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Why do students skip their Wintersession events?

snowball-fight-3 Candace Do DP.jpg
Despite the cold, student’s snowball fights rage on.
Candace Do / The Daily Princetonian

The air is cold, the holiday decorations are coming down, and TigerHub has (finally) been updated with last semester’s final grades. It’s Wintersession, and we have a variety of events to choose from. Take a class on dog training! Go skiing! Despite the copious options, I’ve noticed that many of my classmates skip the Wintersession events that they signed up for. The freedom for exploration that Wintersession offers is poisoned by our tendency to overcommit — we feel the pressure to sign up for many events, yet skip them due to the stress generated by our tightly packed schedules.

Wintersession has a problem: Wintersession events are very hard to get into, yet few students show up. The fact that many people don’t attend the classes for which they registered makes the program a less effective learning tool than it could be. 


When sign-ups open, anyone can enroll in an unlimited number of first come, first serve classes. This openness, Mira Eashwaran ’26 noted, causes many Wintersession activities to fill up quickly.

“There were definitely more than a couple that I wanted to do, but couldn’t because they were full,” she said. The passion for signing up doesn’t always transfer to showing up, though. Eashwaran discussed Paint Your Emotions, a class she went to this year, saying that when it came time for the activity to start, “very few people actually attended.”

The Executive Director of the Office of Campus Engagement, Judy Jarvis, confirmed that there are inconsistencies between sign-up and attendance numbers, ones that are widespread enough to be covered in Wintersession facilitator training. “We say, ‘if you want to have 15 people attend, we suggest making your cap around 20-22,’” she explained.

Poor attendance in Wintersession events devalues the effort put in by facilitators. Undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty spend significant amounts of time and energy dreaming up innovative Wintersession classes on niche subjects. Many instructors I had this year mentioned that they chose their Wintersession topic because it had a deeply personal connection to their lives outside of Princeton. If students aren’t planning to attend, the option to cancel their registration is always on the table — a much preferable alternative to simply no-showing. But, more importantly, students shouldn’t sign up for classes that they’re not genuinely interested in.

Nobody forced us to sign up for these classes. Gina Holland, the Undergraduate Program Manager for the Department of Economics, taught a Wintersession course this year called The (Queer?) Life and Poetry of Emily Dickinson. She confirmed that facilitators must be prepared for “a certain percentage of attrition.” Despite knowing that no-shows frequently occur, instructors are still affected by the sight of a sparsely populated classroom. “If it was an arts and crafts session, or something with limited spots,” Holland said, “I can see how an instructor would be a little disappointed.”

Signing up for classes and then skipping them is not just unfair to instructors; it is similarly disrespectful to fellow students. I, like Eashwaran, missed out on several exciting opportunities because they filled up on the website immediately after sign-ups opened. The fact that many seats presumably went empty heightens the disappointment for those who didn’t get into certain courses themselves.


Finally, it’s disrespectful to ourselves. The purpose of Wintersession is joyful learning, unencumbered by grades, distribution requirements, or exams. We won’t reach this goal until we limit ourselves to signing up for classes we will actually go to and enjoy. 

Why is this skipping phenomenon so widespread? Why do so many Princeton students book a far greater number of classes than they will ever reasonably attend? The answer lies in the culture of (over-)productivity that runs rampant through campus. It seems that when students see the huge list of classes, they feel the pressure to take advantage of free hours during Wintersession, and proceed to sign up for too many classes. Students may feel they should always be productive at the expense of free time and their mental health. Wintersession is meant to be a time to rest and recharge by exercising our intellectual curiosity without the stress of a real class. Instead, we consider an hour set aside for no particular purpose to be an hour wasted, and so we keep signing up, even for classes we’re not interested in. 

By overpopulating our Google Calendars, even during a break, we imply that a fully booked schedule is more valuable than one that leaves space for relaxation. That kind of lifestyle isn’t sustainable. I believe that the stress of overcommitting is why so many people skip their Wintersession undertakings. With such a full schedule, driven by productivity culture, students that may have gone to three Wintersession events otherwise may go to none in the face of the 17 they’ve signed up for. 

Ironically, ditching our pursuits doesn’t alleviate the stress of a packed schedule. In fact, it just multiplies it. We feel even worse once we’ve skipped a class, vow to do better, and add yet more to our planners. Rinse, repeat. It’s a vicious cycle that feels inescapable. Accepting that we need to cut back on anything — from extracurriculars, to jobs, to Wintersession offerings — feels tantamount to admitting defeat. Many of us secretly fear that nobody else has the same struggle and that paring down our schedules will mean falling behind our fellow students. Yet, comparing ourselves to others steals our opportunity for joy. How can we find happiness in the incredible opportunities offered during Wintersession if we are unable to separate our desire to learn from our desire to outperform everyone around us?

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Holland champions the original idea of Wintersession classes: education for education’s sake. “Whether that’s learning about Emily Dickinson, or about learning to beatbox, it’s just about learning something new,” she argues. “We get so stressed about achieving the grade and achieving the status and the outcome, that we forget about what it should take to get to the outcome, which is the love of learning.”

When the next Wintersession rolls around, we should focus on only signing up for classes we will realistically attend — and ones we are compelled to take by our love of learning. It will benefit everyone, instructors and students alike. If we give ourselves the grace of rest, we may find that the burden of work is lighter and the reward, greater. 

Anna Ferris is a freshman from Pittsburgh, PA who intends to concentrate in English. She can be reached at