Undergraduate Student Blog, Speaking of Princeton

Undergraduate Student Blog

Welcome to the First Week!

What it's like to begin a semester at Princeton

For me, the start of a new semester is my favorite time of the year - and it's not just because of the new school supplies (although, they definitely make it a lot of fun.)! I really enjoy starting a new class schedule each semester; it's one of my favorite aspects of college. I absolutely love starting new classes every 12 weeks and, as a result, being able to learn about such a wide variety of topics each year. As a prospective student, I wondered a lot about what it was like to take classes at a school like Princeton, so I thought that I'd write a bit about what the first few week or so of class is like to give you an idea ...

The semester always begins on a Wednesday at Princeton, and the first two weeks of classes are typically a period of adjusting into class mode and getting to know the expectations of the professor and the course. Like in high school, the very first class typically entails the professor explaining what the course will be about and reviewing the syllabus, which they typically hand out (or provide online) during the first class. They will explain what you will learn, what the weekly and term-long assignments will be, and will give you an overview of the topics that they will cover. At Princeton, we have a wonderful two-week shopping period, which means that we often attend more classes than we will ultimately take during the first week to be able to choose between a few to ultimately determine our finalized schedules. (In case you are wondering, a typical course load for Princeton students is four classes per semester, with one required semester of five classes during the four years.)

So, for instance, my first week of classes I will try out five classes: Contemporary East Asia, Asian-American History, The United States: 1920-1974, Contemporary French Civilization and my Junior Seminar in French Studies (this class is usually for juniors, but I'll take it this year since I was abroad in Paris last fall). Truly, I wish that I could take all of them, but I will end up only taking four of these five. After all, I am a senior and have a thesis and graduate school applications to consider, so I need to keep my work load in check!

So, the first week of class likely won't leave you with a lot of homework, typically just some introductory reading that isn't too heavy. Then, in the second week, precepts start, which are the small-group meetings for larger classes. For instance, more than 240 students are enrolled in The United States: 1920-1974, so I will also have a 50-minute section that has a maximum of 13 students that meets on Wednesday evenings. (A class with more than 40 students will include a precept.) At this point, more reading and short papers will start to be assigned by your precept instructor, so the workload starts to pick up by the third and fourth weeks of class.

I hope that this gives you a sense of what it is like to start a semester at Princeton. The bottom line is that it isn't too intimidating, and your professors help ease you into it! Here are a few more tidbits that I can share from my own experience over the years: 1) it isn't necessary to buy or bring your weeks to the first class (I often only buy my books at the end of the first week, once I know for sure which classes I am taking), 2) the first two weekends are typically good times, in my opinion, to visit or host friends or to take a day trip to New York City or Philly since the homework load isn't too heavy yet, and 3) don't be afraid to switch around classes in the first two weeks; you want to ultimately have a schedule that you enjoy for the 12-week semester, so it is worth shopping around and being open-minded during the first week or so to find a schedule that works for you. Don't be so focused on what you planned to take that you miss an opportunity to switch it up and have a more fulfilling semester. I always take advantage of these first few weeks to get a bit more fun with friends and to find the best classes!

Which brings me to my last point about extracurricular activities during the first few weeks ...

In the first week or two, in the evenings there are tons of activity fairs and information sessions about extracurriculars on campus. And I do mean tons. This is a great time to explore new activities and to catch up with friends that you haven't seen during the summer months. For example, our campus recreation center, Dillon Gym, offers free fitness classes during the first week, so you can try out Zumba or yoga with a friend and get the semester started off on a healthy note! Also, student groups will have open houses, ice cream socials and auditions, so it is perfect that these first few weeks aren't too packed with homework because they are often still very full with activities and fun events.

To all those reading who are about to begin their first year at Princeton: Enjoy! And to those of you reading who are thinking of applying to Princeton, know that the start of the semester isn't too overwhelming at all and is quite a fun and exciting time of year!