Hi everyone! I am a current Phillips Exeter Academy student who applied last year and successfully got in. I love my new life here but I recognize the assistance that the CC community gave to me last year so I'd like to pay it forward.
Here is some advice and my thoughts that I think I would have liked to know as a prospective Exeter student. This is written with an obvious Exeter bias. Remember that the school that clicks is the school for you. I hope this simply just offers insight. I'd also love to answer questions.
Exeter's revisit day is, unlike other schools, completely unstructured. I was paired with several prospective students and I can say that the admissions office gave me a name, and that was it. Compared to schools like Andover that offered things they don't normally do (like the talent show, tons of ice cream socials from what I heard), Exeter really does show you the real deal.
For one of my kids, I had a really busy class day with over five classes and so he tagged along for those. For another person, I had very few classes (about 3) so he spent more time in the dorm environment than the first one. Both found the experience rewarding.
I'd like to say that the revisit day here at Exeter is truly reflecting upon a normal day. I have to admit, I was almost disappointed to go to our dining halls and discover the same food as any other day sitting on the lunch lines. Our classes didn't change at all; what revisit kids saw is truly a typical day at Exeter. I'm not sure other schools like Andover can say this.
Also, as of spring 2012, Exeter's campus was undergoing significant renovations. In particular, they took out the flooring, ceilings, and about five classrooms from our Phillips Hall languages/English building. We're also overhauling our steam system, so there was tons of scaffolding around. Realize that our campus is normally very beautiful. I kind of wish that they didn't choose this time to do renovations, but hey - this way, they'll be ready when you get here in the fall!
I feel like Harkness is overstated. Exeter loves to talk about it. Quick answers -
Yes, it's an amazing learning device, and I can't go back to normal classrooms.
Yes, all of our classrooms are taught Harkness style.
No, every teacher does not teach the same way. We do have teachers who lecture at the Harkness table, but they are few and mostly despised.
Yes, teachers notice when you don't participate. If you don't do an English reading or fail to present problems at the math board repeatedly, teachers do notice. About half my teachers actually tally / record # of times a student speaks. Harkness discussion is usually about 40% - 60% of your course grade. It's important, and it's difficult to slack.
No, not all of our teachers are amazing people. But all of them, I can honestly say, know what they're talking about and are good at teaching the material. Like any school, some are more boring than others.
Yes, you speak to other students, not to the teacher, in Harkness. Teachers will remind you and take off points if you keep on facing them, not the class, when you present or talk.
Yes, it's up to you to ask questions in Harkness. If you don't get a concept, ASK.
A side note - Exeter gets a bad rep for being a math/science focused school. That's not true at all - we simply happen to be good at those two subjects and so people assume Andover is better at the other two. But our science departments and building is amazing, and math taught this way helps me understand concepts thousands of times better than I did before.
Exeter's campus is going through renovations right now and so wasn't in tip-top shape during revisits. We're discussing building a new performing arts center as well. We're getting campus-wide WiFi in about two years.
Exeter's buildings are much more closer together than Andover's (I bring up Andover because it's a frequent comparison). This means much less lawn space (but we still have plenty). You can check Google Maps and see from the satellite images the difference in campus sizes.
A closer campus means a lot of good things, IMO. It means easier access to other dorms (wanna do math homework together? Sure! A minute later...), it means getting from academic building to another is easy. It means, I think, more convenient friendships and it means your academia is never too far away.
In terms of land, we own just about as much as Andover (I think). Most of the forest to the south of the campus is ours, and we have cross-country trails and other things in there.
I think the people here are nice. I think that there are a few jerks, yes, but you can chose not to associate with them - that's the truth. You don't have to be friends with anyone. Your personality shows through, and in no time at all you'll fall into a place at the Academy.
Exeter's dorm system (one dorm your entire career) means that you develop great friendships with your dormies. I love my proctors and seniors and already I'm very sad to see them going soon. The people you live with become a part of you. It's an amazing experience.
If you have any questions, I'd be happy to answer them. But keep in mind that questions you have now will appear, in retrospect, to be incredibly unimportant. For example, I was so worried about things like "where am I going to store my things over the summer?" and so many other unimportant things. Trust me, after a week, you won't care at all.
(And the answer to that is that the Academy provides summer storage. There's also commercial storage available nearby.)
Thanks and good luck choosing!
This is my own opinion, and not the opinion of my school, my classmates, or anyone else. This is what *I* think. Others may think differently.