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Building Community in the Residential Colleges


One of the topics that incoming students most frequently have questions about is residential life at Princeton. While Princeton prides itself on its superior academic program, residential life is an important component of the student experience here.

I am a Residential College Adviser, or RCA, at Butler College, one of seven residential colleges. My role is to foster and build community among students, as part of a team of Butler College staff, RCAs and other peer leaders within the residential college. One of the ways we do this is by putting on a variety of events for all students in the Butler community, to connect, have fun and take a break from studying. 

 

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A tree with green, yellow, and red leaves against a backdrop of brick buildings and blue sky.
Outside Butler College

My favorite event is the Butler Teahive, a weekly study break that the Butler College staff organizes for all students. At 3:00 p.m. every Friday, one of the rooms in the Butler basement is transformed into a social hub where students connect with each other over a cup of tea and a selection of delicious desserts and berries from a rotating cast of local bakeries and restaurants. I’ve gotten excellent academic advice from the Butler college staff in a low-pressure environment, I get to see some friends and even make new ones, and there’s always plenty of delicious treats for everyone. 

In addition to the weekly events put on by Butler College staff, the student-run Butler College Council, and RCAs like me, there are also one-time events held regularly. Resident Graduate Students (RGS) or Butler College Council often plan these fun, community building events that try their best to include every type of student. If you’re itching to burst out of the so-called ‘Orange Bubble’ you can join your residential college for a Broadway show or a Six Flags trip. Those with an artistic bent might enjoy the many arts and crafts nights, from paint and sip (with boba) to karaoke night. Or if you prefer a laid-back kind of vibe, there’s always game nights and watch parties (most recently for the World Cup). 

 

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A colorful poster advertising "Community Wall Night" at Butler College.
One of the many RGS-organized community events.

I’ve spoken about my experience at Butler College, the residence college I work for and have lived in for all of my time at Princeton. But all seven operate in the same way and offer the same amount of programming and community building that we at Butler do. No matter which college you end up in, you’ll have plenty to do and many friends to meet!


Staying Connected With Your Residential College as an Upperclassman


Before Princeton changed its residential college system and transformed all of its residential colleges into four-year colleges, the tradition was for juniors and seniors to move out of the hallowed halls they had called home for the past two years. Room draw for the 2022-2023 academic year was the first year this change was implemented, and while my draw group and I had hoped to stay in a residential college for our final two years at Princeton, we ultimately drew a room in junior and senior housing.

There are a lot of moments where I reminisce about my time at Forbes College, the far but cozy residential college known for its community and Sunday brunch (though I would argue Saturday brunches are better!)

I miss not having to walk in the cold during the winter to get to the dining hall, rolling out of bed on the weekends and walking six feet to the most popular weekend brunch spot, watching movies in the Forbes theater and sitting in the backyard and doing work while watching the sun set over the golf course with the graduate tower in the distance. 

Forbes felt like a home, and I missed that community aspect of my dorm as I migrated further up campus for my junior year. Don’t get me wrong, I love being able to share my living space with people outside of Forbes (a perk of junior and senior housing) and the shorter commute to my classes, but every now and then I do find myself thinking of my old residential college.

Just my luck, at the end of September, Forbes held an Oktoberfest event for juniors and seniors –– where we were invited to the home of the Head of Forbes College, Maria Garlock, to have dinner and mingle with our fellow Forbesians. Once again, I found myself trekking across the lawn in front of the Lewis Center for the Arts and crossing the familiar crosswalk where familiar pillars welcomed me. 

The event was held in the string light adorned backyard, where my roommates and I indulged on pretzels and currywurst and the like. Throughout the hour-long duration we were there, I saw many faces both familiar and unfamiliar, and realized the durability of the Forbes community. Some of the seniors there hadn’t lived in Forbes for over a year but were still present and chatting with the deans and staff.

Little events like this made me feel like an integral part of the community. My roommates and I (one of my current roommates was also a Forbesian) had a great time reminiscing about our time in Forbes, concluding that we should come more often for weekend brunches. 

I realized then that it really isn’t that difficult to stay connected with your residential college as a junior or senior. Read your email, make the walk on weekends to use your dining hall swipes and never forget the memories you made there as a first-year or sophomore. And maybe you’ll be lucky enough in your room draw to keep living there as an junior or senior. 


Did You Say Free Food?


The other day, I was writing my Spanish homework in my room when my roommate, Jose, who was taking a nap, woke up suddenly. He then looked at the screen of his phone and quickly got up from his bed, letting out a sigh that denoted his distress:

Late meal is almost over, he said nervously as he rushed out of the room.

Confused, I stared at him from over my computer. I never understood his obsession with late meal. Late meal is a term used to describe an option offered by Campus Dining to students enrolled in the meal plan. Essentially, each student has access to two $8 credits: one for late lunch and another for late dinner. Technically, it’s meant for students who miss regular dining hours in the cafeterias because of classes or meetings. Late meal prevents them from starving. However, the way my roommate religiously got late meal seemed unusual (or so I thought) and left me deeply puzzled. For some context, Frist (where late meal is served) is located around 12 minutes away from Forbes (our Res College). Yet, he would sometimes purposely skip dining hall meals to go to Frist, braving the cold winter night. Worse: sometimes he would first eat at Forbes, and later, go for doubles at late meal! Seriously, why so much dedication? That day, I decided to elucidate that mystery and ask him point-blank what was up with him after he had gotten his meal.

Jose came back one hour later. I didn't even let him unwrap his chicken quesadilla and fries: I instantly bombarded him with the question that had been tormenting me to the point that I had been unable to focus on my assignment.

Why do you go through so much trouble for late meal? I asked.

He stared back at me, deeply offended by my question. "How dare you?" his face flushed with indignation. He asked as though he was too obfuscated to even utter a word.  My question seemed to have troubled him to his core. It was 50 degrees inside yet he was sweating profusely. He stared at me a little longer, trying to figure out if I was serious and whether I deserved an answer. He took off his coat while I stood still, waiting impatiently for his answer. Finally, he enlightened me on the foundation of his obsession.

That night, he unraveled the mystery of his love for late meal. At that time, everything seemed to come together. It all made sense. 

Jose first confided in me that he was often not hungry during the usual opening hours of the cafeterias so he preferred to wait until late meal, when he was sure he would be starving. Additionally, the consistency of Frist's menu assured him he would like what he ordered. He also had more choices. Whether he got a quesadilla, a burger, sushi, chicken tenders, fries or onion rings… he knew he would never be disappointed. He would sometimes be pleasantly surprised with a new addition to the menu: spring rolls, dumplings or pizza. Some days, when he just wanted to snack or grab something to take home for the night to help him push through his intense two o'clock reading sessions, he would only grab a bag of chips, chocolate chip cookies and a muffin. If that day he felt like eating healthily, he would grab a box of green grapes and one fresh banana. As long as the total was under 8 dollars: he could have them all. For free! Finally, and perhaps the main reason for his obsession, was that late meal was a unique opportunity to socialize.  Frist is already the center of student life at Princeton.  On a normal day, you find student groups promoting their dance shows, aspiring engineers working on P-sets together, Philosophy majors conversing about the meaning of life or Econ majors playing table tennis or billiards... etc. Add food to the combo and you have the exciting, vibrant and engaging environment of late meal. For Jose, late meal is one of the best things about Princeton!

 

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Students hanging out in Frist South Lawn after lunch late meal.


After that conversation, I never again saw late meal the same way. My life truly changed. Forever. And my eating schedule as well!


7 Princeton Traditions in my First On-Campus Semester


I studied remotely for my first year, so my sophomore fall semester was my first time living on campus. One of the best parts of being in person is being able to partake in Princeton's numerous traditions that aim to build community in the Orange Bubble, so here are seven of my favorites that I've had the chance to experience:

1. Pre-Rade

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Student cheerleaders in orange and black at the Pre-rade

The Pre-rade is a parade in which an incoming class is officially welcomed to Princeton by running through Fitzrandolph gates. Alumni, upperclassmen and the student band cheer for you as you sprint through the black iron gates in front of Nassau Hall. The Class of 2024 didn't have a Pre-rade last year due to the pandemic, so ours was held this year just before the Class of 2025 Pre-rade. Students never walk through Fitzrandolph gates again until commencement, because legend has it you won't graduate in four years if you do! I don't know if I believe this, but I'm not going to be the one to find out.

2. Chalkboards

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chalkboard with equations for Mechanics of Solids

I have yet to see a single dry-erase whiteboard on the Princeton campus. Instead, every classroom or office I've seen has a traditional black chalkboard. I'm not entirely sure what the logic is behind this. You're forced to write more slowly on a chalkboard, I've found, so maybe this forces professors to slow down when teaching and helps students pinpoint mistakes in their reasoning when working through equations. Whatever the purpose, writing on a chalkboard feels old-fashioned and classic in a way that reminds me of Einstein working at Princeton (even when I'm only writing out a homework problem instead of refining the theories of quantum physics).

3. Forbes Garden and Sunday Brunch

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harvested cherry tomatoes in pots from the Forbes garden

My residential college, Forbes, is home to both the Princeton Garden Project, where student garden managers organize workdays where students can help weed and harvest, and to their famous weekly Sunday brunch, complete with a chocolate fountain. I enjoyed checking out the garden this semester and seeing the vegetables and fruits they were growing, and the Sunday brunch never failed to impress. 

4. Bonfire

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Harvard and Yale-decorated wooden crates and house on Cannon Green

When the Princeton football team defeats both Harvard and Yale in the same season, the tradition is to host a celebratory bonfire on Cannon Green. Each class year had a specified time throughout the day when they could place crates on the structure to be burned, and in the evening students cheered as the Yale and Harvard-decorated structure went up in flames.

5. Outdoor Action

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students on a hike at the Mountain Lakes Preserve

Outdoor Action is best-known for organizing the pre-orientation camping trip for first years, but they also offer hikes and other sporting activities to all students throughout the year. On "OA Day" Saturday this semester, I decided to join a hike at the Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve (about a mile off campus). The scenery was lovely and I was able to meet some new people.

6. Newspapers

The Daily Princetonian is always available online, but I really enjoy reading a copy of the physical newspaper. Having a print copy allows me to see stories that wouldn't otherwise catch my eye online, and it's nice to get a break from the screen. Each Friday afternoon copies of the Daily Princetonian and the Nassau Weekly, the literary magazine, are distributed to the residential colleges. I always look forward to picking up my copies and catching up with news and discussion of the Orange Bubble at the end of the week.

7. Applause after the final lecture

At the conclusion of the final lecture on the last day of classes, the students erupt into a hearty round of applause in gratitude for all the knowledge the professor has imparted throughout the semester. This occurred in a way on Zoom last year in the form of "thank you!" messages and "clapping hands" emojis flooding the chat, but it was so much more meaningful in person.

These were the Princeton traditions I got to experience this fall, and I'm looking forward to what sophomore spring will bring!


Accommodation and Advocation


Having been recently diagnosed with a disability, ulcerative colitis, one of the main fears I had living on campus was the accommodation system. I had only gone through the process during virtual learning, so witnessing how my illness would affect me on campus was a bit scary. I feared that I would not be getting the accommodations I needed. Considering the cyclical nature of my illness, I feared that the Office of Disability Services would not see my accommodations as necessary. Although I got most of my accommodations, my need for a private bathroom was not met, yet I’ve managed without it for now. 

The fact that I didn’t have certain accommodations that I felt were necessary made me worried about how accessible the campus would be. But, I find that generally, the staff and members of the University are quite understanding of disabilities. For one, my professors have been incredibly helpful in honoring my accommodations. Additionally, the Office of Disability Services is generally very responsive and helpful to meet the varying needs of students with accommodations. Despite the fact that I moved hundreds of miles away from home, with access to my needs more limited, I still flourish. Really, accommodations is about finding out how to work within a system, even if the resources you need are all not there. 

 

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Izabela Konopka sitting on a tree trunk

One of the biggest pieces of advice I would give to incoming first-year students is to make sure your accommodations prepare for the worst case scenario, rather than your present condition. College is a large transition. You can not predict its effect on your disability. Additionally, as long as you have the proper documentation and good reasoning, you should be able to get those accommodations. Another piece of advice I would give is to not be afraid to advocate for yourself. There are many staff who help you advocate for what you need to succeed at Princeton, like our Residential College Staff. Reaching out to them can be instrumental in ensuring you get the resources you need, and knowing that persistence is key. 

Princeton has helped me advocate for myself more, intertwining with my interest in politics. Princeton gives a plethora of resources for those with varying disabilities — you just need to take advantage of those resources.


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.

 


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. 

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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.


Princetoween


Spooky season has arrived! Princeton students go all out when it comes to Halloween. In previous years, Halloween occurred during fall break, so Princeton collectively celebrated so-called Princetoween the Thursday before the break. Fall break is earlier now because of the calendar change that made finals take place before winter break, so this year we were here on actual Halloween.

On October 30th, the Princeton Students Events Committee hosted a Princetoween event. They brought in food from Nomad Pizza, Taco Bell, Terhune Orchards, and other local delicacies. The event also featured a DJ and a photo booth. It’s so much fun to stop by Campus Club, eat some delicious food, and see the creativity of everyone’s costumes.

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Group of students dancing in a circle

The Chapel Choir holds an annual silent movie screening in early October every year. This year, they showed the classic 1923 silent film "Hunchback of Notre Dame”. The event takes place in the University Chapel, which is Gothic style and fits the eerie vibes. A live organ performance accompanies the silent movie. Members of the Chapel Choir “haunt” the chapel as the audience waits for the movie to start.

Butler College, my residential college, hosted Halloween events of their own throughout October. They planned a haunted trip to nearby Fields of Terror in East Windsor, NJ, where Butlerites could enter the haunted house, find their way through the haunted corn maze, or take a ride on the haunted hayride. Elizabeth Armstrong, the Head of Butler, hosted a pumpkin carving event at her house earlier in the month. These events are in addition to the excellent decorations every dining hall puts up around Halloween. Maybe I'm biased, but I think Butler's dining hall Wucox does the best Halloween decor out of any of the dining halls!

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Group of students posing together in various costumes.

Butler and First College also planned their 13th annual Halloween 5k event. People could participate in person or virtually. Costumes were optional but encouraged, with awards going to the best costumes as well as the top finishers in the race. All proceeds from the event go to the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. 

As you can see, there is no shortage of fun to be had around Halloween. You should be prepared to bring your best costume to Princeton, and have a spook-tacular time celebrating, hopefully with treats, not tricks!


On Places


I live a segmented life of places. At home, I painstakingly arranged my bedroom so that my desk would be as far away from my bed as possible. I wanted a space for work and sleep, but I much preferred working outside my room when I could. I sat at the same seat for my family’s dinner most nights. I liked to park my car in the same spot in my school’s parking lot whenever possible. I hated reading in a new chair at the library, instead preferring to have a dedicated spot.

Although the pandemic upset this segmentation, this semester, I have been able to create new relationships once again between places and mental states or activities. This has been a delight on a campus as small as Princeton’s. Things accrue meaning as we assign it to them. Here at Princeton, each time I visit a place, it gets a specific meaning related to what I use the space for.

Every morning, I get breakfast at the same dining hall and sit at the same place if I can. McCosh Hall, where I have the pleasure of taking a “Worlds Made with Words: Old English Poems that Perform” has become a place of linguistic contemplation, a lovely morass of caesuras and alliteration and translation problems. 

As a humanities student, I rarely make it down to the math and science buildings. However, this semester, I have Semantics in the physics building called Jadwin Hall which has thus become a spot for challenging headaches as we seek to create a logical system to encapsulate the way English works. Robertson Hall, where I have an introductory African American Studies class, is the place I associate with the most captivating lectures.

I know the brisk nighttime walk to and from Prospect Avenue, where Princeton’s eating clubs are located. I have a favorite place to study in the basement of Gordon Wu Hall. My single dorm room in First College has become a space of relaxation and sleep, as often as I can manage it.

Princeton’s small campus allows my mental geography to map onto a real place. I walk everywhere I need to go, which helps me grow my map visually. The walk to each class or library primes my brain to do the work I need to do there. Of course, I try to explore the campus too and break out of my routine, even as I experience and re-experience places of familiarity. But the physicality of places here is something that I try to celebrate every day.


From Financial Aid to Fully Funded Experiences


When people ask me, “Why Princeton?” I often answer that I liked the size of the school (not too big and not too small), the liberal arts curriculum, or that it offered the specific department that I wanted to concentrate in Slavic Languages & Literatures.  But the real answer is the need-based financial aid that Princeton provides.  

Financial aid was one of the top factors for me when choosing a college, because I didn’t want to graduate with a mountain of student debt and didn’t have any other options for paying.  Princeton’s financial aid package aims to allow students to get the whole “Princeton experience” without needing to borrow money, in a need-based model that estimates how much you and your family can afford to pay.  Prior to coming to Princeton, I was worried that even with such a generous financial aid package, I would have to spend a lot of time working or borrowing money anyway.  But it turns out that I didn’t need to worry at all.

My very first experience with Princeton’s financial aid reassured me that I was making the right decision.  After being offered admission into the Class of 2023, I, along with all other prospective first-year students, were invited to one of two Princeton Preview sessions on campus where we could tour campus, learn about Princeton and even spend a night in the dorms with a “host” student.  I jumped at the chance, as I didn’t know much about the University and hadn’t ever visited campus before.  Because I would be receiving financial aid from the University, Princeton offered to reimburse me for travel costs in getting to campus.  Because of this, I was able to visit Princeton for two days with my mom before committing officially to the University.  

Such an experience is only one example of the ways in which Princeton looks out for its students and is mindful of their financial needs.  There are lots of funded opportunities for all students, not just those receiving financial aid.  For example, residential colleges often offer free or low-cost trips and activities for students, like museum visits, Broadway shows and sporting events.  Princeton also offers many funded summer internship opportunities, so students can gain valuable internship experience with positions that might otherwise be unpaid.  Individual departments have funding for undergraduate independent work, and some classes even involve free travel!  I saw "To Kill a Mockingbird" on Broadway, a Boris Godunov opera at the Met, interned at a nonprofit and traveled to Italy for a freshman seminar to conduct climate research in just two years at Princeton, all things I likely wouldn’t be able to afford at a different school.  

So… why Princeton?  I think the answer would be all of the opportunities I’ve been able to experience because of the way Princeton approaches financial aid.