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Princeton sets 70% financial aid and 22% Pell enrollment goals

Princeton University’s Board of Trustees this month set aggressive new enrollment goals for low- and middle-income students, following months of deliberation by an ad hoc committee established to examine undergraduate admissions. The University should aim for an undergraduate student body that is at least 70% eligible for need-based financial aid and at least 22% Pell Grant eligible, the trustees said.

The admissions review, led by Trustee José Alvarez, Class of 1985, followed the 2023 Supreme Court decisions prohibiting most higher education institutions from considering race, ethnicity and national origin in admissions.

“Princeton’s excellence depends upon attracting and supporting talent from all sectors of society,” said President Christopher L. Eisgruber. “I am grateful to the board for its vigorous commitment to the diversity of our student body and for these thoughtful recommendations about how best Princeton can create new opportunities for students from all backgrounds.”

The ad hoc committee reaffirmed that the University should “act vigorously within the law to achieve the racial and other forms of diversity that are essential to Princeton’s excellence and America’s future.” It reviewed the University’s admissions policies, practices and processes to ensure compliance with recent Supreme Court rulings and found them “thorough and thoughtful.”

“In the changed legal environment,” the committee wrote in a report approved by the full board, “the University’s greatest opportunity to attract diverse talent pertains to socioeconomic diversity.”

The committee also examined several other aspects of the University’s admissions policies, including the so-called legacy preference, which provides a “tie-breaker” preference to highly qualified children of alumni. The committee learned that the preference helps fewer than 30 students a year on average gain admission to Princeton. While the legacy preference impacts “so few students that it has little effect on the overall composition of the University’s undergraduate population,” the committee supported its “continued, limited use” given the importance of the University’s bonds with its increasingly diverse alumni base and the strength of the legacy applicant pool. 

Chart with increasing percentage over time.

“Relentless” on socioeconomic diversity


Princeton has long provided one of the most generous financial aid programs in higher education, made possible by its endowment and the generosity of its alumni and friends. It was the first college to eliminate loans from financial aid packages and replace them with grants that do not need to be repaid, in 2001. About a quarter of Princeton undergrads pay nothing to attend, as they come from households earning less than $100,000 a year. Princeton’s financial aid also extends well into the middle and upper-middle classes, with more than 95% of U.S. households eligible for aid on the basis of their income.

Driven by a commitment to expand college access and opportunity, Princeton will now seek to enroll even more aid-eligible students from low-income and middle-income households, building on decades of growth in socioeconomic diversity. The percentage of Princeton undergraduates eligible for federal Pell Grants, which are awarded to lower-income students, rose from 7% in the Class of 2008 to around 20% in recent years. While recognizing that Pell levels will inevitably fluctuate from year to year, the University’s goal will be to have at least 22% of its undergraduate student body be Pell eligible.

Likewise, the percentage of undergraduates receiving financial aid grew from 52% in the Class of 2008 to 67% in the Class of 2027. The new goal is at least 70% undergraduate students receiving aid.

Because a Princeton education is a powerful source of opportunity and social mobility, “Princeton must be relentless in its efforts to attract and support more extraordinary young people from low- and middle-income backgrounds,” the report said.

Expanding the transfer program


The committee highlighted the University’s transfer program, reinstated in 2018, as “a critical means by which the University attracts and enrolls a diverse group of talented students from a broad range of backgrounds.” The program’s matriculants, almost entirely community college students and veterans, have thrived on Princeton’s campus and made important and wide-ranging contributions to the University community. Since its inception six years ago, the program has grown from around 40 to 100 students. Recognizing its value, the committee called for further expansion of the program over time. 

Continued, limited use of the tie-breaker legacy preference

The trustee committee also examined the limited admissions preference given to children of alumni.

At Princeton, the legacy preference operates as a “tie-breaker” between equally qualified applicants and so has narrowly limited effects on the profile of the admitted class. The overwhelming majority of alumni children who are admitted — all but about 30 a year — would be accepted without consideration of their legacy status, reflecting the “tremendous strength of the legacy applicant pool,” the committee said. About 10 percent of Princeton undergraduates are the children of alumni. The academic and non-academic credentials of these undergraduates, including the ones who benefited from the legacy preference, are as strong as those of other Princeton students.

Because the legacy preference benefits so few applicants, its impact on the socioeconomic and racial diversity of the student body is small, the committee found. The trustees also noted that the racial and ethnic diversity of the legacy applicant pool has increased over time and “will soon be at least as diverse as the overall pool” of applicants.

The legacy preference at Princeton recognizes a special bond between the University and its increasingly diverse alumni base. If not properly managed, the preference could modestly affect the University’s socioeconomic diversity goals, the committee cautioned, and therefore should be carefully monitored and not expanded.



The trustee committee affirmed that “Princeton’s recruited athletes both benefit from and contribute to the academic, co-curricular, and extracurricular life on campus in meaningful and important ways.” The University regards varsity athletic competition as valuable to its extra-curricular and co-curricular educational program.

Post-graduation outcomes of recruited athletes at Princeton are “impressive and generally indistinguishable from those of their non-athlete classmates,” according to the report. The trustees urged the University to continue to honor the principle that the recruited athlete population be representative of the broader student body in terms of academic and other criteria.