i also posted on the yale board, but i thought it would be useful to get a more pro-princeton viewpoint.
i have to decide between yale and princeton. at the moment, i think i'm leaning towards yale because i love the residential college system. but i recently discovered that princeton has a similar system, so now i feel like i've hit a dead end.
i've also heard that yale students arent quite as stressed as princeton students - mainly because they don't have to write a senior thesis.
so what are your opinions? can you advise me in any particular direction?
i'm visiting both campuses in april, but i'm not really sure what to look for.
Both are amazing schools. After visiting both, I can't help but predict (in hope) that you would lean to Pton.
Personally, I chose to apply early to Pton because no non-LAC can compete with its undergrad focus. This point has been rehashed countless times, but at Princeton you experience all that it has to offer. In terms of location, my humble opinion is that an idyllic, beautiful campus 50 minutes from NYC is preferable to a mid-sized city with serious crime issues.
Re the senior thesis, what it translates into is that right now the whole class of '06 is busy putting on their own music, theater, dance and music productions, most of which include the participation of and attendance by lots of other undergrads; writing novels, quite a few of which (including Jonathan Safran Foer's bestseller Everything Is Illuminated http://www.jonathansafranfoerbooks.com/) will be published; doing original research they're excited about; etc. Many of them spent last summer traveling around the world doing research and enjoying all sorts of financial support by the University. If they're lucky, their thesis will translate into some future endeavor, as it did for Wendy Kopp, who founded Teach for America after coming up with the idea while writing her http://www.teachforamerica.org/history.html
Are they stressed out right now, getting down to the wire of the thesis due date? Yes, but from all I hear, they consider the senior thesis to be an experience not to be missed. It enriches enormously their individual education and life on campus.
I am not familiar with any of the systems at Yale as I do not attend that school, but I can talk a little about Princeton. The residential college system is great, currently there are five, and you are only in the residential college for 2 years, however, for your year that will change (as three of the six colleges will become 4 year systems). However, for many students, living in residential college for 2 years is long enough (as you cannot live with students in other colleges and most students have friends in all the colleges).
Princeton is a great educational atmosphere. Its in a quiet town, but there is plenty to do on campus. It is in very close proximity to both NYC and Philly with most students going to either students all the time. Its very safe, and a very beautiful campus. Students are all highly motivated and yes, Princeton is pretty stressful. Contrary to popular belief on CC, Princeton is actually quite difficult. You will be challenged and you will be spending a lot of time in the library. Since you don't have the thesis until senior year, or the JP until junior year, people don't really worry about those until later.
Ultimately, visit both schools and see how you like them.
As for Princeton vs Stanford, coming from the west, the temperature change was drastic and at first unbearable. I did not enjoy living in 10 degree weather, high winds, etc. However, you get use to it. Putting on layers really helps you ignore it. The campuses are very different as Stanford's buildings are much more spanish missionary style and the campus is much larger while Princeton is much smaller. They are very different schools (as athletics are much more important at Stanford). Athletic events at Princeton are generally ignored (except for certain games throughout the year). If you come from the west, Princeton was a nice change. It was interesting just to experience eastern culture and how people are (they are very different).
As an alum, I wrote a senior thesis. It was in Comparative Literature, on epic poetry.
My current career has absolutely nothing to do with epic poetry. However, I remember the experience of writing that thesis, and of sitting in my carrel in the library thinking as hard as I could, at least once a month. I expect I will never forget it. It is your opportunity to experience whatever brilliance you are capable of.
I think it's fair to note that a lot of schools offer the option of doing a thesis. Most majors at Stanford have an Honors Thesis program, and the ones that do not have a mandatory thesis. And there are non-major programs like the Honors Interschool Program in Security Studies, with a mandatory thesis.
I agree with Kjoodles's sentiment--visit and see which one you like best! Talk to students. Look at the academic programs. Look at the housing, location, all that. Don't make a decision based on what we tell you here if you can.