A finishing school is defined as "a private school for men or women that emphasizes training in cultural and social activities." The name reflects that it follows an ordinary school and is intended to complete the educational experience. It may consist of an intensive course, or a one-year program.
Switzerland is known for its private finishing schools, such as Institut Villa Pierrefeu or Institut Alpin Videmanette (now closed), where Diana, Princess of Wales studied, and Mon Fertile, where Camilla Parker Bowles was partly educated. The finishing school that made Switzerland renowned for such institutions was the Institut Villa Mont Choisi founded in the 1870s which closed in 1995/6. Other notables schools included Institut Chateau Beau-Cedre which closed in 2002.
While the term "Finishing School" should only be used by schools (authorised institution which have a full curriculum and only give Diplomas once tests and exams have been passed), it is often (misleadingly) used by independent consultants who offer half day seminars.
The term finishing school is occasionally used in American parlance to refer to certain small women's colleges, primarily on the East Coast, that were known for serving to prepare their female students for marriage. Since the 1960s, many of these schools have become defunct as a result of financial difficulties stemming from parents' decreased interest in paying for such an education for their daughters. However, some such institutions effectively transformed themselves into highly selective and well regarded academic institutions, with modern, rigorous curricula. The Seven Sisters institutions serve as prominent examples. This process of academic rejuvenation at Wellesley College is portrayed in the film Mona Lisa Smile. The plot focuses on the tension arising due to society's expectation for the students to marry a man of proper, blue blooded background and many of the students' own desire to have careers comparable to those of their husbands.
The plot of the 2005 film Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School revolves around a fictional finishing school.