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Princeton should lengthen the semester to reduce burnout


The fast pace of campus life is nothing new to Princetonians. Even as a junior, I can attest that my first week of classes was spent scrambling to sort my schedule out. During my second week, I spent hours at my eating club engaged in Bicker discussions that lasted well into the early morning. While my third week should have ideally been spent recharging, I was completely occupied with catching up on work and other commitments. Then, boom: before I had even realized it, a quarter of the semester had already passed. To help relieve the burden of this packed semester, Princeton should lengthen its academic calendar by two weeks to match those at peer institutions.

Princeton’s semesters are notoriously short. Princeton will begin its 2024–2025 academic year on Sept. 2, 2024, and the last official day of classes is on Dec. 5, 2024. The following two weeks are then devoted to Reading Period and final exams. The spring semester begins on Jan. 27, 2025 and ends on Apr. 26, 2025. 


Conversely, Yale’s fall semester will begin on Aug. 28, and their fall term classes will end on Dec. 6, making their semester almost a week longer than Princeton’s. Likewise, their spring semester is two weeks longer, beginning on Jan. 13 and ending on Apr. 25. Similarly, at the University of Pennsylvania, the fall semester will begin on Aug. 27, and their reading period will not begin until Dec. 10. Their spring semester will begin on Jan. 15 and end on Apr. 30. Yale and Penn aren’t outliers; the average U.S. semester is 15–17 weeks long, significantly longer than Princeton’s 12 weeks plus exam period. 

The consequences of these shorter semesters are clear — after four years of Princeton, burnout is not uncommon. I remember a friend telling me last year as he was graduating, “I feel bad for you guys. I’m on my way out of Egypt, and you’re here for two more years.” He added, “This life is unsustainable. We can only do this for four years, and not more.”

But how is it possible to only do this for four years? If learning, pursuing our interests, and spending time with friends are inherently fulfilling endeavors, we should be able to continue forever. The mere fact that many of my senior friends are eager to graduate, and that many others have chosen to take time off their sophomore and junior years, are testaments to burnout from Princeton’s unrealistic standards.

The experience of needing to balance many commitments is not unique to Princeton – many other institutions maintain high standards of rigor. Princeton students, however, are under an additional layer of stress because of the rushed semester. Many students often feel as if they have no time to rest and are constantly rushing towards the next break. Maintaining one’s relationships and one’s well-being while taking advantage of opportunities at Princeton should not feel like a chore.

By starting semesters earlier (the last few weeks of August in the fall and the middle of January in the spring) Princeton can take steps towards reducing burnout. Student academic performance may improve with a lengthened semester. Research has shown that spacing out study sessions over a longer period of time benefits long term memory. A process known as “forgetting and retrieval” illustrates that people tend to forget what they learned the first time around, and it is the reinforcement at a later point that jogs the memory. As almost any Princetonian can attest, cramming before an exam does not facilitate retention. Yet, Princeton’s twelve week semesters can often feel like one big intensive cramming session. Just as it is a good practice to space out study sessions, it may also be a smart decision to extend the semesters, with shorter breaks in between the fall and the spring.

Shorter semesters may permit longer breaks, but many students often take this time to work. By shortening winter break by two weeks, Princeton can encourage students to actually rest rather than feeling pressured to fill those weeks with more things to do. Having done a virtual Princeternship the winter of my freshman year, I would rather have spent that time recuperating than taking on more work. Many of my fellow Princeterns have expressed the same feelings. Princeton, and most other universities, have a long summer break precisely for this purpose, to allow students to pursue internships, jobs, and travel. Students need winter break as a time of rest. 


It doesn’t make sense for the semester to be so intensive, especially when there is a clear solution to lighten the intensity: extending the semester. Princeton should opt for a fourteen week semester like most other universities to alleviate student burnout. Slow and steady is better than all or nothing.

Julianna Lee is a junior from Demarest, NJ, majoring in Politics. She can be reached at Julianna is a big fan of road trips and has been to 43 states.

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