Phillips Exeter Academy
by Stanford Student
Phillips Exeter is famous for its Harkness style of teaching. Basically, every class -- including math, science and art -- takes place around a round table, called a Harkness table, after philanthropist Edward Harkness. Every class is like a debate, a dialogue or a lively discussion. Teachers often have to shoo students out of the classroom at the sound of the bells, because everyone is so involved in the discussion. Exeter's way of teaching math is simply unparalleled, and our classes often played host to observers from schools all over the world. There are no text books -- teachers get together and write all the problems themselves. There is no busy work. Every problem builds a new skill or introduces a new concept. The problems are never graded. Instead, they are discussed, Harkness-style. Math at Exeter is actually FUN. I can say honestly that the teachers at Exeter are all amazing -- most are qualified to teach at any university, but they CHOOSE to teach at Exeter, where the level of engagement they can have with a self-selecting group of motivated, intelligent students is more important than publishing or perishing. If anyone ever feels even a little bit behind, they can talk to the teacher. It is pretty common for teachers to invite students to their apartments for breakfast, or to offer extra help to those who ask for it. Exeter is a warm nest. Exeter's new, $40 million science building has more technology within its walls than I had ever seen anywhere else (I've since worked at SLAC, and they seem to surpass the Phelp Science Center by a little). If you have an experiment you want to try, Exeter will fund it. There are aquariums, skeletons, touch pools, physics labs with revolving floors, engineering labs with materials and power tools, and even a scanning electron microscope (SEM). If there's something you need that Exeter doesn't have, they will order it for you. Grading is heavily based on class participation. We do have exams or papers due two or three times a term, but they are hardly the emphasis of the class (with a few exceptions). Memorization and repetition is completely unimportant. Having a solid command of course concepts and the ability to apply what you have learned to situations you have not yet encountered is what counts. As far as strengths and weaknesses, I really cannot think of any department that I would NOT consider very strong. Even our music and art programs, though not strongly emphasized, are hardly lacking. If you want to learn an instrument and we don't have a teacher for you, we get you one. If you want to learn an art for which there is no class offered, you can register as independent study. The average class size is probably about 8-12, but I have taken classes at Exeter with only one other student. Once I was in a class with fifteen students, and every day someone would complain that that class was just "way too big." Harkness teaches so much more than math and English. It teaches a way of thinking, communicating and problem solving that I can honestly say about 99% of my classmates at Stanford (and I'm a senior) lack. It is a difference that teachers can spot a mile away. I was in a large lecture hall once, my first year at Stanford. A quarter of the way through the lecture, I had a question, so I asked. The professor answered, and I asked a follow-up question. A little later on, I made a comment about a slide that I thought connected well to a previous point. At this point, the prof looked at me for a minute and said, "You went to Exeter, didn't you?"
Our upper (junior) fall or winter, we were all assigned to a college counselor. Exeter has many, each with his or her own office and work space. The College Counseling Center is full of resources of which we can take advantage at any time. We can schedule meetings with our counselors as often as we'd like, and they have the flexibility in their schedules to pay special attention to each of their students. They do not make any restrictions on where we "can" apply, or to how many schools we are allowed to apply, but they DO advise us well in admissions etiquette ("You really shouldn't apply early to more than one school," etc.). I am still in touch with my counselor, Cary Einhouse. He was super, as a counselor and as a person. And PATIENT. I couldn't tell you how many drafts of my Stanford app the poor man read, but he managed to provide useful feedback every time. They are also available to write letters to schools on our behalf, sometimes without our even having to ask. Mr. Einhouse mentioned one day, almost offhandedly, that he had sent a letter to Stanford, telling them that Latin and Greek are two of the hardest classes that Exeter offers, and any A's I received in those classes should mean a lot more than an A in another class.
It's a pretty comprehensive application, with a few long and a few short essays, several teacher and community recommendations, SSAT's and an interview. From what I can tell, Exeter doesn't "favor" particular types of students. I think they're mostly trying to build a very diverse student body. The Academy prides itself on having "students from every quarter," and I think the fact that I'm from a pretty underrepresented state (Iowa) definitely helped me get in. My mom wasn't very involved in the process, but she was extremely supportive. I think that, in general, the students with the best outcomes at Exeter came from supportive (but not pushy) families. Exeter is best if the student him/herself chose to attend. Students whose parents pushed them to go tended to be unhappy. My advice is that, really, there is no such thing as the best school in the world. Only the best school in the world for you. Colleges don't look at whether you went to Exeter or Deerfield or public school. They care that you took the best advantage possible of the resources available to you. Think carefully about this as you progress through the admissions process.
On the surface, the Exeter academic schedule looks very daunting -- 8am to 6pm during the week, and 8am to 12:35 on Saturdays. However, there are specific, one-hour "meetings" blocks two mornings a week, during which many clubs have their meetings, and others meet after classes end at 6pm. There is also a 30-minute "universal free" four afternoons a week. Varsity and club sports practices are scheduled into your day, usually taking place after lunch (1:30-3:30) or at the end of the academic day (3:30-6). So it's not like you're going to get out of class at 6:00 and have to go straight to the gym. Of course, you're going to have to sacrifice some activities and interests in favor of others, maybe especially at a place like Exeter, where you're going to have a substantial work load. But, all in all, I think you can still manage to do the extracurriculars you want to do. I was a tri-varsity athlete who was also active on the club fencing, debate and rugby teams. I was also an elected dorm representative in Student Council for two years, and a dorm proctor my senior year. I also played in a rock band and took music lessons once a week. The amount of time you put into things is completely up to you. Everyone is going to be "busy" no matter what, but I would say most people also have lots of time for fun -- it's never hard to get a game of pickup frisbee going, or to have fun on a dorm-sponsored outing. One thing that I think is really important about Exeter: If you want to do something, but you can't afford it, Exeter can offer you financial support to buy the equipment or pay the entrance fees or whatever other costs are associated with your extracurricular. Most clubs, though, are well-funded and free for everyone.
The dining halls at Exeter are great -- for dining halls. I have very few complaints. Of course there are bad days, but there are so many options -- cereal, salad bar, fruit bar, frozen yogurt, wok, pasta, veggie burgers, dessert and a main entree -- available at every meal that you're pretty much always going to find something you like. The dining halls are also great because they are open all day -- from 7am to 7pm -- and people can go in and eat and socialize whenever they want. They're a great place to meet up with friends to work on an assignment together, or just to talk. Also, the dining hall staff is super, wonderful, friendly and warm. They become just as important to your meal as the food you're eating. You look forward to breakfast because you know they'll be there smiling when you get there. Housing at Exeter is also pretty great -- my single room in Langdell Hall my senior year at Exeter was just about the same size as the one-room quad I shared with three other girls me sophomore year at Stanford. A lot of thought and effort goes into the residential program, and there are lots of fun dorm activities and outings to the beach, Frieldlies, or wherever. You grow to really love your dorm, since, unless you want to switch, you can live in the same dorm all four years. You learn and grow together. Older students are available to help younger students with questions about life, school, scheduling or anything else. It's definitely a great atmosphere. Dorms definitely develop their own "personalities" over the years. I think it's pretty easy to get a single room at Exeter after your prep (freshman) year, but this is highly dependent on which dorm you're in. Exeter is such a diverse place that I think it's impossible NOT to learn and grow, just by being there. The learning does not stop when you leave the classroom. I could have skipped every class, every day, and still learned more than I would have at home. I feel like I've done a poor job of describing the magic that happens in the Exeter community. But basicaly, it's like this: you fall in love with everything. The buildings. The fish. The squirrels. The dining hall staff. Your teachers. Your friends. Your work. Your activities. Exeter is just a magical experience, and one that still takes my breath away.
by Oxford Student
Fettes College regularly comes top of the examination leagues for schools of its kind in Scotland, and high up UK leagues. Education in the Prep School focuses upon a strong education in the basics, with most classes being in English and Maths, and a reading hour every day. History and Geography are supported with plenty of field trips and interesting activities. French and Latin are introduced in the latter years, but the programmes for these tend to repeat every year to cater for children who arrive having not studied them before (and to consolidate basic grammar for everyone else). The faculty is now almost all exclusively based in the Prep School, and trained in primary teaching (rather than the situation I recall of young Senior School teachers arriving and teaching us beyond our abilities!). In the Third Form, the curriculum is very broad to allow students the most enjoyable year before they have to choose GCSE choices. Everyone studies English, Mathematics, Geography, History, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Business & ICT, Art, Music, Drama and Physical Education, with ICT skill taught in practical projects. Students also choose two languages from French, German, Spanish or Mandarin, and either Latin (plus Classical Greek for the top set) or another class in Art, Classical Civilisation, Drama, Music and PE. At GCSE, all students take English, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and ICT. They also choose four from: Art & Design, Business Studies, Classical Civilisation, Classical Greek, Drama, French, Geography, German, History, Latin, Mandarin, Music, PE and Spanish. They must do at least one modern foreign language. Parents entering children specifically for their GCSE years should bear in mind that the list doesn’t reflect the real possible choices, which are limited by timetabling. They should ask for the ‘columns’ to find out what the real options are. In the Sixth Form, students may take A-Levels or the International Baccalaureate. Both are taught by the same senior members of faculty, and no streaming distinction is made in recommending either to children and their parents. The choice of the narrower or broader curriculum really depends on the pupil’s temperament and intentions. Full details of the column options are available on the website (www.fettes.com), but all the subjects available are: English, Maths, Further Maths, History, Geography, Government and Politics, Classical Civilisation, Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, German, Beginners’ Mandarin, Business Studies, Economics, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Art, Drama, History of Art, P.E., Music, and Critical Thinking. The humanities departments are very strong, and regularly place students at excellent universities. The science departments also get very good results in exams, but seem to suffer from neglect in the sixth form so that students don’t get the careers advice necessary. The Art and History of Art Departments are recognised nationally as particularly strong (several Fettes art students have been amongst the top 5 nationally at GCSE and A-Level, and a Cambridge college has said that the H. of Art students from Fettes are the best it receives). Class sizes are small throughout the school, usually under 15 in all subjects. Students are expected to work hard during class time, and discipline in classes was remarked by many new students to be stronger than in their previous schools. While the school is concerned that students shouldn’t be spoon-fed and then be ill-prepared for life at university, this desire hadn’t translated into action in the A-Level programme when I left. Having a tutor to constantly prod me into activity when I slacked off was useful at school, but left me with some bad work habits when I started university. However, the school is excellent at pushing students to encounter post A-Level/IB standard work. Those of us applying for English at any university were given extra classes and encouraged to take the Advanced Extension Award, a school to university bridge examination, and similar projects were available in other departments. Some people took part in programmes for subjects other than their intended major, out of interest. Fettes’ excellent faculty are certainly good at inspiring interest in learning. The higher streamed classes have quite a competitive academic atmosphere. However, this never becomes the dominant tone of the school, largely because of the competing frameworks of house loyalty and the importance of non-academic activities. From early on in the Prep School, classes are streamed, which allows for very high level of specialist tuition for the best students (who often take examinations a year or years early) and good support for the weaker pupils. There is also a large Learning Support Dept with resident specialists, to diagnose and help pupils with learning difficulties. In the humanities at least, sixth form classes are no longer streamed. I this found helpful on a personal level but detrimental to my academic performance, as the element of competition with lots of other very bright peers disappeared. On the other hand I think it was helpful to people who had been streamed into lower classes at GCSE. They became visibly more confident over Sixth Form at finding they weren’t on the other side of an unbridgeable gulf from the best students, and several took advantage of the disruption of hierarchy to become known as very talented and achieve better exam results than expected. Homework (prep) is set from the earliest classes, with significant amounts (2-3 hours per night) in later years, but time is set aside every evening for boarders (and day pupils if they wish) to complete this in a monitored quiet environment in house. Tutors are in house during prep time to discuss work loads if these are getting on top of their tutees, and routinely talk to subject teachers to monitor pupils and make sure they aren’t falling behind or feeling hopeless. While Fettes continues to attain the best examination results in Scotland, and pupils are worked hard, the atmosphere is not the highly pressurised one of some of the southern schools. Since careers and higher education advice begins before GCSE it is impressed upon pupils that universities are increasingly looking to GCSE results for more information about candidates. However, having met alumni of some English academic hothouses, I am sure that Fettesians suffer much less work-related stress and upset. The school is also anxious to develop students’ more general learning skills, with PSE classes on work habits and a programme called Quest for the younger years. This encourages exploring and learning around the rich resource that is Edinburgh. Since large amounts of time are set aside for extra-curricular activities, there is rarely a conflict of interest between these and academic life. Teachers’ own involvement in these and in house activities as tutors mean they have a real enthusiasm for developing pupils’ interests outside the classroom.
Fettes has an excellent reputation for getting children into the university of their choice, and routinely gets many children into Oxbridge and the Russell Group universities. Discussion of higher education starts in the gentlest of ways in third form, when pupils choose their GCSE options (e.g. they are steered away from too many ‘soft options’ and encouraged to choose a variety of traditional academic subjects) and stepped up at the beginning of sixth form. A series of talks and discussions with tutors are used to explain the application process and encourage pupils to bolster them with work experience and extra-curricular activities. Parents are sent the same handouts as their children, and invited to an introductory afternoon, to keep them informed on how the higher education institutions are operating and what is expected of their children. All pupils go to the Edinburgh University Open Day, regardless of interest, to get them used to the benefits of these days and teach them what to ask. Tutors and subject teachers oversee the process of application itself. Fettes has a dedicated Careers Advisor and library of prospectuses and materials. The Advisor has a high rate of success at persuading universities to take on pupils who have missed their offers or are inexplicably rejected in the offer lottery. I applied and was accepted to Oxford. Fettes has a special programme of preparation for Oxbridge applicants, run by Mr A F Reeves, who has specialised in these universities’ vagaries for many years now. Starting in Lower Sixth form, pupils first take classes altogether twice a week, in which they debate at a very high level and learn about the admissions process, and then have specialised tuition from subject teachers. Each year Mr Reeves visits most of the Oxbridge colleges to talk to the admissions tutors about their changing requirements. Practice interviews are arranged with subject teachers from other Edinburgh schools, which I found very helpful as someone with little confidence around unfamiliar people. Mr Reeves is very enthusiastic about helping candidates get the opportunity of such a good university education, and very knowledgeable about the colleges and their preferences. I am sure that this programme helped me achieve my place, and in my year a number of decidedly ‘borderline’ candidates made it in with all the shoving and prompting they received at Fettes. Preparation for those interested in applying to American universities begins early, in lower sixth form. Fettes is an examination centre for the SATs and several other pre-university tests, so pupils can take them on campus. The careers and college advisors are happy to help students for several years after they leave school (particularly those who take a gap year to re-apply to the university of their choice). Fettes is a member of the Independent Schools’ Careers Organisation (ISCO), an organisation which runs careers taster days, offers the Morrisby careers aptitude test and supports private school students for years after they leave school. I attended one of their Journalism days in London, funded by the school, which I am sure helped my application for English at Oxford. A friend attended a Banking taster day of investment games, similarly funded, and was offered an internship by a PriceWaterhouseCoopers scout. It is a common complaint that the attitude towards higher education found at Fettes demeans good universities which aren’t Oxbridge, and serves those who would be best looking at vocational courses or outside higher education altogether particularly poorly. To a certain extent this is probably the result of ambitious parents believing that higher education is the be-all and end-all, even if their child is pretty thick or would be more suited to another path, and the school responding to their priorities. However, if your child is likely to want to look at vocational or unusual courses this might be best broached with the Careers Dept. early on so they know you are happy with the idea. Every year a careers advisor from the Forces visits the school to talk individually to pupils interested in military jobs and scholarships.
Pupils may join the school at any stage, although most usually between ages 7 and 11 in the Prep School, at 13, and into Sixth Form. Places usually fill up a couple of years before the place opens; however, the school often takes particularly talented pupils at short notice. Fettes also prides itself on being a rigorous last minute ‘second-chance’ school for those expelled from other institutions, so this is not necessarily a disbarring condition (although such a pupil will be closely monitored). Fettes accepts children from the whole of the academic spectrum, but is becoming increasingly choosy given a greater pool of candidates. While it seems confident that it can hothouse academically lacklustre children through GCSE, and routinely gets them higher grades than they would achieve elsewhere, they may find themselves having to look elsewhere for sixth form education. There is no particular weighting of interest between humanities and sciences. Despite its reputation for sports and support for those who excel in it, Fettes does not recruit for athletes. There are a couple of scholarships for good sportspeople, but such talent won’t make up for dire academic credentials for candidates hoping to join further up the school. For the Prep School, the Entrance Examinations and Assessments are held at Fettes in the February before entry (although alternative times can be found) and scholarships are available for entry at 11+. The Entrance Exams are set by Fettes teachers, and involve basic tests of English and Maths. It does not matter if your child has not studied a subject before (e.g. languages), as this is common at Prep School level: the tests are mainly to give an idea of a child’s potential to learn these new things. Given increased demand for places the school now takes hardly any children who arrive with poor (e.g. little or no) English, but difficulties with conversational or written English aren’t necessarily an impediment if the child has excellent academic references. Such children are given extra language support during their first years at the school. Children will have an interview with the Prep School Headmaster, but should not worry about shyness or lack of an impressive record- it is more to put a face to an application. In the Senior School, entrance at 13 is based on exams and sometimes interviews. Candidates may take the Common Entrance exam, if it is available at their own schools, or take Fettes’ 13+ Entrance Exam (in English and Maths) at the school in the March before entry. Anyone may take Fettes’ 13+ Scholarship Exam as well, including candidates from the Prep School. The standard for entry is not particularly high, but it is rising as the school consolidates its reputation and receives more attention from overseas candidates eager to take the IB and IGCSEs. The standard for scholarship candidates is very high. I don’t know what mark range is required, but among those awarded academic scholarships in my year, all of us later achieved straight As or A*s at GCSE. The scholarship candidates, and some of the other candidates (if their application is unusual or the school has a glut of candidates of similar level) will be interviewed by the Headmaster or one of his deputies. These interviews are usually not about academic matters (although the pupil will be asked about the reason for any obvious gaps in their performance in the exams, or strange answers) but a way of getting to know the candidate’s background and personality. Questions about hobbies are usual, and I spent a happy half-hour talking to the Head about my favourite stones (he trained as a geologist, I was unlucky enough to mention that I collected minerals)! No particular preparation is required, or very formal dress, although not turning up looking scruffy is advised. Entrance into the Sixth Form is much more rigorous (again, scholarships are available). Those who were accepted into our year in Sixth Form had excellent GCSEs (well above the standard suggested by the school) and were confident individuals who went on to star in extracurricular activities. There are many scholarships and bursaries available, some specifically for academic potential, others for music, piping, art, sport, all-round excellence, children of Old Fettesians and members of Her Majesty’s Forces. Over the last couple of years the school has noticed a tendency for scholars, particularly music and academic scholars, to forget the opportunity they have been given and fail to realise their potential, so will in future be monitoring their progress much more closely and rescind scholarships more often. Parents are of course welcome to communicate with the school and ask any questions. It isn’t expected that your child should have to take the initiative in these matters. However, giving the impression that you are a pushy diva parent should probably be avoided! Parents and children will be invited to look around the boarding houses and meet teachers and houseparents before and during application. Apart from its own Prep School, Fettes has no particular ‘feeder-schools’. About half of third form pupils are from the Prep School.
Given the amount of time devoted to it, sport is hardly an extracurricular activity, but there is a great variety of types of activity available. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday afternoons are set aside for sport. Hockey, lacrosse, tennis and athletics are the main sports for girls: rugby, hockey, cricket and athletics for boys. From the Prep School, pupils practice these intermixed with a variety of swimming and aerobics. From the fourth form, students have a much greater choice of options. I am no natural sportswoman, and so my later school years were spent shooting and practicing a little sedate badminton and yoga. However, the pressure upon boys to avoid ‘lazy options’ and train in more mainstream sports to help their house in competition is greater. For the enthusiastic sportspeople, teams at many levels compete with others in Scotland and go on tour. The mainstream sports attract a lot of funding for tours and high-quality coaching. Each year many Fettesians participate at national level. Many of the minor sports are generously coached by interested teachers. I spent as much time as possible shooting (target rifle, .22 and 7.62) in the school indoor range and in the Pentlands at an army base, and very much enjoyed the competitions and yearly trips to the schools meeting at Bisley (the National Rifle Association HQ) where the school invariably punched above its weight competitively. It should be noted that the times set aside for music and untimetabled sport often clash, and so although many students happily combine both it might be difficult to do this at higher levels. In the Senior School Wednesday afternoons are set aside for several hours of extra-curricular activity, in most cases CCF. The CCF is spilt into Army, RAF and Navy sections, led by the School Regimental Sergeant Major, teachers and pupils who have completed the Non-Commissioned Officer Cadre programme. While in the CCF, pupils participate in relevant field trips (overnight exercises for the army, submarine sites for the Navy, RAF bases for the RAF) and learn interesting skills like survival techniques, gun safety and care, navigation techniques, sailing and gliding. Alternatives to the CCF include: extra music practice, mechanical and driving tuition, scuba diving practice in the pool, Young Enterprise, and extra shooting practice. In the Prep School and in third form, pupils take part in the Quest programme of activities around Edinburgh to build their confidence and teach them about the city. Older pupils are often encouraged to take groups out and about to improve their leadership skills. On Mondays an hour is set aside for the ‘lighter’ extra-curricular activities. There are usually about thirty options, run by teachers and pupils. Over my school career I tried: baking classes, play reading, sports kite flying, knitting, arts and crafts, Chinese cooking, chess, Dungeons and Dragons role-playing, and helping in the school archive, but I could have done something new every term. Most pupils at Fettes take the opportunity to learn a musical instrument or to sing. Many (usually 15-20) peripatetic music teachers deliver individual tuition to pupils on a variety of instruments, which the school can help source at competitive rates. In both the Prep and Senior Schools there are several orchestras, catering for different levels of achievement and musical taste. These perform regularly at venues around Edinburgh. The Pipe Band is widely acclaimed, and for many pupils is the most memorable part of their Fettes education. Children can learn the bagpipes or drums from scratch at any age, and enjoy dressing up and learning the formation steps for their performances. Pipe Band performances are an important part of many school events, such as Commemoration, Remembrance Day and Founder’s Day. They tour regularly and have produced several CDs. The school encourages other bands, such as the Jazz Band, String Quartet, and many home-grown pop and rock bands (usually considered one of the houseparents’ greatest complaints but celebrated in an annual Battle of the Bands). The small Chapel Choir, which sings in Sunday services and in concerts around Edinburgh and tours every two years is the pinnacle of the choir scene at the college, and has produced several CDs. This was one of my main extra-curricular activities: although it involves significant commitment, pupils who are accepted receive a choral education as good as that available to many cathedral choirs. During my school career we visited America, Canada, Germany and Austria on tour. The Concert Choir is the main choir, and participates in two concerts a year. Generally it takes advantage of its mass to sing lusty masses and long pieces: it’s a companionable experience as the students join with the Parents’, Teachers’ and Friends’ Choir to sing publicly. In the Prep School a similar two-tier system operates, and their Gallery Choir (the smaller one) also tours regularly. There is an individual Singing Competition, age-segregated, every year. Although the Drama Department is large, amateur dramatics are by no means restricted to those studying Drama in the classroom. Every year several of the houses have house plays, directed by older pupils, and there is a tournament of skits and short plays by the Middle School members of each house. The designated ‘school play’ is usually a relatively small affair of the most talented older actors, but every couple of years there is an extravaganza of some sort with as many pupils as possible involved. One of my best memories is taking part in Les Miserables, a double-casted huge chorus-ed juggernaut which took up all the time and imagination of most of the school for most of the year! The Drama Department prides itself on keeping an eye on the talents of those who choose not to study drama, so children needn’t miss out. Several of the academic subjects have associated societies, mainly run by pupils. The Political Society is the oldest and routinely attracts impressive speakers to its evening events in the august Old Library. There is a Law Society, a Medical Society, a Geography Society, and a number of others. I attended Shakespeare Society on Friday evenings throughout my time at Fettes- we read Shakespeare’s plays aloud and ate lots of cake. Many children find a small calling as library assistants, taking shifts in the main library at breaks and lunchtimes or organising and expanding their libraries in house. Daily chapel and Sunday services are the backbone of religious life at the College, but there is also a weekly Christian Fellowship for those who wish to explore faith further. On that subject, Fettes is happy to arrange for children to attend services of any denomination/religion in Edinburgh should they wish. Charity activities are a regular feature of the school calendar. As many children as possible are encouraged to participate in the yearly runs (5k/10k/half-marathon) for various local charities, and most of the social events raise money for good causes. The Duke of Edinburgh programme forms a large part of most students’ memories. Everyone completes the Bronze programme in third form; many continue to pursue the Silver and Gold awards. Many teachers are involved in the logistical side of the expeditions, which allows for a variety of expedition types (canoeing, cycling, horse riding, hiking) rather then being limited to hiking trips as is often the case elsewhere. In addition to the DofE programme, from the Prep School until 5th form there are yearly compulsory trips to outdoor centres, where pupils try plenty of outdoor activities and apply some of their classroom geography and biology. Other outdoor activities are available throughout the year, with weekends or days away climbing, learning hard weather survival skills, BMXing and other sports. These have a nice atmosphere as they are among the few activities outside house where children of different ages spend time together. Pupils who love outdoor activities have plenty of role models among the teachers, several of whom have impressive stories to tell of their adventures (including one geography teacher who has climbed Everest).
Rolling renovations of the boarding houses, and the construction of the sixth-form house (Craigleith) have created some of the best boarding accommodation in the country. Boarding pupils share rooms with progressively fewer others each year, enjoying the sociable dormitory experience in the lower years and receiving privacy for work in the later years. Day pupils are as much as possible mixed in with the boarders when they receive their space in house (there are always beds set aside for day pupils should they wish to stay overnight to attend a late social event or suchlike). There are great entertainment facilities in the houses, with television, games consoles, pool tables, pianos etc. Each house has several kitchens- although pupils must attend meals in the dining hall, as a way of avoiding secretive eating behaviour and eating disorders, they may make themselves toast, noodles or suchlike at break time and in the evenings, and cooking classes are sometimes run by resident tutors. The school pays great attention to the security of the boarding houses: Craigleith has biometric (fingerprint) identifiers on its doors rather than keys (which children lose) or codes (which they give indiscriminately to friends) and this may be rolled out across the school in future. The college campus, with its woods and streams, is a very attractive place to grow up in. Each house has an attached tennis court for the use of pupils. Each house has its housemaster or mistress (usually married with a family), a resident tutor (a young teacher who helps with house duties and spends lots of social time with pupils), and a matron. The matrons provide laundry, oversee cleaning, and are the first port of call for most children if they feel ill or homesick (there is a fully equipped medical centre with full-time nurses and visiting doctors just off the playing fields). The school cafeteria is a very fine, airy building and when I left the managers had just got the hang of getting the student population through without long queues. There is a good variety of food, with a salad bar and plenty of healthy options. Dinner can be a little lacking in variety as the staff are only cooking for the boarders. The faculty usually eat in the main hall rather than in their own dining room and the prep school staff always sit with pupils. Socialising is well catered for at Fettes. In the evenings before prep there is the institution of ‘house visiting’ whereby students can visit one another in their houses and sample the delights of a foreign common room (students are usually not allowed into other houses). Craigleith has a central common room for boys and girls. There are usually discos once a term (alcohol-free and supervised by staff) and many other social events are organised at weekends (tug-of-wars, big Frisbee games, etc.). There are balls, segregated roughly by age, each year, for which everyone enjoys the flurry of preparation. The Leavers’ Ball is the event that everyone looks forward to, and is usually held in one of the nicer Edinburgh hotels. Founder’s Day (at the end of the year) is the expected round of speeches and prizes, but the dressing up, the piping (the Beating of the Retreat) and the lavish picnics on the playing fields afterwards are always lots of fun. The surrounding areas of Inverleith and Stockbridge are pleasant, leafy suburbs with shopping in Stockbridge (three minutes’ walk from Fettes) and supermarkets close by. Their population is predominantly from the Caucasian middle and upper classes. The faculty are mainly Caucasian middle-class people (approximately equally mixed in gender), with many from mainland Europe in the language faculties. The student body is predominantly Caucasian European, Russian, and Asian, with quite a large American community. During my years at Fettes (seven) I can’t recall any pupil being a victim of crime in the local area, and only one being pick-pocketed in the centre of town. Edinburgh is a very safe capital city. Students may go ‘up town’ in the afternoons and at weekends providing they have not attracted the punishment of ‘gating’ which confines them to campus, and their signing in and out is monitored by staff for their safety.
by Wesleyan Student
Hotchkiss's academic program is second-to-none. Small classes (typically of 12, seldom of more than 15 students) are led by interesting, dedicated, compassionate professors. In-class participation is expected in every course, be it in math, science, or humanities. Many humanities classes are taught around oval tables (referred to as harkness tables by some). Teachers across the board expect a high standard of work, and grade inflation is scant. While Hotchkiss has a number of base distribution requirements - for incoming 9th graders: four years of English, a year of laboratory science, a year of US history, a year of art (could be visual art, music, drama, etc.), completion of third-year high school math - these are easy to fulfill and are generally intended to prepare students for more advanced work in AP, honors, and elective courses. In reality, students will find that their course selection from year to year is influenced more by expectations of the admissions offices at elite colleges than any expectations imposed by Hotchkiss. Additionally, all students are required to write a capstone English paper referred to as a "Teagle" during their senior year in order to graduate. The Teagle is essentially open-ended, and most are about fifteen pages. The first two years at Hotchkiss emphasize bringing the "underclassmen" - 9th and 10th graders - up to speed so that they may go on to produce stellar, university-level work in their last two years. All underclassmen spend two hours in a mandatory study hall in their dorm rooms every evening. Additional avenues exist for those who struggle, such as a more closely moderated "supervised" study hall, and a similar program that allows for collaborative work in a supervised setting called "study tables." Additionally, faculty members are incredibly accessible. All have office hours, and the vast majority live on campus and are more than willing to give additional help and tutoring if asked. Students who have a particular talent or interest in a certain area may pursue either "special projects" structured projects in lieu of Hotchkiss's seasonal sports requirement - or for-credit independent study courses with the guidance of a faculty member. Beginning in the fall of 2008, Hotchkiss introduced a cohesive program of study in the humanities that runs from the start of 9th grade through the end of 10th grade. The program explores the development of Western society and thought by covering corresponding material in courses in English, History, Philosophy, and different areas in the arts. While this program has already achieved significant popularity, it is not required. Hotchkiss's curriculum is further distinguished by its rural surroundings. Science electives are offered in stream ecology and limnology. There are also two senior English electives, one titled "Fly Fishing in Literature" and another titled "Nature," which split time between the classroom and the school woods and lake. One of the most popular courses for upperclassmen is Hotchkiss's unique take on the traditional AP Environmental Science course, which incorporates upwards of twenty five field trips to areas of geological and ecological significance over the course of the year. Hotchkiss also owns and operates a small farm three minutes away from campus by car, which has becoming increasingly utilized by students over the past several years.
College advising at Hotchkiss begins in the winter of 11th grade. On any given year there will be four advisors on staff, and the members of the class that is being advised are divided amongst these advisors, meaning a student will share an advisor with 40-45 other students. Throughout the rest of 11th grade, a student should meet with their advisor two to three times - although it is the student's responsibility to take the initiative to schedule these meetings. Like anything else, students generally get out of college advising what they put into it. The more of an effort they spend getting to know their advisor and talking to them about their college desires, the more likely their advisor is to craft a list of colleges that suit that student's personality and to write that student a more personalized letter of recommendation. While I've heard complaints about some advisors, I had a wonderful experience with mine. She was friendly, accessible, and interested in getting to know me. Perhaps above all, she knew what she was doing - she knew the ins and outs of the system, and was full of good advice.
Hotchkiss doesn't prefer a certain type of student, nor does it have preferred "feeder schools." The job of admissions is to build a class of smart, passionate students with a diversity of backgrounds, interests, and talents. Prospective applicants call the admissions office and set up a visit typically in the fall before they apply. The applicant goes on a 40 minute tour of campus with a student guide, and then has a half-hour interview. These interviews are probably more important than most people realize, especially if you're a borderline candidate, but there's no real way to prepare for them. That being said, relax. Be honest and be yourself. As a former tour guide, I can confidently say that our admissions officers will see through any dishonesty or affectation. After the student interview comes a parent interview. The same officer who just interviewed you will interview your parents. Parents: No high school wants to deal with smother mother or fathers, no matter how excellent your kid is. It's wonderful to advocate for your offspring, but don't come across as bullish or pushy. Also - be honest about your child's weaknesses. This way, the interviewer will take you more seriously when you enumerate their strengths. To complete the application process, students write an application which consists of a few short answers along with the choice of either a longer essay or a creative project. Applications include all the standard pieces as well: teacher recs, test scores (generally SSATs), as well as a graded essay written for a school assignment. Average SSAT scores are 89th percentile, but they are actually higher than this for non-legacy, non-faculty children applicants. However, don't freak out too much if one of these pieces is lacking, because applications are viewed as an entirety for the story total picture they paint of you. One thing though - DON'T exceed word limits with essays. Part of being a good writer is being able to express yourself efficiently.
For a relatively small high school, Hotchkiss offers a tremendous amount of extracurricular opportunities of varying degrees of institutional sponsorship. When I graduated there were about eighty student-run clubs, a number which only increases, as it doesn't take much for groups to apply for institutional recognition and support. Of course, some of these were more active than others, with the active ones meeting once a week or more. Generally, clubs will meet in the evening, after sports practices and dinner. Groups such as St. Luke's Society (essentially a community service collective), Students for Environmental Action, and Hotchkiss Political Union, to name a few, provide outlets for student involvement in different kinds of service and activism. As off-campus entertainment options are decisively limited by the rural surroundings, campus clubs (especially performance groups) contribute to Hotchkiss culture in a big way. An enjoyable Saturday night might consist of an acapella concert, or a student-produced musical or dance recital. When I was a student, I was a member of Right Brain Logic (the jazz ensemble), a member of Blue Notes (the all-male acapella group), a board member of the environmental advocacy group, and a member of class council, to name just a few, and that kind of level of commitment wasn't atypical. A word to the wise though - because students have such an opportunity to spread themselves thin, they really have to both improve their time management skills and avoid biting off more than they can chew, unless they want to make themselves miserable. This was a lesson I didn't fully learn until my upperclassmen years.
Hotchkiss is in the very rural (and beautiful) Lakeville, Connecticut, and much of the school's personality is shaped by these surroundings. Campus has everything students need, and that's not to say it doesn't have a lot - the facilities are top-notch across the board. The athletic center and the music wing are arguably the two most impressive aspects of campus. Built in 2001 and 2004 respectively, they are either on par or better than their counterparts at many of the best universities in the country. There are twelve dorms in total, six for boys and six for girls. While some of these are handsomer than others, they are are at least comfortable and they are all appealing in different ways. Two to three 12th grade "proctors" moderate and enhance the life of each floor by enforcing school policy and by looking out for any academic, social, and health concerns their peers may have. Each floor also has an apartment with at least one faculty member (two in the case of a faculty couple). These floor facs are charged with fostering a sense of community. They throw semi-regular "feeds" for their floors, typically consisting of takeout or chips 'n dip, although the especially dedicated ones might even bake for you! While Hotchkiss has a relatively large campus, it is pulled together nicely. All classes are taught in either main building or the science building, which are basically the center of campus. Additionally, the heart of main building connects the chapel, the auditorium, the music and art centers, the library, and the dining hall. Excluding some of the athletic fields, no spot on campus you'll have to be is too far of a walk - a big advantage in the winter. Hotchkiss loses a star for the Quality of Life ranking because at times it is overly stressful both academically and socially. In terms of academics: the combination of consistently heavy work loads, the absence of grade inflation, a student body of overachievers, and the competitive nature of the college process can make some people pretty miserable, although it can also have the opposite effect of helping students to develop a sense of perspective. In terms of social life: Hotchkiss tries hard to be diverse socioeconomically by recruiting less privileged applicants, but ultimately some aspects of the school still feel very upper-class. For some this isn't such a big deal, while for others it can be intimidating and alienating. That being said, Hotchkiss's biggest strength is perhaps the camaraderie among the students. There's a certain feeling of rapport, even with people you aren't necessarily best friends with, which is in part forged by the pressures students share along with the rural isolation of campus, but also by times when we would come together in celebration over the victory of a sports team or to support each other in a recital or performance.
Kind Edward VI School
by Oxford Student
The King Edward VI School (Southampton) is academically outstanding in all areas but is particularly well equiped in the sciences, sports and music. The school also devotes a significant amount of time to mathematics and modern languages, a minimum of 5 hour a week of class time for the former and 4 hours a week for the latter. The school also recruits only specialist teachers (i.e. those with a related degree to at least degree level) to teach at GCSE level and above. The school does very well in focusing on each student's strengths and ensuring that his/her particular potential in a given area is fully realised. With 1 hour - 1.5 hours a day homework at pre-GCSE level and up to 3 hours a day at A level, the school manages to encourage a high level of work from its students while still doing very well to take students' welfare and their life outside of academia into account. The extent to which work and deadline are enforced does, however vary greatly between teachers. The strong work ethic prepares students well for university and future life. Classes are small and invariably well organised, ensuring that large amounts can be covered very quickly and in great detail. This and comprehensive planning and monitoring ensure that syllabuses are covered comprehensively and early, leaving plenty of time for revision at the end of term prior to external examinations. Yearly examinations and streaming ensure that pupils learn with others of a similar ability after the second year in all disciplines in which numbers make more than one class feasible. Teachers are invariably entertaining and inspiring and encourage an enthusiasm in the subject by showing a willingness to answer questions and fill in background information that goes beyond the syllabus, while also being careful not to be distracted from the task of ensuring students are prepared for external examinations. With a significant number of examiners employed as staff, the school also does well at ensuring that pupils know exactly what they will be facing come their final examinations. Perhaps the only criticisms of the school I could offer is that it has a tangible competitive and boisterous atmosphere, and those who do not keep up occasionally end up giving up as a result of this. Pupils are expected to keep up, even if this means working twice as hard as the rest of the class to do so, which for some can be too much. Also, particularly at A level, independent learning is not depended on as much as other sixth-form colleges, which means that some may struggle following leaving a class environment and entering university. Invariably, however, this is as a result of the fact that class sizes are so small and teaching so well-organised and comprehensive that students are rarely required to learn things for themselves. While work outside of class is heavy, it is often for the purpose of assessment and development of writing style than for learning outside of the classroom.
University admissions were emphasised throughout sixth-form and addressed well over a year before applications needed to be made. A very efficiently run careers department was always open for drop-in sessions and advice and students were made aware of this resource. With between 10 and 20% of students going to Oxbridge each year, the school deals very well with those heading for a place at the top two universities and has good connections and relations with several colleges. The school also organised open day trips to a significant range of universities. The careers department were incredibly helpful with the application, with detailed feedback on several submissions of my personal statement (to the point where the final thing hardly resembled the initial draft) and compulsory sessions to go through UCAS application. Two sessions of interview preparation, both with externally brought in professionals, one free and one heavily subsidised, were also invaluable in informing one what the process would be like, providing exceptionally good positive feedback and reducing nerves for real interviews. Interview and entrance examination prep was also conducted with me by the head of economics(the subject i was applying to read) in his own time, after school, during which we went through past entrance examinations and held discussions that proved exceptionally useful. He also went through my personal statement, providing constructive criticism and indicators of potential questions in an interview. Overall I felt the school took an incredibly deep and genuine interest in my application, though I would speculate that it would not have been so had i not been applying to Oxford or Cambridge. This is somewhat symptomatic of the schools efforts to make sure that the top fraction excel, occasionally to the negligence of the rest of the school. Perhaps the most significant criticism of the counselling service is that it was invariably the case that students were all too often encouraged to apply to colleges and universities that were 'below them', and discouraged from making ambitious applications, particularly to Oxford and Cambridge, for which students failing to attain 7 A*s at GCSE level were refused any help with their application. I would speculate (perhaps cynically) that this was to make success rate statistics look better. My (successful) application to Merton, the most academic and one of the most selective colleges in Oxford was more despite, rather than because of advice I had received, with both my careers advisor and headmaster telling me I would not get in if I applied there. Having been at Merton for a year, I know that this was definitely not the case, and that I was not just lucky. This appears to be the general case for prospective applicants to top colleges in Oxford and Cambridge, though it must be noted that once I insisted applying to the college in question (after an open-day visit), the school got behind me entirely, offering far more support and help than I would ever expect.
The school mainly takes at 11+, though they also have been known to take at 13+. I am not sure about the admissions criteria of the latter of these entry points, though I have no reason to believe that it is any easier or harder to enter at 13+, subject to capacity; the school is more interested in maintaining standards than having a large number of fee paying students. Entrance at for A-level is significantly easier, with no entrance exam and relatively low GCSE requirements, though as a result, many students who join at 16+ have been known to struggle and not to enjoy their A-level course. At the time when I took the test, the school tested English, Maths and Reasoning, each taking 1 hour and all one after the other with a ten minute break, so it can be quite exhausting and timed prep is a must. Much of what one can expect can be found using 11+ CE sample papers. I covered these before taking the exam and found them a really useful guide for what to expect (in fact the actual exam was slightly easier). The time given to do each exam is more than adequate, so pupils should be coached to check their work after completion. Maths focused entirely on short-answer, sometimes multiple choice questions that would be standard for an intelligent child of 11 to know, without anything really complicated. These included fractions (e.g. which is the largest and which is the smallest: 1/2, 9/4, 0.47, shade 2/3 of this shape), long arithmetic, identification of different forms of symmetry, calculating averages and areas, converting verbal problems into simple arithmetic problems (John, Mark and Caroline get £45 between them for Christmas. John pays Caroline £7 which he owes her. How much does each have?) and very simple algebra (e.g. 4x=36; what is x). English had a set of comprehension questions in which the examined had to read a short story/chapter and answer questions on it, then a second half in which we were expected to write a longer piece on a single question. When I took the exam, the two options for this question were: 'What do you want to be when you grow up and why?' and 'What was the most memorable moment of your life?' The reasoning paper has a variety of verbal and non-verbal problems that. It is difficult to 'learn' how to do this paper well; most are naturally good or bad at it, though it is worth doing a few practices so that the student knows what to expect. I do not know what the exact requirements are for entry, but from what i gather, a very strong result in one test can make up for an abysmal result in another; it is not the case that each test has to be individually 'passed'. It is quite possible for a very bright child to get 100% in any of the exams. The school interviews all applicants, regardless of at what level they are entering. The main point of these seems to be to ensure that the child conforms to basic standards of politeness and attitude and is able to maintain a mature and appropriate conversation with an adult. It probably doesn't matter if he is an 11 year-old grandmaster at chess, plays rugby for England, or just enjoys playing football and computer games with his friends in his free time, though it is good to have an interest that the interviewee feels comfortable talking about in detail. The interview is basically a casual chat between the interviewer (a teacher at the school) and the pupil, rather than a probing and intellectual challenging grilling, usually about subjects such as 'what do you want to be when you grow up?', and 'what's your favourite subject'. I was also asked why I wanted to go to the school. It's probably best to ask this beforehand, just to check the answer, but it's also best if the response is genuine. They are likely to see through a rehearsed one, particularly on asking further questions. Generally, preparation is unlikely to help; I received none before mine and didn't feel any reason to feel disadvantaged or intimidated as a result. The interviewer does as much as possible to put the pupil at ease throughout, and candidates are asked to wear whatever they feel comfortable in. Of those who got in, an equal number of people were wearing a t-shirt and jeans to those that were wearing a shirt. I went after school in my uniform. At the end of the interview I was asked to read a short passage out loud from a book aimed at an 11 year-old audience (I think I read something by Roald Dahl. My brother was asked to read a passage from the first Harry Potter book), so it is a good idea to practice this if the candidate is not vary confident reading aloud. Overall, it\'s best to be honest. Giving an answer that might not be perceived as ideal is not as bad as you might think; my brother, who also applied successfully said that he didn't enjoy reading at all and that English was his least favourite subject, as he found it rather uninteresting and wasn't very good at it, to an interviewer who happened to be the head of English. The interviewer will often ask follow-up questions that will make it clear if a candidate has been dishonest (e.g. 'what have you read recently?' in response to someone who says they enjoy reading) and dishonesty will not go down well. I gather the school uses the interview as a negative tool: as long as nothing out of order is said or done, it probably won't affect the application, aside from perhaps offering a 'tie-break' for a borderline candidate. The school does not have any feeder school, with pupils coming from independent and state schools around the county, in roughly equal proportion, and I have no reason to believe that coming from an independent primary puts one in any better or worse a position. The school also have many scholarships of up to 25% for 11+ entry: sport, academic and music scholarships are all given to successful applicants each year and hardship bursaries of up to 100% are available children whose parents are on low incomes. Generally, parents are not expected to play an active role in the admissions process or communicate directly with the school, who are largely only interested on the child's attitude and academic ability, rather than how much their parents want them to go there, though the school are very helpful in dealing with queries about the admissions process.
The school has an immense range of extra curricular activities. All staff are expected to maintain some commitment to an extra-curricular activity, which means that the school's clubs and societies are incredibly well resourced. The year I received my Duke of Edinburgh Silver Award, the school gave out more such awards than any other in Britain. The list of clubs and societies one can join is massive, including every mainstream sport, card-games, role-play games, chess, young enterprise, foreign language clubs, poetry, literature (the school boasts the only school 'Byron Society ["A society dedicated to the prose, verse and life of Lord Byron"] and altruistic groups (such as hospital visiting and Amnesty International). Students are given the responsibility and autonomy to set-up and organise groups themselves in the unlikely event that they do not find the group to fill their niche, meaning that no interest goes uncatered for. A particular emphasis on sport means that the school excels in this particular area becoming county champions of both rugby and girls' hockey during my time there. The school debating society was one I became particularly involved in, being president for my final year, and one of the best in the area. The school this year beat Winchester College to get to the final of the Oxford Schools' debating championships and holds internal debates every week, providing an excellent platform for debating and public speaking at University level and beyond. The school also regularly enters students in public speaking competitions, in which i thoroughly enjoyed competing. Fencing was another pastime that I took particular interest in, and I was lucky enough to be offered free fencing lessons twice a week by a fully qualified expert and included kit hire, participating in one or two external competitions a term. Generally, excellent staff backing and financial support ensure that there is something for everyone, whatever their interest.
The provision of breakfast as extra is a fantastically useful service that the school provides, especially from students with a long commute from within the schools remarkably large catchment area (bus services are provided for as far a-field as New Milton. Unfortunately school lunches are somewhat poor in quality, though by no means lacking in choice and costing only £2 each. Bringing packed lunches is, however, quite common should the quality of school cuisine be a problem. The dining hall is large and sociable and altogether a pleasant atmosphere in which to eat and the building and school grounds are large and attractive, particularly for a city-school, with students given the freedom to roam as they please during break periods. While the neighbourhood is not overly rough, the school is located in an urban housing estate and there have been known to be violent incidents between students at the school and students at the nearby local comprehensive, though such incidents are rare and seldom serious. The school has an active parents' association, which runs frequent social events and an annual dinner. Annual events such as speech day and sports day are also held. The school, perhaps unusually for an institution of its age and standing, attracts a large number of students from low income backgrounds, largely as a result of the generous scholarship and bursary schemes that the school offers, which helps make the school a far more representative community than other similar independent educational establishments. The percentage of white pupils, however remains remarkably high, and i can think of only three black students within the entire student body during my time at the school. Overall, however, the school atmosphere is a fantastic one, and I can honestly say that I had a wonderful time there. The social environment, particularly among the older years is sociable and welcoming, if at times a little cliquey and hard to break into, particularly if entering at a 16+ level. The school has fantastic welfare provision, with a full time councillor and fully qualified nurse, and it is apparent that both staff and students go out of their way to ensure that the members of the school are happy and comfortable. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and could think of no-where where I would have been happier.
by Swarthmore Student
Academics at The Benjamin School are far superior to those offered at any of the nearby public schools. The exception is the public school system's magnet program. Suncoast High School, an IB magnet school in Riviera Beach, is at least on par with Benjamin. For students with a serious interest in the arts, Dreyfoos School of the Arts, a magnet school in West Palm Beach, offers by far the strongest arts program in the area, although the interdisciplinary education for an art student will be much better at Benjamin. Benjamin academics are top notch, with students traveling from as far as Wellington and Stuart to attend this high school (a 35-40 minute drive away). The school offers almost 20 AP classes, and across all departments these classes were extremely strong. For regular level classes, the English department was probably the strongest of the bunch. Although the school does offer classes in the arts, this department stands out as the weakest, excepting music. Knowing how to express ideas persuasively on paper has been the most helpful skill I acquired at the school. Benjamin is one of the most "wired" high schools in the country. The entire school has wireless internet, every student MUST purchase a tablet laptop computer to attend the school, and every classroom has an electronic smartboard (in addition to the whiteboard) that is connected to the teachers computer and can be written on with digital ink and clicked with the touch of a hand. This technology is integrated in most classes and are used for everything from emailing homework assignments to in some cases reading book material. Students can even write on their screen and share with the rest of the class what the wrote either by sending it to the rest of the class' computers or sending it to the electronic part of the front board, known as the "smartboard" (the smartboard integrates with the teachers computer and can be written on with digital ink). From what I've seen, being one of the most wired high schools in the country is a great way for Benjamin to get good publicity, but in the end the money would be much better spent in other places, such as hiring high quality teachers to match the school's growth. Students were often heavily distracted by the computers sitting on or near their desks. Since this program was brand new when I was graduating from Benjamin, this program may have improved, but my personal opinion is that this amount of extra technology is a distraction, an impediment to learning, and ultimately money wasted for both the students' families and the school. If you plan on attending here, shop around for your tablet pc. It is likely much cheaper to purchase it online than direct through the school. The student body is not overly competitive, and students did not compare grades with much frequency. High performing students, however, were much more competitive, even though it was kept to friendly competition. Classes were rarely over 20 students, on average around 15. Higher level courses were always smaller, and in my experience the school was willing to provide an AP class even if only a couple students were interested. Faculty were usually caring and accessible. The harder the course (honors or AP), the more likely it is that you will draw a fantastic teacher. There are a few bad apples like there are anywhere, but the majority will do whatever necessary to be available to students. The average workload was about 4 hours per night, but students (myself included) got by on much less. Faculty did not teach to the (AP, SAT) test, except when they thought it would be particularly helpful to students for scoring well. In general, the focus was on engaging students in the learning process. Several years ago the school opened an entirely new campus that is dedicated to high school students (the aforementioned "smart" campus). While the facilities are exceptional (if not a bit stale compared to the original Ellison Wilson campus), teacher quality is suffering a bit during this time of growth. The old, experienced teachers are still there, but expect to your share of younger, less experienced teachers as well.
College counseling began at the end of sophomore year. The school is small enough that everyone meets with one advisor who makes an effort to meet with each student at least a few times per year, although students can meet with the advisor nearly as often as they want. The college counseling office is staffed by several individuals and is open to students anytime. The school's old college counselor was extremely helpful and, from my understanding, well connected. After many years at Benjamin, he moved on to a new position as headmaster at another school a couple years ago, so the college counseling may be somewhat in a state of flux right now as well (although it is still probably one of, if not *the* best in North Palm Beach County or Martin County). In general, college counseling at Benjamin is extremely good. My advisor was very helpful in coming up with a plan for applying to colleges - including reaches and safety schools, and good schools that might not have as much name recognition. Their recommendations were very realistic and useful. They also helped keep students on track with their applications, and have students start their college essay very early and proof read the essay several times. A note: Your senior English teacher should be involved in helping you with your college essay at this school. My advisor was very invested in my application process and was quite well connected, although he has since left the school. The school was very helpful throughout this process, but I ended up choosing Swarthmore on my own.
An interview with an admissions counselor and day of shadowing a current student are both required for admissions and there is generally a wait list for all grades. Plan to sign up at least a year in advance. Recommendations and possibly test scores from your old school are almost always required. Although this isn't the school's official policy, money definitely talks here and a good size contribution to the school may make the difference between being on the wait list for an extra year and the school suddenly having an opening available. Need blind financial aid is available and from what I know was under-utilized while I attended so definitely take advantage if you need it.
Benjamin School's extracurricular activities are quite good for a school of its size. A reasonably strong theater program, very strong foreign language program that includes opportunities for extracurricular activities such as competitions, debate, athletics, and dance are all available. A dancer would probably be disappointed here and the debate program at the time was not particularly strong, although that tends to change from year to year. Athletics are probably the school's strongest extracurricular activity. Every student is required to participate in a sport. Because this policy begins in middle school at Benjamin, by the time students get to high school, the school's athletics tend to be far stronger than schools of comparable size. The school had plans to build a substantial performing arts center on the new high school campus. I believe that this will be completed soon (if it hasn't been already) and this should significantly add to the performing arts / drama and possibly the dance program. The activities that had the most lasting effects on me were the JSA program (Junior Statesmen of America) and athletics (tennis, which is very strong here), simply because these were the extracurricular activities that I participated in the most.
Interestingly, Benjamin School does not offer any school buses. There is ample parking for students to park their own car or parents may drop off and pick up their kids. The school also does not offer a cafeteria. Each day a different local restaurant brings food that students may buy for approximately five dollars. As tasty as this sounds, the food that is brought in is almost always not very good, and by the time senior year comes around a standard high school cafeteria might be more appetizing. There are plenty of picnic tables that students eat at outside, and on rainy days students eat together in the classrooms. The facilities at the high school are excellent. The entire high school campus is brand new. Sports facilities are quite good for a school of this size (about 475 students) and sports that do not have on campus facilities (namely swimming) have use of local club facilities. A well equipped workout room was recently built and there is an on staff trainer for athletes. The biggest issue that I have with the school is it's lack of diversity. Benjamin flat out states that diversity is an important part of its mission, but having a couple of wealthy African American students in attendance here doesn't exactly make them successful at fostering diversity. In particular, there is very little class diversity here. If you attend here, expect to be in the company of primarily very wealthy white students. One drive through the student parking lot during school hours will reflect this, with BMW and Lexus being the two most common cars. The school has a couple security guards that drive around the school on golf carts and the school can be quite anal about little rules, in particular dress code. The speed bumps in the parking lot are so ridiculous that even going over them at idle speed is jarring, to say the least. The Benjamin Upper School highers a couple of police cars to direct traffic at the beginning and end of each school day. Crime from outside the school is basically non-existent here. Drug use within the school is probably about average compared to other area public schools, but the difference is that students here can afford it if they want it. I would say that alcohol is very prevalent with students that attend this school, sometimes to the point of being a problem. Once again, students here have no trouble affording alcohol and figuring out ways of acquiring it. The school is surrounded completely by residential, gated communities.
Bishop Strachan School
by Cornell Student
First of all, I would like to point out how Bishop Strachan School, "BSS" is always striving and taking initiatives to provide a better environment for its students; and academics is no exception. They have launched another initiative to strengthen the math and science education, and with the outstanding faculty BSS already has, it will bring more good to its academics. Bishop Strachan School has its strengths in arts, foreign languages, social sciences, and in humanities. (Also, BSS has a variety of excellent sports teams ranging from field hockey to archery.) The quality of the teachers is far beyond great; not only do they have the knowledge in their specific fields and the ability to teach, they also care about each student sitting in their classes. Also, they are always willing to provide as much help as they can, when help is needed. For instance, if a student wants to take an AP exam in a subject that BSS doesn't have a class for, the teachers in a relevant department will help her prepare it along the way. I personally found most of my teachers more than approachable, and a lot of students have close relationships with their teachers individually. A true mentor so to say. The class size is adequate. Most classes have about 10 to 15 students, but in subjects where a close attention is needed, i.e foreign language classes, the class size is even smaller. And as mentioned, teachers at BSS are very caring. Speaking of the work load, it can be overwhelming from time to time, especially when you are taking many challenging courses. School provides a yearly agenda to everyone, and a lot of students use it effectively. From there, you can see that there is a major assignment due pretty much every other day, and it is fairly common that one student has more than three major assessments on one day. (of course, then that student can reschedule it a bit.) The teachers will always keep you busy. It is up to each individual to decide how much effort they will put in, but I find that most of those assignments were worth my time and energy. One other great thing I experienced at Bishop Strachan School was that they really emphasize on making sure each student understands the material. (This inevitably has something to do with the caring faculty, and honestly, I even hope that the school emphasizes a little bit more on exam-taking skills.) In addition, BSS has all kinds of technologies needed; senior school mandates using laptops with an excellent IT department, and BSS is the first high school to have a 3D printer in Ontario. Student body is somewhat diverse in terms of their academic competitiveness. About 20~30% of the students are fairly competitive, and there is a great diversity in what students are interested in. There are currently more than 18 AP courses offered.
Many of the college counselors at Bishop Strachan School were once teachers. And it should probably remind you that BSS teachers are very caring. It really shows when it comes to college counseling. Bishop Strachan School has 'tag' groups; it is a group of about 10 girls guided by a teacher/counselor and the group meets once every week to discuss more practical matters at hands, such as college selection/admission. Also, BSS starts asking students to think about college from the beginning of junior year, and also holds several sessions for the parents as well. A student has her own counselor assigned from sophomore year, and one can make an appointment easily on the web. Again, a lot of students have close relationships with their teachers and counselors, and when the time of college application comes, one can even see her counselor every day if she needs to. I personally met with my counselor quite often(2~3 times a week during the application season), and I feel that I was well taken care of. The guidance files almost everything about the student and keeps an excellent track of everything needed for applying to college: starting from a list of colleges one is applying to making sure all recommendation letters/transcripts are sent in time. My guidance counselor was famous among students for taking good care of her assigned students, and I can tell from my experience that she is helpful and sincerely interested in making the process easier and professional. I think one of other reason why Bishop Strachan School is so successful in placing its students in college of their choice is that they start early, and they actually watch how the students follow up with the plan. For some students, counselors will offer more, such as help prepare for interviews on individual basis. As a result, most students applying to Canadian universities end up with their first choices, but not so lucky for those who apply to the states due to the current trend.
Like many other private schools, Bishop Strachan School asks for the previous transcript, SSAT, two recommendation letters and an interview. Bishop Strachan School accepts students of diverse interests. From what I felt, most students are well-rounded, but they also had something they were particularly good at: whether it be sports, music, theatre, or math/science. Interview is required and it is one on one between the applicant and the interviewer. Going to a top notch high school gives you more opportunities when it comes down to college admission. The school will try to bring in more representatives from good universities, and BSS really provides all the help for students along the entire application procedure.
There are simply so many things going on at Bishop Strachan School, despite of its relatively small student body (about 130 students in each year.) You can think of a club, and there would be an active one at BSS. If not, you can easily start one with yourself and get help from a faculty member. Theatre/drama and sports are outstanding. Especially, the annual ice hockey game between Havergal School and BSS is enticing both school every year. Also, we have Upper Canada College, "UCC" right around the block, so UCC and BSS co-produce musicals and/or plays every year. Clubs: cooking club, Anime club, Amnesty, Model UN, Robotics, String orchestra, Jazz band, Wind ensemble, wellness club, literary magazine club and etc Sports: field hockey, ice hockey, soccer, lacross, track, archery, swimming, squash and etc
Bishop Strachan School is located in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Canada. It is beautiful and safe, and the school is particularly cautious about the surroundings. School cafeteria has gotten better and better every year, and healthier too! (They did have to give up those amazing chocolate chip cookies for that.) Though the school building is quite old, the maintenance is excellent. All the facilities are updated frequently, and once inside, you don't feel that you are in a very old building. Junior school was newly built a couple of years ago. BSS also has two huge gyms, a pool, a fitness center open to students daily, and an outdoor field. Student body is diverse in terms of ethnicity, but most of students are well off than average in socioeconomic sense. Teachers are mostly Caucasians and the neighborhood consists mainly of Caucasians. Life is busy and full of activities at BSS. Students even feel anxious when they don't have anything on their hands sometimes, but most students come to love the school because BSS has so much to offer and quench various needs that girls need.