PRINCETON UNIVERSITY (visited 7/29/13)
Janet Rapelye, the Dean of Admission, described Princeton as “A world-class institution with the heart and soul of a small liberal arts college. You have to be independent in your thinking and in your ability to do work. We need to see indications early that you can – and WANT – to do this! If you don’t want to dive into something and work with faculty, this is not the place for you.” Faculty members teach every class (TAs aren’t put in teaching positions) and classes are kept small. Our tour guide had 1 80-person class, 1 150-person class, and the rest have all had fewer than 30 students. The Freshman Writing Seminar is only required class (there is also a language requirement, but students can test out), and students can sign up for the theme/topic of their choice. Our tour guide’s class was “Main Street USA: What is Real America?”
Campus is beautiful; several movies have been filmed here, including “A Beautiful Mind,” and John Nash is still on campus: “Nash-sightings are big deals!” our tour guide said. The campus is also very walkable. Students tend to walk or use bikes to get to class. There are shuttle buses, but our tour guide said that most of the riders are visitors. Many of the buildings are large stone or brick structures, and many are old but well-kept-up. The Frist Campus Center is a multi-level structure (some of it is underground) with everything from classrooms to eating areas to student organization space. The TV show House used it for the exterior shots of the hospital (but unfortunately, the inside isn’t as pretty as the outside!). The non-denominational Chapel, built in 1925, can fit an entire class of 1300 students so they hold many of the opening and closing ceremonies there. The library has 3 floors above ground and 3 below with a total of 70 miles of stacks. The Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs/Policy building in an impressive structure that looks like it should be in Washington, DC. People play in the fountains in front (and there were a couple kids in it when we went by). There are two big traditions involving the fountain: when seniors finish their thesis, they jump in, and people float rubber duckies. When the football team wins, the marching band jumps in and plays (not so much fun in November!). Another beautiful place on campus is Prospect Garden, located next to what had been the President’s house (one of the wives had started the garden). The paths through the garden form the Princeton Crest.
An interesting fact about one of the dorms is that when it was built, it was the most expensive dorm in the country because it was the first with indoor plumbing. Students are guaranteed housing for all four years. Although they’re only required to live on campus for two years, 98% will stay on campus until they graduate. Students are randomly assigned to one of the 6 residential colleges as freshman; all colleges have several dorms and a dining hall (but they can eat anywhere), and general advising is done in the colleges until students declare a concentration. Students have 4 options for food after Junior year: they can stay in the Residential College, join a co-op, go independent (live in an apartment), or join one of 11 eating clubs (which are basically like frats or sororities built around food).
Reunion is a big tradition. 24,000 people came back last year, and there are concerts and other large events including a parade lead by the class having their 25th reunion. This year, the class holding their 50th reunion held up a sign that said, “We saw 1912 and 2012 march!” Princeton definitely instills a love for the college, and the kids we spoke to had nothing but rave reviews. Our tour guide got into another Ivy League college but choose Princeton because people were actually NICE – she said that when she visited the other campus, people barely spoke to her and didn’t seem to interact with each other to the extent that people at Princeton did. She loves the campus, but loves that there’s stuff to do off campus, too. There’s an on-campus train station allows students to connect around town as well as get into Philadelphia and New York City. Princeton students also go abroad a lot; 50% do a “meaningful study abroad experience” (more than a month), with 25% going to a non-English speaking country.
All AB students (students going for their Bachelor of Arts degree) write a Junior Year paper in their major and a Senior thesis which is bound and put into the library. Our tour guide is doing hers on Farm to School and the “extras in schools like gardens.” Others have written research papers or novels, composed jazz quartets, put together art portfolios, wrote Russian fairy tales (in Russian), and even do interdisciplinary theses. Because they can do this, they do not double major, but can do certificates (minors) in one or more areas and then incorporate much of this information into their thesis if they want to merge interests. They also offer a BSE (engineering) degree; 17% of the students are in this program.
Engineering applicants must submit a BSE statement/essay talking about their interest and background and need to submit SAT II scores from a Math and either the chemistry or physics exam. All other applications can submit SAT II scores from any two tests of their choice. Transcripts are one of the most important pieces of the applications: how students performed in high school is the best predictor of how they will perform in college. Essays and letters are important in terms of how they whittle down the list of accepted people; this helps them distinguish one bright student from another. They’re not interested in a separate resume because the activities are already listed on the application. They’re also more interested in quality rather than quantity: “No 17-year-old should have a 4-page resume.” Interviews (done by alums, in person, or through skype or phone) are available but not required or expected, but they can be helpful. It’s mostly informative but partially evaluative. It’s rare to get a red flag, but if there is one, they won’t ignore it, Sometimes the interviewer can provide information about the town or high school that helps them place the student’s application in context.
They offer a Single Choice/Restrictive Early Action option but no Early Decision. They do tend to accept more applicants from the Early Action pool, but much of this pool is self-selecting. They do not offer any merit scholarships; all aid is need-based, and they are need-blind in admissions because they have enough in endowment to do this. They meet need with grants and jobs; there are no loans. They require all students to fill out the Princeton Financial Aid Application which is free. They don’t use the CSS Profile because it costs money, and they don’t use the FAFSA to determine Princeton-based aid (although it’s required for federal programs), so families have until April 15 to submit this. International Students can get financial aid, as well. They do not need the TOEFL if they come from an English speaking school, but they can submit it if they think it will help.