The Academic Year

Structure of the Program of Study

Academic year instruction is offered at Princeton during the fall and spring terms. Each term is 15 weeks and consists of 12 weeks of scheduled classes; an 8–9-day reading period for preparation of final coursework and, by the instructor's choice, continued instruction; and a 7-day final exam period, with 2 additional days set aside for senior comprehensive exams in the spring term.  Faculty propose courses through their academic departments or programs, which in turn endorse the proposed course structure and content, and affirm that the proposed syllabus meets the University’s criteria for awarding course credit.

Structure of Courses

A Princeton course requires anywhere from 3 to 7 hours of course meeting time each week. Many social science and humanities courses feature two hours of class lectures and an hour-long weekly preceptorial.  Alternatively, other courses meet for two 80-minute sessions each week, either with or without a preceptorial hour for additional discussion.

The weekly preceptorial provides an opportunity for wide-ranging exploration of the subject matter of the course in a small-group setting. The role of the preceptor is neither to lecture nor to test the student's ability to marshal facts, but rather to encourage each member of the group to understand and evaluate the subject and its implications. Members of the faculty of all ranks serve as preceptors, as do selected graduate students. Precept participation is regarded as an integral component of a course and, as such, can influence a student's grade to a significant extent.

Seminars and studio courses meet for three or more hours each week and include significant class discussion or hands-on creative work.  Seminars are offered in numerous departments and interdisciplinary programs. They have limited enrollment, sometimes by application, and they emphasize active participation by students in the investigation of a particular topic or problem. Seminars are most commonly offered as upper-level courses, except for the freshman seminars and the writing seminars, designed specifically for first-year students.

Many courses in the sciences and engineering include lecture, class or precept, as well as required laboratory work.  Laboratory meetings provide an opportunity for the interchange of ideas between the students and the instructor. Working in small groups and under faculty supervision, students investigate the underlying principles of the subject they are studying and gain firsthand experimental knowledge of scientific methods.

Regardless of the course format, the expectation of the Office of the Dean of the College is that each unit of course credit will require an average total of 12 hours of work each week, including in-class meeting time. This generally means 6-9 hours of coursework outside of regularly scheduled meetings.  In addition, students are expected to continue their learning through the reading period, during which many faculty continue to hold course meetings.  All courses have some form of final assessment that extends to Dean’s Date and/or into the exam period, for instance a final paper or project, a final exam, or other graded final work.

Selecting Courses

Each term, at a time specified by the registrar, all enrolled students submit their course choices online for the following term. To assist in this selection, Course Offerings indicates the courses available and the meeting times. Students are expected to discuss their course selection with their academic advisers prior to submitting final course choices. A student may not select a course that conflicts with the meeting times of any other course in which the student is enrolled.

There is a fine of $10 for each day of lateness in submitting an approved set of courses.

Advanced Placement

The advanced placement policy at Princeton is designed to give recognition to college-level academic achievement prior to matriculation and to allow students to pursue their studies at a level appropriate to their preparation.

There are two bases on which individual departments may award advanced placement: (1) official score reports from Advanced Placement Examinations, College Board SAT Reasoning Test and SAT Subject Tests, the International Baccalaureate (higher level), or British A-level examinations. (Please note: No student test scores will be recorded post-graduation.) (2) Results of placement tests offered by departments at Princeton. Departmental placement tests are offered in languages, physics, chemistry, and computer science prior to course registration in September.  The computer science placement test is for placement purposes only and does not confer advanced placement units.  The mathematics department offers placement workshops during Orientation to help entering students select the appropriate math course.

Students normally will not receive advanced placement for college courses taken prior to matriculation.

The advanced placement policy for most departments appears in the departmental information sections of this catalog.

The principal features of advanced placement are:

  1. A student who has been granted advanced placement by Princeton may enroll in appropriate advanced courses. The advanced placement is granted whether or not the student decides to enroll in such courses. If a student takes a course deemed equivalent to one for which advanced placement was granted, the student forfeits the use of the advanced placement unit(s) for advanced standing at Princeton.
  2. Advanced placement in a language, that is, placement in a 200-level course, satisfies the A.B. language requirement.
  3. Advanced placement cannot be used to fulfill the University writing or distribution requirements.
  4. Advanced placement cannot be used to make up course deficiencies or to reduce the course load during a given term; however, in appropriate circumstances, advanced placement can be used to reduce the number of terms needed for graduation, provided that the student is eligible for advanced standing.

Dropping and Adding Courses

Except under very unusual circumstances, the last date on which a student may add a course is the last day of the second week of classes. A fee of $45 is assessed for each course change beginning in the third week of classes.

A student who wishes to drop a course must request permission from their residential college dean or assistant dean no later than the end of the ninth week of classes. No course, including courses taken in excess of the normal course load, may be dropped after that point. After the end of the ninth week of classes, students are held responsible for completing all courses in which they are enrolled and are assigned final grades in those courses. An upper-class student wishing to drop a departmental course after the second week of the term also must obtain permission from their director of undergraduate studies. Students may not drop their writing seminar unless they receive permission from their residential college dean or assistant dean as well as from the director of the Princeton Writing Program.

Normal Course Load

A.B. Program. The normal course load for first-years, sophomores, and juniors is four courses each term, with the exception of one term in the first or sophomore year when a student typically will need to take five courses in order to meet the expectation that 17 courses will have been completed by the start of junior year.

Regardless of the number of courses completed prior to entering senior year, all seniors must, with the exception of the two programs listed below, complete a minimum of six courses in senior year. This is most often accomplished by enrolling in three courses each term, but students may take four courses in one term and two courses in the other. Students in the Program in Teacher Preparation who have taken an extra course in an earlier year or a student who is participating in the University Scholar Program may be permitted to reduce their course load by one course in the senior year.

B.S.E. Program. Students in the B.S.E. program normally enroll in four courses in the fall of the first year and in four or five courses in each succeeding term, in a sequence appropriate to their individual programs of study.

Minimum Course Load

Under exceptional circumstances and in consultation with an academic adviser and either a residential college dean or assistant dean, a student may be allowed to fall one course short of the normal course load for a term, subject to the following guidelines:

A.B. Program. All first-years, sophomores, and juniors must complete a minimum of three courses each term.

Seniors normally take three courses each term, but may enroll in two courses in one term, as long as they complete four courses in the other term and have no course deficiencies entering senior year.

B.S.E. Program. A first-year student may, with special permission, complete a minimum of seven courses in the academic year and a summer school course to meet the minimum of eight successfully completed courses needed to start sophomore year. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors must complete at least four courses each term.


A liberal arts education requires full and consistent classroom engagement. Courses are conducted in person, and faculty expect students to attend all scheduled course meetings, to be present promptly at the start of the course meeting, and to be prepared to participate fully. On occasion, students may have a compelling reason to miss a course meeting; for example, to observe a religious holiday, to participate in a required varsity athletic competition, or because of illness. Personal travel, job interviews, or  extracurricular commitments, including team practices or events, are not compelling reasons to miss class.

Excessive absences from classes negatively affect the totality of a student’s educational experience and may lead to poor academic performance. Instructors may set their own attendance policy for their courses. But more than two weeks of cumulative absences, regardless of the reason a student misses a class, may represent grounds for a failing grade in a course. 

Students who are unable to attend class for any reason should notify their course instructor(s) immediately; students are expected to make prompt arrangements to make up missed work, as determined by the instructor.  In the event of an extended illness, students should contact both their instructor(s) and their residential college dean or assistant dean for studies to discuss appropriate arrangements for submitting missed assignments.

A student who is absent from the University or unable to attend classes for more than two weeks cumulatively may be considered no longer in good standing. Such students may be required to take a leave of absence from the University and to apply for reinstatement to repeat the term.

Students taking a Princeton summer course may be required to withdraw from the course and therefore not receive credit if they miss more than a week of a six-week course, or its equivalent in a four-week course.

Tests and Other Work Scheduled during the Term

Students are expected to take all tests and quizzes at the scheduled times during the term. A student who is absent from a test because of illness or an equally compelling reason must inform the course instructor of the reason for the absence at the first opportunity. The instructor then decides whether the test is to be waived or a makeup test is to be given. Course professors typically assign other written work to be completed prior to the end of classes. Students are required to submit this work by the date assigned by the professor. While professors may extend these deadlines to the last day of reading period (dean's date), extensions are not permitted beyond that date. Failure to submit required work will result in the assignment of a failing grade for that component of the course.

Selecting a Department

At times designated by the registrar, all students select a departmental major. Unless granted special permission by the director of undergraduate studies, a student may enter a department only if the courses designated as prerequisites for the major have been successfully completed. Prerequisites normally must be taken as graded courses.

All A.B. students must select a departmental major prior to enrolling for the fall term of junior year. This choice is made in consultation with the director of undergraduate studies and most often occurs when signing up for fall term courses in the spring of sophomore year.

All B.S.E. students must select a departmental major prior to enrolling for the fall term of sophomore year. The selection process takes place late in the spring of the first year, following conversations with the designated departmental adviser.

Students are required to meet all of the stated requirements of the major existing at the time they enter the department. Those students requesting exceptions to any departmental requirement must obtain the written permission of the director of undergraduate studies.

A student may transfer from one department to another only with the approval of the new department and the student's residential college dean or assistant dean, acting for the Faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing. While some exceptions do exist, such transfers must normally be made by the start of the second term of junior year. A junior transferring to a new department must complete all required junior independent work by the start of senior year and must be capable of completing all departmental and University requirements within the normal eight-term program. The grades for any independent work completed prior to transferring to a new department will remain on the student's transcript.

While students are encouraged to explore diverse academic interests through a wide range of course choices and interdisciplinary certificate programs, the undergraduate degree is offered in just one academic department. Put another way, Princeton does not offer a double major.

Selecting a Minor

Students are not required to select a minor or a certificate, but may choose to do so to supplement their studies in their major field of concentration.  Students may pursue only two minors unless they have received permission from their residential college dean or assistant dean of studies to pursue more than two minors (or a combination of minors and certificates).  A student may elect to join a minor or certificate program only after they have declared a major, and no earlier than the spring of the sophomore year and no later than the spring of the junior year.  Petitions to join a minor after the date set by the relevant department or program must be accompanied by the faculty director’s support, as well as the student’s residential college dean.  Failure to complete all of the requirements for a minor or certificate program will not adversely affect a student’s ability to graduate.

Independent Work

Junior and senior independent work are defining features of undergraduate education at Princeton. Junior independent work in the A.B. program varies by department and may include a single long paper or project or a series of essays or projects. The junior paper is a valuable preliminary exercise for the senior thesis since it provides most students with their first experience of significant independent or original research in a specialized field. Several B.S.E. departments also offer opportunities for independent work in the junior year.

In the senior year, each A.B. student and most B.S.E. students complete a senior thesis or a substantial independent research project. The thesis gives students the opportunity to pursue original scholarship on topics of their own choice under the guidance of faculty advisers.

Electronic copies of senior theses are deposited in the Princeton University Archives at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library and, subject to the limitations of copyright law, made widely accessible for research purposes. Students may embargo or otherwise limit access to their senior theses provided they receive permission from the Office of the Dean of the College.

The Rule of 12

A student in the A.B. program is limited to 12 one-term courses (plus independent work) in a given department, plus up to two departmental prerequisites taken during first year or sophomore year. Students majoring in departments without specific prerequisites may add up to two departmental courses taken during first year or sophomore year to their total of 12 departmental courses. Language courses at the 100-level do not count toward the departmental course limit of 12. Any student who exceeds the 31 courses required for graduation will be permitted to take extra departmentals. Exceptions to departmental course limits will be made on a case-by-case basis for students studying abroad, with the approval of the senior associate dean for international programs. Please note that for accounting purposes, cross-listed courses should be identified with the home department, which is the first department listed in the course identification number.

Completion of Academic Work

Undergraduate courses are offered on a term basis. Required written work is subject to deadlines set by course instructors, departments, and the Faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing. Final examinations are scheduled by the registrar at the conclusion of each term. Failure to submit work or complete examinations by published deadlines will normally result in a failing grade for the missing work. Course professors may, at their discretion, require that a student earn a passing grade in each component of a course to earn an overall passing grade in the course. Certain exceptions to these practices are allowed under special provisions described herein.