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International students highlight challenges with flying home after finals period

Japan Airlines + United Airlines - Louisa Gheorghita.jpg
Planes at Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
Louisa Gheorghita / The Daily Princetonian

With winter break approaching, students across campus making plans, which often include traveling back home, staying on campus for Wintersession, and visiting friends across the world. For some international students, however, these plans are often arranged much earlier in the semester, usually around the time the final exam schedule is released. The Daily Princetonian spoke with five international students to see how and when they plan for winter break. 

The topic of finals being too late in the semester and the schedule being released too late was prominent during this year’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG) vice-presidential debate.


All five of the students interviewed expressed that the final exam schedule should be released earlier, and two suggested the semester should finish a week earlier.

Laura Zhang ’26 flies home to Sydney, Australia twice a year. She explained that last year, she did not arrive home until Dec. 26 as she had an exam on Dec. 23 and “flew out of Princeton on the 24th [and] spent the 25th on the plane.”

“I wish that I could have left Princeton sooner, [that is, I wish] semester ended a week earlier to spend Christmas with my family,” she added. 

Joshua Wells ’24, who is from the United Kingdom (UK), agreed. In a statement to the ‘Prince,’ he wrote that the University could improve his experience with travel by “start[ing] the semester a week earlier and shift[ing] the schedule so [students] do not finish just before Christmas.”

Changing the academic calendar was a topic of conversation during this year’s USG vice-presidential debate. Then-candidate Chase Magnano ’25 argued that Princeton should move the academic calendar one week earlier. Warren Shepherd ’27, echoed the sentiment, putting up flyers that read “December 22 is too late. Shift the academic year a week earlier.”

In the debate, Shepherd highlighted the fact that students may be caught in transit near Christmas, citing the case of last year where, due to a snow storm, some students were caught in the airport.


Exams seem to be getting later in finals period. For the past two fall semesters, Princeton final exams have been scheduled to begin on the third Saturday of December and conclude the following Friday. There are 32 more final exams in Fall 2023 than Fall 2022 and, on average, they are being administered later in the exam window. 

International students who spoke to the ‘Prince’ also said that they wished the school would simply release the final exam schedule early, so that they could make their travel plans earlier when flights tend to be cheaper.

Zhang also wrote to the ‘Prince’ that she “normally book[s] [her flight] right after final exam schedules are released.” She added that she “would have booked earlier if the final exam schedules were released earlier.”

This year, the final exam schedule was released on Sep. 25.

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Aman Dutta ’27, who flies home to Nepal during winter breaks, wrote in a statement to the ‘Prince’ that “the main problem with booking early is the uncertainty about the final exams and winter session schedule. Finals schedules are released mid-semester which is kind [of] challenging.”

Dutta added, “the main problem with booking early is the uncertainty about the final exams and winter session schedule.” 

When she was Academics Committee Chair, Srista Tripathi ’25 proposed making the final exam schedule available earlier so international students or students who fly home have more time to book tickets in advance.

Jack Ganley ’26 said he thinks publishing the final exam schedule earlier is “feasible” because “the registrar should be able to begin scheduling finals” as soon as “course enrollment finishes.” Ganley flies to the UK twice per year.

Wells wrote that waiting until the release of the final exam schedule to book travel “makes the flight expensive.” According to Zhang, “the most expensive ticket [she] bought was $2,600 one way and the cheapest was $1,600,” adding that “there is a really big range depending on availability and when [she] purchase[s] [her] tickets.”

Dutta said, “the cost of a round trip to Nepal is already really high,” so he “book[s] early to get cheap tickets [as in December], the cost is around $2,200.”

“[I] would like to go home for winter, but it’s too far and costs too much,” added James Ding ’25, who usually flies home once a year to Singapore, during the summer. He wrote that his flight home is “usually over 24 hours in transit [and] costs at least $2,000.”

According to financial aid letters sent to undergraduates, transportation costs are estimated and are meant to cover two round trips, one for the start and end of the academic year, and one for winter break. 

Zhang said that although her “flights are covered, sometimes the cost of the flight varies and exceeds the amount that [she is] given through financial aid.” She continued, “if there was a way flights could be covered on a case-by-case basis, that would be fantastic.”

Students proposed other changes to the University approach toward international travel. 

“It would be great if the University could give us a few more days between the end of finals and move-out day — I’ve had exams on the last day of finals multiple times, and it is always a struggle to pack my things on time,” wrote Ding. 

Due to the fluctuation in ticket prices, Dutta suggested that the University or the Davis International Center accumulate resources to locate websites comparing flight costs, adding that would be beneficial not only for international students but “also [for] students going for an international internship or study abroad.”

The last finals this year are scheduled for Dec. 22, three days before Christmas.

Victoria Davies is a staff News writer for the ‘Prince.’

Louisa Gheorghita is a staff News writer for the ‘Prince.’

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