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.
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.
Beth Dyson, Director of Recruitment for the Collège & Lycée Saint-Charles in the Swiss Jura canton, emphasizes the importance of choosing a suitable program: “It’s not always the best thing to choose a track that rushes kids into university, but to take the time to find what is individual success on your child’s own terms. Individual success is determined by the child, and not by a box we put them in.”
Collège & Lycée Saint-Charles
Founded in 1897, the Collège & Lycée Saint-Charles is located in the beautiful Swiss Jura Canton of Ajoie. The school offers an outstanding bilingual (French-English) education to young people aged between eight and 20, on a vast historical property that is perfectly maintained and modernized. The mixed boarding school welcomes a few dozen students in a supervised yet friendly atmosphere, fostering cultural exchanges and stimulating curiosity.
What students learn at boarding schools
Each school will have its own approach toward pedagogy, but boarding schools tend to offer some broad similarities in their education. Most are either entirely international programs or have international components, meaning they offer multilingual coursework, along with degrees or programs that are recognized internationally, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) or the American-style Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Since the Swiss level of education is already high, you can rest assured that they’re going to get an internationally recognized high level of education no matter which boarding school you choose. The real differences will be found in the details, like class size, specializations, degrees offered, and extracurriculars.
What your kids can do in after-school activities
Different boarding schools offer different levels of after-school and weekend activities, but 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 (football, volleyball, tennis, swimming, spinning, yoga, etc.), creative (drawing, photography, cooking, drama, rock band, etc.) or community-service based (Model UN, Habitat for Humanity). 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 that famously boasts two different 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:
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 be more connected to their peers,” Beth Dyson says. “At Saint-Charles, we have a relatively small boarding cohort, only 10% of students, so we have a true family appeal. Our kids – all of them – eat family-style, because we’re 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 are attuned to that, and are able to 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 for a global level of education.
Learning conflict resolution
International schools are a little infamous for their drama. Boarding schools, however, leave little room for that. Beth explains: “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, and the impact that it has on their studies and personal growth. 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 for example 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-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 eventually the college or university system in your home country.
Consider the language and international offerings.
All programs will have some language offerings, but you’ll want to consider the level of immersion and proficiency that 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, but rest assured it’s not a difficult one. With such a high level of education at the national level, and a high density of boarding schools to pick from, the options are on your side.