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Academic Life

Princeton is distinctive in being both a university dedicated to scholarship and research of the highest quality and an undergraduate college committed to highly personalized teaching. Faculty members who are leaders in their fields work closely with undergraduate students who are expected to explore a range of subject areas and then concentrate in one academic department. The undergraduate program culminates in an original project in the student’s field of concentration.

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 17 percent of the undergraduate degrees awarded have been B.S.E.’s, and 83 percent have been A.B.’s.


Students working toward the A.B. normally concentrate their studies in one of 29 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 47 interdisciplinary programs; most grant certificates of proficiency.

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

Academic Advising

Academic advising of freshmen and sophomores in the A.B. program is centered in the six residential colleges. Every freshman 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. Freshmen 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 upperclass 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 masters, 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.


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.

A.B. candidates must successfully complete one or two courses, as indica­ted, in the following seven distribution areas: EC, epistemology and cognition (one course); EM, ethical thought and moral values (one course); HA, historical analysis (one course); LA, literature and the arts (two courses); QR, quantitative reasoning (one course); SA, social analysis (two courses); and ST, science and technology (two courses, at least one with laboratory).

A.B. candidates must demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language before graduation, either through scores on the appropriate Advanced Placement examination, SAT Subject Test or one of the online language placement tests during the summer preceding their freshman year, or through the completion of a three- or four-course sequence of language study.

Undergraduates at Princeton are expected to develop the ability to write clearly and persuasively. All students satisfy the writing requirement by taking a writing seminar in the freshman year. Students who receive Advanced Placement in English are not exempt from the writing requirement.

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.

B.S.E. students must complete a minimum of seven courses in the humanities and social sciences. B.S.E. candidates are required to take one course in four of the following six areas: EC, epistemology and cognition; EM, ethical thought and moral values; foreign language (at the 107/108 level or above); HA, historical analysis; LA, literature and the arts; and SA, social analysis. The remaining three required courses and additional courses may be taken in any fields in the social sciences and humanities.

All B.S.E. students must take one of the freshman writing seminars. Independent work opportunities are available for juniors and seniors.

Academic Features

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 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 usually consists of 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.

Independent Concentration. Students whose academic interests cannot be pursued adequately within an existing department or certificate program may design an independent program of concentration. With the support of two faculty advisers, these students choose eight or more upper-level courses in their fields of concentration. All requirements for graduation, such as the distribution, language, and writing requirements, and the number of departmental courses, are the same as those for conventional majors.

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. Freshmen are notified of eligibility for advanced standing in the middle of the fall term. After successfully completing their first-term courses, they may then apply to the Faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing for advanced standing or graduation after three or three and one half years of study.

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. University Scholars must fulfill the requirements for a departmental concentration. Depending on the individual program, however, University Scholars may be exempt from completing the distribution or foreign language requirements by the Committee on Examinations and Standing and may have a reduced course schedule in some terms.

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 spring-term sophomores, 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 visit the Office of International Programs and attend informational meetings about foreign study opportunities as early as their freshman year. It is especially important that students who wish to study in a non-English-speaking country develop strong language skills before going overseas.

Princeton is affiliated with programs and universities throughout the world. In addition to affiliated programs and exchanges, students may enroll in foreign universities and programs run by other institutions that have been approved by Princeton. There are more than 100 options.

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 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, normally several papers that demonstrate knowledge of relevant theoretical literature and analyze the field study experience.


Course Load. Students in the A.B. program must complete a total of 31 courses. Normally freshmen and sophomores complete a minimum of four courses each semester, juniors complete four courses each semester and junior independent work, as prescribed by their departments, while seniors complete three courses each semester in addition to writing a year-long thesis. Students in the B.S.E. program normally take four courses in each term of the freshman year, five courses in four of the succeeding six terms and four courses in each of the other two terms for a total of 36 courses.

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. The registrar, acting for the Faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing, may authorize a student to take an examination up to 24 hours before or after the scheduled examination time. Appropriate reasons for granting such requests are religious days, personal emergencies and more than one examination scheduled in a single calendar day. Examinations will normally be scheduled during the 24 hours after the scheduled examination time; examinations are rescheduled during the 24-hour period before the regularly scheduled time only in the most unusual and compelling circumstances. Requests for longer postponements must be submitted to the student’s residential college dean or director of studies. Such requests are granted very rarely and only for a compelling reason that is outside a student’s control (such as illness).

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 one or more courses in any term. An auditing student usually takes the final examination or completes an appropriate final exercise. Audited courses may not be included in the basic departmental program of study, used to complete University distribution requirements, nor counted toward either the number of courses required for graduation or the minimum number of courses needed in a 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.

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 once or twice a week 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 will be 30 percent below the list price for new and used course books. Required and recommended course book information will be available through Blackboard, the University's online course management system, beginning on Sept. 1. Students will be able to order their course books online (via Blackboard) for in-store pickup, and can charge their purchases to their student account, PAW points, a credit card, check or cash. In addition, all students will receive a free 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

Academic Rules & Regulations

Grades. Final grades for undergraduate courses and independent work are reported at the end of each term in the following way:

Grade Meaning
A+ Exceptional; significantly exceeds the highest expectations for undergraduate work.
A Outstanding; meets the highest standards for the assignment or course.
A– Excellent; meets very high standards for the assignment or course.
B+ Very good; meets high standards for the assignment or course.
B Good; meets most of the standards for the assignment or course.
B– More than adequate; shows some reasonable command of the material.
C+ Acceptable; meets basic standards for the assignment or course.
C Acceptable; meets some of the basic standards for the assignment or course.
C– Acceptable, while falling short of meeting basic standards in several ways.
D Minimally acceptable; lowest passing grade.
F Failing; very poor performance.
P Grades of A+ through C– in courses taken on pass/D/fail basis.
Audit Satisfactory completion of required work in a course taken on audit basis.
Inc Course not completed at end of term (late completion authorized).
W Student withdrew from the University after completing the ninth week of the term.

A grade of D is the minimum acceptable passing grade in all courses. There are five exceptions to this general rule: (1) most departments require at least a C average in departmental courses, and therefore a D in a departmental course or courses may lead to failure in the area of concentration; (2) the accumulation of two or more Ds in a term is regarded by the Faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing as evidence of serious academic weakness, for which letters of academic warning or academic probation may be issued; (3) a student may be required to withdraw if he or she receives two Ds while on academic probation; (4) a student who is required to repeat a term for academic reasons will not receive credit for a course in the repeated term in which he or she received a D; (5) a student taking a preapproved course outside Princeton must earn at least a C to receive credit for the course.

Students receive a report of final grades online as soon as grades are posted. Students are encouraged to print the report to share with parents.

Academic Probation. At the end of each academic term, the Faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing places on academic probation those students whose records indicate either poor overall standing or particular weaknesses, for example, in departmental work. The record of a student who has been placed on probation is reviewed by the committee at the end of the following term and its judgment reported to the student. Lack of improvement can lead to required withdrawal.

Leaves of Absence and Readmission. Upon the satisfactory completion of any term, students are eligible to take a leave of absence for one, two or three years; the duration of that leave, however, may not ordinarily be less than a year because the sequential nature of Princeton’s curriculum, particularly the structure of AB junior independent work, makes it very difficult for a student to return to campus out of phase.  An individual on leave of absence from Princeton is ordinarily assured readmission to continue his or her program of study from the point at which it was interrupted. Students placed on academic or disciplinary probation at the end of a term are eligible to apply for a leave of absence, but they will be on academic or disciplinary probation for the first term after their return. Students in good academic standing who have a compelling reason to plan a one-semester leave that would not interfere with their progress to degree should discuss the matter with their residential college dean before the end of classes in the preceding semester. The dean of the college must receive notification at a specified date well in advance of the beginning of the term in which the individual intends to resume studies.

Voluntary Withdrawal and Readmission. A student who begins a term of study and leaves the University before the end of reading period is considered to have withdrawn voluntarily. Under these circumstances, readmission normally depends upon the student’s demonstration of readiness to resume academic work. A student who has had a total of three withdrawals from the University, whether voluntary or required for academic reasons, should not expect a further opportunity to qualify for a degree.

Required Withdrawal and Readmission. As described in the Undergraduate Announcement, a student who has a pattern of poor grades or manifestly neglects his or her work is required by the Faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing to withdraw from the University. Readmission is not guaranteed, but the committee may readmit a student who has demonstrated a readiness to resume academic work.

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 freshmen 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 the honor system rests exclusively with the Honor Committee, composed of 12 undergraduates, including the presidents of the sophomore and junior classes.

Faculty-Student Committee on Discipline. This committee considers issues regarding the rules and regulations governing undergraduate conduct (including academic conduct outside examinations), assesses reported violations and assigns appropriate penalties when necessary. Its voting members include four faculty members, five students and a dean from the Office of the Dean of the College; its chair is the dean of undergraduate students.