East Pyne Hall.
Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian
Why you don’t feel successful at Princeton
I spent my first two summers of high school completing state-required gym classes so that I could fit more science classes into my schedule during the academic year. Every morning, I had to run a lap on the track with my classmates under the searing July sun.
I ran these sprints several dozen times, and their outcomes were always the same. The track athletes reached the finish line first, followed by the people who were neither in nor out of shape, who were trailed in turn by the less athletic students or bulky athletes who were known more for their muscle than their speed.
No matter how hard anyone tried, their relative ranking in the race never changed because some of the students — namely the track stars — had received so much more training to run the lap that no one could catch up to them in our brief few weeks of gym classes.
A sixth sense has long told me that the Princeton experience is like one of these morning laps. Students stand along the starting line at opening exercises, and then they’re off to the races once Orientation begins, attempting to achieve more and outdo their peers in every way. But few can pull ahead who aren’t already primed to do so.
As a junior and senior columnist for The Daily Princetonian, I’ve pieced together demographic data on the eating clubs’ memberships, mapped undergraduates’ hometowns, analyzed confidential grading data, chronicled the inner workings of the admission process, and tracked the winners of top academic awards. These sources have confirmed my hunch that our college trajectories are split like the runners on my high school track.
The conclusions that I reached from these investigations agreed what I had long suspected: Students’ upbringings significantly influence — if not outright determine — the course of their academic and social lives at Princeton.
During the final months of my senior year, I discovered the smoking guns that I had long been searching for. Buried in the Mudd Manuscript Library, I found documents in which admissions officers acknowledged — and even predicted — that various groups of students would perform differently because of how they fit into the classes that they crafted. The practical and ethical consequences of this knowledge affect nothing less than the very futures of the undergraduates across the highest echelons of higher education.