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10 Myths About Boarding School

Mercersburg students walk out of Ford Hall

From Dead Poets Society to Harry Potter, pop culture has helped to shape people’s impressions of what boarding schools are like. So how much of conventional wisdom about a place like Mercersburg Academy is accurate? Turns out: not a lot. Let’s examine 10 common myths about independent boarding schools and see where the truth actually lies.

Myth #1: Boarding schools are elitist.
There are about 23,000 public high schools in the U.S. and only about 300 boarding schools, so yes, that’s pretty selective company! But Mercersburg accepts and encourages admission applications from anyone and everyone. More importantly, when you visit campus and meet our community, you’ll immediately see and feel that there’s a warm and welcoming culture that’s anything but stuck-up. We are proudly egalitarian and accepting of all.

Myth #2: Boarding schools are for troublemakers.
We can’t help but chuckle when we hear this myth. In reality, boarding schools are for highly talented and motivated students, not for those with a string of behavior problems. The great thing about an independent school like Mercersburg is that you’re surrounded by peers who, like you, are smart, curious, and motivated. Families don’t choose boarding school as punishment–they choose boarding school because it’s the best preparation for college, for a career, and for life.

Myth #3: Boarding schools are unstructured party scenes.
Sorry to disappoint those who may be looking for a party atmosphere, but that isn’t the kind of student that Mercersburg attracts. Our kids are busy with schoolwork, extracurriculars, and plenty of fun weekend activities. Plus our faculty live in the dorms and on campus, so there’s plenty of adult supervision and support.

Myth #4: Boarding schools are obsessed with the Ivy League.
We can’t speak for every college prep school, but Mercersburg cares more about you getting into the college or university that’s the best fit for you, not one from an arbitrary list or with an arbitrary ranking. Our college counselors will help you consider factors like academic, athletic, and artistic opportunities, other extracurriculars, school size and location, campus culture, and price tag.

Myth #5: Boarding schools are too expensive.
Let’s acknowledge that this myth might be true if you remove the word “too.” We are expensive. But financial aid makes Mercersburg accessible to everyone. Depending on their financial circumstances, families can receive anywhere from a few thousand dollars to a full ride. This year we awarded $10 million in financial aid! And don’t forget: most purchases you make depreciate over time, but an education will keep paying dividends for a lifetime.

Myth #6: Boarding schools lack diversity.
Again, we have to chuckle because Mercersburg is an incredibly diverse place. Race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, political affiliation, socioeconomic status, culture, and geography are just a few ways our student body is diverse. Being heterogeneous makes for the best possible education. We want to reflect the world around us to prepare you for that world, and we want every student to know they have a community where they belong.

Myth #7: Boarding schools are an outdated way of educating.
The way Mercersburg faculty deliver an education actually looks quite different from the way it once did–and it will look different in the future. That’s because we’re constantly striving to innovate, to improve, and to adapt our teaching to new science and research. Plus our faculty pursue graduate degrees and advanced training, attend and present at professional conferences, and learn from nationally recognized education experts who visit campus.

Myth #8: Boarding schools are cutthroat pressure-cookers.
Hear us loud and clear: Mercersburg doesn’t believe in busyness for its own sake. Yes, you will work hard, but not just for the sake of working hard. You’ll be challenged but supported. And we promise you’ll have free time too. Life is about balance!

Myth #9: Boarding schools are too liberal.
If you were to survey our students, faculty, and staff, you would find people who hold politically liberal positions. But you’d also find people who are politically conservative–and every ideological persuasion in between. That’s the beauty of boarding school: there’s a variety of viewpoints. And we love that. High school can and should be a time to thoughtfully examine what you believe about the world. We’re here to teach you how to think, not what to think.

Myth #10: Boarding schools undermine a parent’s role.
It’s true that Mecersburg parents don’t get to see their child as much as if their child were home and attending a local public or private school. But we see Mercersburg as a partner to parents in helping their teen grow and develop during a formative time of their lives. Most importantly, we’ve found that the relationship between parents and their teen is actually strengthened because a student enrolled in boarding school becomes a more mature young adult with numerous life skills. The truth? We believe one of the greatest gifts a parent can give their child is a boarding school education.