Another college application season is over. One more year of a couple dozen very worthy Staples seniors trying to knock down the admission walls of Princeton is done.
Meanwhile, Staples grad — and current Princeton sophomore — Brandon Davis is attacking his school’s walls from inside.
Recently, the Daily Princetonian ran an opinion piece by Brandon. He described “self-doubt and crippling stress; the feeling of failure and rejection” that, he said, forces students to “power through Princeton without ever enjoying the process of learning.
“Maybe it’s preparation for ‘the real world,'” he added. “Maybe it’s the way all colleges are, a post-adolescent malaise, or maybe it’s the essence of Princeton in particular.”
Using his and his friends’ descriptions — “nerves, fear… dishonesty, self-doubt, loneliness, isolation” — he lamented, “Rather than engaging with Princeton, so many of our peers want nothing to do with this place.”
Grade deflation — the practice of limiting the number of A’s — has made the school a hyper-competitive place, Brandon wrote. Professors and administrators “seem to tower above us.
“Princeton is our school,” he concluded. With a bit more humanity, “Princeton could be our home as well.”
Some reactions on the paper’s website echoed Brandon’s feelings.
The first person to comment wrote: “Somebody had better figure this thing out. Princeton is experiencing ‘colony collapse disorder’ now seen among the bee population. It may have devastating consequences if not remedied soon.”
A 2010 graduate said:
This is a great article. I certainly had similar feelings when I was at Princeton. It is a place that can crush your self-esteem and leave you feeling very stressed. I was very focused on getting a great job, being awarded honors in my department, and running a large student organization on campus.
Looking back now, I really don’t believe I would have gone anywhere else, but I wish that I had the maturity to prioritize better, understand my strengths and weaknesses, and enjoy the amazing opportunities the school provided me.
Princeton is not supposed to be an easy school. The JPs, the thesis, are extremely hard projects, and the overall standards socially, extracurricularly, and academically are unbelievable. I may have been unhappy at times at Princeton, but I’m also not sure I could be happy with myself doing less. Thus the dillemma of a type-A overachiever.
However, a senior disagreed:
I actually do not sense this at all. I love being at Princeton, as do most of my friends. Few of us “just want to get out of here” — talk to almost any seniors, and they’ll say they wish they were freshmen again so that they could re-live Princeton.
Of course, there are times of stress. After all, this is school. But in general I find that we help each other through it. It can actually be fun pulling epic cram sessions with a group of close friends.
Of course the Daily Princetonian is going to focus on some negative aspects of our school. After all, it wouldn’t be news otherwise. And I’m sure that the segment of the Princeton population who comments on the Prince is generally inclined to complain. But that doesn’t change the fact that this place is awesome, and that everybody bends over backwards to pamper the undergrads.
We all go through times of stress, but I wish people wouldn’t project their individual unhappiness onto the entire campus!!
Brandon’s column appeared while admitted students were choosing between Princeton and somewhere else. A few said that Brandon’s article caused them a bit of trepidation.
However, administrators did not mount an all-out attack, or even defend themselves or the school. “They don’t comment on newspaper stories,” Brandon explains.
As for his own future, Brandon will spend this summer in Brazil and Paraguay, writing about Muslim communities there. “That’s the great thing about Princeton,” he acknowledges. “You get to do things like that.”
A Near Eastern studies major, he hopes to go into journalism after graduation.
So, the $64,000 question (actually, much more): Is he happy he applied to Princeton?
“I don’t know,” Brandon says.
“I think I’m getting a great education here, but it took me some time to block out all the noise — competition, overwhelming stress, and what I’ve seen to be a general culture of exclusivity and superiority. Some people thrive on that noise, but many students drown in it.
“It’s just not the best environment — for me, anyway.”