Phillips Exeter Academy review by Princeton University student. The academic experience at Phillips Exeter is unrivaled. Classes are small and based on what is known as the Harkness method. In this method, the teacher and students sit around an oval table and explore the topic at hand through discussion. This method encourages participation and cooperation, since students learn from one another, not just from the teacher. The teacher's role is that of a facilitator, asking questions to jump-start the discussion and intervening if the students get off track. Unlike other schools which have imitated this style of teaching, Exeter employs the Harkness method in all classes (even math and science), though science classes have a lab area in addition to the Harkness table. Students at Exeter (like most other elite preparatory schools) are competitive, but this competition is generally friendly. As mentioned above, the Harkenss method builds a spirit of academic cooperation. The faculty are, for the most part, fabulous at what they do, not only because of their knowledge but because they love to teach. They are also easily accessible. Many live in the dorms, and those who don't are always willing to make time to meet with students for one-on-one discussions. The work load is significant (roughly an hour per class per night) but rewarding (and rarely boring). The curriculum is extensive (several hundred classes, including at least 20 senior English electives), so older students can focus on topics that actually interest them. In most classes (with the exception of math, science, and most languages), teachers assign papers instead of tests. I never had a history or English test in my time at Exeter. Final exams (in those classes which give them) count for the same amount as a normal test.
I found Exeter's quality of life to be outstanding, most notably because of the dorm experience. Students are placed in either dorms (35-40 people on average) or houses (about 15 people). All living arrangements are single-sex. There is a faculty member (or members) in each dorm who provides oversight and makes sure everything stays under control. One of the things that is unique to Exeter is that students stay in the same dorm for their entire time at the school (unless they want to move). This allows for the development of extremely close friendships, especially since students have to be in their dorms after a certain time each night (8 for freshmen and sophomores, 9 for juniors, 10 for seniors during the week, and 11 for everyone on weekends). There is no doubt in my mind that the friends I made in my dorm at Exeter will remain some of my closest throughout my life. The rooms themselves are singles or doubles, and they are generally spacious. Even my freshman year, I was placed in a three-room double (two small bedrooms with a common room in between). The dining hall is open from 7 am to 8 pm, and the food is surprisingly good. In fact, now that I'm in college, I actually miss Exeter's food. The student body is remarkably diverse, a reflection of the school's commitment to admitting "youth from every quarter." The surrounding area is a quiet, friendly suburban town, but it is not nearly as diverse as the campus (after all, it is New Hampshire).
There is a vast array of extracurricular activities at Exeter. There are hundreds of clubs, from political organizations to ethnic and religious groups to social service initiatives. Exeter also boasts almost thirty interscholastic athletic teams, most of which are highly competitive. The cross-country, water polo, swimming, and crew teams are especially dominant, but many other teams are excellent as well. Exeter's rival in athletics (and just about everything else) is Phillips Academy (commonly known as Andover). One of the most unique clubs (and the one in which I was most involved) is WPEA, the school's radio station. It broadcasts every morning from 7-8 (before classes start) and every evening from 7-10. Additionally, it broadcasts from 1-10 on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons and evenings. Students can apply for a show at the beginning of each trimester and usually receive an hour-long time slot. No prior experience is necessary, and students are trained by a WPEA board member before their first show. The station broadcasts within a 20-mile radius, so it has listeners in the town and surrounding community as well as on campus. Additionally, the board is currently working with the administration on the possibility of streaming over the internet. I found the radio station to be an incredibly enjoyable and unique experience, and a great opportunity for creativity and collaboration.