Building on Strength

Principal Bill Rawson ’71; P’08
February 7, 2022
Principal Rawson walks with students on the path

I almost didn’t attend Exeter. When I showed my acceptance letter to my father, he told me that the financial aid award was not enough and he was unable to make up the difference. I had not applied to any other school — I wanted to go to Exeter, and my father, a school teacher, thought Exeter was the only school that had the resources to provide the financial aid that we needed. Happily, with additional information, the Academy adjusted the award, and I arrived as a new lower in September 1968.

Financial aid was handled differently back then. Scholarship students, as we were called, were expected to contribute several hundred dollars to the cost of tuition each year through summer earnings, and we held nonpaying “scholarship jobs” on campus that took a few hours each week. I waited on faculty tables in the dining hall and served as an admissions tour guide. Like many scholarship students, I also held paying jobs to make some additional spending money. I was very happy with these arrangements. I was at Exeter.

We’ve come a long way, in so many ways, since my student days, including with our financial aid policies. When I arrived at Exeter, there were just 217 students receiving financial aid. Since then, we have more than doubled that number, and today we have over 450 students supported through financial aid. We long ago stopped expecting students to contribute from their summer earnings or hold nonpaying jobs on campus. Our financial aid awards meet the full demonstrated need of each family, and we provide additional assistance where necessary to ensure that every student has access to the full Exeter experience.

This increased attention to access has reduced a financial barrier in the admissions process, but did not eliminate it. Students requiring financial aid still faced a more challenging admissions process due to the number of spaces available for financial aid students. That is not what John and Elizabeth Phillips intended when they founded Exeter as a free school.

Now, with the Trustees’ momentous decision in October, we can and will operate fully need-blind and realize our founders’ vision that “The Academy shall ever be equally open to youth of requisite qualifications from every quarter.” This milestone builds on the generosity of successive generations of Exonians who have contributed to financial aid endowment — most recently through the tremendous generosity of alumni and parents who have stepped forward and made this bold commitment to being need-blind a reality.

I am deeply grateful for everyone who challenges us to imagine, and helps us achieve, the Exeter of tomorrow."

This commitment means that no child will be turned away because of a family’s inability to pay. And it is one way we more fully realize our vision of a school where youth from diverse backgrounds and perspectives come together to learn from one another and prepare to lead purposeful lives.

I cherish the Exeter I attended. It changed my life. But we know that Exeter has never stayed excellent by staying the same. I am deeply grateful for everyone who challenges us to imagine, and helps us achieve, the Exeter of tomorrow. I’m grateful that financial need will no longer be a barrier to students who dream of attending the Academy.

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the winter 2022 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.