by MIT Ivy League and Oxbridge Educated Insiders

Phillips Academy Andover

Student rating 4.8/5 by Columbia University student
180 Main Street Andover MA 01810 United States


Phillips Academy Andover review by Columbia University student. Phillips Academy Andover is exceptionally strong at everything academically. I thought the History department was especially strong, but really we don't have a single weak academic department. (By acclamation, our physics and music departments are the best since they score so high on AP tests.) Once you hit your Upper Year you can start constructing your schedule around your interests - taking extra English or History electives, adding more advanced math and science to your schedule, taking another language, etc. and by senior year pretty much everything is at your discretion (although college counseling will make you take English all year - as they should). I can't emphasize how incredible the academics and courses are at the school - I was able to take classes in Renaissance art, metaphysical poetry, public speaking, quantum mechanics, Japanese, logic and comparative government. I even did an independent project on the Presidential election of 1824. The student body tends to be pretty competitive but in a good way. There's no way to really harm anyone academically - we all suffer together through these classes, and the more advanced classes require active collaboration (just try taking one of the advanced physics electives without being friends with anyone...). Things only got nasty with extracurriculars but that's the exception more than the rule, and I think my year had a unique combination of explosive personalities. And if hard politics aren't your style you can certainly succeed and be happy at Andover without playing any of those games. I can't overstate how influential Andover's academics were for my college experience. A lot of previous Andover alums have expressed similar sentiments, and many even thought that Andover was harder than college - this isn't true, but I understand the sentiment. Andover taught us how to struggle against mountains of work and incredibly competitive and talented peers, and even if Columbia may have been more difficult at times I was prepared for the challenge. Andover students, more so than even graduates of other well-known prep schools, have an intangible grit about them that we learned in high school somewhere in between crying over our first term paper junior (read: freshman) year and juggling five hours of homework a night with college admissions and club leadership our senior year. There's a reason why almost half of my Andover classmates at Columbia graduated magna cum laude or above. More specifically, Andover teaches you two key skills that apply to almost everything you will do in college. You firstly learn how to write well - we learned not just how to write pretty sentences but to construct arguments and argue for things persuasively, and express ourselves comfortably in written form. You'd be surprised how many students go to the Ivy League completely clueless in this regard - the SAT and AP tests that define conventional college admission success emphasize structure over content to an alarming degree and many of my Columbia classmates floundered as freshmen because of this. Andover alums don't have this problem, and its because we're prepared to write long, dense papers from the first trimester we arrive on campus. But secondly, Andover teaches you how to solve problems. I'm completely serious when I say this - problem solving is a skill that lies at the crux of any quantitative discipline, be it economics, physics, computer science or math. There's a reason our AP physics program is the highest scoring in the country - its because our teachers understand the didactic value of having kids struggle over six or seven tough problems a night instead of drumming out silly exercises, computations, "plug-and-chug" problems and busy-work. When you go to college and get your first problem set, you'll recognize how valuable this skill is. Even relative to other prep schools we performed extremely well in this regard - we don't recruit our competitive math team, we grow our best talent internally, and our classes aren't designed to cater to the smartest kid in the class and have everyone else play catch up. That's not the case everywhere else. Classes were small - most of my classes were somewhere in the teens in number, and many were well below ten people, especially at the more advanced level. I didn't go a single class without being forced to defend something or contribute in some way - even shy and quiet kids are expected to add value, and every single one of them does. I wasn't shy myself in high school, but I never felt like anyone was uncomfortable in this setting. If anything though, I think you'll find your peers are on the other end of the spectrum - opinionated, articulate, and fierce. And that's a good thing - I've never felt so engaged academically. Teachers made a point of always being available for a daily help outside of class during conference period (our own version of office hours), and some teachers will even invite you to their homes after classes ended for additional help. One teacher made himself available during his lunch hour. Conference period is also quite egalitarian - students help each other, the teacher makes sure to answer your question at least once, and everyone from the valedictorian to the PGs come by for help. I spent every single conference period with a teacher (usually in quantitative subjects, since those have the most value, unless you are discussing a paper topic or something) and I was first-round cum laude (top 10%) so it's not like there's a stigma of being seen as dumb in going to Conference period.

College Counseling

The college counseling office at Andover is an incredibly intimate one, and each of the counselors wants to get to know you very well. I met with my counselor very frequently, and every single person gets assigned a counselor their Upper year. We all had to meet with our advisor at least once before the summer, and the office gave us homework over the summer to prepare for the upcoming college admissions process. You will be well taken care of at Andover when it comes to college. See my below for my detailed analysis on the strengths of the college counseling office. My advisor was the former director of a college's admission office himself, so he definitely understood the idiosyncrasies of college admissions. He actually made a point of having each of his kids tell him their life story, what their parents did, how they spent their summers, etc. He took an interest above and beyond what most college counselors did for my friends at other schools. I remember sending my college counselor essays I wrote for a summer program I applied to at the end of my Upper Year (read: 11th grade), and he even took the time to give me comments. I met with him maybe every other week my senior year, and we actually became quite close. I definitely think that every single college counselor cares about their students as people and they all made a point of getting to know their students well. There is of course a pragmatic element to this - college counselors write better recommendations when they can give concrete reasons why a student is strong and they, in general, paint a better narrative about you when they know you better - but I never felt that my college counselors pressured me to apply anywhere I didn't want to go, or to pick a school I didn't like because it was more prestigious, or any of the other bizarre things you hear happening at other schools. Andover has a very old-world sense of noblesse oblige, and the sentiments of the college counseling office were no different. There are always rumors that so-and-so advisor had connections to this-or-that university, but I didn't see any overt evidence of that. I do know, however, that our admissions staff personally wined and dined Yale's Director of Admissions when she came and visited us on campus and that my own advisor seemed to have some sort of connection to Harvard but I think their influence is perhaps overstated. Colleges DO care about what they have to say, however, that much is absolutely true - our college counselors seemed to be constantly working the phones, and my own counselor was able to discretely communicate some of my family's legacy connections to Yale. In short, it's clear that some sort of channel exists, but I don't think we had any sort of special advantage, or that college counselors could ever pull strings for anyone in particular. Admission or rejection to a college is a function of your own application, and - much more importantly - the decision-calculus of whatever college you are applying to. The college counseling office was very adamant that they are for college counseling, and not for college placement and I think that's worth keeping in mind no matter where you end up. Andover students place well because they are smart and because they make the most out of the opportunities the school gives them - not because there's some smoke-filled room where the Ivy League picks their favorite applicants that our college-counselors somehow have an inside line into.

Admissions - Getting Accepted

Applying to Andover was like a more personalized experience of applying to college. You take a test, you write essays about overcoming adversity, you interview (generally with someone on the admissions committee), you take a tour and you tell them what sort of clubs you are interested in and how you spend your free time. It's a lot of fun for a fourteen-year old - you get to reflect on your life and talk to someone who is paid to be interested in you. Interviews, essays, and the selection process are becoming more and more akin to college admissions, but significantly less bizarre in my opinion. Hopefully, Andover will continue to maintain its ability to provide a personalized assessment of every candidate. See my thoughts below for doing well with prep school admissions. You can look up what exams are accepted, but I'm pretty sure most people take the SSAT. The incoming scores for accepted students are naturally quite high and my year the average was around a 95% overall. As with the SATs, the higher, the better - no one was ever rejected for having scores that were too high. I think the interview, however, is much more relevant for your admissions chances. Andover is more interested in graduating people who will contribute to society than they are in graduating glorified test-taking machines, and how you carry yourself in your interview is a great indicator of how well you will do at Andover. It's not just that people like well-spoken applicants - Andover students are graded on how well they express themselves in class. People who interview well are also generally more mature and have easier transitions to boarding school. Practice your interviewing skills - it's the most high-impact preparation you can do. Do dress conservatively, and in terms of questions asked be prepared for the usual cookie-cutter stuff "Why do you want to come to Andover?" "Do you think you will do well in a boarding school environment?" "How do you spend your summers?" "What do you do outside of the classroom?" The most important thing about applying to Andover is having control over your narrative. If you can tell the admissions officers why you want to go to Andover and why you will fit in you make it much easier for them to advocate for you when decision time comes around. For example, I talked about how I had gone to school with the same kids for more or less my entire life and how I was ready for a change - I had went to CTY over the summers and loved the experience of being away from home and meeting kids from all around the country. I was a semi-successful Junior Olympic sprinter at the time, and I talked about how Andover's top-ranked track team would be a great fit for me (they had won the league championship the year before). I also talked about how I turned my weaknesses into strengths, how I used to not be especially strong at math, but how I had studied math over the past two summers to compensate and was then taking Algebra 2 with Trigonometry. My own narrative planted little flags in the mind of the lady who interviewed me - specific reason to go to Andover (track), comfortable living away from home (academic summer camp), proven resilience under pressure (math studying), ability to express myself without sounding like an idiot (demonstrated in the interview). High school admissions, more so than the randomized nonsense that is college admissions these days, is more of an exercise in matching economics than anything else, and as long as you demonstrate you are both interested and interesting you should be fine. It does pay to be a bit of a specialist in something - we could fill our class with perfect scoring violin players from Massachusetts, but then we wouldn't have a full orchestra (nor a full representation of American students). I think there is room for many bright well-rounded kids (how specialized are middle school students anyways?), but you increase your chances if you have some skill or ability that will contribute to the school. Two of my peers, for instance, did debate in middle school and Andover really liked that. When I was a student, Andover also really valued various types of cultural diversity, so if you think you'll look good on an admissions brochure you're probably in luck. By the time I left Andover, the demographic cross-sections in vogue were conservative kids from the Rocky Mountain states but things might have changed since I left. That being said, you can never get enough students from Spearfish, South Dakota, so honestly I doubt things are all that different. I will say, however, that you should be careful to know your audience. If you are a quiet kid who grew up in some upper-middle class suburb to striving Asian parents and played the violin and piano and did really well on the math team it will be harder for you to stand out. It's not because the admissions officers are prejudiced but because so many of the same sort applicants apply to Andover. Remember my earlier comment about matching economics - this is fundamentally a supply and demand issue.

School Life

One thing about Andover that was really surprising to me when I first arrived was how nice everyone was. Everyone says hi to you on the path to class, it's considered rude not to hold open doors for other people, and your teachers make a point of getting to know you. Looking back on my time there, I definitely feel a profound sense of nostalgia for that little world in which everyone seemed to know one another, and even if we didn't get along all of the time, there was an unspoken understanding that we are ultimately all playing for the same team. When you go to college afterwards, you'll discover you become fast friends with other kids who went to prep school - maybe because they understand this sentiment as well. Life wasn't all happiness and sunshine, however, don't get me wrong - winters were long, nights were long, sports could be very strenuous at times and weekends got repetitive and boring by the time I was a senior. I would encourage you to spend more time in Boston than I did - it helps switch up the monotony of having a mediocre dance every single weekend. They really do try to liven things up and I will say that I saw some really interesting speakers come to campus, as well the occasional interesting magician or comedian. When you're working that hard though, it's hard to notice that you aren't being super stimulated in your free time, and I remember being more than content to simply order food, unwind and watch a movie in my common room on a Friday or Saturday night. Inevitably though, you will find your own way to entertain yourself with your friends, and it's this creativity that will doubtlessly lead to your strangest but most cherished memories of the place. Andover is an extremely liberal campus but with a very out-spoken Republican minority. I don't think members of either demographic felt marginalized. In general, Andover prized students who were also active citizens. I can count the number of students in my class who didn't actively participate in club / sports life on one finger and we all felt that they had an impoverished experience as a result of that indifference. There is a tendency to resume pad - as there is at any competitive high school - but the students who rise to the top of their clubs and actually do something worth putting down on a college application are the ones who learn to love something outside of the classroom. One piece of advice - try to forge strong connections with people in the class above you. These people don't feel a need to compete with you, since you are applying for college at different times, and are more than happy to be mentors. Oftentimes, succeeding at Andover - particularly in clubs and sports - isn't just about you, but also who has your back, and the best way to construct a championship team is to actively befriend people who are older than you. (Don't suck up to them - that just loses you respect, but actually try to get to know them as people, and help them out when they are in a pinch, like when it's Upper Spring and they have two papers due over the weekend and 100 flyers to put up all over campus.) "What is the ethnic and socio-economic background of the students, faculty and the school's surrounding neighborhood?" This might surprise you but Andover skews wealthy, white, Asian, and northeastern (both the town and the school). We also have a lot of families who all attend the school - lots of legacies, lots of siblings, and lots of faculty kids. None of this is particularly bad and I think Andover is especially self-conscious of its demographic makeup - we spend a lot of money trying to recruit a diverse class and I think we do a very good job of it. (We take educating "Youth From Every Quarter" very seriously, as you'll find as soon as you crack open a brochure.) I think Andover does a good job of promoting awareness and dialogue - I remember Martin Luther King Day, for instance, is always spent discussing issues of race, class, privilege and prejudice. Sometimes the speakers are mediocre, but occasionally you get someone exceptional, like I did my freshman year when I heard Dr. Roland Fryer - an economist - discuss his work on the economics of race. If anything, I think Andover is a little bit too self-conscious of these particular issues of privilege but that's generally a good problem to have for a school educating such successful people. Andover is currently embroiled in a feminist resurgence over student government, which seems like a generally good thing, and a couple of years ago seemed to be obsessed with economic class - which seemed more awkward than anything else, and in my opinion a little bit pointless since the school inevitably teaches its students to enter a high social class.

Andover starts off as more regimented during your junior and lower years before gradually allowing you to spend your time doing what you love. Certain parts of the day are allocated for class - 8 to 3ish I believe - whereas the time in between 3 and 5ish is exclusively devoted to sports, and clubs generally meet at around 6:30. By the time you become a senior you are granted more flexibility - you can "slide" from athletics for a term and not take a sport, for instance, and you generally don't need to take as many courses (first years generally take six, upperclassmen generally take less). Whether that means you spend more time watching South Park, editing the school paper, or studying for your Independent Project is up to you, but kids generally spend their extra time in productive ways. Extracurricular activity really varies by student - upper management of the Phillipian spent upwards of 40 hours a week on the paper (most of that time was spent bickering, I might add, er, sorry, "negotiating" with one another), whereas various cultural and religious groups met only once a week for an hour or so. Generally, as you get more responsibility in your club your time commitments increase, and the more prestigious clubs (Phillipian, Model UN, debate, student government) can have significant political dimensions to them. Students tend to specialize as they grow older because of this up-or-out attitude at some of the clubs. For instance, there's a certain type of student that participates in the Phillipian, the Philomathean Society (debate), and Model UN. By my senior year, the heads of each club focused on their own clubs and generally stayed out of the the other two clubs. Overall time spent doing extracurricular stuff increased, I'm sure, for each of them, since running a club is hard work, but they were able to focus more on being leaders as opposed to resume padding. That's a good thing, in my opinion. I'm not sure how balanced some of these attitudes towards clubs were. I tried to do everything personally, a little bit of sports, some clubs, schoolwork of course, but I always felt like the more intense clubs imposed a lot of time on their members. That being said, they all seem to be quite satisfied with their experiences in these clubs, so more power to them. Andover, fundamentally, gives you the freedom to make your own tradeoffs, and that's a scary but valuable ability to have as a teenager.