St. Paul's School review by Amherst College student. The only reference point I have to the difficulty or practicality of the academics at St. Paul's School is the college education I have received since my graduation, and I can say that the academics at St. Paul's are far more rigorous and rewarding than that I've experienced at Amherst College. While daunting for incoming students at St. Paul's--you will see grades increase dramatically over a student's four year career--St. Paul's School prepares you for any intellectual challenges you will face in college. It is often joked, by St. Paul's students, that the most difficult aspect of college is getting in, as students at Ivy League schools, MIT, Stanford, Amherst and Williams find the academics in college a walk in the park compared to St. Paul's. As such, the faculty and academics at St. Paul's are incredibly demanding, and the place is very much a pressure cooker. There is not grade deflation as much as a culture that only the top students will earn top marks. I would guess the top 20% of students in each division--Humanities, Math, Science--will receive a grade of High Honors in that class. When I was there (recently), the school was very Humanities focused--as Humanities courses are worth 6 credits, while Math and Science are each worth 3--which means that there are more electives offered in Humanities and, in my opinion, a stronger faculty. In my two years as an upperclassmen, I took eight Humanities electives, and designed two Independent Studies--the school allows you to design your own curriculum and they fund it entirely--within Humanities topics, including a one-on-one tutorial course with a faculty member knowledgable in my topic. With the construction of the new, beautiful $50 million Lindsay Math and Science Center, however, and the newly established engineering program, the focus may begin to shift back towards math and science. In your first three years at St. Paul's, you are required to take the customary math, science, foreign language, humanities, and arts, while in your final year, the school allows you to focus more on the subject area you wish to pursue in college. Examinations at St. Paul's are very, very difficult, and cover material from the entire year in a span of three short days, but exam period is one of the nicest times of the year, and you have plenty of time to unwind and study however much you wish. In my opinion, the greatest academic facet of St. Paul's is the administration's decision to do away with +/-, meaning that you will earn a grade of HH, H, HP, P, U and not HH+, HH-, H+, H- ect. These grades roughly translate into A, B, C, D, F, although not entirely, as H (Honors) is seen as a good grade, and HP (High Pass) is seen as average. The school does not translate these grades into a 4.0 scale, as expectations are so unique at St. Paul's, as an H at SPS (St. Paul's School) better translates into a B+ at other schools. Regardless, the lack of +/- relieves some of the stress on students, as not every test becomes as vital, and there is far less pressure on exams as its more difficult to drop a full grade HH->H than it would be to drop a half letter grade H->H-. I cannot address Math or Science as well, as I was a Humanities oriented student at St. Paul's and choose Amherst for its open curriculum so that I could continue to focus on Humanities. In addressing the question of preparation, I took a 300 level English class in my first semester at Amherst with entirely Amherst Juniors and Seniors, and had absolutely no problem, and I credit St. Paul's entirely for that. Amherst is widely considered one of the most rigorous schools in the country, and while many of my friends at Amherst coming from different high-schools struggle with the workload, I find the 10 hours of work a week mild in comparison to the 4 or 5 hours of work a night at St. Paul's. From an academic and so many other standpoints, St. Paul's was the greatest experience of my life thus far. You will pull all-nighters at St. Paul's. There will be moments you feel like you are in way over your head and you can't handle it, but there is no greater feeling than completing an exam, or getting your grades--and regardless of the outcome--the pride that resonates within you. I have been head over heels thrilled earning an HP on a test. You truly learn that you can overcome anything, and when your Professor assigns you a paper due the next day in college, while your classmates are freaking out and complaining, you will just get it done--absolutely no problem. I think that many high school students hand in papers and don't really feel proud of their work until they get that paper back and see a good grade across the top, but this is not the case at St. Paul's. As a St. Paul's student, you feel proud as you hand in that paper on 'The Heart of Darkness' that you stayed up until 3am working on, as both you and your teacher know you put in your very best work. It's just an added bonus when you get the paper back, with what I assure you will be an essay of comments in return. As difficult as the academics are, you're in it together. Your friends and classmates support you. And the faculty, one-hundred percent of whom live on campus, as always available to help. It is acceptable to email a teacher at 10pm the night before an assignment is due, and receive a response, or even an invitation to their apartment for pie and discussion. Some teachers will become your best friends, and while they will still grade you difficulty, will show up at your athletic events to support you outside the classroom as well. St. Paul's is a very nurturing environment, and at the end of each year, the faculty form a line to congratulate every student--even if you've never met before--on their accomplishments from that year. Other things you can do through St. Paul's academics: study abroad at Eton, do a service learning trip in Nicaragua, School Year Abroad in China, intern at the NH State House, design an Advanced Study--the list goes on and on. I will end with this. Sure, there is a lot of wealth at St. Paul's, and yes, you will meet some people who are at the school because of that wealth. But they are a minority. As someone who worked in St. Paul's Admissions, I will tell you that the school receives far more legacy and wealthy applications than it can possibly accept with its 11% admission rate. It is simply false to say students buy their way into the school, which is far more apparent in college applications by the way. You will study, live, eat, and compete with some of the greatest minds of our generation, and when it's over, and you walk across the campus for the final time with diploma in hand (and tears in either eye), you will spend the rest of your life serving others in an attempt to justify to yourself that you were worthy such an incredible blessing.
I can answer this question based on my experience, but ultimately you need to visit the school. Your tour and interview won't even really answer this question, but once admitted, your revisit day will truly introduce you to the wonders of the place. I couldn't have been happier with my experience--I accomplished everything I set out to do during my time there--and if I am fortunate enough to have children (many, many years from now) and they are interested in the place, they have my full support to attend. I'm not going to address the conservative vs. liberal question, because although I do find the school more liberal, I am conservative myself and my experience would have been the same regardless. Peers' willingness to contribute to the community and help each other is truly remarkable. You will be amazed by how much students do, for one another and for the school in general. Despite the workload, people find the time to play varsity sports, volunteer in Concord, serve on student council, as prefects and student admissions officers. Students work with junior friends, as library prefects and peer tutors. Students go on retreats, and service learning trips, and there are even a groups of students who welcome you to chapel each morning. Students run clubs and activities, build robots, and edit one another's essays. St. Paul's students are one of a kind in their combination of ambition and compassion. Ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds are diverse. Concord is a really beautiful town in New Hampshire, and a haven in which to grow up and become an adult. Some students pay full tuition, while others are on full financial aid or come from states with scholarships--St. Paul's endowment allows the school to be generous with aid and makes it a priority to fill each class with the most qualified candidates, regardless of financial accessibility. St. Paul's students are very engaged in the Concord community, and the student run missionary society provides a number of opportunities for students to volunteer in the community. Student housing is 100x better than anything you will experience in college, as there are about 30 students per dorm, and 3 apartments connected to each dorm in which faculty and their families live. There is no lights out for anyone, including freshman, and although you are checked into the dorm by an advisor at a certain time, you are free to roam around the dorm, use the kitchen or study rooms to chat with friends or work after hours. The faculty members living in the dorms are accessible, and many host dinners for their advisees (6 students per group) or open up their offices for students to work in, and act as a kind of support network within the dorms. It is not as if they are watching over students, but rather are accessible if any student needs help or support. The library is my favorite spot on campus, as if offers incredible views of the campus and ponds surrounding, as well as a variety of different environments in which to work. There are silent study pods, and larger study rooms, and a number of rooms varying from silent, to quiet study, to more social places to meet up with friends. Most student spend evenings in the library, either working or catching up with friends who may live on the other side of campus. On another note, we have the most beautiful athletic & fitness center in America. The food is very good, the upper dining hall is beautiful, and the guy who runs the food service is one of the nicest you'll ever meet. One year, on my birthday, he set up a fondue station in the dining hall with a chocolate fountain and bananas, strawberries, and marshmallows as a surprise for me. People just aren't this kind anywhere else. Surprise holidays are another aspect of SPS not mentioned here. Each term there is a surprise holiday where an announcement is made and students have the day off. In the fall, the rector will announce cricket holiday in the fall, and students have the day to do whatever they would like; the rector makes sure to pick a nice day for students to enjoy outside. Students go on hikes, or kayak around the lakes and ponds, or spend the afternoon swimming and tanning by the docks. In the winter, the missionary society plans a surprise dance on some remote part of campus so no-one will notice, and upon announcing the dance, students have a fun evening and the following day free from class. There are so many wonderful aspects of St. Paul's that I'm forgetting to mention, or have become such a common part of my life that seem insignificant to mention, but might seem incredible to those who didn't experience them every day for four years. The only way to know them all is to visit and apply!
An average day begins at 7:30. You'll head to the upper to grab some breakfast and then go to chapel. Next you'll head to class for the morning, often have a free period at some point when you can do anything you'd like (work, sleep, workout), lunch, and then more class in the afternoon. There was one Wednesday my senior year on which I had just one class. In the afternoon, you'll have athletic practice, then dinner back at the upper, and the evening free to do whatever you'd like. Clubs will meet during this time, and there is a tuck shop open on campus for friends to congregate around food and television. There is definitely good balance, although academic work will take up much of your time. St. Paul's accepts ambitious applicants and wonderful people. It then places them in an environment of further ambition and compassion, and helps them grow into well-rounded and caring individuals. There is a community service component, where in order to graduate you must fulfill a certain number of service hours. Students are driven on by their peers, and reach a point where inaction becomes boredom. As such, we are always looking for ways to fill our time--be in sports, volunteering, or through clubs and activities. If you add up the time spent on the things a St. Paul's student does in average day, it equals more than 24 hours. I don't know how they do it, but it happens every day. I could write glowing recommendation after glowing recommendation on the school, its students, and the global citizens its produces yearly, but ultimately, it's something you need to see for yourself. I can say, however, never in my life have I been so impressed and so enamored by the personalities I've been fortunate enough to spend time around. Students at St. Paul's, with the help of faculty and friends, raise one another, and I couldn't be more grateful for the upbringing I received.