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Step by Step Relieves School Search Stress

By Holly McGlennon Treat

At some point during a boarding school search, students and their families may start to feel the pressure of getting everything done. Researching schools and compiling application elements can feel like a lot on top of already busy school and family schedules. This year, in particular, the process has extra challenges. I sympathize. And as a professional with decades of experience in this field, I can assure you—this process is worth it. Just keep going, step by step.

Why is this year so complex? As boarding schools navigate the evolving COVID landscape, what they can offer to prospective families shifts continuously. Since the pandemic began, schools have added a wide variety of virtual events to engage students and parents. Depending on the school, prospective students can enjoy virtual tours and chat with heads of school, current students, science teachers, history teachers, drama directors, coaches, current parents, etc. Some schools are offering dozens of such events throughout the admission season. Plus, when conditions allow, schools are trying to bring back traditional on-campus tours and interviews. Boarding schools have gone above and beyond to find new ways to give families the information they seek. So, in some ways it is easier than ever to learn about a school. With so many events to choose from, however, it is also more complicated. Families have more decisions to make and more to track on their calendars.

Decisions about standardized tests are also multi-layered. Historically, most applicants took these tests as a matter of course. Now, most—but not all—boarding schools have become test optional. Thus, students must check if each school on their list still requires the test. They must then weigh the possibility of preparing for and taking the SSAT in hopes of submitting a score that enhances their application.

This year, these twists and turns in the journey overlap a level of general anxiety that is higher than usual for students and parents. My best advice is to take a deep breath, to keep the goal in mind, and to tackle this project in small, steady bites. At its heart, a boarding school search is about imagining new opportunities and emerging independence. The process usually occurs over months and inspires an exciting sense of personal growth. The core components of the work remain evergreen: building a school list, scheduling visits, compiling references, writing essays, and preparing for interviews. Breaking these tasks down into manageable pieces will make the journey as a whole seem less daunting. Remember, exciting educational opportunities await! Once your child is enrolled at a school that is an excellent fit for them, all the complications of this year’s search will quickly fade away.


Holly McGlennon Treat specializes in helping families interested in independent junior and secondary boarding schools. She can be reached at