Why a Semester Away?

The high schools from which our students come, and to which they return, provide outstanding educational experiences. Semester school students have been, and go on to be, happy and thriving in these sending schools. Why, then, were semester schools created? What are some of reasons to consider going away during high school?

First and foremost, semester schools act as a supplement to, not a replacement for, our students' sending schools. A semester away provides a unique opportunity to reflect on oneself as a learner and as a community member, but it is not an experience that exists in isolation. Semester schools teach transferable skills that allow our alumni to return to their high schools with a renewed sense of self and an ability to both contribute to and benefit from their school community.

Here are several advantages a semester away can offer the right student:

Academic Advantages

Each semester school has an academic program that is designed to align with and build upon students' sending school curricula. We strive to have our alumni return home on track or ahead of where they need to be in each subject area, and the inclusion of Honors- and AP-level classes means that students find the same high expectations at semester schools as they do at their sending schools. Some subject areas—such as foreign language and mathematics—use virtually the same syllabi and progression as sending school classes so that students are more likely to stay on track. Other classes, such as English and science, are often designed to uniquely take advantage of a semester school's area of expertise, location or environment.

For example, many of our science courses use the natural environment around the school—whether marine, farm or mountain—as a laboratory and foundation. Our English classes might focus on the cultural or physical context in which we find ourselves, such as in the heart of New York City. In all cases, regardless of the subject matter being explored, semester school classes teach and enhance the fundamental critical thinking, analysis and other intellectual skills that rigorous high schools and colleges demand.

All semester schools are boarding programs, meaning that students live at school for the duration of the semester. Academically, a boarding environment provides a unique opportunity for students to improve their self-discipline, study and time management skills, while generally small class sizes allow for lots of individual attention. Our schools are busy places, and we ask a lot of students academically. However, we also provide them with the peer and adult support required to enable them to rise to the challenges we present.

Visit the semester schools in our network to learn about each school's academic program

College Admissions Advantages

Many college counselors, parents and students ask early in the process of exploring a semester school, "What about college?" We understand the importance of the college admissions process, and have therefore designed our programs to enhance students' ability to navigate it.

The first way that we support students in the college application process is by providing a challenging academic program that is grade level-appropriate. Sending schools accept semester school credit, allowing students to stay on track with regard to graduation and college admissions requirements. All of our schools also provide the ability for students to take standardized and AP tests on schedule if they occur during the semester away. In the spring, many semester schools also provide individual college counseling (using college counselors from independent schools) and/or work closely with college counselors at sending schools to make sure that each individual student is progressing as needed.

The second way in which semester schools empower students in the college process is by providing an intense academic and community experience that enables them to better know the type of college they might like to pursue. The increased self-knowledge and self-confidence that are often outcomes of a semester away are highly beneficial as students enter the important process of finding the college that will best suit their needs. Likewise, many colleges recognize semester school graduates as risk takers in the best sense, and as independent thinkers who are well-prepared for the college experience.

Visit the semester schools in our network to see a list of colleges alumni have attended

Personal Growth Advantages

Students who attend our schools report advantages that go beyond their transcripts and college admissions results. Many of them report significant growth in less tangible areas, such as self-confidence, willingness to be a leader and ability to work well on a team. All of our schools are small communities, with no more than 40-45 students in each semester group. In addition, semester schools teach self-reliance through significant participation in making the community function. Whether by doing dishes, helping to clean a classroom, feeding farm animals or making dinner for fellow students and faculty, semester schools provide a chance for high school students to contribute to community life in tangible ways they may not experience at home.

Opting to leave your school for a semester is a big decision for any student, and leaving the known for the unknown rarely comes without risk. Going to a semester school means leaving familiar friends, sports teams, families, clubs and teachers behind. However, our alumni tell us that the rewards that come from the experience far outweigh the risks and sacrifices. Many of them find that they realize who they are—as learners, as friends, and as community members—on a deeper level by leaving the familiar and embarking on the adventure of a semester away. In this way, the personal growth they experience is often the most lasting and transferable outcome our schools provide.

Visit the semester schools in our network to learn about their approach to personal and community development

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