The school emphasizes math and science within a comprehensive, interactive program. The rigor of the junior year classes exceeds high school honors and AP, with more than 1200 hours of instruction. Seniors complete a year of college, taking the same classes as other students at WPI, a nationally ranked engineering school, thus making the Academy the only public school in Massachusetts whose students attend a university full time as seniors in high school. The Academy was originally located in WPI's library, but is now located nearby at 85 Prescott Street.
The Academy is a collaborative effort among the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and the high schools of Massachusetts. In addition to passing all classes, the Academy also requires that all students complete 56 hours of community service per year.
Students who want to attend the school must apply in their sophomore year of high school, although some exceptions have been made - some freshmen have successfully become Mass. Academy juniors in what would have been their sophomore year at their "sending" school.
The admissions process is very selective. Students must take an admissions exam and fulfill four other requirements -- good high school grades, good teacher's recommendations, a personal essay, and an essay from the parents.
A particular math problem on the admissions test usually involves some intuitive approach, and can usually be solved with simple algebra. The science part of the admission test requires the explanation of experimental work the student has done. The admissions test has a relatively small effect the admissions process.
Students who are interested in the school can visit the school and "shadow" one of its students. As a shadow, interested students can experience a typical day at the academy.
Junior year students attend classes from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. except on Wednesdays when the school day runs from 8 a.m. until 12 p.m.. These mandatory classes include Mathematical Modeling, Physics, Humanities, Computer Science, Research Seminar, Engineering, Tech and Science Writing, and Foreign Language. Research Seminar is a class in which students must take on an original research topic that makes some contribution in that field. Students can either conduct science, math or engineering projects. This class culminates with a science fair in February. The language classes are also different from most schools. Verb tenses and conjugation are not studied, but instead each class period is a discussion completely in the language studied. Built into the school week are two 1.5 hour elective periods, where students can take a class of their choosing. The electives offered each term differ, but have included social dancing, cooking, machine shop, bowling, film appreciation, water colors, photography, advanced mathematics, mock trial, FIRST Robotics, and drama.
The faculty at the Academy consist of Master Teachers and Visiting Scholars. Master Teachers are faculty who return every year, whereas Visiting Scholars typically come with backgrounds in various fields outside education, and develop their teaching skills over the course of a year or two.
This year is very homework intensive and many students find themselves up into the early hours of the morning completing assignments. "Friday Problems" are particularly difficult physics problems that are given out each week and due on Friday.
"C-term", running from early January to the middle of March, is generally agreed to be by far the most difficult. The "Research Seminar" projects and papers must be completed in this time span - these involve individual research into areas not typically studied by high-school students, such as heuristics and mechanical design.
During their senior year, students take on a full-time course load at WPI, which is funded at no expense to the students by the Academy. Each term students are required to take one math class, one science class and one humanities class. By the end of senior year, each student must have completed a senior independent study project.
Mass Academy has sent students to Brown University, Yale University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College, the California Institute of Technology, and many other top schools since its inception in 1992. Many schools accept all WPI credits, allowing Mass Academy students to graduate a year early.
Because of the association with WPI, Mass Academy students enjoy many of amenities offered by WPI. Students at Mass Academy have access to almost everything that WPI offers. The student center at WPI is usually occupied by Mass Academy students. Professors have also noted that Mass Academy seniors tend to be more assertive and active in class participation.
Mass Academy students are issued IDs that can be used as a regular WPI ID to gain access to various WPI facilities including the gym, library, bowling alley, computer labs, and courts.
Mass Academy students, however, are prohibited from joining any sport teams, varsity or club, at WPI. This is because Mass. Academy students are still eligible for sports at their sending high schools, as well as the (occasional) Mass Academy Raiders team. In addition, high-schoolers are by definition NCAA ineligible. Students are also prohibited from entering the dormitories at WPI. Any student found in a dormitory will face harsh consequences, which could ultimately lead to an expulsion from the Academy.
Most students graduating from Mass Academy will have their math requirements fulfilled when they enter college since some form of calculus is required during their senior year. Most students will also graduate a year early from college because of the year at WPI. Almost all colleges accept credits from WPI, which is ranked 64 on US Newsweek top 100 Universities in the nation.
Mass Academy students have won numerous awards on state wide, regional, and national level. Each year at least 4 or 5 Mass Academy students achieve honorable mention or better at the MIT Regional Science Fair. Students have also performed well on the annual Math Modeling competition, with some achieving regional outstanding.
While the school is known for a strong math and science program, students who attend the school are also very talented in the humanities. Many students are accomplished musicians with some achieving state wide recognition. Some students have won recognition in national writing contests. The Academy also finishes strong in an Envirothon competition for the past several years.
Any senior who fails a class during the first term at WPI will be forced to return to their sending school. Any other failures, maximum 2, in subsequent terms will have to be made up during the summer.
Expulsions have also occurred in the past as a result of students engaging in illegal computer hacking activities.
The academy holds an annual reunion for its alumni during the winter break period, typically in late December or early January. The academy reunion is unique in that all of the graduated classes are invited back for the same reunion. The academy is able to accommodate all of its alumni in one reunion since there have been only been fourteen graduating classes each of approximately 40 students. The reunion was not held for several years following Pauline LaMarche's (the academy's second principal and original organizer of the reunion) death. However, the tradition has since continued with the reunion held on December 30, 2006.