Category Archives: Independent Schools

What is the difference between an ‘educational agent’ and an ‘educational consultant’?

Many families, once they have decided to pursue a boarding education or even just a short term educational experience abroad, turn to a local contact to help them find the right opportunity. Let’s face it, if you are in a foreign country or even a major city, and even if language isn’t an issue, finding a school that is appropriate to your child’s wants and needs is a daunting task. Often times, it is easier to have someone who deals with schools and education opportunities on a daily basis give you a hand. There are two options available to most families: consult an agent or hire an educational consultant. Like any decision to engage someone for advice, paid or otherwise, it is best to do a little homework before making your choice.

Educational Consultants are generally professionals who charge a family a fee for service which usually includes interviews, learning and personality assessments (sometimes a complete psycho educational assessment which may or may not include a diagnosis of a learning difference), a list of recommended schools to match the needs/wants of the student/family, facilitating visits to a short list of schools, and then assistance in preparing for applications, tests, and interviews. Educational Consultants work for a family and therefore are considered to be impartial because they are hired by the family to help them with their needs and they do not accept a commission from the school where a student earns a space. Educational Consultants may belong to a professional organization such as the Independent Educational Consultants Association . IECA consultants are available to help with college advising, day and boarding advising, learning disability advising and therapeutic advising.

Educational Agents are found throughout the world and collect a commission from education providers (schools, colleges, language programs) for each student they place in a school, on a course or program. Like a travel agent, they sell ‘seats’ and can book you on almost any course. In fact, much of the industry has developed out of the sector of the travel industry that caters to those looking for an educational ‘trip’ or experience. If price is your biggest factor in choosing an opportunity, an agent can counsel you on a wide variety of options varying in location, length of stay, and your budget. The biggest distinction between a good agency and a bad one is the training of their workforce. Some agents or agencies specialize in boarding school programs and some rarely place students in boarding schools in favour of less expensive public school programs that do not have the academic requirements of independent schools. Apart from charging much less, public schools often offer shorter and single semester stays as well.

‘Private’ schools on the internet can be deceiving as anyone can design a pretty website or have a catchy slogan, you need first hand knowledge through an educational consultant, or an agent if you cannot visit a school yourself. In looking for a recommendation, try to ask your agent to put you in touch with a representative from within their agency who has visited the school you wish to attend. Agencies that can provide first hand knowledge or testimonial from other clients they have placed in a program are your best bet for finding the right program or school for you. If the agency is collecting a ‘commission’ from a school, then they are in essence working for the school. However, they also see themselves as representing the interests of their student and family ‘clients’ as most educational institutions such as LCS reserve the right to accept or deny their students. Many consultants and agents also help with study permits, guardians, travel arrangements and may continue to represent the parents to the school. Who an agent truly represents in the market (family or school) can be a grey area, therefore it is best to run a few scenarios past your agency to see how ‘independent’ their recommendation of a program might be (for-profit private schools often offer bonuses to agents after a certain number of weeks or programs have been sold).

LCS works with Educational Consultants and Educational Agents from around the world. As we reserve the right to accept or deny all of our students based on their applications (and their understanding of our school), we do not perceive a conflict with paying a commission to an agent for a student we have accepted in an area of the world that a) prefers to seek advice locally, and b) where we do not have an ongoing presence or cannot travel to recruit on a regular basis. We see agents and consultants as an extension of our reach to promote the value of a truly world class Canadian education at LCS.

In our experience, educational consultants and educational agents can be very helpful partners to families (especially those with limited English), in finding and enrolling their children at LCS. In some countries however, e.g. China, we do not pay a commission, we work with Educational Agents who may charge a client family a premium for their work in placing a student at LCS. In this case, they are working very much like an educational consultant, helping and coaching their families to gain a space in a very competitive environment.

Educational Consultant Contacts (I apologize for this list requiring scrolling)




Erka Group Istanbul


IECA Directory

Educational Agency Contacts


BIL Intercâmbios


ICI Intercâmbio








Grasshopper International




Töchter und Söhne







EH Global


Viajes Interlag


World Education


IQ Consultancy



Foreign Study League



Born to Consult


Biltur Educational Travel Agent

LMK Consulting


Canadian Education International

Delta Education Advisory

EAA Edulink

In Praise of Small Senior Elementary Schools

As a consultant and a Director of Enrollment I have encountered the problem of parents second guessing the value of a small school for their children as they approach the senior elementary years.

It is usually a question of balancing a tween’s social needs with their educational needs. Socially, senior elementary students are looking for more activities like dances and more athletic opportunities, things smaller schools can struggle with or are unable to provide. Yet Grade 7 and 8 students are not quite ready to be mainstreamed with Grade 11 and 12 students. Academically, smaller schools generally produce students well prepared for secondary school because they have had all important teacher time in an environment appropriate to their age level. They also have more opportunities to begin experiencing leadership roles as the ‘senior’ students in a small school.

Parent anxiety about their child gaining entry to selective secondary schools can be the primary reason for leaving the benefits inherent in a small senior elementary program. If a private secondary school offers an elementary program that feeds the high school, they will want to take students as soon as possible to secure their secondary enrolment. This has made it difficult for many small schools I have worked with as the high schools siphon off students at Grades 5 and 7 or wherever they add a section of students to their enrolment.

Parents take a position earlier, not because they doubt their small school, but they are afraid of space scarcity at the Grade 9 entry level. In these instances, I suggest families contact the high school and ask about the typical profile of a student gaining entry at Grade 9 and ask about the projected number of spaces that will be available. A good number of our Grade 9 day students come from three small private elementary schools. Often, the Directors of the schools can give a family a good idea of whether their child is on a path to be admitted to a particular independent high school or whether they might be better to try to gain entrance to the school at Grade 5, 6 or 7 because they may not be strong enough for Grade 9 competition.

One of the indicators of the strength of a small school is the number of their ‘graduates’ who have gone on to selective entry high schools.

What about the sports and the dances? Ask, is the sports program at the bigger school better than you can find in your community for this age group? For the truly athletic, community athletics up until at least the varsity high school level are going to be essential for a student with college bound or greater aspirations. I have yet to meet the school Director who has solved the small school challenge of holding a dance with a dozen Grade 8 classmates that doesn’t feel like dancing with your sister or brother.

Should I attend a School Fair?

I attend a number of school fairs every year in Canada and around the world. They serve a very important purpose but you must take in what you learn and afterward evaluate all that you have been told.

Yesterday, in Mexico, a woman arrived at my table and said “every school I have visited so far has told me they are the best, are you the best too?” My reply was, “that depends on what you are looking for.” Was it an ESL program? No, we offer ESL support instead of full classes. Was it the best boarding program? Maybe, tell me more about your child… Remember, it is all about finding the right fit and the ‘best’ program for your child.

At this fair, there were public school home stay programs for $20,000, private for profit boarding schools with almost entirely international student populations for $36,000, then there were the not for profit CAIS boarding schools from $50,000 to $60,000 per year. Most of the high schools were from Canada and it was clear that with everyone saying they were the best, it had made it difficult for this mother the tell the difference between the options being presented to her.

As an aside, in my seventeen years in Admission things have changed on the marketing front for Canadian schools as we assert our quality in the world education market. It is not very ‘Canadian’ to claim you are the best. It is more appropriate to let others tell you “you are the best” than claim it yourself. Why? Because “the best” is relative, personal, and student specific. Beware the school that claims they are the best. In Canada, it is more acceptable to be “one of the best” or one of the ‘top’ schools.

In this case, the mother needs to assess at least three factors:

Her child
What is her level of English fluency? Does she need ESL? How much? Would extra help be enough?
What is her academic level? Does she need tutoring or extra help? Does she have an identified learning difference? What supports does the school offer?
What is her personality? Is she shy? Would a smaller school, smaller residence be better? If home stay, how are the appropriate families chosen for her personality and her family’s values? Will the school draw her into new activities and experiences?
Is she outgoing? Does the school offer enough cocurriculars to keep her engaged?

The Academic Program
Does the school offer ESL? Is it required?
What is the school’s graduation rate?
Where do the school’s graduates attend university?
What is she looking for? The two year IB, APs or the Canadian curriculum qualifying her for universities around the world? (See earlier blog post “To IB or not to IB”
What is the measure of art, music, drama, languages, science, maths and social sciences desired?

Her budget
Is this an investment in her academic future or a right of passage “language experience?”
How much could she afford? Keeping in mind that many CAIS schools offer scholarships and need-based financial assistance for good students (often making the cost of boarding equal to one of the cheaper options).
How much supervision and outside of class time programming is desired? In this regard, often, you get what you pay for.

Sifting your way through the missions, curriculums and value propositions presented by schools is not an easy task. Attending a school fair cannot hurt and invariably a parent and student will leave wiser and better equipped to ask the right questions of the schools on their short list.

I look forward to meeting you at a school fair in the near future.


A matter of size – “the right size” school for every student

School size can be a key factor in school selection. It can also be a defining characteristic of a school, so much so that in LCS’s case, the Trustees have decreed that the school shall not have a student body of more than 365. Sometimes we end up at 366 when the dust settles at the end of our offer period, but to end up with 367 we have to get Board Chair approval. We don’t bother asking about 368 as we know that is out of the question. Why is size so closely guarded? It can matter in so many ways when choosing the right school.

Overall School Size
Overall school size limits what classes can be offered. It is great to have a high school of over 400 or 500 when offering the IB as you need more students to ideally and affordably offer everything at the higher and standard levels. But if you could have a more intimate school experience wouldn’t you want to? LCS’s Trustees recognize this as a hallmark of the LCS Difference, where the Head of School can know each student and every student can be known by their teachers and classmates.

A school needs to be just large enough to easily offer the courses that matter to getting into the best schools worldwide in any field of study – this is what LCS does. Too small, and students have a very limited range of courses. LCS may not have quite as many course offerings as larger schools but we have everything that gets you to where you want to go.

Size of Residences
LCS averages 23 students in its eleven residences, most other schools I have worked or consulted for have had 40 or more students per house. LCS uses Head of Houses and Assistant Head of Houses to provide supervision and continuity that most closely approximates a family environment with two adults interacting daily with the students in the residence. Larger residence setups of forty or more often have ‘duty teams’ of teachers or dons who take turns providing supervision sometimes working one night every two weeks in a rotation, supervised by the Head of House.

Size of Class
LCS averages between 16 and 17 students per class on a year to year basis, not 12 or 24. Sometimes, but not always (such as the case with a few schools with very large endowments) class sizes averaging 10-12 students can represent a school for students with greater learning support needs. Smaller classes give teachers and students more one to one time and time to digest course content.

Class sizes averaging 20 to 24 or more can sometimes indicate large grade sizes with multiple sections of every course. More students in class means less time for discussion or one to one time with teachers. Students need to be more self-directed and proactive about seeking assistance and more comfortable with holding up a larger group to clarify understanding of content. If students are less inclined to do so, this is when parents might like to pay closer attention to class sizes when selecting a school.

The middle ground seems to be a class average around 16 to 18 students. There is still time for one to one clarification, students will be called upon frequently to contribute in class, it is difficult to hide or get lost and teachers can easily differentiate their instruction to meet different learning styles and needs within their classrooms.

If parents can effectively gauge the self-directedness* of their child (homework completion, organizational skills, curiosity, and maturity), average class size can be a very useful indicator of a potentially good school to bring out the best in their child.

*Note: For parents with students with identified learning differences, average class size can still be an indicator. Generally, the smaller the class size the less time a student with learning support needs will need to spend outside of regular class time with resource teachers, tutors, and supervised study. Generally, the larger the average class size, the more the student with identified learning needs may need to spend with learning support resources outside of classroom hours. This can make daily participation in after school activities difficult to manage.

Size of Grade Level
The overall size of a grade level can have an impact on how much that grade mixes with another grade level. At LCS, thanks to the small residences which are a mix of boys and girls from Grade 9 through12, they are closer to their housemates in different grades than when they are in a large house where grade level distinctions can sometimes have younger students excluded. Outside of their house, older and younger housemates bridge the “grade divide” and lead to a school community where anyone can feel comfortable hanging out with anyone of any grade level.

Size certainly matters in defining school culture. It makes a difference in the residence and in the classroom. Luckily, it is one of the easiest things to look for when researching schools as most schools will mention the size of their student body or average class sizes in their short descriptor. These two websites help parents quickly find information about school size and average class size. The first for the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools allows you to search by overall school size. The second for Our Kids provides average class size and overall school size in each school profile.

To IB or not to IB? That is a question…

Having headed up the recruitment and enrolment mission at one of Canada’s best International Baccalaureate (IB) schools for three and a half years, where all students have no choice but to take the IB Diploma Programme (DP), I know the challenge faced in recruiting boarding students in particular. The worst thing you want to do as an Admission Director is place a student in a position where they are not successful. As often as I was encouraging a family to apply for the IB, I was discouraging another when a student did not fit the experience of the school in delivering the Programme. Likewise, I would meet students so suited to the IB that simply were far too happy and successful where they were to undertake it (and good for them for knowing their best fit.)

The IB DP is growing in popularity and the number of schools offering the Programme increases every year, yet it is often misunderstood. This past weekend in Romania for example an older brother who moves from year to year with work, was looking for IB schools for his younger brother, so that he could easily switch schools. The lesson for him was that the standard of the IB is the standard. You make it or you don’t, the curriculum is the same around the world. What is commonly understood is that you can start the IB Diploma Programme (DP) and then switch schools easily in between the first and second year of the DP. This is not the case. It can be done, but as teachers and schools are allowed to determine the order and pace of how they deliver the DP, switching schools invariably means significant catch up or repeating on the part of a student changing schools. At the IB school where I was, most students were encouraged to repeat the first year of the IB DP and were happy for it.

The IB has a consistent standard around the world, different schools however have a different ability to deliver the Programme. My spouse’s former high school instituted the IB Diploma Programme with seventeen students in their first IB class. Five of them achieved the Diploma. The pass rate got better in the second year as teachers began to appreciate the programme requirements. The main problem for them was their school size. For ‘small’ IBs (read number of students in the programme) often students are forced into taking a Higher Level Science or subject that is not a strength. A question most families should be asking is what courses does the school offer at the Standard and Higher Levels and what is the ideal selection of 3 HL and 3 SL courses for their student? Furthermore, in assessing an individual programme, ask:

  • What percentage of students achieve the Diploma? (You can still graduate without successfully achieving the DP requirements – albeit without the IB Diploma.)
  • What is the average IB score of all students taking the Diploma? (You can compare to national averages).
  • What is the highest individual score? Achieving the Diploma is an accomplishment, very rarely do students come along who can achieve perfect scores, but when they do, it is also likely a mark of a school that has mastered the delivery of the DP curriculum.

As the IB continues its growth, and more schools jump on the train as a means to overhaul their academic program or to distinguish themselves from the school down the road, parents may want to ask what percentage of students are not Diploma Candidates? This is especially for the parents who want the IB for their child because they have heard it is the ‘best’. If a school is offering an “IB option” it often means that many of its students are not suitable IB candidates. Be sure that your child fits the IB mould or choose the ‘other’ option at the school if it produces university qualifications. Some schools start students attracted by the IB in the DP and let them “fall back” if the student does not perform to standard (this is often not a healthy option for the student.) Others at the school will have been identified ahead of time as not being IB candidates, which does not necessarily mean they are not university capable or university bound. My personal recommendation to any family would be to move to an IB DP school at least one full year before the school starts the IB DP in order that teachers can help the student decide if the IB is right for them. Starting the DP fresh at a new school leaves little margin for error.

Most independent school high school programs like LCS’ deliver almost all of the benefits of the IB program already without the rigidity. Our history, membership in Round Square, success in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Program, not to mention our outdoor education prowess, the “LCS difference” and our university placement record offers it all, in a flexible menu of opportunities and experiences. Many parents are choosing the IB for their children with the impression that it is going to help their child’s university chances. The reality is that the more selective universities want a student to take the most rigorous curriculum offered by the school. Students with Ontario Grade 12, APs and the IB Diploma are accepted to Ivy schools every year. Three curriculums, three approaches, for at least three different types of students to choose from. Explore with your child and a choose the best fit curriculum for them.

Choosing an independent school – respect deadlines but don’t feel you need to jump the gun

While searching for a boarding or day school, many parents and students get anxious and cloud their judgement by perceiving pressure or a need to conclude a process as quickly as possible (maybe just to be done with the stress of the search). My advice would be to remember that ultimately, the choice rests with a family over which school to attend.

Ideally, a family should try to manage their various admission processes to coincide with one another. If say you have decided to apply to three schools, try to end up sitting with all three of your decisions at the same time so that you can make a decision without the pressure of conflicting response times.

Toronto Day Schools/USA Common Offer Dates

Toronto day schools and many US boarding schools coordinate their offer dates to coincide with one another to help them manage their admission process. It also helps families to end up sitting with all of their offers at the same time. Many schools offer a re-visit day prior to the response required date (usually a week to ten days for day schools and about a month for boarding). These schools also have specific application deadlines to be met!

If you are also planning on applying to a boarding school with a ‘rolling’ admission process (no set application date), as a back up, or you just aren’t sure about readiness for boarding while also applying to local day programs, ask the boarding school if applying to coincide with the day decision date is possible, i.e. would you lose out on a space if you waited to apply for boarding. Most schools should be straight forward with you. While we like to complete our enrolment as soon as we can each year, we all begin to run out of spaces at different times of the year. Most often, this coincides with the location of the school and their specific enrolment practices, e.g. do they have all of their day students complete a year of mandatory boarding, or are they recruiting a small number of students a year due to the relative size of their boarding program, etc. Hopefully it will work in your favour to have all of your offers in your hands at the same time.

Accepting multiple offers (sacrificing deposits to ensure choice)

A practice that is not uncommon is accepting multiple offers from schools because they are all on different timetables. For example, while at a former school it was not uncommon to have a family accept an offer from the Canadian school in January when they really wanted a school in New England that didn’t make its offers until March 10. In order to hedge their bets the family paid a non-refundable deposit to hold the Canadian space until they heard from the school in the US. My advice would be to speak to the Director of Admission and ask if you can have an extension on the reply date until after the other school’s offer date. This accomplishes two things, it lets the first school better manage its enrolment and second, it also lets the first school know that you may need more information to better assess the Canada v. US school choice. In the end, you are going to end up making a decision based on what is best for the student without duress and with ample information.

If there is no possibility of extending an offer because of a tight enrolment picture, then families sometimes do need to be prepared to lose a deposit to keep their options open. Again, it may not hurt to inform an Admission Director you are prepared to do this. The chance of having your money refunded is greater this way if it is not a surprise in April when the Admission Director is scrambling to fill the space you have just created by withdrawing. Most schools want students to get into the school they feel is the best fit for them and will be understanding of your final decision.

Playing one school against another

A final scenario is more common in situations where student athletes are involved, many families view their son or daughter as the next CIS or NCAA champion or professional sports star and, like an agent, feel they should be trying to get them the “best deal.” Certainly, a student that brings a special talent in athletics, academics, or arts to a school is a desirable thing.

As a former head of admissions at two competitive boys schools, it was not uncommon for parents to be shopping their son around to multiple schools. Most schools use the same third party financial assistance process and should come back to the family with a similar offer (Apple Financial Services in Canada and SSS by NAIS in the US). What usually backfires on a family is saying School X is offering $X in financial assistance and looking for more assistance from a second school.

Ultimately schools want students to make decisions based on where they most want to be and where they feel they will do their best both academically and athletically. If parents have a firm amount of money in mind that they can afford, they should be upfront with a school about this amount. Sometimes the difference between what a family wants to pay and what they can actually afford does not match. Often, the family feeling their child is a commodity, feel they should be compensated to have their child attend a school and are disappointed with the financial assistance recommendation. Some schools will pay for play, however many CAIS schools have Boards of Directors to answer to with specific policies regarding their endowed funds supporting only needs-based financial assistance. These schools often have a higher academic level compared to the schools that offer “sports scholarships” v. “needs-based financial assistance”. This can be difficult for families to understand that the way to an NCAA scholarship also has an academic component, it is not just about playing the sport. What seems like a deal or free may not qualify their child academically to attend the school of their dreams.

Most Admission Directors and Directors of Financial Assistance I know refuse to get into a bidding war. We prefer that it come down to a family decision about where they feel their child’s needs and hopes will be served best. Many times, I have been “out bid” with respect to a student and ultimately had the family choose my school because it was where the student really wanted to be. This student and family came more invested because they were having to pay a little more, make a few more sacrifices, and ultimately wanted to be there. This is the scenario that most often works out best for all involved and contributes to Admission Directors avoiding bidding wars.






Canadian Boarding School is worth the extra travel time

I get it. Canada is a long way from some parts of the world. This latest recruitment trip I have been on 13 flights spending over sixty-one hours in the air and covering over 25,000 miles visiting countries we have students from or would like to. I really get it.

People often ask how I can travel so much and over such great distances? The answer is that the reward is always worth the effort. This holds true for families considering boarding school. Canada is worth the effort.

For a prospective student, studying in Canada is rarely an extra flight compared to what they would have to take to get to a boarding school in the US, UK or Switzerland. Once on the flight it might be two or three movies more, or if they are anything like my kids, they might sleep the whole way. But once they arrive, it is Canada:

  • Safe
  • Welcoming
  • Naturally beautiful
  • One of the world’s most highly ranked education systems
  • Lifelong friends
  • World-class facilities
  • Excellent health care
  • Opportunity
  • Support
  • Fun

Why not travel a little further if necessary to benefit from all of this?

We parents of the helicopter parent generation may fret about distance. In Bulgaria for example, I am told parents prefer boarding school in Switzerland to be able to drive if necessary, or the UK to be a short flight away from their children. It is never about how far their children have to fly but how far they have to fly to visit or in case of an emergency. (I get wanting to be there fast in case of hospitalization.) Easy for me to say, but I would look at the end result of what you are paying for and the value for the money of the program offering. Back to the Canada list above. Canada is a special education destination. Unfortunately, many in Bulgaria haven’t heard about the Canadian boarding school advantage so education and familiarization is the first step. I am working on that.

If parents are worried about their children flying alone, there are always the unaccompanied minor programs that dove tail really nicely with pre-arranged transportation at the Canada end facilitated by LCS staff delivering students directly to campus. LCS takes into account jet lag and the rest students arriving from long flights require. If it is their child’s health, we have excellent health care available on campus and in nearby hospitals for the occasion sports injury or illness. We have found that airlines have been most accommodating of our parents who have had to fly to be with their children in Canada.

I could never cover every objection a reluctant parent might have, essentially it comes back to assessing the reward for the effort. After the flight is over, which students rarely mind, it is all about the hours, days, weeks and months taking part in the boarding school experience.

What is the reward that makes my efforts worth it you may ask? For me it is discovering a fantastic family with a child interested in Lakefield, meeting alumni or current parents, or meeting a new agent or consultant prepared to show me their country, culture and customs to better understand their clients. At the end of the trip it is coming home to family, friends, the Village of Lakefield and The Grove. It is Canada after all. Nice to come home to.

Related links:
To learn more about The Canadian Boarding Experience visit the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools site
Unaccompanied minor program*

Boarding school is a privilege, not just for the privileged.

By definition, I suppose I grew up privileged.

Sitting in Manila, a little closer than most to the recent devastation of Typhoon Haiyan or Yolanda as it is called here, I cannot help but reflect on the many blessings I have enjoyed in my lifetime. Manila was spared so today it is mostly life as usual, not so obviously for the hundreds of thousands left homeless and the thousands dead to the Southeast here in the Philippines. As we see the photos and read the newspaper accounts it is heartbreaking. We are very fortunate living in Canada.

Next to my family, one of the blessings I am counting was the opportunity to attend a boarding school from Grade 9 to 13 (yes, prior to 2001 Ontario had a 13 year system instead of 12).

I had attended camp every summer from the time I was eight so I jumped at the chance to go to a boarding school where I could live the camp life of camaraderie and action, but also have the chance to have an education few in Canada and around the globe are afforded.

My parents could not afford boarding school. In fact, due the recession in the 70’s my family was flirting with bankruptcy. I attended boarding school thanks to the generosity of a close family friend who cared enough about me to see that given the rough times ahead at home, living in an area with a bit of a drug culture (a couple of my elementary school friends’ older siblings were already in trouble), and grades beginning to drop, I was “at risk”. I had been a good student and a good boy so I was not being “sent away” rather my parents saw boarding school as a real opportunity for me at a time when I could have been led down a different path by the alternative environment where I could have spent those very formative years. Boarding school was a ‘guarantee’ I would be surrounded by a cohort destined for university.

I competed in the annual scholarship competition at my school and won a bursary which helped cover some of the expenses. Our family friend covered the remaining tuition and boarding fees and my parents covered the incidentals. Along the way, I never felt that I did not belong at the school. I just knew comparatively, I could not compete with the wealth of many of my friends, nor do everything that they did in their spare time. At school, I got to do everything they did however. I got to play football, live in France for four months on a one-way exchange, learn to play the bagpipes, make lifelong friends and be supported in my studies to get to go to Queen’s University. I appreciated every experience. Because it was a privilege.

Something I learned along the way was that coming from a wealthy family, did not harbour you from most of the problems of a less affluent family, e.g. finding happiness, losing a parent or friend, mental illness, economic hardship, or academic challenges. A saying that stuck with me along the way is “everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time.”

I am thankful for my family, my health, our family friend, good friends I have made and the opportunity to give back by promoting Lakefield College School to talented students across Canada and around the world who’s parents may not be able to afford the entire cost of attending the school either as a boarder or a day student. I am grateful that LCS can offer $1.6 million dollars per year in financial assistance and that many more CAIS boarding schools across the country do as well in order to help people like me, get a leg up in life and experience a level of education that otherwise might not be accessible.

It seems strange to me to be thinking about a privilege like a boarding school education in a time of such great devastation and disaster. In times of great loss, I cannot help it, I feel fortunate and count my many blessings.

(Photo AFP, Philippe Lopez

Why is Independent School so expensive in Canada? – Actually, it might be viewed as a bargain.

I am in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and LCS had a table at the TABS boarding school fair last night. A mother who had recently visited another school fair that did not specialize in boarding schools like TABS does, told me of meeting ‘private’ boarding schools that were only $30,000 compared to our approximate $55,000 tuition and boarding fee. Why were we so expensive?

After beginning to extol the virtues of ‘independent’ schools in Canada and the difference between “for profit/private” and “not for profit/independent” schools the woman began to answer the question herself by telling me of her son’s impressions. He wasn’t impressed with the $30,000 ‘private’ schools he met.

She said he was a top student in his International School, from his maturity and astute deductions, I would agree with her. He found that the ‘private’ schools did not have any entry requirements, nor did they need to establish English fluency, they could take anyone. They also had very few if any Canadian students and little in the way of extra curricular offerings. At $55,000 with 315 acres, world-class facilities, countless co-curricular opportunities, over sixty percent of boarders not to mention our 113 day students being Canadian and 100% university placement, we were beginning to look like a bargain.

I often hear horror stories of international families who have sent their children to schools sight unseen and have been very surprised and disappointed by what they have found upon arrival. They either trusted ‘private’ school means quality, or it was too complicated with visa requirements, travel costs or time to go see them before sending their tuition dollars.

For international families considering boarding schools, it pays to do your homework and ask a few simple but important questions:

  • Is the school accredited by a reputable organization such as the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS)?
  • Is the school a member of The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS)?
  • Is the school a member of The National Association of Independent Schools?
  • What is the Canadian/International breakdown of the student population?
  • What percentage of students gain university admission and where are they being accepted?
  • What supports are available for students?
  • What is life like outside of classes? (i.e. what learning opportunities are there during the other 16 hours of the day they are at school?)
  • What do students do on the weekends? Is programming available? What percentage of students stay on campus for the weekends?

If a family can afford $30,000 for a private boarding school and their child is a very good student, they should consider applying for financial assistance. LCS and some other CAIS schools offer need-based financial assistance for international students to represent their country on campus. In this case, and maybe even at full cost, dollar for dollar spent, an ‘independent’ school v. a ‘private’ school would be a real bargain.


Admission – The Movie

I spend quite a bit of time on flights travelling across Canada and around the world to meet our future boarding students. I am usually catching up on reading, trying to adjust for jet lag by sleeping or getting caught up on movies. I love movies. One I had wanted to see when it came out was “Admission” with Tina Fey and Paul Rudd. The film revolves around a Princeton University Admission Officer played by Fey’s character. Rudd plays the director of an alternative school and has a student with an unconventional background he thinks Princeton and Fey’s character should consider.

Admission is a film I could identify with after sixteen years in admissions myself and its content could certainly prompt several blog posts. “The secret to getting in”, “the Admission process”, “parent hopes and dreams leading to over-programming their child’s lives” are but a few. Another is how callus the nature of admission decisions can become when there are more denials than acceptances. I have seen it reduced to formulas or schools using a test score as a cut off when there is too much demand. (I will reserve another post to deal with this one.)

Near the end of the film, Fey is telling an interviewer, “I worked in college admissions for 16 years. I used to spend my days passing judgement on young people who were way more together than I was at their age.” I have felt this exact sentiment when the reason for the denial has simply been too many other more qualified candidates.

Luckily, thankfully, partially due to the rural location of LCS, its smaller size and being one of Canada’s “best kept secret” CAIS boarding schools, our demand usually runs in the three to five applicants per boarding space. If it gets much more than this, I feel there is a recruitment problem in our materials or communications with families that does not help them to self select whether or not we are a “best fit” for them. Marketing independent schools isn’t about ‘going viral’ to get a million applicants, it is about attracting the type of students in the right measure that will build upon the values of your community. Don’t get me wrong, a million inquiries would be great provided we had the personnel available to manage parent and applicant expectations sufficiently to allow appropriate self-selection. You want to remain an Office of Admission, not the Office of Rejection.

Life in Admissions can be exceptionally rewarding and also filled with incredibly sad situations. Near the end of the film the Princeton Admission Officers are flip charting a list of the top negative and positive reactions they get from the applicants while making phone calls on their decision day. It’s not far from the truth from an independent school perspective and I cannot imagine the range of emotions some of the real life Princeton Admission Officers must go through or even some of my US boarding school colleagues that work to a March decision day where all boarding decisions are communicated on a single day. The process avoids schools being played off against one another by candidates and makes life in the Admission Office easier and more predictable for office staff. A big challenge is estimating the number of offers to over offer accounting for the students that will choose another school they are hearing from the same day. This happens in larger day school centres in Canada as well. As soon as a certain number of students decline offers, Admission Directors can begin going to wait listed candidates.

LCS works on a rolling admission process where we gather completed applications and have monthly Admission Committee meetings rendering decisions. Rolling or defined decision day admission processes can be a clue to how closely you may want to look at a school’s materials to see if it truly is a best fit for you or your child. A single decision day may point to a volume issue due to a prestige brand, or where not enough families are realistically able to figure out their chances of acceptance leading to many families being disappointed. Imagine Princeton of the movie but on a smaller scale.

Did you see the movie? What did you think of it?