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Planning Your Program for the Fall

Academic Advising and the Residential College

As you enter Princeton your new home will be your residential college. The residential college deans and directors of studies provide guidance and support for students throughout their undergraduate careers. They can help you navigate the curriculum, change a course, find a tutor, get an extension, choose a major, and point you in the right direction to get any and all of your questions about life at Princeton answered. They also train and oversee a network of advising resources in the residential college.

During freshman and sophomore years, students are advised by the deans, directors of studies, faculty advisers, peer academic advisers (PAAs), residential college advisers (RCAs), and resident graduate students (RGSs) -- all of whom are affiliated with the residential college. As students select a field of concentration, they develop advising relationships with the relevant departmental representatives and faculty advisers in the areas of their independent work. A.B. students normally select a major in the spring term of their sophomore year. B.S.E students normally select a field of study within engineering in the spring term of their first year.

Your Advising Team

An important source of guidance will be your faculty adviser, a faculty member who understands the academic culture at Princeton and will help you navigate your first-year academic choices. If you are a B.S.E. candidate, the associate dean for undergraduate affairs in the engineering school selects a member of the engineering school's faculty to be your academic adviser. Your particular interests within the engineering school will be considered in assigning an adviser, but all the engineering advisers are fully familiar with University and B.S.E. requirements. If you are an A.B. candidate, your director of studies selects your academic adviser from among the community of faculty members affiliated with the college. In some cases, your adviser may represent a field that is not especially close to the subject in which you are most interested, but you can be assured that your adviser is aware of University requirements and the range of educational opportunities available to you at Princeton. Moreover, if your adviser does not know the answer to one of your questions, they will know where to find it.

Your academic adviser may suggest a particular level or "placement" for certain courses. These placement decisions, which are especially common in foreign languages, mathematics, and the sciences, are made on the basis of test scores and your high school preparation. Faculty members from the relevant departments review your records and make a best estimate at the level at which you are best prepared and will feel challenged; your adviser will also talk with you about how these courses might fit into your overall program.

Having realistic expectations about your faculty adviser will help you get the most from your relationship. You cannot expect a faculty member to be able (or willing) to rate every course in the curriculum on the qualities of the lecturer, the appeal of the assigned readings, or the difficulty of the exams. Instead, you should expect your adviser to talk with you about your short-term and long-term academic goals, and to help you plan not only this semester's courses, but also a strategy for taking the greatest possible advantage of your undergraduate education. And because advisers have information about your high school record and test scores, they are best qualified to help you select courses at the right level -- courses that will challenge but not overwhelm you.

Before you meet with your academic adviser to select your courses, it is important to review Course Offerings thoroughly, to think about your goals, and to complete the necessary advising forms. This will allow you to make the most of the appointment with your adviser.

Peer academic advisers form another important part of the college advising community. PAAs are experienced upperclassmen who have been trained in advising and who are sensitive to the subtle nuances involved in good advising. They offer their perspectives on a full range of issues: course selection, study strategies and resources, choosing an academic concentration, and adapting to the academic demands of Princeton. Your PAA will contact you over the summer to introduce themselves; you will meet them during orientation and they will be a resource throughout your first year.

We recognize the usefulness of multiple perspectives, so you should also feel free to go to your residential college adviser and the resident graduate student affiliated with your residential group for advice. RCAs and RGSs are also trained advisers, and depending on your interests may prove as important to your early weeks at Princeton as your PAA.

How to Think About Your First Course Selection

When you arrive at Princeton your first big decision will be selecting your first set of courses. As you start to plan a semester's program, be sure to consider the kinds of assignments and amount of work demanded by a particular set of courses. Balance and variety should be the goal. Although University requirements (described below) compel you, to a certain extent, to vary your schedule and to explore a number of areas, you should also consider your attitude toward repetitive or similar intellectual exercises. For example, if all your courses require difficult textbook reading, weekly problem sets and quizzes, and a fair amount of memorization, after a month or two you might find yourself mentally fatigued and desperate for new and different ways to expend your cerebral energy. You might then wish that you had signed up for that literature course you had considered earlier. The thought of reading some novels and writing expository essays might seem appealing.

On coming to Princeton, you will be joining a diverse and vibrant community, and these values are also the foundation of the curriculum. When considering your first set of courses, think broadly. You may be unfamiliar with some disciplines, like anthropology or philosophy, and they may seem strange and perhaps daunting; conversely, you will already be familiar with disciplines such as mathematics or history, and you may wish to continue studying them during your first term at Princeton. In general when contemplating your schedule, it is advisable to balance the new with the old; required courses with elective courses; and preprofessional concerns with the ideals of a liberal education. Similarly, look for the sweet spot between excessive risk and security. Selecting four extremely challenging courses is as inadvisable as electing four extremely easy ones. Explore the curriculum with this sense of balance, and you will be able to take full advantage of the opportunities available to you at Princeton.

It's not unusual for students to have second thoughts about one or two of the courses they have elected. If it happens to you, don't panic. You can always go back to your academic adviser, dean, or director of studies to see about changing your program.

University Requirements

Princeton's curricular requirements are the result of the faculty's intention to expose undergraduates to a liberal education that balances specialized knowledge in a field of concentration with broad areas of knowledge and important kinds of critical thinking. The various approaches and fields included in the requirements will acquaint you with significant intellectual issues and will show you how to view problems and formulate solutions in new ways.

While the requirements for the A.B. and B.S.E. degrees are different, both are easily fulfilled within the overall degree program.

Writing Requirement

The Writing Seminars give Princeton freshmen an early opportunity to belong to a lively academic community in which members investigate a shared topic and discuss their writing together, with the aim of clarifying and deepening their thinking. Focused instruction on the writing process and the key elements of academic writing enriches and guides the Writing Seminar experience. You'll learn how to frame compelling questions, position your argument within a genuine academic debate, substantiate and organize claims, purposefully integrate a wide variety of sources, and revise for greater cogency and clarity. As you work on completing four major assignments, including a 10-12 page research essay, you'll submit drafts for review and participate in conferences with your instructor as well as in-class draft workshops. Through an extensive collaboration with the University library, you'll also learn to use databases to locate and evaluate sources. Writing Seminars are interdisciplinary in nature to emphasize transferable reading, writing, and research skills.

The Writing Seminar is required of all freshmen. In late July, you'll be assigned to a term, fall or spring, in which to take the course. You'll then have an opportunity to request topics based on your interests.

Foreign Language Requirement

When you become proficient in a foreign language, you acquire more than a communication skill; you become literate in another culture and gain another perspective on the world. All candidates for the A.B. degree at Princeton must demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language before graduation.

Some of our undergraduates satisfy the foreign language requirement by demonstrating proficiency when they enter the University. On the basis of your SAT Subject Test score (for example, 760 for tests in German, French, Italian, Latin, Modern Hebrew, or Spanish), your advanced placement score of 5, or the result of a placement test given by an academic department at Princeton, you may be judged to have attained the degree of proficiency in a foreign language required by individual departments and thus to have satisfied the foreign language requirement.

In order to fulfill the language requirement through coursework, we expect successful completion of courses normally numbered through 107/108. When a student begins a language at Princeton, three or four terms of study will usually be necessary. 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 wish to continue studying a language that you have previously studied in high school, we will need information to place you appropriately. The most accurate way for us to determine your appropriate placement in a language sequence is through a departmental placement test. The placement test does not become part of your record here -- it is simply a diagnostic tool to help the department place you in the appropriate course. Placement tests in most languages will be available online during the summer before you matriculate; others will be administered during orientation. Your academic adviser will have the results of your placement test by the time you meet to discuss course selection.

Unless you can demonstrate proficiency before matriculation, you should plan on including language study in your first semester schedule because students are ordinarily expected to have fulfilled the requirement by the end of junior year. Language courses at Princeton move quickly and require dedicated and sustained study. You must stay on top of the material from the outset, especially if you are beginning a new language. You cannot receive course credit for the first term of a beginning language course unless you successfully complete the second term.

Distribution Requirements

If you are an A.B. candidate, you must successfully complete distribution requirements in each of the following areas: epistemology and cognition (one course), ethical thought and moral values (one course), historical analysis (one course), literature and the arts (two courses), quantitative reasoning (one course), social analysis (two courses), and science and technology (two courses). At least one course must be a science and technology course with laboratory (STL). You may elect a second laboratory science course, or a nonlaboratory science course (STN). Approach your selection with a sense of openness and adventure. In making your choices, you have the opportunity to experiment with subjects totally new to you. If you are undecided about your field of concentration, you may well find a new and lasting interest in one of the subjects you select.

Course Offerings and the Undergraduate Announcement ( and indicate with letter abbreviations the distribution area fulfilled by each course. No designation means that the course does not fulfill a distribution requirement.

You should note that advanced placement units cannot be used to fulfill distribution requirements. Students are expected to fulfill all distribution requirements at Princeton. A.B. students may, however, with the prior approval of your dean or director of studies and the appropriate departmental representative, complete a maximum of two distribution requirements at another college or university. You can satisfy one course in each of two of the following distribution areas: literature and the arts, social analysis, or science and technology (please note, only nonlaboratory science courses (STN) may be taken away from Princeton).

B.S.E. candidates take at least seven courses from the humanities and social sciences. These courses must include one course in four of the following six areas: epistemology and cognition (EC), ethical thought and moral values (EM), historical analysis (HA), literature and the arts (LA), social analysis (SA), and foreign language (at the 107/108 level or above). Except in languages, no designation means that the course does not fulfill a B.S.E. humanities/social science requirement or distribution requirement.

Advanced Placement and Advanced Standing

The advanced placement policy at Princeton is designed to recognize college-level work completed prior to matriculation and to encourage you to pursue your studies at a level appropriate to your preparation.

Advanced placement is awarded by individual departments on the basis of your performance on certain standardized tests or departmentally administered placement examinations. You should be certain to have official scores of standardized tests reported directly to Princeton. If you have a question about whether a score has been received or about your eligibility for advanced placement, you should go over your records with your director of studies after arriving on campus.

You do not have to continue in a subject in which you have earned advanced placement. If, however, you elect a course that is below the level at which advanced placement was granted, you lose the use (for advanced standing, see below) of your advanced placement units in that subject.

For example, if you are placed into French 207 (the next level after fulfillment of the language requirement) but elect French 108 (the last term of the language requirement), you will forfeit your advanced placement in French language.

The rules governing advanced placement are quite complex. If you have concerns about maintaining your advanced placement in a subject, be sure to consult your dean or director of studies before changing courses. You should also refer to the advanced placement website ( for information on advanced placement and advanced standing.

Please note that advanced placement in a subject does not reduce the total number of courses required for graduation (see advanced standing below). Instead, it permits you to elect a more advanced course in that subject. Similarly, advanced placement cannot be used to reduce a course load in a given term or to make up course deficiencies (see Academic Regulations, page 47).

You may well be asking what advantage there is to maintaining your advanced placement status in a given subject area. First, you don't want to repeat material that you covered in high school and thereby squander opportunities at Princeton. If forfeiting advanced placement in a subject means that you would be taking a class that, for the most part, reviews what you already know, you would be going backward rather than forward. However, if, as occasionally happens, you find that the material in an advanced course is so difficult as to be unmanageable, you should consider reverting to a course that will be more meaningful to you, especially if you plan to do further coursework in that area. Remember that our placement system is very good but not perfect. We are often basing placement decisions for the Princeton curriculum on the basis of a single test result.

There is another reason why you should think seriously about maintaining your advanced placement in a given subject area. It has to do with eligibility for advanced standing, which allows a student to graduate in three years or with three and a half years of study.

A.B. candidates can apply for a full year of advanced standing if they have eight advanced placement units distributed in at least three of the following subject areas: foreign languages, historical analysis, literature and the arts, quantitative reasoning, science and technology, and social analysis. B.S.E. candidates can also apply for a full year of advanced standing if they have eight advanced placement units, but they must include among them two units in physics, two in mathematics, and one in chemistry.

A.B. candidates with four advanced placement units in at least two subject areas and B.S.E. candidates with four advanced placement units, which must include two in physics, one in mathematics, and one in chemistry, can apply for one term of advanced standing.

In November you will be notified of your eligibility to apply for advanced standing. You may submit an application for either one term or one full year of advanced standing, depending upon your qualifications. With a full year of advanced standing, you may apply to become a second-semester sophomore in the spring of your first year, or a first-semester junior in the fall of your second year. With one term of advanced standing, you will take a leave of absence from Princeton either in the fall or spring of your sophomore year. You will thus spend three terms at Princeton prior to your junior year.

The final decision on your application for advanced standing will be made by the Committee on Examinations and Standing. The committee will review your academic record to determine whether advanced standing is appropriate given the quality of your academic program and performance. The committee reserves the right to rescind advanced standing if, in its judgment, you have not made satisfactory progress toward the degree.

The decision to take advanced standing is an important one, especially if you elect to take the full year. If you enter the junior year after only one year of study at Princeton, you will have to choose a major and complete, at the very least, the prerequisites to concentrate in that field within a short period of time. In some cases, a student's academic goals make advanced standing inadvisable or impossible, particularly in areas where there are many sequential courses. Moreover, students who take advanced standing are expected to fulfill all University and departmental requirements for graduation. A.B. candidates graduating in three years have to complete 23 courses; those graduating with three and a half years of study, 27 courses. B.S.E. candidates must complete 28 and 32 courses, respectively.

Finally, if you elect to graduate in three years and then change your mind, you can revert to your original entering class until the beginning of your senior (third) year.

In any event, you should discuss these issues with your teachers, faculty adviser, residential college dean or director of studies, and families. If you or your families have any questions about advanced standing, consult your dean or director of studies.

The Structure of a Princeton Course

While each course is unique in terms of its manner of presentation, workload, assignments, and class meetings, there are several types of courses that you will encounter repeatedly during your years at Princeton.

The lecture/precept format is especially common for introductory courses. The professor in charge of this kind of course lectures twice a week to all the students enrolled in the course. Each student signs up for a section meeting, called a precept (from the Latin praecipere, "to teach"), where normally 12 to 15 students meet with a section leader, called a preceptor, to discuss the material in greater depth (the professor of the course usually teaches at least one precept). In most cases, each section is graded by the preceptor. Precept attendance and participation are required components of the course.

Still other kinds of courses are taught according to the "class format." This kind of course has no lecture where all the students meet. Rather, the course is already broken down into several classes, at which you meet with the same group of students and the same instructor for an hour three times a week or for an hour and a half twice a week. The format might best be described as a combination of lecture and discussion. The same instructor lectures, leads discussion, and does the grading for those students in the class. Normally, the exams are uniform throughout all classes (as they are in lecture/precept courses). Mathematics courses are often taught according to the class method.

Laboratory science and technology courses have lectures, sometimes a discussion section, and a required laboratory exercise one afternoon or evening a week. These courses do have more than the average number of class hours, and you should plan accordingly when organizing your schedule.

Finally, a small number of courses at the introductory level, and more at the advanced level, meet only once a week for a period of three hours. These courses, called seminars, bring together a professor and no more than 15 students; the intellectual dialogue is intense, and everyone is expected to be an active participant. Seminars often require students to produce a substantial paper and to deliver to the class the results of their research.

Many students in their first year have an opportunity to take a seminar through the Program of Freshman Seminars in the Residential Colleges. The program is designed to provide freshmen with an early opportunity to form strong connections with faculty and fellow students through an engaging course of study. Approximately 70 unique seminars will be offered this year covering a wide variety of topics and academic disciplines. All of the seminars count as regular courses, and fulfill distribution requirements. Unless specifically indicated in the course description, the seminars do not assume prior knowledge or advanced placement in the subject. The seminars depend for their success on the expertise of the professor and on the hard work and enthusiasm of all the participants. Enrollment in each seminar is limited to 15 students. You may apply to take a seminar during each semester of your freshman year. The director of the program is Dean Elizabeth Colagiuri.

In almost every course that you take at Princeton, instructors will provide a syllabus of the course on the first day of class. The syllabus provides a detailed outline of reading assignments, written assignments to be handed in, examination dates, and, generally, the method for calculating the final grade in the course. The combined syllabi of all your courses may seem a bit overwhelming at first glance. If, however, you regard them with the proper respect and work at a steady pace, you will find that they are helpful reminders to keep up with the reading before exam dates or dates on which papers, homework assignments, or laboratory reports are due.

Fortunately, the semester contains periodic breaks that allow you to catch your breath. Midterm exams are normally scheduled during the sixth week of the term, followed by a weeklong break. After another six weeks of classes, Princeton schedules a nine-day reading period to allow you to complete papers in your courses and to begin preparing for your final exams. All papers are due at the end of reading period; this date is referred to as the "Dean's Date." If, as occasionally happens, you need a short extension into the exam period to complete a paper, see your residential college dean or director of studies. Extensions require the permission of both your course instructor and your dean or director of studies and are to be regarded as a privilege rather than an entitlement.

Important dates are in the academic year calendar available at