Princeton’s Diverse Student Body: Exploring the Costs of Traveling Home for Breaks
Princeton University boasts a student body comprised of individuals from 140 countries and all 50 states, which means students come from every corner of the globe. However, returning home for breaks may present financial challenges for many students. Although the University’s financial aid covers various expenses, it does not specifically include travel expenses for returning home during all breaks, including Thanksgiving break. To address this issue, The Daily Princetonian analyzed data on the Class of 2027’s hometowns and examined different travel options and costs for students residing in various locations.
According to the Class of 2027 Frosh Survey, which had a response rate of nearly 60 percent, students from New York and New Jersey, the two most common states, have the advantage of living in close proximity to Princeton. Traveling home for them may require only a short car or train ride. However, for the 7 percent of the class living in California, returning home is a considerably more arduous undertaking, involving a nearly six-hour plane journey across the country. Despite California’s status as the most populous state in the United States, it ranks as the third-most represented state at Princeton. Surprisingly, states such as Texas and Florida, which are highly populous, do not rank among the top five states of origin for Princeton students. Instead, students from Princeton tend to have a disproportionate representation from states in the East Coast and Midwest.
Analyzing the frosh survey data in more detail, The Daily Princetonian found that 36 percent of students live within 100 miles of Princeton, encompassing areas in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware. Students from states like Illinois, Michigan, and Georgia live approximately 750 miles away from Princeton. The remaining students reside at varying distances from Princeton, with around 15 percent of respondents coming from California, which amounts to a distance of approximately 2,500 miles. To calculate flight prices, The Daily Princetonian used data from the Airline Origin and Destination Survey, obtained from the Office of Airline Information of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Flights originating from airports near Princeton (EWR, PHL, and JFK) were grouped according to destination state, and the 25th-percentile cost of flights to each state was calculated, assuming students prefer less expensive class tickets. To estimate round-trip prices, one-way ticket costs were doubled.
The analysis revealed that the farther the distance traveled, the more expensive the flight becomes. For example, a flight from an airport near Princeton to Ohio costs around $297, while a flight to California, located on the opposite side of the country, soars to approximately $442 – nearly $150 more expensive. However, some states deviate from this trend. Flights to Wyoming and North Dakota, although closer to New Jersey, cost $592 and $675.25, respectively. The steep prices can be attributed to the combination of limited flight availability, fewer airports, and a disproportionately high demand, often fueled by the desire to explore natural wonders such as Yellowstone in Wyoming.
For students living closer to Princeton, ground transportation, rather than flying, may be a more cost-effective option. New York City residents, for instance, can take the New Jersey Transit (NJTransit) train to New York Penn Station, costing $17.75 for an adult one-way ticket. Choosing the appropriate means of transportation becomes less clear for students living at a medium distance, roughly 300-500 miles away from campus.
International students face even higher fares when it comes to traveling home. For instance, a flight from New York to London during winter break could range from $800 to $1000. Flights to Nairobi, Kenya from EWR can cost between $2000 and $3000, while a trip to Tashkent, Uzbekistan would cost students upwards of $1100 for a one-way ticket.
The article also delves into transportation options for Boston, Massachusetts, where approximately 55 members of the Class of 2026 resided prior to attending Princeton. Although driving is the cheapest option, few students have cars on campus, making it less feasible. Flights offer the quickest way to reach Boston; however, they are significantly more costly, impose baggage limitations, and necessitate extensive security checks. Trains represent a compromise in terms of both cost and travel time. Amtrak operates three trains daily from Princeton Junction to Boston’s South Station, while 21 trains run from New York Penn Station to Boston, with connections provided by NJTransit services.
To provide a comprehensive overview, the article also presents average costs for plane tickets, train fares, and driving expenses. For example, plane tickets typically exceed $200, and transportation costs to the major airports near Princeton amount to at least $20. Amtrak train tickets to Boston average around $150, but booking Night Owl fares well in advance can lower the cost to as little as $19. The fastest driving route to Boston costs $35, involving tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike, George Washington Bridge, and Massachusetts Turnpike. Alternatively, drivers can avoid tolls by taking the Cuomo Bridge and Interstate 95, although this adds approximately 45 minutes to the travel time.
Both first-year and upperclass students face the challenge of planning and budgeting for travel, which can be a source of stress. Considering travel arrangements in advance and allocating sufficient funds can help alleviate this stress, especially when the prospect of reuniting with family and friends awaits. Princeton students undertake long journeys by air, rail, and road to return to Old Nassau.
Princeton University’s diverse student body, with representatives from various countries and states, faces different financial challenges when it comes to traveling home for breaks. Through an analysis of survey data and airfare prices, The Daily Princetonian sheds light on the costs associated with different modes of transportation. Whether it’s the relatively short distances for students from New York and New Jersey or the significantly longer distances for those from California, students must consider the financial implications and feasibility of various travel options. The article also highlights the disparities in representation among states and the disproportionate concentration of students from the East Coast and Midwest. By examining transportation to Boston, the article provides a glimpse into the trade-offs and costs associated with driving, flying, and taking the train. Ultimately, planning and preparing for travel can help ensure a smoother journey for all Princeton students, regardless of their origins.