No P/D/F and the Liberal Arts Education


A “Princeton Education” is thought to be more than just a depth of knowledge about one subject to send you off on a career path, more than the sum of information gained in individual classes – Princeton should offer students a liberal arts education. Indeed, from the first moment you are welcomed to campus in the University chapel you are told that you are here to take advantage of the wide range of resources and talent in any and all of the Princeton departments. That’s why we have distribution requirements, you are told. That’s why we have the p/d/f option. Explore, experiment, stretch your mind.

But what happens instead when you can’t?

With the allowance of classes with no p/d/f option, Princeton excludes certain classes from the liberal arts education.

Consider two of my friends, who recently selected courses for next semester. One, a humanities student who has taken practically all of his classes to date in the humanities, was surprised to see COS 126 only offered for a grade next fall. The other, an engineer who finally found herself with an extra spot in her schedule, was daunted when a classics class did not offer the p/d/f.

Now, there are certainly reasons why a class would be offered without p/d/f regardless of the University ideal for a liberal arts education. COS 126 may be trying to keep some out of a major that has recently increased rapidly in numbers, while the classics professor may wish to attract students who are willing to invest time into the numerous readings and who might be otherwise disincentivized without the grade as a motivator.

However, as both of my friends mentioned, they felt excluded from new fields by the no p/d/f option. They weren’t trying to take upper-level courses that would have required previous knowledge. Both were interested in introductory classes in a new field. This is not to say that they couldn’t take those classes for a grade. But with the reality that many employers weed out based on GPA, it becomes a gamble for some to pursue a liberal arts education instead of focusing in the area in which they are most interested – and perhaps most successful.

In the end, the humanities major decided to take that risk and enroll in COS 126. The engineer decided the liberal arts education was not worth the gamble.


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