The academics are challenging but rewarding. You have to work extremely hard here, but there is always support if you are willing to look for it. There is a huge array of university sponsored support options (ex. tutoring), but I have found that my friends have been the biggest support. Princeton students are competitive, but not against each other. We all want to be above average, but I have never seen someone refuse to help someone else just to give themselves a leg up (I've heard some horror stories from other schools). In general there is a huge amount of support.
It's hard, it's satisfying; it will humble you, it will make you proud.
Princeton has a legendary reputation for academics and for good reason. No matter your field, you will find experts here, from classics to languages to economics to astronomy to engineering. Classes can get pretty tough sometimes, but most people know how to pace themselves and stay sane.
Though when taking introduction classes to specific subjects, lectures are large, however as soon as you start taking an higher level class you are in a class with very few students and the professor. It is very easy to get to know professors and vice versa. They are extremely accessible as well as being required to teach every lecture.
We get so many opportunities to take courses with excellent faculty - this is not limited to 'famous' faculty like Paul Krugman or Cornel West. In general, the quality of the faculty is unmistakeable - some of my younger, assistant professors have been so inspirational with their enthusiasm and knowledge of their subjects.
Princeton may have its issues, but this is the area at which it excels. I've studied abroad and experienced other universities through friends. Few compare to the level of intense intellectual growth demanded at Princeton. Class topics are far ranging, diverse, and allow for extensive specialization. Professors are almost always engaged, interested, and involved in each class.
They dump a lot of information on you and expect you to learn it all - well, most of it. It may seem impossible, but everyone learns through the process.
You also get access to elite professors as a perk.
The prospective Princeton student needs to be VERY careful with his or her course selection. It is all very dependent on the department and the professor or lecturer.
Some classes will be once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Other classes will have grad student instructors who are so unbelievably bad that you will improve your performance by not going to class and simply learning the material on your own.
Seek out student reviews of any course you plan to take. Sometimes the specific instructor can be WAY more important than objectively how interesting you think the material might be...there are numerous courses where a bad instructor manages to ruin interesting material.
The most exciting class I'm taking this semester is something I believe could only happen at Princeton: I'm in a freshman seminar taught by the university provost, Chris Eisgruber, on education policy. Prof. Eisgruber's probably one of the few people in the country most qualified to teach education policy, and here are 15 freshmen who get to sit around a table with him and talk about it.
That said, though, I don't think I was very savvy in my course choices my first semester. I actually wish I'd taken another freshman seminar about a subject I'm more interested in, and my French class is way over my head while my computer science class is a total joke, it's that easy. Next semester I'm hoping to choose better, and I think that there are some awesome opportunities of which to avail yourself here--though I think that most students see class as something to slog through. You may love the subject matter, want to do this for the rest of your life, whatever, but I think most people are still looking at their watches, on Facebook during lecture, and bullshitting their way through discussion (which we call "precept").
However, I was very surprised to see that here, everyone participates. Always. What a change from my high school--here everyone is always volunteering to read aloud or to contribute to the discussion--even in my French class, where there are some kids who really can't speak French, and that doesn't stop them.
I'm still adjusting from high school, and to me the workload is absolutely *grueling*--I understand that doesn't change. However, I do feel like I'm learning stuff from it. I may not always be interested in my classes right now, but there's no way it's just busywork, and I can see all this freshman-year basic stuff really morphing into hardcore academic pursuit by the time I have a major and independent work to do.
Hard. But worth it. A lot of professors put an amazing amount of thought into course design. They write new textbooks (COS126), totally rearrange the standard course into something more logical (CHM303), and respond to questions 25 hrs a day within 5 minutes (COS217).
Some subjects (premed classes) are more competitive than others, but in truth I found high school more competitive.
Briefly, Astrophysics is why I went to Princeton. Academics in general were important to me, yes, but I caught the Astro bug in high school and decided to apply early to Princeton after visiting and being very impressed with the school in general (gorgeous) and spending some time asking questions at and taking a tour of the department.
I didn't really fit in very well at Princeton (as a whole), but I have always been glad I went there, because I loved my department so much. The physics department is big and scary and there's a sense that if you're not destined to win a Nobel prize, you shouldn't even bother trying. The Astro department, on the other hand, feels like a big family. The professors are some of the most noted scientists in the field, but they prefer to be called by their first names. Their doors are always open and you, as an undergraduate, can drop by at any time. Most (not all) of them are good teachers, and you can work with just about anyone you like, on any subject. Junior papers and senior theses are taken seriously by the faculty, and the projects are often published. If you want to go to graduate school in Astrophysics, you won't go wrong by going here.
Astro is a very small department and only has a small number of majors each year. There are many advantages to its small size. For one, the undergraduates tend to become very good friends. Maybe it's because astro majors tend to have things in common, or maybe it's just because we spent so much time together, but my fellow classmates were some of my best friends on campus, and we still keep in touch even now, more than 5 years after graduating. We studied hard together and we relaxed together, and we always encouraged each other rather than being ultra-competitive.
In fact, I never got a really competitive vibe from any of my classmates, in any of my classes. We all compete -- but with ourselves. Inevitably freshmen will try at first to compete with each other to say the most brilliant thing in precept (small discussion sections that accompany lectures), especially if they are in the professor's precept(s), but this quickly falls away, at least in my experience. Discussions are usually lively, in and out of class.
Now, I should mention that things may have changed somewhat since I left. Since then, they have instituted a new anti-grade-inflation policy. Last I heard of it, it artificially restricted how many A's and B's a course could give out. This policy was absurd in the hard sciences (which have never had a problem keeping to the traditional "As only for true excellence" policy), but grade inflation certainly was a problem in many other departments. It used to be that earning an A would not preclude another person from earning another A, but that may not be the case anymore.
My classes were almost invariably interesting and well taught. Of the 38 classes I took at Princeton, only one could be called anything close to poorly taught/designed (ORF 307 Optimization: *gag*). The combination of bright and engaging professors who were passionate about their work and a shopping period that allowed you to sit in on many courses before you fully committed to them made it easy to fill your schedule with only worthwhile classes.
[It wasn't until the semester after I took ORF 307 that I began to take full advantage of the shopping period. This feature is often ignored by the younger students who are used to a high school schedule largely set in stone.]
I found that not only were professors willing to entertain you at their mandatory office hours (the weekly time each professor sets aside to chat with students), they were also eager to chat with you after classes, to carry on lengthy email discussions about your latest questions and theories, and to schedule face-to-face meetings whenever the need arose. Most of the professors I've had were also hungry for student feedback: they care, and they'll gladly sit with you for an hour just to get advice on how to improve their courses.
This would be a good time to mention that Princeton really is an undergraduate-focused university. Unlike at most major universities, the Princeton graduate school is only a fraction of the size of the undergraduate body. This means that professors have more time to dedicate to undergraduates: both in terms of teaching and research opportunities.
Stressful and overwhelming are apt terms for the Princeton academic load, particularly in freshman year when students are still adapting to the college environment, still figuring out that all important work/life balance, still learning to manage their time, still determining what a reasonable class load is, and just discovering that they're not the superstar in every single class any more (a first exposure to B's and C's is unsettling for many). Part of the problem is that the Princeton academic semester is shorter than most (there is some talk of changing this), and part is that Princeton classes cram A LOT of work into each semester.
I remember feeling particularly stressed in my first semester when I took Physics 105 (an advanced mechanics course), Math 215 (single variable real analysis), Spanish 207 (studies in Spanish language and style), my Writing Seminar (the Race Debate in the Modern U.S.), and Computer Science 126 (General Computer Science), because I felt like the stream of work was never ending. Whenever I finished one problem set/paper/homework assignment, it was just in time to start the next, and there was seldom time to explore a subject more deeply than what was called for by the class assignments. I realized by the end that I had overloaded myself. Even though these were the classes that I placed into when AP/SAT II scores were considered, there was no reason why I had to take five of them, and no reason why I had to take them all at once. (Side note: as a Bachelor of Arts, you will never need to take 5 classes in a semester, but Bachelors of Science and Engineering need to take 5 courses roughly every other semester.) Additionally, most people would recommend taking fewer courses or an easier load when taking your writing seminar, since this class can demand a lot of your time.
In any case, I survived, as most people do, and in the subsequent semester I thought more carefully about the balance of my classes: how much time would I need to spend in class/lab/precept, how many problem set versus homework versus paper-writing classes should I have, how large and difficult would the workload be for each class, how many midterms and finals would their be and how much of the grade depends on them, did I leave space for lunch? Although it's tempting to just jump into all of the classes that sound interesting to you, I've found that this sort of holistic schedule planning can do wonders for your subsequent semester stress level (and I have to say that my second semester was much less stressful!)
To sum up:
Is there a lot of (dare I say, too much) work? Yes!
Can it be stressful? Yes!
Can it be mediated? Yes!
The beautiful thing about Princeton is that in nearly every field, you'll find someone who will amaze you with his/her knowledge, accomplishments, or passion. The most common question during freshman year is, "Why did I ever think I was good at X?" (The trick is to channel that shock and awe into inspiration. :) ) You have to remember that Princeton is home to some of the most accomplished and passionate young adults in the nation; I never failed to be amazed by anyone I met there.
I have to admit -- the prospect of having regular, spontaneous intellectual discussions with other students was one of the aspects of college I most eagerly awaited. This did happen, but not to the degree I had hoped (in part because I wasn't actively initiating these discussions and in part because of busy schedules). Princeton did offer many ways to inject a less spontaneous but by no means less satisfying level of peer discussion into my regular schedule though. These included weekly discussion clubs like Paideia (a dinner-discussion club, led by a different professor each week) and Sustained Dialogue (a student dialogue and action group which focused largely on topics of race at Princeton). These club meetings often sparked longer discussions/debates among students that would last late into the night. They also offered good ways to meet other students interested in intellectual discourse.
The Classics Department at Princeton is small and amazing. The professors not only know my name, but sometimes we go out to lunch or coffee. However, Princeton is not like high school. Classes are extremely difficult, and the independent work that is required, like Junior Papers and the Thesis, are intimidating and stressful. Don't come here unless you are willing to work. In the end, you will graduate as a much better writer and conversationalist, so it is worth it. The job market recognizes this, and many firms come to Princeton and other Ivy League schools first (and sometimes do not recruit at other colleges).
Classes are hard, but if you're going to complain about Princeton being too hard then don't come, I mean it's the best school in the country, of course it's hard. Many of the classes are big lectures and when I was in high school I thought that I wouldn't like that, but the fact of the matter is that the professors here are some of the most famous academics in the world and big classes let everyone experience them, which is good. Lectures always are accompianed by precept as well, which is a small class setting with a TA or sometimes the professor. There would never be a lecture that didn't have a precept too. If you want to get to know a professor that's easy to do. Almost all professors like talking to people that are interested in what they teach so lunch meetings and whatnot are easy to arrange. A Princeton education is geared towards whatever you want it to be. If you want to live your life researching in the world of academia then go for it. If you wanna be an Ibanker then you can do that too.
Are tough, but do-able. Especially if you come from a high school that prepares you well. Don't get discouraged if you don't get all A's. Everyone did in high school. No one does anymore...its Princeton
Academics are difficult especially given grade deflation. However, while it is very hard to get an A, getting a B isn't very hard. The professors in upper level classes will know you and take time to answer your questions and see how you're doing. Independent work is a major focus and is worth the time and effort it takes. My department is molecular biology which tends to be a magnet for pre-meds. This can make things a bit more competitive but the classes are interesting and the professors are brilliant.
As a former MOL major and now econ major, I think only one professor knows my name because of all the large lecture classes I go to. My favorite class was a crossover class between WWS and ECO, Economics and Public Policy. My freshman seminar was terrible.
I would say the economics department as a whole is very job oriented. There are many finance classes and being in an atmosphere so charged about i-banking and consulting is somewhat anti-intellectual.
are tough but manageable. depending on your future plans, you can squeek by doing really not that much work at all with gentlemans Cs, some work and take the esaiest classes and do well, some work and take hard classes and do mediocre, or a shitload of work and hard classes and do well if youre smart, for princeton standards which are high.
I study quite a bit, but this is because I am pre-med. However, don't be fooled, everyone has to do some work one way or another. In most classes, class participation is crucial, competition is tense, and workload is tough but manageable. Students are able to get very close to professors because of the relatively small class sizes, and students are easily able to get extra help whenever needed through classes taught by the T.A.s (precepts) or office hours.
All of my departmental professors knew my name. Each teacher seems to genuinely care about their students doing well in the class and that shows in their effort. Students are very into their studies, yet willing to help out fellow classmates. However, there is a small portion of overly competitive cut throat students. BEWARE.
Professors are very dedicated to making sure students are on the right track and interested in the material. They hold regular office hours and both challenge the students and welcome their curiosity.
The academics are amazing. You really can make as much work for yourself as you want to. Everything is here for you if you go after it. In smaller lectures and precepts you will have the chance to get to know professors, but in the end you have to make the effort.
It's not hard to forge connections with professors - they'll invite you over for dinner and are more than willing to spend hours talking outside of class or to write a recommendation. That said, expectations are high and you will not do well if you don't prepare weekly for precept (or lab if that's the case). Academics at Princeton are highly demanding, and will increase in difficulty and pressure with each year as independent work mounts. There is no such thing as breezing through Princeton on the basis of your accomplishments in high school, so don't be complacent. Whether out of consideration for pure intellectual interest or their participation grades, students speak up in precept and lecture and questions are common and insightful. The best classes provoke intellectual conversations that continue out of class. While Princeton's academics will be excellent preparation for a job interview or for analytical work in, for example, consulting, the University is extremely adamant about retaining its liberal arts base and for producing well-rounded, well-read students who are comfortable with everything from Kant to kinetics at a cocktail party.
Students study at all times. I have never seen such a studious group of people. Princeton Students have intellectual conversations outside of class very often. The education at princeton is geared towards learning for its own sake however, the atmosphere is geared toward success in one's job so you end up feeling a lot of pressure to conform.
Classes and professors are wonderful. Religion department is amazing--all the professors know your name. Professors are in general very approachable.
Liberal Arts. There's a lot of freedom here and the departments have too much money you can do a lot of cool projects.
Most of my classes are very small and almost all of my teachers know my name. The level of attention I receive on a daily basis from my professors certainly helps my understanding of the material. One thing to know is that students are very competitive and it is very challenging to get an A in a class.
many of my professors know my name. my favorite class at the moment is probably religion in modern thought and film. it deals with the philosophy proving/disproving religion. my least favorite is an astrophysics course that im pdfing. i dont go to lecture so its unfair to call it such really. studying varies sooo much. some study all the time and others hardly at all. class participation is fairly common depending on the size of the class and the style of teacher. students do have inellectual convos outside of class. competitiveness varies a lot. the most unique class i have taken would probably be this religion class or my early middle ages history class. my major is religion. it is a small department with great teachers and majors. i do sometimes meet to talk with professors. the requirements are not bad at all and probably worthwhile. the education is geared toward learning.
If you're considering coming to Princeton, you have to face a couple facts: (1) the admissions committee has the incredibly difficult task of creating a freshman class from an enormous pool of some of the most academically-gifted and otherwise-talented students in the world (caveat: you can't get in if you don't apply!); and (2) the university doesn't maintain its prestigious academic reputation by allowing its students to hang out in the Woody Woo fountain or on Alexander Beach all day (both excellent ways to de-stress though).
Typically, students will take four classes per semester with about 11-15 hours of class per week. Engineers take five classes some semesters and may have up to 18 hours of class per week. While it might be easy to sleep through a 9am economics lecture, good luck catching up on the material since most of the time lectures are different and in addition to the readings that are assigned. Moreover, a lot of classes won't be with 200 or 50 or even 20 other students. The vast majority of classes at Princeton are smaller seminars and classes that require engagement with the material and active participation. Even if participation doesn't really affect your grade, you don't want to be the only person in the room who hasn't done the reading... especially when there are only 10 other people in the room. As a result, you'll find that people put a lot of time into their studies outside of class. While very few people make this their only activity, it is priority #1 for most students, which is the only way it can be when you have 200 pages of history reading, an oral presentation in French, a politics paper, and a creative writing assignment all due in one week. The plus side? Classes are hardly ever boring. Professors rarely gloss over broad topics to try and pack everything into one semester. Instead, your transcript is littered with amazing titles of diverse fields of inquiry like a French course in Jewish identities in post-WWII France and an electrical engineering course on the applications of lasers and other high-technology innovations in everyday life.
Only AB students have the pleasure of being on a first name basis with their professors. And even in that set, you have to brown nose your way to the top of the pile of assholes in front of you doing the same thing.
Depends on the class. Large ones, it'll depend on whether you take the time to make the effort. Smaller ones, of course they'll know your name.
Professors always know your name. Most classes are 20-30 people with "precepts" where small groups meet to discuss/strudy the material under the guidance of a TA or professor. No classes are actually taught by a TA, always a professor. The lady who taught my freshman calculus class had won a nobel prize. Professors also have an open door policy, so even though they have office hours, you can still walk in any time they are around to ask questions. I have never been turned away when I had a question, no matter how busy the professor. Classes are VERY hard.
It really depends on which department you are in. The English professors are really wonderful at getting to know their students. The same goes for history and language professors. It's harder in the sciences because the classes are so large, but if you put in the effort your face will be recognized.
Students study all the time and are extremely competitive. It's often difficult to find study groups because students can be so against helping others succeed.
professors can be great and the classes truly inspirational, however there is too much homework.
The academics are very stimulating and you can get as much help or go into as much depth as you want. However, grade deflation leads to a slightly stressful environment and only further encourages the already competitive nature of many of the students.
Princeton is challenging, probably more challenging than the other ivys due to the new grade deflation policy. One thing about Princeton is that there is a very big difference between people who major in the sciences and engineering and those who study the humanities. Humanities does not usually have Friday class. There are usually fewer hours spent in class for humanities students, and more importantly, more A's are given out in humanities classes. Most employers do not care what you major in when you attend Princeton, so maximizing GPA can be achieved by picking an easier major.
I think academics at Princeton was a challenging but rewarding experience. Pretty much everyone at Princeton comes out of high school with straight A's and 15 extra-curricular activities. But then they come to Princeton and are surrounded by an entire population of people who got straight A's and partook in many activities in high school. So its definitely challenging. I had to think outside the box a lot more than I ever did in high school.
Even though it is challenging, I think the professors really want the students to learn and understand material, and thus are very approachable and willing to help. I was an ORFE major and my professors often had weekly office hours and were willing to make individual appointments with students as well. If they weren't available, there were often TA's that were available for help as well.
At Princeton, class sizes can vary from huge lectures of hundreds of students to an intimate class of 20. However, for the very large classes "precepts" of 5-10 students are held and facilitated by a TA. Students can get to know their preceptors pretty well, and it is often these individuals who are asked to write recommendation letters. Most students participate in precepts, as participation factors into the class grade.
Professors are accessible for both large and small classes easily by email and appointments. Time is sometimes spent with professors outside class (meals usually), but I did not spend much time with my professors outside class. Professors will know your name if you make an effort to know them. Many students do have intellectual conversations outside of class, and there are students who are competitive.
I was a part of the Chemical Engineering department, and found the departments requirements to be very rigorous. The engineering school has different requirements when compared to the main undergraduate school. The engineering department is very well organized, and does its best to work with its students. Some students are deterred by the extra course requirements for engineers, but the engineering departments are currently growing.
Professors know your name. Students study very hard and are very busy but it is possible to be involved in lots of extracurriculars. Some students have intellectual conversations outside of class, but you have to find the right crowd... some students, especially pre-meds, tend to be competitive, but I have never had a bad experience there. I like small departments becuase then you can get a lot of attention and a lot of feed back, and more flexibility for what you need. the academic requirements are okay-- I think it is too easy to be too spread out in your classes adn not focus and become a semi-expert on one thing. Beign at Princeton also opens a lot of doors for jobs later.
-Students are very driven and ambitious, but not cutthroat.
I am so grateful that Princeton pushed me to work as hard as I did. I'd like to think that I developed irreversible time management skills, transferable to any field of study or profession. That being said, the pressure I felt to excel in my classes was self-inflicted and self-managed. I really wouldn't say Princeton is a competitive place; I know that others would disagree, but I considered the ethos to be productive and constructive, not divisive or cutthroat. Yes, there is no doubt an abundance of high-achieving students; Princeton's academic resources are just too compelling to pass up!
In terms of professor accessibility, I cannot imagine a more undergraduate-friendly faculty. I connected with several long-standing professors, within and beyond my department, and they have all taken an interest in my growth/development outside the classroom.
Course offerings are stellar. The flipside, though, is that academic advising is not one of Princeton's strong suits, and freshmen can have a tough time navigating the (admittedly overwhelming, at first glance) course catalog. I never had trouble getting in to a course. If the class is officially "closed," an email of expressed interest to the professor usually gets the job done.
One small note: there are tons of great hidey-holes to study on campus. Finding a few and making them your own is highly recommended.
This may shock you, but Princeton is very good at academics. Good teachers, great precept system, and a name that opens doors. Academically, Princeton will get you where you want to go.
My more personal take: the engineering is great and the liberal arts are even better, so if you're an engineer but think you might leave for liberal arts, there really is no better place to go than Princeton.
Note on the grade inflation policy: Princeton has recently started cracking down on grade inflation by asking professors to give fewer A's to students. Everyone worries about the grade inflation policy. If you're an engineer, don't. We never noticed a difference. If you're in liberal arts, this will make your grades slightly lower than they would have been a few years ago. Whether this bothers you is up to you.
In general, professors know your name if you make the effort to know them. Very few actually reached out to get to know students personally, one on one, if the class size was larger than 50 students. One of my favorite class was Professor Harvey Rosen's Public Finance class. Having been on Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, he brought a certain amount of practical knowledge and wit to the class, showing us real life examples of what actually happened versus what actually occurred. He was also my preceptor and invited us all over to his house for coffee and dessert--the only professor to have done so in my four years at school. Students study as often as they find personally necessary which varies amongst students as well as the courses they are taking. Class participation is common more so when it affects your grade. Princeton students do have intellectual conversations outside of class and can be competitive. Some of the more unique classes I took include Creative Writing (with various professors), Molecular Biology 101, and Public Finance. My major is Operations Research and Financial Engineering--the most flexible (and thus least difficult) engineering major offered. Most students (minus a handful) enter the financial and/or consulting industry from this major immediately post graduation. Very few enter into public service or advanced learning. I do not usually spend time with professors outside of class unless for office hours or if they are preceptors. Princeton's academic requirements are flexible, which is good, but tend to favour the more liberal arts courses instead of math and science. This, of course, is a reflection of the academic requirements across all ivy leagues in general currently. The education at Princeton is claimed to be geared toward learning for its own sake.
Sometimes it's hard to get to know professors well.
Intellectual conversations outside of class have been some of the most positive academic experiences I've had a Princeton. Students take intellectual topics seriously, and usually without capriciousness. Most people here are fairly well-read in at least one or two subject areas, and there's ample opportunity to learn from peers here. Very rarely have I run into studens who waste class time by asking obvious questions, missing the point, or unpreparedness.
Most professors don't know my name
Favorite class - a number of enjoyable ones
Least favorite - advanced multi-variable calculus, which was really difficult and had only grad students for professors who usually didn't speak good English, material was dry as well, and the textbook wasn't great either
I would say that one drawback of Princeton is that you don't really get to know professors easily in the first two years. I think it gets better when you choose a major, but if you aren't really proactive about going to office hours and everything, you don't get to know teachers well. This is one way that makes me miss high school. But when your professor is someone like Peter Singer (famous ethicist) or Joyce Carol Oates (creative writing prof and famous author), it's hard to complain.
Sure there are big lectures that suck, but there are also a good share of wonderful inspirational professors that are eager to talk to you, get to know you, and help you with anything. I've been lucky to find a bunch of these. My film professor offered me a job freshman year, and my English professor once invited the whole class over for dinner, just to chat about anything and everything.
Students aren't that competitive really. We all know from the start that everyone's smart, so there doesn't feel a pressure to prove it. If we're competitive, it's a totally internal thing, like we're pushing ourselves to do our own personal best.
I'm not a fan of the distribution requirements Princeton makes us all fulfill. We all need to take a math class and two science classes, among other things, but to be honest, I don't think I'll need that background when I'm working as an art historian.
Depends on the class. I was in some classes where the professor took time to know each student, but in other classes, they let the TA's take over. Mostly for the math/econ/ORF classes, the professors didn't really know individual students (still depends on the class though)- the paper-oriented classes were better. Academics takes up a lot of time at Princeton, people study for several hours every day. I didn't find much competitiveness though. Princeton is definitely not geared toward getting a job- its very theoretical. This is good in some ways but it put me in a disadvantage in my job. But they definitly emphasize taking a wide variety of classes, which is something I'm now able to appreciate.
My favorite class was an international dance class. It was small, was taught by well-known dancers, and had a good mix of academics and actual dancing. I'd suggest that everyone take at least one dance class.
I think if you make an effort to meet professors, they do a really great job of remembering you and your name. It's definitely a lot easier once you have your major picked out and start working on your thesis, but I think more students should take advantage of professors' availability as a freshmen. I know I was too intimidated to talk to Professors, but looking back I wish I had. My favorite class was abnormal psych with Professor Litchman. It's definitely not easy, but a must take at Princeton! My least favorite class was probably physics... and that's not hard to figure out why when I'm not a sciency person.
Students definitely have intellectual conversations outside of class. It's not unusual to see two friends debating about a number of topics over dinner or in the common room. The students at Princeton are ridiculously competitive sometimes. We are all overachievers, so when you put all of us in one place, it can get a little tense.
The most unique class I took was on broadway musicals. It was so different but so interesting too! I've had dinner with a few professors outside of class. It always makes for a fun meal. The academic requirements at Princeton are pretty fair, and you still have lots of room to take classes that you want to enjoy as well. The thesis can be a huge pain, but it can also be very rewarding when it's all said and done. I think the Princeton education is what you make of it. You can learn to learn or to get a job.
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