Types of Boarding Schools for Troubled Teens

Updated February 3, 2020
Teens wearing school uniforms laughing while walking to class

When adolescents struggle in school and need help beyond what is offered in the classroom and at home, a boarding school for troubled teens may be the way to go. Boarding schools may provide a less traditional learning environment for teens who thrive in a predictable and independent setting.

What Is a Boarding School For Troubled Teens?

Boarding schools are usually synonymous with being affluent. But the schools available for teens who are struggling aren't just for the rich and famous. Teens who attend a boarding school for troubled teens may be dealing with one or more of the following problems:

  • Lack of motivation and direction
  • Symptoms of mental health disorders or comorbid disorders
  • Disrespect
  • Issues related to self-esteem
  • Truancy
  • Sexual promiscuity and/or inappropriate boundaries
  • Learning differences
  • Lying and rule breaking

Teens who experience early intervention, individualized treatment, and learning plans tend to do better than kids who continue to move through traditional schooling programs. While some parents may consider boot camps for troubled teens, boarding school is another great potential option.

Those attending a boarding school for troubled teens range in age from 12-18, depending on the type of facility. They are long-term, year-round programs that not only offer academics, but the emotional and behavioral support that these teens need. They typically cost between $3,500 to $7,500 a month, and with good credit, financing and payment plans are available.

Boarding School for Troubled Teens Versus Military School

Military schools typically do not provide resources for mental health treatment, and tend to focus on academics and athletics. They work best for teens who thrive in a structured environment with predictable schedules. Although there may be a select few military schools that provide mental health treatment, boarding schools for troubled teens will be much better equipped to provide appropriate treatment.

College Preparation Boarding Schools

This type of boarding school for troubled teens focuses heavily on academics and is designed to prepare teens for college. The rigorous schedule teaches the students to live independently and self-reliantly. Students must be motivated and dedicated to their studies and are expected to maintain high grades and proper behavior. To apply, fill out the application online. Most programs will require a non-refundable application fee.

Main Tenets

College prep boarding schools for troubled teens focus on academic success and emotional wellness. They can range in class sizes, although many opt to take in fewer students so their resources are better focused.

Pros of College Prep Boarding Schools for Troubled Teens

Some pros of college prep boarding schools include:

Teens wearing boarding school uniforms
  • They work well for driven or academically above-average students.
  • Because of the academic focus, there is a higher chance of your teen getting accepted into a college program after graduation.
  • They focus on emotional well-being as well and may have a therapeutic program in place.

Cons of College Prep Boarding Schools

College prep boarding schools may not be the best option for your teen. Some cons include:

  • There may not be enough emphasis of mental health, especially if your child is experiencing comorbid disorders.
  • The academic pressure may feel too intense for some students.
  • The program may feel too rigid for some teens.

College Prep Boarding School Options

There are plenty of college prep options to choose from. Be sure to thoroughly check out these programs before committing to them to ensure that they are the best fit for your teen.

  • Summit Preparatory is a co-ed boarding school in Montana that focuses on academic and emotional growth.
  • Bard's College at Simon's Rock is a small boarding program for students who have higher than average academic abilities. This program accepts and supports students who have received a mental health diagnosis from a licensed professional. The program fosters leadership skills, independence, and encourages a supportive and caring environment.

Behavior Modification/Therapeutic

For teens experiencing comorbid disorders or learning difficulties, a therapeutic boarding school may be a great option to look in to. Therapeutic treatment centers offer mental health and special education programs, as well as small class sizes (student-teacher ratio is roughly one-to-five). Teens can catch up academically if they have fallen behind as well. To apply, fill out an application online. Many of these schools will accept on a rolling basis as they customize their programs for each teen and are typically year-round programs.

Main Tenets

Aside from fostering academic success, the focus in this type of boarding school will be emotional well-being. These schools will most likely have a robust mental health program in place that is run by trained professionals.

Boarding school teens walking together

Pros of Behavior Modification Boarding Schools

The benefits of a therapeutic boarding program include:

  • A tailored treatment center that helps your child work through mental health related symptoms
  • A program that may offer substance/alcohol abuse treatment and support
  • The ability to learn coping skills
  • A safe environment to catch up academically while focusing on self-care

Cons of Behavior Modification Boarding Schools

The downside of therapeutic boarding schools include:

  • Less emphasis on academic achievement
  • May not be credentialed appropriately
  • Program may be too intensive or not intensive enough based on your child's needs

Potential Options

Some potential schools include:

  • Eagle Ranch boarding school offers an individualized and accredited academic program, as well as mental health treatment for both young men and women. It is located in St. George, Utah.
  • Shepperd's Hill, located in Georgia, is an academic program with a heavy therapeutic component. They focus on individual, family, and group treatment options that are tailored to your teen's needs.

Same Sex Schools

Same sex schools allow students to develop physically, mentally and emotionally in a community-oriented environment. These schools focus on academics as well as behavior modification. These schools can be a great option for teens who had trauma related issues with an opposite gendered individual and would like some time to heal and feel safe before re-entering into a co-ed situation. These programs can also work for teens who experienced issues with someone of the same-gender, but feel ready to process it. To apply, fill out an application online. Be sure to check if the school is open year round, or if there are specific application deadlines.

Teen girls at boarding school working on computers

Main Tenets

These programs focus on connecting to yourself and others who identify as the same gender. Academics as well as mental health may be emphasized in certain programs.

Pros of Same Sex Schools

The pros of same-sex schools include:

  • The environment may feel safer to some individuals
  • Certain individuals may feel more comfortable healing amongst peers who are the same gender
  • More of a community, tight knit feel

Cons of Same Sex Schools

Some cons of same-sex schools include:

  • Less opportunity to socialize with different individuals
  • Not a good representation of what life will be like outside of school
  • Limits experiences

Potential Sam Sex Boarding School Options

Some potential schools include:

  • Miss Porter's School is ranked one of the best boarding school for young women, and offers incredible academic, leadership, and personal insight opportunities. This school works best for young women who are struggling with self-esteem and leadership skills.
  • Treasure Coast boarding school is an all-boys school that focuses on assisting those struggling with minor drug-related issues, legal issues, and truancy.

Low Cost Boarding Schools

There are a few low or no-cost boarding schools, but getting in can be highly competitive. The pool of low or no cost boarding schools that focus on teens who are experiencing internal turmoil can be even trickier to find. To apply, submit an application online. Low or no fee schools tend not to have an associated application fee, although some might.

Main Tenets

At low or no cost boarding school, the main notion that drives these programs is inclusivity. These programs want to give all teens a chance to thrive academically and emotionally.

Pros of Low Cost Boarding Schools

Some pros of low cost boarding schools include:

  • Low or no tuition fees
  • High quality programs that are geared toward academic growth, insight building, and advancement of coping skills

Cons of Low Cost Boarding Schools

Some cons include:

  • Highly competitive
  • May be challenging to find a program close to home
  • Program may not be exactly what you want

Low Cost Boarding School Options

Some potential school options include:

Science teacher working with students in class
  • Mercyhurst Boarding School, located in Eerie, Pennsylvania offers a highly competitive program with a tuition that is nearly 1/3 the cost of traditional boarding schools. Mental wellness and physical health classes are part of their curriculum. This program would work best for young men and women struggling with minor mental health symptoms, self-esteem, confidence, learning difficulties, and leadership skills.
  • Will Lou Gray is a free co-ed boarding program in South Carolina that works with at-risk individuals ages 16 to 19 years old. They focus on developing academic skills, building leadership skills, and fostering mental well being.

Understanding if Boarding School is Right for Your Teen

There are many reasons both for and against boarding schools for troubled teens. The pros include:

  • Individual attention: This is best for those who thrive in smaller groups.
  • High quality faculty: Most of the teachers at boarding schools have advanced degrees in education or other specialties.
  • Academic focus : Many of these schools apply the idea of discovery learning where students are encouraged to discover the answers for things instead of just memorizing them.
  • Stricter rules: Your child will have a strict schedule with which to adhere -- both academically and socially.

However, there are also reasons not to choose a boarding school:

  • Difficulty adjusting to new environment: Since these schools are usually not in their hometown, some students have a hard time being away from family and friends. Some won't thrive in this situation.
  • Financial costs: It's not cheap. The average cost is about $33,000 a year.
  • Stricter rules: If your child really does not work well in very strict environments, this may not be the place for him or her.

Parents Have Alternative Choices

Parents sometimes feel they don't have a choice if their teen begins acting out, or experiences mental health symptoms that are impacting their ability to thrive in their current school environment. If boarding school is not an option, there are several others:

  • Military schools: If your teen struggles with motivation or direction, but has academic and athletic potential, then consider a military school. This atmosphere is perfect for teens who do not have severe mental health or behavioral issues.
  • Boot camps: Boot camps may be court-ordered and military-style training and exercises are enforced.
  • Wilderness camps: If your teen is into the outdoors, then a wilderness camp may be a better fit. As a means of teaching discipline, adolescents are expected to perform challenging tasks in the great outdoors.

Finding a Boarding School for Your Teen

Think about what type of boarding school will best suit your child's needs. Boarding school is a huge commitment, and it's best to look at a few options before deciding on one. Make sure that the school will have an abundance of resources when it comes to your child's academic, athletic, and emotional needs.

Types of Boarding Schools for Troubled Teens