Students at other institutions enjoy their breaks without final exams and papers hanging over their heads. However, Princeton students are forced to choose between proactively writing papers and studying or spending time with their families and enjoying their break. In reality, the looming specter of finals causes a great deal of stress that results in students never actually having a mental break.
Beyond creating an unfulfilling winter break, the current calendar also restricts students’ ability to travel or work on independent work. For example, very few international students and students on financial aid are able to return home during Intersession because of the short length of time and because the majority of them just went home a few weeks earlier for winter break. Thus, they are forced to remain on campus. Furthermore, juniors in departments that require one junior paper and seniors working on their theses are unable to fully engage with their research because January is cut into so many sections between winter break, reading period, exam period and Intersession.
A reformed calendar would provide all students with several opportunities that are absent under the current system. We propose holding final exams before Christmas and instituting a cohesive winter break instead of two separate breaks. While a new calendar would solve many existing problems, its greatest benefit lies in the additional opportunities it would offer. A full month off allows students more freedom. Seniors have a long, uninterrupted period to work on their theses and conduct any necessary travel; juniors, sophomores and freshmen can focus on securing summer internships; and everyone is able to pursue a project of personal interest. Students could also spend more time with their families.
Of course, reforming the academic calendar would raise logistical issues. Unlike many of our peer institutions, Princeton enjoys a long reading period during which students are able to prepare and study for final exams and assignments. In order to change the academic calendar and keep our reading period, we would have to make up roughly three weeks of class. Students would either have to sacrifice all of fall break or start school the last week of August. The calendar change would require certain programs, such as Outdoor Action, Community Action and international student pre-orientation, to change their operating schedules. The Board believes that the benefits that come with a changed schedule outweigh any logistical problems, which are relatively easy to sort out. After all, most other schools already operate on the reformed schedule.
In 2007, the University discussed and rejected the possibility of altering its schedule. In 2009, Harvard implemented an earlier semester, leaving Princeton virtually alone in its quest to uphold tradition. Years later, the University stubbornly presses on with this institutional artifact. It’s time to revisit the idea of reforming the academic calendar.