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The Flip Side

A Soft Landing: Making a Successful Transition from a Therapeutic Program to a Traditional School

Families whose students are in therapeutic programs sometimes worry about admissions deadlines at this time of year. Their students are busy regaining equilibrium while application milestones for boarding and many day schools pass by. Anticipating that students will have completed their programs before next fall, parents are eager to plan for the transition back to a traditional school. Students, however, may need more time to be in a healthy, confident frame of mind for the stress of completing applications and interviews. Fortunately, many wonderful schools have rolling admissions and expertise in supporting students with therapeutic experiences. So, when your teen is ready, admissions officers will still welcome applications for September enrollment.

Boarding schools offer unique opportunities for these students because they offer a built-in social circle, adult mentoring from morning to evening in classes, extra-curricular activities, and residential dorms. Boarding schools also offer a fresh start, away from friendship or family dynamics that may undermine students’ hard-earned progress. A best fit school will be one that offers the right levels of academic challenge/rigor and social/emotional support. To help students coming out of therapeutic programs have a soft landing, look for schools with:

  • A nurturing culture. Some schools expect students to be more self-sufficient, while others provide more support. Smaller schools often have especially tight-knit communities.
  • Strong faculty communication. While still respecting privacy, schools can alert deans, advisors, teachers, coaches, counselors, and dorm parents to watch for signs that students are struggling.
  • Transparent communication with parents. An open dialogue is critical to determining if a student and a school are a strong match. Parents will have many specific questions about academics, school culture, support systems, and daily structure. Admissions officers will want to know about students’ motivation, what students look like on their worst days, and what strategies students use to rebound after a setback.
  • Peers who have also had therapeutic experiences. In addition to serving traditional students, many schools value students whose life experiences have taught them resilience and optimism for overcoming life challenges. Regardless of how much they decide to share with friends, students appreciate the knowledge that they aren’t alone in the transition from therapeutic to traditional school.

Not rushing this process is critical for success. Students go to therapeutic settings because they need to focus on getting healthy. To achieve this goal, they must stay present in the moment, fully committing to each step of a program so they can feel the confidence that comes with its completion. Therapists have good insight on when students are ready to talk about their futures. Discussing schools too soon can backfire if students become overly anxious or worried they won’t succeed. When the time is right, however, families can approach this question from a place of optimism, knowing that they will find an excellent school environment that supports students in the next steps in their recovery.

Krissy Naspo is a senior associate with The Bertram Group, based in Connecticut. She provides services for domestic and international boarding school candidates and those seeking therapeutic school placements. She can be reached at