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Debunking the 3 Biggest Myths About Princeton University

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

Gothic castles, bagels, and Nobel prizes. An odd combination, but one that hits close to home for me.

All describe my lovely school, Princeton University, where I am a second-year student majoring in physics and planning to minor in either medieval studies or Slavic languages and literatures.

Hailing from North Georgia, I’ve had my fair share of culture shocks, but have found through the people I’ve met, and clubs I’ve participated in, and the work I’ve done, I can safely say I’ve found my Niche at Princeton.

Having spent nearly three semesters there already, I’ve had my fair share of conversations with non-Princetonians about my experiences there, and I have to say, being such a famous university, there are a lot of outside perspectives on Princeton that aren’t quite reflective of how Princeton truly is.

Hence, my reason for writing here. Granted, there will be many different perspectives from different students, and what I am writing here solely reflects what I’ve heard and what I think.

At the very least, in the perspective of a student looking at applying to colleges, this should get you thinking about how much you should believe in opinions from other students who aren’t at a university, versus those who are, and whether or not the information you are receiving about a university accurately affects the student experience.

Without further ado, let’s get into three of the biggest myths I’ve heard about Princeton, and how I’ve seen these myths debunked from my own eyes (and hope you see them debunked too!). 

Myth #1: Princeton is expensive

“That’s crazy! That’s expensive, though . . .”

A common quote I’ve heard from folks back at home when I tell them I’m a student at Princeton. Nearly every time I tell someone this, they follow up some sort of congratulatory statement with some comment about how expensive it must be to go there.

This leads into the first myth I want to discuss, the most potent myth. Princeton is expensive.

This myth has the power to not only discourage a student from applying, but also to discourage all of this student’s family and friends from supporting a student taking a risk and applying to a school like Princeton. 

This previous statement in italics though, is actually true. Princeton is expensive. I’m not going to deny that. Let’s look at the numbers.

For the 2022-2023 academic year, the cost of attendance at Princeton was $83,140 including tuition, room and board, and “estimated miscellaneous expenses” [1]. But don’t stop reading just yet, because now we can add on transportation costs to get to and from New Jersey, which the financial aid office estimates to be anywhere from $300 to $5,000 for an academic year.

Gosh darn, sounds like a lost cause, right? Not quite.

Princeton prides themselves on their financial aid, and this shows in just how affordable they can make attending school there. As the previous paragraph asserts, while Princeton is expensive, this does not mean that Princeton isn’t affordable.

This is when we get into the goods about what makes Princeton, Princeton. According to their financial aid website, from the 2022-2023 academic year, 83% of graduating seniors were debt free, and the average financial aid grant covered 100% of tuition.

Adding to this, nearly 61% of students qualify for financial aid [2]. On their website, the financial aid office even has an interactive tool to help determine the aid a family would get from the university grant, and I recommend you try it out [3].

Finally, I have a more personal connection with the great financial aid that Princeton has, since Princeton has made my experience so affordable. Princeton has met my family’s financial needs, and my education has even been cheaper than my sibling’s education at a public university, truly a testament to how Princeton does not want finances to be a barrier to students applying and attending the university.

Furthermore, I can’t leave this discussion without mentioning outside scholarships. Outside scholarships are super helpful after being accepted to Princeton, since once you know how much money you will have to owe, you can pick a number of scholarships to gain as a goal and work on making your Princeton experience even more affordable.

And, if you end up gaining more outside scholarship than you owe, they’ll even allow you to apply this money to a one-time student computer purchase of up to $3,500 (depending on the scholarship award amount) [4]. A sweet gig, to say the least!

Myth #2: All Princetonians are pretentious

“Gah, everyone at Princeton is so pretentious . . .”

Unfortunately, this was a real quote from someone at my high school going to a different school I’ll leave unnamed. He said this in an attempt to convince me to apply early decision to his school rather than early action to Princeton.

The argument didn’t quite cut it, however, since I ended up applying to Princeton early anyway, even though I knew barely anything about the student life and didn’t know a single person on campus.

What I have found at Princeton is quite contrary to my friend’s opinion of Princeton, and while I can’t speak for every single student on campus, I can speak for the vast majority, which I will argue is a kind, interesting group people who are just as happy to be at Princeton as you are!

Now, I have no real data to argue this. Sure, I could do a whole study on how nice Princeton students are, and there could be real numbers and real variables that would scientifically prove to you that Princeton students are the best.

However, I’m a physics major, not a social scientist, so I’ll just leave that to the psychology and sociology majors. What I will do is give you a couple of aspects of student life at Princeton that will show the character of the student body, in an enumerated list below.

Princeton Students are . . .

  1. Open. Students at Princeton are some of the most open people I’ve ever met. They are interested in you for you, and whatever your background they’ll always give an ear to hear your side of the story. I was a bit unsure about this one going to Princeton since I’m from rural Georgia, but what I’ve found is they are fascinated with differences and embrace differences with open arms. Hence, anyone can feel welcome and appreciated at Princeton, and the variety of clubs that celebrate diversity, and the university’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiative are testaments to this openness [5].
  2. Respectful. Students are respectful of each other. We respect each other’s space and have appropriate manners with each other. An under-appreciated aspect of this respect we have for other students is that we can leave our stuff anywhere on campus and not worry about it getting stolen. Granted, you should be responsible for your stuff, and I’m not telling you to just leave all your expensive personal items in Firestone Library [6] or set up your desktop computer in the middle of Frist Campus center [7] (both very cool places), but I will say that if you leave your stuff in the library for a time, or drop off your backpack in a building and leave for a bit, there isn’t a shadow of a doubt your stuff is safe. It’s great. I’m actually a member of a student-founded bluegrass band at Princeton, and I can leave my banjo around campus and not worry about students stealing it.
  3. Thoughtful. I’ve heard some college horror stories of students competing in classes and refusing to help each other with problem sets and exam prep. Well, not at Princeton. At Princeton (especially in STEM), we are all in this together. And with this difficulty of coursework, we look out for each other, whether that be studying together, working on problem sets and assignments together (given its allowed by the instructor), or taking some time out of personal studying to help a friend understand a concept. You’re surrounded by an incredibly talented group of students ready to help whatever troubles arise. Sounds like a great place, right? 
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Myth #3: All you do at Princeton is study

“Please, go to the football game!”

This was my dad, telling me to go to the Princeton-Yale football game. Evidently, I don’t tell my parents enough about what I do, because they seem to have the impression that I am in the books all the time.

While I do spend a great deal of time studying and working on assignments (don’t get me wrong, Princeton is hard), I have plenty of time to do fun things like go to football games or hang out with friends.

In fact, this is my favorite myth to debunk, because it gets me talking about the many extracurricular activities available at Princeton, and the many resources Princeton has to offer to help with work, saving time from studying so you can enjoy your time in college!

I’ll first discuss Princeton’s extracurriculars, then talk about the wonderful state of New Jersey, and finish with some university initiatives that have been helpful!

First off, the clubs. Every college boasts of its many clubs, and Princeton is no different. We have 39 club sports and 500 extracurricular clubs to join [8], most of which don’t require applications.

The activities speak for themselves, and I’d recommend you explore some of Princeton’s extracurricular offerings. I can’t speak for every club, and you’ll have your own interests, but what I’d recommend going into your first semester of college at any college is to be a “yes” person.

One of my neighbors told me before I headed off to college to be someone who for some short period of time, for me the first week, to say “yes” to everything within reason.

For me, that was not saying no to a club signup. It was a maneuver to secure my existence outside of the books, one that has succeeded.

The success story that comes out of this is that during the club fair, I was pulled out of the archery line by an ambitious girl to sign up for her club, the Princeton curling club. I thought, “I told myself I wasn’t going to say no,” so I signed up.

A year later, my team took second place at the USA Curling College National Championship, and I went home a curling champion.

Usually, when I tell people I go to Princeton, another answer I get is “That’s great! Where is Princeton again?” The wonderful state of New Jersey, of course!

Don’t listen to what people say about the state – Princeton, New Jersey is the place to be. New Jersey has some fantastic cuisine, not to mention the best sandwich shop in the world!

This shop, Hoagie Haven, has some one-of-a-kind sandwiches, and is the most quintessential Princeton culinary outing one could partake in. It’s a must-eat when visiting.

Furthermore, there are a variety of places to visit around the town, such as the Princeton Battlefield (Revolutionary War!) and the Institute woods (hiking trails behind the Institute for Advanced Study).

Of course, how can I forget the proximity to New York City? By taking the express train of New Jersey Transit, you can be in New York City in just over an hour. Explaining all the great things to do there would definitely be out of the scope of this blog. 

Finally, there are plenty of study breaks, and most of the time, these are hosted by what we call residential colleges. All students who enter Princeton get placed into one of the six residential colleges (Rockefeller, Mathey, Whitman, Butler, Forbes, Yeh, New College West), and their residential college advisors (RCAs) are paid to give you fun things to do instead of work, like have an off-campus venture to drink boba or go canoeing in a local canal (been there, done that).

Being a proud Matheyite, I also can’t help but mention Mathey’s Live Well Be Well initiative, where all students (not just Mathey) have access to study breaks that have food, drinks, and games to help ease the stress of school.

I conclude this blog with a call to action: I’ve talked a lot about Princeton, because that’s familiar to me. Princeton has been a great fit for me, and it might be a great fit for you, too!

It also might not, and that’s okay. I’d encourage you to explore all these things I’ve talked about not just for Princeton but every college you consider applying to.

Get the inside scoop! Don’t be afraid to ask students about their experiences, and let’s be honest: get deep with it. Ask them questions that are about life, not just academics or whatnot.

You’ll be here for at least four years, might as well make sure it’ll be a fit. Look into online resources, such as Niche.

Also, many colleges have opportunities to chat with students when applying to school, and there are often meetings for prospective applicants with current students talking about their experiences there.

Of course, these are all suggestions to help you know what will work. And who knows? Maybe you’ll find your niche!

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