Phillips Exeter Academy - Review #15

Read more details about Phillips Exeter Academy on their 2018-19 profile page.
Phillips Exeter Academy
5

About the Author:

College EnrolledUniversity of Chicago
Home Town, State Chicago, IL
Years Attended Boarding School3
Activities During Boarding SchoolTheater, campus admissions, democrats, newspaper, dormitory proctor, concert choir, community service at a local food pantry.

Reflections and Advice:

1.) What do you think makes your school unique relative to other boarding schools?
While I don't doubt academics at other schools are of equal quality, I think that Phillips Exeter is a more rigorous experience. Phillips Exeter was a very intense place. I'm not sure if it was the long class days and six-day week, the pan-discipline seminar-style of instruction, or simply the type of students and faculty PEA attracts because of it's "sink-or-swim"/"Harkness method" of instruction. It's tiring, but it's also a bonding experience that will leave you with friends for the rest of your life.Some other unique things:1.) "angeling!!" The week before Christmas, boarding students are matched to another student who they "angel" or Secret Santa. And kids seriously go ALL OUT during that week. They wall-paper their "mortal's" door with wrapping paper & streamers, fill a few dozen balloons with chocolates, get a capella groups to serenade him/her, set the mortal up with a date, make mixed CDs, drop things inside someone's mail box...2.) "Assembly" - I think PEA is one of the few boarding schools that still take daily assembly seriously. The entire student body convenes in the assembly hall for 25 minutes 3x/week, a faculty member or a student speaks about something, or an outside speaker comes in... Some are blah, sometimes you wish you could sleeping/doing work...but assembly is definitely one of the things I remember most fondly about PEA.
2.) What was the best thing that happened to you in boarding school?
The best thing that happened to me at boarding school?I learned how to think, I became more independent than ever, I became a New Englander & met people from all over the world. Yeah, I left PEA with a level of confidence and maturity that I would not have had anywhere else.
3.) What might you have done differently during your boarding school experience?
I was OCD about excelling at everything...easy to do at an average college-prep school in the Midwest, harder at a boarding school, made me go a bit crazy. But I'm not sure I'd have changed that.Honestly, I don't think you can do anything wrong at a boarding school (well, unless you do something that gets you expelled). It does great things for you regardless.I'd recommend keeping the following in mind: don't be too critical of your school. Because you'll be nostalgic about the very things you hated 3 years later.
4.) What did you like most about your school?
Gosh - EVERYTHING!!! The friendships I made, the memories, the campus...
5.) Do you have any final words of wisdom for visiting or incoming students to your school?
If you're exhausted, go to the Lamont infirmary and say you have a tummy ache. They'll bring you toast spread with butter & let you take a nap under hand-quilted blankets. Re. Dorms - I'm not sure regarding recent renovations. Honestly, the more ram-shackle, furniture-from-the-1940s dorms really create great memories too & feel less sterile.Incoming students: definitely check out the bakeries/coffee shops in town, take a walk through the cross country trails, check out the student center...

Academics:

1.) Describe the academics at your school - what did you like most about it?
PEA has a fairly extensive required curriculum, so there's a bit less freedom to take electives as at other schools. The school also uses a "quarter-system" which makes things move fast.With the exception of science classes, knowledge is not fed to you. You have "problem-sets" rather than math-text books, you read literature and historical documents and college-level texts by historians rather than text books. It makes it so that you have to do the work/reading/math problem sets in order to benefit from classes (rather than just taking notes/passively absorbing in class). Was irritating at times...but there's no better way to "learn-how-to-think" than by having to "figure-it-out-on-your-own"... with helpful guidance, of course. [I really do think after 3 or 4 years at PEA, you're as qualified to do problem-driven consulting as any MBA-grad...lol.]The school's reputation also attracts students with a certain type of curiosity/intensity/analytical-curiosity, and instructors who want to work with those kinds of students, and that effects the entire ethos of the place.

Athletics:

1.) Describe the athletics at your school - what did you like most about it?
I just did club sports. (I was definitely a nerd). But there's a huge variety to choose from. Coming from the Midwest, loved club-cycling through the new england country-side. Also did yoga (in the attic of the Chapel) for 4 terms and loved it. As well as "training"...PEA does have an incredible athletic facility, even in comparison to the one at my University.

Art, Music, and Theatre:

1.) Describe the arts program at your school - what did you like most about it?
Concert Choir was great. We toured my first year, and it was a really nice, tight-knit group. The instructor was fabulous as well...conducted with what can best be described as a mix of "Harkness" and "Yoga-Zen philosophy."The art/theater scene is small but tight-knit, and honestly, I don't think anything IS NOT offered at PEA (in terms of art/theater technique).

Extracurricular Opportunities:

1.) Describe the extracurriculars offered at your school - what did you like most about it?
There are so many extra-curricular offerings at PEA. My impression is that those I participated in (the Exonian, our weekly paper; the food pantry/best-buddies community service) are likely on-par with those at comparable prep schools. And the faculty RSO body is supportive of new initiatives.One thing that is unique, however, is how active PEA political organizations get during presidential campaigns, simply because PEA is in a mid-density area in one of the first primary states, and NH is a swing state. When I was a student, the campus democrats basically occupied the Admissions office and used it as a calling-campaign center 3 or 4 nights/week. We also did door-to-door canvassing.

Dorm Life:

1.) Describe the dorm life in your school - what did you like most about it?
I lived in Bancroft (non-academic side of the quad, CA 40 students) for my first year and then moved to a house (12 girls) for my last two years. I liked both. The dorm faculty were great...there was something really nice about having faculty on-duty with their door open (and often, a plate of home-made treats) every night. I had a roommate my first year and singles the next two years. Loved being a proctor my senior year too... I made home-made treats every night, organized house-dinners & "tea's" and had check-in questions... So much fun. The dorms vary a lot in terms of singles to double ratio, kitchens, furnishings, and size. And they all have really unique character.Dorms are such a great bonding experience...under-class-men have "lights-out" policies...which no one abides by... and there's something really terrific about being trapped in a building with 40 other girls night after night...

Dining:

1.) Describe the dining arrangements at your school.
There are two dining halls (cafeteria-style) on campus and when I was there, they were opened from 7-9 p.m. every day. (The hot-lines were closed, but the salad bars & snack/treats/cereal was always available).I studied in dining halls with friends a lot, and it was really nice to be able to go in and grab something any time of the day.

Social and Town Life:

1.) Describe the school's town and surrounding area.
What did I like? I'm not from New England, so I loved the quaint former-mill-town feel, and I loved bicycling out into the woods/rural area or to the Beach.In terms of amenities, there were 3 Pizza places, 3 or 4 Asian restaurants, a few really cute cafes/sandwich shops, a great old-fashioned candy store, a few gift-shops, a fine-dining place... and a grocery store/Rite-Aid/etc. about a 4 or 5 block walk away.There's also a train-line that takes you to Boston which I didn't often take advantage of, but which others did quite a bit.
2.) Describe the social life at your school - what did you like most about it?
I loved the dorm life. I think the rigorous ethos (academics, extracurriculars, sports) really brings students together in a unique way... I also think that the restrictions (you can't drive, you can't drink, you can't do normal things...going to the mall, etc...that teenagers do for fun) really force you to be creative. Makes for great memories!!I also loved having day-student friends. My two best friends were both day students. And it was really lovely to go to their house for the weekend.

Daily Schedule:

Weekday
8:30 AMOh-crap-I'm-late-for-class-run across the quad to American History
9:15 AMGeometry
10:15 AMAssembly
10:45 AMAP Biology
11:30 AMLunch
1:30 PMYoga (with a 2 hour break)
4:15 PMEnglish
5:00 PMGerman (One-on-One tutorial)
7:00 PMRehearsal (or Copy-editing for the Exonian, or starting in on the next day's work)
1:00 AMSleep!!
Weekend
8:30 AMAP Biology
9:15 AMEnglish
10:15 AMConcert Choir (extended period)
11:30 AMDone for the WEEK nap-time
4:00 PMHang out in friend's room. Order Pizza. Bake cookies.
6:30 PMBicycle out to the outskirts of town, take photographs.
10:00 PMCheck-in. Hang out in the common room doing work, watch movie, chatting with dorm advisor.
2:00 AMSleep!!
Read more details about Phillips Exeter Academy on their 2018-19 profile page.

Alumni Reviews
  Review School

  • Review Description
  • Northwestern University
    Phillips Exeter Academy created a wonderful atmosphere to grow and develop as a human being rather than just as a student. Its use of the Harkness method encourages students to speak up and form nuanced. . .
  • Harvey Mudd College
    Exeter is known for the Harkness method, and for good reason. Because we use it in every class, it really permeates all other aspects of life at Exeter. Even casual conversations at the dining hall. . .
  • Macalester College
    The Harkness method of education was founded at Phillips Exeter, so I think this makes Exeter special. Harkness a learning method based on discussion and exchange of ideas among students, with the instructor as a. . .
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