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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.  

The Forbes College Game Room: An Introduction

The game room in Forbes College is deep varnished wood and just the right amount of dim. On one half stands the pool table of red velvet, scuffed and creaking with memories, a pair of wiry lamps suspended above it. There’s a rack of cue sticks - some missing their tips, and some bent with age. There’s an old jukebox that no one knows how to work, but it doesn’t matter because the place is lively enough without it. 

There are couches arranged around the TV and scattered in every corner of the room, and sometimes you can barely line up a shot at the pool table because there’s a club chair knocking at your leg and asking you to sit.

There’s a framed portrait of four men at a pool table across the room, button-down shirts rolled up to the elbows. The portrait looks out over a foosball table, and on most nights you can hear the clacking of handles on little men and soccer balls, the din of wood sticks striking hard resin and felt.

I first learned how to play pool in this room: how to hold the stick so it would strike the ball just right, without slipping; how to predict collisions and pathways and accept unpredictable motions. I would spend an hour after dinner most days, playing pool with strangers who became teachers who became friends. 

If you’re ever on campus, stop by. Pick up a cue, even if you’ve never played, because someone’s always close by to teach you. Take in the varnished wood and the deep light and - if you look close, you might see some initials, carved in chalk right up near the ceiling, from two freshmen who never expected the white dust to still be there three years later and long after.

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.

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. 

A New College Experience

We’re a few weeks away from the start of the new year, and it certainly seems like this year will look nothing like it ever has before. For first-year students, the start of their Princeton experience may look different than they imagined, and for upperclass students they will face some pretty big changes in the way they know and love campus life.

I know that, as is the case for many things in our current situation, Princeton will not look how we envisioned. It’s tempting to look at the challenges and inconveniences that lie ahead with pessimism. But as I look to the year ahead, I hope that together as a community we can grow and emerge stronger than before. 

I will be a residential college adviser (RCA) in Forbes this fall, mentoring and providing support for a zee (advisee) group of first-years. (If you're in Forbes, check out our welcome video!) This is a role that I’ve looked forward to having since literally before I came to Princeton and although my experience will look different from the way I imagined it, I am trying to find the bright side every day. For example, although I may not be able to host large study breaks, I’m looking forward to getting to know my zees one-on-one. I had a lot of positive experiences with my own RCA, and I hope to be there for my first-years in the way she was for me.   

As I anticipate starting the school year in August, I know that this will be an unprecedented year. Hopefully, things will soon return to normal - but I’m confident that before they do, we will find ways to make this year unique in good ways too. This really will be a college experience like no other. Let’s make it a happy (and healthy) one.

The Beauty of First College

Before and upon arrival at Princeton there is much discussion of the residential college system into which every first-year student is randomly placed. With this discussion come the rumors about which colleges are “better” or more desirable. For me, this was definitely a cause of stress before arriving at Princeton. I was placed into First College, and when I went to research it online, many of the things I saw were mixed opinions. As someone generally unfamiliar with the residential college system at Princeton, this stuck with me. It was only upon my arrival at Princeton in the fall that my perspective began to change. 

It is true that not all residential colleges (or “res colleges” as Princeton students call them) are the same. Given their different locations on campus, sizes, amenities and ages, res colleges and the experiences you have in them do differ. Some colleges are older, some are farther away, some are prettier on the outside and some don’t have air conditioning. Still, in the end, they all have positive attributes, regardless of online chatter or overall reputation. 

When I first moved into First College, I quickly fell in love. I found that it was a short walk away from all of my classes and Frist Campus Center given its central location on campus. More important than the aesthetics, the layout of the college and its large number of multi-person suites proved ideal for bonding. I soon became friends with the majority of the people on my floor, and I met my oldest, closest friends at Princeton through my ‘zee’ (advisory) group. The layout of First College helped make that possible.  

Wilcox Hall in First College

After two years at Princeton, I moved from First (it only has housing for first-years and sophomores), but I still feel connected and loyal to the community I built there. I am a First Peer Academic Advisor (PAA) and take pride in hosting study breaks and helping the next generation of students in First College navigate their Princeton experience. So, when you think about or are assigned a res college, there is no need for concern about its reputation and benefits. Each college has something unique and beneficial to offer, and I am personally happy to know that I will be graduating as a member of First College this spring.

How to Pack for College

You did the work, you got the acceptance, and now you’re ready for the hardest part: packing. How can you possibly decide what to bring and what to leave behind? I remember being in your shoes. I thought, No one will use these things at home, so I may as well bring them with me. I’ll admit I severely overpacked. I must have brought every single article of clothing I owned, and then some. I brought photos, tapestries, lights, desk organizers, and more pens and pencils I had ever seen in one room. It was like I had packed for a family of four.

Thankfully, I’ve learned a lot about packing for college over the last four years, and I’m hoping I can impart some valuable wisdom to you in this post. First and foremost: if you haven’t worn something in the last year, you won’t wear it at school. Only bring clothing you actually use. This was definitely my biggest weakness when I packed for college for the first time, and the result was an overstuffed closet full of clothing I hadn’t touched in years. Do yourself a favor and pack the essentials. Packing is a great time for a spring cleaning of sorts; maybe make a donation pile while you’re at it!

My next tip is to be introspective. Figure out the type of person you are and the type of environment you thrive in. Personally, I’m a very visual person, so I purchased a small whiteboard calendar from Target. Honestly, this is the best purchase I’ve ever made in my life. Every month, I visually map out all of the events I’ve signed up for, the meetings I’ve scheduled, and the important dates I want to keep in mind. As the days go by, I cross them off on the calendar so it’s easier to see where I am in the month. Even now, after returining home due to COVID-19, I’m still using my whiteboard calendar so I can see all my Zoom meetings in one place. If you’re a visual person like me, do yourself a favor and get a whiteboard calendar!

Andrea's dorm room

Storage is also extremely important. Because college dorm rooms are usually small, they generally don’t have a lot of storage space. My recommendation is this: underbed storage. Head out to the nearest Walmart or The Container Store and get some storage bins for underneath your bed. I got two plastic sets of drawers on wheels and filled them with sweaters and other clothing that didn’t need to be hung up. That way, I freed up space in my closet. This underbed storage was essential for me, since the space under your bed is pretty much wasted if you don’t use it for storage!

Another tip is to invest in a mattress topper, if you can. University beds are notoriously uncomfortable, and a mattress topper can really make or break your night. I was able to find a memory foam mattress topper on sale at Bed Bath & Beyond, and I slept like a baby from night one. The mattress topper was thick enough that it even doubled as a guest bed of sorts; when I had visitors, I’d take the mattress topper off my bed and use it as a second mattress for my guest so they wouldn’t have to sleep on the floor.

These are just a few packing tips for when you’re getting ready to move. Of course, every person is different, and what worked for me may not necessarily work for everyone. My final tip is to not stress out. You will learn more about what to pack as the years go by, and by the time you’re a senior, you’ll be a pro. Good luck, don’t overpack and have fun! Welcome to the best damn place of all.

The Beauty of the Residential College System

Have you ever wanted to know where you'd be sorted at Hogwarts? Princeton has its own form of houses; each first-year student is assigned to one of six residential colleges: Butler, Forbes, Mathey, Rockefeller (Rocky), Whitman and Wilson. I’m grateful for these small communities within the larger campus.

When you find out your rooming assignment over the summer, you also find out your residential college or "res college" for short. Each res college encompasses several dorm buildings, a dining hall and has unique characteristics. Want to live in a castle? Hope for Rocky or Mathey. Do you prioritize a central location? Wilson might be for you. Prefer more modern amenities? Cross your fingers for Butler or Whitman. Students joke that Forbes is far from campus, but as a non-Forbesian, I often envy Forbes’ delicious food (especially Sunday brunch) and its great sense of community. So really, you can’t go wrong.

The residential college system is designed to support and advise students in a more individualistic manner through dedicated staff, such as the director of studies and director of student life whose jobs are to support their students in academic and non-academic areas. All first years and sophomores have to live in a res college, but even juniors and seniors are associated with one. I plan to stay in mine, Butler College, all four years.

There are also social benefits to the res college system. It provides awesome gear several times a year. They also run amazing trips and special events. I’ve gone to four Broadway shows through Butler, and the trip included an extremely discounted ticket and transportation to and from the show! Every week, Butler also holds study breaks with delicious free food. While you can eat in any dining hall on campus, there’s always something nice about going to the dining hall associated with your res college. The people start to look familiar, from the friendly students to the helpful employees. I’ve made friends just by sitting down with people in the dining hall, only to find out that they live right around the corner from me.

The residential college system fosters friendships and community for all undergraduate students. I definitely don’t know all 5,000+ students on campus, but I do know many of the students in Butler. I have a lot of pride for my res college, and soon you will too! It truly makes a big campus feel much smaller.