Contrary to conventional belief, colonial college curricula were not dominated by religion — that came after graduation for those entering the ministry. Princeton's first students studied subjects inherited from the "pagan" ancient Greeks in a liberal arts structure originally shaped by Aristotle (undergraduates were required to study ancient Greek until 1917). Although religion suffused student life, including mandatory daily chapel services and prayers at each communal meal, its formal role in the curriculum was limited to a senior year moral philosophy course taught by the president.
More than a century after its founding, in 1868, President James McCosh pushed the College of New Jersey in new directions. While rejecting Harvard's wholesale abandonment of required courses, he accepted some student choice, and broadened the offerings by adding art history and founding a School of Science. McCosh instituted formal graduate study at Princeton for promising alumni and sent others to study in Europe. His "bright young men" became the core of a more cosmopolitan and specialized faculty.