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Princeton University

Princeton University, located in Princeton, New Jersey, is one of the eight Ivy League universities and is considered to be one of the most prestigious universities in the world. It is the fourth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States. It was founded as the College of New Jersey in 1746, and was originally located in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The school moved to Princeton in 1756, still under its original name. The name was officially changed to "Princeton University" in 1896. While originally a Presbyterian institution, the university is now non-sectarian and makes no religious demands on its students.

Shirley Tilghman is the current president of Princeton University.


History of the University

From the move to Princeton in 1756 to the construction of Stanhope Hall in 1803, the University's sole building was Nassau Hall. The much-abused landmark survived bombardament with cannonballs in the Revolutionary War when General Washington struggled to wrest the building from British control, burnings that left only its walls standing 1802 and 1855, and innumerable minor insults. Rebuilt by Joseph Henry Latrobe and John Notman , the modern hall has been much revised and expanded from the Robert Smith-designed original. Over the centuries, its role shifted from an all-puropse building, comprising office, dormitory, library, and classroom space, to exchanging the dormitories for more classrooms, to its present role as the administrative center of the university. (APC)

Nassau Hall, the University's oldest building. Note the tiger sculptures beside the steps.
Nassau Hall, the University's oldest building. Note the tiger sculptures beside the steps.

The university was on its way to becoming an obscure backwater when President James McCosh took office in 1868. During his two decades in power, he overhauled the curriculum, oversaw an expansion of inquiry into the sciences, and supervised the addition of a number of buildings to the campus. (APC) The oft-photographed McCosh Hall is named in his honor.

About Princeton

The university offers two main undergraduate degrees: the bachelor of arts (A.B.) and the bachelor of science in engineering (B.S.E.). Courses in the humanities are traditionally either seminars or semi-weekly lectures with an additional discussion seminar, called a "precept" (short for "preceptorial"). This system was instituted by Woodrow Wilson, when he served as university president. To graduate, all A.B. candidates must complete a senior thesis and one or two extensive pieces of independent research, known as "junior papers" or "JPs". They must also fulfill a two semester foreign language requirement. B.S.E. candidates follow a different track that includes a rigorous science and math curriculum and at least two semesters of independent research.

Princeton offers postgraduate research degrees (most notably the Ph.D.), and ranks among the best in many fields, including mathematics, physics, economics, history, and philosophy. However, it does not have the extensive range of professional postgraduate schools of many other universities --- for instance, it has no medical school or business school (a short-lived Princeton Law School folded in 1852). Its most famous professional school is the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, founded in 1930 as the School of Public and International Affairs and renamed in 1948. The university also offers professional graduate degrees in engineering and architecture.

The university's libraries have 11 million holdings, and the main university library, Firestone Library, houses over six million volumes. In addition to Firestone Library, many individual disciplines have their own libraries, including architecture, art history, East Asian studies, engineering, geology, international affairs and public policy, and Near Eastern studies. Seniors in some departments can register for enclosed carrels in the library for private use and the storage of books and research materials.

The campus, located on 2 km² of lavishly landscaped grounds, features a large number of Neo-gothic-style buildings, most dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The main university administration building, Nassau Hall, was built in 1756 and briefly served as the United States Capitol in 1783. Contemporary additions to the campus feature some more modern architecture, including buildings by Robert Venturi and the Hillier Group, and new buildings by Demetri Porphyrios and Frank Gehry. Much sculpture adorns the campus, including pieces by Henry Moore (Oval with Points, also nicknamed "Nixon's Nose"), Clement Meadmoore (Upstart II), and Alexander Calder (Five Disks: One Empty). At the base of campus is the Delaware and Raritan Canal, dating from 1830, and Lake Carnegie, used for rowing.

Princeton is among the wealthiest universities in the world, with an endowment of almost ten billion US dollars (Daily Princetonian, 8 Feb 2005) sustained through the continued donations of its alumni and maintained by expert investment advisors. Some of Princeton's wealth is invested in its impressive art museum, which features works by Monet and Andy Warhol, among other prominent artists.

Undergraduate program

Undergraduates at Princeton University agree to conform to an academic honesty policy called the Honor Code. Students write and sign a pledge that they have not cheated on every in-class exam they take during their term at the university. The Code carries a second obligation: upon matriculation, every student pledges to report any suspected cheating to the student-run Honor Committee. As a result of this code, students take all tests unsupervised by faculty members. Violations of the Honor Code incur the strongest of disciplinary action, including suspension and often expulsion. Out-of-class exercises are outside the Honor Committee's jurisdiction, but students are often expected to sign a pledge on their papers that they have not plagiarized their work.

Most of the student body lives on campus in dormitories. Freshmen and sophomores live in residential colleges. Later-year students have the option to live off-campus, but very few do, as rents in the Princeton area are extremely high. (Many who live off-campus were residents of the town to begin with.) Undergraduate social life revolves around a number of coeducational "eating clubs" which are open to upperclassmen and serve a similar role to that which fraternities and sororities do at other campuses.

Admission is extremely competitive, and according to The Atlantic Monthly, it is the second most selective college in the United States, after MIT. Princeton has a "need-blind" admission policy, in which students are accepted into the incoming class on merit, regardless of their ability to pay the high tuition fees. Unlike other universities which ask students to take on the heavy burden of student loans, Princeton simply pays the remainder of costs the student's family cannot afford through grants from its endowment. Princeton was the first university to implement such a "no-loan" financial aid policy in 2001. Despite these policies, Princeton's student body is often regarded as more culturally conservative or traditional than the student bodies of peer institutions. However, most students have voted Democratic in presidential elections. To change this general perception, Princeton has aggressively pursued a diversification policy. It is a member of the Davis United World College Fund, and students from these international schools can expect to have their full needs, as assessed by Princeton, met by the fund.

In 1869 Princeton competed with Rutgers in the first ever intercollegiate football game, losing 6 to 4. Its rivalry with Yale, active since 1873, is the second oldest in American football. In more recent years, Princeton has excelled in men's basketball, both men's and women's lacrosse, and women's crew.

Princeton is also home to one of the world's top-ranked debating societies, the American Whig-Cliosophic Society, which is a member of the American Parliamentary Debating Association and has previously hosted the World Universities Debating Championships.

Residential Colleges

The undergraduate residential colleges are the residential-dining complexes that house freshmen, sophomores, and a handful of junior and senior resident advisers . Each college consists of a set of dormitories, a dining hall, a variety of other amenities (study spaces, libraries, performance spaces, darkrooms, and the like), and a collection of administrators and associated faculty.

Princeton presently has five undergraduate residential colleges. Rockefeller College and Mathey College are located in the northwest corner of the campus; their Collegiate Gothic architecture often graces University brochures. Wilson College and Butler College, located south of the center of the campus, are more recent additions, built specifically to become residential colleges. Forbes College, located slightly southwest of the southwest corner of the campus, is a former hotel, purchased by the university and expanded to form a residential college. Princeton broke ground for a sixth college, named Whitman College after its principal sponsor, eBay CEO Meg Whitman, in late 2003.

A variant on the present college system was originally proposed by University President Woodrow Wilson in the early twentieth century. Wilson's model was much closer to Yale's present system, which features four-year colleges. Lacking the support of the Trustees, the plan languished until 1968, when Wilson College was established, capping a series of alternatives to the Eating Clubs. A series of often fierce debates raged before the present underclass-college system emerged. A further addition to the system is slated for the completion date of Whitman College. At the same time that 500 new students will be added to the Princeton undergraduate student body under the Wythes Plan, two of the six residential colleges will be expanded to accommodate upperclassmen—representing the realization of Wilson's plan a century after he proposed it.

Princeton has one graduate residential college, known simply as the Graduate College , located beyond Forbes College at the outskirts of campus. The far-flung location of the G.C. was the spoil of a squabble between Woodrow Wilson and then-Graduate School Dean Andrew Fleming West , which the latter won. (Wilson preferred a central location for the College; West wanted the graduate students as far as possible from the noisy, dissolute undergraduates.) The G.C. is composed of a large Collegiate Gothic section, crowned by Cleveland Tower, a local landmark that also houses a world-class carillon. The attached New Graduate College houses more students. Its design departs from collegiate gothic, and is reminiscent of Butler College, the newest of the five pre-Whitman undergraduate colleges.

Notable Princeton alumni

See List of Princeton University people.

Notable Princeton professors

Professors who are also Princeton alumni are listed in italics:


  • Arch Sings - Free late night concerts in one of the larger arches on campus offered by one or a few of Princeton's fourteen a capella groups
  • Bonfire - ceremonial bonfire, held only if Princeton beats both Harvard and Yale at football in the same season.
  • Beer jackets - Each graduating class (and each class at its multiple-of-5 reunion thereafter -- 5th, 10th, etc.) designs a Beer jacket featuring their class year. The artwork is almost invariably dominated by the school colors and tiger motifs
  • Bicker - Competitive new-member selection process employed by selective eating clubs
  • Cane Spree - an athletic competition between freshmen and sophomores held in the fall
  • The Clapper or Clapper Theft - climbing to the top of Nassau Hall and stealing the bell clapper so as to prevent the bell from ringing and, thus, from starting class on the first day of the school year. For safety reasons, the clapper has now been removed permanently.
  • Communiversity - an annual street fair with performances, arts and crafts, and other activities, designed to foster interaction between the University and residents of the Princeton community
  • Dean's Date Theater - tradition of gathering late in the afternoon on Dean's Date (see below under "Lingo") outside McCosh Hall to watch other students run to hand in their papers before the final deadline. Some students perform cartwheels and other antics (if they are not running too late).
  • FitzRandolph Gate - at the end of Princeton's graduation ceremony, the new graduates process out through the main gate of the university as a symbol of their leaving college and entering the real world. According to tradition, anyone who leaves campus through FitzRandolph Gate before their own graduation date will not graduate (though entering through the gate is fine).
  • Holder howl - students in Holder Hall dormitory are known to wail, bellow, and screech after studying for hours on any given night
  • Houseparties - formal parties thrown simultaneously by all of the eating clubs at the end of the spring term
  • Lawnparties - parties with live bands thrown simultaneously by all of the eating clubs at the start of classes
  • Newman's Day - students attempt to drink 24 beers in the 24 hours of April 24th, possibly named after Paul Newman
  • Nude Olympics - annual frolic in first snow of the winter (now banned)
  • Prospect 11 - referring to the act of drinking a beer at every eating club on The Street in one night
  • P-rade - traditional parade of alumni (& their families), organized by class year, during Reunions
  • Reunions - annual gathering of alumni, held the weekend before graduation
  • Robo-pound - unofficial drinking game of Princeton University, along with Beirut. Princeton rules require two teams, one quarter for each team, a hard surface, eight half-full cups, and one pitcher of beer.

Old Nassau

This phrase can refer to:

  • Old Nassau, Princeton's alma mater since 1859, with words by then-freshman Harlan Page Peck and music by Karl A. Langlotz . The words of the first verse are:
Tune every heart and every voice,
Bid every care withdraw;
Let all with one accord rejoice,
In praise of Old Nassau.
In praise of Old Nassau we sing,
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
Our hearts will give while we shall live,
Three cheers for Old Nassau.

The words of the other three verses are as follows:

Let music rule the fleeting hour,
Her mantle round us draw
And thrill each heart with all her power,
In praise of Old Nassau.
And when these walls in dust are laid,
With reverence and awe,
Another throng shall breathe our song,
In praise of Old Nassau.
Till then with joy our songs we'll bring,
And while a breath we draw,
We'll all unite to shout and sing,
Long life to Old Nassau.
In praise of Old Nassau we sing,
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
Our hearts will give while we shall live,
Long Life to Old Nassau.
  • By metonymy, Princeton University itself.
  • Nassau Hall, to which the song refers, built in 1756 and named after William III, King of England, Prince of Orange and Nassau. When built, it was the largest college building in North America. It served briefly as the capitol of the United States when the Continental Congress convened there in the summer of 1783.
  • A chemical reaction, an example of a "clock reaction," dubbed "Old Nassau" because the solution turns first orange and then black, the Princeton colors. It is also known as the "Hallowe'en reaction."


  • Bicker - the process by which students join selective eating clubs, similar to fraternity/sorority rush at other schools
  • D-Bar - the debasement bar, located in the basement of the Graduate College, hangout for sketchy grad students and badly-lit location for the purchase of cheap alcohol
  • Dean's Date - The last day of reading period; the day when all final papers and other written work must be turned in. (see also "Dean's Date Theater" above in the "Traditions" section) Exams start the day after Dean's Date. (So named because extensions beyond Dean's Date cannot be granted by a faculty member; they require the permission of a Dean.)
  • Dinky - Short (one- or two- car) train that runs from Princeton Junction to Princeton station.
  • Getting McCoshed - when a student is sent to McCosh Infirmary (not to be confused with the McCosh Hall) for excessive drinking
  • Getting PMC'ed - when a student is hospitalized for drinking too much alcohol. In this case, a student is deemed too drunk to be treated by McCosh Infirmary and is instead transferred to Princeton Medical Center
  • Hose - As a transitive verb, to be rejected from a selective organization, e.g., in eating club bicker, interviews for selective courses, etc. (i.e. "You got hosed!")
  • Junior Slums - Area of undergraduate housing in the southwest part of campus. Includes Henry Hall, Foulke Hall, 1901 Hall, Pyne Hall, Laughlin Hall and Lockhart Hall. So called, because these are the dormitories that are usually left over from senior Room Draw and are thus taken by the juniors.
  • Locomotive - Distinctive Princeton cheer... "'rah, 'rah, 'rah, tiger, tiger, tiger, sis, sis, sis, boom boom boom ahhhhhhh. Princeton. Princeton. Princeton". (It's common to replace "Princeton" with a class year to toast a particular class.)
  • Old Nassau - see above
  • Prox - Proximity card. RFID-based access control card used to unlock dorms and other non-public areas
  • Pton - Common abbreviation for the school's name.
  • Reading Period - A 1-week-plus-a-few-days study period between the end of classes and the beginning of exams in January and May
  • The Prince - The Daily Princetonian, main campus newspaper (See its website)
  • The Street - Prospect Avenue, home of the eating clubs
  • The Wa - The local Wawa convenience store and food market. A Wa Run is just a trip there
  • Woody Woo - Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs

The Daily Princetonian hosts a detailed (if slightly dated) list of Princeton jargon, see A Princeton Dictionary.

In fiction

The movie A Beautiful Mind from 2001 takes place at Princeton University, and contains great location shots. (This movie was a fictionalized biography of Princeton Professor John Nash, rather than pure fiction.)

The movie I.Q. , starring Meg Ryan and Tim Robbins with Walter Matthau as Albert Einstein

The books The Rule of Four, This Side Of Paradise, The Princeton Murders , and Death of a Princeton President are set on Princeton's campus.

In Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, Princeton is supposedly one of their destinations. However, in spite of the rather accurate portrayal of certain student stereotypes, the film was not shot on campus.

The opening shots of Scent of a Woman were of the Junior Slums (see above in Lingo). However, in the movie, the location was not called Princeton but rather a private boarding school somewhere in New England.

See also

External links

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