Over the years, I’ve had so many people ask me what it’s like to be at Princeton. That’s a huge question, and a terribly complex one, but oftentimes it’s followed up with things like: “Is everyone busy all the time?” "Are the classes super hard?" “Do you ever get time to relax?”
My answer has always been, "Princeton is what you make of it”. I don’t think there is any one typical experience at Princeton; it really is unique for every individual, and you have a lot of say in how your day-to-day life will look. And it is very likely that your Princeton experience will look very different from semester to semester and year to year.
So what is it like to be at Princeton? I won’t get into any of the complexities and intricacies of being a student here, but I can provide you with a quick overview of what my daily life here on campus has been via quick descriptions of my weekly schedule over the last four spring semesters.
I took four classes: Gen Chem, an introductory molecular biology class, microeconomics, and French. I had two to three weekly lectures and a precept per class, plus a lab for mol bio and chem. It made for a busy semester, but one that is pretty typical for a freshman pre-med. I also was on the lightweight crew team, so would have practices from 4:30-6:30 every day. Thankfully, Princeton blocks out that time period for athletic practices so no student-athlete should ever have to choose between attending class or attending practice; unfortunately, many interesting guest speakers and other activities fall during that time period, too. On a typical day, I would wake up around 8 or 9 a.m., grab breakfast with my other pre-med roommates before our classes, attend class or work during the day, eat dinner with teammates after practice, and spend the evenings finishing up homework. I always set aside Friday evenings for something more fun and relaxing; Saturdays I often had races, and Sundays I spent doing work (although my residential college adviser always held a Sunday night study break to look forward to!)
This was probably my easiest semester, although I was finishing up organic chemistry, probably the most dreaded pre-med class of all. There's a big difference between sophomore and freshman year, I think, in that you finally feel as though you really understand how Princeton works. Sophomore spring is that perfect time where you've really gotten the hang of things, but you haven't yet started your independent work. I took my first departmental that semester, "Animal Behavior," and decided that I loved the quirky and fun ecology and evolutionary biology (EEB) department. I also took a theology class (REL 263), which I elected to PDF (this just means that I took it with the pass/D/fail option) because it was such a new, but super interesting, topic to me. I also worked as an EMT during this semester after completing the New Jersey certification course in the fall, so I spent around 30 hours every month volunteering for Princeton First Aid and Rescue. I also had just gotten into my eating club, Cap and Gown, so was getting to know a bunch of new faces and form wonderful new friendships.
Junior year I was studying abroad in Kenya with the EEB department, so my day-to-day life looked completely different from any other semester. I took a series of four three-week long classes on topics ranging from African mammals to the conservation of African landscapes to tropical agriculture. We'd wake up at around 7 a.m. every day with the sun, spend the day doing field studies or traveling, and come home in the evenings to relax and hang out. I had maybe 20 hours of lectures in total over the entire semester, instead of 20 hours of lectures every week. I climbed Mt. Kenya over spring break, met some of the most wonderful people, and got a glimpse into a land and culture I never thought I would see. It was an incredible (and surreal) experience.
While the majority of my friends are in just two classes, I'm currently enrolled in three to finish up pre-med and global health and health policy requirements. I'm taking the second semester of introductory physics, a graduate-level seminar in epidemiology, and a MOL class called "Infection: Biology, Burden, and Disease." In addition to this, I also work as an intramural supervisor and as a residential college adviser, which takes up around 4-6 hours over the course of two or three weeknights. My biggest worry besides classes right now is the thesis. As one of my good friends keeps reminding me, we have less than 50 days to go....! And, of course, figuring out the next steps beyond Princeton.