Frequently Asked Questions
1. Do I really have as much free time as my schedule indicates?
You will probably find that the number of hours you spend in the classroom in college will be fewer than in high school. Even if you have many unscheduled hours each day, you will still need to dedicate a number of them to keeping up with the work in your courses. The shift from classroom work to self-scheduled study is one of the key adjustments to college life. No one expects you to spend every possible moment in the library or at your desk, but it is essential that you budget your time and keep up with your work.
2. Should I take four or five courses during the fall term of freshman year?
The standard course load during the fall term of freshman year is four courses. Although many students may see that they have open class hours and could schedule the class meetings of a fifth course, our experience has been that it is better to get used to the rigor and pace of studies at Princeton in four courses for one term before attempting to take on an extra course. Even if the class hours are free, most students find that they have more than enough work to do in four courses, especially at the end of the term and during reading period. Moreover, there is more to college than classroom study, and you should explore the range of activities that are available to Princeton students. If you feel that there are sound educational reasons for taking five courses, you should discuss the matter with your adviser; be aware, though, that only in very unusual cases will a five-course first semester be approved.
3. Do I need to take a language placement test?
All A.B. candidates who have not fulfilled the language requirement on the basis of advanced placement must study a language at Princeton. If you wish to continue studying a language that you have previously studied in high school, you will need to take a placement test. Placement tests in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, or Spanish should be taken online during the summer. You may access the test by way of Your Path to Princeton website, which will provide detailed instructions and access information. Placement tests in Hebrew, Latin, and Russian will be administered during orientation. Information on placement in other languages will be available during course registration at the Friend Center. If you would like to study a new language at Princeton, you may simply register for the first course in the language sequence (normally 101).
If you are taking a language course to meet the A.B. language requirement, it is advisable to get started as soon as possible. Beginning language courses (French 101, Spanish 101, Chinese 101, for example) are not offered in the spring term, so if you are starting from the 101 level and choose not to take a language course in your first semester, you will have to wait until the fall of your sophomore year. This, in turn, means that you would be completing the language requirement during your junior year, along with junior independent work and departmental courses. If you are entering a language at the 105 or 108 level, you risk forgetting what you know if you wait until sophomore year to fulfill the requirement. The best advice is to complete the language requirement without delay. Remember that a 101-level language course will not count toward your degree unless you take the 102-level course as well.
4. Can I switch between A.B. candidacy and B.S.E. candidacy (or vice versa)?
Every year some students enter Princeton as candidates for the A.B. degree but decide that they are really interested in engineering. Permission is granted for such changes on a case-by-case basis. Students who wish to change from A.B. to B.S.E. must plan their academic programs carefully, for there are basic requirements for the B.S.E. degree that must be met prior to the sophomore year, especially in physics and math. Similarly, some students who enter as candidates for the B.S.E. degree decide that they prefer to study in the A.B. program instead. Again, changes are possible. A major consideration in changing from B.S.E. to A.B. candidacy is the A.B. language requirement. Students who wish to change degree candidacy should consult first with the associate dean for undergraduate affairs in the School of Engineering and Applied Science (258-4554, Room C-209), and then with their residential college dean or director of studies.
5. I want to run for class office, work on The Daily Princetonian, do community service work, manage a student agency, and play water polo. How will I ever find time for my studies?
In high school many Princeton students were accustomed to doing it all -- activities, clubs, and sports -- and still doing very well in their studies. College is different. First, and most apparent, is the fact that the academic work is more rigorous and moves at a quicker pace. Second, the activities are also much more demanding in the expectations and responsibilities placed on those who do them seriously. The best advice is not to spread yourself too thin among too many extracurriculars, but to take part in only one or two at any one moment. Remember also that extracurriculars are just that -- extra -- and that they must not take precedence over your academic work. Know when to back off on your involvement in extracurriculars when you feel your studies slipping.
6. What if I have trouble with my computer?
You can request an in-room visit from one of your student technology consultants (www.princeton.edu/stc). STCs are fellow students the University has hired and trained to make your computing life easier. The OIT Help Desk is available around the clock, seven days a week for consultation via telephone, email, Twitter, and interactive chat (258-HELP, email@example.com, @puoitsoc, www.princeton.edu/helpdesk). The OIT Solutions Center at the Frist Campus Center can help with all your computing needs, from problem diagnosis to computer software and accessory purchases; see www.princeton.edu/solutionscenter. For complete information about the resources available to you -- including information about purchasing a computer if you need to -- see the OIT student web pages (www.princeton.edu/oit/students).
7. Do I need to attend all my classes?
Lectures and precepts not only provide factual and critical information but also are extremely important in indicating approaches to further study of the material on your own. Be sure to take notes. It is true that in many cases your presence at a large lecture might not be missed, while in a precept your absence is much more apparent. Nonetheless, all academic exercises are important parts of the curriculum. Borrowing someone's lecture notes, besides being an imposition, can be risky. The person from whom you borrow notes may not have caught the main points of the lecture, and you certainly will miss altogether the subtle asides from the lecture that add depth to the material. Lecture notes from others do not capture slides or other visual aids used by professors either. If you have to miss a class or precept due to a University-sponsored activity, notify your instructor ahead of time. If your absence is due to illness, contact your instructors or ask your residential college dean or director of studies to do so. In no case should you miss classes or precepts without an explanation. In many courses, attendance, particularly in precepts, is weighed heavily in assigning a grade.
8. My faculty adviser is not in my main field of interest. How can my adviser help me?
Each year we recruit faculty advisers from a broad range of departments. The faculty advisers are distributed among the residential colleges and then matched, as much as possible, with first-year students whose interests appear to be in the same general area. With an entering class as diverse as that which enters Princeton each year, it is not always possible to match advisers with advisees' interests specifically. A faculty adviser's role is to help you plan a sound program of study for your first two years. Advisers have a feel for balancing workloads, exploring new areas, and fulfilling requirements. Most important, you can bounce ideas off your adviser, for most advising is actually listening. Your adviser probably does not know the specific requirements for many fields of concentration, nor should they be expected to do so. That is the role of faculty members in those departments, particularly the departmental representative (see question 22). Remember, you can always get advice from your PAA, your RCA, or your RGS.
9. Will AP credit reduce the number of courses required for graduation?
AP credit does not reduce the number of courses required for graduation (31 for the A.B. degree, 36 for the B.S.E.) unless a student has sufficient AP credit and is granted advanced standing. It also cannot be used to fulfill the writing or distribution requirements. AP credit can be used to begin study in fields that have different levels of introductory courses or sequences of several introductory courses at a level that takes into consideration your previous work. In other words, you can avoid having to repeat what you have already learned and can advance to new material. You can also use AP credit to satisfy the A.B. foreign language requirement and parts of the B.S.E. math and science requirements.
10. Is it difficult to change courses?
Changing courses during the first two weeks of the term is a relatively simple matter. First, reflect on why you want to change and decide, in consultation with your adviser, which new course is appropriate. It is generally a good idea to attend a lecture and get a syllabus in the new course rather than decide on it sight unseen. During the first two weeks of classes, there is no charge for changing your course selection. After the first two weeks of classes, changing courses is generally not permitted, especially if you have not attended classes in the course you wish to add. In general, remember that courses move quickly and that missing even a few classes may put you at a serious disadvantage. See your residential college dean or director of studies if you have a sound educational reason for wanting to change courses after the second week of classes.
11. When should I take a course on a pass/D/fail basis?
This is not an easy question to answer. The intent of the pass/D/fail option is to encourage exploration and experimentation in curricular areas in which the student may have had little or no previous experience. The pass/D/fail option also may be used by the student in completing distribution courses. Students are permitted to elect the pass/D/fail option between the beginning of the seventh and the end of the ninth week of classes. It is a good idea to discuss your pass/D/fail choices with your adviser or with your dean or director of studies and, when appropriate, with a preprofessional adviser. Most departments require that courses serving as prerequisites for entrance into the department be graded.
12. What should I be taking if I'm interested in medical school?
While requirements vary, the most common course requirements for admission to medical school are: four terms of chemistry (two of general chemistry and two of organic chemistry) with lab; two terms of biology with lab (satisfied by taking EEB 211 and MOL 214/215); two terms of physics with lab; one term of biochemistry; one term of math (or AP credit); one term of statistics; and two terms of writing/literature. Consult the health professions advisers or your residential college dean or director of studies, if you have entered college with AP in biology, chemistry, and/or physics. Also recommended are introductory-level sociology and psychology if one's overall schedule allows. The Health Professions Advising Office (HPA) suggests some plans for completing the courses, which may be found under "Pre-health Basics" on the Health Professions Advising website. Careful consideration of decisions such as choosing a concentration, engaging in meaningful co-curricular endeavors, and developing personal competencies that will be important in pursuing a medical career is encouraged. More information can be found on the HPA website at www.princeton.edu/hpa.
13. What should I be taking if I want to go to law school?
Law school admissions committees look for applicants who have done well in a diverse range of courses that emphasize critical thinking and analysis, and both oral and written communications skills. Take courses that will sharpen your writing and analytical skills; both are very important for law school and the legal profession. Although there are no courses specifically crucial for admission to law school, there are more than a few law-related courses offered at Princeton, which may be of interest to you.
14. Why are some of my courses so hard?
Even when students are placed in appropriate courses, they often find them to be much more challenging than courses they have taken in high school. There are two main reasons for this. First, courses at Princeton often move very quickly, particularly in the sciences. Not much time is spent at the start on review and consolidation of earlier material; instead, new concepts and approaches are discussed immediately. This fast pace often comes as a surprise even to students who took very rigorous courses in high school. Time management becomes very important. Second, exams are often viewed as learning tools that elicit further thinking about concepts rather than simply straightforward measures of whether or not the basic material was understood. In high school, knowing the right formula was often a large piece of a correct answer. Now, knowing the right formula is simply expected, and the correct answer consists of deriving further conclusions from the basic material. In most cases, students adjust to the faster-paced instruction and the different expectations on exams after a while, but you're not unusual if you find it tough at the start.
15. Where can I get help?
Asking for some help is the smart thing to do if you find that you are having difficulty with a course or with a particular topic or problem. The first person to turn to is the instructor, either in the form of your preceptor or the individual in charge of the course. They will usually be pleased that a student is concerned enough to ask for clarification or further explanation of a concept or for a diagnosis of problems that arise on tests and papers. Additional resources are available if help is needed over a longer term. McGraw Study Hall@Frist offers academic support in introductory chemistry, economics, mathematics, physics, and statistics (in some disciplines). The Writing Center offers student writers free one-on-one conferences with experienced fellow writers trained to consult on writing projects in any discipline. Undergraduate peer tutors are available in a variety of courses, especially math, science, and language courses. Counseling and Psychological Services in McCosh Health Center offers help with personal problems. If you have any questions, your RCA, dean, director of studies, or director of student life can steer you toward the appropriate sources of help.
16. How can I find what I need in Princeton's decentralized University Library?
Firestone Library is the center of a multi-unit campus library system and is one of the largest open-stack libraries in the world. The University Library's homepage at library.princeton.edu provides easy access to basic library information, such as services, locations, hours, and phone numbers, plus the names of specialist librarians who can help you. The home page is also the place to start when you want to identify research materials. You can use the search box there to explore resources in all of Princeton's libraries and in many formats, including books, journals, videos, musical scores, sound recordings, rare materials, individual periodical and newspaper articles, databases, and digital collections. Stop by the Reference Desk on the first floor of Firestone and pick up a "Guide to the Library" brochure for more information. You can also reach a librarian via any of the "Get Help" links on the Library home page. Those options include Ask a Librarian (chat), email, phone, and scheduling an appointment, or just use the "Contact Us" link at the top of the homepage.
17. What happens if I fail a course?
An isolated failing grade, particularly if your other grades are good, is an unfortunate circumstance but not a tragedy in itself. You should first and foremost reflect on the circumstances that caused the failing grade and take steps to avert them in the future. It is crucial that you do this, for a pattern of low and failing grades can jeopardize your academic standing. A failed course does not count toward the number of courses required for graduation and therefore must be made up either by an extra course at Princeton or by a preapproved course at another institution. However, even after you make up the course you failed, the F you earned will not be removed from your transcript. It remains a permanent part of your record.
18. Can I get credit for courses taken at other schools?
After matriculation at Princeton, A.B. students can count up to three, B.S.E. students up to four, courses taken at other schools toward their course requirements. Non-Princeton courses must be preapproved by your residential college dean or director of studies and a representative of the relevant Princeton department. For more information, see your college website or your director of studies.
19. When do I have to choose a major?
A.B. students normally choose a major officially at the end of their sophomore year, although there is the option of becoming an early concentrator a term earlier for students who feel prepared to begin independent work. Many students will have decided on a major during their first year, while others continue to weigh possible options up to the last minute. At the beginning of their first term at Princeton, most students have no firm plans about a major and are open to exploring a variety of fields. Many of those who have already made firm decisions will end up changing their minds after being engaged by new fields of study that they had not previously encountered.
20. I know that I want to major in politics (physics, or other subject); therefore I want to take two politics (physics, or other subject) courses in my first term.
This is not permitted in the first term, nor is it sensible. First, you need to get started on general University requirements: language, writing, distribution. Second, you should broaden your horizons and sample a variety of fields, which very well might lead you to change your mind about a major.
21. What about prerequisites for departments?
Most departments have prerequisites that must be satisfactorily completed prior to junior year. Usually these involve taking one, more often two, courses or even a specific course or set of courses. You should consult the departmental listings in the online Undergraduate Announcement for detailed information.
22. What is a departmental representative?
Departmental representatives (commonly called "dep reps") are faculty members who are largely responsible for advising departmental juniors and seniors and approving their programs of study. In addition, departmental representatives provide information about courses, requirements, programs, and opportunities in the department. You should seek the advice of a departmental representative if you have questions about departmental prerequisites and graduation requirements, need approval for courses taken elsewhere, or simply want to know what majoring in a particular department is like. Departmental representatives are listed in the online Undergraduate Announcement under departmental headings; the department office can also point you in the direction of the dep rep.
23. How do I learn of my grades?
All course instructors submit final grades to the Office of the Registrar; in addition, instructors of 100- and 200-level courses report midterm grades. You may view your midterm grades online in TigerHub (www.princeton.edu/tigerhub), and you will probably learn them from your instructors when they return midterm exams and papers. If your grades are such that you would be on academic probation or required to withdraw at the end of the semester, or if you are failing a course in an introductory-level language sequence, a copy of a letter of concern from your dean or director of studies is sent home. Final grades are available through TigerHub; therefore you are advised to share your grades with your family. You may also request a transcript online at registrar.princeton.edu/student-services/transcript. Transcripts are free of charge and are processed within one business day upon receipt of the request.
24. What information is on a Princeton transcript?
The Princeton transcript is the official record of your academic work at Princeton and is released only with your authorization. It contains a listing of your courses, with abbreviated titles, and grades earned. ALL courses that you complete are shown on the transcript as well as the courses in which you are officially enrolled. It is not possible to retake a course and erase from your transcript a low or failing grade in an earlier term. The transcript also lists the number of advanced placement units (terms of advanced placement credit) that you were awarded at entrance. (Please note: No student test scores will be recorded post-graduation.) Later on, it will show your concentration, any interdepartmental programs in which you participated, and other significant information, such as foreign study or field study. Notations of departures and returns to the University are also made on the transcript.
25. What are the most important deadlines I need to remember?
It seems that there is always a deadline for something at Princeton! Your instructors will set deadlines for the submission of work during the semester, which you should take very seriously. If you are ill, or have another compelling reason to request extra time to complete an assignment, speak with your instructor before the deadline. If you need help with this, see your residential college dean or director of studies. Over the course of the semester, the University also sets some important deadlines. Among them are the deadlines for selecting the pass/D/fail option and the deadline for dropping courses, both of which are the end of the ninth week of classes; and the deadline for the submission of papers and written work other than take-home exams, which is the last day of reading period. These are very firm deadlines!