What’s the most prevalent challenge that students face as they acclimate to the academic environment at Princeton?

by Nic Voge

There are a number of factors that go into this and there are important differences among students. But, having said that, perhaps the most prevalent challenge, academically—and academics are for many the biggest challenge at Princeton—is adapting to the fact that what worked academically so well in the past as to get you to Princeton, once you are here in many ways won’t be effective in this context. So, students have to give up or ‘unlearn’ approaches that worked in the past, and try out new, unfamiliar ones. It’s very common for students to say after some weeks, I realize what I’m doing isn’t working, but I don’t know what to do differently because I feel like I never really learned how to study when in high school. Princeton academics include more work and they are “harder” and demand more independence,  but the biggest source of difficulty is the ways they are different form K-12 schooling. If the issue were only that academics are more work and harder, you could just put more time and effort into them and you’d solve the problem. Because they are DIFFERENT, that’s not a sufficient solution. You have to change and adapt what you do—sometimes to each individual course and instructor. Because the demands are DIFFERENT students have to adopt new approaches and discontinue those they are comfortable and confident in.  That’s a different kind of challenge which requires reflection, analysis of one’s own approaches, experimentation, seeking help and advice from others, and dealing with the inevitable ineffective choices that comes when we experiment. At Princeton, it almost always requires seeking out support  and for many students that is unfamiliar, uncomfortable and tinged with a sense of failure or inadequacy. That’s a real obstacle which prevents some from the getting the assistance that would help them deal with the biggest challenge they face. Instead, they try to figure it out alone. Fortunately, most students DO seek assistance. Over half the first year class comes to McGraw for tutoring and learning consultations, workshops and many, many more use our online resources including Principedia, go the Writing Center and to other tutoring and academic support around campus