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Phillips Exeter Academy

School rating 4.7 / 5 by

20 Main Street Exeter NH 03833 United States
Boarding
9th to PG
Day
9th to PG
Gender
Coed

Academic

Phillips Exeter Academy review by .

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?"

College Counseling

Our upper (junior) fall or winter, we were all assigned to a college counselor. Exeter....

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

It's a pretty comprehensive application, with a few long and a few short essays, several....

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

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....

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