A Guide to the Residential College Office Staff

Right on your first day at Princeton, you’ll have a wonderful support system in your residential college: the dorm you’re assigned before you move in. But your residential college is more than just a place to sleep-- it’s a vibrant community with plenty of resources in place to support you. It all starts with getting to know two professors.

One is the Head of College: each residential college has a Princeton professor who is an advising resource for all first and second-year students. In Forbes, my college head has been Professor Maria Garlock, a bridge enthusiast who lives right next door from Forbes. She often hosts cooking get-togethers and special dinners at her home. 

Forbes College exterior

Together, with another professor who is the Dean of College, they organize college engagement events like tea & pastries during midterms week or sushi night leading up to course selection. Dean Caddeau, the head of my residential college Forbes, often brings his puppies to campus and is also very involved in the Princeton Garden Project among other sustainability initiatives. 

While the Head works primarily with first and second years, the Dean advises juniors and seniors in their independent work. Even after you may leave your residential college after sophomore year to live in junior and senior housing, your residential college will still look after you! 

You’ll also have a Director of Student Life (DSL) and a Director of Studies in your residential college. They advise on academics, well-being and your life outside of classes. Our DSL is a great resource for virtually anything, from getting better sleep to resolving roommate conflicts. Your Director of Studies is great for course scheduling questions or help with managing your workload. 

Each college office will also have a program coordinator and office coordinator who are integral in keeping operations running smoothly, organizing student events on the ground, and taking charge of every day. You’ll see them every time you enter the college office, and they’re the friendliest faces you could see! 

Together, the coordinators, directors, the Dean and the Head of College organize so many activities that make each residential college feel like home. Whether it’s the weekly study breaks, gear giveaways, sushi, advising sessions, outdoor carnivals, or more, the college office really keeps us all going.

Princeton’s Transfers: Small in Numbers, Big in Support

Princeton transfer students come from a range of backgrounds. Some are married with children. Others have earned badges of adulthood, like paying a mortgage or caring for elderly parents. Bodies and minds worn by military service may yield medical emergencies that conflict with final exams. These considerations exist on what are arguably transfers’ two heaviest burdens: 1) adjusting from the standards of another institution to the expectations of Princeton and 2) acclimating to Princeton’s culture as adults with life experiences. I do not intend to say that non-transfer students never face these issues. Some do. But for transfers, these are not just possibilities. They are common.


I know this because I have witnessed these events first-hand. I also know from my own transition to Princeton—which was much more difficult than I had expected.

I transferred to Princeton in 2020, when the world was on proverbial fire. I anticipated my first year at Princeton would be intellectually challenging—and it certainly was—but I greatly underestimated the social transition. During the 2020-21 academic year Princeton classes and activities were fully remote and while Princeton’s many resources made me feel academically supported, I initially felt socially isolated. The things that helped me endure two remote semesters at Princeton—besides my partner, Jenna, and our dog, Bishop (love you both!)—were the Princeton Transfer Association and its members.


Xander with his partner Jenna standing on campus behind a black and orange sign that says "Politics"

“PTA,” as it is commonly referred to, is a transfer student-run organization with two main missions: to advocate for transfer-friendly policies and to strengthen the transfer community. Since its inception in early 2020, PTA has made great achievements in policy reform (none of which would have been possible without the transfer program director, Dr. Keith Shaw, campaigning in tandem). Community building, however, has been much more challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic. This was especially the case during the University’s remote year.

Fortunately, PTA was resilient and held many virtual events that allowed transfer students to remain connected. For example, PTA conducted virtual “coffee breaks,” or informal Zoom meetings where members of my cohort could speak to transfer students who knew how to navigate Princeton efficiently and wisely. I attended plenty of these sessions,  just to connect with other transfers. At nearly every coffee break that I attended, meetings quickly turned from Q&A to transfers getting to know one another. These meetings often replicated some of my favorite memories from community college: conversations that naturally and tangentially jumped from topic to topic.

My favorite organized events were PTA’s “Transfer Trivia” nights. During these Jeopardy-style trivia matches, I mingled with members of all three transfer cohorts and appreciated focusing on something other than coursework. Coffee breaks gave me a space to chat with other transfers, whereas trivia gave me an opportunity to talk trash (as all parties competing in trivia ought to do). This allowed me to forge genuine connections with others. (And a bonus was seeing Dr. Shaw flex his vast knowledge of politics, history and basketball.)

Above all else, the best resource was the small group of on-campus transfers. I moved around a lot while serving in the United States Marine Corps, so I was well-prepared for the cross-country move from Southern California to Princeton, New Jersey. But Jenna had never moved away from home. Homesickness and the isolation of the pandemic made her relocation terribly difficult. Thankfully, a few transfer students and their families welcomed us both warmly. Made safer by biweekly COVID testing, we got together routinely for bonfires and coffee. When in-person interaction was scarce, the transfer community ensured that we were not alone.

Without PTA and its community, my transition to Princeton would have been much worse, and Jenna would have found our move much more difficult. They reminded me that I was at Princeton to do more than read and write, and that Princeton was a place for families, too.

I am grateful to now be the vice president of the Association. With the help of the PTA board, I plan to continue advocating for transfers and strengthening our community. And when President Alejandro Garcia graduates in the spring, I hope to fill his shoes, continuing his legacy of guiding PTA and ensuring that Princeton is a place for transfers because of other transfers.

If you are a prospective transfer applicant reading this, do not put weight on the fact that my transfer experience was more challenging than anticipated. If admitted, your experience will certainly be better than mine because you will not be transferring during a time like 2020. And if you do find yourself in that position, do not worry. The Princeton Transfer Association and its community will be there for you—and any family you may bring—no matter what.


Xander standing in front of Nassau Hall

Transitioning from a Community College to Princeton

Transferring from the Miami Dade Honors College to Princeton University has been one of the best experiences of my life and attending Princeton has been a lifelong dream come true. However, at first, I didn’t know what to expect of  Ivy League coursework. I questioned if my educational background as a community college student was enough to succeed at Princeton. As you prepare to make this transition, you might also have these concerns, but as a senior and after two years at Princeton, I can assure you that you are in great hands. 

As part of Princeton’s second transfer cohort since the program’s relaunching in 2018, I’ve come to appreciate this University’s transfer program because it’s unlike any other in the country. With each cohort amounting to just a handful of students, we all receive personalized advising resources from the program’s director, Dr. Keith Shaw. By taking a transfer-based writing seminar course during our first semester with Dr. Shaw, the program offers opportunities to have regular check-ins with our adviser. Moreover, the program also integrates resources provided by the Scholars Institute Fellows Program (SIFP) , which assists first-generation  and/or lower income students in their transition to Princeton. The transfer program also introduces students to the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning and Writing Center, which offer tutoring and essay advising sessions.

Taking advantage of these resources has made the transition to a major four-year institution so much easier.  Rather than being thrown into a large transfer cohort, we’re guided each and every step of the way as we take on challenging classes and begin to engage in unique extracurricular opportunities. In a way, the transition is almost seamless. The program equips you with the necessary resources to easily integrate into Princeton’s broader student body, while adapting to the academic rigor.


Alejandro wearing a Princeton University shirt

 If it were not for the program’s one-on-one guidance and countless resources, I would not have been able to take advantage of Princeton’s many extracurricular opportunities.  A week into my very first semester, I began volunteering for the PACE Center’s ESL El Centro program, in which I taught several weekly English classes to Spanish-speaking members of our community. I felt as though I was able to balance my extracurricular commitments with a challenging set of courses. However, a few weeks into my second semester, the COVID-19 pandemic upended my plans and routine, as it did for countless other people. I struggled to find worthwhile summer internships and fellowships after evacuating campus and self-isolating at home in Miami, Florida. Yet, after having engaged for at least a full semester’s worth of coursework and having built connections with several faculty members, I found myself working for two different professors as a research assistant. Throughout the summer, I helped curate research data and built several coding data frames.

During that time, I also led the founding of the Princeton Transfer Association as the club’s president. Through the group, we have worked to further facilitate incoming transfer students’ transition by offering experienced transfer students’ insights during the orientation process and fostering a sense of community between each transfer cohort with community-building events. Additionally, Princeton's opportunities are available to all of its students, including transfers. At the start of my second year, I was also selected by one of Princeton’s most selective public policy fellowship programs, Scholars in the Nation’s Service Initiative (SINSI). The program offers about six students every year the opportunity to partake in an internship with a federal government agency. SINSI helps students interested in public service and policy find a way to begin engaging with the federal government. 

Princeton’s transfer program offers a unique opportunity for students to not only make a transition from  community college to a four-year university, but it also helps students thrive in the process. The transfer program has created an environment in which students from any academic discipline and background can expect to overcome the academic obstacles within the classrooms of a world-class institution, while also benefiting from unmatched professional development opportunities. 

Best Apps for Princetonians

Princetonians have developed many apps and websites to make the student life experience better. Here’s a roundup of some of the best apps all Princetonians should have.


TigerMenus provides a simplified way to look at the menus at every dining hall. We have six amazing dining halls on campus, five associated with a residential college, as well as the kosher dining hall in the Center for Jewish Life. The dining halls all have unique, rotating menu options that this app allows you to check. I pick my meal destination based on which dining hall has the best menu while still being in a convenient location. Because it’s summer, only one dining hall is open, but here’s a preview of what a traditional menu looks like.

The menu for Whitman College


ReCal offers a user-friendly way to plan out your class schedule each semester. You can save different schedules to compare them and figure out which you like best. You can also export your class schedule directly to Google Calendar.

Naomi's fall 2020 schedule


TigerPath also allows you to plan your schedule for all four years at once instead of just one semester. It also checks how far along you are in fulfilling general education distribution requirements and the requirements specific to your concentration.

Naomi's four year plan on TigerPath

Student Room Guide

Student Room Guide includes floor plans for every dorm building so you can learn about the layout of your room and building. It also allows you to search for a room that might interest you for room draw by filtering by building, number of people, square feet and whether it’s substance-free or not.

Map of campus in the Room Guide app


TigerSnatch is a brand new app that allows students to get notifications when a spot opens up in a class that used to be full. It’s often hard to get a spot in some of the more popular classes on campus, but hopefully this app will make it easier to check if there’s an opportunity to enroll as other students drop the class.

Home page of TigerSnatch. It says: With TigerSnatch, Princeton Tigers can "subscribe" to full courses and sections and get notified via email when a spot frees up, saving time and stress during course enrollment.

The following are some apps made by people other than students that are also super helpful.

Speed Queen

Speed Queen allows you to check which washers and dryers are in use at any given time. It can also send notifications when your wash cycle is done.

Bloomberg basement laundry room availability on Speed Queen


TigerSafe has a lot of helpful features to keep students safe on campus. For the COVID-19 pandemic, the app links to our daily symptom check and the page where we scan our testing kits. It has a feature that allows you to share your location in real-time with a friend if you’re walking somewhere alone. TigerSafe also has information on what to do if you get locked out of your dorm.

Home page of TigerSafe ap

There are of course many more apps made by Princeton students and beyond, this is only a small list. To explore other helpful apps by Princetonians, check out TigerApps, a student-run organization that maintains and supports student-developed web applications.

Staffing is Princeton's Secret Weapon

My experience at Princeton has definitely been shaped by faculty and staff in and out of the classroom. They are great leaders and role models. A good amount of my time is spent in libraries, cultural centers and dining halls, places where I find people who also inspire me to be the best version of myself, who look out for my well being, and who are invested in my personal growth, even though they don't necessarily have to be. Guidance through academic advisers and professors were things that I expected to receive in college, but some things I've learned and hold close to my heart were also inspired by the staff at Princeton. Some of my experiences include: 

Some of the best lessons I've learned about personal development and academic growth have been through these spontaneous conversations. These experiences have led me to reflect on the following:

  • It's okay to still be undecided. You're not supposed to know it all at 18.
  • Don't just go to school. Experience it. Allow yourself time and space for adventure and surprise encounters. 
  • You don’t have to do it all. Just because you can doesn't mean you must. It’s important to manage your time when it comes to your academics and extracurriculars.
  • Take time to listen to others.  

I encourage everyone to take time and speak to the people around you, faculty and staff alike.  They are a part of my Princeton story and I encourage you to open your heart to include them in yours.

The Do's and Don'ts of First-Year Life

By now, many members of the Great Class of 2025 are excitedly planning out their first-year fall.  Although planning for a new chapter in your life is certainly exciting, there is a lot of information out there about Princeton University and trying to memorize it all is impossible.  Tiger Bloggers, Patrice and Grady,  hope that this post will put some of your anxieties to rest, by letting you know what you do and don’t need to know, from current Princeton students.

Before arriving... by Patrice McGivney

Do: Think about what you’ll bring to campus.

Consider what you will want on hand in your college dorm room, what you have room to take with you and what you can purchase once you get here.  There’s lots of sample dorm room packing lists all across the Internet, and a post by fellow blogger Naomi Hess, so I won’t repeat anything here. If you live very far from Princeton, be sure to consider differences in climate and environment. This post I made earlier will hopefully help you out! 

Don’t: Plan out all four years.

It might be tempting to plan out your next four years in advance, but to get the most out of the college experience, you’ll want to be open to new ideas.  Many students discover a concentration they never would have considered in high school, take up a new sport or hobby, or find an unexpected employment opportunity during their time here.  You’ll also have plenty of faculty, staff and peer advisers to help you plan once you get here.  

Do: Spend time with friends and family.

Especially if you’re moving far away, your time might be limited with good friends from high school and your family once you’re a college student.  Make the most of your summer, whatever that looks like for you, and take plenty of pictures to hang up in your dorm room to remind you of your loved ones.  

Don’t: Be scared!

The transition to college is a big one, and it can be nerve-racking.  But Princeton is a wonderful and welcoming community, and you’ll do amazing things here!  

When you’re here... by Grady Trexler

Do: Try all the different dining halls.

There are six dining halls at Princeton: four residential, a graduate dining hall and the Center for Jewish Life. For the first few weeks of the semester, I just ate at Wilcox, which was closest to my dorm, but I quickly learned to try other options. Each dining hall has a different vibe, and some nights, I’m just in the mood for a Whitman dinner.

Don’t: Ask other students if they’re also first-years.

This was more embarrassing than I expected it to be — you meet someone new, you think they look just as confused as you are, so you ask them the dreaded, “Are you a first year, too?” only for them to tell you that they are a senior. Mortifying for everyone involved. Try “What's your class year?” instead.

Do: Form study groups for your more difficult classes.

This was something I didn’t do a lot in high school, preferring to get my work done alone, but I quickly felt out of my depth in some of my harder classes. The earlier you can form a study group with your peers, the better.

Don’t: Walk to the library without your computer.

A companion piece of advice — don’t get all the way to the library and realize your laptop is back at your dorm (or, for that matter, your notebook, your pens, etc.)

Don’t: Get locked out of your room.

At Princeton, you carry a “prox” everywhere you go — a student ID card which accesses buildings (including your dorm) and holds your meal swipes. Don’t leave this inside your dorm room or you, like me, may find yourself locked out of your room on a 30 degree Fahrenheit night in February, having to trek down to Public Safety to get a temporary card.

Well, there you have it — our nine do’s and don’ts for your first semester. Are we experts? Not at all. But here are just a few things we’ve learned!


An International Student's Guide for Arrival

When I was an incoming international first-year student, I remember being super excited about Princeton but also having lots of burning questions about arrival. I wondered to myself, will I need to open a bank account? Where should I buy school supplies? What type of phone plans exist in the United States? I decided to create this four-step guide of my experience in order to help incoming international students with their transition.

Step One: Open a Bank Account

Getting a debit card is crucial to help you pay for expenses and having a U.S. bank account will make it easier to receive money from international currencies. While you will have to build up credit in order to apply for credit cards, it is always good to start by opening a bank account and build a relationship with that bank so that you can later secure a credit card. PNC Bank has a branch located just in front of the University, I highly recommend going there first!

Step Two: Get a SIM Card

It is important to have a U.S. phone number and some type of data plan. While on campus, you won’t need cellular data because you can use the University’s wifi. However, when you go off campus or to New York City, it is always a good idea to have internet access. Verizon, AT&T and Mint are all good options. During International Orientation, phone companies come to campus to help open up accounts, so be sure to be on the lookout for that!

Step Three: Find Dorm Furnishings

While many domestic students are able to bring basic living supplies from their home, international students basically start from scratch. You won’t have to buy any big furniture such as bed frames and closets, as those will already be in your dorm room. However, you will want to get pillows, bed sheets, a mirror, writing supplies, etc… I recommend the U-Store which is located on campus if you prefer convenience and Target if you want more variety in options. 

Step Four: Prepare for Classes

With a phone, debit card and a furnished dorm room, you are all set to start your Princeton undergraduate career! In terms of preparing for classes, you will want to check what textbooks are required so you can get them at the local bookstore, Labyrinth. You can always borrow books at Firestone library if they are available, or sometimes professors will upload digital versions of the reading material. 

These are just a few steps that helped me as an international student at Princeton. I understand how daunting it could be to move to another country, but with these steps and the assistance you’ll receive during International Orientation, you will be well on your way to making Princeton your second home!

The Process of Choosing Classes

Towards the end of every semester, students must answer the age-old question: what classes do I want to take next semester? While course selection seems like an impossible task when you haven’t even finished the current semester’s courses yet, this is a delicate art that all Princeton students come to master. So, I’d like to present you with a guide on how to select your courses.

Choose Classes Based on Your Concentration

This is a great way to get started on filling up your four- or five-course semester. Every concentration has its own set of course requirements tailored to students declaring that area of study. In fact, most departments even provide a sample curriculum or a general path to graduation to help students decide how to split up course loads. Granted, not every first-year student is certain of their concentration upon arriving on campus, but you should take the first two semesters as an opportunity to explore concentrations you might have not considered. Remember that Princeton allows a lot of leeway when it comes to choosing a concentration, so don’t feel like you’re wasting your time if you end up taking a class that’s not the best fit for you. Instead, you are one step closer to discovering your field of interest!

Choose Classes that Sound Exciting to You

I cannot stress this enough! While many of your classes will be taken for your concentration, do not miss out on the unique courses offered here! From “Princeton University Steel Band” to “Yaass Queen: Gay Men, Straight Women, and the Literature, Art, and Film of Hagdom,” there is always some course that attracts the attention of each student. Don’t worry if the class seems out of your comfort zone or intellectually demanding -- first of all, most courses at Princeton are, but more importantly, if you are motivated by your fascination, you will naturally excel in the course. Also, since not every course boasts a catchy title, I encourage you to read all the course descriptions as well to give each course a chance. 

Be Aware of Your Distribution Requirements

Students pursuing a Bachelor of Arts (A.B.) must fulfill general education requirements in addition to taking classes for their concentration. This includes one semester of a writing seminar, demonstrated proficiency in one foreign language, and an assortment of distribution requirements that will broaden a student’s level of knowledge. Overall, these courses may take up a significant amount of space in your schedule, so be sure to spread them out over your four years.

For most students intending on pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Engineering (B.S.E), you will have to take certain math, science and computing courses to prepare you for advanced engineering courses. Your adviser will recommend that you tackle introductory courses first so that you can fulfill most of the prerequisites early on in your Princeton career. And, you will still have room for humanities and social science electives!

Use Online Resources

Princeton’s registrar website has a lot of information and it may feel overwhelming to figure out how to create a balanced schedule for the semester. I recommend that you take advantage of these online resources carefully crafted by Princeton alumni who have faced the same challenges:

  • Princeton Courses: This website allows you to explore course information, ratings and evaluations of courses and professors across different semesters. You can even look up courses by concentration and distribution requirement.
  • Principedia: Once you have found some classes you might be interested in, you could head over to Principedia to read course analyses written by students who have taken these courses before to get a better idea of what to expect.
  • ReCal: This course-selection tool helps you visualize your course schedule in a weekly calendar format. It is incredibly useful to ensure that none of your courses conflict with each other and that you have allocated sufficient time to eat lunch between classes.
  • TigerPath: Finally, this is a tool for planning out your four-year course schedules. Especially if you are ambitiously pursuing multiple certificates or simply want to be well-organized, TigerPath can keep track of all courses you plan to take to ensure that you fulfill all of your concentration requirements.

That’s all I have! If you have any other questions about course selection, please feel free to reach out to me.

Revisiting WWII: My Senior Thesis

One of the most important milestones of the Princeton undergraduate experience is the senior thesis. Almost all departments require a thesis or some type of independent work. Writing a total of 28,000 words and 110 pages was definitely challenging, but extremely rewarding. I was able to embark on my own research project, choose a topic I was passionate about and put into practice all of the historical methods I had learned in class.

My senior thesis, ““Americanos Todos”: Redefining U.S. Latino and Latina Identity during the Second World War”, investigates the wartime experiences of Latinos who served in both the homefront and battlefront during World War II. Despite posing significant contributions to the war, Latinos remain neglected in dominant narratives of WWII. My work attempts to address this historical silencing and uncover the Latino wartime experience. I ultimately argue that the war influenced the emergence of new forms of identity by confounding what it meant to be “Latino” and “American” and catalyzed movements for inclusion that formed a Latino civil rights consciousness.

My research was based primarily on 47 interviews of Latinos and Latinas who participated in the war. Listening to their wartime experiences and how they championed sacrifice and patriotism despite encountering discrimination was extremely inspiring. They were constantly treated as second-class citizens and had to fight for their own inclusion and future in the country, motifs that resonate in modern discussions over Latino immigration. 

The overall process of crafting my own arguments and contributing to the historiography really helped strengthen my writing and critical thinking skills. Moreover, turning in this thesis, the longest research project I have worked on, demonstrated that I could do anything I set my mind to. There were many times that I was stuck with my topic or didn’t know how to approach the primary source, but my adviser was always extremely supportive. Everyone is paired with an adviser for the thesis and my adviser was extremely generous with her time and provided instrumental feedback.

Rob standing with his bound senior thesis

For prospective students, don't be afraid of the senior thesis! I know it seems daunting but Princeton prepares you and provides you with all of the resources and support you need to succeed. All of the papers I had written in other classes and previous independent work played a huge role in helping me navigate and complete my senior thesis. Looking back on my undergraduate career, writing my senior thesis is probably my proudest accomplishment.

Reflect, Rest and Write

It is quite easy to get overwhelmed and honestly swallowed by deadlines, due dates and syllabi at any institution. Making time to reflect or time to breathe is such an important part of my Princeton journey. Journaling is a part of my Princeton process and I would say that it's just as gratifying as turning in an assignment. Through journaling, I’ve been able to grow not just as a person but also as an academic!

Personal Growth

My journal entries sometimes follow a prompt that, for example, asks how many cups of water I’ve had or if I’ve complimented someone or myself today. Other times I can write freely and just tackle different parts of my day or week. This time of reflection allows me to decompress after a week full of good times, material and growth. I find that when I make time to journal at the end of a week, I am more mentally able to take on the next week because I've reflected on some challenges from the prior week. This reflection can sometimes lead to more confusion, resolution or even something to focus on as the weeks progress. But nonetheless I continue to grow and develop!

Academic Advantage

Journaling has even helped me in my junior paper process. An adviser recommended I journal through my reactions to texts or relevant social events that relate to my junior paper but aren’t necessarily important enough to include. These reflections allow me the space to just write without the pressure to tailor my words to sound more academic. With my ideas fleshed out and in conversation with current events, I can then approach my academic writing with a clearer path. 

Journaling, to me, is a way that I clear my head or make room for other thoughts. What ways do you see yourself decompressing after an eventful week?  I encourage you to find something that allows you to express yourself freely and authentically. I recommend doing something that you can do with others, by yourself, everyday or every week!