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. Use the FAQs below to explore some of the questions that you may have about academics at Princeton, and don’t hesitate to ask your Director of Studies or click the Ask a Dean button in the top right-hand navigation if you can’t find the answers!
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 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. If you wish to continue in a language that you studied in high school and don’t have an AP/IB/A level or SATII score, you will need to take a placement test. Placement tests in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, or Spanish should be taken online during the summer. 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 will be administered during orientation. Information on placement in other languages will be available during course registration at the Friend Center.
If you would like to study a new language at Princeton, 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. Beginning language courses (French 101, Spanish 101, Chinese 101, for example) 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. Remember that a 101-level language course will not count toward your degree unless you take the 102-level course as well.
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.
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. A student who wishes to change degree candidacy 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 their residential college dean or director of studies.
See also Princeton Degrees Explained
As you enter Princeton your new home will be your residential college: a place to eat, study, and relax and a place to get academic guidance and support. 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.
Before you arrive at Princeton, your Director of Studies or the School of Engineering Dean will assign you to a Faculty Adviser, a faculty member who 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.
Don’t worry: unlike many other places, students at Princeton don’t select courses until Orientation, and there will be lots of help for you! After you return from your small group experiences, towards the end of the first week of Orientation, you will have opportunities to talk with other students and faculty members during an advising fair called the Academic Expo. After the Expo, you will meet with your faculty adviser and Peer Academic Adviser in a small group setting for broad conversations about your interests. On the following day, you will select four fall term courses (the standard load) during a one-on-one appointment with your faculty adviser, who will have your high school record and test scores to help with placement. You’ll also be able to make changes without a fee during the first two weeks of classes.
Before then, though, there are some things you can do to prepare yourself: think about your goals, review Course Offerings (our online course catalog) thoroughly, and complete your Program Form (early August) and Academic Planning Form (late August). You can also look at the Undergraduate Announcement for information about prerequisites and majors. These activities will allow you to make the most of all of the conversations during orientation and the appointment with your adviser.
- When and how do I choose my courses? (more depth)
- What can my AP do for me?
- Studying foreign languages at Princeton
- Pre-health at Princeton
- Discovering your major
- Faculty advisers on course selection and success at Princeton
- Choosing courses at Princeton: a Peer Academic Adviser Perspective
- Introduction to the Princeton Curriculum
- So What Are You Going To Do With That? The Liberal Arts at Princeton
- Care and feeding of your faculty adviser
- Top 10 reasons to take a Freshman Seminar
- How do classes at Princeton work?
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!
The Office of Information Technology has a page dedicated to Student resources, which includes a Getting Started Guide.
You don’t need to worry about buying books until you get to campus (and you won’t even know your final courses for the fall until the day before classes start!). Students receive a 30% discount on coursebooks purchased at Labyrinth, the University’s bookstore. You can read more here about buying or renting coursebooks at Princeton.
A.B. students normally choose a major 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.
As you transition into Princeton’s academic community, 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, often in your first semester at Princeton. It’s perfectly normal to feel that the study strategies that got you here are not as effective as they were in high school, You have arrived at Princeton with good adaptive skills, and with the help of your professors and peers, you will learn from challenges. You have moved into a new phase, that of beginner in your area of concentration, and eventually, you will join the experts in your field of choice through the work of your senior thesis. Keep in mind that learning is a process that should challenge you. With time and practice, you will adapt and grow.
See How do classes at Princeton work? for information about different types of courses you’ll experience: the lecture, precept, class/seminar, and laboratory and Waiting in the wings for more about the arts at Princeton.
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 How the semester works for more information about the flow of the fall and spring terms.
For many students, “academic support” or “extra help” in high school meant working with a tutor to “fix” something, or to make up for a gap in understanding. At Princeton, “academic support” is more like coaching: the most successful Princeton students take advantage of opportunities outside of a formal classroom setting to enhance their performance, and no student goes it alone. Learning is a collaborative process here, 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. 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. Your residential college Dean or Director of Studies will be happy to help you to identify what kinds of support will meet your needs; keep in mind that it’s normal to feel challenged by many aspects of your academic experience, and we are here to help even before you feel lost or overwhelmed!
The first person to turn to is the instructor, either in the form of your preceptor or the individual 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. If you have any questions, your RCA, dean, director of studies, or director of student life can steer you toward the right resources.
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, see your residential college dean or 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!
The current and upcoming academic calendars can be found on the website of the Office of the Registrar.
All members of our community follow the policies as stated in Rights, Rules, Responsbilities. You will receive a hard copy of this manual this summer, and it can be referenced online. In addition to those guidelines, when you arrive on campus you will meet with your RCA (residential college adviser) who will discuss the responsibilities that each person has as a member of the residential community, and PAA (peer academic adviser), who will facilitate a conversation around Academic Integrity. Our Department of Public Safety (DPS or PSafe) is 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.
For more information:
- Public Safety - Get to know your community caretakers
- How to stay out of trouble: Academic Integrity
- Welcome to college, freedom and responsibility go hand in hand
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; explore the possibilities that await you in the Office of Undergraduate Research. You’ll want to get to know your professors and take advantage of leadership opportunities what will prepare you for fellowships, both as an undergraduate and post-Princeton.