As I write this piece, decisions for Princeton’s Class of 2025 were released a few hours ago. As the university’s official account gleefully reported on Twitter two minutes after decisions were released, just 1,498 students were admitted to the “great” Class of 2025, which, as The Daily Princetonian reported just 12 minutes after decisions were released, represents an acceptance rate of 3.98 percent. And at 8:05, about an hour after decisions were released, my mother texted me links to these statistics along with just one word: “Wow!”
This burst of admissions statistics, highlighting just how insanely improbable getting into Princeton is for any individual, is just the beginning of the annual celebration of exclusivity. If my experience is representative, new Princetonians will enjoy the ego-stroking of a lifetime over the next months as their friends, family, and dentist (asking where I’m going to college while your hand was in my mouth was a weird choice Dr. Lee) congratulate them on getting into such a selective school; after all, they are among the rarified 3.98 percent. And a year later, as the Class of 2026 is admitted, they will get a text from their mother highlighting how special they are for attending such a selective university. In all these interactions and statistics there will be an unspoken assumption: exclusivity is good. Implicitly, the message is that by virtue of being selective, Princeton is in some way a better institution of higher education than the rest. Whether we acknowledge it or not, every single additional student rejected from Princeton validates Princetonians in the eyes of society.
However, rather than practically throwing a ticker-tape parade every time the acceptance rate goes down with headlines proclaiming “record lows,” the Princeton community should view every student rejected from Princeton as a travesty. As much as the university may have flaws, Princeton is still undeniably an incredible place to learn; from remarkable professors teaching about fascinating topics to access to world-class research, Princeton is a place where people can genuinely widen their horizons. And Princeton’s ability to expand human knowledge is exactly why we should mourn every single time someone is not given the opportunity to take advantage of Princeton’s resources. Exclusivity is not a virtue. Rather, exclusivity means tens of thousands of students every year do not get to join us as peers in learning. Someone who could have changed your political views with a well-made point in seminar, helped you survive BSE prerequisite classes, or shaped your life as a friend will not be on campus next fall. In short, this excessive focus on competition and exclusivity excludes the possibility of a better Princeton as well.
Of course, this is not to belittle the accomplishments of the Class of 2025; I am sure every single member of the class belongs at Princeton. However, I beg us to not just think of the 1,498 and think of the 37,601. For the university to truly be “in the nation’s service and the service of humanity,” we should work to ensure a life-changing education is accessible to anyone. As the Class of 2025 joins the campus community, I can only hope they, and the rest of us, realize how lucky we are to be here and make sure others can enjoy that luck as well.