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Mercersburg Academy

School rating 4.2 / 5 by

300 East Seminary Street Mercersburg PA 17236 United States
9th to PG
9th to 11th


Mercersburg Academy review by .

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.

College Counseling

The college counseling program is very well staffed. Not only are the counselors very knowledgeable....

Sample insights on college counseling

  • They have contacts at most of the major universities and feel perfectly comfortable picking up the phone and advocating for a student to get accepted somewhere they feel is a good fit for that student. However, these counselors are certainly not magic bullets. They cannot guarantee that a student will get into an Ivy League university...
  • For those wishing to move on to Oxford or Cambridge, the provision is second-to-none. In the months running up to application and interview, every subject faculty offers classes (often run by former Oxbridge tutors) exploring further areas of their subject as well as offering advice on personal statements, interview technique and more...

Admissions - Getting Accepted

More specific answers for these questions are provided by the school on its website: http://www.mercersburg.edu....

Sample insights on admissions

  • For the interview, dress conservatively. Try to be very clean and put together. Also, I was a tour guide for two years and at the end of every tour, we were asked to evaluate the candidate so if you think the tour is not apart of the process, you are very wrong. Ask questions and be interested. Also, tip for the parents: the kids speak on the tour. Do not ask their questions for them...
  • Most younger siblings have an easy time in the admissions process. I can only think of one case of a younger sibling not being admitted. About half of the students who entered with me had come from public schools. The remainder came from private K-6 schools, or had transferred from other New York private schools The Elizabeth Morrow School and St. Bernard were two of the larger feeder schools...

School Life

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....

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