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Even God rested on the seventh day, but you will not, or so it may seem

Never in the course of human events have so few caused so many so much pain.

The nicely embossed brochures the University sends you tell all about the fascinating activities and extracurricular programs available at Princeton.


They leave out one important fact, however: Unless your name happens to be Houdini, you will be hard-pressed to sample even a few of them.

If you have any intention at all of getting something resembling an education for your $120,000, you are going to be very busy for the next four years with your work alone.

Never fear, however, because there are a variety of tactics available for dealing with course chagrin, paper paralysis and homework hysteria.

There is, of course, the most obvious and initially painless option: sloth. This method, favored by rampant party animals, involves engaging in "strategic curriculum avoidance" — in other words, simply not doing any work. Enjoy the adrenaline rush of taking exams without having cracked a book. Sharpen your doublespeak skills in precept.

The practitioners of this technique are usually not Wilson School majors or engineers. They spend a high percentage of their time in taprooms on Prospect Avenue.

They also usually depart Princeton in ignominy. Total work withdrawal almost guarantees an express trip down flunk-out lane. Every year a small group of about 20 "students" receive cordial requests that they take a "leave of absence" — the phrase's first word being its operative element. Some come back more serious the next semester. Some never return.


Those who wish to work half-heartedly forge a different path through Princeton — the way of the guts.

Guts — courses so easy that anyone with minimal brain activity can pull a Bwithout much effort — can be found at Princeton if one knows where to look. Rather than referring to the courses by their proper names, students endow them with endearing if not demeaning nicknames such as "Clapping for Credit," "Rocks for Jocks," "Shake and Bake" and "Physics for Poets."

Not all classes with nicknames are guts, however. "Death Mechanics," "Death Lab" and "Turbo Chem" are, in fact, anything but easy.

The allure of these courses used to be further increased by the pass/fail option. However, some of these courses have eliminated that option and several years ago, the evil schemers in the administration changed p/f to p/D/f, forcing the gutsters to work a little harder.

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Use your p/D/f option to try out new things. You may fall in love with cultural anthropology. If you have a lot of courage, try taking five classes instead of four one semester. You will thank yourself when you can opt for only three classes while writing your JP.

Since we do want you to do some work, we will refrain from telling you the actual names of GPA-boosting guts. Consult the Student Course Guide as soon as possible.

Read between the lines

Subtext is everything when it comes to course readings and professorial edicts. As a freshman, it is vital that you learn some simple tricks of linguistic analysis sooner rather than later.

Statement: "This reading is vital to understanding the background of the issues this course will address."

Translation: "This won't be on the final."

A further aspect of this technique involves careful observation of text authorship — if the professor wrote it, you should memorize it, quote it in papers and bring it up in passing conversation.

Another option — perennially unpopular but nonetheless consistently practiced by a small number of students whose mission in life is to annoy the rest of us — is to do all one's course work with the passion and verve of a martyr.

These individuals earn stratospheric GPAs and win awards like the Freshman Honor Prize, which goes to the student who achieved the highest grades as a freshman. They also know the catacombs of Firestone library by heart, have little or no involvement in extracurricular activities and enjoy the social life of mollusks.

When all is said and done, though, most students take a more moderate approach, depending on both their own efforts and the resources available to them. They do enough to get the education they paid for, but not so much as to make it impossible to enjoy all the other opportunities the University offers.

This method — healthy pragmatism — requires making use of all the advice corridors available. The Student Course Guide is useful, though it can be inconsistent and incomplete. Upperclassmen are also helpful. They have already been there, so why fall into the same traps they did?

Communicate extensively with students who have taken your classes in the past to find out what parts of that enormous syllabus and "required" reading list are really important. Every freshman has an RA who can probably help or, if not, can direct you to someone who can.

Your director of studies and faculty academic adviser have to help you out — it's their job. The academic advising system used to be pretty awful — pairing up prospective anthropology majors with quantum physicists. Now, however, the residential colleges try to assign freshmen and sophomores to faculty advisers who are in one of the departments the students listed as potential majors on their applications.

Professors are also quite willing to talk about their courses, though they have a mysterious tendency to downplay negative aspects. Most faculty members hold regular office hours, but Murphy's Law almost guarantees you will have class at that time. Call or e-mail for an appointment.

Start planning to fulfill distribution requirements early so they do not hang over your head when you are trying to write your JP.

On the other hand, take care to balance your interests with new explorations. After all, that's why you showed up. But have fun doing it, and save space for outside interests — they are as much a part of the "college experience" as classrooms.