Tom Cruise’s iconic Princeton University interview in the ‘80’s classic Risky Business leads his character, Joel Goodson, to receive an against-all-odds letter of acceptance. Back in 1983 when the film debuted, the acceptance rate into the New Jersey Ivy was a comparatively unintimidating 20%. Today, the acceptance rate is roughly one-quarter that figure, rendering brash, profanity-laced alumni interviews in the middle of a high school party even less likely to lead to a real-life Princeton acceptance letter.

In 2020, every wanna-be Tiger boasts amazing academic credentials (candidates with a perfect 4.0 are only accepted at an 8.1% clip) and often equally impressive achievements outside of the classroom. So, what separates those that get in versus those that get rejected? The intent of this article is to give those considering applying to Princeton University:

1) An understanding of what you are up against.

2) More data on which to accurately assess your chances of admission.

3) Advice for how to get your application to Princeton stand out, even against other superb applicants.

To accomplish these goals we will touch on the following topics:

  • Princeton’s Class of 2024 early (SCEA) acceptance rate
  • Princeton’s Class of 2023 acceptance rate
  • SAT, GPA, and class rank of accepted Princeton applicants
  • Admissions trends from the Class of 2023
  • How to stand out on your Princeton application
  • Princeton’s system for rating applicants
  • A look at the demographics of current Princeton undergraduates
  • The percent of accepted students that attend Princeton (yield rate)
  • Tips for applying to Princeton
  • How to assess whether applying to Princeton is even worth the $75 application fee (for you)

Let’s begin with an examination of the most recent admissions data.

Princeton: Early Action Acceptance Rate – Class of 2024

791 of those applying single-choice early action (SCEA) to the Tiger Class of 2024 were accepted. The school has yet to release the total number of SCEA applicants, so the acceptance rate cannot yet be calculated. However, looking at SCEA results for the Class of 2023, we can see that fewer total students—743—were accepted in that cycle. The Class of 2023 saw an early acceptance rate of 13.9%. For comparison, those admitted early into the Class of 2011 were accepted at a far more favorable 21.1% clip. This paints a clear picture of the increasingly difficult odds of being admitted via SCEA into Princeton.

Princeton Acceptance Rate – Class of 2023

There were 32,804 applications submitted for a place in the 2019-20 freshman class; just 1,896 were accepted. This acceptance rate of 5.8% was the second lowest in the school’s history but actually higher than the Class of 2022 admit rate of 5.5%. The last time that Princeton’s acceptance rate was in the double-digits was for the Class of 2009 (10.9%).

Princeton Admissions – SAT, GPA, and Class Rank

According to the most recent statistics available (Class of 2023), the mid-50% SAT range for admitted freshman was 1460-1570; on the ACT the range was 33-35. For the Class of 2022, the average GPA was 3.90. An impressive 88% of successful applicants possessed a GPA of 3.75 or higher.

Admissions Trends & Notes – (Class of 2023)

  • The percentage of members of the class whose parents went to Princeton (legacies) rose from 11% to 14% for the Class of 2023.
  • The alumni acceptance rate has hovered between 29-32% in recent years.
  • The 25th percentile ACT score rose from 32 to 33.
  • The percentage of students from public high schools fell from 64.5% to 60.7%.
  • Over one-quarter (26%) of Class of 2023 members are from lower-income backgrounds.
  • The percentage of international students admitted decreased slightly from 12% of the Class of 2022 to 11% of the Class of 2023.

How to stand out on my Princeton application

Princeton is looking for young people who are among the best, or, have the potential to be among the very best at something in the world. They also place a great emphasis on diversity across ethic and socioeconomic lines. In their own words, the admissions staff is seeking a “variety of talents, personal qualities, experiences and points of view in each incoming class. There are some qualities we hope all Princeton students share: integrity, a deep interest in learning and a devotion to both academic and non-academic pursuits. Many students also bring distinctive academic and extracurricular talents and achievements.”

Just look at the list of notable Tiger alumni and you’ll get a sense of what the university is looking for: the next generation of politicians (Ralph Nadar, Woodrow Wilson—a subject of current controversy on campus), award-winning writers (Michael Lewis, Jennifer Weiner) entrepreneurs (Jeff Bezos, Steve Forbes) actors/actresses/filmmakers (Jimmy Stewart, Ethan Cohen, Brooke Shields) whose contributions greatly influence the world in which we live.

Recruited athletes enjoy a huge edge. This is because Princeton takes great pride in their 38 NCAA Division I sports teams and athletes comprise 20% of the student body.

For advice about how to stand out on the extracurricular front, check out our previous blog entitled How Many Extracurricular Activities Do I Need for College?

How Princeton Rates Applicants

Princeton considers nine factors as “very important” to the admissions process: rigor of high school courseload, class rank. GPA, SAT/ACT scores, essays, recommendation letters, extracurricular activities, talent/ability, and character/personal qualities. Items that are “considered” as part of the admissions process are: interview, first generation, legacy status, geographical location, ethnicity, volunteer work, and paid work experience.

Princeton is looking for genuine excellence in one or more activities. For example, you won a well-regarded physics, chemistry, or math competition, you are one of the top cellists in the United States, you conducted original scientific research with a university professor, or you started a charitable organization that made a significant local, national, or global impact.

Who Actually Gets Into Princeton?

Let’s look at the demographics of the Class of 2023. Geographically, the Class of 2023 was comprised of the greatest numbers of students from the following U.S. states:

  • New Jersey: 190
  • New York: 153
  • California: 135
  • Massachusetts: 61
  • Texas: 55
  • Florida: 55
  • Illinois: 46

The fewest number of students came from the following U.S. states:

  • Vermont: 0
  • Alaska: 1
  • North Dakota: 1
  • South Dakota: 1
  • Iowa: 1
  • Wyoming: 1
  • Rhode Island: 2
  • Idaho: 2
  • Alabama: 2
  • Mississippi: 2

Competition is stiffest among those hailing from states with endless streams of qualified applicants (the entire Northeast & the West Coast). If you hail from the Deep South like Alabama or Mississippi or a less-populated state like Wyoming or North Dakota, your location is more likely to provide a boost to your admissions chances at Princeton.

Looking at ethnic identity, the breakdown was as follows:

  • Asian American: 24%
  • Hispanic: 11%
  • African American: 7%
  • Multiracial (non-Hispanic): 5.8%
  • American Indian: <1%
  • International Citizens: 11%

Looking at the type of school attended, the majority of students at Princeton hailed from public high schools. The breakdown was as follows:

  • Public: 60.7%
  • Independent Day: 17%
  • Religiously Affiliated: 12.7%
  • Independent Boarding: 9.2%
  • Home Schooled: 0.5%
  • Military: 0.1%

Princeton’s “yield rate”

Princeton’s yield rate—the percentage of accepted students who elect to enroll, divided by the total number of students who are admitted is 71%. Harvard, with their 83% yield rate, is one of only a handful of schools in the country that trumps Princeton. For comparison, elite schools such as Georgetown, Pomona, Bowdoin, Barnard, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, and Duke all have yield rates under 60%. The bottom line is that Princeton is the first choice of the vast majority who apply.

Tips for Applying to Princeton

If you plan on joining the 30,000+ Princeton hopefuls for the next admissions cycle, you should know the following:

Princeton does invite some qualified applicants to participate in an alumni interview. While this is not a required component of one’s application, students should avail themselves of the opportunity if an interview can be arranged in their geographic area.  For advice on what types of questions you should be prepared to answer/ask visit our blog—College Interview Tips.

Princeton does not consider “demonstrated interest” so you will not be judged on whether or not you made a campus visit, contacted an admissions officer, etc.

Make sure to dedicate sufficient time and effort to the supplemental essay and short answers required by Princeton. In the 2019-20 cycle, they are as follows:

Activities

Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences that was particularly meaningful to you. (Response required in about 150 words.)

Summers

Please tell us how you have spent the last two summers (or vacations between school years), including any jobs you have held. (Response required in about 150 words.)

A Few Details

  • 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

Essay: Your Voice

In addition to the essay you have written for the Coalition Application, the Common Application or the Universal College Application, please write an essay of about 500 words (no more than 650 words and no fewer than 250 words). 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 Coalition Application, the Common Application or Universal College Application.

  1. Tell us about a person who has influenced you in a significant way.
  2. “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 of politics, Princeton University. This quote is taken from Professor Wasow’s January 2014 speech at the Martin Luther King Day celebration at Princeton University.
  3. “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.
  4. 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.

Engineering Essay*

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.

*This essay is required for students who indicate Bachelor of Science in Engineering as a possible degree of study on their application.

Should I Apply to Princeton?

Those with SAT/ACT scores within the mid-50% mark for Princeton who are also at the very top of their respective high school class are absolutely viable candidates to Princeton. As such, it is worth any star student’s time and $75 to submit an application. Whether or not you will be among the less than 6% who are offered admission will come down to many of the factors mentioned throughout this blog. Of course, it goes without saying that all teens applying to this or any other Ivy need to also have a proper mix or “target” and “safety” schools on their college list. More on creating a balanced college list can be found here.