The academics at Mercersburg are quite solid in all respects. The average class size at Mercersburg is 8-10 students, usually arranged in a seminar style using the Harkness method, especially in the English, History, and Religion departments. Other classroom configurations are usually small tables of four or individual desks in most science classes. Mercersburg runs on a system of classroom rotations, where students course choices are assigned to one of seven (formerly six) rotations, and the order of these are from highest to lowest, shifting back one every day. Since most students only take five classes a term, one or two of those rotations is a break or study period. Students in performing arts or music performance groups use one of those periods for rehearsal. The academic day runs from 8:00 AM to 3:40 PM. At Mercersburg, the course offerings may not be quite as extensive as some larger schools like The Hill School or Lawrenceville, but the many courses it offers are very well taught, and most of them are tested and established programs. Mercersburg offers an abundance of AP Courses, 40 of them to be precise, but the school is being careful to make sure that not all upper-level electives are AP-affiliated. A good example of this is the Math department, where the school offers many courses above the BC Calculus AP level, including Linear Algebra, Multi-variable Calculus, and in one case a custom course designed for a student who has completed both of those. Mercersburg has very strong history and science departments, offering a good deal of elective courses, many of which are chosen because of special expertise in that area. A good example of this is a rotating series of ecology and whole-organism biology courses taught by a faculty member who also works as a muskrat specialist in the Cumberland Valley. The academic environment is competitive, but its effect is lessened because teachers strive to make the classroom about learning and discussion first, with test scores and class-rank (something that the school rarely mentions) as a lesser consideration. Students are competing more against themselves than others, although some competitions take place in class for its fun and educational value. Of course, no institution is without its flaws, Mercersburg included. One concern is that the class day schedule is congested, and often times classes can run long and make it difficult to proceed to the next class in the rotation with enough time. Irvine Hall, the building where classes take place, becomes very crowded, and there is no space for students to keep their belongings (like lockers). The Modern and Classical Languages department used to be very short on faculty, and classes are larger than they should be sometimes (the largest would be 15-16 students, but that issue is now very uncommon, since Mercersburg has many new foreign language faculty. Overall, academic problems are minimal, and when students are facing academic issues, the school is ready to offer expansive resources for support and guidance, especially from the very well run Learning Services Center. Outside the classroom, Mercersburg is a very intellectual place. There are many seminars and lectures by visiting artists, university scholars, scientists, and journalists, many of which are of national renown. Just last year, actor Benicio Del Toro, Mercersburg Class of 1985, led an acting and theatre workshop with the Arts Department director Laurie Mufson and two theatre classes for two days. Other notable speakers have included Stanford neurobiology professor and author Robert Sapolsky, journalist Robin Wright, and poet laureate Robert Pinsky. To sum up, Mercersburg boasts a very robust academic environment, which is strong both inside and outside the classroom, and students and faculty interaction is extremely frequent and encouraged. Not mentioned earlier, since many faculty live on campus (many of them in the dormitories themselves), during reasonable hours they strive to make themselves available for student questions when they are at home.
The college counseling program is very well staffed. Not only are the counselors very knowledgeable (in fact, the senior college counselor, William McClintick, is actually the current president of the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, NACAC) there are also three of them, and they have more than enough time to make substantial individual appointments with students on many occasions to thoroughly plan through the college admissions process. At Mercersburg, students are first assigned to college counselors in the 11th grade, but they are available as resources to all Mercersburg students. The college counseling program is actually much improved from when I was a student two years ago, and that is mainly because they started providing more appointments and questionnaires, and many more college admissions officers are scheduled to visit. Other than that, nothing really beats the great deal of experience and expertise presented by the Mercersburg College Counseling Office. The Office is very efficient and helpful with handling deadlines, standardized tests, and school transcripts, and has a huge library of college literature and guidebooks at the students disposal. It is a very smooth process that often gets good results.
More specific answers for these questions are provided by the school on its website: http://www.mercersburg.edu Students must take the Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT) prior to applying to Mercersburg for admission. No interviews are required, although they are offered upon request on campus by an admissions officer. These interviews are primarily informational, and are often used by admissions officers to gage the students academic interests and interest in Mercersburg in particular. Since enrolling at Mercersburg involves a significant financial and educational commitment, parents should be sufficiently involved in the admissions process, especially if the student is seeking financial assistance. There are no preferential schools for 8th graders and others when applying for admission to Mercersburg Academy. All applicants are held to the same standards. Athletes may meet with coaches before considering matriculation at Mercersburg, and coaches may make recommendations to the admissions office, but a formal recruiting process does not take place.
Mercersburg has so many student groups that it hosts a clubs and activities fair on the main quad every autumn just so students become acquainted with them all. Most clubs are student run, with faculty advisers, and clubs have done many amazing things with ideas suggested by students. Clubs regularly go on trips off campus as well: for example the Japanese Animation Club went to to two conventions in Washington, D.C. and in Pittsburgh. The Jewish Student Union, along with theatre students, traveled to Washington D.C. to see a play at the Theatre J at the D.C. Jewish Community Center. One of the greatest things about Mercersburg is the freedom given to clubs and student groups. Students have attended marches and performances in the capital, and on the wilder side, trips to natural areas, especially through the Mercersburg Outdoor Center, or MOE, are common, including a week-long hike up Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. Mercersburg students are also very active in the community, and many students participate in such programs and the Boys & Girls Club, Head Start, Habitat for Humanity, and Toys for Tots. Students help clean up natural areas, advocate recycling and environmentally friendly practices, and feed the poor. The school is not only there for the students, but it proves it is open to the greater community as well.
Dorm life can be difficult at first, and it takes some time to get adjusted. Room set-ups are regulated to prevent fire hazards, and rules are enforced so that students must keep their rooms clean and orderly. Most dorms have kitchenettes, so late-night food access is available. Dorms usually have a snack bar run by the student prefects to make money for the dorm for dorm-wide activities (and restocking the snack bar). Prefects are chosen amongst rising seniors to enforce study hall rules for underclassmen, and also to manage chores around the dorm. The room selection lottery is generated by computer, and the selection takes place by means of seniority. Switching between rooms during the year is possible if conflicts occur. All in all, dorm life is fun and a memorable experience. Dorms are also very conducive to study and other academic pursuits. The social life at Mercersburg can be difficult and very fulfilling at the same time because the student body is so small. It can be hard to arrange large events because occasionally there are simply not enough people available. This is often the case for some non-major school dances and other such events. However, the Student Activity Center always manages to pull through. It hosts fabulous activities when there is enough interest. The social hub of campus is the lower floor of Ford Hall, which houses the mail room, the school store, the game tables, and the TV room, which contains a large big-screen TV and about 12 sectional couches. Many students will gather here to watch popular TV shows or just to watch Comedy Central during a break period. The pool tables are always in use, and the ping-pong table is almost always the site of some epic tournament. Life in the dorms is where most people fall, and the dorms host plenty of activities within themselves and between dorms, allowing students to get to know one another much better. As for the town of Mercersburg, it is quaint and small, but there is not much to it. The towns second traffic light was installed in 2005, and its major businesses include a Chinese take-out place up the road, the local pizzeria, and some assorted hotels and B&Bs. There is a one-auditorium movie theater where students can see feature films for a cheap price, but most students wait to go to Hagerstown to see a movie. The town is pretty historical (many buildings date back to the 18th century) and there is beautiful scenery of the Tuscarora Mountains. 6 miles away, a ski resort called Whitetail is the destination of many students looking to get their winter sports in for the season. The town is interesting, however, and as a Mercersburg student you will inevitably find a favorite spot in town with townsfolk who will soon know everything about you.
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