Finding your way is the fun part

So many options, so many opportunities ... so many (gulp) questions. Don't worry: Our experts have the answers.

March 20, 2019
Students at Phillips Exeter Academy

Six months. That’s how long you wait between receiving Exeter’s acceptance offer and starting school. It’s a waiting period that can be marked by excitement and anticipation … and just as easily by self-doubt and uncertainty. Incoming students worry about living away from home, and they wonder whether they can do the work, make new friends and if they’ll ever fit it. New-school nerves are so common that we’re sharing first-person accounts from current students, who know best about fears — and realities — and what to expect at Exeter.

Aiden Silvestri ’22

Contributing to Aiden’s initial uneasiness about starting at Exeter was the coursework, mainly English. “My writing was just absolutely terrible … I used to always focus on the big picture.”

Like all ninth graders, Aiden’s first-term classes were taken pass/fail. “That was great in helping me transition academically, as the rigor and workload were significantly more difficult than back home.” The pass/no pass policy, says Aiden, “helped me to be less nervous and get more rest. It really emphasizes that Exeter values mental health.” 

And his writing skills? An essay Aiden penned for his English class was published in the winter issue of the Academy’s alumni magazine. “I’m really happy my writing has improved, because that’s something I’ve always wanted to get better at.”

Read more about Aiden

Kaylee Bennett ’22

“Balancing sports and academics was one of the biggest things I was worried about before coming here,” Kaylee says. When she had questions, she looked to her teammates for help. “I did a lot of homework on the bus home from games,” she says. “I’d be like, ‘Oh guys, how do you do this math problem? I don't really understand it,’ and a senior would talk it through with me and we’d solve the problem together.”

There are also lots of adults to lend a hand. “They just check in and say, ‘Hey, how was your day?’ And it doesn't really have to be about a problem or something, it’s just how you’re doing, like well-being, which is really nice. Exeter does a really good job of making me feel safe, making me feel comfortable where I am.” 

Read more about Kaylee

Pedro Coelho ’22

Pedro has become a fast fan of Harkness learning. It’s what truly sets Exeter apart, he says.

“Harkness is wonderful in the sense that it’s a skill you learn gradually and you get better at with practice,” he says. “At the beginning you might not be that good at Harkness, but you find out your strengths. Maybe you make really good points, but have trouble knowing the best time to speak; maybe you talk too little, but you’re talented at asking good questions that move the discussion forward. As you go along, you get better at it, which, I think, is the beauty of Harkness. It’s a skill that’s going to be much more useful in your life than being able to write notes really quickly.”

Read more about Pedro

Akili Tulloch ’22

“I was nervous at first about asking for help from teachers and others,” says Akili, “but I quickly overcame that feeling. You can really rely on people here.”

One way Akili felt supported was being able to take classes pass/fail during his first term. Establishing connections with teachers and other students, especially upperclassmen, has been important to his experience. And living in a tight-knit dorm community helps too. A resident of Main Street dorm, Akili often gets together with friends, chatting over late-night pizza or playing a lively game of ping-pong. “Living in a dorm is really fun,” he says. “You make some of the best memories with the people you live with.” 

Read more about Akili

Leah Cohen ’20

Leah has learned one big lesson since coming to Exeter: ask for help. “When I came here, I thought, ‘I got this.’ But I realized you need to reach out. Everyone wants to see you succeed.” She regularly visits her teachers with questions, schedules peer tutoring for subjects she finds challenging, and often reaches out to friends in her dorm for help.

“I’ve really enjoyed trying new things and finding out what I like,” Leah says. “It has made a big difference in my Exeter experience. My advice to other students is try everything!”

Read more about Leah

Calvin Henaku ’19

Calvin’s attitude about learning has evolved in his years at Exeter. “I always thought intelligence meant not needing to get help from other people, and toughing it out on your own,” he says. “I quickly figured out that in order to learn more, you have to learn with other people.”

Connecting with people is Calvin’s thing. At least twice a week he volunteers in the Academic Support Center, where he tutors other students. When new students arrive at Abbott Hall, Calvin is among the first to greet them. As a dorm proctor he totes luggage and offers advice on adjusting to the boarding school life. In his role of student listener, he is a trusted peer with a sympathetic ear.

Read more about Calvin