Our History

An inspired history of passionate individuals making their mark in a fast-changing world.

Since day one, people have been at the heart of our most notable accomplishments. Similarly, everything we do today is focused on delivering a graduate education that prepares students to apply their talents to the world’s most pressing opportunities and challenges.

After James Madison graduated from Princeton (then called the College of New Jersey) in 1771, he remained for a year of “graduate work” to study Hebrew with President John Witherspoon. In the following decades, other promising students were permitted to stay on after receiving their bachelor's degree. 

However, it wasn’t until 1869 that graduate education at Princeton systematically began to take shape. In that year, three fellowships were established as an experiment to encourage outstanding members of the senior class to continue their studies. The terms of the awards (in classics, mathematics, and philosophy) were considered rather bold in education circles; the awards were given after competitive examinations and each fellow was free to choose where and how he could most profitably spend his year. In 1879, Princeton conferred its first earned doctorates on James F. Williamson and William Libbey (both Princeton undergraduates from the Class of 1877). 

Key Facts

First doctorate conferred


Incorporated as part of Princeton


Our informal motto

Princeton in the nation’s service and the service of humanity

Campus Size

600 acres

Graduate College dedication date


Past Deans

There have been eighteen deans in the Graduate School’s history to date.  The current dean is Rodney D. Priestley.