Private Schools Jargon and Terms

Private Schools Jargon and Terms
Private schools have their own jargon just like any activity or affinity group has. Here are some of the more common terms you are likely to encounter as you explore private schools.

Private schools have terms and a language all their own. Similar to most affinity groups, this jargon is second nature to the insiders. Some of the terms which you will encounter have been passed down through the centuries. They come to us from England and other European countries where private or public schools, as they call them, have been around for centuries. That's why you will see words on this list which you will recognize with meanings that you weren't expecting.

Here are some of the more common terms you are likely to encounter as you explore private schools.


ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is what ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) used to be called.

Here's what WebMed has to say: "ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a condition with symptoms such as inattentiveness, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. The symptoms differ from person to person. ADHD was formerly called ADD, or attention deficit disorder. Both children and adults can have ADHD, but the symptoms always begin in childhood. Adults with ADHD may have trouble managing time, being organized, setting goals, and holding down a job."

If your child exhibits any signs of ADHD, you should have him evaluated thoroughly and professionally. The syndrome is generally treatable. Several private schools specialize in teaching boys and girls with ADHD.


Crew is the ancient sport of rowing. Rowing in shells is very popular in many private schools. Crew is offered in the fall and spring. Schools participate in regional and international competitions called regattas. Events like Henley draw rowers from all over the world.

This video shows Westminster and St. Paul's competing at Henley.

Dorm Master

If the term dorm master sounds a bit scary, it is actually quite the opposite. A dorm master is a teacher who is in charge of and supervises a residential house of boarding school students. He or she in many ways becomes a surrogate parent providing stability and guidance for the mercurial adolescents in his care while at boarding school. This 24/7 supervision is the hallmark of boarding schools everywhere.


ESL is an acronym for English as a Second Language. When a student whose mother tongue is Spanish, for example, learns English, he approaches it differently than the student whose mother tongue is English. ESL teachers are highly skilled, certificated professionals who know how to teach English as a second language. Most private schools use English in their teaching and day-to-day communications. Many schools offer supplemental instruction in English to help foreign students improve their fluency.


A fieldhouse is a term that describes an indoor sports arena where basketball, ice hockey, and other indoor sports are played. The fieldhouses and other athletic facilities at many private schools rival those found at many colleges and universities. Private schools take their athletics very seriously. As a rule, they set aside Wednesday afternoons and all day Saturday for sports.


Form is another word for grade. It derives from the British public or private secondary schools. Form I is seventh grade. Form VI is twelfth grade and so on. You will come across the term in older American private schools.


Headmaster or the headteacher is a British term for a high school principal or chief administrator of a high school. It is commonly used in older, more traditional schools.


House is another British term that has immigrated to American private schools. It describes a physical grouping of students in a residential or boarding facility. It is the essence of the boarding school ethos as it is houses that provide the structure and social framework within which adolescents interact, compete and enjoy a range of social activities.


IB is an acronym for International Baccalaureate. This is a curriculum that is used at a couple of dozen American private schools. You will find the core curricula at most American schools focusing on the AP or Advanced Placement courses.


ISEE or Independent Schools Entrance Examination is a standardized admissions test used by many boarding schools.


The ISL or Independent School League is a group of 16 New England schools that compete in various sports. It is the oldest league of its kind having been founded in 1948. These schools are all members of NEPSAC.


LD or Learning Disability is a term that describes the difference in the way a person's senses and brain process information.


A master is a teacher. The word takes its roots from the Latin magister which means teacher. The term is commonly used in older, more traditional boarding schools


NAIS or The National Association of Independent Schools is a national organization that provides a wealth of data and support for its 1500 member schools. It also lobbies for private schools in the various Washington, DC, fora and legislative chambers.


Newbie is a term used pretty much universally these days to describe a new person in an organization. In private school, the term refers to students new to the school.


The PG or Post Graduate Year is a gap year students often take before going to college.


Prep is short for preparatory. You will frequently see a school styled So-and-so Preparatory School. The term comes from the mission of schools which are devoted to preparing their students for the rigorous academic work to be encountered at the college level. In the U.S. it refers to K-12 schools with a college preparatory curriculum.

The term's cousin is preppie which refers to a style of dress affected by gentlemen. Think blue blazer, button-down shirt with a rep tie or, better yet, bow tie, khaki or grey slacks and loafers and you get the idea.


The SSAT or Secondary Schools Admissions Test is the most widely used standardized admissions test. The test is administered in hundreds of locations and on dozens of dates worldwide.


TOEFL or Test of English as a Foreign Language is a test of English language proficiency administered by the Educational Testing Service. Most American private schools require TOEFL scores of 100 or higher on the Internet-based TOEFL. This short video explains TOEFL scoring.


Uni is boarding school slang for uniform. Uniforms and dress codes are an integral part of boarding school culture.


Waldorf schools are schools that adhere to the educational philosophy and methods of Rudolf Steiner. Steiner founded a movement known as anthroposophy of which Waldorf schools are a part.

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