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The Ultimate Guide to Surviving Boarding School

Student Life

October 21, 2022

For many students entering high school, the idea of attending a boarding school seems very intimidating. Living away from home in such a different environment is difficult to adjust to for anyone. From someone who has started her second year of boarding school, here is the ultimate guide to surviving boarding school.

Pack Light

Packing for boarding school is a whole trial in and of itself. I remember panicking about the packing list my school sent us, wondering if I was packing too much or too little. I ended up going to school with the car absolutely crammed full of things that I thought I might end up needing.

In the end, half of the things I brought to school were entirely unused by the end of the year, shoved into the back of my closet to collect dust. So when you're packing for boarding school, make sure to only take the things you know you'll need with you. Even if you've packed a ton of things, it's very likely that you'll discover a lot more that you forgot to bring, so you'll wind up buying a lot of extra things throughout the school year, no matter what.

Besides, overpacking will only make it harder for you to find the things you need—trust me, I spent hours last year combing through my room looking for my cough drops when I caught a cold because I wasn't sure where I'd put them. It's always better to pack light at first and then buy more along the way.

Call Home

One of the most difficult things to adjust to when attending boarding school is living away from home. Most people, even if they'd rather not admit it, will feel homesick at some point, particularly when they have not yet made close friends at school and are still longing for and missing the friends they left behind at home. At the beginning of the year, in particular, make sure to call home and call friends.

That way you'll feel less homesick during the day. Of course, you also don't want to get so caught up in calling home and calling friends from home that you entirely forget to experience everything around you—the only way to truly and permanently get over your homesickness is by getting more and more accustomed to the new environment you are in by creating a space for yourself in it.

However, your parents will definitely want to hear from you and make sure you're doing alright in such a new environment, so make sure you're calling home somewhat frequently to let them know that you're doing well.

Make Yourself Busy

Attending boarding school is a truly unique experience, and it's only right to take advantage of your years in boarding school by getting involved in as many things as you can. There are so many activities and sports and courses to attend—even if it's something that you've never tried before, even if it's something you've never so much as heard about before, it's still good to try.

Many boarding schools will hold an event early on in the year where you can sign up for whatever clubs or organizations you find interesting—and there are so many that you'll definitely be able to find one that fits your interests.

One perk of attending a boarding school is that you can make pretty much anything into a club—so no matter how out-of-the-ordinary your interests are, you can always find other people who are interested in the same things. If you're super interested in something that isn't already a club, you can also create your own club or organization at school! No matter what your interests are, there are always a ton of new things to explore. You might surprise yourself!

Stay Organized

One of the first things you'll learn at boarding school is to keep everything organized. When you're living by yourself, your parents are no longer there to remind you about cleaning your room, doing your laundry, etc. You have to remember to do all of these things on your own, otherwise, your room will inevitably become an absolute mess (and you will run out of socks—somehow I find that I'm one sock down every time I do my laundry).

The point is, if you're living in a terribly organized room that you can barely walk around in, it's going to be very difficult to study well. But without parents to remind you, you have to remember to clean your room consistently on your own (or face the wrath of your house counselors when you inevitably fail your room inspection—which is where the faculty members in your dorm come and make sure you're not living in a pigsty).

My advice is to pick a day of the week—Sunday works best for me because it's on the weekend, so I'm not busy—and force yourself to clean your room every single week on that day. Keep everything you have relatively organized, or you will find your time at boarding much more stressful than it needs to be.

Keep Healthy Habits

Without parents to remind you of maintaining healthy habits, it can be difficult to remember, particularly with the chaos of high school going on around you. Sometimes it can be tempting to skip out on meals when you have work to do—I would know, I've spent too much time debating if it's even worth it to go to dinner when I have two tests to study for the following day. But as difficult as it is sometimes, you have to eat consistently in order to make it through the school year.

Something else attending boarding school wreaks havoc on is sleeping schedules. Most of my friends sleep way past midnight, a product of procrastination to spend more time with friends and the general heavy workload everyone is stuck with. If you're not doing work on time, you'll probably wind up sleeping later and later every day, so make sure you are in fact going to sleep at a consistent time.

Manage Time Well

And of course, most importantly, you need to learn how to manage your time well in order to succeed at boarding school. Without the proper time management skills, it's very difficult to stay on top of your work, particularly when there's so much going on at any point in time. Living with friends, although fun, completely wrecks with time management, so making sure you stick to your own schedule every day will make your life much easier.

That's not to say that you can't spend time with friends in order to do well in school, but at a boarding school where you live right next to your friends, it's important to know when you can be gossiping with your friends and when you should probably be starting your English paper. Otherwise, you'll inevitably find yourself hunched over your desk in the dead of the night, just starting a four-page paper the day before it's due. You might think that's a joke, but it's a very frequent occurrence—and not a particularly fun experience. I would know.

Overall, attending boarding school might seem very scary at first, but as long as you follow these rules, I guarantee that you will be able to adjust well to life at boarding school.

Angeline Zhao
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Angeline Zhao is an eleventh-grader at Phillips Academy Andover. She loves journalism, competition math, teaching, and playing card games. Angeline often spends hours overanalyzing books and binge-watching shows like Gilmore Girls and Brooklyn 99.