First, a response to a commonly made University claim. The glossy admission brochures tell you that the activities and opportunities of New York City and Philadelphia are a stone’s throw away from Princeton, especially because there is a train station located conveniently on campus. This statement is simply not true. Certainly, the presence of the Dinky ensures that you’ll never have to walk any significant distance before boarding a train, but the fact remains that the Dinky only connects to Princeton Junction, where one must wait for 10 or 15 minutes before transferring to another train going either direction. From there, it takes an hour to get to New York City, and even longer to get to Philadelphia, despite its geographical proximity (one must transfer again in Trenton to the SEPTA line). As a freshman, you may be motivated to invest three hours of your day to see the sights of our neighboring cities; however, you’ll soon realize that, regarding enjoyment per unit time, you’d be better off watching reruns of “House” in your dorm room.
Second, if your perception of the eating clubs is that of entitlement or snobbiness, think again. Though there are some clubs that are exclusive and even secretive (a la Ivy Club), they are for the most part whatever you make of them, both in terms of which one you join and the level of commitment you give to them. My eating club, Quadrangle Club, has been a defining part of my upperclassman Princeton experience; but for some, eating clubs are simply a place to eat two or three times a day. Though the clubs are more or less equal in objective quality and services, each one has its own reputation and crowd. Keep in mind that some are more homogenous than others: Some have distinct “feeders,” such as performance or political groups, while others draw from many sectors of the student body, from engineers to Woody Woo majors to jocks. Deciding which club to join is not generally a difficult process, and nothing stops you from joining a different club later on. If you’re not a fan of exclusivity, then there is an array of sign-in club options, and if you’re apathetic toward the whole thing, then eating clubs need be no more for you than glorified dining halls. At the same time, one can eschew the eating clubs altogether, by being “independent” or joining a food co-op, without sacrificing your social options. In all, the eating and social options here at Princeton are, in my opinion, much more interesting and diverse than those at most other schools.
Despite the many grumblings of the lack of social life at Princeton, it is actually abundant and easily accessible, if you know where to look — which, in fact, most incoming freshmen don’t. They simply gravitate automatically toward the Street. Because the University has very little control over drinking on campus, the administration goes out of its way to make non-alcohol related events available every weekend. For example, a significant but seldom recognized opportunity comes from University Film Organization, which essentially books the Garden Theatre on Nassau Street every Friday night so students can see recently released movies for free and enjoy popcorn and drinks. From dancing in the Wilson Blackbox Theater to free yoga sessions, you can always find something fun to do, provided that you actually read those pesky USG emails announcing the plethora of free events each week.
Finally, the big one: grade deflation. The extent to which this affects you really depends on a number of factors, including your field of study, your goals and your personality. There is no doubt — your grades here will not be as good as they were in high school. You have no control over this fact. You can, however, control how you interpret it. Though many Princeton newcomers become stressed as they receive their first subpar grades, I saw the harsh grading as a relief: no longer would I agonize over each and every exam. For the first time, I could be OK with a “B.”
Although I had already made up my mind when I attended Princeton Preview, I had a great time nonetheless. I hope you do too!
David Mendelsohn is a psychology major from Rockville Centre, N.Y. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.