Think we’ve got it bad? Princeton agrees

A response to The Daily Princetonian’s 2000 assertion of misery at the U of C

In the waning hours of finals week, long after our reading period had ended, we came across a long-infamous article in The Daily Princetonian, Princeton’s student newspaper, that confirmed our deepest, most profound fears that fun does, in fact, come here to die. The March 2000, titled “Think We’ve Got It Bad? U. Chicago Has It Worse,” detailed how the students at that Ivy League university are “spoiled” in comparison to the students here at the U of C.

 The Princetonian’s goal, it seems, is to show through comparison how we are essentially victims of a self-inflicted misery. The editorial reiterated several times that our two-day reading period appears meager and thin beside their generous nine-day stretch.  The column also mentions that Princeton has a designated midterms week while our university’s midterms period is an untamed slot of six weeks during which any number of exams and papers can be assigned. After carefully chronicling those and other ways in which our experience is more difficult than the one had at Princeton, the Princetonian concludes that the best possible course of action for Princeton students is to avoid in every way possible emulating the life we at the U of C have. “Let us not share the same fate,” it finishes.

 What can it possibly say of our lives if they are held up by Ivy League newspapers as exemplars of what hell is really like? There is a tendency among the student body here to lightly prod at the idea of fun crawling through our quads to take its final breath, but in some respect we regard it as a sort of self-deprecating exaggeration. Yet the image of the University of Chicago as an oppressive gulag wallowing in its own miserable self-loathing has been picked up on by other schools as something very real.  Has our sad mantra become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Have all our witty house T-shirts about squirrels and oral sex killed all the fun without our knowing?

In an attempt to defend ourselves and our way of life, we could easily say that our challenging academic careers—which are perhaps even more frustrating than the charge of Sisyphus and more painstaking than the tortures of Prometheus—will, if nothing else, make us wiser, sharper, better, and greater intellectual masters of our modern world than any other group of adolescents. However, Princeton isn’t exactly known for the shallow incompetence of its students. In fact, by all accounts, Princeton graduates—despite their “spoiling”—seem to do very well in the academic realm. And even if we were in some way superior, the promise of a negligible intellectual edge hardly seems to justify such wildly different levels of comfort and happiness. So what good does it do to attend an institution so Germanic in its rigor, discouraging in its reputation, and miserable in its meteorological conditions?

What the Princetonian fails to mention is the special quality that our system here at the U of C gives each student. Aside from the promise of a bright (if equally stressful) future and tremendous work ethic, the University of Chicago instills in its every student an appreciation for all that is small, overlooked, and often taken for granted. Where else will students celebrate two days without classes to write papers and study relentlessly for exams after a weeks-long sub-zero period? At what other school will students line up by the hundreds for a free, mediocre breakfast of omelet-egg-substitute and rejected-meat sausages to eat for the first time in days and briefly relax before returning to work at 1 a.m.? At what institution but this would a man happily declare I only have to read 300 pages this week? For what other student body is the first thought upon seeing a potential sexual mate at a party, Well, they do at least appear to be the gender that I’m seeking? To whom else would making it through a term without a trip home to maintain a semblance of mental stability seem like an accomplishment? Where else would the common retort At least you’re better off than those kids in Africa seem like an assertion subject to vigorous debate?

The answer is nowhere, and certainly not at Princeton.

This acute appreciation for the small and the unacknowledged joys of the day-to-day existence is the wonderful gift that the University of Chicago imparts on us. It is the sublime icing on our miserable cake. Or better yet, everything that does not inspire tears to well in our gentle eyes is our icing. It is this capacity to love all that could be loved—and even some that should, by all reasonable measure, be hated—that will serve us best in life, and carry us through a world replete with frustrations in a state of near-constant bliss.

After all, where else could one walk outside to fresh, 34-degree morning and marvel, Ah! Today is a warm day. God has smiled on the University of Chicago.


Alexander Aciman and Emmett Rensin are first-years in the College.

  • Jar Jar Binks

    Isn’t this a bit late?

  • napoléon


  • Alex & Emmett

    Unfortunately, our response was a bit tardy for 2 reasons, the first of which being that, as U Chicago students, we have tons of work, the second being that our 4th grade draft of this column was turned down for publication.

  • Seriously?

    Can someone please write an article called, “Kids at Uchicago just need to learn to deal with themselves”?

    Honestly, I’m just tired of seeing articles like this. We’re never going to stop pitying ourselves if we don’t stop reading about how pathetic we all are, and how much it supposedly sucks here. Being witty does not make it okay to wallow in self pity and loathing.

  • Andy Forquer

    Seriously- not into satire?

  • MF

    Lol that this is written by first years, given that things get about 800% harder.

  • Emmett Rensin

    Seriously (the man):

    Yes! You should write this column! Its always great to hear from new voices.

    Of course, such a task can be intimidating but I was thinking if you DO decide to do it, you might want to start by developing the idea that although wit does not justify anything, if we were all to develop a keen sense of IRONY and appreciation for satire, we might find ourselves less blue, and less disposed to go on self-pitying tirades about how self-pitying we are.

    Good luck!!

  • biolover


    You are clearly not science people. Midterms run third week to tenth week for General Chemistry, at least when I took it. I agree with the ‘seriously’ post and think that you should at least get your complaints right.

  • Alex Aciman

    Entertain us– PLEASE, write a response to this, so that the inevitable link to our column will get us EVEN MORE hits.

  • Ace

    I believe down deep that the students at other select schools are ENVIOUS. When visiting Harvard on a college recruiting trip and sharing the name U of C, the recruiter relayed that Harvard is not that tough. What better preparation and confidence builder for life than “I went to the most rigorous school in America, made great and lifelong friends, learned more than I ever imagined and screwed around more than anyone would believe.” It is because of this challenging environment that there is so much respect for U of C grads.

  • Henry

    I’m a senior in high school, and I just applied to the University of Chicago. This article makes me really pumped. For one, I find it really funny, but it also describes exactly the sort of thing I want to find at school.

  • Orion

    Brillant! I’m an alumn and it warms my heart to see that my alma mater has not given up its penchant for self-deprecation and misery… Its what made my time at UofC awfully memorable. All kidding aside the sheer amount of work that a UofC student plows through in those few short weeks each quarter, is what will make you guys the best of the best in the real world. While everyone else will go home at 5 and put off getting that report/research/whatever completed, you’ll be there till its done, done right, and in MLA/Chicago friendly format. And thats a good thing! Its served me well. One other thing and then I’ll stop being the creepy alumn that reads the maroon… all of this teaches you how to learn ANYTHING very quickly. Thats handy no matter what you end up doing. Good luck. Stay alive. You’ll be out in 3-5 :o)

  • Tatenda Yemeke

    Great article it indeed lightened my day at the UoC until I reached the phrase ‘At least you’re better off than those kids in Africa’ For a start I have never heard of the phrase here myself and I failed to get its context and I am actually worried its one of those offhand comments that fuel stereotypes. I am ready to take any one on this. Having grew up in Africa myself, and having also lived here I can not necessarily say I am better off here.

  • James

    I graduated from Chicago in 2004 and since then have only learned time and again that students at other universities, whether state schools or community colleges work just as hard, if not even harder, than we did at Chicago. Sub-zero temperatures, odd-goods, midnight breakfasts, and extensive reading lists are far from unique to Chicago.