Monday, March 8, 2010

Orange and Apples: UT Austin

If you are choosing between the University of Texas Austin and Princeton then your school spirit section of your wardrobe may not look that different. The Tiger's orange and Longhorns' burnt orange are not that far from each other on the color wheel. But how similar are the instututions themselves? Devon Edwards '05, a former Politics major and law student at UT, provides a comparison.

It is difficult to compare the University of Texas with Princeton. My perspective is incomplete: I attended Princeton as an undergraduate, but attended Texas as a law student, and the University of Texas School of Law is almost entirely a separate entity from the undergraduate college. But I did spend three years mixing in among the undergrads at raucous football games and ridiculous Sixth Street. My brother also attended Texas as an undergraduate, and some of my best friends at the law school had previously called the University of Texas’ 40 acres home as well. These perspectives, as well as my own, enable me to make some comparisons.

The most important difference between the two schools is that Princeton students generally make academic growth their first priority. Students at Texas view academics as only one part of a broader college experience. Princeton is filled with people who are unabashedly intellectually curious, and the small classes and precepts encourage students to work to grasp the material. Learning is personal. When discussing the roots of Nietzsche’s philosophy in front of eight peers as well as the professor, you better know what you’re talking about. In contrast, while Texas has the resources to challenge students, the larger class sizes prevent professors and students from personally and intellectually interacting. It is easier
to coast until the final exam, and students do.

While students at both colleges are intelligent and rounded people, certain differences are notable. You’ll continually be impressed by how freakishly smart your peers will be at Princeton. You’ll find students who dominated you in Beirut the night before blowing you out of the water in your physics class the next day. These people can be intense though, and at Texas you will find smart kids who like to relax a bit more. If you got into Princeton, you’re likely to be among the smartest kids in any room at Texas. At Princeton, you’re probably not even the smartest kid in your freshman bunk bed. (I definitely wasn’t.)

The difference in the size of the undergraduate student body also leads to differences in how students socially interact and cohere. The small size of Princeton allows the administration to construct a variety of effective communities and small groups: Outdoor Action groups, the residential colleges and the small precepts mandatory for most classes. And while Greek life at Princeton is more important than the administration would have you know, it is not a central component of interaction in the undergraduate system. In contrast, because Texas is so large, students already know many people from home with whom they band together to brave the larger crowds. Joining a fraternity or a sorority is more essential at Texas to make new friends. But the larger size of Texas, as well as the ease of access to the greater Austin community, guarantees a variety of social niches and escapes that Princeton lacks. While Princeton often feels like a self-contained bubble, Texas never does.

Texas completely outshines Princeton when it comes to organized sports. If you envision a healthy dose of Saturday tailgating and cheering loudly with friends, go to Texas. Somehow Princeton students have mastered the art of tailgating right through the football game. In contrast, Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium brims with rowdy burnt-orange fans. Students take fandom seriously; there is no Princeton equivalent to the pilgrimage to Dallas for the Texas-Oklahoma shootout, nor to the ever-present possibility of a football or basketball national championship. On the other hand, it is much more likely that you will actually participate in sports at Princeton, where crew teams that win at Nationals typically count many of their members as walk-ons.

Ultimately, you will probably make the right choice for you, or anyway, you’ll be so happy at either Princeton or Texas that you could not have imagined going anywhere else. So don’t sweat it, and enjoy whatever choice you make.

If you're a former Tiger who is now pursuing graduate studies elsewhere or a Princeton grad student who attended undergrad outside the Orange Bubble and would like to contribute a comparison send an email to