Students speak: What do you do at boarding school?

Two students at Interlochen Arts Academy share what it’s really like attending an arts boarding school.

Three students walk across a fall campus

Ever wanted to get an inside look at the boarding school experience? Here, two students who attend Interlochen Arts Academy—an arts boarding school in Michigan—share the benefits of boarding schools and what it’s really like living and learning on campus 24/7. Abigail Conklin ’23 is a Creative Writing major, and TJ McCarthy ‘24 studies Musical Theatre.

How do you spend your class days as a boarding school student?

“I have my 7:30 a.m. stats class to start off the day, then my other academic classes, then I go to Screenwriting, and then I break for lunch. After lunch I come back and do a Writing Humor class. I have a little free period, and I come back, finish my classes, and go to dinner with friends. Sometimes I'll just have some downtime. And then usually I go do homework, or I go to a teacher's office hours.” —Abigail

What do you do in your free time? What are some extracurricular activities that are available?

“I'm the leader of the rock climbing club, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we have rock climbing practice. I teach people how to rock climb, we play games, and I set new routes. We're going to have a campus-wide competition in the next couple of weeks, so that's really fun. On the weekends I go to shows or performances. My roommate is a Singer-Songwriter major, so I just love the Singer-Songwriter concerts. One of my best friends is a Theatre major and I go to a lot of his shows. It's very much an on-campus experience.” —Abigail

What’s it like living on campus and making friends at boarding school?

“I have a group of five people in my friend group and we are just the tightest group you can imagine. It happened within the first three weeks of school, too, which is so insane because three weeks at a traditional school is not a very long time. But here, you're living with all these people, and you learn about each other so much more. It's so much easier to learn about your friends’ lives when you're with them 24/7.” —TJ

“I've found the closest, most true version of myself here, and then the people that fit that version of me found me.” —Abigail

What special facilities do boarding schools offer?

“As Theatre majors, we can sign up for times throughout the night to use a dance studio. We can go and rehearse anything we need to do. Whether it's with a group or just by ourselves, we have that available to us.” —TJ

“I love The Writing House. It has all these little cozy alcoves where you can hide away and just be by yourself, and it’s got these great big open spaces like the Great Room where we can all sit and collaborate together. I'm always able to do lots of really good writing there. There are big comfy sofa chairs in the Great Room set up in a crescent shape. There's the fireplace and all these big windows. That's where my friends and I will sit, and we'll talk and brainstorm. I really like hanging out there because it's open and light and warm.” —Abigail

How diverse is the student body at boarding schools typically?

“We have a lot of students from across the United States coming in from very diverse backgrounds, but we also have lots of international students coming in. For example, I have a close friend from Mexico City, and another friend from regions near Ukraine. There's a girl from Afghanistan, and another student here who's from Kenya. I think Interlochen, as a place for young artists, is very attractive worldwide. But also it's a very safe place to come. It feels welcoming to people of all kinds, and that's really reflected in our campus. It's much more diverse and welcoming than any other high school I've seen before.” —Abigail

How would you describe the academics at boarding school?

“The teachers are very aware of what you have to do each day. They know it's really difficult to be able to do all of your academics and then do your arts major until 6 p.m. … They are also really flexible. If I have to take chemistry tests, and if two days before I say, ‘I know I haven't studied for this, because I don't have time this week—it's tech week,” they'll give me an extension until Tuesday. They'll be flexible for you with assignments, giving you that opportunity to grow and succeed.” —TJ

What’s it like working with faculty and instructors?

“Overall, I've noticed they really look at you as an individual and try to figure out what is best for you. They become mentors who see you as a person and not just as another number, which I really appreciate. In every single conversation I have with each instructor, they are really trying to cater to my goals and my needs. And I find that to be so powerful, as an artist, just to know that I have that support system.” —TJ

What are you planning to do after graduating from boarding school? Are you prepared for college?

“I'm going to pursue writing as a career. But I'd like to minor in astrophysics, biology, or agricultural science. I'm really interested in chemistry, too. … Even though it is an art school, I'm being prepared academically for wherever I go next. We send people off to Yale, Princeton, Harvard, and all the Ivy League schools. I don't know where I’m going next year yet, but I've gotten accepted to a couple of different places, including my top three schools. So that’s really exciting.” —Abigail

“I really hope to be a choreographer. Thirty years from now, I hope to have lived a long, successful career and then have slowly moved into the behind-the-scenes path.”—TJ

Get Interlochen Arts Academy’s 11 things first-time arts boarding school students should know to prepare yourself for high school away from home.