Freshmen make their mark as Princeton’s biggest, most diverse class

Normally, during the week of orientation before classes start, it’s easy to spot the freshmen. They’re the ones traveling in groups of seven or more, staying 10 feet away from their parents at all times, and — one of the most telltale signs — looking starry-eyed at their new surroundings.

But this year, the older students shared this sense of adjusting to the unknown: Like the incoming Class of 2011, the sophomores, juniors, and seniors also were unacquainted with the Princeton they settled into during the second week of September. With the inauguration of the four-year residential college system and the opening of the 250,000-square-foot Whitman College, the Princeton to which students returned this fall was a different one than they had left in June.

As the biggest, most diverse, and most international class in Princeton’s history, the Class of 2011 represented one of these changes to campus life. Of the 1,246 freshmen, 139 students (11.2 percent of the class) hail from 43 other nations and 463 (37.2 percent) are of minority backgrounds.

Lauren Kustner ’11 looked forward to being a part of such a varied group of individuals. “Being with everyone at once made me realize I was part of a bigger group of people all here to do different things for different reasons, and I’m excited to be part of that,” Kustner said.

In her address to the Class of 2011 at Opening Exercises, President Tilghman celebrated such encounters with things unfamiliar and expressed her hope that the incoming students would find their next four years full of the unexpected.

“The best part of an adventure of learning and discovery is that it often leads to surprises,” she said, pointing to the work of Princeton professors across numerous disciplines whose research had led them to unanticipated conclusions. “We ask you to be open to new ideas, however surprising; to shun the superficial trends of popular culture in favor of careful analysis; and to recognize propaganda, ignorance, and baseless revisionism when you see it. That is the essence of a Princeton education.”

During Freshman Week, a grueling schedule of orientation activities kept the new Tigers running among departmental open houses, faculty panels, placement exams, scavenger hunts, and arch sings, among other events.

Many freshmen saw the start of classes as a welcome relief from this hectic calendar. “I’m excited to have structure in my life again,” said Bianca Mathabane ’11. “With all the events this week, everything was really crazy and frazzled with the things I needed to get done, the things I should go to, and the things I wanted to do for fun.”

At the freshman assembly lecture at McCarter Theatre, molecular biology professor Bonnie Bassler encouraged students not to fear biology, but stressed the “fun and mystery” of the field. “Anyone can do science. People are taught to be afraid of science, that it is a hard, horrifying thing only a few people can do,” said Bassler. “Even if you’re an artist or philosopher-writer, I want to try to convince you that science is equally creative — only instead of the written word or paint, our medium is nature.”

The Class of 2011

Applicants: 18,942*

Students admitted: 1,838 (9.7%, including 47 from the waitlist)

Students enrolled: 1,246*

Yield: 67.8%

Students on financial aid: 54%

Men: 52.2%

Women: 47.8%

States represented: 47 (plus Washington, D.C.)

Countries represented: 44

U.S. minority students: 37.2%*

Varsity athletic prospects: 16.9%

Sons/daughters of alumni: 14.7%

International students: 11.2%*

Entering graduate students

Doctoral-degree students: 412

Master’s-degree students: 165

Applicants: 8,776

Students admitted: 13%

Men: 61%

Women: 39%

International students: 40%

U.S. minority students: 15%

Humanities and social sciences: 50%

Sciences and engineering: 45%

Architecture: 5%

* Denotes record number

Sources: Office of Admission; Office of the Dean of the Graduate School. Figures are for the preregistration period.