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Rethinking Intersession

This past week, I visited my friend at MIT during the school’s Independent Activities Period, a month-long term that spans from the beginning to the end of January, somewhat parallel to Princeton’s Intersession. During this time, students can “organize, sponsor and participate in a wide variety of activities, including how-to sessions, forums, athletic endeavors, lecture series, films, tours, recitals and contests.” There were informal classes on figure skating, cooking, research methodology, etc. There were also formal, credited classes for certain subjects, including many pass/fail only classes. Some students also chose to take on winter internships, gaining perspective and experience that ultimately helped them decide upon or obtain summer opportunities in similar fields. Many students participated in the Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program, a career services program with company seminars and leadership classes, which has a near 100 percent success rate for matching its students with internships.

Although Princeton’s Intersession is a break I fully support, especially following the end of stressful finals, I think Intersession could benefit from a stronger sense of direction and purpose. Many people don’t go home during Intersession because it’s right after winter break, and yet there aren’t many activities to do on campus. This year’s pilot Wintersession program, organized by the USG, was created in order to “build a community on campus during a time that is ‘unaddressed’ by the University administration,” U-Councilor Azza Cohen ’16explained.The program met massive demand, counting over a thousand registered students, showing that students want to participate in organized activities during Intersession. According to U-Councilor Laura Du ’14, the top Intersession courses were the Excel Workshop, the My Money Workshop, Scientific Computing in Python, Effective Public Speaking and Intro to Cooking.The popularity of these courses demonstrates students’ interest in building practical skills and pursuing personal enrichment. Perhaps if the University formally acknowledged Wintersession as a part of Intersession break, the program could expand its membership and the number of courses available.

Additionally, recreational activities offered during the school year are discontinued during Intersession, which detracts from the assumed purpose of providing a fun break to students after finals. Intersession could definitely benefit from USG movies, Broadway trips, skate nights and other activities that usually fall on school nights. These activities, if anything, should be offered more frequently during Intersession because there is more free time available than during the academic year.

Intersession could also benefit from offering credited courses, although that would be more difficult considering the rather short time frame of a week. However, given the number of distribution requirements that students must satisfy and the number of interesting courses that Princeton offers, I think students would greatly benefit from having an extra pocket of time to fulfill those requirements and explore off-major courses. In particular, pass/D/fail-only courses could be feasibly condensed into a shorter time period in a way that lab classes and lecture and precept classes cannot.


Winter internships would be another activity the University could formally acknowledge as a part of Intersession. Although Princeternships, alumni-based shadowing externships allowing for career exploration, are an option during Intersession, many companies such as Jane Street and Google offer full winter internships. Intersession would be a good time to pursue those internship opportunities, leaving winter break as a time to relax and go home. This way, students can gain experience to contribute to their summer internship search, before applications close. They can also decide what direction to choose for their summer internships, which is longer and more intensive.

While IAP at MIT is definitively for pursuing out-of-class academic endeavors, professional opportunities and recreational activities, Intersession does not have that level of structure. Regardless of whether Intersession should be extended or not, it is clear that students want more direction and purpose during this time period. Intersession is a great time to relax after finals, but that goal is already fulfilled by not having class or academic responsibilities. Offering more activities during Intersession would be a great way to fulfill students’ interests in educating and improving themselves. Although some students may still prefer to use Intersession as an opportunity to just relax, it would be nice to have the option to do something else.

Barbara Zhan is an Operations Research and Financial Engineering major from Plainsboro, N.J. She can be reached at

Due to a reporting a error, an earlier version of this article misstated the number of students who signed up for Wintersession. Over a thousand students signed up.