It will come as no surprise that Princeton University is among the top schools in the nation and is recognized globally for academic excellence. This Ivy League school is renowned as a major research university as well as an outstanding liberal arts college. In addition to the Common Application, Universal College Application or Coalition Application essay, Princeton also requires supplemental writing responses. These additional essays help the admissions committee to understand comprehensively your particular strengths and potential contributions to the Princeton community. Princeton prides itself on the diversity of talents, achievements, perspectives, and interests of its student body. At the same time, it is looking for a freshman class that shares the following qualities: “integrity, a deep interest in learning and a devotion to both academic and non-academic pursuits.” Think about how you can contribute to Princeton as well as how Princeton can support your aspirations.
Princeton offers a nonbinding, single-choice early action program, listed on the Common Application as restrictive early action. Under this program, you may not apply to any other early program at a private college or university however; you may apply to any non-binding early action program at a public institution. This is a good option if Princeton is your first choice. The early action deadline is Nov. 1. Students admitted early may defer their admission decision to May 1st, which is the deadline to accept Princeton’s offer for regular decision. The deadline to submit regular decision applications is January 1st.
The best way to begin is by doing your research. Adhere to deadlines and word-limits. Spend time looking over the Princeton website, get to know what current undergraduates are saying about the school, familiarize yourself with the various majors, and imagine yourself there. If possible visit the campus, allow yourself to get excited about this opportunity, and make every effort to gain a sense of why Princeton is the ideal academic environment for you!
Located in a suburban setting, Princeton is primarily a residential campus with a strong liberal arts focus. Its residential college structure, freshman seminars, and preceptorial system support the tight-knit student community. These are hallmarks of an education at Princeton and demonstrate the university’s commitment to student-centered learning within the context of a diverse student body, faculty, and staff.
Remember to allow your writing to express your voice as you address the following Princeton supplemental questions; consider how your responses reveal your intellectual curiosity, passion for learning, and engagement with the world.
Princeton University Short Essay #1
Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences that was particularly meaningful to you. (About 150 words)
Use this opportunity to discuss an interesting aspect of an extracurricular activity or work experience that imparts something significant about your character. Many students talk about leadership in general terms, but specifics are far more revealing, distinctive, and engaging. For example, if you were involved with the Girl Scouts, focus on a particular event in Girl Scouts where you took on a leadership role and explain why that role was meaningful to you. Or perhaps there was a specific incident in your job that required you to take on additional responsibility, showcase what that reveals about your values. Consider what makes this activity or work experience noteworthy and what it demonstrates about your character.
Princeton University Short Essay #2
Please tell us how you have spent the last two summers (or vacations between school years), including any jobs you have held. (About 150 words)
This prompt asks you to share what you do when you are not in school. This may include just about anything you do outside of school. Don’t panic if your summer experiences don’t seem particularly exciting. The key here is to express your interests and perspectives about how you spent that time. Did you work, travel, volunteer? What did you learn? Who did you interact with? This response provides insight into your life experience and background.
Princeton University Short Answer Prompts
Your favorite book and its author
Your favorite website
Your favorite recording
Your favorite source of inspiration
Your favorite line from a movie or book and its title
Your favorite movie
Two adjectives your friends would use to describe you
Your favorite keepsake or memento
Your favorite word
As you consider how to answer the questions above, remember Princeton is looking for independent thinkers with creative minds who are engaged with the world around them. Make sure to consider what your answers might indicate to the admissions committee. These responses provide clues about the kind of person you are and the kind of potential Princeton student you might be. They also reflect the way you think and what you find interesting, fun, and motivating. Be truthful, but also try not to mention anything that might be considered offensive. They are trying to get to know you better; share what is meaningful to you.
Princeton University Themed Essay
In addition to the Common Application, Universal Application or Coalition Application essay and Princeton-specific short answer responses, a themed essay of 250 to 650 words is also required. Be careful to avoid repeating any portion of the essay you used for the Common Application. Use this opportunity to reveal other aspects of your identity and character.
Using one of the themes below as a starting point, write about a person, event, or experience that helped you define one of your values or in some way changed how you approach the world. Please do not repeat, in full or in part, the essay you wrote for the Common Application, Universal Application or Coalition Application.
Tell us about a person who has influenced you in a significant way.
Discuss a person who has made a difference in your way of thinking that subsequently influenced your actions and/or behavior. This is someone who has inspired you, convinced you, and/or challenged you in some way (either positively or negatively). As you choose a person who has influenced you, also consider what you value about that person and what your evaluation reflects about you. This response tells the admissions committee the kind of person you aspire to be and what characteristics you hold dear. It is okay to compare yourself directly with this person. Just be sure to avoid being boastful- focus on how they inspired you to define your values and the way you approach the world.
“One of the great challenges of our time is that the disparities we face today have more complex causes and point less straightforwardly to solutions.”
Omar Wasow, Assistant Professor, Politics. This quote is taken from Professor Wasow’s January 2014 speech at the Martin Luther King Day celebration at Princeton University.
This prompt lends itself to a discussion of civil liberties and civil rights. Your response can relate to local or global issues. Begin by considering a broad range of inequalities, but focus on something specific and significant to you. Consider the current state of inequalities– racial, sexual, political, economic, gender. Think about old approaches and new solutions. Reflect on the complexity of solutions in day-to-day interactions/business as well as the bigger picture (actively promoting equality). What other factors might come into play? This response illustrates how you think through complex issues and interpret varied sources of information. How do you make sense of the world around you? How does this analysis impact your personal values? What solutions do you have to address the disparities? What issues or aspects of these topics will you explore further at Princeton?
“Culture is what presents us with the kinds of valuable things that can fill a life. And insofar as we can recognize the value in those things and make them part of our lives, our lives are meaningful.”
Gideon Rosen, Stuart Professor of Philosophy and chair, Department of Philosophy, Princeton University.
This prompt asks you to discuss the non-tangibles you find valuable– traditions, family, religion, etc. It is about how you appreciate/perpetuated/embrace culture in day-to-day routines as well as lager patterns of thoughts and behaviors. It is also about your background and its influence on you. This essay is a good place to discuss your family’s history and culture. How does that culture influence your identity? How do you see yourself within a specific world context? Discuss your culture and what is meaningful to you. Remember to relate this back to how culture defines your values and the way you approach the world. Also discuss how a Princeton education fits into the picture.
Using a favorite quotation from an essay or book you have read in the last three years as a starting point, tell us about an event or experience that helped you define one of your values or changed how you approach the world. Please write the quotation, title and author at the beginning of your essay.
This prompt sets the stage for you to discuss just about any topic! As you select your favorite quotation, consider what it reveals about your values and how you look at the world. Consider how/why the quotation sparked you to think about the particular event or experience and how in turn, that influenced you in identifying your values. How does this new self-knowledge impact the way you engage the world around you? This response hones in on the process of critical thinking and evaluation. It allows you to discuss your identity and perspectives and asks you to articulate how you approach the world around you. It tells the admissions committee more about who you are and what is important to you. Remember to discuss how your values and world perspective make Princeton a place where you will flourish.
If you are interested in pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree, please write a 300-500 word essay describing why you are interested in studying engineering, any experiences in or exposure to engineering you have had and how you think the programs in engineering offered at Princeton suit your particular interests. (Required for Engineering Majors)
This is your opportunity to demonstrate your fit for the Engineering program at Princeton. Make sure to do your research and convey your enthusiasm for the field of engineering! Based on your experience and exposure to engineering thus far, why is this particular program such a great fit for you? Be specific, how will the overall educational experience support you to achieve your career goals? What opportunities might be available to you? How might you engage with this particular academic community? Consider the impact of: the curriculum, instructors, research opportunities, alumni network, benefits of the physical space (on campus and within the community at large), peers, and anything else that makes Engineering at Princeton the best program for you!
Each of these essay prompts ask you to share something personal about yourself, discuss how the experience impacted you, and how you make sense of your world. They ask you to articulate your values and provide insight into your thinking process. They also reveal how you evaluate information and make decisions. Select the themed essay topic that strikes a cord with you. Make sure to convey your enthusiasm for that subject and for Princeton.
It is no surprise that Princeton has a highly competitive and impressive applicant pool. It received 35,370 undergraduate applications for the class of 2022. Only 1941, or 5.5%, were offered admission and more than 90% ranked in the top 10% of their high school class. Add to that, average SAT scores well above 1400, and an average ACT score of 33 and you get a better sense of the level of competition. However, keep in mind Princeton is committed to a holistic approach to the admissions process. This means they use your essay responses to round out the picture of you as a prospective student. The supplemental essays are your chance to share critical information about yourself. There is no magic formula to gain admission to this prestigious Ivy League school. As you survey the numbers, it is clear that you must use your essays as an opportunity to differentiate yourself from your peers and to demonstrate that you belong at Princeton!
If you’re applying to Princeton University, you already know you’re up against tight competition. Don’t be overwhelmed. Get the guidance of an experienced admissions specialist who will help you stand out from the highly competitive applicant pool so you can apply with confidence, and get accepted! Click here to get started!
***Disclaimer: Information is subject to change. Please check with individual programs to verify the essay questions, instructions and deadlines.***By Marie Todd, Accepted's college admissions specialist. Marie has worked in college admissions for over twenty years. She has both counseled applicants and evaluated applications. Most recently she evaluated 5000+ applications for the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts; College of Engineering; School of Kinesiology. She is available to assist you (or your child) with your applications. Want Marie to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!
• 5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your College Application Essays, a free guide
• Tone Up Your Writing: Confidence vs Arrogance
• Different Dimensions of Diversity, a podcast episode