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.




From One Senior to Another

Dear Prospective Students:


Take a deep breath. I know that college application season can be a stressful time.  I’m actually going through the same process⁠—law school⁠—so I feel your pain. 

You’ll end up where you’re meant to be. You’ll be happy. You’ll be successful. Everything’s going to be okay. These are phrases we hear all the time during the application season. We hear them so often that we don’t end up paying enough attention to them. Looking back on my undergraduate applications, I’m realizing that everyone was right. You shouldn’t take it personally; your application is a very small representation of who you are, and the admission decision is not a reflection of you.

Princeton University's Nassau Hall

That being said, it’s difficult to actually internalize such an ideology. There’s no trick to surviving the application season. There’s no trick to being the perfect applicant. All you can do is your best, and after that, it’s a waiting game. What I can tell you is that you should enjoy your senior year as much as possible. Next year, your slate will be wiped clean and you’ll be left to find your own path, most likely without the help of the people you’ve grown up so close to. College is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced, and that’s both scary and exciting!

Take the time to appreciate the little things. The homecooked meals, the familiar hallways of your high school or the ability to go home after a long day. Appreciate the same faces you see, day after day. Take time to be thankful for the neighborhood you grew up in, your siblings who may annoy you at times, your pet that you love more than anything in this world. The distance that comes with most college experiences tends to complicate these things.

But at the same time, look forward to meeting new people, getting to know a new place or making new friends. Look forward to becoming more independent, discovering new interests and exploring a side of academia you’ve never experienced before. Application season is so, so stressful, but it’s also momentous; the decision you make will affect you for the rest of your life! So no pressure…

Take a deep breath, and good luck.

A Survival Guide to College Applications

As the deadline for early action applications to Princeton looms closer and closer, I’m constantly reminded of my own path to Princeton and the process it took for me to get here. I remember how stressful the college application process was, with everyone asking, “Where are you applying?” and, “What’s your first choice?” It’s easy to get overwhelmed by these questions, especially if you’re not quite sure of how to respond.

The process of making your list of schools to apply to is tough. I remember I didn’t understand why it was so hard when I was young; why couldn’t students just apply to every single school in the country? That way they’d surely get in somewhere. I didn’t realize that each application came with an application fee, not to mention the fact that the Common Application limits the number of schools you can apply to through their platform. (If the application fee is a hardship for your family – you can check with the school to see if fee waivers are available.) Upon learning this, I started to understand why so many students have a hard time crafting their list.

Princeton Lawnparties

So, how do you go about making “The List”? What should you keep in mind when looking at schools? Below is a survival guide to college applications.

  1. Location. Location is key. Many high school students can’t wait to graduate and go to a university far away from home, but here’s a pro tip: everyone gets homesick at some point or another. Maybe you miss your parents, siblings or pet. Maybe you miss sleeping in your own familiar bed. Maybe you miss that small-town feel. Whatever the reason, it’s very hard to go home for the weekend if you live far away. When I was looking at schools, my parents insisted on a “no-fly zone,” meaning the schools I chose had to be within driving distance from home. At first, I thought this was a huge limitation; then I realized that, since I lived in New York, I had so many colleges within driving distance from me!
  2. Campus feel. When I was looking at colleges, I remember that the way a campus was structured was really important to me. I wanted a campus that felt like a campus. For that reason, a lot of city schools didn’t make it to my list. One aspect of Princeton that I love is that it has a physical gate that clearly signifies where the campus is. This solid campus structure makes the school feel homier to me, which was important. If you’re a person who loves cities and being immersed in them, try adding more city schools to your list!
  3. Money. Money can be a sore subject that not a lot of people like to talk about. Nevertheless, the reality is that money is a huge factor when students apply to college. There are many different ways to go about this. In-state tuition versus out-of-state tuition can make a huge difference at some schools. At others, the financial aid program is what attracts students. When I made my list of schools to apply to, I made sure to keep all of this in mind before choosing universities. Princeton's generous financial aid program made college possible for me, as the program is need-based and is committed to meeting 100% of a family’s demonstrated need. Princeton also reevaluates your family's financial situation every year in order to account for any changes, making it extremely flexible!
  4. Academics. Of course! We can’t forget the actual reason why you go to college! The academic opportunities at a university will likely be a deciding factor during your application process. Part of what attracted me to Princeton was its academic rigor which, in turn, opens doors to countless internship and career opportunities.
  5. Alumni network. When you apply to a school, you have to also keep in mind your plans for after college. A strong alumni network goes a long way when it comes time to look for work, internships, fellowships, graduate programs, etc.  In fact, over 26,000 alumni volunteers work with the University in various capacities including providing opportunities and advice to students and young alumni interested in internships and careers.

I hope that these tips will be helpful to you during your college application process. However, you should also keep in mind that you’re going to end up where you’re supposed to be. The admission process doesn’t always work out the way you expect it to, and the stress of the “What-ifs” is exhausting and simply awful. Try not to feed into the frenzy of college applications; if you focus on keeping your own process under control, you’ll be much happier in the end!

The Waiting Game

Three years ago, I was in the same shoes as many of you right now. I had my heart set on going to Princeton. I had been thinking about it and preparing to apply for months. I had taken my standardized tests, fulfilled my academic requirements and consulted with the relevant people. Eventually, midway through October, I finally submitted my application to Princeton for Early Action.  

Then, the hardest part began: the waiting. After all the months of build-up, once you submit your Princeton application, the unfortunate reality is that you will not hear back for a while. For me, this was hard to reconcile. I wanted an answer right away! While I was certainly still busy with other college applications and my senior year course work, I remember how difficult it was to not obsess over the status of my application every second of every day. 

Eventually, I realized that obsessing was not going to get me anywhere. After you submit your application, there is absolutely nothing else you can do. You have worked incredibly hard to get to this point, so regardless of the admission result, you should be proud of yourself and your accomplishments. I know that this is easier said than done. Still, at the end of the day, it is so important to remember that Princeton is a highly selective institution. The number of incredibly qualified students that do not end up here is high. As such, whichever way the admission decision goes should not be taken as an indication that your hard work is in some way less valid. So try not to obsess about what the decision will be! Take a moment to breathe. Focus on the things you care about. Take part in activities that take your mind off of the waiting. While this is easy for me to say in retrospect, it was only once I stopped obsessing over the waiting that I was able to make the most of my senior year. 

I started studying Arabic, took up rock-climbing and ran on my high school cross-country team. Outside of adopting these new activities, I tried to make more time for things I had been too busy for most of high school. I ate more meals together with my family. I finally watched the show, "Grey’s Anatomy," to understand what all the hype was about. I went to a yoga class with my friend (and promptly determined that there was a reason I had not done yoga during all of high school). I still thought about college and applications, but I also made space for new explorations and existing passions. Ultimately, when it finally came time to hear the admission result, I was nervous (that is totally normal), but ready!

You May Say I'm A Dreamer

For the past three years, I’ve kept the same slip of paper pinned to the bulletin board in my dorm room. It reads:

“I think guitar groups are becoming passé.” – Record Company Executive in his 1962 rejection letter, one of many sent to the unsigned Liverpool-based band known as The Beatles.

In 1963, The Beatles became the biggest musical group in England.

In 1964, The Beatles became the biggest band in the world.

Each day, I carry these words with me.

At a university like Princeton, rejection is inevitable. Here, I am surrounded by some of the smartest, most talented people I have ever met. And I wouldn’t change that for anything. This is the path I chose, and it is the path I would choose time and again if I had to do it all over. The path is not easy, but I never wanted it to be. I came to Princeton wanting to grow. To push myself, to be inspired—to learn just how much I do not know.

And so, whenever I open an email and see the familiar words: “Thank you for your application. Unfortunately, we are unable to accept you at this time," my mind returns to The Beatles. The words on that little slip of paper have taught me not to fear rejection, but rather to embrace it as a reminder that I am brave. I am resilient. I am here.

Just years before founding Disney World, Walt Disney was fired by a news editor for “lack of imagination.” Growing up, Albert Einstein was oftentimes called “mentally handicapped” by teachers who said that he would amount to nothing. J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” was rejected by publishers 12 times. One rejection letter advised Rowling to “get a day job” because she had “no future in writing children’s novels.” The net worth of these individuals? Sky-high. The look on their critics’ faces as they realized how foolish they'd been? Priceless. As J.K. Rowling states: "It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default."

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default. 

Naysayers are nothing. Live the life you’ve imagined. Audition for your favorite a cappella group. Interview for a position you’re passionate about, even when you know you’re not the most qualified candidate. Apply for that ultra-competitive summer internship in Paris. Whether you wind up munching on a baguette in front of the Eiffel Tower or adding another tier to the tower of rejection letters in your dorm room, you’ll know that you put yourself out there. You lived.

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…” Listen to the boy from Liverpool. You’re in good company, after all.

Image: dreamer_0.jpg