The modern Swiss boarding school is a holistic experience for kids with flexible options for parents, offering a wide range of study programs, after-school activities, community development, and multilingual education.
While state education in Switzerland is excellent (and also free), there are advantages to sending your child to a private boarding school. Boarding schools in Switzerland are respected around the world for their high academic standards and their international emphasis.
This guide covers:
- Boarding schools in Switzerland
- What students learn at Swiss boarding schools
- What your kids can do in after-school activities
- Benefits of boarding schools in Switzerland
- Useful resources
Boarding schools in Switzerland
Switzerland already has a great basis of education; the World Economic Forum ranked it as #2 in the world for its primary education in the index for 2017-2018. Considering they also ranked Switzerland as #1 in the Global Competitive Index, it doesn’t come as such a surprise that the country is also home to some of the most exclusive boarding schools in the world. It has become a thriving environment of boarding schools, giving parents and students alike the chance to find the program best suited to their needs.
When choosing a program, it isn’t always best to choose a track that rushes them into university. Instead, take the time to find what is individual success on their own terms; this is determined by the child, and not by a box you put them in.
Below are some of Switzerland’s best-known boarding schools, some of which also provide non-boarding day programs. Note that competition is high: there are long waiting lists with some of the most popular schools, so it’s important to apply early.
- St. George’s International School, Montreux: For boarding and day pupils aged 3-18.
- Le Régent College, Crans-Montana: Students are between 5-18 (day school for pupils 4-18).
- Lemania College, Lausanne: Student body is aged between 12 and 20.
- Aiglon College, Villars: Student body consists of children aged 9 to 18.
- Surval Montreu, Montreux: A small school for girls between the ages of 13 and 19.
What students learn at Swiss boarding schools
Each school has its own approach toward pedagogy, but Swiss boarding schools usually offer broad similarities. Since the Swiss level of education is already high, rest assured that they’re going to get a great education no matter which school you choose. The real differences will be found in the details, like class size, specializations, degrees offered, and extracurriculars.
Switzerland has four national languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansh. In fact, the country is one of the leaders in encouraging multicultural education. With many expats adopting it as their home, Switzerland is becoming even more international; as a result, the drive for multicultural education has further increased.
This gives students of Swiss schools a measurable advantage. Many boarding schools in Switzerland are also bilingual schools, with lessons taught in the regional language and either French, German, English, or Italian. This means that they offer multilingual degrees or programs that are recognized internationally, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) or the American-style Advanced Placement (AP) courses.
The advantage? Researchers find that children who learn in a bilingual environment develop greater cognitive flexibility and have better social interaction skills.
The student bodies of Swiss boarding schools consist of pupils from around the world, making the educational experience truly global. The benefits of this are enormous: studies show that students who learn in culturally diverse schools develop a higher self-image and develop a stronger sense of both self and their role in society.
What your kids can do in after-school activities
Different boarding schools offer different levels of after-school and weekend activities. Those in the countryside tend to take advantage of the beautiful Swiss nature, with activities like hiking, horseback riding, or skiing.
Saint-Charles offers diverse sporting and cultural clubs, like choir and theatre, as well as excursions. They have a cinema on campus and wide-ranging activities like horseback riding, bowling and laser tag in the area. Brilliantmont also offers a wide range of activities that are physical, creative, or community-service based. The American School in Switzerland (TASIS) likewise offers Model UN experience, as well as activities like yearbook, a student newspaper, and theatre productions. Le Rosey, a boarding school with two campuses depending on the time of year, with winter afternoons at the mountain campus reserved for winter sports.
Benefits of boarding schools in Switzerland
Boarding school can offer several key advantages over traditional day schooling:
The facilities at boarding schools are excellent — from libraries to sports, arts and music programs, students have access to a wealth of activities and educational opportunities. Class sizes are also smaller in boarding and other Swiss private schools, ensuring students receive more individual attention from teachers and mentors.
Living away from home has many advantages for students. It allows them to learn life-coping skills as well as to develop independence. Boarding school students also learn study habits and self-discipline to help prepare them for college. Kids in boarding school are of course supported by the teachers and staff of their programs, but being at school away from their family also encourages them to develop autonomy.
Cultivating peer relationships
Boarding school offers students the opportunity to be more serious about their studies, but also to connect with their peers. Saint-Charles has a relatively small boarding cohort, only 10% of students, so it has a true family appeal. Its students eat family-style, because the school is small enough to offer that. Whether you select a program that’s large or small, or is gender-exclusive or gender-mixed, children are in an environment in which they learn to negotiate the social rules of their peers.
Boarding programs, in particular those of international schools, tend to attract students who have big goals for their lives. The schools know this; they offer the room for ambition to flourish, as well as introducing the challenge of likeminded peers. This is a particular advantage for students from other countries, which may not have local opportunities.
Learning conflict resolution
International schools are a little infamous for their drama. Boarding schools, however, leave little room for that. For instance, if you are in a conflict with one of your friends and you live with them, you have to resolve that quickly.
Picking the right Swiss boarding school for your kids
Of course, you want to feel comfortable with the program in which you place your children. Here are some tips:
- Find a school that offers the level of boarding that your kids and you feel comfortable with. Boarding schools don’t have to be full-time or 7 days per week. Depending on your family situation, you might prefer to board during the week and have the kids home for the weekend.
- Choose the educational cohort best for your kids. Make sure the boarding cohort size, class size, and gender-division makes sense for your child.
- Choose a school that offers the degree or program you need. Each school places an emphasis on different graduation programs, which may be in the style of American or British schools (like AP courses or A Levels), or the upcoming International Baccalaureate. Try to think what makes the most sense for easy transitions to another school or university.
- Consider the language and international offerings. All programs have some language offerings, but you’ll want to consider the level of immersion your child can expect. Some schools also offer focused language approaches, like Saint-Charles, which at the lycée level chooses the language per subject, based on the lingua franca of the industry.
Ultimately, considering which Swiss boarding school is right for your children may feel like a big decision. Rest assured; it’s not a difficult one. With such a high level of education and many schools to pick from, the options are on your side.
You can learn more about boarding schools in Switzerland via the Association of Swiss Private Schools.