By the numbers
A brief history of admission to Princeton
Princeton NJ — This year, Princeton received applications from a record 17,563 students and offered admission to 10.2 percent of them (see story in this issue). The prospective students have impressive credentials both in and out of the classroom.
The process was quite a bit different soon after the College of New Jersey (as Princeton was then known) was founded in 1746:
• Admission to Princeton in the early years was based entirely on a knowledge of Latin and Greek, but by 1760 entering freshmen were required also to understand the principal rules of “vulgar arithmetic.” The president of the College personally examined each applicant and determined whether or not he should be admitted.
• Early one morning in the 1790s, Titus Hutchinson, who had come down from Vermont, called at Tusculum, the home of President John Witherspoon, to apply for admission. After morning prayers and breakfast with Witherspoon, Hutchinson was grilled by him in Latin and Greek and admitted, with the understanding that he was to occupy the coming vacation with the studies in which he was behind. Hutchinson graduated with honors in 1794 and later became chief justice of Vermont.
• With a substantially smaller population of men seeking a college education during those days, officials were reasonably excited when someone enrolled. Writing to a trustee in 1803, Chemistry Professor John Maclean Sr. ended his letter: “We got another student today.’’
• Thirty years later his son, Vice President John Maclean Jr., received a visit from James Moffat, a 22-year-old immigrant printer from Scotland sent to see him by a mutual friend. After an hour’s conversation about Latin and Greek, Maclean informed the young man, who had been unaware of what was transpiring, that he had been admitted to the junior class. Moffat wound up giving the valedictory at graduation in 1835 and was later a professor of classics at the College and the father of five Princeton-educated sons.
• The great increase in the number of applicants for admission to American colleges following World War I led the trustees in 1922 to adopt a policy of limited enrollment and selective admission in order to preserve the essential features of Princeton’s residential life and to maintain its standards of individual instruction. At the same time they created the office of director of admission.
Source: “A Princeton Companion” by Alexander Leitch