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Special Features of the Undergraduate Program

Structure of the Program of Study

Instruction is offered at Princeton during the fall and spring terms. Each term lasts 15 weeks, and consists of 12 weeks of scheduled classes, a 10-day reading period, and an 11-day final exam period.

Term-Time Instruction

Most social science and humanities courses feature two hours of class lectures and an hour-long preceptorial each week. Alternatively, courses meet for two 90-minute sessions, which incorporate significant class discussion. The weekly preceptorial supplements the lectures and is intended to provide an opportunity for wide-ranging exploration of the subject matter of the course in a small-group setting. The role of the preceptor is neither to lecture nor to test the student's ability to marshal facts but rather to encourage each member of the group to grasp and evaluate the subject and its implications. Members of the faculty of all ranks serve as preceptors, as do selected graduate students. Precept participation is regarded as an integral component of a course and, as such, can influence a student's grade to a significant extent.

Many courses in the sciences and engineering also feature laboratory work. Laboratory meetings provide an opportunity for the interchange of ideas between the students and the instructor. Working in small groups and under faculty supervision, students investigate the underlying principles of the subject they are studying and gain firsthand experimental knowledge of scientific methods.

In addition to the more standard courses described above, students may also participate in specially designed courses that offer a variety of different formats. These include:

Reading Courses

With the support and guidance of a faculty member, a student may propose a reading course in an area not normally offered as a regular part of the curriculum if it complements his or her academic program. Such courses are set up as tutorials and count as regular courses. Students develop syllabi for such courses in consultation with the instructor, and are expected to meet weekly with the instructor--generally for two to three hours per week. Such courses are not a rubric for departmental independent work. They do not satisfy distribution requirements but may be counted as departmental courses. Students are normally limited to one per term. Students interested in applying for a reading course must do so through the Office of the Dean of the College.


Seminars are offered in numerous departments and interdisciplinary programs. They have limited enrollment, usually by application, and they emphasize active participation by students in the investigation of a particular topic or problem. Seminars are most commonly offered as upper-level courses, except for the freshman seminars and the writing seminars, designed specifically for entering students. The Program of Freshman Seminars in the Residential Colleges offers approximately 75 seminars a year in the humanities, the social sciences, the natural sciences, and engineering.

Student-Initiated Seminars

Students may propose seminars on topics of special interest to them to the Committee on the Course of Study. In making such applications, the initiators develop reading lists and formal structures for the course and solicit the participation of a member or members of the faculty. If approved, student-initiated seminars count as regular courses within an individual's program of study. They do not satisfy distribution requirements. Inquiries should be directed to the Office of the Dean of the College.

Recent seminars have been offered on the following topics: "Southeast Asia," "Women's Issues in a Global Context," "Contemporary American Indians," "Computer Animation," "Toward an Ethical CO2 Emissions Trajectory for Princeton," and "Farm to Fork: The State of America's Food System Today."

Reading Periods

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. The "dean's date" for final submission of written work (term papers, lab reports, final projects) falls on the last day of reading period.

Final Examination Periods

The registrar schedules final examinations at the end of each term for all courses offering such an exercise. Students should plan to be available on campus throughout the examination period and should not make any plans to be away from campus until the final exam schedule has been published.

Advanced Placement

The advanced placement policy at Princeton is designed to give recognition to college-level academic achievement prior to matriculation and to allow students to pursue their studies at a level appropriate to their preparation.

There are two bases on which individual departments may award advanced placement: (1) official score reports from Advanced Placement Examinations, College Board SAT Reasoning Test and SAT Subject Tests, the International Baccalaureate (higher level), or British A-level examinations. (Please note: No student test scores will be recorded post-graduation.) (2) Results of placement tests offered by departments at Princeton. Departmental placement tests are offered in foreign languages, physics, and chemistry prior to course registration in September.

Students normally will not receive advanced placement for college courses taken prior to matriculation unless they take an approved standardized examination or a placement test offered by the appropriate department at Princeton. The Mathematics department has its own placement procedures.

The advanced placement policy for most departments appears in the departmental information sections of this catalog.

The principal features of advanced placement are:

1. A student who has been granted advanced placement by Princeton may enroll in appropriate advanced courses. The advanced placement is granted whether or not the student decides to enroll in such courses. If a student takes a course deemed equivalent to one for which advanced placement was granted, the student forfeits the use of the advanced placement unit(s) for advanced standing at Princeton.

2. Advanced placement in a foreign language, that is, placement in a 200-level course, satisfies the A.B. foreign language requirement.

3. Advanced placement cannot be used to fulfill the University writing or distribution requirements.

4. Advanced placement cannot be used to make up course deficiencies or to reduce the course load during a given term.

5. Advanced placement can be used to reduce the number of terms needed for graduation, provided that the student is eligible for advanced standing. Eligibility depends upon the number and the subject areas of the advanced placement units presented by the student. An advanced placement unit is the equivalent of one Princeton course, except in foreign language, where the maximum number of advanced placement units is two, regardless of the number of Princeton courses that are replaced. Students may apply for advanced standing under the following conditions:

a) Candidates for the A.B. degree who have eight advanced placement units (equivalent to eight Princeton courses) will be eligible to apply for one year of advanced standing. These eight units must be distributed in at least three subject areas. (Subject areas are defined as foreign languages; historical analysis; literature and the arts; quantitative reasoning; science and technology; social analysis.)

b) Candidates for the A.B. degree who have four advanced placement units (equivalent to four Princeton courses) in at least two subject areas will be eligible to apply for one term of advanced standing.

c) Candidates for the B.S.E. degree who have eight advanced placement units, among them two in physics, two in mathematics, and one in chemistry, will be eligible for a full year of advanced standing.

d) Candidates for the B.S.E. degree who have four advanced placement units, including two in physics, one in mathematics, and one in chemistry, will be eligible for one term of advanced standing.

Advanced Standing

Students who have been granted sufficient advanced placement to qualify for advanced standing may apply to the Faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing for graduation in either three years or with three and one-half years of study. Students must submit applications for a year of advanced standing no later than the beginning of spring term of the freshman year and must use the advanced standing prior to the start of the junior year.

Students eligible for one year of advanced standing may apply to become second-semester sophomores in the spring of their first year of residence, or first-term juniors in the fall of their second year of residence. The Faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing will review the academic records of all applicants to determine the appropriateness of graduating in three years and to verify that the minimum grade requirement established by the committee has been met. The committee may rescind advanced standing if, in its judgment, the student has not made satisfactory academic progress. Students who apply for one year of advanced standing normally will have completed the writing requirement, the foreign language requirement, and all prerequisites for concentration in a department before the start of their second year of residence.

Students eligible for one term of advanced standing may apply to spend one term of their sophomore year away from the University. The Faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing will review the academic records of all applicants to determine the appropriateness of completing the degree requirements in three and one-half years of residence and to verify that the minimum grade requirement established by the committee has been met. Freshmen who expect to be away in the fall term of the sophomore year should meet with their residential college dean or director of studies by April 1 to discuss their plans; those who expect to be away in the spring of the sophomore year should discuss their plans with their residential college dean or director of studies by December 1 of the sophomore year.


Community-Based Learning Initiative

The Community-Based Learning Initiative (CBLI) is a curricular program that connects students' academic work with their interests in and concerns for the communities around the University. CBLI's mission is to make learning a genuine form of service, and service a genuine form of learning. Community-based learning enriches course work by encouraging students to apply the knowledge and skills learned in the classroom to the pressing issues that affect our local communities. Working with faculty members and community leaders, students develop research projects, collect and analyze data, and share their results and conclusions, not just with their professors, but also with organizations and agencies that can make use of the information. Students may do such community-based work both in courses and, in a more in-depth manner, as part of junior independent work or the senior thesis.

Early Departmental Concentration

A student may begin to concentrate in a department in the sophomore year. Early concentrators who are qualified to do so engage in independent work during the second term of the sophomore year in addition to the usual four courses. Participation in early concentration does not bind students to a department, and they are free as juniors to enter any other department for which they may be qualified. A grade for the junior paper written in the sophomore year will appear on the transcript. This grade will remain on the transcript even if the student ultimately enters a different department. A student interested in this option should discuss course selection and independent work topics with the appropriate departmental representative and the residential college dean or director of studies.

Independent Concentration

Students with academic interests that cannot adequately be served by existing departmental concentrations and interdepartmental programs may apply to the Independent Concentration Program. An independent concentrator designs a rigorous and coherent program of studies with the support of at least two faculty advisers, choosing eight or more upper-level courses in the major field. The applicant for the program must have a strong overall academic record and is expected to develop a sound rationale for his or her concentration. Independent concentrators must fulfill the writing, foreign language, and distribution requirements. Individual proposals are submitted to the Faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing for approval. Inquiries should be directed to the Office of the Dean of the College. Applications are due by April 2.

Independent Work

Junior and senior independent work are defining features of undergraduate education at Princeton. Junior independent work in the A.B. program varies by department and may include a single long paper or project or a series of essays or projects. The junior paper is a valuable preliminary exercise for the senior thesis since it provides most students with their first experience of significant independent or original research in a specialized field. Several B.S.E. departments also offer opportunities for independent work in the junior year.

In the senior year, each A.B. student and most B.S.E. students complete a senior thesis or a substantial independent research project. The thesis gives students the opportunity to pursue original scholarship on topics of their own choice under the guidance of faculty advisers.

A copy of each senior thesis is forwarded to the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library to be stored for archival purposes. University policy gives researchers access to theses on deposit in Mudd Library. Fair-use copying, as defined by copyright law, is allowed for all theses on deposit.

Auditing a Course

A student is permitted to audit one or more courses in any term. Prior to enrolling in a course on an audit basis, a student should discuss with the course professor the requirements for receiving audit credit. This typically involves writing a course paper or successfully completing the final examination, but requirements vary from course to course. If the requirements are satisfied, the course will appear on the transcript with the grade of "Audit." If a student fails to meet the audit credit requirements, the course is automatically dropped from the student's academic record. Courses completed in this way may not be included in the basic departmental program of study, may not be used to satisfy University distribution requirements, and do not count toward the number of courses required for graduation, for advancement to the next year of study, or for the minimum number of courses needed in a term.

Graduate Courses

Undergraduates of high academic standing are encouraged to enroll in graduate courses that are well suited to their programs of study. A student wishing to enroll in a graduate course should obtain approval from the instructor of the course, as well as from the appropriate departmental representative and dean. Undergraduates must submit written graded work for graduate courses, and all assignments must be complete by dean's date unless prior approval for an extension is granted by a residential college dean. Graduate courses do not satisfy undergraduate distribution area requirements.

Study Abroad Program

The Study Abroad Program enables qualified students to spend either one term or a full academic year abroad for Princeton credit. The program is open to spring term sophomores, juniors in either or both terms, and fall term seniors. Students pursue their academic interests and enhance their understanding of another culture by studying at a foreign university, in an American college or university program abroad, or with an approved foreign study group. To qualify, an applicant must meet the minimum grade requirement established by the Faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing, specifically a grade point average of 3.00 for the two semesters prior to studying abroad, and present evidence of competence in a foreign language when applying to most programs in non-English-speaking countries. Approval to study abroad may be withheld because of an unsatisfactory University disciplinary record. Students on financial aid at Princeton will continue to receive aid while participating in the Study Abroad Program.

Students should discuss their plans for study abroad with the staff of the Office of International Programs and, when appropriate, with their departmental representative, no later than the beginning of the term prior to the proposed period of foreign study. The Faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing approves requests for study abroad. The deadlines for submitting proposals for study abroad are May 1 for students applying to study abroad for the fall and full year and November 1 for sophomores and juniors applying to study abroad for the spring term.

Students must submit a written statement that explains the reasons for wishing to study abroad, a list of proposed courses, and, if an upper-class student, a plan for completing independent work. Foreign study during upper-class years is generally compatible with departmental programs and objectives. As part of the application process, the departmental representative must approve the program of study and arrangements for completing independent work.

Credit for study abroad depends on the completion of approved courses with the grade of C or better, as certified by a transcript or similar report. Independent work, if required, must also be submitted by the assigned deadline.

Study abroad for Princeton credit is also possible during the summer either through Princeton-sponsored programs or in programs offered by other institutions, provided the courses that are taken have been preapproved. International experiences also can be pursued through the International Internship Program, which offers summer placements around the world.

Off-Campus Study--Field Study

The Field Study Program allows a very small number of students per term either to work full time or conduct full-time research in areas closely related to their academic interests. Field study substitutes for one term at Princeton. Students accepted in the program who wish to pursue a work experience are expected to hold responsible positions in a government agency or private firm or organization; they must secure the position themselves and may undertake nonpaying as well as salaried work. Individual projects differ widely; recent ones have included campaigning in local elections, conducting biological research in a private laboratory, and interning in a congressional office. The academic component of a field study proposal is as important as the job assignment. Students are expected to work closely with an academic adviser, both in preparing proposals and while engaged in the program, and will normally complete several papers or projects analyzing their experiences and demonstrating their knowledge of the relevant theoretical literature.

Field study applications are available from the Office of the Dean of the College. Proposals should be developed in consultation with the academic adviser and the academic dean responsible for the program. Admission to the program is granted by the Faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing. Applications are due by May 15 for fall-term proposals and by December 1 for spring-term proposals.

Off-Campus Study--Rutgers/Princeton Theological Seminary/Westminster Choir

On recommendation of the dean of the college, students may take courses during the academic year at any of these three schools for Princeton credit and free of charge if such courses are not offered at Princeton. Courses taken at these schools do not satisfy distribution area requirements, but they may be used to satisfy departmental requirements and do count toward the number of courses needed in a term, to advance to the next year of study, and to meet the overall number of courses needed to graduate. Princeton students do not receive course credit for piano, organ or vocal instruction taken through Westminster Choir College.

Off-Campus Study--Full-Time Study at Other U.S. Colleges and Universities

In exceptional circumstances, one term of academic study in the junior year or the fall term of senior year at another college and university in the United States may be counted toward the Princeton degree. Such approval is rarely granted and is restricted to those situations in which a student's program of study cannot be met by Princeton courses. Students wishing to explore this option must obtain the approval of their departmental representative and present a proposal to the Faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing prior to enrolling at another school. Under no circumstances will permission be granted retroactively.

Off-Campus Study--Individual Courses at Other U.S. or Foreign Schools

Students may, with prior approval, take courses at other accredited four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. to remove course deficiencies, satisfy certain distribution area requirements, and, with special permission, satisfy departmental or program requirements. These courses may be taken either during the summer or in terms when the student is not enrolled at Princeton. Except for students participating in special programs, such as study abroad, an A.B. student may take no more than three of the 31 courses required for graduation at another school, while a B.S.E. student may take no more than four of the required 36 at another school. All such courses must be approved by a residential college dean or a director of studies prior to enrollment. Courses taken at other schools under these provisions will not under any circumstances reduce the number of terms of study needed to graduate from Princeton. A student may not take more than two such courses in a given summer and may not enroll in such courses while simultaneously taking courses at Princeton. Applications for course approvals are available in the residential college offices.

Students may, subject to these same provisions, enroll in courses in foreign countries for Princeton credit. Students taking courses in other countries must obtain the prior approval of their departmental representative and Dean Nancy Kanach in the Office of International Programs.

University Scholar Program

The University Scholar Program is designed for a small group of students with outstanding and demonstrated talent in an academic or creative area that requires a substantial commitment of time and that cannot be pursued within the regular curriculum. Applicants are asked to submit a statement describing in detail the studies they propose to carry out to the Faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing. Normally, students are not admitted to the program until they have successfully completed their first year. The requirements for admission to the program are:

1. Evidence of outstanding scholastic achievement and a strong academic record at Princeton.

2. Evidence of exceptional talent and accomplishment in an academic or creative field the student wishes to pursue either within or outside the field of his or her concentration.

3. A program of study that does not fit within the requirements of the normal curriculum.

4. Strong support of the student's program by three faculty members, one of whom will serve as adviser.

A University scholar completes the normal departmental program but may have a reduced course schedule in any given term. A candidate for the A.B. degree may, with the approval of the Faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing, be exempt from some distribution requirements and from the foreign language requirement. Comparable privileges are extended to University scholars who are candidates for the B.S.E. degree, including the opportunity to begin departmental work in the freshman year.

An interim University scholar holds appointment for one term only, in order to pursue special projects while carrying a reduced course load. He or she is not relieved of University requirements. The application procedure is the same as for the regular program described above. Further information is available in the Office of the Dean of the College.

A University scholar must complete a minimum of 25 Princeton courses (with a minimum of three courses in each term of the first three years and a minimum of five courses in the senior year). A University scholar who is eligible for advanced standing may take only one term away from Princeton and must complete a minimum of 22 courses at Princeton.

Graduation and Honors

The degree of bachelor of arts is awarded to undergraduates who have completed the A.B. program of study, including departmental concentration. The degree of bachelor of science in engineering is awarded to students who have completed the requirements of the B.S.E. program of study, including departmental concentration.


Honors are awarded at graduation by the departments of concentration. Departments determine honors on the basis of the grades received by the student in departmental studies in the sophomore, junior, and senior years (including junior independent work, the senior thesis, and, for students in the A.B. program, the senior departmental examination). Each department chooses the weight to be assigned to the various components in the honors calculation. The degree may be awarded with honors, high honors, or highest honors.

Phi Beta Kappa

The Phi Beta Kappa Society, founded in 1776 and the oldest of all national honorary scholastic societies, has a chapter at Princeton. Election to this chapter is based on scholastic standing and is open to candidates for the A.B. and B.S.E. degrees in their senior year. The chapter generally includes in its membership the highest-ranking tenth of each graduating class. A small group is elected in the fall of the senior year based on their academic record in the first three years; a larger group is elected at the end of the senior year and is inducted at a ceremony on Class Day.

Sigma Xi

The Society of Sigma Xi was founded in 1866 to encourage scientific research. The society has a chapter at Princeton, to which members and associate members are elected annually. Election to associate membership is based on promise of marked achievement in scientific research, as judged not on the basis of classroom work but by actual research attempted. Each year a number of seniors meet this requirement in their thesis work. Election to full membership is based upon positive accomplishment in research, as evidenced, for example, by published work.

Tau Beta Pi

The Tau Beta Pi Association, a national engineering honor society founded in 1885 to offer appropriate recognition for superior scholarship and exemplary character to technical students and professional persons, has a chapter at Princeton. Engineering students whose academic standing is in the upper eighth of the junior class or the upper fifth of the senior class are considered for membership.

Commencement Speakers

The Valedictory and the Latin Salutatory are awarded by vote of the faculty to two of the highest-ranking members of the graduating class. The special qualifications of a student as valedictorian or salutatorian are taken into account as well as scholastic standing.