The recent release of the final exam schedule has reminded many of us of the current academic calendar’s inconvenient organization. Similar to last year, the last scheduled day for final exams is Dec. 22, which lands a meager three days before Christmas and barely over a week before New Year’s.
The current schedule causes headaches not just for those who celebrate Christmas, but for everyone. Indeed, it disproportionately affects international and low-income students, regardless of religion. By starting the fall semester roughly a week earlier and releasing the final exam schedule sooner, students’ travel plans for winter break would be made less costly and far simpler.
Logistically, the current schedule is most troubling for international students. Living an ocean away often comes with layovers and connecting flights. During the holiday season, one of the busiest times of year, flights are all the more vulnerable to delays and cancellations. Leaving so few days between the end of exams and the holidays increases the risk that students don’t return home in time. It also increases the chances of the unique misfortune of being stranded in a country that is neither the United States nor one’s destination. A Filipino friend once told me that the Tokyo airport is awfully nice, but I doubt she would want to spend her winter break there indefinitely.
Furthermore, the cost of traveling during the holidays is especially difficult for low-income students. You don’t need to be an economics major to know that airfare is particularly expensive around the holidays, especially during the week of Christmas and New Year’s. The exam schedule itself is released a quarter of the way into the semester, which means students are unable to book tickets for these already expensive flights far in advance. Holding final exams just a week earlier would spare students — from all backgrounds — of headaches and empty pockets.
Perhaps the greatest problem with the late final exam week is that it provides no time to rebook flights should travel plans go awry, making them that much more expensive. The registrar’s exam date roulette can result in a losing combination of unlucky scheduling and winter storms. Low-income students in particular are the most inconvenienced by these flight cancellations: not everyone can afford the luxury of last-minute bookings due to sudden mishaps. Yet, ultimately, all students suffer when these flights are canceled. For example, last year, another friend of mine had his last exam on the 23rd, but his flight on the 24th was canceled due to snowstorms. He was forced to spend Christmas in Princeton rather than at home.
The new academic calendar is certainly better than the old academic calendar, since final exams no longer hang over our heads while we are resting at home for the holidays. However, I argue that we simply ought to start the semester sooner to avoid this late exam schedule. Beginning just a week earlier (in late August rather than after Labor Day) might spare us all a great deal of trouble.
Of course, there is nothing to be done for next year, or the one after. Academic calendars are planned well in advance, and for good reason. But current students should stand up for future Princetonians’ right to observe Christmas and afford them the privilege of going home in peace. If University administrators want to support geographic and economic diversity at Princeton, the calendar ought to reflect the reality that many — if not most — students cannot simply drive home for the holidays a day or two in advance. At the very least, the administration ought to promote take-home exams as much as possible to lighten students’ travel burdens.
As for this year, the unlucky few who must stay until the bitter end may find themselves singing along with Frank Sinatra: “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”
Ignacio Arias ’25 is a junior from Guaynabo, PR. He can be reached at email@example.com.