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The Benefits and Disadvantages Residential Education


This article describes the benefits and disadvantages of residential education, which includes boarding schools, military academies, wilderness programs and brat camps. I have conducted the research by anonymously surveying former students of these institutions as well as parents of former students. All of the names of the participants are pseudonyms made up by the surveyor.

Residential education is effective and beneficial for most adolescents. An important factor to whether the experience was beneficial for these students heavily relies on the reasons they were enrolled in these institutions. Overall, residential education helps adolescents socialize, learn, and gain independence (Goldsmith 2000). Out of the 39 subjects surveyed, eighteen respondents (46.2%) mentioned that they gained independence by living without their parents. Ramon is a unique individual that grew up with his family on a boarding school campus. He describes the experience for himself and other students at his college preparatory boarding school:

Boarding school is meant to prep you for college, and it does that by preparing you academically and athletically for the intensity of commitment. It also prepares you for living on your own. You experience all the drugs and alcohol at and early age, that honestly when you get to college, it’s kind of “been there done that.”

WIlderness programs are becoming very popular programs for dealing with at-risk youth.

WIlderness programs are becoming very popular programs for dealing with at-risk youth.

Ramon describes the difference between boarding school students and adolescents who attended non residential types of education. He also states that socialization and peer pressure come at an earlier age for boarding school students; for at risk youth, this type of living situation can be destructive to their behavior.

Similar to many other respondents, James discusses his reluctance to attend and his change in attitude after seeing what residential education offers: “When I was sent to boarding school at 11, at first I hated it. But, with time I grew to like it and became more mature and independent. If I had not been sent away, I believe that I would have been far more dependent on my parents then I am now. I have found going to prep school to help me tremendously in college.” Students that were enrolled in residential institutions for educational purposes were more likely to attended boarding schools as opposed to a military academies or wilderness programs. These subjects often mention that their experience made the transition to college easier to adjust to. Contrastingly, former students that attended due to at risk behavior were less likely to mention that they enrolled in college and were more likely to be living at home with their parents later in at the time they were surveyed.

Patricia was enrolled in a boarding school when she was fifteen. She never returned to live with her parents. She writes that she “would not be as friendly, accepting, or motivated without boarding school.” Similar to other respondents that were enrolled due to family tradition or education, Patricia identifies some of the benefits of residential education and describes a positive experience at her boarding school.

Another subject describes that although it was difficult to live away from home, she was able to assimilate into the boarding school environment and use this experience to its full potential: “While painful at times, living away from home was an enlightening experience that ultimately made me see the world through a different lens. The particular school also introduced me to various activities on campus that would not have been available for me otherwise.” Residential education requires its students to live and learn in the same place. Therefore, travel isn’t needed to be involved in clubs, arts, organizations or sports. Similar to a college environment, a student can be involved in academic, social and athletic programs that might not be available in their hometown or require extensive funds and/or travel.

Sprott, Jenkins and Doob (2005) suggest that adolescents with a strong school bond are less likely to be violent or participate in at risk behavior. A strong school bond is defined as engagement in school activities and academic achievement. Because residential education promotes solidarity between its students through their residential living models, they are more likely to be engaged in school activities and care about their academic standing.

Georgina points out that if she were to enroll her child in residential education, it would be a “boarding school because it gives the child a chance to connect more with friends and help with independcance, however i think it would depend on the child.” Boarding schools are the most effective type of residential education as a means for academic and athletic achievement. For students that are at risk or need more parental attention, however, the potential to succeed decreases as a result of parental absence (Flint 1993). Being enrolled in residential education as a result of behavioral issues can cause the student to feel abandoned and weaken their school bond (Sprott, Jenkins, and Doob 2005).

Former students of boarding schools are usually enrolled voluntarily, while students of other instituions, as Lee and Barth (2009) refer to as group care programs, are generally sent their for behavioral issues and their attendance is involuntary. While coding the former student responses, it was important to determine whether the individual was voluntarily enrolled in the institution, or if they attended involuntarily:

Another important distinction between residential education programs and other group care intervention is that residential school placements are voluntary in nature. These are not locked programs where youth have been remanded without input. Youth often must apply and be selected to attend. While some residential schools that have a clear college preparatory focus may establish academically oriented selection criteria, most programs expect that youth coming from underperforming schools will be a few years behind grade level. Once admitted, youth or their families can also disenroll when residential schooling is no longer in the youth’s best interest. (Lee and Barth 2009: 156)


53.8% of the subjects surveyed explained that they had no desire to attend residential education (insert Figure 4 here) before they left home. This sample was made up of students that attended due to at risk behavior and family tradition. One subject explains that he and his brother, who attended a boarding school together, did not see the purpose in living away from home: “[my parents were] pressure[d] to send us to a good school. I'm not really sure [why we went to boarding school], as we didn't have to board there, we lived close enough to drive.” Although he attended for educational reasons, he is one of the 21 subjects, mostly composed of formerly at risk students that did not want to attend prior to enrollment (see Figure 4).

When choosing the proper institution for an adolescent to attend, a parent and their child must find a type of institution that will meet the needs of the adolescent. Instable placement into an institution can result in bad behavior or a decline in the quality of their grades (Rubin et. al. 2007). After attending an institution, 61.54% of the surveyed subjects said their experience with residential education was beneficial (see Figure 4). Of these subjects, 50% included those that attended these institutions due to at risk behavior.

Former students of wilderness programs or brat camps did so as a result of at risk behavior. 57.4% of subjects that attended wilderness programs or brat camps did not find their experience to be beneficial. At risk subjects that attended boarding schools were more likely to say that their experience was beneficial than those who attended boarding schools. It is theorized that the environment of a boarding school allows students to have a strong school bond as Sprott, Jenkins and Doob (2005) discuss. Choosing the proper institution for an adolescent to attend is very important to their future and maintaining positive familial relationships.

Placement instability is a result of a drastic change in environment (Rubin et. al. 2007). Usually, youth that change schools often can experience instable placement: “For older youth in foster care who often experience multiple placement changes and similar numbers of school changes, residential education programs provide the opportunity of remaining in one placement and one school system” (Lee and Barth 2009: 158). Although residential education is being used as a way to prevent instable placement for those affected by residential mobility, some subjects showed that being placed into residential education can cause a student to have difficulty adjusting to the environment of residential education. Subjects that showed the strongest signs of instable placement were those that attended two or more institutions.


Subjects that attended multiple institutions were less likely to illustrate a positive relationship with their parents (insert Figure 6 here). There are six subjects in this study that attended two or more institutions; all of them attended both a boarding school and a wilderness program. Three of these subjects currently have a negative relationship with their parents as a probable result of their at risk behavior prior to enrollment based on their responses. One subject’s relationship with their parents was difficult to classify as negative or positive. Two of these subjects have a positive relationship with their parents, yet they currently live with their parents, unlike any others in this sample. These respondents explained that living with their parents has strengthened their relationship. This data illustrates that instable placement due to residential mobility causes the parent child relationship to weaken, or the child’s dependence on their parents to increase.

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Half of the former students that attended multiple institutions admitted that their experiences in at boarding schools were beneficial (see Figure 4), but none described the benefits of the wilderness program they attended. All of these subjects were enrolled due to at risk behavior. As hypothesized, the reasons why former students attended these institutions have a direct influence on how they interpret their experiences in residential education.


Read More about Residential Education


Gerard, Jean M. and Cheryl Buehler. 1999. “Multiple Risk Factors in the Family Environment and Youth Problem Behaviors.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 61:343 361.

Hagaman, Jessica L., Alexandra L. Trout, M. Beth Chmelka, Ronald W. Thompson, and Robert Reid. 2009. “Risk Profiles of Children Entering Residential Care: A Cluster Analysis.” Journal of Child and Family Studies 19:525 535.

Lawton, Leora, Merril Silverstein, and Vern Bengtson. 1994. Solidarity Between Generations in Families. Intergenerational Linkages: Hidden Connections inAmerican Society 56:19–42.

Lye, Diane N. 1996. Adult Child­Parent Relationships. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.

Rubin, David M., Amanda O'Reilly, Xianqun Luan, and Russell Localio. 2007. The Impact of Placement Stability on Behavioral Well Being for Children in Foster Care. Pediatrics 119:336 344.

Sprott, J. B. B., Jenkins and Doob. (2005). The Importance of School: Protecting At-Risk Youth From Early Offending.Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 3:1-59.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Brittany Kennedy (author) from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii on December 09, 2011:

Yes. These are part of a large, long term study that I conducted. Thank you!

Cindy Murdoch from Texas on December 09, 2011:

This is another excellent hub. You have really done your homework on these. haven't you. (Pun intended!) You put a lot of research and work into this hub.

Brittany Kennedy (author) from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii on December 07, 2011:

Thank you, Carol. That's so great that homeschooling worked for you and your grandson. I was homeschooled in sixth grade and really enjoyed it. Thank you for reading and commenting.

Carolyn Sands from Hollywood Florida on December 07, 2011:

Hi Brittanytodd, you gave out some nice info. I used to home school my grandson for awhile. When we sent him back to public school he did above average in his reading and math test.

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