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Princeton Admissions: Recruitment

Princeton is one of the most selective undergraduate colleges in the world. That is guaranteed, as there are more students who want to attend than spaces. The criteria by which Princeton decides who is allowed to be a Tiger and who is not are not set in stone. In this column, the final part of a three-part series on admissions, I examine recruitment; the first column explored early admissions and the second column discussed legacy.

In addition to its cutting-edge research and world-class education, Princeton is a Division 1 school for many sports. And like all collegiate sports teams, access to top talent is required for Princeton to compete.


But recruiting the best players is more difficult at Princeton. The University doesn’t give out athletic scholarships, a key incentive. Athletes here must meet the same rigorous academic standards that apply to all students, which further winnows the field. Recruitment is essential to attracting the most talented athletes to become Princetonians. In fact, recruitment should expand to other activities.

Not everyone agrees. Some, like the author of a recent Yale Daily News column, believe that some student athletes are less deserving of attending a top school, that they are less intelligent, and that they got in on just the merit of their sport. As our own Luke Gamble points out, that isn’t true. On the 240-point Academic Index used by the Ivy League schools, athletes fall within a hair — just five points — of the rest of our student body. The dumb jock stereotype isn’t true at Princeton, since dumb jocks are not accepted.

Nevertheless, the Yale column argued that recruited athletes are accepted not on their academic merit, but on the merit of their extracurricular activities. As if anyone at top schools isn’t accepted based on factors other than their academic performance. Princeton could easily fill a class with people who got 2400’s on their SATs and 4.0 GPAs. They chose not to do this because there is value in people having skills, talents, and passions outside the classroom.

Or, as Gamble wrote, “Harvard didn’t accept Yo-Yo Ma because of his stellar high school grades, but rather because of so much else that he brought to the university.”

I am sure that Yo-Yo Ma was essentially recruited to Harvard. By the time Ma applied to Harvard, he was already a renowned cellist and alumnus of the Juilliard School. He brought a level of expertise in his field that Harvard valued.

That is the same principle on which elite schools recruit athletes. And if the University recruits students with the greatest talent on the field, court, or rink, then I see no reason why this same system should not apply to students with other talents. The orchestra should be able to recruit top violinists. The debate team wants the best debaters. Sports are not the only way that Princeton advertises to the world how impressive Princetonians are.


Just as coaches are given a number of recruitment slots, leaders of performing groups should be given slots, too. Princeton is a collection of some of the most driven, impressive people I have ever met. Part of what makes Princeton a remarkable place is student groups participating within their fields at the highest level. Allowing recruitment across all the disciplines of human achievement would allow Princeton to better showcase itself to the world and further attract top talent in sports, arts, and yes, intellectual endeavors.

As with recruited athletes, these slots should not be a free pass on academic requirements. Rather, they should simply be an endorsement by the head of an organization within Princeton signaling that the applicant has a skill valuable to the University community.

The current system allows only sports teams this luxury. The signal that sends from the University is that while athletic skills deserve extra consideration, non-athletic skills do not.

Beni Snow is a mechanical and aerospace engineering major from Newton Center, Mass. He can be reached at

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