21,325 dollars and 2,600 hours -- were they worth it?

By the time I graduate in June my parents will have spent $21,325 on tuition. I will have sat in class for nearly 2,600 hours and will have studied in excess of 3,000 hours. I am not a college student but rather a student at Phillips Academy (Andover, Mass.), a private New England boarding school. In reviewing my four years at Andover a question continues to drift in the back of my head.

Has it been worth it?

I am sure that someone could answer the question in cost vs. college placement, but I cannot. A boarding school is designed to be much more than a giant combine that is fed teenagers, money, and parental support and produces acceptance letters from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.

Andover has been worth it. My decision is not based upon my admission into an Ivy League college. First, at this writing, I do not know where I am going next year, and second, I applied to only one of those elite insitutions. College placement is only a small -- even superficial -- element of my Andover experience.

Andover consists of many experiences both in and out of the classroom. Academically, Andover is diverse and demanding. Flipping through the Course of Study book, one views nearly 300 courses from Advanced Placement Chemistry to Stagecraft.

As a 9th grader, after attending a school where my only curriculum choice was French or Latin in the 7th grade, I was amazed to be given such a selection. I began to appreciate the curriculum at boarding school only when I enrolled in such unique courses as Caribbean Studies and Non-Fiction Writing. Many of these courses I would normally have to wait until college to experience. But at Andover I could take them as an 11th or 12th grader. These courses expanded my perspective, exposing me to other religious, economic, and family structures, while at the same time I was learning to write for commercial publication.

Although the courses themselves are important, much of what I have gained is a result of the exceptional quality and level of instruction. I experienced the Cuban revolution from a young woman who as a little girl was one of the thousands of children listening to Castro bark at them for hours under the hot sun.

My introduction into free-lance writing has been guided by a free-lance writer whose book "Waterman" has been referred to as "the real Chesapeake."

The instructors here expect much out of their students. It is not unusual to have two 1,000-word essays and a test due on the same day. The expectations are high, but the results are impressive, with many of the students' writing as well as college students.

Equally extensive are the sports and extracurricular activities. Students participate in sports on either a competitive or noncompetitive basis including crew as well as football.

Some sports such as karate and fencing are taught by students. Although I have never taken great interest in participating in competitive sports, I enjoyed the intramural sports such as crew in the fall and co-ed softball in the spring. Andover's extracurricular program is immense. Its organizations are the same as other day schools such as the Spanish club, drama, student government, and the school newspaper. Unique is the high activity of the organizations, reflecting the intense interest of the students. Every week, for example, there is at least one theatrical production, sometimes three. Students will spend endless time working on sets, direction, lighting, and acting, even creating their own original plays and musicals.

My particular interest lies with The Phillipian, the student newspaper. The commitment is sizable.

During the spring term of my 11th grade year I was spending more than 20 hours a week shooting, processing, editing, and laying out photographs. The newspaper and my role with the organization are important to me, sometimes even more important than my schoolwork.

Every week we have to put out an eight-page paper, at times pulling "all-nighters" to insure The Phillipian will go to press. Those long Wednesday and Thursday nights are not only full of writing and editing, but typesetting, laying out copy, writing headlines, arguing over editorials, "Mac runs," and 3 a.m. drives back from The Harvard Crimson, as well as many laughs and tears in the process.

But every Friday morning we open our boxes, pull out the paper, open it up, and let a small smile slip through the fatigue.

The Phillipian is an integral part of the school, representing the students' uncensored views of Andover. Whereas my interest is with the newspaper, many students work for other organizations with the same loyalty. All of these specialized interests build the school community.

The school community is the heart of Andover. Its extensive facilities and impressive college acceptance record are great, but the real learning is experienced in the community.

I learned much about myself and people at Andover, especially the responsibility of an individual to the community. Andover is not perfect. At times students become lost and disoriented, but they learn to work with the pressures and to overcome them.

As a 9th grader, I drank regularly at school. After evaluating my actions I realized that I could not continue to abuse my independence and the community trust in me. Lately I have learned to overcome academic difficulties that I was encountering. Overcoming my falling grades has brought me closer to the community for it has given me the support when I have needed it.

Living at Andover has developed me as an individual. I came to the school with a self-centered, uninspired attitude, and I believe that I will leave a person who is not only more confident in his abilities but a little more concerned about others.

I wish I could undo some of the things I have done here, but I am satisfied with what I have done with myself at Andover over the last four years. I believe that the time and the expense have been a good investment.

I may see many of the benefits now and some in the future, but I will never be able to appreciate them all b ecause Andover is a part of me.

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