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Phillips Exeter Academy

Student rating 4.6/5 by Cornell University student
20 Main Street Exeter NH 03833 United States


Phillips Exeter Academy review by Cornell University student. I arrived at Exeter following a year in a small, rural public high school. A new lower (Exeter term for sophomore), I was behind my classmates in adjusting to Exeter’s unique teaching style, which is based on open discussion between students around an oval Harkness table, with the teacher as a moderator. The passion and engagement of my peers intimidated me. I was used to a public school classroom: sitting at a desk, listening to a teacher, and taking notes. Learning was doing assignments, taking tests, and listening. Success was getting A’s and doing better than my classmates. But Exeter defined learning and success differently, and adjusting to Exeter’s methods was a struggle; it was hard just fighting the impulse to raise my hand! Eventually, I adjusted to the Harkness method, gained confidence, and assumed an active role around the table. However, more important than the recognition of my efforts was the discovery that through active discussions with my peers, and even teaching them, I actually learned more. Rather than acting as a sponge, soaking up the words of my teachers and books only long enough to squeeze them out on tests and essays, I retained information. In addition, I discovered that my peers liked and respected me and listened to me when I spoke. What struck me most about my Exeter education was the support offered by both my peers and my teachers. Students at Exeter have to work hard. In general, I probably had between three and four hours of homework per night. However, I worked hard not to outpace my peers but rather to keep up with them and my peers were always there to help me do so. Exeter fosters an environment that compels students not to compete with each other but to cooperate with each other in order to reach a higher level of learning. The teachers work hard to guide their students on this journey. They are extremely helpful and understanding during class time and make themselves readily available for extra help outside of class. With that said, while the Harkness method does an excellent job of creating a positive learning environment and developing discussion and leadership skills, I'd say that it is not a good fit for all academic subjects. In science classes, for example, I sometimes found it simply annoying to have to turn around in my seat in order to see the white board. Discussions in the sciences are sometimes worthless; you really a need a teacher to simply tell you how things work. In history classes, Harkness enables students to think critically but it does not teach dates and concrete details of history as well as a class with lectures and tests would. Of all subjects, I believe that math is the best fit for Harkness teaching. There are no textbooks. Exeter teachers develop their own books of math word problems. Every night, students are assigned between 7 and 10 problems. At the beginning of class, each student chooses a problem to put up on the board. It is then their job to explain to the other students how they went about doing the problem. In this way, students first figure out how to do something on their own and then they teach it to their peers. The teacher is there to offer guidance and support when the class needs it. Now approaching the end of my first semester at Cornell, I can say that Exeter prepared my extremely well for college. I have found college a breeze compared to the academic experience Exeter put me through...

College Counseling

Exeter has a great college counseling.… Get the real inside story on college couseling at Phillips Exeter Academy, LOGIN or SIGN UP

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

From what I remember, the admissions.… Get insights and advice on admissions to Phillips Exeter Academy, LOGIN or SIGN UP

Sample insights on admissions
  • "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 transfered from other New York private schools The Elizabeth Morrow School and St. Bernard's were two of the larger feeder schools…"
  • "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. Don't ask their questions for them because their evaluation will be affected by the fact that the guides didn't hear a thing from the kid…"

School Life

Life in Exeter is very much like living a bubble. You live in this little perfect world with all the resources you could really want. My favorite part of living on campus would have to be dorm life. It's really fun living with all of your friends. Each dorm also has dorm faculty, usually one on each floor, and your faculty advisor is usually in your dorm. There are also proctors in the dorm, almost always seniors, that have been elected to act as a liaison between faculty and the rest of the students. You're in your dorm a lot. You have to check into it every night (8 for preps and lowers, 9 for uppers, and 10 for seniors, 11 on Saturdays) so you spend a lot of time there. Over your time at Exeter, you really identify with the dorm you live in develop a sense of pride for it. Sometimes Exeter can get pretty boring. You get into a pattern of sleep, classes, and homework that is difficult to break out of. On weekends, there are dances and other events such as casino night or bingo or something. You can go off campus or home if you get an invitation from wherever you're staying and permission from your parents, advisor, and the dean's office. A few notes: The library is amazing. It's the biggest secondary school library in the country. With that said, I did almost all of my work in my dorm. However, some people preferred working in the library. The food is pretty good. You get bored of it after awhile but there's a pretty selection and it's all you can eat. You're kind of in the middle of nowhere so it's definitely completely safe. Nothing bad EVER happens. Very diverse student body and faculty...surrounding is probably almost entirely white.

Exeter offers a huge wealth of extracurricular activities. There are a ton of student groups (can be found at that cater to anyone's interests. One can work for the Exonian, a student-run and very professional newspaper that is published weekly or ESSO, Exeter's community service organization, which contains many smaller clubs within it, such as Best Buddies. In addition, because Exeter has such a diverse student body, there are many cultural clubs. And then there are clubs that are just for fun, like ping-pong club or cooking club. Sports are also pretty big at Exeter. A big percentage of students participates on a varsity team by the time they graduate and for students that do not want to play competitively, there are club sports. Almost all students find something that they really enjoy and devote a good amount of time to it. On average, I'd say each student takes at least a five hours out of their week for extracurricular activities.