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.
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.
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.
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
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
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!
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
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
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.
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
Student Financial Aid Details
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
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
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
- Princeton Capoeira: spreads Afro-
Brazilian culture through native martial
- Redheads Society: formed “with the
purpose of sharing and enjoying their
- Subtitles: hosts themed movie screenings,
including late night excursions to
see new films at the nearby Garden
- 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
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.
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.
- 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
- 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
- Michelle Obama, ’85, first lady of the
- Brooke Shields, ’87, actress
- Dean Cain, ’88, actor
- Wendy Kopp, ’89, Teach for America
- 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!