How the Semester Works

Tags: academics calendar courses workload

Dean's Date illustration

Many students at Princeton will say that you have to go through one full academic year on campus before you really understand how the University works. There is some truth to this adage, but arming yourself with some advanced, specialized knowledge about the rhythm of the Princeton semester and academic year can be enormously helpful.

Following your initial course selection, the first two weeks of the term are known as the free drop/add, or “shopping period,” during which students can freely drop and add courses on TigerHub, with the advice and approval of their faculty adviser. Don’t be afraid to explore!  The main goal, taking required courses and pre-requisites into account, is to end up in courses that truly interest you.

After shopping period, the next significant academic event is midterm week, the sixth week of the semester. Midterms are taken seriously at Princeton. Midterm paper assignments are not uncommon, and if a midterm exam is part of the course it is usually, but not always, taken during week six, either in class or as a take-home. Anticipate the need to make time for test preparation and paper writing as midterm week approaches.

The week-long mid-semester recess follows midterms, and upon returning to classes students have a three week window to decide about selecting the P/D/F grade option class for one of their classes. By the end of the ninth week, classes are set in stone – grade options are final, and you can no longer drop a class.

The end of classes is followed by Reading Period, a nine day window set aside to prepare for exams and complete final papers, projects and exercises. The latest possible deadline for any written work is Dean’s Date, the final day of reading period. A quiet calm descends on campus that afternoon as students rush to complete assignments, always followed by an outdoor campus celebration, sponsored by the Undergraduate Student Government (USG), starting at the stroke of 5:00pm. An eleven day final exam period follows Dean’s Date, and the semester (at last!) draws to a close.

Planning out your academic year with the rhythm of the semester in mind will help immeasurably with your transition to Princeton. Look for reminders from your Dean and Director of Studies to help yourself stay on top of your academic life, and don’t hesitate to see us if you have questions!

Author Profile

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David Stirk
Dean of Butler College

I was born and raised in New Hampshire, and spent my undergraduate years at Columbia University, where I fell in love with New York City. I worked at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts for many years, and studied film and photography there. Later I earned my Ph.D. from the American Studies Program at Yale, where my dissertation focused on the design of Central Park and nineteenth-century visual culture. My other academic interests include U.S. social and cultural history, art history, landscape architecture, and urban studies. At Princeton, I have taught courses in the Freshman Seminar Program and the Princeton Writing Program. In my spare time I am a big fan of wilderness trips, Mississippi Delta blues, and (despite all those years in New York) the Boston Red Sox. I’m married to the wonderful Peggy Wreen, who works at Symphony Space, a performing arts center on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and we reside in Princeton, a short walk from campus.

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