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Academic Life

Princeton is a community of learning enriched by the wide variety of experiences and perspectives of its students, faculty and staff. Your student will benefit from the extraordinary resources of a world-class research institution, where faculty who are leaders in their fields devote much of their time and energy to teaching and advising undergraduates.

Princeton’s undergraduate program, with its dual emphasis on breadth and depth and its strong commitment to independent work, is designed to encourage students to think analytically and coherently; to express themselves effectively, both orally and in writing; to read with a critical eye; to appreciate the elegance of a mathematical or scientific proof, a clear argument or a well-turned phrase; to stand by conclusions that have been reached in a thoughtful way; to see issues in their broader contexts; to realize that a certain amount of ambiguity is inevitable in most things; and, finally, to apply their talents and education to the service of others.


Princeton University offers two undergraduate degrees: the Bachelor of Arts (A.B.) and the Bachelor of Science in Engineering (B.S.E.). Recently, approximately 24 percent of the undergraduate degrees awarded have been B.S.E.s, and 76 percent have been A.B.s.


Students working toward the A.B. normally concentrate their studies in one of 31 departments. Students working toward the B.S.E. normally concentrate their studies in one of six departments.

All undergraduates may supplement their concentrations by participating in any of 53 interdisciplinary certificate programs.

Departments, programs, courses, requirements and associated councils, committees and research sections are described in the Undergraduate Announcement.

Academic Advising

Princeton students can take advantage of the University's extensive academic advising resources and support networks, which are available throughout their four years here.

Academic advising of first-year students and sophomores in the A.B. program is centered in the six residential colleges. Every first-year in the A.B. program is assigned to a faculty adviser who assists with course selection and other academic matters throughout the year, and often continues as the student’s adviser through the sophomore year.

First-years in the B.S.E. program are advised by faculty members in the School of Engineering and Applied Science who, like the A.B. advisers, are fellows of their residential colleges. Each B.S.E. sophomore is assigned an adviser whose area of specialization matches the student’s area of interest.

In the junior and senior years, all students are advised by members of their academic departments, who also supervise their junior and senior independent work.

All students are encouraged to make full use of the academic resources of the University and to seek advice on specific academic matters from professors and departmental representatives in their particular areas of interest. The heads of the college, deans, directors of studies and directors of student life in the residential colleges are available for academic advising and counseling regarding matters pertaining to other aspects of undergraduate life.

The staff of the Office of the Dean of the College is available for discussion of academic questions or problems, and the staff of the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students is available for discussion of questions about undergraduate life outside the classroom.

More advising resources are detailed in the Undergraduate Announcement.


A.B. Program. All A.B. students must successfully complete a minimum of 31 courses. Courses must be chosen in such a way as to meet the University general education requirements for A.B. students and the departmental requirements for the chosen field of concentration. In addition to 31 courses, all A.B. students must successfully complete departmental junior independent work, a senior thesis and the departmental examination.

Specific requirements for A.B. students, including writing and foreign language requirements, are outlined in the Undergraduate Announcement.

B.S.E. Program. Students in the B.S.E. program must successfully complete 36 courses, including a four-course sequence in mathematics, a two-course sequence in physics, one course in chemistry and one course in computer programming.

Specific requirements for B.S.E. students, including general education requirements, are outlined in the Undergraduate Announcement.

Academic Features

The Princeton undergraduate curriculum includes various features, which are summarized below and described in detail in the Undergraduate Announcement.

Academic Standing. Students advance by completing terms, not by accumulating course credits. In order to graduate, students must successfully complete eight terms of work, four of which normally are fall terms, and four of which normally are spring terms.

Departmental and Independent Work. All students are required to declare a field of concentration and to complete at least eight courses in their department. Students are limited to 12 one-term courses — plus independent work — in a given department within the normal course load.

In the junior and senior years, all A.B. students must complete independent work under the guidance of a faculty member. Such work consists of either one or two essays in the junior year and a thesis in the senior year.

The length and nature of the senior thesis vary from department to department. While most students submit a research paper, others may: produce a play; write a novel, a collection of poems or a piece of music; create and exhibit artwork; or produce an English translation of a major foreign work. The Guides to Independent Work outline the assumptions and conventions of scholarship in each discipline and clarify departmental goals and expectations for undergraduate independent work.

Independent Concentration. Students whose academic interests cannot be pursued adequately within an existing department or certificate program may design an independent program of concentration.

Honors. Honors, high honors or highest honors are awarded at graduation. They are determined by the department of concentration based on grades received in departmental courses, independent work and the senior departmental examination.

Advanced Placement. Through the Advanced Placement tests, Princeton recognizes college-level academic work done by students before they begin college. Students may use Advanced Placement credit to enroll in advanced courses or earn advanced standing. Advanced Placement cannot be used to make up course deficiencies, reduce the course load during a given semester, reduce the number of courses needed for graduation, or fulfill distribution or writing requirements.

Advanced Standing. A.B. and B.S.E. candidates with the appropriate number of Advanced Placement units are eligible to apply for one full year or one semester of advanced standing as described in the Undergraduate Announcement.

University Scholar. The University Scholar Program is designed for a small number of students with outstanding and demonstrated talent in an academic or creative area that cannot be pursued within the confines of the regular curriculum.

Study Abroad. The Study Abroad Program offers students the opportunity to study for a term or a full year in another country for Princeton credit. A.B. and B.S.E. students in all fields of study are eligible to study abroad as sophomores (usually in the spring), juniors or fall-term seniors. Financial aid recipients continue to receive aid while participating in the Study Abroad Program during the academic year.

In order to derive maximum benefit from study abroad, students are encouraged to plan ahead. They should discuss their interests with staff in the Office of International Programs and attend informational meetings about foreign study opportunities as early as their first year. It is especially important that students who wish to study in a non-English-speaking country develop strong language skills before going overseas.

Many students seek summer opportunities to study abroad. The majority of students enroll in Princeton-sponsored intensive language programs, in seminars offered by the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS) and by academic departments, and in field study courses offered by individual departments. Students may also take pre-approved courses offered by other institutions for credit.

Field Study. The Field Study Program allows select students to spend a term away from the University pursuing work, such as a government internship or an archaeological dig, that is closely related to academic interests. All field study programs have an academic component.

Academic Rules & Regulations

Princeton's educational philosophy encourages growth, independence and personal responsibility. We give students a lot of support to help them succeed during their time on campus, and we know that families can also play an important role in supporting and encouraging their students. Students should become familiar with the University's grading policies, honor system and academic regulations as they begin their studies on campus.

Grades. The University's grading policy charges each department and program with articulating well-defined and meaningful grading standards for work within its discipline. Final grades for undergraduate courses and independent work are reported at the end of each term. Students receive a report of final grades online as soon as grades are posted. Students are encouraged to print the report to share with their parents or guardians.

Honor System. Princeton’s honor system was established in 1893 by a covenant between the faculty and the students. Under its provisions, students assume full responsibility for honesty on all written examinations and tests. When first-year students enroll at the University, they sign an agreement to abide by the code, and on each examination students write and sign this statement:

I pledge my honor that I have not violated the Honor Code during this examination.

Under the honor system, students have a twofold obligation: They must not violate the code, and they must report any violation they observe. Responsibility for administration of this honor code rests exclusively with the Honor Committee, composed of 12 undergraduates, including the presidents of the sophomore and junior classes. The Faculty-Student Committee on Discipline is a separate committee that considers issues regarding the rules regarding undergraduate conduct, including academic conduct outside of examinations.

Academic Standing and Regulations. Students are expected to make satisfactory progress at the end of each term in order to advance in their program of study and to earn credits toward the completion of their degree. The University's academic standing policies, including leaves of absences, voluntary withdrawals and required withdrawals, are outlined in the Undergraduate Announcement.


Your student will be able to take stimulating courses across the spectrum of academic fields. They will be able to study what they love and also explore new subjects and interests.

Course Load. Students in the A.B. program must complete a total of 31 courses and students in the B.S.E. program must complete a total of 36 courses, as described in the Undergraduate Announcement.

Preceptorials. The words “preceptorial” and “precept” are Princeton terms for discussion groups in humanities and social science courses. The preceptorial consists of a small number of students who meet weekly with a faculty member or advanced graduate student whose function is neither to lecture nor test the students’ ability to marshal facts. Instead, the preceptor encourages members of the group to explore assigned readings and evaluate the subject and its implications in discussion with one another.

Purchasing Course Books. Labyrinth Books, located at 122 Nassau St., is an independent bookstore that serves both the University and the local Princeton communities. As part of a larger University effort to lower the cost of course books, the University has a discount program for students who buy their course books through Labyrinth Books. The discount is 30 percent below the list price for all course books and related materials (such as i-Clickers and chemistry modeling sets), with an additional 25 percent off used books. Labyrinth also offers a rental option for more expensive textbooks, and guarantees buyback of course books at the end of term along with an original receipt. Students can pay for their materials using their student account or Paw Points (which makes it easy to pay for books with a financial aid package) as well major credit cards, cash, check or traveler’s check.

Required and recommended course book information will be accessible through Course Offerings beginning approximately two weeks before the start of the term. Once enrolled in their courses, students will be able to order their course books online (via Blackboard) for in-store pickup within 24 hours, and usually much faster. In addition, all students receive a free Labyrinth membership that entitles them to a 15 percent discount on all non-course books. For hours, events and programs and other information, please visit the store’s website or email

Reading Period. A period of approximately 10 days immediately preceding final examinations in each term is set apart to give students time in which to consolidate course work or to extend reading and investigation in accordance with their interests. Individual faculty members may choose to continue instruction during reading period.

Examinations. Final examinations are scheduled at the conclusion of each term. Students should be aware of the University's exam policies and procedures, including what may happen if a student arrives late for or misses an exam.

Optional Additional Courses. Any student wishing to enroll in more than two courses above the normal course load in any given term must obtain the permission of his or her residential college dean or director of studies.

Graduate Courses. Upperclass students of high standing may enroll in graduate courses instead of undergraduate courses with the permission of the course instructor, departmental representative and the appropriate dean. Graduate courses do not satisfy distribution requirements.

Auditing Courses. A student is permitted to audit a single course in any term.

Reading Courses. With the support and guidance of a faculty member, a student may propose an individualized reading course in an area not offered as a regular part of the curriculum. Students are normally limited to one such course per term.

Student-Initiated Seminars. Students may propose seminars on topics not otherwise covered by the regular curriculum. The initiators must find a faculty member interested in the topic with whom they can develop a reading list and formal course structure.