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.

There’s No Place I'd Rather Be

It’s a tradition for Orange Key tour guides at Princeton to end their campus tours highlighting their “Why Princeton” story: a description of what brought them to choose the University for their undergraduate experience. Everyone's story is different, and as my years on campus progress I get more emotional each time I deliver it. Without further ado, here it is:

What drew me first to Princeton was the beauty of the campus. I didn’t go on a lot of college visits, but when my dad and I saw Princeton we both knew nothing was going to top it. But other, perhaps more pragmatic, elements of campus were just as attractive: I felt safe and loved that the campus residential community would mean I’d never need to venture off or live off campus to see my friends. The libraries scattered evenly among campus meant I’d have a different place to study for each day of the month. Having Nassau Street so close meant I’d have access to a bevy of global cuisines within a stone’s throw of campus.

But more than a physical space, I knew Princeton was a community. I was drawn to the residential college system and the idea that I’d have a smaller, built-in support network the moment I stepped on campus. Additionally, the Princeton experience lasts a lifetime: our reunions are a raucous, orange-and-black celebration of everything Princeton that draws nearly 25,000 alumni annually. (Check out this old New York Times article for a description of some of the antics). Local alumni networks like Princeton in Washington (of which I’ve taken advantage through Princeton Internships in Civic Service) host events for current students and alumni. In my experiences through the alumni networks I've had the opportunity to attend events with senators and world leaders. This means that the Princeton learning experience isn’t ever really over after you graduate.

I knew the students I would go through school with would be exceptional. I was, and still am, truly excited by the idea that I’m going to school with future leaders with whom I will share a crazy, one-of-a-kind four-year experience. I knew the University’s laser focus on undergraduate students, unique among its peer institutions, would exceptionally qualify me to become one of those leaders myself. In that regard, the University has exceeded even my own lofty expectations, funding weeks of in-class travel and summers’ worth of internships to enhance what I’ll take away from my studies.

There are thousands of undergraduate institutions in the United States. It's probably true that I would've been happy at many of them. But, I’m confident that there’s no place I'd be as happy as I am at Princeton.

Telescoping Community: 8 Different Perspectives on Community at Princeton

We telescoped the word “community.” What's telescoping? Basically, we start with a large word count and work our way down to just one word! The first blogger writes close to 250 words; the next around, 200, 150, 100, 75, 50, 25 and 1. If you're considering Princeton as your home for the next four years, we want to make sure that you have a good sense of all the many communities on campus, what community means to students, and how the Princeton community is a vibrant, supportive group of Tigers, from when you begin your Princeton journey to when you join Tiger alumni!

Mia Salas '22

Coming from a small high school that fostered a strong sense of community, I was nervous about joining an undergraduate student body of over 5,000 students. Would I find that same community on campus? And how long would it take for me to do so? Princeton has a pretty robust orientation program – it’s organized so that you can get to know campus, have meaningful experiences, form relationships, develop leadership skills, and feel included, all before the first day of classes even begins! My small group for Community Action (one of Princeton’s Orientation service trips) was my first community, and once I returned to campus, my residential college (go Forbes!), became my second. It was so important for me to have that initial sense of inclusivity and belonging because it reassured me that Princeton would definitely become a home away from home. 

Now, almost two years after my first-year orientation, Princeton is more than just a home. Princeton is where I am a part of so many different communities that have shaped me into who I am today. On Princeton Cheer, I’m surrounded by an incredible group of student athletes who are my closest friends. Princeton’s writing community inspires me every day to pursue my dreams, and Forbes College will always be a place of love and support. Classes, clubs, sports, student groups, residential living, the Princeton area beyond campus – they’ve all become mini communities that remind me of the greater community that I’m a part of.  

Richard Ma '22

Here are some of the things about Princeton that make me happy:

Late meal in mid-afternoon, where people go for a between-class snack and run into familiar faces; in the summer, we take our food out to the warm steps of Frist South Lawn to enjoy the sun.

The third-floor theater in Frist Campus Center, packed on a Friday night for the latest student production, which is always a reminder of the talent, passion, and courage swirling all around you.

The Tiger Tea Room in Firestone Library, always alive with sunlight, the smell of coffee and the voices of group projects.

Dillon Gym’s courts, where there is almost always a pickup game to join, especially late at night for hours on end.

Forbes College, where I go after everything, and always has the most peaceful golden lighting.

Underlying all of it is a sense of belonging and this feeling of togetherness – in each of these places there is some moment, quiet or outstated, that makes me feel part of something greater. When I’m with the people I’ve grown and lived with the past two years, I feel part of a community that has come to be one of the most important things in my life.

Naomi Hess '22

I found my Princeton community on my second day on campus. I met my closest friends on my Community Action orientation trip, and ever since then, we’ve been inseparable. I know I can always turn to them for compassion, advice and friendship. 

There are many ways to find your own community. The residential college system fosters a sense of closeness with your neighbors. You can join some of the many student groups to find people who have similar interests. I’ve found communities in my classrooms as well, from passionate professors to engaged peers. 

It’s hard for me to think of another place where I’ve felt so included and supported in every capacity. The best part of Princeton has been the amazing community of students I’ve met throughout my two years here. I’ve found my people, and soon, so will you. Princeton is truly a community like no other.

 Mallory Williamson '21

I wasn’t very sure where I was going to find it. I had it in high school, but I’d known those kids forever. This was a different ball game. I didn’t really know anyone who had gone to Princeton, and I wasn’t sure if people from backgrounds like mine found their niche. 

But, within days, I found it. I found it in my dorm room with my random roommates, in my residential college dining hall, and in my freshman seminars. I found it when I was least looking. It’s probably more appropriate to say it found me. It’s still here.

Jonathan Haynes '20

Early on, some alumni told me that the Princeton experience only gets better as you get older.  At the time, I found it hard to believe, but now, as I am wrapping up my time at Princeton, I cannot see how this will be anything other than true. This speaks to one of my favorite parts of our small community here: it truly extends beyond our time on campus, beyond careers and beyond generations.

Grace Masback '21

I had a difficult experience finding community in high school and I arrived at Princeton uncertain about how or even if I would find community. Yet, as I near the end of my third year I am so grateful for the incredible diversity of community I have been able to find. 

Fedjine Mitchelle Victor '22

The community at Princeton is irreplaceable. Here you meet some of your best friends, have some of your best laughs, and start your best adventure.

Andrea Reino '20


Your Complete Guide to the Residential College Dining Halls

There is endless food on Princeton's campus: late meal, Nassau Street, study breaks and free food from events. However, you're likely to eat most of your meals in the residential college dining halls. Check out my guide to dining on campus.  

Forbes (my residential college–go Forbesians!)

  • Environment: Forbes’s dining hall is quiet for breakfast and lunch, great for studying or doing homework. Since Forbes is the furthest residential college from most classes and activities (a bit of an exaggeration – my longest walk is only 15 minutes), the dining hall is never that crowded during the day when students are out and about. On a nice day, you get plenty of sunshine in the dining hall, and when it’s warm out, you can eat outside with a view of the golf course in Forbes’ “backyard.”   
  • Best Known For: “Sunday Brunch” (with a huge chocolate fountain!), special dinners for Valentine's Day, Mardi Gras, Thanksgiving and other holidays). It's the only dining hall that offers omelets during lunch, and you can order a quesadilla anytime at the grill
  • Best Food: Paella, tortellini, potato bar (all kinds of potato), avocado bar (all types of avocado pairings), waffle cones with fresh fruit & whipped cream at Forbes Flexitarian Night
  • So Underrated: Saturday’s brunch (with breakfast quesadillas & açaí bowls)

Chocolate fountain at Forbes

Potato bar at Forbes

Valentine's Day desserts at Forbes

Roma (Rockefeller (Rocky)/Mathey)

  • Environment: A common place to meet friends for lunch or dinner because of its close proximity to Firestone Library and several academic buildings. The dining hall is so big that even when a lot of people are there, it still doesn’t feel overwhelming. There are two connected seating areas in this dining hall, one on Rocky’s side and the other in Mathey. If your parents ever visit, take them to this dining hall and they’ll surely be impressed with the Harry Potter/castle-like structure.
  • Best Known For: Only dining hall with fried chicken sandwiches offered daily, grilled cheese trio, and two cheese options for omelets – cheddar & mozzarella (most just have cheddar)   
  • Best Food: Creative quesadillas (apple, brie & arugula is my fave!), chicken nugget bar, shell mac & cheese
  • So Underrated: RoMa’s house chicken soup

WuCox (Wilson/Butler)

  • Environment: The name “WuCox” comes from the seating areas in Wu Hall (Butler) and Wilcox Hall (Wilson), which are connected by one dining hall like RoMa. WuCox has the most booths out of all our dining halls. Many student groups meet here because there are booths available for even large groups. WuCox is in a prime location close to the biology and math departments, as well as Frist, our student center. 
  • Best Known For: “Beans, Greens & Grains” station offered for lunch and dinner (a pasta and ramen bar: choose your sauce, pasta – ramen or penne, and add chicken and veggies), breakfast 
  • Best Food: WuCox breakfast muffins, corn bread, perogies, southern fried chicken
  • So Underrated: pesto ravioli 

Pasta from WuCox Dining Hall


  • Environment: Much like RoMa, this dining hall is quite a sight with its beautiful architecture. Whitman is made up of mostly long tables and a few booths in the back. The dining hall also has one of the best private dining rooms for teams, clubs or language tables. Lunch gets very popular on certain days (such as chicken pot pie day), and dinner always draws a crowd. You can never go wrong with Whitman because there’s so many options to choose from. 
  • Best Known For: Amazing salad bar, specialty bars (ramen, mac & cheese, burritos), Whitman lunch 
  • Best Food: Naan bread, orzo pasta salad, pizza & garlic knots, sautéed veggies
  • So Underrated: Spinach artichoke hummus


Students can go to any residential college dining hall – not just their own. They can also eat at the Center for Jewish Life (CJL), which houses our kosher dining hall on campus. I typically eat breakfast at Forbes, lunch at Whitman and dinner at RoMa or WuCox. If you’re considering Princeton as your new home, hopefully this guide gave you a sneak peek into what eating in the dining halls is like.


Forbes College: Worth the Walk

When it’s warm and sunny, my friends and I love to go the backyard behind Forbes College and toss around a frisbee. On weekends, we bring our brunch onto the patio, sit on the red lawn chairs and look out onto the golf course and the gothic spires of the Graduate College beyond, where at noon the chimes of its clock tower can be heard across campus. From our window, my roommate and I wake up to this wonderful view and a still sleepy sun.

In the evenings after dinner, we pass by the game room and are often tempted to go inside for an hour or more. Over games of pool, we watched James Holzhauer’s record-breaking run on “Jeopardy” here. On midweek afternoons, I cheer on my soccer team in the Champions League, and I am often joined by a member of the staff, many of whom are always willing to have a conversation, whether over a game of soccer or when swiping in for a meal.

Forbes is a small residential college, and it feels even homier because of its unique setup. As a repurposed hotel, it is the only residential college where you can walk from one end to the other in your pajamas without ever stepping outside. There are also so many cozy nooks and crannies: a TV lounge in the annex basement with murals on the walls; the sci-fi library adjacent to the sunken lounge; and the Forbes Café, always open late and offering a place to study, relax and get ramen for 25 cents a package.

No matter how early or late, Forbes always seems to be bright and warmly lit, and its “Forbesians” are always around. I love the community here, with a shared bond over our campus-renowned weekend brunches and the distances we have to walk – Forbes is as close as you can get to the Wawa, a local convenience store, the Graduate College, or art installations by Maya Lin and Ai Weiwei, but as the joke goes, a bit far from anywhere else.

Nevertheless, I’ve loved every second of living in my residential college and being a part of this community: Forbes really is worth the walk. And maybe I’ll see you around next year: I’ll be sticking around as a residential college adviser! I’d be happy to grab some chocolate covered strawberries at Sunday Brunch and talk over a game of pool.