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Student Living & Dining Choices

All freshmen and sophomores at Princeton must live on campus and are assigned to one of six residential colleges. At the beginning of spring semester of sophomore year, students choose where they will live and eat in their junior year, selecting among the following options:

  • Live and eat in one of the four-year colleges; this includes students who serve as residential college advisers (RCAs).
  • Join an eating club (selective or sign-in) and live in an upperclass dormitory that is not associated with a residential college.
  • Live in a residential college as a member of an eating club who has a shared meal plan which allows you to eat meals in both your college and your club.
  • Live in the apartment-style suites in Spelman Halls that offer four single bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen and a bathroom. (Students who are not in clubs have higher priority for drawing into Spelman suites.)
  • Live in an upperclass dormitory and purchase a University meal plan.
  • Live in an upperclass dormitory and join one of three co-ops where students cook for each other.
  • Live in an upperclass dormitory as an “independent” with no meal plan.

Under the four-year college system, even juniors and seniors who do not live in the colleges are permitted two meals per week in the colleges at no additional cost and all juniors and seniors receive non-departmental academic advising in their college.

As indicated earlier, since the late 1980s sophomores wanting to bicker have been permitted to apply to only one club at a time. The bicker clubs typically accept 50–70% of their applicants; students who do not receive an invitation to join their desired club have the option to join any club that has not already filled its membership (typically this means a sign-in club), bicker again in the fall, or select another option. The non-selective clubs accept members on a sign-in basis until all spaces are filled and then establish wait lists if there is additional interest. In response to economic pressures, most clubs have increased their section sizes over recent decades; in most years, clubs range in total size (juniors plus seniors) from about 120 members to more than 200.

Chart 1

Choices for Juniors and Seniors

  9/07 9/08 9/09 9/10
Jrs/srs in clubs (sign-in) 1,738 (928) 1,689 (884) 1,649 (798) 1,651 (819)
Jrs/srs in colleges (RCAs) 360 (103) 371 (100) 422 (97) 471 (86)
Shared meal plans (sign-in) 89 (61) 89 (70) 117 (90) 133 (106)
Jrs/srs in Spelman 199   180   204   208  
Jrs/srs in dorms with meal plan 46   112   130   n/a  
Jrs/srs in co-ops 32   38   80   104  
Jrs/srs independent 204   204   245   242  

Chart 1 shows the number of juniors and seniors who in the spring have elected the various options for the years beginning in September 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. The parenthetical numbers for clubs and shared meal plans show the number in sign-in clubs; the parenthetical number for colleges shows RCAs.

  • Students listed on the chart with shared meal plans are listed both as students in clubs and students in colleges. Some students in Spelman are also listed as students in clubs since some four-person groups in Spelman include a mix of independents and club members. Independents in Spelman and students in co-ops are also included as independents.
  • The distribution of students seems to be stabilizing at expected levels. The colleges and Spelman are at or close to capacity and no additional co-ops are currently planned. The number of club members seems to be holding steady in both the selective and the sign-in clubs, although since these numbers are derived from selections in the spring rather than actual practice in the fall, we are advised that attrition can and does occur, especially in the sign-in clubs. We know from survey data that while there appears to be little drop off in selective club membership between junior and senior years, there is more significant drop off in sign-in club membership. For the Class of 2009, for example, the percentage of the class in selective clubs in the junior year and the senior year was 33%, while the percentage of the class in sign-in clubs dropped from 31% in the junior year to 26% in the senior year. While a handful of these students purchased University dining contracts, the overwhelming majority either joined co-ops or became independent.
  • When four-year residential colleges were first proposed, it was anticipated that the number of juniors and seniors in the colleges — not counting RCAs — would roughly equal the additional number of juniors and seniors (roughly 150 per class, or a total of 300) in the larger classes that the University was planning to admit (up to a steady-state size of 1,300 students per class). This meant that the introduction of four-year colleges was not expected to result in a significant reduction in the number of students in the clubs. The number of juniors and seniors in the colleges is now higher than initially expected because of the introduction of shared meal plans, which adds students to the colleges who are also in clubs. As indicated in the chart, the number of juniors and seniors in the colleges next fall after subtracting RCAs and students on shared meal plans is 252.

For the past few years, the clubs have tracked the bicker and sign-in process. This year’s experience for the sophomore Class of 2012 is shown in chart 2.

Chart 2

Sophomore Class of 2012 Club Selection Process

Number of sophomores: 1,268
Number who participated in the selection process: 946 (74.6% of the class)
Number who bickered/were accepted: 642/411 (so 231 were not successful)
First round sign-ins: 304
Second round sign-ins (following bicker): 154
Total in clubs: 869 (68.5% of the class)
Total who bickered and chose not to join any club: 77