Phillips Exeter Academy - Review #19

Read more details about Phillips Exeter Academy on their 2024 profile page.
Phillips Exeter Academy

About the Author:

Years Attended Boarding School:
Sports and Activities:
Basketball Volleyball Crew Cross country Track Debate Dorm Proctor Student government Dramat (student-led acting club) Exeter Association of Rock (student rock bands)
College Enrolled:
Home Town, State:
Small Town, IA

Reflections and Advice:

1.) What do you think makes your school unique relative to other boarding schools?
The Harkness method, in which every class is a debate, dialogue, or discussion, is used in every classroom, including art, math, and science. (Honestly, it's probably THE coolest way to learn math -- and because most of the learning happens in-class, homework never takes hours and hours.)Money -- Exeter is well-endowed, and therefore, they have very generous financial aid packages and countless opportunities on- and off-campus, from fencing club to ski trips to anything you can imagine.Phelps Science Building -- there was more technology in that building than I had ever seen in my life. They have a whale, a jaguar, a touch pool, an aquarium, and even a scanning electron microscope.
2.) What was the best thing that happened to you in boarding school?
I loved the opportunity to take both Latin and Greek -- you wouldn't get that at most schools, and I was able to take cool math and history electives, like Roman History and History of Mathematics, to complement my language learning.Another fun fact: Within a few weeks of starting at Stanford, I had two professors ask me if I'd gone to Exeter. I asked how they knew. The first knew because I didn't raise my hand -- I started discussions with him and shared questions and opinions, rather than acting like learning is a passive experience. The second knew because I could read The Odyssey in the original Greek.
3.) What might you have done differently during your boarding school experience?
I'm happy with the way things went -- there's nothing I would really change. As for advice, just the cliche, try out all the clubs your freshman year to find some you like. Push yourself. And have fun.Most kids don't get NEARLY as homesick as they think they will. But they do miss their pets.
4.) What did you like most about your school?
The Harkness method, for sure. The classmates. The tremendous amount of caring our teachers did. The sense of independence and autonomy. Early morning bike rides to the beach.
5.) Do you have any final words of wisdom for visiting or incoming students to your school?
I wouldn't recommend any specific dorm, even though Langdell (my dorm) is obviously the best. Exeter tends to do a great job of sorting you -- and you bond enough that, even though you CAN switch at the end of the year, most people don't.Don't be afraid to check out Exeter's various semester abroad programs. I didn't do one, because I was pretty in love with Exeter and very serious about sports, but the people who decided to go had incredible learning and life experiences.


1.) Describe the academics at your school - what did you like most about it?
The Harkness method is awesome. We weren't ever lectured at. We weren't expected to spend hours memorizing facts and completing busywork. Classes were about thinking and communicating---and what could be more important than that? Everything was discussion-based, and we were expected to learn as much from our classmates as from our teacher. This is truly the best way to prepare yourself to become a future leader, and still maintain a decently good work-life balance.This is one of the major ways in which elite schools differ from honors programs in public schools. A lot of public school "honors programs" are the same as the normal program ... you just read the books twice as fast. This is not an engaging way to learn. This doesn't teach you how to think---just speed read, stay up late, and memorize.But teachers at Exeter are there because they WANT to be there. They care about creating engaging discussions -- and they care about helping you succeed.There's also a huge diversity of classes you can take and instruments you can learn. One thing that's special about Exeter is that no one really cared about AP classes there. We learned because we loved learning. I took only one AP -- AP Bio -- and that was because I thought I might want to be a doctor and I loved biology. Some people took AP exams without taking the AP course, and they mostly did fine. But learning was done for the love of learning, not for "college suck."


1.) Describe the athletics at your school - what did you like most about it?
We had great programs in pretty much everything. We have amazing and attentive trainers, a state-of-the-art weight room, incredible coaches, and beautiful facilities. Our cross country course is all in the woods. Our basketball/volleyball courts are made on super forgiving wood that is easy on the knees.Many students from my year went on to play DI and DIII athletes. Others went on to Navy -- and, as part of their application, had to do a ton of physical testing. Teachers and coaches were more than willing to help with that in any way they could.The only real drawback is that, because Exeter takes about 20 new seniors / post grads every year, it can be tricky to compete for a spot on the varsity teams -- particularly with hockey, football, and occasionally basketball. I never had a problem with it, though, because having stronger, older competitors and teammates makes you a better, more recruitable candidate in the future.

Art, Music, and Theatre:

1.) Describe the arts program at your school - what did you like most about it?
We have a gorgeous music building, with a keyboard lab, practice rooms and rehearsal halls. We have an amazing symphonic choir (if you're hardcore) and a super fun glee club (if you've got soul). They have dozens of music teachers who can teach you basically any instrument you want to know -- including a piano teacher who I took lessons from for two quarters, who still recognized me at my ten-year reunion.They're in the process of building a new theater, which I have mixed feelings about. I loved the old one, though apparently it was actually a horrible space for serious actors. Exeter has a main stage production every quarter, for which students rehearse daily during the time other students are at club or varsity sports. They always do at least one musical per year. For students who like theater but do a sport, there is also Dramat, which hosts weekly student-directed (and, sometimes, student written) one-act shows. I had the chance to write and direct my own full-length play through Dramat, and it was one of the coolest things ever.I don't know much about arts -- wasn't my thing. We used to have a shooting gallery in the Academy Building, which got turned into a photo lab. But now that everything's digital, I don't know how they're using that space. I do know students produce amazing artwork, from ceramics to paintings to photography and more. We have a beautiful art gallery that I would check out every few weeks.

Extracurricular Opportunities:

1.) Describe the extracurriculars offered at your school - what did you like most about it?
When I was a student, there were over 99 clubs and organizations. I'm sure that number has only grown. The beauty of these programs is that, often, you can be as involved (or not) as you want. You can do a beach cleanup every four months through ESSO (the Exeter Service Organization), or you can spearhead huge fund raising campaigns and have a meaningful impact on the community.I don't even know what else to say about this, because there is such a huge diversity of extracurricular opportunities. Just know that at Exeter, there really is no limit to what you can do.

Dorm Life:

1.) Describe the dorm life in your school - what did you like most about it?
This is almost everyone's favorite part of Exeter. You become very close with your dorm-mates, very quickly. You're all in the same boat, struggling with some of the same challenges -- but with endless opportunities to socialize.n spite of all that, one of the best and most beloved resources is the classmates. Think of it this way. There are a ton of really bright 13-year-olds in the world. And a lot of them end up going to college and doing great things.Think of it this way. There are lots of talented kids in this world. But how many of them are SO driven and SO excited about learning that they can't wait until they're 18 to begin their journey? Instead, they take the SSATs, get 4-5 teacher recommendations, fill out a very comprehensive application, submit their transcripts, and attend either an on-campus or alumni interview? Because they want a bigger challenge? When they're 13?THOSE are the people you'll be living with.They are some of the most intriguing and least complacent people I've ever met---and that's awesome.Moreover, your dorm-mates are a built-in support system. If you ever need help on an assignment, your dorm is full of older students who have taken the class and can point you in the right direction. If you do badly on a test, the teacher (many of whom live in dorms or on-campus housing) will invite you to breakfast in her home to bring you up to speed and talk about what you can do differently next time.There are a couple of setups. Depending on your dorm, you might have single rooms most of your time at Exeter. Some dorms have 3-room or 2-room doubles, which are LIKE singles. Some dorms only have one-room doubles. That's fine, too. You get to pick who you live with after your first year.


1.) Describe the dining arrangements at your school.
I loved the food at Exeter. No matter what weird allergy or preference you have, they will accommodate. They don't charge you per item or anything -- you can just go to the dining hall anytime during the day for a meal, a snack, or to do homework.Basically, both dining halls are open from 7am-7pm during the week, and 9am-7pm on the weekends. They do really cool special events throughout the year, including Jazz Brunch. Best advice: get up early and go as soon as they open. Then go back for seconds right before they close. Enjoy ice sculptures, live jazz, and delicious, made-to-order omelettes.Also, the women who work in the dining halls are sweet and amazing, and will "adopt" you when you're away from home. I can honestly say that the best part of my Monday mornings was seeing these incredible people in the dining hall.

Social and Town Life:

1.) Describe the school's town and surrounding area.
Exeter is a historic town, with lots of interesting historical landmarks. There are plenty of delicious food options -- and there might be a movie theater, though that might have been shut down. There are some places to get your hair cut, as well as boutiques. If you can't find what you need, you can walk a mile to CVS. Exeter offers free bus rides to Target and Shaw's twice per week.Fun fact: because Exeter is in New Hampshire, and Exeter is a historic town and PEA has its beautiful Assembly Hall, if you go to Exeter for four years, you WILL meet presidential candidates (because of New Hampshire's early primary). I met John Kerry at least twice. One time, he was giving a speech right outside of my window. Another time, a photo of me ended up in the New York Times.
2.) Describe the social life at your school - what did you like most about it?
Because it's a boarding school, you will have many regular, unplanned interactions with students from across campus. That is how friendships form (according to psychology). Many of your core friends will be from your dorm, and lots of dorms sit together in the dining hall, but Exeter was definitely not clique-y.You also have your class friends (especially if you take a language like Russian or Greek, because the same couple of people will be in your class every term), your sports friends, your club friends -- and whoever else you end up meeting.Every dorm hosts a dance throughout the year, so there are lots of opportunities for that. My friends and I were much more likely to be climbing trees, playing guitar, playing frisbee, or swimming in the river.

Daily Schedule:

8:00 AM
10:15 AM
All-school assembly
10:45 AM
12:30 AM
1:30 PM
3:15 PM
Free period
3:45 AM
Class or Sports
6:00 PM
8:00 AM
9:00 AM
10:00 AM
Club meetings / free period
11:00 AM
12:00 AM
1:00 PM
Athletic contests
2:00 PM
Athletic contests
3:00 PM
Athletic contests
4:00 PM
Athletic contests
Read more details about Phillips Exeter Academy on their 2024 profile page.

Alumni Reviews Review School

Phillips Exeter Academy Alumni #1
Class of 2021
5.00 6/10/2022
Vassar College
Phillips Exeter is distinct for its use of the Harkness Method and its unique athletic opportunities afforded by a robust alumni network and excellent teachers from various high-level academic positions within their fields. Harkness, a. . .
Phillips Exeter Academy Alumni #2
Class of 2017
5.00 5/27/2020
Williams College
The use of the Harkness table. The discussion based, or flipped, classroom is what truly separates Exeter from all other private schools. . .
Phillips Exeter Academy Alumni #3
Class of 2012
5.00 5/21/2020
Sewanee: The University of the South
The Harkness table is used in all classrooms, facilitating discussion and exploration of subjects that allow students to take the reins on their own education. With classes averaging 12 students or fewer, every student is. . .
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Quick Stats (2024)

  • Enrollment: 1,078 students
  • Yearly Tuition (Boarding Students): $64,789
  • Yearly Tuition (Day Students): $50,604
  • Acceptance rate: 17%
  • Average class size: 12 students
  • Application Deadline: Jan. 15
  • Source: Verified school update