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Communications and Representations

Many students and alumni commented on the inadequacy of information about the clubs that is provided to campus visitors, prospective applicants, admitted students and entering students, and recounted their own difficulties in learning about the clubs. We have already discussed the importance of introducing freshmen and first-semester sophomores to the non-party aspects of the clubs (meals, pool playing, and “just hanging around and shooting the breeze”) and “demystifying” both the clubs and the selection process. This can begin at orientation and continue throughout the year and can be addressed through printed and electronic communications and through time spent at the clubs.

In this section of our report we want to focus on communications and representations of the clubs in the admission process. Members of the task force met twice with admission staff, and one of our members, Donielle Wright ’01, is an assistant director of that office. We know that the clubs are a mystery to most potential applicants, and that they have a polarizing effect as admitted students make decisions about whether to accept Princeton’s offers. Data from a questionnaire that the Admission Office distributes each year to all admitted students show that among enrolling students, 39% say the clubs had a positive or strong positive influence on their decision to enroll and 15% say they had a negative or strong negative influence. Among non-enrolling students, 16% say the clubs had a positive or strong positive influence and 49% say it had a negative or strong negative influence. This is the only response on the questionnaire that has such a large discrepancy between enrolling and non-enrolling students.

One of the challenges facing the admission staff is that potential applicants and admitted students (and especially those without friends or family members who have been to Princeton) have difficulty understanding how the social system at Princeton works and are unable to visualize where they will live, eat and socialize in their junior and senior years, especially when they come to understand that the choices are not entirely in their hands. This confusion and uncertainty can dissuade students from applying or attending, as can information based on hearsay and outmoded impressions. Princeton’s website and other Princeton materials have been greatly improved in recent years and generally describe the clubs well, but both we and the senior leadership of the Admission Office believe that a better job can be done to introduce potential applicants and admitted students to the real nature of the clubs. We also believe that the modified selection process we proposed earlier would help reduce the level of anxiety that applicants and admitted students may feel about the way in which choices get made at Princeton.

Elements of an improved communications strategy could include the following:

  • More informative descriptions of the clubs and the role of the clubs at Princeton in written materials and on the University and admission websites. These materials should include pictures of the insides as well as the exteriors of the clubs. We believe there is also merit in providing links to a video tour of the clubs which would bring them more to life than can be done in more static representations.
  • Better and more detailed information for admission staff to use in describing the clubs as part of the residential and social environment at Princeton and in responding to questions about them; similarly, better information for Orange Key guides for the same purposes. One theme we heard again and again is that it is important to describe the clubs thoroughly, not try to gloss over them.
  • Most applicants don’t pay close attention to the nature and role of the clubs until they have to make decisions about whether to accept Princeton’s offer of admission, which makes it especially important to present the clubs fully and effectively as part of the Princeton Preview programs that the Admission Office offers to admitted students. These programs are offered over two separate Thursday-to-Saturday periods in April, and we are delighted that this year four of the clubs were open for tours during the first period, and four other clubs offered tours during the second period. These kinds of outreach efforts and active participation by the clubs in panel presentations during Princeton Preview programs and orientation are essential to effective communication and representation, and we encourage continuing collaboration between the Admission Office and the clubs in developing additional strategies to help applicants, admitted students and entering students to make informed choices.