Phillips Academy Andover - Review #3
Reflections and Advice:
1.) What do you think makes your school unique relative to other boarding schools?
Andover has a need-blind admissions policy, which means that they don't take into account someone's ability to pay for the school when deciding whether or not to admit them. This makes the school much diverse in terms of socioeconomic class, as roughly half the student body is on financial aid. Andover also has a unique 0-6 grading scale as opposed to the A-F scale that most schools have, and there is no GPA weighting for different classes. A 93/94 or above is a 6, an 86-92/93 is a 5, a 4 is a 79-85, and so on. This makes it difficult for Andover students to compare their GPAs to people at other schools. There is also no plus or minus system, so an 86 gets the same grade as a 93, which can be frustrating if your grade is at the higher end of the number grade (i.e. a 92) but helpful if your grade is at the lower end (i.e. an 86).
2.) What was the best thing that happened to you in boarding school?
Most students are somewhat independent going into Andover, but going through four years at Andover definitely made me more mature and able to take care of myself. The transition to college is not nearly as difficult as it is for students who have never lived away from home because Andover students are used to having to plan their own time, take care of themselves, and be more independent from their parents' constant attention. I think I have grown as a thinker as I have learned to be more open-minded and cling less tightly to the beliefs I once held. Andover is very diverse, so I have been able to make friends and meet people that I never would have been introduced to had I gone to school near where I lived. This has expanded my worldview by exposing me to perspectives that I was not previously familiar with. Andover is also a very wealthy school, and this benefits its students in many ways. Going to Andover, particularly as a student on financial aid, has given me access to an incredible amount of resources, which I think have aided my personal growth. Two years ago, I spend three weeks in South America exploring archeological sights and spent time with Indigenous people whose civilization had never been colonized by Europeans. I was also able to conduct my own original research in Astronomy, and lead forums on topics relating to identity which taught me a lot about facilitating conversations as well as the topic at hand. These are opportunities that I am so grateful to have had, and I think would not have been possible anywhere else.
3.) What might you have done differently during your boarding school experience?
Looking back at my four years at Andover, there is not much I would have done differently. One thing I wish I had done earlier was reach out more to my teachers for help in the classes I struggled in: it took me about two years before I became comfortable doing this, but I think doing this beginning freshman year could have helped my academic performance a lot. My advice to kids going to boarding school is to make sure that you develop a support system while you are there. Being away from home is hard, but having a group of peers and adults that you feel you can rely on helps the transition and helps boarding school feel more like a second home. Another piece of advice would be to involve yourself in anything that interests you (that you can also fit on your plate). Don't refrain from trying something because you think you might not be good at it or because it intimidates you. Another reason to involve yourself in many activities is because this is a great way to make friends and develop long-lasting relationships. Going into Andover, I was really nervous about making friends, but doing a team sport make it really easy to make friends, so I would recommend doing a sport or joining a few clubs during your first term at school.
4.) What did you like most about your school?
My favorite thing about Andover is the relationships I developed while at Andover. At Andover, I made lifelong friends who I feel like I can truly depend on and enjoy spending time with. Some of the best moments of my life have happened at Andover, and most of these have been with my friends here who I cherish so much. I also really appreciated being able to know my teachers personally, because enriched my learning experience and made classes much more enjoyable.
5.) Do you have any final words of wisdom for visiting or incoming students to your school?
If you want to see a sleek, newly renovated building, visit the Snyder center. If you want to see a not so nice, older building, visit Morse hall (math building). If you ask any specific student questions about Andover, keep in mind that Andover's student body is incredibly diverse, and so are student experiences. There is no "typical" Andover student or student experiences, because everyone has a unique experience at the school. Some people love the school, others hate it. Some people complain about the same thing that others praise about the school. I would try to talk to as many students as possible to get more perspectives, as this can get you a better sense of what the experience might be like for you. If you want to stay more informed about what life at Andover is like or what is happening on campus, I would recommend visiting the newspaper's website, phillipian .net. If you want specific statistics about life at Andover, read the State of the Academy (SOTA) on the Phillipian's website.
1.) Describe the academics at your school - what did you like most about it?
Academics at Andover can range from pretty easy to extremely challenging, depending on the class, the teacher, and how easy you find the subject matter. You have required classes that you must take, but as you get older you have more flexibility in your schedule, meaning you could pick to have a very easy or very hard course load. Average class size is about 12 students, so all humanities classes are discussion based and you usually end up knowing your teachers very well (and vice versa). My favorite part about academics at Andover was the small class sizes–if I was struggling in a class, I could email my teacher asking for help and they would always agree to meet with me individually to go over whatever I needed help with. In general, I felt that most of my teachers wanted me to succeed and the small class sizes made it easier for me to get individual help from my teachers and build relationships with them. Academics are competitive, but mostly on a personal level: people want to do well for themselves, but this doesn't mean they feel the need to compete with their classmates or hope that they are the only ones doing well.
1.) Describe the athletics at your school - what did you like most about it?
Athletics at Andover are better than athletics at most other boarding schools, but not as good as athletics at most larger public schools. Most people participate in some form of athletics, but they are generally second priority to academics. Some sports are better than others–Andover's baseball, swimming, and track are very good, football not as much (although this changes year to year). Sports games are not very heavily attended, although some Friday night soccer, football and lacrosse games can draw a decent crowd. Everyone is required to participate in a "sport" each term while at Andover, but this can be anything from powerwalking to a Varsity sport. One unique thing about Andover sports is that most of them are coached by faculty members, so coaches are pretty involved in the Andover community, not just in the sport they coach. One downside of the varsity sports at Andover is that it is very difficult to make a varsity sport (some more than others) if you are not a day student or local boarder. Many varsity athletes play club outside of school, and this is very difficult for boarding students who don't live near Andover to do.
Art, Music, and Theatre:
1.) Describe the arts program at your school - what did you like most about it?
I never participated in the Arts scene at Andover, but from what I observed, the theater community is fairly tight-knit (although some theater kids have a love-hate relationship with the theater department) and has excellent faculty who teach classes as well as direct on-campus productions. Generally speaking, Andover is not the school for highly artistic kids who want to prioritize music/art/theater over the traditional academic subjects. However, there are many students at Andover who are very talented in the traditional academic subjects as well as the arts. All students are required to take 2 visual art classes, plus two other art classes of their choice. I took theater despite hating acting in middle school, and absolutely loved the class because I had a great teacher. I also had positive experiences in my art and music classes despite not being particularly interested (or skilled) in those subjects.
1.) Describe the extracurriculars offered at your school - what did you like most about it?
Extracurriculars are a huge part of life at Andover. There are many clubs that students join, some of the most popular ones are the Phillipian (school newspaper), Model UN, Philo (debate), and various ethic clubs (Asian Society, Afro-Latino-American Society, Alianza Latina). When students aren't in class or studying, most of their weekdays consist of their extracurricular commitments. Pretty much any extracurricular that you can think of is offered, and for clubs that don't exist, it is pretty easy to create a new club. Generally speaking, people participate in clubs as members during their first two years at Andover, and transition to leadership positions in these clubs as upperclassmen. The most competitive (and controversial) club at Andover is the Phillipian, which has a reputation of being extremely demanding and time-consuming. That being said, people who participate in the Phillipian take a large sense of pride in this commitment and take it very seriously. Because there are so many extracurriculars at Andover, there is no "typical" extracurricular, and everyone more or less finds the things they are passionate about and participates in those extracurriculars.
1.) Describe the dorm life in your school - what did you like most about it?
Dorms are set up so that freshman live only with freshman, and lowers, uppers, and seniors all live together. Each dorm has at least one faculty member living in it whose job is to make sure that the kids in the dorm are safe and supported. Dorms range from 4-40 kids, and there are singles, doubles, and triples. Most freshman live in doubles, while most upperclassmen live in singles. I was lucky enough to have a single all four years and live in very nice (newly renovated dorms), so I had a very positive experience with dorm life. Because a lot of social groups are formed in dorms, different dorms have different reputations which change from year to year. Late night food is accessible in most dorms through something called "fourth meal," which is essentially an order that your dorm faculty member (house counselor) makes for food which someone in the dorm has to pick up each week. Fourth meal consists of yogurt, popcorn, peanut butter, bagels, jelly, bread, tortilla chips, apples, salsa, and cheese. The way that people choose where they live from year to year is through a housing lottery, but if you want to remain in the same dorm for two years in a row you do not have to enter the lottery. Priority is given by seniority, so most seniors end up living where they want to. Unless you are staying in your dorm for two years in a row, you don't get much choice over which room in the dorm you get. Andover dorms are separated by sex, with the exception of one all-gender house of about 15 kids. The all-gender house is a dorm which you have to apply to live in and explain why you want to live there. This dorm is a good option for gender queer students, although students of any gender identity can (and do) live there. There are also smaller dorms which you can apply to live in with a group of your friends. These are usually 5-13 people, and are called "stacks."
1.) Describe the dining arrangements at your school.
There is one dining hall at Andover, which is called Commons. In my opinion, food at commons is very good, although some students might disagree. Most people who don't like the food at Andover don't like the fact that they have to eat cafeteria food, but for cafeteria food, it is very good. Out of all the boarding schools and colleges I visited, Andover's has the best food. There is pasta, rice, and an extensive salad bar available daily as well as made to order stir fry. Commons also serves food on two floors: the first floor has a pizza oven where they usually serve fish or pizza, while the second floor serves some sort of meat or carb dish during most meals. Brunch is served on weekends. Meals sometimes get repetitive, but other than that commons does an excellent job making good and mostly healthy food. Hours on weekdays are 7-9:15, 11-2, and 5-7. Weekends are 10:30-1:30 and 5-7. There is no assigned seating, although there are three areas to eat: underclassmen eat in one of them, upperclassmen in another, and faculty members in the third.
Social and Town Life:
1.) Describe the school's town and surrounding area.
In comparison to many boarding schools in more remote or rural areas, Andover is a nice town because it has several restaurants, coffee shops (including Dunkin and Starbucks), small clothing stores/boutiques, and a CVS. But if you're used to the options that a city might have, Andover will feel much smaller and more restrictive. It is a typical suburb, so most things close pretty early, but one advantage to this is that the town is very safe and I never feel unsafe walking on campus or in town at night. However, because Andover is a suburb and not a city, sometimes it can be difficult to want to get off campus to do something fun and feel like there's not much to do.
2.) Describe the social life at your school - what did you like most about it?
Andover's social life is what you make it. As lowerclassmen, you spend most of your weekend going to events on the weekender–the list of activities sent out each Thursday stating what activities are going on that weekend. Weekender events can include dances, off-campus trips to the movies or Boston or theater or dance shows. The longer you spend at Andover, the less appealing the Weekender events are, so as an upperclassmen people tend to do various things with their friends or go off campus. Having day student friends is very nice because they can drive you off campus to do things that you couldn't otherwise do. Generally speaking, you have to make your own fun at Andover which people do with varying degrees of success.
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