Skip over navigation

To the Members of the Class of 2018


Valerie Smith, Dean of the College

Welcome to Princeton! I’m delighted to share with you some personal observations about the best ways to take advantage of the opportunities for learning and personal growth that this University offers.

First, remember that you are here to learn. You have the extraordinary luxury of four years in which to develop your mind — to grow in your ability to think analytically and read critically, to write clearly and speak persuasively, to develop and test hypotheses, and to fashion and sustain convincing interpretations or proofs. Enjoy this learning to the fullest. Choose your courses — and, later, your field of concentration — because the work engages your imagination and interest and expands your intellectual horizons. Resist outside pressures to choose areas of study on the basis of presumed practical utility. Your choices ought to be guided by your own intellectual passion and curiosity. One can develop the mind through many different kinds of studies, some obviously practical, some whose utility may be less evident. Within the constraints of satisfying requirements and fulfilling prerequisites, loving a subject is the best possible reason for selecting an area of study.

Second, think carefully about the best ways to take advantage of the remarkable teaching that Princeton offers. Be discriminating not only in the subjects you choose to study, but also in the courses — and, ultimately, the area of concentration — in which you enroll. You will undoubtedly sign up for a number of large lecture courses — their size reflects their popularity and the quality of the teaching you will find there. But remember that departments and programs also offer many small courses of extremely high quality. These smaller courses may offer you a very attractive and different kind of interaction with established faculty that will greatly enrich your learning. The same applies to the selection of an area of concentration. The largest departments offer excellent courses and fine teaching, but so do the smallest, and there you may find much more intensive contact with faculty than in departments with large numbers of concentrators.

Third, take full advantage of the special commitment of the Princeton faculty to undergraduate education. Go see your teachers during their office hours, whether to pursue a question left unresolved in class, or to ask for special help, or to seek advice about future studies. Invite your teachers to lunch or dinner in your residential college. Get to know the faculty fellows whom you may see from time to time in the college dining room. Faculty often will reach out to you, but to profit fully from the opportunities here for faculty-student contact, you will need to make many of the overtures. Do not be discouraged if a particular faculty member appears to be rushed or preoccupied. Contact with faculty outside the classroom can be one of the richest parts of your experience at Princeton.

Finally, never underestimate the importance of learning outside the classroom. That learning comes from getting to know other people — roommates, friends, residential college advisers (RCAs), your deans and college administrators, building and dining services staff, and many other hard-working members of the Princeton community. It comes from participating in extracurricular activities and community service. It comes from attending the many intellectual and cultural events in your residential college and in the larger University. And it comes from exploring the town of Princeton and the surrounding area, including New York City and Philadelphia.

Make time for all of these kinds of learning, for they will enrich your experience here in ways that you will value for the rest of your life.

I wish you all the best for a wonderful year.

Valerie Smith
Dean of the College