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Managing Commitments

At the start of your first year at Princeton, there will be an amazing Students Activities Fair where you can really get a sense of all the different clubs and organizations available on Princeton’s campus. The social scene, the clubs and organizations will definitely color some of your experiences at Princeton. But with so many options, it is so common to overcommit yourself during your first year. Here are some things I wish I knew as a first-year student about managing commitments!

Pace Yourself

We come to college with so many passions that we may want to explore all of them! However, you don’t have to join everything at once. Take your time. You may find out about new clubs as the year goes on. Leave some space for spontaneous gems.

Less is More

I personally suggest to start with 2-3 clubs with differing commitment levels. Your first semester at Princeton can be very exhausting! The academic pace or workload may be different than what you are accustomed to. I know it was for me. Having spaces that allow you to de-stress is amazing, but too many clubs can lead to stretching yourself thin. Princeton would love to see you shining at your best with a few clubs, rather than feeling overwhelmed by too many.

No is Okay; Not Yet is Okay; Not Now is Okay

If you find yourself overwhelmed, you can always take a semester off of one club to focus on another. You can also choose to no longer be in that club altogether but still show support. Most clubs, if not all, are led by students just like you and they will understand if you need to take a break. Additionally, unless you’re interested in the club's emails or are planning to rejoin, do yourself a favor and unsubscribe from the email list.

Take a Less Active Role 

If you don't want leave or take a semester off, one possibility is to take a less active role in the club or activity. Doing so will reduce the number of hours you have to commit to that one club. That leaves space for you to breathe!

Once You Have the Schedule, Make it Visual!

Scheduling is a huge determinant of what clubs I choose to particpate in. I like to use Google calendar to schedule all my classes, job hours and expected club commitments in one place. If you don’t have time in your schedule to just spontaneously go out for a meal or sit and do something you love, you’re possibly over committed. Learning Consultants, which are students through the McGraw Center, can help you make these schedules or these tough decisions if you're feeling overwhelmed by your commitments.

I hope you found these helpful! Also here is the list of most of the clubs and organizations on campus.


Learning a New Language

As part of the Bachelor of Arts (A.B.) degree, undergraduate students are required to demonstrate proficiency in a second language. This can be done by either testing out through AP tests or SAT subject tests (if applicable) or taking classes in that language for three of four semesters at Princeton. While I was already fluent in English and Spanish, I decided to take Italian my first-year and sophomore years. 

Language classes at Princeton are small and you get to know your professor—in my Italian 101 class, we were only nine students. Classes took place from Monday to Friday and I really enjoyed learning from my peers as we tackled learning a new language as a team. I was forced out of my comfort zone as the professor would randomly call on us to speak in Italian, sing a song or read a script. We also got to watch movies and learn about Italian culture once we learned the basics.

One of the highlights of pursuing Italian at Princeton was going to watch an Italian Opera at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. We all took a bus to the city and all of the expenses were covered. I was amazed by the interior architecture of the opera house and felt grateful for the opportunity of going on this trip.

After a few semesters of Italian, I can proudly say that I can read and understand Italian. In fact, I recently visited my friend who goes to school in Milan and got to put my Italian skills to practice. Moreover, learning Italian allowed me to connect with my family ancestry, as my grandmother is from Italy. Learning Italian has opened my horizons in many ways.

If you are a prospective student worried about the language requirement, don’t sweat it! Language classes are one of the best at Princeton and you can choose from  Arabic, French, German, Hebrew or Wolof, to name a few. 

A Letter to My First-year Self

Dear First-year Self,

These next four years will be some of the best years of your life—you will take classes with world-renowned professors, form life-long friendships, and travel the world. There will be various obstacles and challenges in your way, but you will learn from these experiences and turn out to be stronger and wiser. I know you are apprehensive about fitting in and succeeding academically, but rest assured, you will get the hang of things.

I’ve written some of the biggest lessons that will help you in your time at Princeton:

Embrace failure

You will soon learn that failure is inevitable. You will face rejection from the internships you apply to, not getting the grade you wanted, and trying to compare yourself to others. Remember that every time you fail you come out a stronger and more resilient person. Don't let failure discourage you from trying new things at Princeton and putting yourself out there!

Live in the moment

Although you care about academics and trying your hardest, there are life-long memories to be made at Princeton. Go out with your friends instead of staying in for a problem set, go to New York City for a weekend and most importantly, have fun! Remember that it's ok to have fun once in a while and enjoy the company of your peers. When you look back at your time in college, the experiences that you will cherish the most are those in which you chose to live in the moment.

Be open to change

It’s ok if you change your major or if you drop a class you thought you would enjoy. I know that you are used to following a rigid pathway in high school, but this will not be the case in college. Your time at Princeton will be of self-discovery and adventure: chase after your true passions and you will find where you belong. Unexpected changes will make you reflect on what matters most to you.

Enjoy these four years because they will fly by. 


Senior-year you

My Experience as an Residential College Adviser (RCA)

One of the first people I met at Princeton was my Residential College Adviser, or RCA. Every first-year student belongs to a “zee group” of 15 or so other first years, living together in one area of their residential college with an upperclassman RCA who is there to help with any challenges or questions they might have. RCAs are the first resource for first years and do everything from hosting study breaks to mediating conflicts. I formed a really great connection with my own RCA and knew pretty early on that being an RCA was something I also wanted to do.

The application process can be pretty competitive, so I was thrilled when I learned I’d made it! I imagined all the different study breaks I wanted to do, from painting to getting sushi to playing bubble soccer. I was excited to be part of Clash of the Colleges, a yearly orientation event between each residential college where first years competed in fun games. And of course, I was happy that I’d be living in Forbes College again as an upperclassman. 

But as you know, this year has changed all of that. When we all went virtual, I was worried about meeting my zees online and doing everything through Zoom. I was incredibly disappointed and stressed about what the semester would look like. 

Fortunately, things turned out okay. I’ve been able to hold weekly study breaks online where my zees can come by to talk and play games, and I’ve organized some events with my fellow RCAs so our zees can get to know more people. I still meet with them one on one, maybe not in Starbucks as I pictured, but the sentiment is still there. I always wanted to be an RCA to be there for my zee group, and I can still do that.

As we look to be on campus in the spring per the University’s recent announcement, I’m cautiously optimistic and excited. I’ll be living in Forbes as I originally envisioned, and I’ll meet my zees for the first time. While large gatherings aren’t possible right now, I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to meet with them one on one, and truly welcome them to our Princeton home. 

BSU Young Alumni Panel Takeaways

The Black Student Union hosted a Black Alumni Panel via Zoom that gave recent alumni a chance to talk to current undergrads about what life is really like fresh out of Princeton’s ‘orange bubble.’ Edwin Coleman ‘19, Pablo Vasquez ‘18, Alexandria Robinson ‘17 and McKalah Hudlin ‘20 shed light on important issues such as work-life balance and future planning during the panel discussion. Below are a few notes, paraphrases and points I took down during the panel. I unfortunately do not have them accredited to specific people, but all were words of wisdom that the alumni shared with us. This event was sponsored by the Carl A Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding.

Some of the advice they shared for Princeton students: 

  1. Know your values.
  2. List out things that bring you joy and actively work towards including them in your week.
  3. Pour into yourself.
  4. Make sure you experience college; take time and look around; use the resources available; take advantage of once-in-a lifetime opportunities.
  5. Princeton teaches you how to look tough deadlines in the face, and navigate them with less discomfort.
  6.  We are able to navigate places like Princeton after we graduate with a little more ease.  
  7. Be resilient and take more care of your mental health.
  8. We need to unlearn equating our value with productivity.
  9. Find your academic niche.
  10. Post college, lean in on the discomfort of being alone.
  11. What’s your unique perspective? 
  12. For interviews and applications: know your skills, and what void you will fill in the industry.
  13. After college, if you seek community, create it.
  14. Set clear boundaries and expectations.
  15. If time and money weren’t factors, what would your dream job be? Lean into that dream.

From wise alumni, these words are here for prospective students to think through and truly reflect as they enter this space. Remain true to yourself, take advantage of opportunities and be an involved undergraduate. These words have reshaped my views on Princeton life and allowed me to see beyond my homework and assignments as a third year, and I hope prospective students can come to college with these words in mind, using them as a guide.


Junior Paper in the Time of Virtual Learning

Independent work is a defining part of the Princeton experience. As a junior, I write a Junior Paper (JP), which, for English concentrators, is a 25-30 page paper of my original research and argument. When it was announced that the semester would be virtual, I was initially nervous about how my JP would work. Would I have access to Firestone library resources? Would I have the virtual support from my JP adviser? Where would I even begin to start thinking about my topic? 

Luckily, the Department of English was more than prepared for virtual independent work. Every junior English concentrator gets assigned to a junior seminar, where we learn to engage with scholars, formulate an argument and close-read texts. The seminar was easily moved online to Zoom. Because there is a very small number of students in the course, we get to have in-depth, interesting conversations each week, and we really get to know each other. To practice for our JP, we submit three papers that each center on a different feature of English scholarly writing, and we also lead the discussion on a text once during the semester. 

English JP advisers are there to talk through your ideas every step of the way. I met with my JP adviser early on in the semester just to share some of the topics I was interested in, and then they pointed me towards various sources that may be helpful for my research. Not only are JP advisers ready to guide you, but other professors in the English department are as well. I’ve reached out to some of my English professors to discuss their research that relates to my topic, as well as just chat during Zoom office hours about my ideas.

Firestone Library also has many resources online for research. I’ve never yet encountered an issue when I needed to access something that wasn’t online, but Princeton librarians are also there to help, should students ever need access to something that they can’t find online. 

For my JP, I’ve decided to write on the role of unnamed female protagonists in literature. I’ll be comparing Zadie Smith’s "Swing Time", which has an unnamed female narrator, to Jane Austen’s "Emma", in which the heroine’s name is both the title of the text and the first word of the opening. As I’m also pursuing a certificate in Gender & Sexuality Studies, I’m interested in the questions: how do we interpret the literary choice to have an unnamed female protagonist: is it merely an implication of a lack of identity (as was previously argued by scholars), or might we center in on the female nameless protagonist, in particular, to understand the gendered implications of this choice? 

Zadie Smith Swing Time book cover

Emma book cover

I’m looking forward to exploring my topic further and continuing to have the virtual support that Princeton offers for independent work! 

From Uniform to University

Xander de los Reyes '23


Xander DeLosReyes '23 with Princeton admit packet

I spent my last six months in the Marine Corps moonlighting as a bartender. I’ll always be grateful for that experience because, at a time when many separating service members experience a culture shock, I was able to make the Marine-to-civilian transition slowly and smoothly. It also taught me how to convert love for camaraderie into love for community, which carried me through the next two-and-a-half years of my civilian life, ultimately placing me into Princeton’s community. Here, I’ve found immense support and infinite resources. The Writing Center has helped me refine my papers, the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning has helped me decode Princeton’s syllabi and the support of my residential college (shoutout, Forbes!) has ensured that I make well-informed academic decisions. Because I’m a veteran and a transfer student, I’m currently enrolled in “Everyone’s an Expert." Unlike the traditional first-year writing seminars, this transfer-focused seminar builds on the unconventional backgrounds—academically or experientially—of veterans and transfer students. We’re taught how to build on writing skills acquired from our previous institutions and encouraged to draw on the experiences that make us unique students. Truthfully, it’s my favorite course because I’ve enjoyed interacting with other non-traditional students. Plus, as a prospective politics concentrator preparing for a writing-intensive career, I’m indebted to our instructor Dr. Keith Shaw, director of transfer, veteran, and non-traditional student programs—who also offers guidance and support for non-traditional students. The guidance and feedback he’s provided will have a lasting impact on my writing and academic mindset. Reflecting on all of these positive experiences makes it funny to look back and think about my initial worries. When I was first accepted, imposter syndrome set in. I felt like my admission was an anomaly and that Princeton would immediately overwhelm me. As the semester approached, those feelings of anxiety grew, but—because of Princeton’s useful resources and supportive community—they were quickly put to rest. All in all, Princeton has been an extraordinary community. Despite my initial fears, I now know I’m right where I belong—surrounded by encouragement and support. I’m a part of this community, and you could be, too.


Matthew Williams '24


Matt Williams '24 and his wife

As a Marine Corps veteran and transfer student, I am far removed from the realm of a typical first-year student at Princeton. I am 22 years old and from the great city of Fort Worth, Texas. I received my Princeton acceptance letter as I neared the end of my four-year enlistment in Spring 2020. This news was accompanied by varying emotions: excitement, worries, anxiety and anticipation. Perhaps my most daunting concern was the unknown academic challenges that I would soon endure. Fortunately for veteran and transfer students alike, there are two student-run organizations that have been central in ensuring my smooth transition in an otherwise challenging plane. The Princeton Student Veterans (PSV) and Princeton Transfer Association (PTA) held veteran and transfer-specific events, Q&A sessions and provided additional resources to my incoming cohort. These student-run organizations have proven invaluable as I reflect on my Princeton experience.

My first semester at Princeton University has been an equally challenging and exhilarating experience. I intend to concentrate in politics with an emphasis on political economy. Albeit through Zoom, there remains a thrill when you are studying under some of the world’s most prominent professors. The academic challenges I’ve faced pale in comparison to the resources Princeton offers. In addition to office hours, The McGraw Center is a helpful tool for both traditional and non-traditional students when you need additional help in a class. From the multitude of student clubs to simply chatting with other students after class, I have connected with several of the traditional first-year students despite being a part of the transfer program. I am proud to be a part of the growing student veteran population at Princeton University. Go Tigers!




Day in the Life of a Zoom College Student

This semester I am taking four live Zoom classes, two classes in my department, one for my certificate, and the last one for my Quantitative and Computational Reasoning graduation requirement. I generally start my classes at 11 a.m. and end at 3 p.m., with about two classes a day. As an African American Studies concentrator, a reading-based humanities concentration, I read A LOT of pages for class. I prefer to read throughout the day, so I’ll chop up my readings accordingly, but whatever I don’t get to, I let it be. I read everywhere around the house, but I like to type and take notes at my desk! Having a work space that I can walk away from helps me handle my college course load. On campus, we would definitely have time to go from class to class or walk to a friend’s room to study or hang out, so I like to carve out those times into my Zoom schedule as well. 

Fedjine with a book

In my classes with about 60-100 students, it's a little harder to participate, so I am usually more present mentally when we review material in small groups during precept. It feels about the same as my on-campus experience with large lectures, but seeing so many faces at once on Zoom can be a little intimidating. My smaller seminars on Zoom have given me a chance to talk more and ask questions during class that I would feel a little more hesitant to ask. I like the way that the virtual setting allows more space for questions with the chat and raise-your-hand features. As a result of these features, I think students are asking more questions during class rather than privately after, which helps me learn more about the material.

The most challenging part of the college experience this semester has been navigating my schedule and internship applications while being a first-generation, low-income and immigrant student. I make time to clean the house and wash dishes! I cook, sometimes during class, because I don’t get to be just a student at home. I must take up that responsibility as a young woman in an immigrant home because I choose to make that load lighter on my mom, but also because that's the expectation of a young woman in my culture. Being on campus alleviates that sometimes, but being home and managing all these parts of me has been pretty draining. 

I have had a lot on my plate, but I am trying my best to be present when I can and say no when I cannot as well. I ask for extensions, take some classes off when I’m very tired, and go to bed early. Saying no is a form of self-care in this college world. Be kind to yourself. Let all of who you are take up space because all of you will be taking up space in whatever institution you choose.

Resources at Princeton Spotlight: McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning

This is now my fourth semester tutoring "MAT 104: Calculus II" at Princeton's McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning. Hearing this often comes as a shock to my friends given that I'm an English concetrator, but that's part of the reason I love Princeton: we are encouraged to pursue interests outside of our concentration. I took MAT 104 during my first semester, and I visited McGraw every other week or so for support on problem sets and exam studying. That's why, when I finished the class, I knew right away that I wanted to tutor for the course the following semester. 

McGraw is one of Princeton's many resources for support on campus, offering peer tutoring in math, chemistry, biology, physics and much more. Students can sign up for individual tutoring or just drop in for group sessions. Last semester, I worked individual tutoring shifts, where I had recurring appointments with several students. I always had a passion for math, specifically calculus, as well as teaching, so I looked forward to these sessions each week.

The McGraw Center

The fall 2020 semester at Princeton is certainly different, to say the least, but I was incredibly impressed by how McGraw worked to shift their tutoring services to a virtual platform. This switch happened at the end of the spring last semester when we moved to virtual classes. Now having learned from their trial run in the late spring, McGraw made many changes so that virtual tutoring could feel as close to in-person tutoring as possible, utilizing Zoom breakout rooms, virtual white boards, virtual trainings for tutors and so much more. McGraw also recognized that schedules are constantly shifting during these unprecedented times, and students may need more support than they did in the past given that we are not on campus, so they now offer a lot more tutoring slots for students.

I am excited to tutor again this semester and work with students to support them through the course. It is the best feeling when a student comes back to me and tells me that they did well on an exam or that they feel more confident in class. I look forward to seeing how tutoring continues to help students virtually thrive at Princeton. 

Need a Plan for the Semester? Schedule a Learning Consultation

Learning consultations, offered by the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, are held with trained peer consultants to help you organize and plan your academic agenda. You can schedule and plan a semester, a day, a week, an assignment or even if you are just managing your workload for a class.. These consultations are completely tailored to your situation and what you need to accomplish. I’ve made it a habit to schedule consultations for “Reading Period,” the week before all final papers are due on “Dean’s Date.” Sometimes, I get a little anxious with a ton of reading to do and a little flustered with a lot of unscheduled time, so these consultations help me set up a general outline of what I'd like to achieve.

One semester, I was tasked with writing three dean’s date papers and a final exam.  It was an unfortunate scheduling situation, but I needed a plan to achieve working through all the reading materials necessary for the papers, as well as studying and preparing for my final. So, I scheduled a learning consultation. First, my consultant asked some basic questions to gauge my comfort with each assignment and how much time I needed to dedicate to them. We scheduled rest breaks and even food breaks. We scheduled a timeline for when to read and write for my essays and also an in-depth breakdown of when and how to study for my final simultaneously. Because I was the least comfortable with my final, we scheduled the most time for it!

I felt completely ready to attack my little chunks of daily tasks for my finals rather than the overwhelming idea of studying and preparing for everything all at once. The best part for me was after we scheduled everything, we went back and scheduled backup times! While this in-depth plan was so helpful during reading period, I’ve also had consultations where all I needed was a general direction for the month. I am very involved on campus, so this guidance is useful. One thing my consultant told me that really helped to uplift my spirits was, “This is only a guide. Go at your own pace; it is okay if you don’t achieve everything on your list for the day. You’re doing amazing and doing your best.”