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First-gen Student and Local Politician, a Princeton Transfer Story

February 7, 2023
Thomas Emens

I am a first generation college student that was raised by a single mother in a low income household, so I never imagined that transferring to Princeton from my community college could even be a remote possibility for me. I learned of my admission to Princeton on the same day that I was named as one of the recipients of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, so my life changed in the span of just a few hours. I remember standing in front of the medallion on the walkway of the courtyard leading to Nassau Hall the next day, feeling a profound sense of gratitude and humility; and a renewed faith that anything is possible with hard work and determination.

I’ve long been fascinated by how America’s institutions and political processes can be vehicles for solving social problems and building a fairer and more just society, so I enrolled in a few political science classes at my local community college during the pandemic to learn more. When I decided to transfer to a four year university, Princeton was on my radar because of its politics department. With its interdisciplinary liberal arts curriculum and its emphasis on service learning, I felt that continuing my education at Princeton would allow me to pursue my interest in political science and public policy and help me apply what I learn in the real world, including in my own community as a public servant.

While the academics here are intense and there can be initial challenges making the transition to Princeton, the transfer community here makes even the toughest days worth it. Every transfer student has something about them that sets them apart from the rest of the undergraduate population at Princeton. I’ve learned so much from my peers and made friends in our tight-knit transfer community that will last a lifetime. The highlight of my day is having a meal with friends or having long and deep discussions (and sometimes debates) about anything from philosophy, or current events, to the flavor of the cauliflower they’re serving in the dining hall.

During my first semester at Princeton, I was running for city council in my hometown, which is about twenty minutes away from Princeton. During the campaign, my friends from the transfer community helped me canvas door to door in the lead up to the election; and since being elected, they're still there for me when the going gets tough. Along with our beloved Dr. Keith Shaw and Dr. Jordan Reed (Director and Associate Director of Transfer, Veteran, and Non-traditional Student Programs, respectively) the transfer community here at Princeton is here for you when it counts. They enriched my life and made my transition to Princeton successful.


Being a transfer student at Princeton is a journey that can take you places you never thought were possible. Every time I walk the campus and gaze at its Gothic architecture, check out a book in Firestone Library, or sit in a lecture hall where Michelle Obama and Sonia Sotomayor once sat, I’m thankful that I applied to Princeton. Believe in yourself and how far you can go because there’s a place for you here too. 

seven people stand on suburban street corner, center person holds campaign sign


four people pose for a selfie on the field at Princeton Football game