Financial Aid

April 14, 2020

Laura Shen ’07 fondly recalls the early days of her time as a student at Exeter – settling into her dorm, getting to know classmates and exploring the campus that would become her home for the next four years. “I just remember standing in front of the Academy Building, as I think most people do, and just being in awe,” she says. A New Hampshire native, Laura came from a public middle school where she was a straight-A student but felt unchallenged by the curriculum. “I was the girl who cried because she didn’t have enough homework,” she says with a laugh. At the urging of a teacher, she began to consider the possibility of a prep education and set to work collecting courses-of-instruction books from over 40 schools. Laura was taken by Exeter’s robust offerings. “I’m half Chinese, so being able to study Mandarin was really important to me. I also wanted to be able to continue to understand literature on a deeper level and pursue my passion for lacrosse.”

Nearly half of Exeter students receive financial assistance each year and this past year Exeter welcomed its first class of students under the new “need-blind” admissions policy – admissions decisions were made without regard to any family’s ability to pay and Exeter committed to meeting the fully demonstrated need of every student.

In so many ways, Exeter was a perfect fit. But in the end, Laura’s ability to realize her dream was contingent on one thing. “I remember my mom saying, ‘If the financial aid comes through, we can consider enrolling you.’” Just a few years prior, Laura’s father had passed away, making the family’s financial snapshot a complicated one. It was the Academy’s personalized approach to analyzing her family’s specific needs that reinforced her belief that she had found the right place.

“I thought it was going to be a stretch financially to be able to attend a school like Exeter, so it was such a relief to know that I could pursue this and make my family proud without a burden.” Exeter’s financial commitment to Laura didn’t stop at simply getting her in the door. The Academy provided additional resources that helped pay for supplies and activities like books and private clarinet lessons. “Those equalizers opened up so many doors for me as an individual and allowed me to grow.” Laura says at no point in her time at the Academy did she feel stigmatized by her standing as a financial aid recipient.

“That never felt like my identity; it was more ‘you’re a student who lives in Bancroft, plays lacrosse, is learning the clarinet, and is involved in clubs.’ To not have to think about money as a barrier helped me just be normal.” In her time at Exeter and since, Laura has gravitated toward non-sibi opportunities. As a student, she cofounded the School Days International Club. She and her fellow club members raised funds for schools in developing Latin American and African countries.

"That never felt like my identity; it was more ‘you’re a student who lives in Bancroft, plays lacrosse, is learning the clarinet, and is involved in clubs.’ To not have to think about money as a barrier helped me just be normal.”

Through the generosity of a donor, Laura spent a summer as a volunteer at a school in Ghana teaching English. During her time in West Africa, she shadowed members of a microfinance organization and saw the power of her fundraising in action.

“That experience helped me understand, at an early age, what business looked like, and see in practice how communities can grow when they invest in their people,” she recollects. “It was pivotal in shaping my view of the world and seeding ideas for the impact I aspired to have.”

After receiving degrees from Dartmouth and Georgetown, Laura embarked on a career in business that has intersected with international development. In her current role as chief diversity and inclusion officer for financial technology platform WEX, Laura is the principal architect of the company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion programs with a goal of “creating an equitable work environment where all employees feel like they belong.” She traces much of her professional success back to her time at Exeter.

“The collaborative approach to learning allowed me to consider how am I seeing other people's perspectives? How am I leading while bringing others along? Those experiences around the table, in the dorm, and on the field were so formative and something I take with me every day.”

At Exeter we care about our student’s curiosity and character, not their ability to pay and we never stop working to make Exeter as affordable as possible while maintaining our margin of excellence.

Generosity designated to Financial Aid through The Exeter Fund honors the founding vision of Elizabeth and John Phillips and transforms lives through the Exeter education.

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