Securing Entry into Leading British Boarding Schools

Posted: 16th April 2024

At Bishopstrow College, we have been helping students secure entry to leading boarding schools throughout the UK for the last 18 years.

Applying to the top boarding schools is challenging. Securing entry requires preparation, skills, as well as strength in academia, and it is the job of the admissions team at boarding schools to decide who is the most suitable.

Applying to a top boarding school is comprised of several elements. These may include:

  • Performance in specialist entrance tests set by schools, which may include UKiset (the UK Independent Schools Entrance Test).
  • Predicted or actual grades at I/GCSE (for those students targeting sixth form entry).
  • Glowing school references.
  • Performance at an interview.
  • A personal statement.

At Bishopstrow College, we have developed our Destination School Preparation Programme, which helps support students, agents, and families through the application process for UK boarding schools and prepares them on what to expect.

The Destination School Preparation Programme

Our Destination School Preparation Programme covers the following areas:

  • Support with applications, including Personal Statement preparation.
  • Expert tuition with our advanced academic team, to prepare for specialist entrance tests.
  • Interview skills preparation and mock interviews with our Principal.
  • Support in organising visits to target destination schools to attend open days and interviews.
  • Personalised Principal’s reference letter.

Students enrolling at Bishopstrow without a confirmed offer from a destination school can access the Destination School Preparation Programme, free of charge. Both our Director of Studies and our Assistant Director of Studies work closely with students from the outset including individual meetings, assistance writing personal statements and specific preparatory sessions before entry exams.

The final stage of a student’s preparation involves a mock interview with our Principal. Not only does the mock interview provide an essential rehearsal for the real thing but it often also highlights the tremendous progress our students are making in terms of confidence, interpersonal skills, English language development and all-round appreciation and awareness of what it means to be a successful boarder.

Our Partner Schools

The College has an established record in placing students into top schools, including Cheltenham Ladies College, Concord College, The Dragon School, Port Regis and St Edward’s School Oxford. Our website, furthermore, provides a link to the 110 UK boarding schools with whom we are part of a formal teaching partnership. This is as good a place as any to begin the process of independent research, to read our full list of partner schools, please click here.

Many partner schools organise Open Days, providing international students with the opportunity to visit before or during the formal admissions process. Bishopstrow can support students in confirming attendance and arranging travel to Open Days, in consultation with the families, guardians and agents.

Personal Statement Preparation

Every student’s Personal Statement needs to convince the admissions team at their targeted boarding school that they are worthy of an interview, which is essential as most top boarding schools only issue offers after they have met an applicant. Not all international applicants to top boarding schools are invited to interview, so it is critical to ensure that a Personal Statement stands out.

We always advise students to approach their Personal Statement as they would an essay.  Planning is an important part of the process. Not only that, but a Personal Statement should be clear, concise and positive. It should demonstrate motivation, enthusiasm and commitment.

Our teachers have a wealth of experience in this area and will provide students with feedback on Personal Statements as these progress from the first draft to the finished article. Together with the Director of Studies and the Principal, they are able to offer guidance on what will make the Personal Statement more compelling and how it can be improved.

Expert Tuition to Prepare for Specialist Tests

Most top boarding schools require applicants to sit admissions tests as part of the application process. These may be subject specific tests, an assessment of verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning skills or the UKiset. Experience shows that students can benefit from familiarity with these tests: learning the techniques required to approach questions effectively and having an awareness of the questions to expect. Practising past papers and time management are crucial preparations for the all-important test day. Students on the Destination School Preparation Programme benefit from covering these areas during weekly sessions with their tutors.

Interview Preparation

The interview is often the crucial factor in distinguishing between applicants with similar abilities and results. Students need to prepare thoroughly, as they will not get a second chance and the more they practise, the better their chances of success. During the interview itself, it is, naturally, important to demonstrate a number of key qualities such as clear communication, good eye contact and appropriate body language.

Questions often tend to be open-ended, so there will often be no ‘correct’ answer. At Bishopstrow, the Principal conducts every mock interview and aims to include over 20 appropriate and challenging questions. The following are some examples:

What have you enjoyed most about your time at Bishopstrow?

What are your favourite subjects and why?

What do you know about us (your destination school)?

What sort of student are you?

How have you developed outside the classroom?

Do you have any questions for us (we always advise students to prepare at least 3)?

At the end of the interview, the Principal provides immediate, detailed and very helpful feedback which students are then invited to reflect upon and to build into their final preparations for the real thing.

The Principal’s Reference

Finally, and very importantly, there is the matter of the Bishopstrow Reference. This is always requested by a student’s destination school and is always compiled and sent by the Principal. It is a very bespoke and comprehensive document which refers to key aspects of Bishopstrow life and activity including academic progress, sporting involvement, boarding and pastoral development and, of course, behaviour, attitudes and achievements related to our Five Virtues. Destination School Heads and Registrars often comment upon its thoroughness and usefulness in gaining a clear understanding of a student pre-or-post interview.

The Next Steps

The Destination School Preparation programme is managed by Principal Mario Di Clemente, Director of Studies Greg Jackson, and Assistant Director of Studies Kathy Dilworth, who can be contacted directly at If you have any questions or would like to hear more, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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