Phillips Exeter Academy - Review #4

Phillips Exeter Academy
5

About the Author:

College Enrolled University of the Virgin Islands
Home Town, State (Country) Charlotte Amalie, none
Years Attended Boarding School 4
Activities During Boarding School Theater: -Theater Proctor (Paid/Leadership position) -Tech Crew Community Service: -Beach Clean-Ups -Food Bank volunteer Music: Gospel Choir Glee Club Dormitory Proctor (Senior year Leadership Position, like an RA in college)

Reflections and Advice:

1.) What do you think makes your school unique relative to other boarding schools?
The implementation of the Harkness method in all aspects of learning makes Exeter stand out from all other boarding schools that I am familiar with. It requires you to be quick, some days it was like a verbal ping-pong game played with eight other people. Other days, if the material was especially dense - the students who did manage to fully understand lead the discussions. Being shy is not an option. One quickly learns that doing most of the homework for all of your classes is way better than doing all the homework for most of them and none for one of them. There is a strong culture of achievement and self-motivated learning, this aspect I miss the most in college. My classmates were always putting in the extra hours on the subjects that they hadn't mastered and exploring advanced topics in the ones they had. We could talk about anything at meal times, politics, science, literature, but also our favorite tv shows. I know most students who even think about applying for boarding school are very intelligent and driven - often are the top of their class or even school, this most likely will not be the case at Exeter. The challenge is to not compare yourself to your classmates. Some see the culture as highly competitive and it is in a sense, we all find our own strategies in handling it.
2.) What was the best thing that happened to you in boarding school?
The best thing that happened was the friendships I developed. Also, every English class was the best English class, except when we read "Into the Wild" by Jon Krakauer (I hate that book so much I didn't even have to look up how to spell the author's name.) There were some moments when we were sitting around the Harkness table and arguing, I mean having a discussion where it felt like I could see through the reading and find this clarity only happened because of the ideas my classmates shared. I can barely remember the person I was before Exeter, but I do know that my time at Exeter helped me to develop this sense that I deserve to be heard, that my voice and opinion matter. Being at Exeter certainly brought me down a notch, ego-wise I was consistently and constantly in awe of my fellow classmates. One summery fall day I was laying out in the quad and this girl, who I barely knew, just stopped and serenaded me with her violin playing Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D major op.35 just because she just finally mastered it with her teacher and she remembered from a distant conversation that I liked this piece (honestly it was the only piece of classical music I could even name at the time.) It was just so magical and enthralling.
3.) What might you have done differently during your boarding school experience?
I had an undiagnosed learning disability and my middle school education did nothing to prepare me for Exeter's rigorous academics. If you are coming from an unconventional educational background consider doing 9th grade at your local school and then go on and repeat it at Exeter, if I could go back and do anything it would be that. Oh, and definitely sign up for prep spazz as you PE option the first year, Theater will be there for you the next three years. Take bio your first year, physics requires are higher math than the regular first-year track of algebra. Please, please ask for help. Everyone wants to help you succeed there is no glory in struggling alone either with academic issues, social issues or just plain homesickness. Every single member of the faculty and staff love the students, even the most intimidating of math teachers would much rather you ask seemingly silly questions instead of not fully understanding the material.
4.) What did you like most about your school?
I loved all the options. The food, the clubs, the classes. there was just so much you could do. You could casually sample everything and then focus in and have the resources to go as far as possible in what ever thing you chose. It's better than most colleges. The library is ridiculous by the way, it's an architectural marvel and the librarians are life savers. Google the Phillips Exeter library, you will know exactly what I mean.
5.) Do you have any final words of wisdom for visiting or incoming students to your school?
Play pool in the game room! Get bubble tea from Pad Thai. Get the librarian to talk to you about the archives collections - some of the stuff will blow your mind. Make friends with your teachers, they got your back.

Academics:

1.) Describe the academics at your school - what did you like most about it?
The classes are small, 8 to 14 students. All classes use the Harkness method, a teaching style that is named after the specialized oval or round table it requires. It is a student lead but teacher guided learning experience. I loved the books we got to read for English class from typical Shakespeare to Sherman Alexie short stories. Even though I was not very good at math, I also enjoyed how we had present our solutions to the homework problems. Most times a fellow classmate had figured out an easier way to solve it! I would say there is a lot of homework. Easily 4 to 6 hours a night. Each class has its own two-week cycle of exams and essays and projects. When you are very unlucky ( at least twice a semester, besides finals week) they all line up. Imagine, a math test Monday and a history essay due, but then you also have a bio exam on Wednesday with an English essay due Thursday, on top of that you have your standard daily assignments and Spanish homework. If you are self-motivated and more importantly self-disciplined you can work ahead so you have less work in those crazy weeks, but it gets harder and harder as the semester wears on.

Athletics:

1.) Describe the athletics at your school - what did you like most about it?
I did not play any sports. Okay, that's a lie I did do club soccer for 2 semesters and it was super fun. There is a mandatory physical education component, luckily for me participation in Theater is counted, we had about 30 min of semi-organized exercise and then off to rehearsals and tech. So really I had no serious involvement in organized sports, with the exception of our big rivalry with Phillips Andover - I became a super fan for our E/a games in the fall, winter, and spring. I thought we had a pretty nice gym, the fields are gorgeous. Our sports facilities are actually undergoing some serious renovations right now so any commentary I have on the gym or facilities will soon be irrelevant.

Art, Music, and Theatre:

1.) Describe the arts program at your school - what did you like most about it?
Visual Arts: In my time the art studios and class offerings were fabulous, ceramics, printmaking, photography, drawing and painting. I almost forgot, architecture - it was a cult in itself. Those classes were very mysterious. I took two semesters of printmaking and I still miss the studio. They have greatly expanded the options these days and I am very jealous that I am not a current student. There are now classes on digital design and fashion. Music: The teachers are great, I took Mr. Schultz for music theory and it is an experience like none other. The new facilities are gorgeous. Theater: I discovered my love of Theater at Exeter but let me just say you as a potential student are so very very lucky that they have renovated the Theater. Mr. Wendell is rad if you are into stagecraft at all. There is a very lively student-run theater community that is almost more popular than the mainstage productions. I would say music is the largest of the artistic communities at Exeter and is considered maybe more prestigious than the other two? In my time the building that housed the Theater was a bit of a joke but the quality of the productions were outstanding.

Extracurricular Opportunities:

1.) Describe the extracurriculars offered at your school - what did you like most about it?
It was just so terrible how many options there are. It pained me that I could not do them all. There is a whole huge organization dedicated to organizing the volunteer opportunities called ESSO (Exeter Student Service Organization) - whatever cause you loved you could support at Exeter from beach clean ups to big sib little sib and soup kitchens. We have a newspaper that is probably more professional than most regional papers, the radio station also held its DJs to professional standards. There are student clubs for every genre of music, every kind of dance. Politics, food, languages, cultures, quiz bowls, frisbee, feminism, and historical weapons training. It's just overwhelming - you can't do it all but you want to.

Dorm Life:

1.) Describe the dorm life in your school - what did you like most about it?
There are many ways to Dorm at Exeter, there are large dorms with 45-60 girls (or boys) and smaller houses that can hold 10-25. Each dorm develops its own culture depending on the faculty and the proctors running it. Typically preps (freshmen) and lowers (sophomores) get roommates while the upper class-men get singles (due to how the room lotteries work) At the end of the year you have a choice to make, you can squat which means you keep the room you got initially or you enter the lottery. The rising seniors select first, the rising Uppers (Juniors) select second, and the rising lowers select third. Whatever is left will be randomly assigned to the incoming prep class. As there are many factors to what makes a "good" room like location, who wants to live on the fourth floor with all of those stairs, or closet size. If you get lucky in the lottery in your second year, you probably hold on to it until you graduate. As an incoming student, you do not get to select your dorm. After a year, if you discover that it is not a good fit or that your life will not be complete until transfer dorms to go be roommates with your best friend, the process is super easy. You get a form from the dean of students office and talk to your advisor about your reasons for moving (they will approve if the dorm head approves) then you must ask the dorm head if you can move in, once you get their yes - and signature, you go back and get the signature from your advisor and turn it in. All dorms have a full kitchen and fridge (though, this can be locked up at night if it is abused. For the sake of your classmates do your dishes and learn to microwave popcorn without setting off the smoke alarm) Food delivery drivers are banned from campus after 10pm. If you want to eat after that stock up on ramen and easy mac in your room.

Dining:

1.) Describe the dining arrangements at your school.
Two dining halls, both alike in dignity, and yet students play favorites and denigrate the other. Elm St. is larger, with larger tables it has two sections but no walls so the acoustics make it so much louder. Wetherell has three sections and smaller tables, the noise is more spread out and the teachers maintain peace in one section. The menu is posted on the website, I think they plan out everything 6 weeks in advance. I LOVED the food. Some recipes they were still perfecting but there was also a salad bar, a sandwich, a pasta bar, a soup of the day if the options on the hot food line did not appeal. Sundays means omelets and brunch. The food is so good and the staff are so cool and kind. I really miss the dinning halls.

Social and Town Life:

1.) Describe the school's town and surrounding area.
It is the middle of nowhere New England, but gorgeous, and the main street that runs through the town has a sort of Stars Hollow vibe. There is an Amtrak train station so Boston and the rest of the world is still accessible. There is a Walmart and a big grocery store that the school buses the students to once a week. I loved the two bookstores. The used bookstore was so weird, like it occasionally had a table deal - 6 for 5 dollars but every other book in the store was basically a priceless antique. The water street bookstore was much more like your typical indie bookstore, great selection and sometimes hosted readings with authors. There are like 4 different cafes and coffee shops. But still, so so small.
2.) Describe the social life at your school - what did you like most about it?
The school does a very good job of organizing activities for the students such as concerts and other performances. There was a joke, also commonly found at college. Your life is sleep, social life and studies - pick two. I would say that is the case a little bit, I mostly sacrificed sleep. Your social life revolves around your dorm, your clubs, your organizations and your study groups. You study in your friends room until four am, one will be writing a lab report and another an essay for English while they take turns quizzing you on Chinese vocabulary and you proofread their papers. I made the best of friends. There is a bond formed under the pressure and the in the environment of boarding school. You eat together and then go argue across the table in history about the consequences of the atom bomb in WWII. Five years after graduation we still talk and visit each other.

Daily Schedule:

Weekday
7:00 AMWake up and eat breakfast
8:00 AMClass, maybe english
9:00 AMNext class, lets say math
10:15 AMAssembly - 25 minutes of cool outside speakers and 10 of school announcements.
11:00 AMYet more class
12:30 AMyay lunch
1:15 PMDrama Sports check in
2:00 PMTheater tech
6:45 PMdone with classes! time for dinner.
2:00 AMHomework until I drop
Weekend
11:00 AMBRUCH TIME
12:30 AMChurch because of a gospel choir performance.
1:45 PMsmall lunch, or back for seconds at brunch
2:30 PMserious attempts at hw - especially if there is an essay due at all in the coming week.
4:30 PMhang out with friends playing pool or just goofing off in the art studio or the music rooms pretending to practice.
6:00 PMgo to dinner
8:00 PMCheck in to dorm, and realize that I still have about 4 hrs of homework a head of me.
10:00 PMgo hang out in my friends room, maybe trying to study or just takiung a break.
11:00 PMInternet shuts off, am finally able to seriously focus on hw.
12:00 AMgo to bed early to start the week right.

Alumni Reviews
  Review School

  • Review Description
  • Carnegie Mellon University
    Exeter offers an incredible level of academic rigor coupled with amazing and diverse students. With small classes held around a Harkness Table, the wonderful students Exeter aggregates create a fantastic learning environment. . .
  • NYU
    The most unique, and in my opinion best, thing about Exeter is the Harkness method. You won't be lectured by teachers all day but will instead be expected to learn and help to teach others. . .
  • Cornell University
    The Harkness table was one of the best things that ever happened to me. As a low income student coming from a very reserved community, and a school where talking was discouraged, Exeter quickly became. . .
  • University of the Virgin Islands
    The implementation of the Harkness method in all aspects of learning makes Exeter stand out from all other boarding schools that I am familiar with. It requires you to be quick, some days it was. . .
  • University of Washington
    The Harkness method in every class room, including all the math and science classes, definitely makes Exeter stand out from every other school. As a student, you feel engaged and motivated to succeed, and you. . .
  • Show more reviews (9 reviews)
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