Chartered in 1746 under British colonial rule, Princeton University is the fourth oldest college in the United States. For nearly fifty years the entire college was housed in Nassau Hall, a building which claimed historical fame during the Revolutionary War when it was struck by a cannonball at the Battle of Princeton in 1777.
In 1783 Nassau Hall subsequently hosted the Continental Congress, briefly becoming the United States capitol. The university has since expanded dramatically in both land and population, but Nassau Hall still stands today as a reminder of Princeton’s mark on the history of our country.
Princeton University’s suburban campus covers 600 acres in Princeton, NJ. The architecture ranges from neo-Gothic in the portions of campus usually shown on tours to more modern buildings (not on the tour routes).
Frist Campus Center, a dining and social hub, was built in 2001 in the middle of Princeton’s campus. Dillon Gymnasium is also conveniently located near the campus’s center. The university’s six residential colleges for underclassmen are interspersed across campus with academic buildings. Mathey and Rockefeller Colleges are in the northwest corner; Forbes College is in the southwest corner, as is Whitman College, which opened in 2007; and Wilson and Butler Colleges, the most centrally-located, are slightly southwest of Frist Campus Center.
Princeton, New Jersey is an upscale college town that features lots of high-end stores and restaurants, with some bargain eateries in the mix as well. It’s about an hour from New York City and Philadelphia.
The town of Princeton seems smaller than a lot of other college towns, and perhaps a little higher end than some, with less specifically geared to students. However, the area is beautiful, quiet, and very safe. I feel like I would be safe walking around here at any time of day or night. Lots of good restaurants in walking distance, but a trip to route one by car or bus is necessary for larger-scale shopping trips.
Princeton students subscribe to the lore that those who walk out through FitzRandolph Gates, on the campus’s northern border, won’t graduate. As reported by Hannah McDonald-Moniz ’10: “Nassau Hall, Princeton’s iconic original building, is separated from Nassau Street by the large, official gates to campus, called the FitzRandolph gates. The largest, central entrance is where freshmen enter after convocation (during the Pre-Rade welcoming them to campus), and where graduating seniors exit at the P-Rade during Reunions. Until that time, superstition has it that you can’t walk out that gate otherwise you won’t graduate. Everyone takes that pretty seriously; I don’t know anyone who has actually done it.”
The alcohol-focused eating club culture fosters a tradition known as the Prospect 10 (until recently, when Campus Club closed, the Prospect 11), at which students drink a beer at each eating club along the street. As reported by Hannah McDonald-Moniz ’10: “Though there’s no specific stipulation as to when students should do this, it’s still considered an important feat to accomplish sometime during your four years here, if possible. This involves drinking one beer at each club on the Street in a single night. The hardest part about this challenge, in many ways, is finding a night when all the clubs are open, obtaining passes to the selective clubs, and managing to make the rounds before they close.”
Another eating club tradition is a weekend-long series of parties each year. As reported by Hannah McDonald-Moniz ’10: “Each spring, during the weekend after classes end for the spring semester (around the first week in May, typically), each eating club hosts three days of parties, called Houseparties, for its members and their dates. Friday is a formal night (usually dinner and a band or DJ), Saturday is a semiformal (same), and Sunday is another round of Lawnparties (also held in the fall; an afternoon of pastels and bands on the lawn). Houseparties are a huge preoccupation (dates, dresses, etc…think three days of prom) come springtime, but also one of the most fun weekends of the year, involving lots of drinking, music, photo-taking, and dress-up.”
Princeton University’s a cappella groups hold biweekly archsings, at which each group performs a few songs in one of the university’s archways.
Every semester, all students’ written work is due on Dean’s Date, before finals begin. That night, students who don’t have finals the next morning celebrate at the eating clubs. And students in Holder Hall, a dormitory in Rockefeller College (“Rocky”), participate in the “Holder Howl.” As reported by Katharine Westfall ’09: “Living in Holder Hall as a freshman, sophomore, and now an RA, I have experienced another bizarre tradition of stress relief. Every year at midnight on Dean’s Date, students lean their heads out of their windows and howl as loudly as they can. My freshman year I was terrified because I had no idea what it meant. I now know it’s called the Holder Howl.”
If Princeton beats both Yale and Harvard in football, the university holds a giant bonfire behind Nassau Hall. As reported by Katharine Westfall ’09: “I will never forget the huge bonfire that lit up the green behind Nassau Hall in 2007 when Princeton won the Ivy League football championship. Princeton had waited twelve years for this bonfire, and it was probably the largest communal gathering I have ever witnessed here.”
Aaron Burr (1772) was the third vice president of the United States.
David Duchovny (1982) acted in films and television shows including The X-Files.
F. Scott Fitzgerald (attended) wrote The Great Gatsby.
Charlie Gibson (1965) hosted Good Moring America and is an anchor for ABC World News Tonight.
John F. Kennedy (attended) was the 35th president of the United States.
James Madison (1771) was the fourth president of the United States.
Ralph Nader (1955) is a Green Party candidate for president.
Brooke Shields (1987) is an actress and model.
Jimmy Stewart (1932) was an Academy Award-winning actor.
Woodrow Wilson (1879) was the 28th president of the United States.
Princeton’s 38 varsity sports teams complete in the NCAA’s Division I. The school also offers almost 40 club teams, and more than half of the student body competes at the club or varsity level. There are about 300 intramural sports teams as well.
Princeton’s men’s and women’s crew teams have won a number of NCAA and Eastern Sprints titles in the past few years. Between 2001 and 2004, Princeton’s teams won 36 Ivy League conference titles, and in 2005, the soccer team was the first Ivy League team to advance to the NCAA’s Final Four. And between 1992 and 2001, the men’s basketball team competed in the NCAAs four times. The men’s lacrosse team has been particularly successful, with thirteen Ivy League titles and six national titles since the 1990s.
As reported by Katharine Westfall ’09:
“Princeton is not exactly known for its skill or prowess on the football field, but the Homecoming game against either Harvard or Yale draws a huge, enthusiastic crowd every year. In 2006 the Tigers won the Ivy League and the university celebrated with a bonfire of epic proportions. Lately, Princeton’s lacrosse and basketball teams have seen a lot of success, and the hockey team has been featured on NHL.com.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise is based on his years as a Princeton student.
Albert Einstein worked at Princeton’s “Institute for Advanced Study.”
The Princeton University Chapel is the third-largest university chapel in the world.
Princeton’s endowment is the fourth-largest in the nation and the greatest per-student endowment in the world.
Princeton has hosted several presidents: James Madison and Woodrow Wilson, who graduated; John F. Kennedy, who left after his first semester and transferred to Harvard; and Grover Cleveland, who served as a trustee.
Princeton’s 2008 graduation speakers were Stephen Colbert and Paul Farmer.
Underclassmen at Princeton live in one of the university’s six residential colleges, while upperclassmen live in dorms unaffiliated with these colleges. However, the university is currently introducing a four-year residential college system at Whitman and Mathey Colleges as an alternative to the eating club system (which many students use as a dining option after sophomore year).
Freshmen are randomly assigned to one of six residential colleges for their first two years at Princeton. These placements give each student a different perspective on life at Princeton. ‘Up-campus’ colleges Rockefeller and Mathey are the oldest and most Gothic in architecture. With their stone walls and traditional courtyards, these are the dorms that are most often photographed for postcards and guidebooks. Butler and Wilson colleges, on the other hand, were mainly built during the latter half of the 20th century, and while they offer both large suites and more singles than Rocky/Mathey, are generally considered less attractive. In the fall of 2007, in fact, the university razed most of Butler College and began construction on a more up-to-date facility. The dorms that were once known for cement walls and waffle ceilings will soon be the newest, and possibly most luxurious, on campus.
Because it was once a hotel, Forbes College has its benefits, like a large number of singles with private bathrooms. The major drawbacks to Forbes, however, are somewhat more notable. Rooms in the addition that was built to add more space are graced with cinderblock walls and a sort of basement or temporary housing feel. Additionally, Forbes is not technically on Princeton’s campus, and thus the commute to class can be long and irritating. However, because of its slightly isolated location, I think it is safe to say that Forbes residents develop the strongest community bond and allegiance of any of the residential colleges, plus they have the luck to enjoy a view of the golf course every day. Finally, Whitman is the newest residential college, built to look like an old, long-standing part of the campus, but what it really resembles is a massive fortress. Still, with air-conditioning and shiny new hallways, Whitman is generally considered the nicest place to live.
Upper-class housing offers countless options, from the off-campus vegetarian co-op to Scully Hall, the long snake of a building that sits at the very bottom of campus. Additionally, Dodd Hall has the best senior housing with tons and tons of recently renovated singles and an attractive basement study area. Also popular are ‘the slums,’ which are really not what they sound. Architecturally similar to much of Rocky College, these dorms are simply not as shiny on the inside. Nevertheless many upperclassmen, especially those who are looking for quads, draw into this series of dorms between the U-Store and the Dinky station.
Entering junior year, students have a number of choices regarding housing, which is largely related to their eating decision. Those who wish can remain in a residential college (either Mathey or Whitman) and continue to eat at the dining hall (this living option is also available to those who negotiate a split meal plan with their eating club). RA’s also live in their respective residential colleges, and get dining meal plans, although they can be club members as well. Independent students get priority in the draw, and are allowed to live in the apartment-style Spelman dorms, which have kitchens, or just choose rooms near other dormitory kitchens. Members of the dining co-ops have first priority to choose dorms near those kitchen facilities as well (Brown and 2 Dickenson). Lastly, there are a number of upperclassmen dorms, where the vast majority of juniors and seniors choose to live.
Seniors get to draw rooms before juniors, meaning that they usually boast the nicest rooms, and juniors, except those who are exceptionally high on the draw list, usually get some of the worst room options. Most of the upper-class rooms are in the same area, known as ‘the slums’ (although not an accurate description), with the exception of the Dodd (a very nice dorm, mostly seniors), Brown (known to be less nice, but generally pretty social), Little, and Scully (farthest away, mostly single rooms, boasts air conditioning). The slums area is usually very social and active, especially when the weather gets warmer and many people can be found tanning, playing Frisbee, and studying out in the courtyard.