How to Research a University


While preparing for university applications and alumni interviews, I wanted to find out more about what the schools I applied to were really like. Now that I have attended Princeton for a semester, I hope I can share with you some of the things you may want to look out for in your research as well as some resources you can use to learn about student life.

Obviously, your first stop should be either the University website or the admission website.

 

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Screenshot of homepage of Princeton University website

Here, you can browse the tabs that catch your attention and allow interesting links to lead you on a trail. For example, I noted the concentrations (majors) and certificates (minors) that interested me, perused the research interests of professors in the molecular biology department and checked out the social media pages of extracurricular activities and student groups such as Triple 8 Dance Company (where you can now find an introduction of me!) and Manna Christian Fellowship. At the time, I got so excited that I noted down 25 activities I would be interested in participating in. As a vegan, I also looked for more information on the dining halls and found this guide written by the Greening Dining Club to be a wealth of information. We also have a student blog on being a vegan at Princeton.

 

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Photos of the residential dining halls: Butler College, Center for Jewish Life, First College, Forbes College, Graduate College, Mathey College, Rockefeller, Whitman College

To learn more about the astounding breadth of past, current, and new classes, head to the Office of the Registrar. It was here that I first found MOL460: Diseases in Children: Causes, Costs, and Choices in January 2020, and I still can’t wait for the opportunity to take this class in the future.

 

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Screenshot of the course description of Diseases in Children: Causes, Costs, and Choices

Another useful resource is what you’ve already found: the admissions blog! The blogs provided me with stories that put color and faces to the information on the website. There are also 13 current students who are more than happy to answer any questions you may have, whether you are a prospective student, an anxious or curious applicant, or a deferred or admitted student. Please don’t be afraid to reach out by email! I wish I did when I was in your shoes, even if just to hear more about what college life is like.

Princeton also has an incredible student-run daily newspaper, the Daily Princetonian, also referred to as the ‘Prince’, where you can get an inside scoop on what is happening in the Princeton community. I turn to the ‘Prince’ for University news, opinions on current topics, and funny cartoons. In true New York Times-style, the ‘Prince’ also features a crossword, podcasts, photos, and videos.

For some more insider information, you can head to YouTube to see the beautiful buildings, numerous libraries, and various styles of dorms, as well as hear more about classes and what students do for fun. The University also makes a Year in Review - this year’s features the bonfire we had in celebration of the football team beating both Yale and Harvard - and provides more information on our Nobel Prize winners.

Don’t hesitate to chat with friends, family, and your high school counselor about your college plans - you might be surprised to find they have a friend who attended Princeton and would be more than happy to speak with you about their experience. I also learned a lot from asking my alumna interviewer about her time here.

Finally, you can take advantage of social networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook to find people in your area affiliated with the University or message someone who studied in a field that interests you.

Happy researching!


My Love Letter to Princeton


Princeton was the last stop on my college tour. This was not intentional by any means, it just so happened that I circled by Princeton last before heading to the airport. In retrospect, had I visited Princeton first, I do not doubt that the rest of the college tour would have been for naught because everything else faded in my memory as soon as I stepped foot in the Orange Bubble. 

I visited in the summer when Princeton is quieter, serene and as gorgeous as ever. There is something about the empty walkways and buildings that both intimidate and invite you in, and as a high school sophomore, I could see myself at Princeton, walking (or running, as I often do now) to class, weaving my way through the residential colleges in search of new study places (of which there are plenty), or sitting at a bench outside stealing a moment to myself in the midst of organized chaos. 

Now, speaking to you as a student who was lucky enough to be admitted, the beauty of Princeton extends beyond its exterior. To begin, there is also never a ‘standard,’ or ‘average’ day here. I might wake up expecting to attend my 3-hour seminar in a classroom, but instead spend the class time sitting outside with my classmates and professor discussing politics. I’ll think I’m spending the night eating dinner with my friends but instead find myself wading in the SPIA fountain on a whim and meeting so many new people. The opportunities and paths are endless here on a day-to-day basis, and they become even more varied the more time you spend here. 

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Me in front of Fitzrandolph gates

I also love Princeton for the people and how genuine they are. Even before I had committed to the University, Professor Ksenia Chizhova from the East Asian Studies department reached out to me to arrange a Skype call to talk about my interests and how I could pursue them at Princeton. She assured me of the attention I would receive from the professors and people here, and after I arrived, I saw how true this was. The professors are so attentive, friendly and care about their students. My professor for a course called “China’s Frontiers”  sent me a feedback email after the first class, complimenting me on points I brought up during the discussion. 

I also learn a lot from my classmates, who are inspirational in their drive and work ethic, their commitment to social causes and extracurriculars outside of class, and their willingness to lend a helping hand. Everyone here has an interesting story to tell, and my friends range from environmental engineers to future politicians. As someone who is greatly influenced by the environment I am in, I believe there is no other place where you will be able to become the best version of yourself than Princeton. So take the chance, and join our Princeton community! There is a place for you here.

 


Open Your Heart


Dear Great Questbridge Match Class of 2026,

Yes, it is official! You (yes, I mean YOU!) are a valued part of Princeton’s newest class, the Great Class of 2026. 

Maybe I’m moving too fast… let’s back up. In September, you worked tirelessly to submit the Questbridge National College Match application. Through October and the beginning of November, you waited with apprehension to see if you’d become a finalist. Then, once you became a finalist, you hurried to submit your supplements. The journey you’ve been through up until this moment has been filled to the brim with its fair shares of joys and challenges. I am intimately familiar with both (read: have you ever cried and screamed for joy simultaneously?). 

Despite the stress, not just from the college admissions process, but also from just being a lower-income or first-generation student navigating the U.S. education system, you have made it here to Princeton. I know you might not quite feel that you are “here” yet, and you may wake up many nights wondering if your match announcement was a dream or a stroke of luck. However, I am here to tell you that it was neither of those things. Even though you have yet to step foot in your dorm room or Frist campus center, or your freshman writing seminar, I assure you that you belong here. With every cell in your body, you belong here.

I remember that when I got my match email, I was sitting in my virtual French class. Although my eye fatigue was setting in at that point, my body jolted with adrenaline as soon as I saw the email at the top of my inbox. That moment felt like it would make or break my future. In many ways it did. I walked into my parents’ room, shaking as we opened the email together. In the rare moments that followed, my family’s joy pulsed forth in a sea of hugs and congratulations… finally, I had made it!

As I write this letter to you now, sitting in one of Princeton’s six dining halls, I’ve grown so much. In retrospect, my last few months of high school and my first few months of college have flown by in a blur. I say this knowing that when I was actually living those days, powering through the endless virtual classes, it felt like college life could not come soon enough. They seemed to drag on. But, I urge you to make the most of your final high school months. In those months, you will soak up the company of your friends, go to your classes for the last time and say many hard goodbyes. Don’t let those precious moments slip away as you instead grasp towards a blooming concept of college.

You will be changed here at Princeton. I know I have. In the past months, I’ve become a person who takes showers at night (enough said). I’ve joined the Princeton University Band and discovered a love for playing the cymbals. I’ve traveled to New York for the first time, and went ice skating for the first time, too. 

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Me posing with my band outfit and royal joes

Once high school eventually comes to an end, you will face the difficult but rewarding task of transitioning to college life. Please open your hearts to the experiences here at Princeton.

 I’ve changed so much, and yet I am continuously grounded by my Questie community. Though high school-me didn’t start making my match poster until May of 2021, the Questbridge community here on campus has consistently been here to support me and cheer me on, especially through the Scholars Institute Fellows Program (SIFP). Believe me when I say that there are hundreds of people here who can’t wait to meet you! 

With all my love

       Aminah 

 

An Open Letter to Our Future Quest Scholars


To Future Princeton Quest Scholars, 

As a QuestBridge scholar, I distinctly remember how nerve-wracking and confusing the entire match process was, especially since I was one of the only students in my high school who applied through the match process. I had to navigate through the arduous task of sifting through each of the university-specific applications alone. When I applied, Princeton was a non-binding partner school, so I had the privilege of being able to experience campus life during Princeton Preview, the admitted students’ event, before making up my mind. Personally, it wasn’t the admission letter that fueled my decision to attend Princeton, but rather what was implied in between the lines.  I saw that the University had full faith in my future success: they chose me over thousands of other candidates, as might be the case with you, and that means quite a lot.

This year, Princeton’s QuestBridge decision is binding which means, if matched, you’ve committed to enrolling at the University! Though it may not seem easy to assess whether Princeton will be a great fit for you despite all the virtual offerings and the descriptions you may have read online, this can also be a blessing in disguise. While your peers are still trying to decide which colleges to apply to, you have already done the majority of the work. Now your application is in the hands of the Admission Office who take care to get to know you, your experiences and what you’ll bring to the Princeton community.

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Admission staff on Quest Day

At this point in time, you may also wonder what comes next after you match with Princeton. (Besides a heartfelt congratulations and sense of accomplishment, of course.) QuestBridge requires that all partner colleges meet 100% of need for match students. In fact, Princeton is one of the most generous universities and always covers 100% of demonstrated need for all students.

As a Quest Scholar you may wonder if you will fit in at an Ivy League institution. There perhaps exists a false perception that all students at Princeton are wealthy (I even believed this myself.), but that’s just not the case, around 60% of students are on financial aid and I have never been isolated because of my socioeconomic status. Instead, we are motivated to seek out employment and internship opportunities that are equally accessible to every student on campus. There are also plenty of resources available for students who are first-generation or lower-income like the Freshman Scholars Institute (FSI), Scholars Institute Fellows Program (SIFP), First-Generation Low Income Council (FLIC) or Programs for Access and Inclusion (PAI).

Additionally, one of the perks of enrolling at Princeton through QuestBridge is that you will get to know a community of students who can empathize with your financial situation. I was able to develop relationships with other students who matched with Princeton through Facebook and other social media platforms. Through our conversations, we all realized that we all faced many of the same worries and fears and we bonded over them. Remember that this is unfamiliar territory for everyone--not just you! While networking might be somewhat difficult during these unprecedented times, I still encourage you to make connections with other Questies because this will be the community with whom you will spend the next four years.

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Quest Scholars wearing a QuestBridge shirt that says "Dream Big"

I wish good luck to all future Quest scholars and I hope that you end up matching at the university of your dreams, regardless of whether that may be Princeton. We can’t wait to meet the Class of 2025!


Finding Home


An April month not so long ago (okay it was 27 years ago), I was trying to decide what college I would attend.  I was blessed with several options. Ultimately, Princeton felt like home. I found the thought of writing a thesis invigorating and was excited that I would be able to engage with professors from a variety of academic backgrounds. The director of the African-American Studies at the time, Cornel West, even took time out of his busy day to have a conversation with me. Even then, when Princeton still included loans as a part of its financial aid package, my offer was the strongest I received, and I knew my family would not have to worry about affording college.  While many things have changed about Princeton (like no loans) since my decision to attend, I chose to return to the University to work in the Office of the Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity to advance Princeton’s broad commitment to expand access and success for first-generation, low-to-moderate income (FLI) students at highly-selective colleges.

When I was a student at Princeton, I participated in a two-week summer program, Freshman Summer Orientation Program (FSOP) directed to students who may have been the first in their family to attend college.  Since returning to campus, I have the opportunity to collaborate with the Programs for Access and Inclusion (PAI). PAI offers several programs connecting FLI students with each other and with resources on campus to thrive.  As I reflect on my own challenges transitioning to college, it is a source of pride knowing that first-year and transfer students are able to benefit from the ongoing community they find through PAI programming. Some students may find community through their participation in the revamped and extended version of my beloved FSOP – Freshman Scholars Institute (FSI) or the four year leadership program, Scholars Institute Fellows Program (SIFP). 

I was drawn back to Princeton because of its commitment to service and providing students opportunities to be engaged in the vital work of demystifying selective college admission. In my role at Princeton, I have the opportunity to partner with a number of amazing programs such as Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America (LEDA) and Matriculate. As a Matriculate Advising Fellow, Princeton undergraduates provide online mentoring and coaching to high achieving FLI high school students to support their consideration of highly selective colleges and universities.  This partnership aligns with Princeton’s informal motto, "Princeton in the nation’s service and the service of humanity."

During this “temporary abnormal,” as Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber '83 refers to this current state of affairs, try to enjoy exploring your college options. You will meet new people and learn about programs, activities and pathways that you may have never considered before. I encourage students to evaluate how a school fits your academic, extracurricular and other interests. I also encourage you to evaluate graduation rates, out-of-pocket expenses; and outcome data for colleges you are considering. Twenty-seven years ago, I chose Princeton as my home. I hope to see you on campus as a fellow Princetonian.


One of the Best Decisions of My Life


To the newly admitted Class of 2024, congratulations! 

I remember being in your shoes, quite intimidated by the college selection process. I remember asking myself, will I fit in at Princeton? Will there be people like me? Can I handle the academic rigor? Despite my hesitations, choosing Princeton was one of the best decisions of my life. 

What I found appealing was Princeton’s focus on the liberal arts and world-renowned undergraduate education. The University gives you the flexibility of taking classes in a variety of subjects before officially declaring your concentration at the end of sophomore year. For me, this was crucial because I was undecided. I came in as a prospective math major, but after taking classes in different departments, I discovered an interest in archival research and joined the Department of History.

I also knew I wanted to learn from my peers, travel to different countries, and get access to enriching opportunities. From traveling to India with a geology class to interning in Israel at a high-tech startup, Princeton has provided me with memories and experiences that I will cherish for years to come. Best of all, these opportunities are fully covered financially! 

Another important factor was affordability. The financial aid program here is amazing. My parents were worried they wouldn’t be able to afford Princeton, but the financial aid award I received made it all possible. Throughout my years here, the financial aid office has supported me every step of the way. 

Princeton has truly become my home and I wouldn’t have it any other way!


There’s No Place I'd Rather Be


It’s a tradition for Orange Key tour guides at Princeton to end their campus tours highlighting their “Why Princeton” story: a description of what brought them to choose the University for their undergraduate experience. Everyone's story is different, and as my years on campus progress I get more emotional each time I deliver it. Without further ado, here it is:

What drew me first to Princeton was the beauty of the campus. I didn’t go on a lot of college visits, but when my dad and I saw Princeton we both knew nothing was going to top it. But other, perhaps more pragmatic, elements of campus were just as attractive: I felt safe and loved that the campus residential community would mean I’d never need to venture off or live off campus to see my friends. The libraries scattered evenly among campus meant I’d have a different place to study for each day of the month. Having Nassau Street so close meant I’d have access to a bevy of global cuisines within a stone’s throw of campus.

But more than a physical space, I knew Princeton was a community. I was drawn to the residential college system and the idea that I’d have a smaller, built-in support network the moment I stepped on campus. Additionally, the Princeton experience lasts a lifetime: our reunions are a raucous, orange-and-black celebration of everything Princeton that draws nearly 25,000 alumni annually. (Check out this old New York Times article for a description of some of the antics). Local alumni networks like Princeton in Washington (of which I’ve taken advantage through Princeton Internships in Civic Service) host events for current students and alumni. In my experiences through the alumni networks I've had the opportunity to attend events with senators and world leaders. This means that the Princeton learning experience isn’t ever really over after you graduate.

I knew the students I would go through school with would be exceptional. I was, and still am, truly excited by the idea that I’m going to school with future leaders with whom I will share a crazy, one-of-a-kind four-year experience. I knew the University’s laser focus on undergraduate students, unique among its peer institutions, would exceptionally qualify me to become one of those leaders myself. In that regard, the University has exceeded even my own lofty expectations, funding weeks of in-class travel and summers’ worth of internships to enhance what I’ll take away from my studies.

There are thousands of undergraduate institutions in the United States. It's probably true that I would've been happy at many of them. But, I’m confident that there’s no place I'd be as happy as I am at Princeton.


The Deadline Has Passed…Now What?!


It’s post January 1 and (hopefully!) you have submitted your pieces of your application…that includes whatever application platform you chose to use and its requisite questions as well as your essays. Bear in mind that most schools will accept the “external” pieces of your application (college counselor and teacher recommendations, art submissions, interview reports) after the deadline as long as you have created an application by the deadline. So, no need to fret if that teacher recommendation didn’t arrive on January 1.

And now, the waiting begins. We recognize it’s not easy for applicants as we take the next several weeks to review applications and get back to you with a decision. It takes time, not just because of the volume of applications we receive, but because we are truly taking the necessary steps to get to know you through what you’ve written, what you’ve told us is important to you inside and outside of the classroom, and what the people you’ve asked to write letters for you have to say about you. Through this holistic process, we want to know what kind of student and what kind of community member you will be. We weigh all of those factors as we build an intentional community for the campus.

I realize that doesn’t make the waiting any easier! But, there are some things I suggest you do during this period:

  1. Enjoy your senior year of high school – it’s the only one you’ll get. The fall was likely a little stressful getting your applications together, but you’ve still got the spring to enjoy friendships and activities that only come with being a senior.
  2. Along with the above, keep your head in your studies. I know, it seems a little contradictory! But colleges want to see that you have maintained the good grades you presented when you applied all throughout your senior year.
  3. Continue to engage in your activities outside of class. While colleges won’t check up on this, the ways you choose to spend your time are part of what makes you YOU.
  4. Finally, and this is probably the hardest one of all, let it go. The process is now out of your hands, and you’ve done all that you can do. Try not to worry about the outcome. Know that the decision, no matter what it is, will have been carefully considered by the admission office. And believe that you will end up on a campus that is a good fit for you.

All best wishes to you as you enter this period of waiting. We look forward to being back in touch with you soon.

 


How My Life Brought Me Here: My Admission Story


No two people have the same path to Princeton. If you’d told me four years ago that I’d be halfway through my third year at the University, I would’ve told you to get lost—I certainly thought there was no path to Princeton for me during my junior year of high school. Like many of you, I worked hard both in school and outside of it, but I didn’t come from a community that regularly sent students to highly selective colleges, let alone Princeton.

My favorite high school teacher asked me in the middle of junior year where I was thinking of applying to school. I listed off a few in-state schools—which were great options for me—however, she wanted me to cast a wider net. Now, I won’t claim that my decision to apply to Princeton was that simple, but with her guidance, she opened my eyes to schools that I hadn't dreamed of. 

I stumbled upon this very blog one Friday afternoon as I dutifully began to widen my college search. I realized, after going through pages and pages of it, that I could see myself at Princeton. Excited, I told my dad we needed to go visit—and we did. We packed up the Camry at 5:30 a.m. the following morning and made the four-hour trek to Central Jersey. 

We hopped on an Orange Key tour not long after arriving, and I remember being particularly awed by one building: Little Hall, a dormitory that is a part of Mathey residential college. We only passed by it briefly, but our guide told us it was, ironically, the largest undergraduate dorm on campus. It looked like a castle, and I couldn’t imagine how cool it must be to live there as a student. Imagine my overjoyed shock when I was randomly assigned to live there my first year! My dad talked our entire drive home about how impressed he’d been with Princeton.

Just a few short months later, I was submitting my application the day before the deadline. I remember going to pick up my cat—orange and white, like a tiger—to hug him for good luck. The wait was agonizing. I must’ve logged onto my admission portal a hundred times before the release date, hoping someone would accidentally upload my decision early. In the week leading up to release day, I was so excited I couldn’t sleep—I ultimately ended up with the flu because of it. On the day decisions were released, I told my parents I wanted to open it alone. They acquiesced, and I went around a corner to sit and open my online letter.

I can’t tell you what the moment is like, clicking the link to see a tiger appear. Literally, I can’t because I briefly blacked out from the shock (and probably the flu). I can tell you though, what it’s like to jump around on the couch and scream with your family just minutes after. I still sometimes can’t believe it happened to me—I’ll be walking to class, or to my eating club, and wonder just how my life brought me here. 


A Heartwarming and Humbling Day


Thirty years ago, I stepped onto the Princeton campus a first-generation college student from a small town, intent on pursuing a degree in politics and applying to law school. I had a plan—one that was tangible and would land me in an occupation that everyone knew about.

Well, I followed through on the degree in politics. But somewhere along the road to constitutional law and torts, I realized that education and, more specifically, access to education was what truly interested me. I traded the LSAT for the GRE and enrolled in a graduate program that was a much better fit.

Most people who work in college admissions will tell you that it wasn’t their childhood dream. I’ve already noted it wasn’t mine. However, those of us who commit to the work usually come to realize that it is, in fact, our dream job. For me, being an admission professional allows me to do the work that I love—talk with people, introduce opportunities, dispel myths about how decisions are made and help build an intentional community for a college campus. The fact that I get to do this work at the place that formed me into a young adult and helped shape my ideas makes it that much sweeter.

Tonight, we will release the early action decisions for the Class of 2024—my first group of applicant decisions as Princeton’s dean of admission. During the past few weeks, my team and I have read and discussed the attributes that various students would bring to campus. I am humbled by the talent that exists in this applicant pool. There is no dearth of merit—that is, the ability to take what one learns here at Princeton and apply it to make a difference in the world. In fact, there is an abundance of merit of all types in the pool, which is what makes the decision-making difficult for our team and the process stressful for students, their families and their counselors. And recent developments involving admission to college takes the stress to an entirely new level.

I hope that no matter what your reason for being on the Princeton admission site (or reading this blog) you will note one important take away: Our job is to learn about our applicants. We do this not just through their transcripts and test scores, but also through their essays, recommendation letters and how they spend their time outside of class. Though academic performance is important, many intangible pieces of “merit” contribute to the academic and social fabric of the University. We look for creativity, a willingness to hear differing opinions, the ability to take risks, and evidence of a desire to work with others, among many other things.

My goal is to continue to use this space as an opportunity to provide some insight into the work that we do. Perhaps you will find that Princeton is a place that you want to learn more about. (In which case, I recommend you start here on the student blog.) Even if that is not the case, I hope that we can help make the admission process a little more transparent and just a little less scary.

Editor’s Note: A story about the newly admitted Class of 2024 will be available tonight at 7 p.m. EST on Princeton’s homepage.  To read future posts by Dean Richardson, Class of 1993, select “From the Dean” category on our blog homepage.