Yale and Princeton are the third and fourth oldest colleges in the US, and as a result have had time to develop their own institutional cultures. However, given their close dates of founding and membership in the Ivy League, are these two schools similar, or are they as different as Bulldogs and Tigers? Bryony Roberts GS, a Princeton Architecture graduate student and a Humanities and Studio Art major from Yale, compares the two schools.
My ability to compare Yale and Princeton is limited by my minimal exposure to undergraduate life at Princeton, but I did have a chance to get to know some undergraduates while teaching a precept last semester. From observing general campus life and my students, I can say that the academic caliber of Princeton is absolutely equal to that of Yale. The students are as engaged, motivated, and talented at Princeton as they are at Yale. In many ways, the two universities are almost interchangeable. But there does seem to be a difference in the social and political tone of the campuses.
Princeton generally seems to have a more conservative campus than Yale, which is visible in the level of political engagement, the career goals of the students, and the social atmosphere. As an undergrad at Yale, I was exposed to and participated in a range of liberal political activism. It seemed that the campus was always busy with political protests and community service projects, the most dramatic example being when the students marched alongside the campus hospital and dining hall workers when they were striking for better benefits. In the 2000 election, more people voted for Nader than for Bush, and I suspect that that wasn't the case at Princeton. I don't see many signs of political activism at Princeton, and it's certainly not as in-your-face as it was at Yale.
Socially, this is also a more conservative campus. On a superficial level, Princeton undergrads seem mostly preppy, and it's hard to find many "artsy" types, with a major exception being the students in Terrace Club or the 2 Dickinson St. co-op. The location of Princeton, N.J., probably reinforces this political and social conservatism. Because the town is small and relatively socially homogeneous, there aren't many outside forces encouraging a diversity of lifestyles or political views.
That being said, there are some very positive things about the Princeton undergrad community. I was completely won over by the students that I taught last semester - they were more intelligent, curious, and kind than I could have hoped for. One thing that is significantly better about Princeton than Yale is the amount of financial aid available to both undergraduate and graduate students. Princeton has an incredible commitment to supporting students in need, and it extends even beyond the academic context, into extra-curricular and health services. That commitment is admirable, and in that respect, Princeton surpasses all the other Ivy League schools.
If you're a 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.