A Look Inside the Phillips Exeter Admissions: What They’re Looking For

Cardinal Education understands what it takes to get into Phillips Exeter Academy.

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In the United States, Phillips Exeter Academy is regarded as one of the top boarding schools. Dr. John Phillips, a businessman, and Harvard alumni who intended to start a boys’ college prep school founded it in 1781. In 1970, the academy started accepting applications from female students.

The campus has 25 academic buildings, 20 dorms, 2 libraries, a student center, a health center, and sports facilities like a track, a boathouse, 6 tennis courts, a squash facility, and 2 ice rinks. These can all be found on the 675 acres of New Hampshire territory that also contains the Exeter River and the Phillips Exeter Forest.

How to Get Into Phillips Exeter Academy

Admission into Phillips Exter can be challenging, and the admissions process can be intimidating. To increase your chances of getting accepted, early preparation and strategic planning are the keys to success. Ensure there is enough time to improve grades, prepare for the ISEE, participate in various relevant activities, spearhead personal projects, and develop speaking and writing skills. 

What is Exeter Looking For? 

Admissions officers take into account a variety of things, such as academic performance, involvement in extracurricular activities or community service, character, and leadership. Students who have advanced communication skills are sought after by the institution as they are expected to engage in the Harkness method of learning where collaborative discussion among peers is encouraged. An Exonian should be able to display a high level of emotional intelligence and maturity with a strong sense of motivation to undertake the rigorous Exeter curriculum.  

The majority of applicants who get in are in the top 10% of their class, have 90th percentile ERB or ISEE scores, stellar letters of recommendation, and hold leadership positions in a variety of extracurricular activities. Additionally, admissions officers pay attention to applicants who excel in math and computer science as well as in the arts, music, and sports.

How Can You Stand Out in the Admissions Process? 

With hundreds of other applicants who may have the same academic and extracurricular achievements, it is important to stand out in the Exeter admissions process. Displaying confidence, exceptional communication skills, and critical thinking during the admissions interview will leave a good impression on the interviewer. In the essays, it is important to demonstrate problem-solving skills and the ability to overcome adversities and difficulties in life whether in school, at home, or in the community. They are looking for students who are motivated and will not easily give up on the challenges they will encounter while at Exeter.

Phillips Exeter Academy Admissions 

The Phillips Exeter Academy admissions process is extensive and rigorous, encompassing several steps.

  1. Complete the Inquiry Form
  2. Create a profile on Gateway
  3. Take the standardized tests and submit scores
  4. Complete the student essay and parent statement
  5. Delegate recommendation letters
  6. Request transcripts
  7. Take the Character Skills Assessment (optional)
  8. Schedule admission interview

Phillips Exeter Application

Standardized Tests

Applicants to grades 9 and 10 are required to submit either SSAT or ISEE scores. Grade 11 applicants may take the SSAT, ISSEE, PSAT, SAT, or ACT. Grade 12 applicants may choose to submit PSAT, SAT, or ACT scores. Results from exams must have been taken no sooner than April of the year before Exeter’s academic start date. Foreign students whose primary language is not English should take TOEFL, IELTS, or Duolingo. 

To ensure that your child submits the best possible scores, enroll in our test prep program and let our SSAT tutors and ISEE tutors provide all the help necessary. Our classes are individualized so we can focus on the strengths and weaknesses of each student. We offer SSAT and ISEE practice tests for grades 9-11 applicants as well as SAT and ACT practice tests for grades 11 and 12 applicants. 

Admissions Essay / Personal Statement

The essay is a 200-500 word response to any of the 5 questions that are posted on the admissions portal. 

A student statement should also be filled out which contains basic information about the applicant. 

Answering the questions might appear simple, but without the right coaching, your child could offer erroneous answers or give false anecdotes that would completely undermine your chance of getting in. Our boarding school admissions consultants can help you decide which aspect of your life is noteworthy to highlight because they are familiar with what Exeter admissions officers are looking for. They may assist in creating a sincere and genuine essay or personal statement that could provide your child with the differentiation they need.

Parent Statement

Parents of Exeter applicants are required to answer the parent questionnaire which consists of questions regarding the student’s personality, strengths, and weaknesses. The responses for each question are limited to 1500 characters only. 

Parent statements are the school’s way of knowing more about your child from your perspective as a parent. We understand that you would want to put in only good words for your child, but admissions officers are also interested in the weaknesses and difficulties that you have had growing up. These questions are tricky and you should be able to answer them with authenticity and honesty without jeopardizing your chances of getting in. Our private school admissions consulting covers all facets of the application process including tips on how to write parent statements.

Letters of Recommendation

Applicants need to delegate recommendation letters to the principal or counselor, and the current math and English teachers. A personal recommendation is also required which may come from an adult who can talk about the student’s character and community engagement such as a church minister, a family friend, or an employer. An optional special interest recommendation from an additional teacher, mentor, or coach may also be submitted. 

Recommendation letters give admissions officers an insight into your child’s academic performance and overall character in the school and the community. Our boarding school admissions consultants have strategies in place to help secure shining recommendations for your child. It helps if you begin your preparations early because everything depends on building relationships.


Transcripts from the previous year are required for grades 6 and 7 applicants. Grade 8 applicants need to submit their grades for the current school year. These forms will be requested from Gateway and sent directly to Exeter. 

Transcripts reflect your child’s scholastic abilities and determine the potential to succeed in the rigorous Phillips Exeter curriculum. If your child doesn’t have good grades or is struggling in academics, we offer tutoring for different subject areas. Our tutors are competent professionals in their field and have gone through an extensive training program with our educational consultants. If your child has good grades but has difficulty with executive function skills such as time management and notetaking, we have academic coaches available who are experts in academic coaching.

Character Skills Snapshot

Submitting the Character Skills Snapshot is optional. Exeter will accept results of the Character Skills Snapshot which will be uploaded through the Exeter Application Portal

This test, which can be taken online, measures your child’s preferences, attitudes, and beliefs toward seven character traits: 

  • Intellectual Engagement
  • Open-mindedness
  • Initiative
  • Resilience
  • Self-control
  • Social awareness
  • Teamwork  

The Snapshot gives admissions officers insight into your child’s ability to succeed in the Exeter curriculum and how the teachers and other school faculty will be able to provide support. This will also provide an opportunity to stand out in the Exeter admissions process. Many schools say that there is no need to prepare, but as part of our private school admissions consulting, we give an overview of the test and an initial assessment so your child has a clear picture and will have the confidence to take the Snapshot.

Admissions Interview

All Exeter applicants are required to attend an admissions interview with the admissions officers, whether online or in person. Parents may also be part of the interview. You may view the Campus Visit Calendar to find the most suitable date. If you can, it is best to visit the school and have an on-campus interview because it will demonstrate your profound interest in being part of the Exeter community. The interview is a two-way conversation, so you may prepare your own set of questions as well. 

 Our experienced educational consultants offer interview preparation for students and their parents to walk them through the process and ace their interviews. We know what questions admissions officers will most likely ask and what answers they value so we can help you craft honest responses that align with their principles.

Phillips Exeter Academy Alumni

The following are some of Phillips Exeter Academy’s notable alumni who have brought honor and prestige through their valuable contributions to society: 

  • Mark Zuckerberg – American business magnate, internet entrepreneur, co-founder of Facebook and Meta Platforms, and philanthropist
  • Franklin Pierce (+) – was the 14th president of the United States
  • David Eisenhower – the grandson of President Dwight Eisenhower, son-in-law of President Richard Nixon, a professor and public policy fellow at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania,
  • Dan Brown – a successful American author known for his novels including, The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, Inferno, and many more
  • Shinichi Mochizuki – a Japanese mathematician specializing in number theory and arithmetic geometry, famous for his contribution to anabelian geometry
  • Andrew Yang – American businessman, attorney, lobbyist, and politician
  • John Phillips- early American educator and cofounder of Phillips Exeter Academy
  • Tom Steyer – American climate investor, businessman, hedge fund manager, philanthropist, environmentalist, and liberal activist
  • Adam D’Angelo – American businessman, founder, and CEO of Quora
  • Greg Craig – American lawyer and former White House Counsel in the Obama administration

Student Life in Exeter

Exeter Academics

Phillips Exeter Academy has 16 academic departments that offer 450+ courses in a variety of subjects. Aside from the core competencies like advanced mathematics, science, English, history, languages, and the arts, Exeter also offers accelerated language courses in Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Italian. The Harkness table is Exeter’s unique offering wherein students engage in discussion-based learning as they are seated around a table. There is minimal intervention by the teacher in this method and students are encouraged to engage with their peers and have open-minded discussions. 

Exeter Athletics

Exeter is known for its prestigious athletics program. There is a sport for everyone at Phillips Exeter Academy including cross country, field hockey, football, soccer, volleyball, basketball, squash, swimming, diving, winter track, wrestling, baseball, crew, cycling, golf, lacrosse, softball, tennis, and water polo. Big Red athletes and students train at fully -equipped, state-of-the-art facilities that are capable of hosting national competitions and have livestream capabilities.  

Exeter Arts

Phillips Exeter Academy offers 12 art courses including 3D Design: Tech + Form + Fashion, Portfolio Intensive, Drawing and Painting, and Lamont Arts Gallery with frequent exhibits and workshops taught by professional artists. They have a well-known performing art program, a newsletter called The Exeter Bulletin for school news, and The Bowld Music Building for classes and performances. 

Exeter Activities

There are 100+ student-led clubs and organizations that focus on various interests and skills. Dance, theater, and music clubs are available for students who love performing. Groups such as the Afro-Latinx Exonian Society and Gender and Sexuality Alliance are for those who foster equality and diversity within campus. Academic clubs, such as the Astronomy Club and PEA Quiz Club, are for students who want to enrich their knowledge of different subjects. To keep fit and healthy, there are physical activity clubs where students can enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, and surfing. 

Did You Know?

Exeter matriculates roughly ⅓ of its seniors to Harvard. 

Client Testimonial

“My son was an average student but got into Exeter with the help of Cardinal Education. We started working with them in 5th grade and with the help of their tutors, his grades improved significantly and he also received high scores on the SSAT. More than that, his confidence and self-esteem were developed throughout the process. He is now in his junior year and preparing for college admissions, still with the consultants at Cardinal Education.