Princeton Supplemental Essays 2023-24 – Prompts and Advice

August 24, 2023

Princeton supplemental essays

Although Princeton has withheld admissions statistics for the Class of 2027, citing concerns with student anxiety levels, their last reported acceptance rate was 4.4% for the class of 2021-22. However, even if the acceptance rate has gone up (or down) a percentage or two since, it doesn’t change much—when applying to an Ivy like Princeton, even applicants with perfect GPAs and test scores need to find a way to stand out from a pack of equally credentialed teens. Fortunately, the Princeton supplemental essays provide just such an opportunity. These compositions present the chance for wannabe Tigers to showcase superior writing ability. This is an opportunity to craft responses that are authentic, honest, compelling, and potentially needle-moving to the admissions office.

(Want to learn more about How to Get Into Princeton? Visit our blog entitled: How to Get Into Princeton: Admissions Data and Strategies for all of the most recent admissions data as well as tips for gaining acceptance.)

Below are Princeton’s essay prompts for the 2023-24 admissions cycle with accompanying advice about how to tackle each one:

Princeton Supplemental Essays – Your Voice

1) Princeton values community and encourages students, faculty, staff and leadership to engage in respectful conversations that can expand their perspectives and challenge their ideas and beliefs. As a prospective member of this community, reflect on how your lived experiences will impact the conversations you will have in the classroom, the dining hall or other campus spaces. What lessons have you learned in life thus far? What will your classmates learn from you? In short, how has your lived experience shaped you? (500 words or fewer)

Essentially, Princeton is trying to uncover how your personal experiences will impact what kind of academic and social community member you might be. As such, this prompt wants you to discuss: 1) a specific aspect of your lived experience 2) what you learned and how you might engage with others as a result of that lived experience. “Lived experience” is broad and could include:

  • Your role in your family.
  • Your role in your social group.
  • A challenge you’ve faced.
  • A formative experience or realization.
  • Important aspects of your upbringing.
  • Cultural, religious, community influence.

Princeton Supplemental Essays (Continued)

Once you’ve chosen a particular direction, think about what you’ve learned from the experience and what you think others could learn from you. This is a chance to show that you are an open-minded, curious, and humble young person who is willing to learn and grow from their experiences. For example, perhaps growing up on military bases with a parent who was frequently deployed taught you about the importance of putting yourself out there to find a supportive community.

Perhaps you also learned that you have to be intentional about creating said community, which can be a difficult proposition in an increasingly technological and social-media-centric world. It’s also taught you not to take the relationships in your life for granted. As a result, you hope to model the importance of in-person connections and friendships—and the importance of putting a significant amount of effort into those friendships—even when it may feel easier to connect virtually.

This year, Princeton has doubled the length of this essay, giving you ample space to explore a particular aspect of your identity. You’ll just want to ensure that whatever topic you choose is completely unique from your Common App personal statement.

Princeton Supplemental Essays – Service and Civic Engagement

2) Princeton has a longstanding commitment to understanding our responsibility to society through service and civic engagement. How does your own story intersect with these ideals? (250 words or fewer)

Remember, the admissions committee has already seen the President’s Volunteer Service Award and the number of hours you volunteered at multiple nonprofit organizations. This shouldn’t be a recap of already-presented information. Rather, applicants should strive to share issues close to their hearts. We encourage you to share specific details about a time (or two) when you were civically engaged or volunteered on a community service project. Why was this experience important to you? Why and how did it cement the values of service and civic engagement? For example, perhaps you started making blankets for a local hospital during COVID, which evolved into a thriving extracurricular club that now has fifteen other members. Whatever you decide, you’ll want to demonstrate a deep-rooted and genuine connection to service. Moreover, consider including a Princeton-specific resource or two that will allow you to continue pursuing meaningful engagement.

Princeton Supplemental Essays – More About You

Please respond to each question in 50 words or fewer. There are no right or wrong answers. Be yourself!

1) What is a new skill you would like to learn in college?

You can be straightforward, offbeat, or highly creative on this one—all with equal effectiveness. The straightforward answer would be something directly related to Princeton’s programmatic or extracurricular offerings. Discussing particular character traits, work habits, or social goals you hope to pursue—like networking or meditating—are fair game as well. If you really hope that college is when you finally take the time to pursue a new hobby, go ahead and share those aims in this space. It could be anything: crossword puzzles, stand-up comedy, yoga, genealogy, journaling, cooking, sewing, etc.

2) What brings you joy? 

What brings you great pleasure and happiness? Universal experiences of joy like family, a beautiful sunset, a place, a hobby, a tradition, or your cat or dog curled on your lap are perfectly acceptable answers here. However, you could also talk about dreams for the future, more bittersweet moments, abstract thoughts, moments of glorious introversion, or a time that you unexpectedly felt joy.

3) What song represents the soundtrack of your life at this moment?

As Plato wrote, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” Music can express emotions that are beyond words. What stirs up deep feelings of connection within your soul? Be honest. It doesn’t have to be Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Rather, it might be a piece by Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, or Lana Del Ray. Don’t be afraid to share what music you genuinely connect with even if it isn’t “high-brow.” In addition, be sure to include a brief “why.”

Princeton Supplemental Essays – Degree-Specific

Depending on whether you are applying to an A.B. or B.S.E. program, you’ll need to answer an additional essay question:

A.B. (or Undecided) Essay

As a research institution that also prides itself on its liberal arts curriculum, Princeton allows students to explore areas across the humanities and the arts, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. What academic areas most pique your curiosity, and how do the programs offered at Princeton suit your particular interests? (Please respond in 250 words or fewer.)

B.S.E. Essay

Please describe why you are interested in studying engineering at Princeton. Include any of your experiences in or exposure to engineering, and how you think the programs offered at the University suit your particular interests. (Please respond in 250 words or fewer.)

For both essays, you’ll want to discuss your personal experiences in relation to your academic interests as well as why Princeton will the optimal place to pursue them. Let’s break this down:

  • Which academic/engineering areas are you most drawn to, and why? What experiences have you had? How have you engaged with your interest areas up to this point? This should be fairly brief—a paragraph at most.
  • Why will Princeton be the best fit for you? Stay focused on academic programs/offerings here, which could include academic departments, professorsresearch opportunities, internship programscourses, degree structure/curriculum, etc. Be sure to discuss how you plan to take advantage of your chosen resources.

Princeton Supplemental Essays – Graded Paper

In addition to the essays noted above, you’ll also need to submit a graded paper as part of your application. Princeton recommends that your paper be between 1-2 pages in length, so don’t go crazy and send them your 25-page English paper. Ideally, the paper will be as recent as possible—junior year is preferable. Moreover, your English and/or history teacher will be an excellent resource who can help you decide which of your papers best represents your writing ability and will be the most advantageous to include. Keep in mind that you’ll also need to submit the paper’s grade as well as your teacher’s comments, so it should go without saying that you’ll want to send Princeton a paper that you’ve excelled on.

How important are the Princeton supplemental essays?

Princeton rates the essays as being a “very important” factor in their evaluation process. The essays are listed alongside GPA, the rigor of high school coursework, class rank, extracurricular activities, recommendations, talent/ability, and character/personal qualities.

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