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What are Princeton Eating Clubs?

Dating back to 1879, eating clubs are a rich tradition at Princeton University. These clubs originated as dining halls, but today they are centers for socializing and studying. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about Princeton eating clubs. 

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What are eating clubs?

Unique to Princeton University, eating clubs are co-ed social organizations for juniors and seniors at the school. Joining a club is optional, but 68% of upperclassmen are currently members. Those who join must pay annual membership fees. The first club (Ivy) was established in 1879 as a result of the university’s lack of dining facilities. Although they originally served as comfortable spaces for students to have meals, eating clubs have evolved a lot over the years. 

The clubs still serve as dining halls, but these days they’re places for students to socialize, study, and relax as well. Throughout the school year, clubs throw parties, put on concerts, and host other events. Members participate in activities such as field trips, formals, movie nights, and mini-golf. Eating clubs also perform community service, host educational events such as guest lectures, and sponsor intramural athletic programs. 

Eating club facilities have also improved a lot over the years. Within most club buildings you’ll find libraries, study spaces, and recreational rooms equipped with amenities like pool tables and TVs. There are currently 11 clubs, each with a distinctive character. 

Are eating clubs like fraternities and sororities? 

Although similar to Greek life organizations in many ways, eating clubs are not considered fraternities or sororities. Eating clubs differentiate themselves from Greek life in two main ways – they’re co-ed (all clubs accept both men and women) and they’re not residential. With the exception of some club officers, no club members actually live in the buildings. 

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How do I join an eating club? 

Students are eligible to join a club during the spring semester of their sophomore year, which is when most students join. Admission procedures vary depending on the club you want to join. Some clubs have a selective admissions process (called “bicker”), while others have a non-selective process (called “sign-in”). The bicker process involves applying for membership, going through interviews, and competing for a bid from a current member. 

Unaccepted students can apply to “sign-in” clubs, which operate on a first-come, first-serve basis. If more students sign in than a club can accept, a lottery randomly selects members. All clubs, both bicker and sign-in, host events for sophomores to learn more about the clubs and meet current members. 

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How much do memberships cost? 

Eating club memberships typically cost $9,000 – $10,000 per year. Although eating clubs are more expensive than other dining options, students pay for more than just a meal plan. Membership grants access to all the social opportunities that come along with being in an eating club. Most clubs try to make membership more affordable for lower-income students, and financial aid is also available from the university. 

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Acknowledging the past…

While eating clubs are wildly popular at Princeton, they haven’t always been welcoming to all students. Eating clubs have faced their fair share of controversy over the years, including accusations of being elitist and discriminatory. During the 1949-1950 academic year, for instance, 15 Jewish students claimed they had been excluded from the clubs based on their religion. And while eating clubs are currently co-ed, for a couple decades they excluded women from membership. All clubs adopted the co-ed policy only after a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling made it mandatory. 

These days, however, the clubs seem to be more open and welcoming than ever before. In 2020, the Interclub Council (composed of the 11 club presidents) wrote a letter acknowledging their troubled past and their plans to increase equality among the clubs. While this is encouraging for anyone looking to become a member, it’s important to do your own research if you’re thinking of joining a club. Each club is different and has its own personality, so the best way to decide is to make an in-person visit and meet some of the current members. 

Also see: How to get involved on campus

Lifetime membership

If you decide to join an eating club, the benefits of membership are not limited to your time in college. Eating club memberships last for life, and alumni frequently return to campus for homecoming games and reunions. Many Princeton students and alumni say that their closest friendships were formed with their clubmates. 

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