aimee just how different and what it means for the student applicant.

The first test administered this year will be coming up on October 15 (which happens to be the same day as the PSAT). The PSAT as we mentioned last week is offered by College Board, while the SSAT is offered by a totally separate organization. Interestingly, we found out in last week’s show that ETS who created the SAT also developed the SSAT. Later in the show, we talk about those similarities and what the SSAT score reports can tell you about the SAT.

How to interpret SSAT score reports

logoPlease join The Education Doctor Radio show on October 6 at 8:00 pm EST as we meet with Aimee Gruber of SSATB.

This is part two of our discussion on the SSAT. You can listen to part one here. In this episode, Aimee will explain how schools are using the SSAT score reports in their admissions processes and what students and parents need to know about these reports. Remember to have your reports ready as she will highlight all the sections of this report. What does the national percentile really mean? Or another question for her will be . . . What does the SAT (yes, College Board test) predictor on the report tell us?


You may listen online at this link. Questions may be emailed to radio@compasseducationstrategies.com.


Salisbury, Indian Mountain, and Hotchkiss integrate world-class athletics and academic rigor

In Day 2 of my western Connecticut prep school campus visits, I’m admittedly overwhelmed by the diversity of program offerings in this region. Connecticut is not a big state but is dense with prep schools. Today I visited Salisbury School, Indian Mountain School, and The Hotchkiss School.


Salisbury serves 300 male students from around the world. The science center included a wonderful library, a physics lab, a chemistry lab, and a separate biology lab. My tour guide expressed that he wasn’t too keen on attending an all-boys school but realized that girls would be a distraction. Besides that, the school hosts dance each week so he’s still able to intermingle with girls socially.

The first stop on my tour was the boathouse, which is a sight to behold. It’s big, clean, and houses all the boats rowed by their world-class rowing program. An administrator proudly stated that “We grow rowers!” highlighting that many young men join the team with little to no experience. However, many advances to D1 level crew teams. The other athletic facilities were just as impressive . . . squash courts, hockey rink, lacrosse fields. Not to mention that their football team is strong in its division.

Salisbury understands boys, how to teach, how to engage, and how to nurture them both academically and socially.


There are 85 guitarists among the 180 students in the upper school. 140 musicians overall!There are 85 guitarists among the 180 students in the upper school. 140 musicians overall!
There are 85 guitarists among the 180 students in the upper school. 140 musicians overall!

Indian Mountain School is a junior boarding school that I was excited to visit in person. In my prior conversations with administrators, I sensed that it was a special place for students to develop into their own. The lower school has students in grades PK-4, while the upper school ushers students in grades 5-9 through early adolescence. Students will typically board in grades 7th, 8th, and 9th. For the teachers, administrators, and other staff, this really is a life commitment/decision. The responsibility is even greater in supporting these youth.

The team of adults who work there, live on campus, coach, and organize activities provide all the support services imaginable. The support services are balanced with student leadership opportunities. Students are given just as many opportunities to take risks. Each class experiences an outdoor adventure that bonds them in unforgettable ways. The overall thrust of the community was character development.

An administrator shared a quote in his office, which speaks to the character and quality of Indian Mountain School: “In all things, a lesson.”


The flags adorning the Hotchkiss dining hall showcase the 69 countries represented on campus.
The flags adorning the Hotchkiss dining hall showcase the 69 countries represented on campus.

Hotchkiss is a school that you have to see to believe. Admittedly, I was overwhelmed by its campus size, facilities, and student involvement. A surprise day-off was announced prior to my arrival, so, as you can imagine, the students were happy and taking advantage of the many opportunities to order food, leave campus, or play games on the field.

The students I met were involved in so many activities – athletics, theatre, community service, as well as AP coursework. There are about 500+ students at Hotchkiss but its size rivaled most small colleges I’ve visited. An administrator described it as a “small school within a large school.”

From the science center to the fine arts offerings to the radio station to the Olympic-sized swimming pools to the school-owned farm, students have unlimited opportunities to explore and discover their interests. The academic rigor at Hotchkiss is well-known so students must learn fairly quickly how to balance their coursework with all these other enticing offerings.

Forman, Gunnery, and Cheshire serve a range of students with potential

Forman School

I visited three prep schools in western Connecticut today. The schools are all different in terms of campus, mission, and other factors. One common theme for the day, however, would be “transition!” Each school has a degree of changes happening on their campuses. On a scale of stability (1) to topsy-turvy (10), I would place Forman at 3; Gunnery at 6; Cheshire at 10+.


The head of school, teachers, administrators, and students I met at Forman were clear on their strengths and the profile of students that succeed there. The campus is spacious and scenic with rolling hills with a complement of relatively modern buildings. Students who attend Forman must have a diagnosed learning difference, such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, and executive function. All staff is trained in the support of students with these learning differences. In the 9th and 10th grade years, students focus on skill development. Then in 11th and 12th-grade years, students continue building strategies that work for them and self-advocacy in preparation for college. All students must have 2 years of intensive writing. Given that Forman accepts students in junior year or post-graduate, it’s not clear how they maintain a consistent, in-depth experience for all students.


Gunnery faculty can “fog” the classroom windows to avoid outside distractions…

The emphasis at Gunnery is on character, social-emotional wellness, and morality. Unique to Gunnery, all students participate in public speaking through the junior year; sophomores must take a course in ethics, and the senior year includes a capstone project with community service. Gunnery has an enrollment of 285 students. The fine arts department at gunnery actively seeks to connect students with practitioners. A great example mentioned by the art teacher – a female Gunnery student who has an interest in fashion is now working with a former Vogue pattern maker to learn how to sew!

The current head of school at Gunnery has announced her retirement. How will the school change once a new head of school is installed? How will prospective students know what to expect in their first year?


Cheshire was founded in 1794.

Juniors this year at Cheshire have the opportunity to take IB courses and/or AP courses. Their summer program, which started 3 years ago is growing. A math lab just opened this year. There were numerous other initiatives that began this year. The biggest change for this school of 325 students . . . . “5 heads of school in 9 years.”

The current head of school has been there for 3 years thus far. Continued longevity to him as the school transitions through these initiatives!


Taking the SSAT: How to Prepare and Why Take It

We have been podcasting The Education Doctor Radio show since December 2010. Our most popular shows have been on standardized testing and, much to our surprise even, boarding schools. In the Midwest, there is a growing trend of boarding school applicants from the Chicago area. Another interesting trend in boarding school admissions is that many students are learning about this option on their own and asking parents if they can visit or apply.

One of the admissions criteria for boarding school is the Secondary Schools Admissions Test. The first test administered this year will be coming up on October 15 (which happens to be the same day as the PSAT). The PSAT, of course, is offered by College Board, while the SSAT is offered by a totally separate organization. Because the acronyms are so similar, many people may mistake the SSAT and SAT. On our radio show today, we focus on the SSAT – we discussed why thousands of students take this test each year and how students can best prepare for the SSAT.

Secondary Schools Admissions Test

Our guest today is Aimee Gruber, Senior Director of Outreach, at SSATB. She joins us on the eve of the online registration deadline, which is tomorrow, September 30. Registered students are now preparing to take the test on October 15, so she joins us at a time when it will be most helpful for our listening families. Aimee gave us her insight and practical tips to taking the SSAT so that students can score well and get in to their best-matched schools.

In the taping of this show, we covered each section of the SSAT – Quantitative, Reading Comprehension, Verbal – and practical tips that students can apply right away. Next week, on our show, Aimee Gruber returns to discuss how the school admissions offers use the score reports, SSAT-related questions that students should ask in their interview, and how students and parents can interpret their score reports. Please remember to join us on October 6 at 8:30 pm EST or you can listen live by calling (714) 333-3356.