Princeton University: Supplemental Essay Prompts and Tips
Princeton University’s 3.98% acceptance rate for the 2021-22 freshman class was the lowest in school history. 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, Princeton provides such an opportunity by offering a number of essays and short answer responses. These compositions present the chance for wanna-be-Tigers to showcase superior writing ability and craft responses that are authentic, honest, compelling, and potentially needle-moving to the admissions officers that will be reading them.
(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 2021-22 admissions cycle with accompanying advice about how to tackle each one:
Extracurricular Activity and Work Experience
Briefly elaborate on an activity, organization, work experience, or hobby that has been particularly meaningful to you. (Please respond in about 150 words.
Take the university at their word and select an activity that is “particularly meaningful to you.” This does not mean necessarily mean the activity/activities where you earned the most prestigious accolades or held the highest position of leadership (although it could). The school is going to view all of your activities in that section of the Common App—which of those is crying out for more explanation and detail? Which one is closest to your heart and most representative of your unique passions? Pick that one and fire away!
Please respond to each question in an essay of about 250 words.
1) At Princeton, we value diverse perspectives and the ability to have respectful dialogue about difficult issues. Share a time when you had a conversation with a person or a group of people about a difficult topic. What insight did you gain, and how would you incorporate that knowledge into your thinking in the future?
It’s no secret that we live in a polarized culture, where there seems little room for constructive dialogue between individuals with competing viewpoints. This is a chance to show that you are an open-minded, intellectually curious, truth-seeking young person who is willing to engage in conversations/debates with people who hold opposing positions on important topics. One key thing to remember when addressing this prompt is that you don’t have to be the hero of the anecdote—in fact, you may be one who learned to expand their thinking.
2)Princeton has a longstanding commitment to service and civic engagement. Tell us how your story intersects (or will intersect) with these ideals.
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 their heart as well as specific details about a time (or two) that they were civically engaged or volunteered on a community service project. Most students will enter something generic in this essay—you can be one of the few who writes something so personal and heartfelt that the Princeton admissions reader will take note.
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 are fair game as well. If you really hope that college is when you finally take the time to pursue a new hobby—crossword puzzles, stand-up comedy, yoga, genealogy, journaling—go ahead and share those aims in this space.
2)What brings you joy?
What brings you great pleasure and happiness? Universal experiences of joy like family, a beautiful sunset, smiling children, 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?
In the words of Plato, “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—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”.
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Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent educational consultant. He is a co-author of the books The Enlightened College Applicant (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and Colleges Worth Your Money (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).