Learning at Princeton
Princeton’s liberal arts education encourages curiosity, expands critical thinking, and prepares students to work in complex, diverse, and changing environments. We are here to support you during your transition into our learning community and throughout your Princeton career.
As a result of Covid-19, the FAQs listed below may not acurately reflect the Univesity’s current policies or practices. For all up-to-date information, please continue to visit the FALL TERM 2021 UNDERGRADUATE STUDENT FAQs PAGE.
Frequently Asked Questions
As you may imagine, there are some questions that arise anew with each entering class. We’ve taken the opportunity of answering some of the more common questions on this page. We will add to the FAQ list over the summer as new issues of common concern come up in the Ask a Dean correspondence. If you want more information about any of these topics, use the Ask a Dean link on the upper right-hand side of this page.
All members of our community follow policies as stated in the Rights, Rules, Responsbilities handbook and the Academic Integrity at Princeton guidebook. Our Department of Public Safety (DPS or PSafe) is also open 24/7, 365 days a year and is committed to a comprehensive and integrated safety and security program in collaboration with the Princeton community. If you have additional questions, please reach out to your director of student life (non-academic concerns) or your director of studies (academic concerns).
All A.B. candidates who have not fulfilled the language requirement on the basis of AP/IB/A level scores or SAT II must study a language at Princeton.
You MUST take the language placement test if you are an AB or BSE student planning to continue taking language classes in a language you have already studied in high school and you did NOT place into the 200 level with AP/IB/A-level tests (see AP table for required scores.). We also RECOMMEND that you take the language test if one of the following circumstances apply:
You are an AB student who would like to place out of a language or receive advanced placement credit and you have not done so through AP/IB/A-level tests
You are a BSE student who would like to receive advanced placement credit for a language and have not done so through AP/IB/A-level tests OR it’s conceivable that you might switch to the AB program and would like to demonstrate that you can place out of the AB language requirement.
Placement tests in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, or Spanish should be taken on Blackboard, and are availble over the summer and in January. You may access the test by way of Your Path to Princeton, which will provide detailed instructions and access information. Placement tests in Hebrew, Latin, and Russian are administered each year during orientation. You are welcome to contact any department.
If you would like to study a new language at Princeton, you don’t need to take the language placement test; you may simply register for the first course in the language sequence (normally 101), but for the A.B. requirement, it is advisable to get started as soon as possible. Some beginning language courses are not offered in the spring term, so if you are starting from the 101 level and choose not to take a language course in your first semester, you will have to wait until the fall of your sophomore year. The best advice is to complete the language requirement without delay. When in doubt, reach out to your director of studies.
AP credit does not reduce the number of courses required for graduation (31 for the A.B. degree, 36 for the B.S.E.) unless a student has sufficient AP credit and is granted advanced standing. It also cannot be used to fulfill the writing or distribution requirements. AP credit can be used to begin study in fields that have different levels of introductory courses or sequences of several introductory courses at a level that takes into consideration your previous work. In other words, you can avoid having to repeat what you have already learned and can advance to new material. You can also use AP credit to satisfy the A.B. foreign language requirement and parts of the B.S.E. math and science requirements. When in doubt, reach out to your director of studies.
Princeton doesn’t offer credit for courses taking at other institutions while you’re in high school, but after matriculation at Princeton, A.B. students can count up to three, B.S.E. students up to four, courses taken at other schools toward their course requirements.
Non-Princeton courses must be preapproved by your residential college dean or director of studies and a representative of the relevant Princeton department. Such courses can be used to remove a course deficiency, “banked” to offset future deficiencies, or used for for partial fulfillment of certain distribution areas. A summer course taken elsewhere must be offered by a four-year institution, must meet for a minimum of four weeks and 30 hours or more; a two-term course must meet for a minimum of eight weeks and 60 hours, be a course that a department at Princeton could offer, and be completed with a grade of C or better. There are quite a few restrictions and requirements, though, so it’s important to talk with your director of studies about your plans first!
During your first and sophomore years, your advising community will include your dean, director of studies, faculty adviser, peer academic advisers (PAAs), residential college advisers (RCAs), and resident graduate students (RGSs)–all of whom are affiliated with the residential college.
Your Faculty Adviser will help you navigate your academic choices during your first year, and will help you become more comfortable interacting with faculty members throughout your undergraduate career. Faculty Advisers come from a broad range of departments, are distributed among the residential colleges and then matched, as much as possible, with first-year students whose interests appear to be in the same general area. Faculty Advisers are good generalists who have a feel for balancing workloads, exploring new areas, and fulfilling requirements. They may also help you begin to explore your fields of interests, though as you develop your network in the Princeton community, you will also get advice and perspectives from departmental representatives, your director of studies, peer academic advisers, SIFP (for FLi students), and others in your community.
To get the most from your courses, you should seek out and engage opportunities for learning beyond those afforded by class time and in assigned texts. You might want to go to a professor’s office hours to pursue a topic more deeply than class discussion or readings have allowed, or because you are encountering difficulty with assignments or quizzes. You should definitely visit office hours if you are struggling in a course, as the professor is the best source of advice on how to improve your performance.
If you are not sure what kinds of questions to bring to office hours, a learning consultant at the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning can help you to frame course-specific questions to ensure that your meeting will be productive. Most professors post their office hours on Blackboard, Canvas and on the course syllabus. If hours are not posted, ask your instructor when they are available.
It seems that there is always a deadline for something at Princeton! Once you arrive at Princeton, your instructors will set deadlines for the submission of work during the semester, which you should take very seriously. If you are ill, or have another compelling reason to request extra time to complete an assignment, speak with your instructor before the deadline. If you need help, reach out to your director of studies. Over the course of the semester, the University also sets some important deadlines. Among them are the deadlines for selecting the pass/D/fail option and the deadline for dropping courses, both of which are the end of the ninth week of classes; and the deadline for the submission of papers and written work other than take-home exams (called “Dean’s Date”), which is the last day of reading period. These are very firm deadlines so please check your Timeline frequently for updates and review emails from your director of studies!
The Princeton calendar is unique, and because the year moves quickly, it’s important to plan ahead. Fall and spring have some characteristics in common, but also have some important differences. See McGraw’s great resources on Preparing for Exams and when in doubt, reach out to your director of studies.
During your first two years at Princeton, you will likely be challenged by new expectations: courses will move at a rapid pace; you may find that you are expected to solve problems in math and science at a higher conceptual level; you may read multiple unfamiliar texts that require new approaches. You will encounter disciplines instead of subjects. And you will be expected to learn the particular conventions and assumptions of multiple disciplines. It’s perfectly normal to challenged by many aspects of your academic experience, and we are here to help! You have arrived at Princeton with good adaptive skills, and with the help of your professors and peers, you will learn from challenges. Keep in mind that learning is a process that should challenge you. With time and practice, you will adapt and grow.
Learning is a collaborative process at Princeton, and it’s important to explore the kinds of resources available to you from the very beginning so that you can become an even better learner (think of it like coaching for elite athletes). Academic support may include study groups, one on one consultations with specialists to better understand your own learning, and much more. All of our academic support resources are free of charge and available to all Princeton students.
The first person to turn to is the instructor, either in the form of your preceptor or the professor in charge of the course. They will be pleased that you’re concerned enough to ask for clarification or further explanation of a concept or for a diagnosis of problems that arise on tests and papers. Additional resources include the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, which offers study groups and free tutoring in introductory chemistry, economics, mathematics, physics, and statistics (in some disciplines). The Writing Center offers student writers free one-on-one conferences with experienced fellow writers trained to consult on writing projects in any discipline. Counseling and Psychological Services in McCosh Health Center offers mental health support, which can be very connected to your academic well-being! If you have any questions about where to start, your RCA, dean, director of studies, or director of student life can steer you toward the right resources.
Every year some students enter Princeton as candidates for the A.B. degree but decide that they are really interested in engineering. Permission is granted for such changes on a case-by-case basis. Students who wish to change from A.B. to B.S.E. must plan their academic programs carefully, for there are basic requirements for the B.S.E. degree that must be met prior to the sophomore year, especially in physics and math. Similarly, some students who enter as candidates for the B.S.E. degree decide that they prefer to study in the A.B. program instead. Again, changes are possible. A major consideration in changing from B.S.E. to A.B. candidacy is the A.B. language requirement. If you wish to change degree candidacy, you should consult first with the associate dean for undergraduate affairs in the School of Engineering and Applied Science (258-4554, Room C-209), and then with your director of studies.
Each semester, you’ll have two weeks at the very beginning of the term to add/drop for free. After that, you can drop courses with a $45 fee, but regardless of when you make changes, you should always consult with your faculty adviser, and/or your Director of Studies.
You’ll have an advising appointment each semester before registration for the next semester; make sure you review Course Offerings (our online course catalog) when it comes out, and complete your Academic Planning Form before your advising appointment. You can also look at the Undergraduate Announcement for information about prerequisites and majors. These activities will allow you to make the most of your appointment with your adviser. When in doubt, reach out to your director of studies.
A.B. students normally choose a major (concentration) officially at the end of their sophomore year, although there is the option of becoming an early concentrator a term earlier. Many students will have decided on a major during their first year, while others continue to weigh possible options up to the last minute. At the beginning of their first term at Princeton, most students have no firm plans about a major and are open to exploring a variety of fields. Many of those who have already made firm decisions will end up changing their minds after being engaged by new fields of study that they had not previously encountered. When in doubt, reach out to your director of studies.
Princeton, as you’ll learn, is full of amazing people and ideas, but sometimes your interests will take you outside of the formal classroom setting, too. You’ll want to explore our amazing Study Abroad programs, which include not only academic year opportunities but summer language learning programs and summer Global Seminars. Princeton is known for its independent work requirements, but there are lots of ways to learn outside the classroom including connecting your academic work with service through Service Focus and Programs for Community-Engaged Scholarship (ProCES) and exploring possibilities in the Office of Undergraduate Research. Finally, you’ll want to get to know your professors and take advantage of leadership opportunities that will prepare you for fellowships, both as an undergraduate and post-Princeton. When in doubt, reach out to your director of studies.