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o'connor beat palo alto

For the past two Mondays, gaggles of elated high school seniors have been wandering around campus with their bright-orange folders for Princeton Preview. They’ve been admitted to Princeton and are now seeing what the University has to offer. Despite the myriad activities — ranging from a cappella shows to public lectures — Preview is missing a significant aspect of Princeton which no prospective student should leave without knowing about.

I hosted four students over the past two weeks and asked them if they heard anything about the University’s alumni network at Preview. They said no. Daniel Day, the assistant vice president for communications, confirmed in an email that Preview doesn’t have an alumni presence. This is a major pitfall. The Alumni Association of Princeton University is one of the University’s most fundamental aspects. Future Previews should have an event that allows admitted students to learn about the post-graduate Princeton experience.

Preview has two goals. First, it allows seniors who have already picked Princeton to meet their future classmates and explore the school’s activities before officially arriving as students in September. Second, there are many students who have been accepted to multiple colleges in addition to the University. Preview is an opportunity for them to determine if they “fit in” and if they want to commit.

This second goal is crucial because the University has historically lost a number of admitted students to other institutions. In 1985, Spencer Reynolds — the assistant dean of admissions at the time — said, “The numbers have been fairly consistent over the years. Harvard has been the college students choose and represents the largest loss we have." He added, “Stanford is considered a ‘hot’ college. It’s [sic] appeal may be faddish, but it’s a terrific university.”

Today’s admissions officers aren’t so blunt in their comments. But little has changed. The University still loses admitted students to Harvard, and Stanford is a fierce competitor instead of a fad. Both institutions — along with Yale and MIT — had higher yields for the class of 2020 than the University, meaning that a greater percentage of admitted students chose to attend those colleges than decline their offers.

In light of these statistics, the University should do everything possible to ensure that the best and the brightest choose Princeton over Palo Alto. This school has two strengths that no other institution can beat: its undergraduate focus and alumni network. The former is drilled into admitted students’ heads throughout Preview. The latter is missing.

Although I haven’t graduated, the alumni have already been a special part of my Princeton experience. As I marched through FitzRandolph Gate during the Pre-rade, I immediately felt connected to a larger community when I saw white-haired alumni sporting goofy orange blazers and showing an indomitable school spirit. Since then, I’ve enjoyed going to many alumni dinner talks and having coincidental run-ins with them across the country.

I haven’t even touched on the Reunions juggernaut. The prospect of having an annual party with one’s college friends for the rest of one’s life is a very appealing aspect that could lure some students away from the big H. Fantastic career connections are also a significant benefit of being a Princeton alumnus. But admitted students currently walk away from Preview without knowing this.

An alumni presence should be integrated into future Previews just like any other Princeton program. Perhaps it could be an open house to teach school traditions or a miniature cocktail party, sans alcohol, where admitted students talk to alumni about their experiences after graduation or allay their fears about job prospects with Princeton’s tough grading. Another, albeit more ambitious, option would be to ask alumni interviewers to meet with admitted students in their area.

The alumni have a vested interest in helping Preview, too. These talented high school students are possible future alumni – though they won’t join the alumni’s ranks if they become Bulldogs instead of Tigers.

Everyone at Princeton knows that it’s the best university in the world. But admitted students haven’t realized that yet. Preview is an opportunity to show off Princeton’s strengths. As alumni are the school’s most enthusiastic supporters, their presence at Preview can ensure that more admitted students pick orange over crimson.

Liam O’Connor is a sophomore from Wyoming, Del. He can be reached at lpo@princeton.edu.

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