What's the specialty of Andover/Exeter?

During the time I’ve been researching BSs, I’ve come to realize that certain schools have their strengths. For example, Choate has very strong athletics, Hotchkiss has one of, if not the best music programs in the country, etc.

But I’ve yet to discern any distinct specialty for the Andover/Exeter pair, other than “strong academics” nor for some of the other schools I’m applying to.

Students, alumni, parents, teachers, etc., what would you consider the specialty, or greatest strength, of Andover & Exeter? And, if possible, for L’ville, Deerfield, Loomis Chaffee, Taft, and the Hill School as well.

These are all absolutely outstanding schools. What is it you are looking for in a boarding school?

Foremost, I want a school that serves my interests. For example, I have a very strong interest in government, politics & history, which Choate serves through its JFK Program in Gov & Public Service, and extracurricularly through clubs like the Young Democrats (and its newspaper). I also enjoy writing (both creative & essays). I also play piano, and have been doing so for eight years (hello Hotchkiss!) and same with baseball.

Secondly, I want a school that grants me independence, one of the primary reasons I want to attend boarding school. Teachers & rules that aren’t too strict; pretty clear-cut there.

Third, I want a great community, since I’ll be living with my peers - social and active, but not cliquey or judgmental. Maybe I’ll enter a committed relationship at some point in my high school years.

Finally, I want academics that challenge me.

From what I’ve seen so far, the second, third, and fourth items of what I’m looking for in a boarding schools are fulfilled by any of the top boarding schools, (maybe with a few exceptions), leaving the biggest role to the first; hence, the question.

What do you think would a best fit?

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Sometimes it’s just a reputation. These schools are good across the board. Peddie, for example, is know as a STEM school. This is an area that they showcase in their marketing, but the reality is that they are equally strong in the Humanities and plenty of students focus on that.

Historically, supposedly, my understanding is Exeter was strongest in mathematics, while Andover was strongest in the humanities. As a parent who went through the boarding school admissions process in the past few years, I would say the current strength of Exeter would be the breadth of its course offerings, which is (or was at least when my child was applying) far broader than that of any other school we were considering. As for Andover, what most distinguished it wasn’t really a broad area of academic excellence; rather, it was that it was clearly a faculty-dominated institution, as opposed to one with dominant administrative leadership. This manifested itself in course offerings with particular focus on some niche areas and gaps in other, broader areas. Andover is also known for large homework loads, while I get the impression that this varies considerably at Exeter, depending on the interests of the particular student.


My husband attended as a day student way back in the day and his math class was the test class for the original TI-84 graphing calculator. They were actually thanked in the info sheet that came with it. So yes, Exeter was definitely known as a math place, but again, that was a billion years ago, so I’m not sure what it would be known for now. My daughter was not interested as it was way too big for what she wanted.

It is good that you are thinking this - not enough do. Note: “not too strict” is highly subjective. What’s “normal” for one might seem like prison for another. So ask about things like lights out and room inspections, etc.

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I’d say that a lot of it is reputation - both are very old, have reputations of being Harvard and Yale feeders, are written about in books, etc, basically putting them in the public eye (Eg. I’ve read articles that say something along the lines of “Unless you went to Andover…” as if it/they are the holy grail of schools). In addition, they share the Phillips name, so for the average person, the perceived achievements of one is a perceived achievement of the other as well. Plus, Exeter Math is very well known - 2 of the top 10 ranked private schools in America use their exact curriculum (College Preparatory in Oakland and of course Exeter). There’s a million other things, but all in all you could say that their reputations precede them.

There probably is some unique achievement by students and faculty that plays a role - they have the “best” matriculation to ivies out of all BS, they often win awards in national competitions of math, writing, and economics, and have decorated faculty (probably drawn to the schools because of the aforementioned reputation). In addition, the >billion dollar endowments and famous alumni don’t hurt.

But it’s 2023 - you’ll get more or less the same education and opportunities at any other t10 BS.

Do you have the opportunity to attend a public school instead of private? You can’t beat the activities, clubs, range of classes and the social development of mixing with all kinds of people. It can be a very humbling experience. Strong students at public schools are admitted to the most competitive colleges and universities in the country.

Truly all kinds of peoples attend every BS. That’s one of the advantages of not being restricted by geography. They are far more diverse thsn most publics for that reason.


I agree that plenty of public school students are admitted to the most selective schools, but are you familiar with the schools being discussed? I have never seen a public school that matches the “activities, clubs, range of classes” these school provides. They may even have an edge on the diversity depending on the type of school district you are talking about. Many are extremely homogeneous.


Please keep to the OP’s question about Andover and Exeter. This isn’t the thread to discuss public vs private school. Thank you for understanding.

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Hmm. High school, for most students, isn’t the time to specialize. So it’s hard for me to imagine that a fantastic high school, who serves a variety of interests, really “should” be “specializing.” Both Andover and Exeter have incredible offerings and resources, and a level of rigor that is truly a step function above the average high school. Is that a “specialty?” I don’t know. More importantly, is that rigor even desirable for everyone “smart enough” to get admitted? I would argue probably not. (no surprise to anyone who knows our history.) But, certainly, these two schools serve some students incredibly well, and in a way that probably few schools could. And, like every school, they each have their own cultures, stronger elements, less great things, and other fit-related components, outside of the scope of what I think most would consider a “specialty.” My best advice: go visit! or attend some admission zooms. Breathe the air. I think you are on the right track to pick 4-5 elements that matter most to you, and then use those as a lens by which you evaluate the schools you visit, so YOU can choose which school matches your “own specialty” elements. Both Andover and Exeter will give you a lot of what you are looking for in terms of independence, rigor, and ECs.


That’s a cool fun fact about the calculator! :slight_smile:

For A/E (and probably for most of the others you mentioned), it’s not so much that they have a “specialty,” per se; it’s more that they have different overall vibes and offer (overlapping yet) distinct experiences. Andover and Exeter have large student bodies, and they have students whose specialties run the gamut, including IMO participants, chess prodigies, athletes, dancers, musicians, etc. The academics are indeed rigorous, and the students (for better or worse) will commonly push themselves to take the hardest classes they can possibly qualify to take. My Andover grad would tell you that they felt like they should have received a college diploma, not a high school diploma, upon graduation.