The Right Private School for Your Kid

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A prep school education, as any parent who’s ever signed a tuition check well knows, is a serious investment. And considering the money you’re laying out, not to mention the stress of the application process, you want to ensure your child lands somewhere he or she will thrive. This year we went beyond the raw numbers (though of course those still count, and we’ve gathered them for you at boston and talked to alumni, teachers, and admissions counselors to identify the private schools that excel at fostering kids’ individual talents—whether their passions lie in athletics, the arts, or somewhere in between.


St. John’s Preparatory School (boys)
Plays well against others: “Excellence in athletics is part of the St. John’s experience,” says headmaster Skip Shannon. “You get the right kid in the right sport, and we’ll have them play for the championship.” He’s not kidding: Eight out of every 10 times the school’s 19 varsity teams take the field (or rink, or court, or…), they win. St. John’s has piled up so much hardware that it has not a trophy case but a whole trophy house, Griffin Hall, with 15 glass cabinets to display the spoils. Last year St. John’s added four more state titles—in fencing, volleyball, skiing, and swimming—as well as 12 conference championships.

Strength in numbers: Of the 1,200 students at the school, more than 800 participate in athletics; of those, 175 are three-sport studs. But your son doesn’t have to read the blitz like Tom Brady in order to suit up for the Eagles: St. John’s football, rugby, fencing, track, swimming, and wrestling teams have a no-cut policy. “And those kids are not only on the team,” says Shannon, “they play.”

That’s ‘scholar athlete’: As part of a $32 million upgrade, the school has opened a new library, made its Danvers campus into a 50-acre wireless hot spot, and outfitted its classrooms with Smart Board technology that turns computer monitors into interactive touchscreen teaching tools. St. John’s also plans to build a state-of-the-art field house within the next five years to complement its surprisingly dingy gymnasium. “Until then,” says Shannon, “I think our teams will manage to get by.” School stats: Boys only; grades 9–12; day tuition: $14,450; 72 Spring St., Danvers, 978-774-1050,

Noble and Greenough School (girls)
Ice queens and hoop divas: No girls’ varsity program dominates quite like the boys of St. John’s, but Noble and Greenough comes close. Its squads consistently place in the top three in their respective Independent School League sports. Two recent grads played for the U.S. women’s Olympic ice hockey team last winter. And bona fide local celeb Ayla Brown was not only a consensus preseason All-American on the hardwood, but also displayed real grit by enduring Paula Abdul’s inanities as a semifinalist on American Idol.

Facilitating victories: With its 187-acre wooded campus, dorms that resemble ski chalets, and a huge stone cafeteria known as the Castle, Nobles looks like a supersize summer camp. It’s a setting that encourages exercise, and plenty of it. Of course, the sprawling athletic center—with two gymnasiums, a suspended walking and jogging track, and six climate-controlled international-size squash courts—also helps. School stats: Coed; grades 7–12; day / boarding tuition: $28,900 / $33,300; 10 Campus Dr., Dedham, 781-326-3700,

SECOND HONORS: Xaverian Brothers High School: Former stomping ground of the Hasselbeck clan, this Westwood gridiron power regularly helps stock the BC football roster. St. Sebastian’s School: The hockey rink is outfitted with classrooms, in case learning breaks out during intermissions.


Worcester Academy
A2 + B2 = Smackdown: While the always strong basketball, football, and soccer teams get all the attention (not to mention the status-conferring varsity jackets), Worcester Academy’s math squad has quietly become a powerhouse in its own right. Kids who just can’t put down their graphing calculators have 19 mathematics courses to chose from—a depth of study that paid dividends last year when the school won its division of the state math league.

City year(s): Worcester Academy’s ivy-covered brick buildings and large grassy quad sit smack in the middle of its gritty namesake city. Rather than trying to downplay the location, though, headmaster Dexter Morse sees it as a selling point: “We offer kids a real-life education and an ability to interact with the city. Here, ‘diversity’ is a full word.” School stats: Coed; grade 6–postgrad; day / boarding tuition: $21,285 / $37,650; 81 Providence St., Worcester, 508-754-5302,

SECOND HONORS: Thayer Academy: Boasts an ambitious math curriculum that belies its jock reputation and placed not far behind Worcester Academy at this year’s state math meet. Newton Country Day School: High math board scores and small class sizes make for a winning equation.


The Cambridge School of Weston
Block party: The Cambridge School of Weston helped popularize the module learning system, in which the academic year is broken into eight terms, and each school day is divided into four 75- to 90-minute blocks. That progressive approach extends to its language courses, which are taught using an integrated-study technique: Instead of first learning about biology and then Spanish, students learn about science in Spanish, with a pair of instructors combining forces to lead each lecture. “The two different teachers bring their own expertise,” says foreign-languages chair Sara Honig. “And the kids really respond.”

Field trip Friday. Please remember to bring your passport: International travel is surprisingly de rigueur for Cambridge School students, who can pursue their interest in art history and French, for example, by jetting to Provence to view impressionist works firsthand. Catering to all types: With nearly 300 courses and a student body that is 25 percent vegetarian/vegan (the cafeteria menus have been tweaked accordingly), the school makes every effort to accommodate diverse interests. That mentality extends to its language instruction: “We try to adapt to the students. If they have a desire to learn Portuguese and we have someone on staff who can speak the language, we will gladly arrange it,” says Honig. “We just can’t guarantee there’s going to be a trip there.” School stats: Coed; grades 9–12; day / boarding tuition: $28,500 / $38,000; 45 Georgian Rd., Weston, 781-642-8600,

SECOND HONORS: Boston University Academy: Offers the most languages in our survey (16). Brimmer and May School: Plans to add Chinese to its World Languages curriculum next year.


Walnut Hill School
Just like starving artists. Only not starving, and living in really nice dorms: The stereotypical habitats of young artists-in-the-making are dingy studios and poorly heated fourth-floor walkups. At Walnut Hill, the nation’s oldest private secondary school for the arts, students enjoy a considerably cushier existence, but their routines are no less intense. Inside the many-gabled buildings that dot this small campus in a quiet section of Natick, students pursue one of five tracks—ballet, music, theater, visual arts, or writing—in a Choose Your Own Adventure approach to education. From 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. they take traditional academic classes, then switch gears for four or more hours of choreographing dance routines, designing stage sets, and pounding away on short stories.

Going straight to Broadway: The classes of 2001 through 2005 sent 27 students to the Juilliard School—the highest total in New England. Twenty-one others moved on to the Boston Conservatory, and another 20 won spots at the New England Conservatory. Eleven students jumped right to apprenticeships with professional ballet companies. “Within its arena of expertise,” says one educational consultant, “Walnut Hill is basically untouchable.” School stats: Coed; grades 9–12; day / boarding tuition: $29,700 / $37,650; 12 Highland St., Natick, 508-653-4312,

SECOND HONORS: Buckingham Browne & Nichols: Laid-back BB&N is known for stellar drama and choral programs. St. Mark’s School: Student work is displayed alongside that of professional artists in two campus galleries.


Boston College High School (state and local government)
Kings of the Hill: Run independently from Boston College since 1927, BC High steeps its boys in the Jesuit tradition of public-spiritedness, which many alumni have channeled into successful electoral strategies. Grads occupy posts up and down the political ladder, from Boston City Council president (Michael Flaherty) to state rep (Garrett J. Bradley) to state senator (Jack Hart) to U.S. attorney (Michael Sullivan).

Fiscal conservatives: Even if your son doesn’t dream of one day taking over the Big Dig and/or being roasted in a Herald editorial, BC High is a good choice for a top-notch education at a relatively affordable rate: just over 11 grand for the 2006–2007 school year. Next fall the school is adding seventh and eighth grades, making it possible for the new generation of aspiring officeholders to surpass those predecessors who went to BC High, BC, and BC Law, and become the first-ever Quadruple Eagles. School stats: Boys only; grades 7–12; day tuition: $11,400; 150 Morrissey Blvd., Boston, 617-436-3900,

Milton Academy (federal government)
If it was good enough for the Kennedys…While Choate was the choice for JFK, Bobby and Teddy attended Milton Academy. Gubernatorial hopeful and former Justice Department official Deval Patrick also went to the school, which offers a unique two-year course, “The United States in the Modern World,” that serves as an intense primer in domestic and international current affairs—something a certain commander in chief could well have benefited from. School stats: Coed; grades K–12; day / boarding tuition $27,100 / $34,525; 170 Centre St., Milton, 617-898-1798,

SECOND HONORS: Middlesex School: Henry Cabot Lodge Jr.’s alma mater was also the choice for both William Weld and New Mexico governor Bill Richardson.


Belmont Hill School
Plugged in: Belmont Hill alumni get together to watch Sox games, eat steak dinners, and listen to guest speakers at more than 60 social events a year, where they trade old jokes and invaluable connections and generally plot ways take over the world. The souped-up alumni portal on the school’s website connects students to graduates who’ve volunteered to serve as career advisers or mentors, and features a searchable database broken down by industry: If an on-the-ball senior wants a lead on a future Goldman Sachs internship, all he has to do is log on to find the contact he needs.

Power meals: At the school’s BlackBerry Breakfast series, hosts invite their fellow alumni and PDA users for early-morning networking sessions at heady locales. This February, Belmont Hill–educated bankers from State Street, Boston Private Bank, and CIBC held court with their peers at 10 Post Office Square. Healthily endowed: All that networking seems to lead to some very lucrative jobs: While most prep schools would be ecstatic if 25 percent of their annual fund donations came from grads, Belmont Hill gets a full half of its pledges from alumni. School stats: Boys only; grades 7–12; day tuition: $27,990; 350 Prospect St., Belmont, 617-484-4410,

SECOND HONORS: Catholic Memorial: The scads of Boston power brokers among its alumni and close ties to other Christian Brothers schools give Catholic clout.


Concord Academy
365 valedictorians, zero overwrought speeches: There’s a certain kind of kid who buys only organic candy and wants a Toyota Prius for her first car. And for that kid, Concord Academy is a perfect fit. The school’s grounds, which sit in a row of clapboard houses a short walk from downtown, are the only thing remotely traditional here. Kids get to work with counselors to tailor course loads to their personality and interests, and there’s no published class rank or academic awards, freeing the 300-plus students from grade-grubbing conformity.

Hamlet is so predictable: Concord’s visual and performing arts programs are among the best in the state, consistently turning out polished work from six visual arts studios as well as student-written plays that put the typical high school production of Oklahoma! to shame. King of clubs: Concord boasts more than 40 student clubs—more than one for every 10 kids—covering a panoply of interests: Writers alone have three outlets to choose from, including a humor newspaper cheekily named the Scallion, and along with the obligatory quiz bowl and debate squads, there are more-specialized associations, like the American Anti-Slavery Group and the eBay Club. School stats: Coed; grades 9–12; day / boarding tuition: $30,580 / $37,820; 166 Main St., Concord, 978-402-2200,

SECOND HONORS: Lawrence Academy: The Independent Immersion Program at Groton’s other private high school eschews letter grades for in-depth written evaluations.


The Roxbury Latin School (boys)
Crimson tide: In the center of Roxbury Latin’s verdant main quad stands a statue of a colonial soldier wearing a tricorn, an overcoat, and buckled shoes. In one hand he holds a sword; in the other, a rolled-up piece of paper. It’s probably an acceptance letter from Harvard. Founded in 1645, RL (as it’s called by those in the know) has served as a pipeline to America’s oldest college since its inception. And if today’s graduates face a little more competition, the school continues to get a higher percentage into the Ivy League than almost any other school in the country.

Save now, pay later: Thanks to an estimated $144 million endowment, Roxbury Latin is able to keep tuition at a reasonable $17,000 a year, or less than two-thirds of what the school lists as the real annual cost of educating each of its students. Parents with money left over after paying that bill would do well to consider sticking it in a high-performing mutual fund: When the fat envelope from Harvard arrives, their payments will more than double. School stats: Boys only; grades 7–12; day tuition: $17,000; 101 St. Theresa Ave., West Roxbury, 617-325-4920,

The Winsor School (girls)
Petite in size, ginormous in stature: Winsor may be the only local prep school with signs in the main lobby requesting you leave your car keys with the receptionist, in case she has to move it. Tucked between Beth Israel hospital and Wheelock College, the Boston school makes up for its small size with some serious resources—including 50 student clubs, 14 varsity sports, and an art gallery and exhibition hall for student work—and an unmatched track record when it comes to college admissions. Over the past five years Winsor has sent 27 young women to Harvard; overall, more than one of every three alumnae go on to the Ivy League. Considering the lofty positions Winsor’s students are destined to occupy, it only makes sense that the school offers valet parking. School stats: Girls only; grades 5–12; day tuition: $27,800; 103 Pilgrim Rd., Boston, 617-735-9500,

SECOND HONORS: Groton School: According to one educational consultant, it runs neck and neck with Roxbury Latin in percentage of students admitted to Ivy League colleges. Phillips Academy, Andover: Because, well, it’s Andover.


Dana Hall School
Popular perception: The kids on The OC have the Bait Shack. The young women of Dana Hall have Truly Yogurt in Wellesley Center, and on any given school day you’ll find a gaggle of them standing outside, chatting on their cell phones and filling in the rare gaps in their social calendars. “They’re the fun ones, the ones you go out with,” says an alum of a local all-boys school. “Assuming they’re not grounded.” Putting the “Hall” in study hall: Just because its students take hanging out so seriously doesn’t mean Dana Hall is a slouch academically. Founded in 1881 to prepare girls to attend Wellesley College, the school expects students to carry a rigorous course load—and, in return, consistently gets its seniors into prestigious colleges.

Diversionary tactics: With a riding stable and a new adventure outing club among its many amenities, Dana Hall offers students no shortage of outlets for bonding. They find their own ways to stay entertained in their free time. “They’re always out, going to concerts or movies and trying to find stuff to do,” says our source. “These girls have to be creative. Truly Yogurt is only open till 10.” School stats: Girls only; grades 6–12; day / boarding tuition: $29,820 / $39,405; 45 Dana Rd., Wellesley, 781-235-3010,

SECOND HONORS: The Rivers School: “They talk to kids at all the other schools around Boston,” says one local senior of the gregarious students at Rivers, which has only been coed since 1989.


Boston University Academy
And they get to play with frickin’ lasers: Blink as you’re traveling down Commonwealth Avenue and you might miss the car battery–shaped building that houses BU Academy. But for students, the real advantages of going to high school here extend well beyond its walls: A spot comes with unfettered access to big sister Boston University, which has all the cutting-edge lab space and teaching tools you’d expect to find at the country’s fourth-largest private university. Those include BU’s state-of-the-art Photonics Center, where unabashed eggheads can learn about bioorganic chemistry, blue-light lasers, and other complicated scientific stuff that makes dissecting frogs seem, like, totally elementary.

Programmed for success: BU Academy offers five computer-based courses, from the basics to more-advanced classes, and fields a badass robotics team that has placed near the top in several national competitions. The school also gives each student file-server storage space and an account on BU’s academic computing system, which proves handy for updating MySpace pages but also for doing C++ programming homework.

Senior skip year: Academy upperclassmen can take as many as 12 BU courses, with the option of applying to enter the university as sophomores when they graduate. Seniors also get to sign up for BU intramurals, where they gain more invaluable exposure to the cutthroat college world by playing ice broomball and coed Wiffle ball. School stats: Coed; grades 9–12; day tuition: $23,597; One University Rd., Boston, 617-353-9000,

SECOND HONORS: Tabor Academy: Located on Buzzards Bay, Tabor offers unique programs in marine science and celestial navigation. Pingree School: Its South Hamilton campus is equipped with three computer labs; the school also has stalwart science bowl squads.


Phillips Academy, Andover
Buzzing with activities: According to the school’s official history, Andover’s founder, Samuel Phillips, “deemed idleness to be the most insidious and demoralizing vice.” On the school’s seal (engraved in 1792 by some guy named Paul Revere) is an image of a beehive and a flowering plant, with bees flying between the two. Today’s Andover kids really, really live up to that standard. “Andover students are ridiculous,” says one alum. “It’s totally normal to find a kid there who captains the crew team, speaks three languages, and wins awards for the violin.”

And the yearbook is 1,183 pages long: Andover boasts 12 academic departments, 300 courses, 33 varsity sports, an exchange program with a school in China, a summer foreign-language immersion program, a 110,000-volume library, and a museum of archaeology—enough to keep even the biggest overachiever occupied—plus a $623 million endowment to help pay for it all. The school’s 1,100 students hail from 47 states and territories and 26 countries, and nearly three quarters of them board, giving the bucolic 500-acre campus a distinctly collegiate vibe.

It’s a little boarding school north of Boston. You may have heard of it: Famous benefactors and celebrity alumni, who include two presidents, numerous CEOs, Patriots coach Bill Belichick, and James Spader, have cemented for Andover a name recognition on par with that of a certain college in Cambridge. Which makes it easy for seniors to continue their non-idleness at whatever institution of higher learning they please. School stats: Coed; day / boarding tuition: $25,700 / $33,000; 180 Main St., Andover, 978-749-4000,

SECOND HONORS: Commonwealth School: This tiny Back Bay standout requires kids to play two sports a year and complete community service and off-campus independent study projects. But it’s also very receptive to input from its 153 students: A new Japanese history course was created partially on the advice of pupils.

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