Exeter: For Richer or Poorer

At a recent assembly, Aida Conroy ’09 spoke about her time as a student at Exeter. She explained, as many alumni had before, how Harkness gave her a voice. Then she said something that resonated with me:

“The greatest letter I received wasn’t my acceptance letter. It was my financial aid letter.”

A clamor of snaps rang through the audience (typically, if a speaker makes a particularly good point, students in assembly snap to show their approval. The practice began during poetry readings and has expanded to around the Harkness table). Forty-eight percent of students at Exeter receive financial aid, and I am lucky to be one of them. Exeter’s billion-dollar endowment allows it to meet all demonstrated need for applicants.


I applied to Exeter during my freshman year at the public school near my house. When I received my admittance letter, my parents looked at the smile on my face and said, “Wait. Don’t get excited until we found out about financial aid.” We waited, and two days later I found out I would be able to attend the best high school in the country.

My friends and family joked that when I got to Exeter they would make the financial aid students do the dishes. Obviously this was hyperbole, but my friends back home still wondered how I would hide the fact that I receive financial aid. I was dumbfounded. I felt and feel no pressure to hide my financial aid, and I have never felt prejudice from any students. In my close friend group, half of us are on financial aid, half of us not. It changes nothing. If anything, it’s a testament to the incredible socioeconomic diversity Exeter can afford to ensure. No one thinks about their friends in terms of their financial status. Rather, we all respect each other’s backgrounds.

I have a friend from home who says “I just don’t like private schools. I don’t like the kids, the vibe.” That bothers me. It bothers me because at Exeter, I have met the most amazing people, and had my eyes opened to some of the toughest social issues faced by my generation. Students at Exeter discuss gender issues, political differences, and face diversity head on. There is an awareness about the world that extends beyond the Exeter bubble. There are affinity clubs for all students to join, and the conversations never end. At breakfast, in dorm rooms, or walking to class, students argue, debate and help each other become aware of current events and issues. You not only learn about the world, but how to discuss it with others.

I admit I was scared to come to Exeter. I knew I’d have a lot of work to do, and most of all that I would miss my family. I held it together until I had to say goodbye to my cats, and then boom. Waterworks. I was scared I wouldn’t fit in.

I got here and it didn’t take long to realize I was right about the workload and wrong about everything else. I do miss my cats, but I call them every night. And I have a family on campus. I can walk into dining hall and there will be a girl from my dorm, a friend from a class, or a fellow member of Fem Club.

As for that “vibe” on campus my friend from home mentioned? It’s inclusive, it’s exciting and it creates space for conversation and learning.

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