'Work hard, play hard'
"Work hard, play hard." I heard the motto my first week at Princeton two years ago. Since then I've come to realize that it's much more than just a saying. It's a way of life; it's a mentality; it's an obsession.
To truly understand the seemingly ideal balance, you must live and observe it. But since freshmen are at a disadvantage, having only set foot on campus for an overzealous orange key tour, I'll be your candid teacher.
To work hard
You learned how to do it junior year of high school. You met with your college counselor, and he told you the two keys to success — APs and extracurriculars. It didn't really matter what APs you took, as long as you got 10 classes under your belt by graduation. You busted your proverbial balls to get a 5 on that exam, and for what? Princeton grants no credit for BC calculus, but it'll put you on the advanced math track that guarantees backbreaking work and deflated grades (unless, of course, you're a recluse genius).
Then there's the well-rounded student that Princeton admission officers openly seek out. They want the cello player, spelling bee champion, soccer star, straight-A student, class president and Church acolyte (although it's better if you're the more obscure Shintoist). It's best if you've volunteered at the leukemia ward of your local hospital and raised money to support Tsunami victims. A ball-busting resume? You and I both lived it.
So let's dive into the work hard, party hard Princeton scene. It starts with the applications. You apply for freshman seminars, you apply for fellowship programs, you even apply for friends. Well, only if you're pledging a fraternity. I suggest going to the rush parties, drinking the free beverages and scrapping the process. It's just a bunch of flirting anyways.
The dreaded grade deflation has worsened your situation. You will be the second class to go through Princeton with a mere 30 percent of your classmates receiving A's. It seems doable if you hide away in the library, until you realize that 30 percent of the top one percent of intelligent students in the nation leaves you with — don't say it — a B+.
Working hard only begins in the library. You'll enter Stephens Fitness Center your first week or school, and you'll learn to love or hate it. Imagine two rows of elliptical machines with spandex-clad, high pony-tailed girls bouncing to the beat of their iPods. (Nobody chats, they just check out each other's butts and boobs.) You'll learn the Stairmasters are so close to each other not to conserve space, but so the bodacious babes can count each other's calories.
Go downstairs if you dare. The boys with big muscles reside there with the free weights. The 8 pound to 20 pound dumb bells lay dormant, untouched for fear of a mocking glare. If you can't deadlift a truck like the behemoths on World's Strongest Man, you're still a little boy who should do push-ups in his room.
To play hard
This is what you're waiting for. The simple generalization is that Princeton students binge party to release the pent up steam from hours of studying. It makes sense when you think of time constraints. If you want to study until 11 p.m., and you need to be in bed by 2 a.m. so you can wake up and study the next morning, you're left with three short hours to drink, walk to the Street, wait in line for a beer, shake your booty and scout out a make-out. There's certainly not enough time to have leisurely drinks while catching an episode of Family Guy, so you pound drinks in a half an hour while listening to '80s music. While I don't promote or partake in this excessive drinking style, I dare you to go out to the street and stay completely sober — you'll feel as awkward as your grandma at a death metal concert.
Now that we've covered how to party, the question is when? Most people go out on Thursdays and Saturdays when the eating clubs bring in bands and DJ Bob. (You'll get to know him well.) But a few weeks into school you'll hear your fratboy friend say, "You know, Tuesday is the new Thursday." A month later, he'll proclaim that Wednesday has superceded Tuesday in coolness according to the latest Gallup poll. (Don't worry, Thursday is still Thursday.)
The truth is, you'll find yourself doing the same thing every night you go out, no matter the day. If drinking Beast in the basement of a mansion is your cup of tea, you'll love it. If not, find a hobby.
So what's missing at Princeton? Chill time. So few people are willing to spend an afternoon watching TV, playing the guitar or talking about and appreciating mundane things like the weather. Sure, you'll find some preps and jocks playing volleyball on the sand courts in your residential college courtyard. But I wonder if they're playing to relax or just to show off their shirtless, rippling chests. Either way, it looks good.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Princetonian's annual freshman issue, which was mailed to members of the Class of 2010 earlier this summer.