Monday, February 1, 2010

Orange and Apples: Brown

Princeton Men's Basketball team defeated Brown handily this weekend by 16 points, but off the court how do the two compare? Candas Pinar GS, a student in Near Eastern Studies, who graduated from Brown in 2006 with a degree in Religious Studies, explores the similarities and differences between the two schools.

Pristine courtyards. Enormous library. Picturesque seminar rooms. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. The monotony of the campus tour, a cornerstone of any high school senior’s application process, often leaves students wondering what exactly the difference is between this school and that. While most tours end at the campus gates, the community surrounding a school, I think, is often what gives a school its distinctive “feel.” A comparison of Brown and Princeton, then, should start with a comparison of Providence, R.I., and Princeton, N.J.

For all intents and purposes, Providence, especially the part of the city hosting Brown, is a typical college town. The main drag, Thayer Street, is home to an array of cheap, ethnic restaurants and dumpy dive bars. A mammoth Urban Outfitters is flanked by secondhand and vintage clothing stores. Neighboring Brown is RISD, the Rhode Island School of Design, the creative student population of which inspires the more artistically inclined at Brown.

Princeton, on the other hand, is a bit more high-end than Providence. J.Crew, the headlining clothing store on Nassau Street, serves as the gateway to a collection of luxury retailers. Princeton boasts an impressive variety of restaurants, but many, with the notable exception of Hoagie Haven, are out of reach for those on a student budget. (This wasn’t of much concern to me, as I quickly discovered that on-campus dining at Princeton is a pleasure, not a bother.)

If we move from community to classroom, I’ve been impressed with the student body and the faculty at both Brown and Princeton. The quality of education at both schools is equally phenomenal. While I’ve taken only a handful of classes with undergraduates at Princeton, I can say that there’s more diversity in political persuasions at Princeton than at Brown, and you can see manifestations of this in classroom discussions. What I appreciated most about my academic experience at Brown were the intimate relationships I was able to cultivate with professors as an undergraduate, but since I’m not familiar with the undergraduate education at Princeton, I don’t know if Princeton undergrads have similar opportunities.

Outside the classroom, I’ve noticed one key difference. With the corn fields of New Jersey as its backyard, Princeton spreads out much more than Brown. I do a lot more walking at Princeton than I ever did at Brown. A small campus may be a negative for some, but for me it meant seeing friends and professors at any given time of the day. Essentially everyone has to pass through the Main Green to and from classes, and seeing and being seen on the Green was a staple of daily life at Brown.

Selecting a school that meshes with your personality, your interests and your needs is an incredibly overwhelming task, but don’t let it keep you up at night. Take comfort in the monotony of the college tour. They’re monotonous for a reason: Many of these schools aren’t terribly different from one another, and the differences that do exist are often mere nuances.

If you're a former Tiger who is now pursuing graduate studies elsewhere or a Princeton grad student who was an undergrad outside the Orange Bubble, and if you would like to contribute a comparison to the Oranges and Apples series, please send an e-mail to