Phillips Exeter Academy review by University of Pennsylvania student. Exeter has a small student to teacher ratio, resulting in smaller classes and very individualized attention for each student. The Harkness Method is the highlight of Exeter's curriculum, and its educational properties extend far beyond the classroom. The Harkness Method is used in nearly every class, allowing for probing discussion on a breadth of topics at intellectual levels rare at most secondary schools. This discussion-based class setting warrants a high level of class participation, thus requiring students to be fairly familiar with the daily assignments in order to excel. The workload is fairly hefty for each course, often requiring large amounts of reading, but active class participants are rewarded in grading, as borderline grades are usually bumped up if interest is shown in class. For this reason, emphasis is placed on a student's willingness to learn, improve, and ask questions, rather than strictly exam scores. That said, many humanities-based courses do not give exams, as essays and discussion are stressed more in those classes. As is true with most boarding schools, teachers are very accessible outside of the classroom, with flexible tutorial hours in the evening (most offering help until 10 PM on some nights). Student tutors are also available for nearly all subjects, should teachers not be sufficient. The classes themselves are usually not straightforward high school courses, due to the Harkness method. Math courses are also in a discussion-setting, and the textbook is a packet of application-based word problems compiled by Academy math teachers . Students usually complete a problem set each night and demonstrate at least one problem on the board for their classmates the next day without previous guidance by the teacher. The teacher is a facilitator of discussion even in mathematics courses, and mostly explain difficult concepts and prod the students in their own derivations and discoveries in the problem-solving realm. Like so, English courses are often simply hour-long discussions on the night's readings, as are History courses. While so-called "AP courses" are not offered, college-level courses are denoted with an asterisk on the schedule and transcript, and students often perform at outstanding levels in their corresponding AP exams, despite not having followed the AP curriculum directly. There is considerable breadth in the curriculum, with courses in anthropology, electronics, computer science, print-making, psychology, economics, Russian, and a multitude of other liberal-arts classes made available to all students. The school facilities offer a mini anthropological museum, a geological rock collection, an astronomic viewtower, and countless other state-of-the-art facilities. As a freshman, one should expect about three hours of homework per night, not including extracurricular activities. Sophomore: 3-4 hours Junior: 4-5 hours Senior: 4-5 hours
The dorms are clean, and many have undergone recent renovation (with elevators installed, layouts completely overhauled), most notably in Amen and Peabody. Basement storage is offered for most dorms for over-the-summer storage of personal belongings, including furniture. Rooms are relatively large in some dorms (I had a futon and a computer desk in addition to the dresser/bed/desk combination, and it all fit VERY comfortably in my spacious room). I also had a walk-in closet, high ceilings, and hardwood flooring for the last three years. Most freshman are assigned roommates, and room sizes and layouts vary greatly between dormitories. The largest girl's dorm on campus, Dunbar (where I lived for four years) is known for its very large singles. (Most students after their first year choose singles). Most dorms have new furniture (desk/dresser/chair/bed), and all dorms have new (comfortable!) mattresses, purchased in 2007 by student council after an all-school mattress-testing event and vote. Dining facilities (walk-in, all-you-can-eat, 7AM-7PM weekdays) have improved astronomically in the past four years. All milk is organic, most of the produce is organic, there is a large salad and sandwich bar open to all students, bread baked fresh daily, a sandwich grill, fresh-made ice cream and desserts (the pies are freshly made and particularly delicious), coffee/hotchocolate machines, assorted gourmet teas, an assortment of brand-name cereals, an assortment of dry snacks (graham crackers, cheez-its, peanuts), frozen-yogurt/soft-serve machines, and fruits available all day. During mealtimes, there are always vegetarian and halal options. The neighborhood is extremely safe, but has proximity to Boston (approximately 45 minutes by car) and a train station about five minutes walk from campus. Athletic facilities are state-of-the-art, with a brand new swimming pool completed in 2007 (or 2006?), the newest and largest prep school squash facility, an open gym for fitness work outs, two ice rinks, a new athletic trainers' facility with a both an ice bath and a jacuzzi, a system of wooded trails for running, an indoor running cage, and a new outdoor turf field. Social events have also improved in recent years, with an annual dance in the fall with a live band, the annual hypnotist, and various other school-funded events every weekend. Prior to the New Hampshire primary, most Presidential candidates also typically speak at the Academy, greeting a full crowd in the Assembly Hall. We have also had Seymour Hersh, NY Times reporter of the My Lai Massacre, speak recently.
I founded and co-headed a community service arts club for three years, did yearbook for over three years (co-head-editor), PEAL magazine (graphics director) for three years, symphony orchestra (violin) for four years, JV field hockey for two years, JV girls' hockey for three years, TECH (dorm technical support) for over three years,and various cultural clubs. The community service club experience was amazing, and definitely was one of the highlights of my high school experience. The school funded the club, where a friend and I taught local children arts and crafts every Sunday afternoon. This was 100% funded by ESSO (Exeter Social Services Organization), a huge community service umbrella organization on campus. This experience taught me entrepreneurship, to take initiative, to be creative, management, and dedication to social betterment. Yearbook helped to hone my media, organizational, and leadership skills, lessons that I will likely tout the rest of my life. Exeter's emphasis on extracurriculars played a huge part in my personal development.