My (Many) Adjustment(s) to Princeton

Tags: academics advising diversity first generation grades support workload

On a very humid Sunday in the middle of a busy July, I moved into Princeton with a bubbly heart, a desire to learn, and excitement knowing that I was going to live in a new place. Okay, Princeton was new to me. I’ve always lived in New Jersey (in Newark), but at times, Princeton feels like a completely different country. The gothic architecture and Prospect Garden contrasted sharply with the concrete sidewalks and three-family houses I was used to seeing every day.

During my six weeks at the Freshman Scholars Institute, I didn’t feel this difference in culture. Many of the students who attended were, like me, from low income and first generation backgrounds. Outside of class we shared our stories and had great conversations as if we knew each other our whole lives. This sense of community permeated the FSI classroom, where I became comfortable sharing my ideas. Together, we learned about the resources such as the McGraw Center that could give us advice on how to be organized and how to learn at Princeton. I had a learning consultation with McGraw every week and I learned so much about how I learn in my classes. The people I met (who soon turned into friends), the professors and faculty I spoke with (who soon became mentors) all contributed to my first adjustment to Princeton.

One would think that being on campus for six weeks would prevent feelings of imposter syndrome going into the first semester, but my confidence slowly dissipated in September as I met students who seemed more intelligent and talented than me. (I italicize “seem” because that was/is not the case!) The classes became more challenging, and there were times I looked at problems and I honestly didn’t know what to do. I started to feel as if my late nights and early mornings were getting me nowhere, as I kept getting grades that I did not like. I kept feeling that if I just tried harder, I could get where I needed to be. However, “harder” didn’t necessarily mean more efficient. I started to live in my head, and to feel insignificant. “What should I say so they won’t think I’m stupid?” “How should I act in front of someone who has extensive knowledge on a topic that I have never even heard of before?” I participated less in class and saved my ideas for papers and conversations with classmates where I felt I could truly express myself without any judgment.

When the second semester stared, I decided to develop a new outlook on being a Princeton student. The world did not end when I did not get the grades that I wanted, nor did my professors hate me for it. I started to get more sleep than I did in the first semester and the information started to stick more. My daily routine seemed more familiar and I conversed more with old and new friends. The second semester was not perfect, but I felt that I grew a lot since the first semester.

As you make your own transition to Princeton, I would like you to take away three pieces of advice to make your first year more manageable and inform you that you can succeed at Princeton.

  1. Ask questions. This sounds very obvious but you will be surprised at how easy it is to keep a question in your mind with a group of twenty other students who you think have a lot of knowledge on the subject. Be bold. Ask the question anyway. Once you receive the answer you can build on your comprehension . Here is another challenge. Ask the students next to you for help. Princeton is filled with some of the brightest and most talented minds in the nation (yes, that includes you too!). You and your classmates are your biggest resources, and when you are allowed to collaborate, please do. Go to McGraw tutoring, go to your professor’s office hours and pick their brains, ask your friends in your dorm. Think of it this way: Did you come to Princeton to demonstrate knowledge that you had in high school? Or, did you come to Princeton to grow and learn?
  2. When you feel out of place, go to your friends or other sources of support. There will be days when balancing life at home and Princeton may feel overwhelming, and there may be other days when you feel that you don’t belong. Turn to friends for support, or go to CPS (Counseling and Psychological Services) or the Office of Religious Life for counseling. They will lend their ears, keep your information confidential and help you with whatever situation you are dealing with. Believe me, going to class sad or upset is not easy. Dealing with these emotions sooner rather than later will help you get back on track academically and socially, and make you happier in general.
  3. Be patient. You will not always get the grades that you want. You may be tempted to sleep less, drink more caffeine and become more antisocial. Learn to work more efficiently (not harder!) to reach your goals. This means sleeping 7-8 hours a night and dedicating time to work distraction-free. (I must be honest, although I’ve been getting more sleep this semester, I am still being patient with myself and working on it.) You can incorporate hanging out with real life friends (not Facebook friends) into your studying as well. You will not always get into the clubs or performing arts groups that you have dreamed about, but you can always try out again, and not getting into a group may lead you to another passion on campus that you wouldn’t have found otherwise! Take each failure and success as a learning experience. They will only serve to help you adjust your approach to Princeton academically and socially.

Welcome to Princeton, and to an amazing opportunity to grow and enjoy learning!

Author Profile

oparker's picture
Olivia Denae Parker '19

Hey Everyone! My name is Olivia Parker and I am from the great city of Newark, NJ. I am a rising sophomore who loves to sing in the Willian Trego Singers and lead the SIFP Think Tank meetings. I am also a proud member of Princeton Faith and Action. I am planning on taking the pre-med track while majoring in Molecular Biology and pursuing a certificate in Musical Performance. I am passionate about helping students adjust to Princeton and ensuring that they still enjoy learning. Plus, I love a spontaneous conversation about life with friends and peers. Please feel free to reach out to me at if you have any questions or you just want to chat. :)