My Experience at Princeton University

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach—they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Stephen received his bachelor’s degree in history from Princeton University. He is currently a tutor in Manhattan specializing in English tutoring, Latin tutoring, social studies tutoring, and several other subjects. See what he had to say about his experience at Princeton University:

Describe the campus setting and transportation options.

Stephen: The town of Princeton, New Jersey is a beautiful, relatively quiet locale that is very much shaped by the university. The campus is small, Public Safety has a fairly large presence (although they are not really out to get students), and there are buses, but a bike is all you need to get around, if that.

How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants at Princeton University?

Stephen: Very. Professors know they will be required to teach undergraduates when they take the job, so while their levels of enthusiasm may vary, you will never get a teacher who does not want to be teaching. In my experience, the vast majority of instructors, from tenured professors to graduate students, enjoy interacting with students outside of class, and they love it when people show up for office hours.

How would you describe the dorm life—rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?

Stephen: I could write a whole thesis (some people have) on the eating clubs, but I think the majority of students find them fun, and there are other things to do, although the social life definitely revolves around them. From what I can tell, the campus dining options are above average, though the eating clubs vary wildly (Terrace is the best!). I can say with confidence that in my four years, I was in some of the worst dorms on campus and some of the best, and they were all pretty comfortable, all things considered. Some residential colleges have way more places for students to congregate than others, which is a little annoying, but not an insurmountable social obstacle.

Which majors/programs are best represented and supported?

Stephen: Economics, history, and computer science are some of the biggest departments, as well as the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. I chose history because I realized sophomore year that every time I wanted to take a class just for fun, it was in that department. That decision was largely due to my personal interests, but it is definitely the case that the history department is exceptionally well-run and focused on giving undergraduates a great experience. I cannot say enough good things about that department. Both my department and the school were generous with financial support of my thesis research.

How easy or difficult was it for you to meet people and make friends as a freshman? Does Greek life play a significant role in the campus social life?

Stephen: Greek life takes a back seat to the eating clubs, which do play a huge role in social life. The nice thing is that you do not join those until your second year, if you do at all, so you do have a bit of time to find your niche before people start to choose clubs. It is definitely true, however, that once people join clubs, they start to form new groups and some of the ones you formed freshman year break up, which is too bad but probably not unique to Princeton University.

How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services at Princeton University? 

Stephen: If you are into consulting or finance, you will be one of many people who Career Services seeks to support, and in general, they seem to do a good job. In addition to those firms, technology companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook recruit heavily. I do not have anything nice to say about Career Services’ ability to help you if you are not in those fields.

How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges?

Stephen: Dorm lounges vary wildly depending on the residence college, but Frist Campus Center has a ton of great spaces, and the libraries are also excellent. You will not have much luck finding a space in Firestone Library during thesis season, but it is a massive, if slightly intimidating, space where you can usually find somewhere to study. Chancellor Green Library is one of my favorite places in the world.

Describe the surrounding town.

Stephen: The town’s main streets are adjacent to Princeton University, so if you do have a reason to go into town it is very convenient. The area is largely residential, great for jogging but not exactly the most happening place on earth (or even in New Jersey). There are a few bars worth checking out, and there is also the Princeton Record Exchange, a renowned record store you have to visit if you are at all into music. Otherwise, Princeton is a charming town full of boutique stores and excellent restaurants that most people cannot afford to frequent.

How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes at Princeton University?

Stephen: To me, the student body was the perfect size. I was meeting new people and making new friends right up until graduation, but the size of the campus and student body meant I would see people I knew almost every time I walked across campus, which was nice. It really feels like home after you have been there for a while. I do not believe I ever heard a complaint about class sizes. More often than not, the small class sizes mean you get to know your professors pretty well.

Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.

Stephen: Being a history major, I looked for easy, interesting, introductory-level classes to fill my science requirements. The ones I chose, Molecular Biology 101 and Astrobiology 201, turned out to be some of the coolest classes I ever took. Molecular Biology was taught by three of the biggest names in the field, one of whom was the Nobel laureate Eric Wieschaus. This man had made astonishing contributions to the study of genetics, but here he was, clearly taking joy in explaining biology to people like myself. I learned a lot of useful, fascinating things from him, and I am still touched by his earnest desire to educate. The same goes for my now-retired astrobiology professor, who managed to take complex concepts about mapping the universe and deliver them to us in a highly entertaining manner that stuck with me long after I forgot most of the actual material.

Check out Stephen’s tutoring profile.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.