Princeton University


Princeton is home to a dynamic, diverse community of intellectuals who pursue their passions with unparalleled zeal. Founded in 1746, the university excels both as a major research institution and as a liberal arts college, making it one of the most respected centers of higher learning in the world. Because Princeton does not have an extensive graduate school system, lavish amounts of attention and resources are bestowed upon a relatively small undergraduate population. Basically, if you have a good idea, whether it’s for an independent research project, a campus event, or your own personal growth, Princeton will provide you with the support and funding to make it happen.

Princeton boasts top-notch… well, everything. The campus, which is frequently ranked among the most beautiful in the country, features an art museum, a state-of-the-art music center, a visual and performing arts center, several theaters, an observatory, a plasma physics lab, a center for environmental and energy studies and sixteen libraries containing more than 6.7 million volumes. The university recently renewed its commitment to the sciences with the opening of a new Gehry-designed science library, and it plans to expand its arts offerings through the recently inaugurated Lewis Center for the Arts. A low faculty-student ratio of 5:1, coupled with the advising program, preceptorial system, and faculty office hours, means that undergraduates get remarkable access to luminaries such as Cornel West, Joyce Carol Oates, ten Nobel Prize winners, and twenty-two MacArthur “genius” grant recipients. The university also has a state-of-the-art computing system, a number of academic support centers, a campus healthcare facility, extensive recreation offerings, and a dedicated staff to ensure that students’ needs are met around the clock. “Princeton runs like butter,” summed up one recent graduate. That said, gaining access to all that Princeton has to offer isn’t easy. With an admit rate hovering around ten percent, Princeton is one of the most selective universities in the country. In a recent year, ninety-seven percent of admits ranked in the top decile of their high school graduating classes, and three-fourths had SAT scores higher than 700 in all three sections. However, Princeton isn’t just looking for brainy kids who test well; the admissions office ranks “advanced placement or honors courses,” “recommendations by school officials” and “personality/intangible qualities” as its top three admissions considerations.

Princeton offers seventy-four departments and interdepartmental programs within two bachelor’s degree programs: bachelor of arts (A.B.), and bachelor of science in engineering (B.S.E.). Because of the university emphasis on a broad liberal arts education, course requirements tend to be relatively easy to fulfill, which gives students the flexibility to delve into their own academic interests. Independent study is one of the pillars of Princeton academic life. Depending on their major, students must complete a number of independent projects during their time at Princeton, culminating in the production of a final thesis or project in their senior year.

Campus Life

Princetonians work hard, but they also play hard. Campus life is vibrant, owing to the fact that the vast majority—ninety-eight percent—of students live on campus. Contrary to popular belief, Princeton has a diverse student population; in a recent year, thirty-two percent of students identified themselves as minorities (including African-American, Asian American, Hispanic, Native American, and foreign national) and students hailed from all fifty states and more than ninety-five foreign countries. As a result, entertainment options on campus are varied, and there is never a shortage of things to do. You’re as likely to find a hip-hop conference or capoiera performance as you are to stumble across an a capella arch sing.

So what is it that makes Princeton distinctive, that consistently puts it at the top of every rankings list known to man? What is it that created Princeton’s exceedingly loyal alumni base and keeps them coming back for more each Reunions season? What is it about that name, Princeton, that inspires feelings of honor and tradition, and that strikes fear into the hearts of high school seniors everywhere?

Surely, it’s a combination of things—the thrill of stepping through FitzRandolph Gate on the first day of freshman year, the often breathtaking beauty of campus during the change of seasons, the memories made during late-night study breaks, the pride of completing a senior thesis. An undergraduate education at Princeton is truly something special, and those lucky enough to experience it firsthand look back on their college days with a mixture of wistfulness and awe, this author included.


Information Summary

Ranks 1st in New Jersey and 3rd overall. See the entire top 2,000 colleges and universities list
Overall Score (about) 99.6
Total Cost On-Campus Attendance $70,900
Admission Success rate N/A
ACT / SAT 75%ile scores 35 / 1570
Student Ratio Students-to-Faculty 8 : 1
Retention (full-time / part-time) 98% / N/A
Enrollment Total (all students) 8,374


Your academic experience at Princeton is truly what you make it. While some students choose to cruise by taking intro and pass/fail courses, others opt to fight their way into upperlevel graduate courses. Most students aim for a balance, challenging themselves with a mix of large lecture courses and small seminars relating to their major or concentration, interspersed with distribution requirements and random courses they take just for the fun of it.

Princeton’s course catalog offers hundreds of courses in thirty-four degree-granting departments. Students can also work toward a certificate in forty programs, from Creative Writing to Robotics and Intelligent Systems, or take classes sponsored by one of ten interdisciplinary programs, such as the University Center for Human Values or the Council on Science and Technology.

Because of Princeton’s emphasis on the liberal arts, you won’t find many practical preprofessional or vocational course offerings. Instead, you’ll find titles such as “Ancient Greco-Roman Medicine,” “The Making of the Ottoman Balkans, 1350–1500” and “Roll Over Beethoven: Black Rock and Cultural Revolt.” Aspiring lawyers tend to major in Politics or the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, while pre-med students often study Molecular Biology or History of Science, but there are many exceptions to the rule. In truth, it doesn’t really matter what you major in at Princeton, and the university urges students to sign into smaller departments such as Anthropology and Slavic Languages and Literatures, where they can receive more personalized attention.

Off Campus

While the university encourages students to broaden their horizons by spending time in foreign countries, most students are either unable or unwilling to study abroad during the academic year because of departmental requirements or fear that they’ll “miss out” on part of the Princeton experience. As a result, many use their summers to pursue academic interests abroad. Through Princeton programs, students can study marine biology in Bermuda or pick up extra Italian credits in Macerata, a medieval town on the Adriatic coast. Programs such as Princeton-in-France or Princeton-in-Washington assist students with summer internship placements and offer support and social activities. The Office of International Programs also offers grants to fund summer language study, and juniors and seniors can apply for thesis funding to cover research-related travel.

Students who do study abroad during the academic year tend to go through Princeton-affiliated programs and exchanges; the programs at Oxford, Cape Town, and Melbourne are among the most popular. The university also allows students to receive credit for approved foreign programs, and students on financial aid continue to receive support abroad.

Special Schools

Princeton has a handful of special undergraduate schools; in addition to the School of Engineering and Applied Science, students can enter the School of Architecture or the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, which aims to prepare students “for leadership in public and international affairs.” The Wilson School, also called “Woody Woo,” is the only undergraduate degree program at Princeton that involves a competitive admissions process.

Graduation Requirements

Students must complete all general education requirements, departmental requirements, junior independent work, a senior thesis, and a final departmental examination before they can be awarded a diploma. Students in the A.B. program must take a minimum of thirty-one courses: one course each in epistemology and cognition, ethical thought and moral values, historical analysis, and quantitative reasoning, and two courses each in literature and the arts, science and technology (with laboratory), and social analysis. In addition, all A.B. candidates must take an introductory writing seminar and demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language. Engineering students must take at least thirty-six courses and have a slightly different set of requirements, but they are also obliged to fulfill the writing requirement and take a number of courses in the humanities.


Princeton has a variety of course types, and the nature of the course determines for how long and how often the class meets per week. An environmental studies class might consist of two hour-long lectures, an hour-long precept, and a three-hour-long laboratory, while a humanities seminar will meet for a three-hour discussion session once a week. Many classes incorporate a preceptorial component, which allows students to further explore the readings and topics of the course in small discussion groups. A unique feature of the Princeton academic experience, the graded precepts force students to be knowledgeable enough about the material to engage in lively discussion and debate, and they are led by the professor who teaches the course, other faculty members, or graduate students.

If none of the titles in the course catalog appeal to you, design one yourself! For a class project, a friend of mine decided to put together the curriculum for a course on Latina literature. She created a syllabus, drafted a proposal, and found a professor willing to facilitate. The university was impressed by her initiative and implemented the course the following semester!

Academic Support

Students at Princeton come from all academic backgrounds, so it’s no surprise that many find it difficult to adjust to the rigors of a Princeton education. Luckily, there are a number of excellent support services available. The McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning offers workshops and individual consultations to teach study strategies, time management skills, and other tools to help students develop as learners, while the Writing Center helps students master college-level writing skills through one-on-one sessions with qualified (and patient!) writing coaches. Academic advising is available to all freshmen and sophomores through the residential colleges, and the masters and directors of studies in the colleges are often happy to lend advice on classes and majors.

The university also understands that many students experience emotional and psychological difficulties during their time at Princeton. For this reason, free counseling, support groups, and other services are available at University Health Services. No matter what your problem, Princeton will help you address it so that you don’t fall behind.

Papers and the Thesis

Princeton is one of the few universities that make independent work a mandatory requirement for all undergraduates. All students must write a senior thesis, or in the case of engineers, complete a substantial independent project. During their senior year, students work one-on-one with a faculty advisor to develop and write a comprehensive departmental thesis, which generally runs between fifty to one hundred pages, on the subject of their choice. Most majors also require that students complete one or two independent papers or projects their junior year, which help to prepare students for the daunting task of undertaking the thesis.

I think the key to having a positive thesis experience is choosing a topic that you’re passionate about. I chose to write my thesis for the History department on the contentious relationship between the United States and Guam, a tiny U.S. territory in the middle of the Pacific that I call home. I voraciously consumed every bit of information on the subject, and I even received a grant from my department and the Dean of the College to return to the island to conduct research and interviews. My advisor guided me in fleshing out my ideas so that I could explore issues I had grappled with all my life in an academic context. In the end, after many sleepless nights fueled by pizza and coffee, I produced a one-hundredand- two-page thesis. It’s an achievement that truly makes me proud.

Most Popular Fields of Study


Princeton University Princeton University
Princeton University


Like other highly selective schools, there is no exact formula for getting into Princeton. During the last admissions season, 21,370 students applied, 2,122 students were admitted, and 1,243 enrolled. To gain one of the coveted admit spots, find a way to make your application stand out. Princeton is looking for “a varied mix of high-achieving, intellectually gifted students from diverse backgrounds.” They want students who have excelled both in and out of the classroom. In your application, emphasize your special talents, leadership experience, extracurricular activities, community service, and even your quirks.

“Show us what’s special about you,” the admissions office invites prospective students. The only admissions requirements are the official application form and scores for the SAT Reasoning Test and three SAT Subject Tests. Scores for the ACT with Writing Test can be submitted in place of the SAT Reasoning Test, but the three SAT Subject Tests are still required. Students who plan to pursue an engineering degree should take one Subject Test in either physics or chemistry and one in either Level I or Level II mathematics. While there are no fixed high school course requirements, the university expects that students will have completed four years of English, mathematics, and foreign language, and at least two years of laboratory science and history. Many applicants have also taken courses in the visual and performing arts. Honors, advanced placement (AP) and dualenrollment courses show that the applicant has challenged himself or herself and are a definite plus.

bq I’m convinced that the key to getting into Princeton is writing a great essay. In addition to the academic requirements, the admissions office is looking for people who are passionate, articulate, and unique. The essay is the only way to showcase your personality, so take advantage of it! Be witty, be fun, and most of all, be honest. Don’t pretend that all you do is read Dickens and listen to NPR when you’re really a Perez Hilton junkie. Find a way to spin your quirky interests the right way!

How to Apply

This writer recalls painstakingly writing out her essay, but now, Princeton has embraced technology as part of its admissions process. Applicants can apply using Princeton’s online application or by submitting the Common Application along with a Princeton supplement. Purists can also apply using the paper versions of both applications. In a highly publicized move, Princeton eliminated its Early Decision program in 2008 in an effort to balance the admissions playing field. Now, prospective students adhere to a single application timeline. Applications are due on January 1, and decisions are usually sent out by the end of March.

Bridge Year Program

In 2008 the university announced the launch of Princeton’s new Bridge Year Program, a pre-collegiate enrichment year for admitted students who wish to spend a year in public service abroad before starting college. Through this program, Princeton partners with reputed international organizations to place students in service projects around the world, and it provides need-based funding to applicable students. The aim is to provide incoming freshmen with a break from the rigors of high school and help them develop an international perspective and commitment to public service.

Financial Aid

Princeton has one of the best financial aid programs in the country, which gives talented students from all economic backgrounds the chance to get a top-notch education. Admission to the university is need-blind, and Princeton promises to meet one hundred percent of each admitted student’s financial need. The school uses its own financial aid application to assess student need, and the resulting assistance is often quite generous. The average financial aid package is $33,450, which on average covers ninety-six percent of tuition, and fifty-six percent of the class of 2012 received some form of aid. Typical financial aid packages are composed of grant aid; a self-help component that often involves student employment; and a summer savings requirement, which can be subsidized if the student is unable to earn the full amount. Princeton’s groundbreaking no-loan policy, implemented in 2001, replaced all loans with grants that never have to be paid back. As a result, recent graduates have the freedom to pursue their passions without the burden of debt as a barrier.

I’d say funding is definitely one of the biggest perks of attending Princeton. The need-based financial aid grant package means that ANYONE can afford to attend the university, as long as he or she can get in. Plus, the school has the resources to fund student projects, language study, and travel. One of my friends recieved a $4,000 grant to backpack around Central America all summer studying murals!

Student Financial Aid Details

Ranks 6292nd for the average student loan amount.
Secrets to getting the best scholarships and financial aid in New Jersey.


Students often refer to Princeton as the “Orange Bubble.” Indeed, it’s easy to forget the outside world once you step on the five-hundred-acre ivy-strewn collegiate Gothic campus. Because university housing is guaranteed for all four years, most students live on campus and stay on campus.

When students do venture out through the FitzRandolph Gate, it’s into the genteel township of Princeton, New Jersey, located about an hour south of New York City and an hour north of Philadelphia. Charming and elegant, downtown Princeton consists of a cluster of restaurants and small businesses targeted to well-heeled day-trippers and returning alums. Princeton has a little something for everyone, except, perhaps, for students. The whole town shuts down around 10 P.M., and the few bars open past that are exceedingly strict about IDs.

Residential Colleges, Dorms, and Clubs

Student life begins in the residential colleges. All freshmen and sophomores live and take their meals in one of six colleges, each of which houses approximately five hundred students and is comprised of dormitories, dining halls, lounges, study spaces, game rooms, and extra amenities such as volleyball courts and dance studios. Each college also has its own residential college council, which hosts fun study breaks, plans large alcohol-free parties, and organizes subsidized trips to athletic events, Broadway plays, and amusement parks. Three colleges—Whitman, Mathey, and Butler—are four-year colleges that cater to a select number of juniors, seniors, and graduate students in addition to underclassmen.

Most juniors and seniors live in upperclassmen dormitories, and seventy-five percent take their meals in one of nine eating clubs lining Prospect Avenue. The eating club system is truly unique to Princeton and has been around for more than a century. Each club is housed in a stately mansion, which serves as a dining hall and hangout for between 120 and 180 upperclass members. Not only do students eat there, but they also party there. On weekends and most weeknights, “The Street” of eating clubs is the social epicenter of campus and comes alive with music, activity, and boisterous students. In many ways, the social function of the eating clubs takes the place of an active Greek scene. A number of fraternities and sororities exist on campus as well, although they are not officially recognized by the university.

Some students decide that the eating club scene is not for them, and there are a number of alternatives. Many continue taking meals in the four-year residential colleges, and some join co-ops, where members work together to shop for food and prepare meals in a laid-back setting. Others choose to stay independent of the system and are given preferential treatment in the housing lottery so that they can live in campus apartments equipped with kitchens.

Extracurricular Activities

The typical Princeton kid is a multitasking overachiever, juggling schoolwork with campus leadership, community service, student employment, and an active social life. The university strongly encourages this kind of involvement and provides generous resources to enable campus life to flourish. Students seeking to get involved can choose from hundreds of activities, from intramural sports teams to improv comedy troupes to organizations such as the Juggling Club and the Redhead Society.

Eating Clubs at Princeton

  • Terrace Club
  • Tower Club
  • Quadrangle Club
  • Ivy Club
  • Cottage Club
  • Cloister Club
  • Cap & Gown Club
  • Charter Club
  • Tiger Inn
  • Colonial Club

Cool Clubs

Anime-Manga Princeton: holds weekly screenings of Japanese animation m Colosseum Club: throws late-night, action-packed events such as dodgeball, laser tag, and NERF fights m Figure Drawing Club: holds weekly drawing sessions for beginners and full-fledged artists alike

  • Flavor: throws huge dinners catered by ethnic food restaurants
  • Greening Princeton: organizes weekly farmers markets in the fall and spring
  • Ignite: hosts groups of underprivileged youth on campus to spark their interest in attending college
  • Jadwin Jungle: men’s basketball fan club, which offers students special seating, free food before games, and a host of other benefits for a small fee
  • Juggling Club: dedicated to the art of juggling, welcoming beginners enthusiastically
  • Princeton Capoeira: spreads Afro- Brazilian culture through native martial arts dance
  • Redheads Society: formed “with the purpose of sharing and enjoying their redheaded experience”
  • Subtitles: hosts themed movie screenings, including late night excursions to see new films at the nearby Garden Theatre
  • Surf Club: competes against other Ivy League schools in area tournaments
  • Tasters: holds wine-tasting events for students over 21
  • Union of Multiracial and Multicultural Students: brings together a diverse group of students for cross-cultural discussions


The arts scene at Princeton is thriving thanks to an initiative to expand the university’s art offerings. Under the new Lewis Center for the Arts, students can explore creative writing, musical performance, theater and dance, visual arts and the interdisciplinary Princeton Atelier, both academically and through extracurricular activities. Actors and producers hone their craft by joining companies like the Princeton Triangle Club (musical comedy), Theatre Intime (dramatic theater) or the Princeton Shakespeare Company. Dancers have more than a dozen troupes to choose from, featuring an array of styles, from traditional Mexican folk (Ballet Folklorico) to breakdance and urban arts (Sympoh). Musicians have no shortage of outlets: the Orchestra, Jazz Ensemble, the Wind Ensemble, the Glee Club, the Chapel Choir, and more than a dozen traditional a cappella groups.

Media Organizations

Princeton has an abundance of incredibly gifted writers, as evidenced by the large number of famous authors and journalists that have stepped through its gates. Luckily, there is also an abundance of publications that will publish anything and everything students can produce outside their already heavy academic writing load. Many aspiring journalists earn their chops at The Daily Princetonian, the university’s student-run daily. Students can also write for other campus publications, such as the Nassau Literary Review, the nation’s oldest student-run literary magazine; the Nassau Weekly, an off-beat and often provocative humor weekly; or Greenlight, Princeton’s self-ordained version of The New Yorker. Princeton also has its own campus radio station, WPRB, and a fledgling Princeton Student Television Network.


At Princeton, there is truly an organization for everyone. You can flex your leadership capabilities by participating in the Undergraduate Student Government, or bond with like-minded College Democrats or College Republicans. Learn about different cultures by joining one of the dozens of ethnic and international associations, or find community service opportunities by joining the Student Volunteers Council. And if you don’t find a group you like, start an organization of your own—dozens do it every year!

Student Enrollment Demographics

Student Graduation Demographics


The Princeton Tigers have a tradition of excellence in the Ivy League, and as a result, Princeton’s campus is exceedingly active. Close to forty-five percent of undergraduates compete in intercollegiate sports (twenty for men, eighteen for women), and Princeton’s basketball, lacrosse, squash, and field hockey teams are particularly strong. Many students also play one of Princeton’s thirty-five club sports, which include rugby, ballroom dancing, and Ultimate Frisbee. Those who aren’t athletically inclined can be found working out diligently in Dillon Gym or cheering on their athlete friends from the stands.


But that’s not to say that all tradition is lost. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Princetonians embrace and cherish the university’s time-honored rituals, from parading through the FitzRandolph Gate at the beginning of each year to celebrating the start of spring with concerts on the lawns of the university’s Eating Clubs, large houses where upperclassmen take their meals and socialize. Each year, before Commencement, thousands of alums descend onto campus for one of the largest Reunions celebrations in the country to reminisce about their college years and salute the new class of graduates. In the sea of orange and black, you can see Princeton in a nutshell—alive and accomplished, with a deep-rooted respect for the past coupled with an eye to the future.


Princetonians can be found in all fields, all around the world. In an exit survey of the class of 2008, 68.5 percent of students said they intended to enter the working world right away and 21.3 percent planned to pursue further education. Of those going to graduate school, twenty-one percent planned to go into medicine, fifteen percent were entering law school, and the rest were pursuing master’s degrees or doctorates in other subjects. A handful of others said they planned to travel, try out for professional sports teams, or join the military after graduation.

The common conception is that after graduation, all Princetonians participate in a mass exodus to Wall Street. For my group of friends, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Many took advantage of Princeton’s international postgraduate fellowship programs, such as Princeton-in-Asia, Princeton-in-Africa, and Princeton-in-Latin America. One friend shuffles between refugee camps in Ethiopia, another sends updates of her wilderness adventures in Nepal, and one spearheaded a performance of the ‘Vagina Monologues’ in Bangkok. Others decided to take public interest fellowships through Princeton’s Project 55, working in schools and nonprofits around the country. Still others were awarded Fulbright or Rhodes scholarships or decided to join Teach for America. And me? I decided to travel the world after graduation, visiting everyone!

Princeton provides a wealth of resources and post-graduate opportunities for students. Recent graduates can work for international nonprofits or schools around the world through Princeton-in-Asia, Princeton-in-Africa, and Princeton-in-Latin America, or provide domestic service through Princeton Project 55 fellowships. The Program in Teacher Preparation trains and places students interested in education, while the Princeton Army and Airforce ROTC prepares students for military service.

The Office of Career Services serves as a valuable resource for students, providing programs, counseling, and workshops. Students can join preprofessional organizations like the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Minority Business Association, or link up with alumni willing to give career advice (or jobs!) through the Alumni Careers Network. Hundreds of companies participate in oncampus job fairs, and many, particularly banks and consulting firms, work tirelessly to recruit students through swanky info sessions and private receptions.

One thing’s for sure—no matter where they are or what they do, most Princeton alums find a way to stay connected to the university. Each spring, thousands of alumni return to campus for the largest Reunions celebration in the country, and many participate in class committees, regional associations, and affiliated alumni groups. Alumni can even take onsite or online classes through the Alumni Association’s Education Program, or participate in family educational trips, with titles such as “Peru’s Treasures” and “Tuscany Family Escape,” with fellow alums through Princeton Journeys. Because of the unwavering loyalty of Princetonians near and far, the school consistently has one of the highest alumni giving rates in the country.

Prominent Grads

  • James Madison, 1771, fourth president of the United States
  • Woodrow Wilson, 1879, twenty-eighth president of the United States
  • Adlai Stevenson ’22, governor of Illinois, ambassador to the United Nations, and presidential candidate
  • Jimmy Stewart, ’32, actor
  • John Nash, PhD ’50, mathematician and Nobel Prize winner in economics
  • Donald Rumsfeld, ’54, U.S. congressman from Illinois and Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush
  • Ralph Nader, ’55, Green Party presidential candidate and consumer activist
  • Charlie Gibson, ’65, journalist and anchor of ABC World News Tonight
  • Steve Forbes, ’70, president and CEO of Forbes, Inc.
  • Queen Noor (Lisa Halaby), ’74, former queen of Jordan
  • Eric Schmidt, ’76, CEO of Google
  • Meg Whitman, ’77, former CEO of eBay
  • David Remnick, ’81, editor of The New Yorker
  • Michelle Obama, ’85, first lady of the United States
  • Brooke Shields, ’87, actress
  • Dean Cain, ’88, actor
  • Wendy Kopp, ’89, Teach for America Founder
  • Moshia Hamid, ’93, novelist


Princeton has more than 700 full-time faculty members and all of them teach undergraduates, making the student-faculty ratio 7-1. The faculty is top-notch. At any one time there may be six Nobel Prize winners teaching, or eighteen MacArthur Fellows. (MacArthur Foundation grants are sometimes referred to as “genius grants.”) And, yes, it can be exciting to bump into novelists Toni Morrison or Joyce Carol Oates coming out of the English department office. But it can be equally exciting to be on an adventure of discovery with a new assistant professor in the biology department. Because of its prestige, Princeton attracts the best and the brightest of candidates out of graduate schools, people who are doing the most up-to-the-minute research in their chosen fields.

I kept telling my roommate how much I enjoyed the preceptor of my United States and World Affairs course. She was young and had terrific energy and seemed to know everything. My roommate told me to invite her to dinner at our eating club. I didn’t think she’d come, but I asked her anyway. She said sure! A bunch of us sat around a table with her, all talking at once and having a great time. For that hour or so she seemed just like one of us—only a lot smarter!

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