F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Great Writer, but a Not-So-Great Student

By Iliyah Coles ’22

Many people know about the success of the infamous writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Some know that he attended Princeton University and even based his first novel, This Side of Paradise, on the Ivy League school. However, what many people don’t know is that Fitzgerald was not a star student. In fact, he wasn’t even an average student. F. Scott Fitzgerald was perhaps, in terms of academics, one of the worst students in his class. That could be one of the reasons why he decided to drop out during his junior year of college and join the army.

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (named after his well-known, patriotic cousin) initially entered Princeton University with the Class of 1917. Fitzgerald had not done well academically in high school. His thoughts seemed to be always elsewhere, mostly on the girls that he spent time with. According to a 1966 article in the Princeton Alumni Weekly, when Fitzgerald applied to Princeton, the admissions board looked at Fitzgerald’s troubling grades and asked him why they should let him in. Fitzgerald then responded by stating that it was his seventeenth birthday. It is possible that Fitzgerald’s charming personality played a role in his acceptance. Fitzgerald himself stated in Ten Years of Princeton ’17, “Priggishness sits ill on Princeton.” Perhaps this is why he was granted admittance despite his questionable grades in high school.

Nevertheless, Fitzgerald entered the class of 1917 and arrived with big dreams. Fitzgerald became fixated with the social scenes on campus like clubs and sports. He even tried out for the football team during his freshman year, but he was cut on the first day of tryouts because he was so slim, as is indicated by a 1956 PAW article. After his football dreams were crushed, Fitzgerald focused on getting into one of the eating clubs (a substitute for Greek life at the university) and Triangle Club (the university’s biggest theater group). Fitzgerald was able to achieve these two goals and, due to his dedication to them, he found success and happiness in both. It is evident that Fitzgerald was really great at the social aspect of college, but that’s just about the only aspect he was great at.

F. Scott Fitzgerald. Photo from 1917 Nassau Herald.

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This Week in Princeton History for March 21-27

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a fugitive steals a professor’s car to make his getaway, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first novel makes a big splash, and more.

March 22, 1980—About 45 Princeton students join 30,000 protesters in Washington, D.C. at an anti-draft rally.

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Princeton’s banner at the Washington anti-draft rally, March 22, 1980. Photo from the Daily Princetonian.

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This Week in Princeton History for March 30-April 5

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the campus tries to help mitigate the AIDS crisis, locals descend upon Nassau Hall in spontaneous celebration of a Civil War victory for the Union, and more.

March 30, 1933—The owner of Students Hand Laundry is arrested following his disappearance two weeks before, having been paid $20 each by approximately 600 Princeton students for the term’s laundry service. Campus police find 250 bags of students’ dirty laundry in his abandoned shop.

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Ad from the Daily Princetonian.

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F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Princeton Career and the Triangle Club

Written by Dan Linke

Today marks the 118th anniversary of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s birth and 101 years since he entered Princeton University, the place he dubbed “the pleasantest country club in America.” That phrase, a great irritant to then University President John Grier Hibben, is found in his first novel, This Side of Paradise, which chronicles Amory Blaine’s time as an undergraduate and his fascination with eating clubs, sports, social life, and Fitzgerald’s true Princeton obsession, the Triangle Club.

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F. Scott Fitzgerald’s portrait from the Class of 1917 Nassau Herald.

Fitzgerald is the sole author of all the song lyrics for three consecutive Triangle Club shows (Fie! Fie! Fi-Fi!, 1914-1915; The Evil Eye, 1915-1916; and Safety First, 1916-1917), a prolific record unmatched in the Club’s nearly 125 year history.  When asked “what was your major?,” it is not uncommon for Club alumni to respond with “Triangle, with a minor in Chemistry” [or English, or any other subject that they ostensibly studied].  For Fitzgerald, the answer appears to be the same, as evidenced by his grade card and his failure to graduate.

Admitted on trial, as his card notes, Fitzgerald struggled with most of his classes and was placed in the fifth (the lowest) class throughout his three years.  This should encourage aspiring writers everywhere, however, given that one of the greatest 20th century American authors never received higher than a B+ (a 3, on a 1-7 scale) in his English classes, but went on to write works still read avidly almost 75 years after his death.

Images taken from Office of the Registrar Records, Box 103. Click to enlarge:

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N.B. Access to undergraduate alumni records is governed by this policy.