US Boarding Schools vs. HK International Schools

Deciding where to attend high school (typically Grades 9-12 in the US system) is an exciting but sometimes fraught decision for parents and students. Parents want to lay a groundwork for future success in university and beyond, while allowing students the time and space for personal growth. Students might not know what they want, or be able to predict what might make them fulfilled in one or four years.

As with all decisions, it is important to allow time to become informed, to discuss different options openly, and to explore a variety of opportunities before developing a strategy for the best high school location, and whether to consider boarding school as an option.

In order to make the initial stage of this process more manageable, here are four areas to consider that will help establish criteria for schools to research further together.

  1. Know your student! Make a personal profile. This is more difficult than what is normally done in preparation for applications to University. At the age of 12 or 13, many students are just discovering their own voice and may not yet be able to articulate it with the same clarity they will in just a year or two. Parents should use their knowledge of their children and the feedback they have received from teachers, coaches, relatives, etc., to think about the following: Academic Strengths/ Weaknesses, Learning Style, Personal Interests, Independence/ Social Skills, Language Fluency, and Maturity.
  2. Ideal Curriculum. In which classes has the student excelled? Is there a common type of teacher that he/she seems to connect with over others? Does he/she respond better to traditional or progressive classroom environments? Will they be more engaged by a US curriculum, International Baccalaureate or A-Levels? Language in classroom and/or in lunch room? Is college guidance and test preparation available? What is the student/teacher ratio and depth of teacher involvement in campus life? Is advanced coursework available in the areas in which your student excels?
  3. Extra-Curricular Opportunities. What activities is your student involved in? Any clubs, teams or organizations? What types of activities would they be interested in trying in the future? How fully will they be able to pursue these opportunities as they move up into their final high school years?
  4. Diversity. Is your student satisfied with the opportunities he or she has in Hong Kong? Are they exposed to students from a variety of backgrounds? Are they supported by teachers and classmates in pursuing their studies and interests? Are they able to participate in community service, leadership and extracurricular activities as much as you would like?

This is not an exhaustive list, but it should start a fruitful discussion and prepare you to begin looking in more detail at the profile of different schools. Most importantly, you will hopefully have a more realistic picture of attributes to focus on when researching schools and what your student, as an individual, needs to thrive during these important years.

Each family and each individual student will answer these questions differently, and that is a positive thing. Even more than university, secondary schools come in all shapes and sizes, and there is no simple ranking system on which you should base your decision. By starting early and focusing on having an open and honest discussion about the environment that will allow your student to thrive, you and your family will be able to start looking at schools together with purpose and clarity.