3 Success Stories from Princeton University Admits
Princeton University is one of only nine colleges that were established before the American Revolution – yes, it’s that old! In fact, it’s the fourth-oldest university in the entire country with an impressive founding date of 1747. Ever since its founding, Princeton has offered world-class academic offerings and has earned its reputation as one of the country’s leading institutions of higher learning and as a member of the prestigious Ivy League.
With all of these accolades, it’s only natural for eager applicants to want to hear “how I got into Princeton University” success stories for inspiration and motivation. After all, the college is known for being highly competitive.
One look at the illustrious list of Princeton alumni is enough to impress even the most accomplished academic. It’s produced some of the most successful heads of state such as John F. Kennedy and Woodrow Wilson and professional business moguls such as Jeff Bezos and Steve Forbes. Some other noteworthy graduates include Michelle Obama, James Madison, Alan Turing, Brooke Shields, and Cornel West. In fact, as of late 2020, Princeton has been associated with 14 Turing Award laureates, 15 Fields Medalists, and 69 Nobel laureates either as alumni, researchers, or faculty members.
One of the largest defining characteristics of Princeton University is its investment in its students. Although Harvard has the largest endowment overall, Princeton holds the title for the greatest endowment per student in the entire country. In other words, more money is invested into each student at Princeton than any other school. This translates into more resources, offerings, and opportunities overall both in academic and non-academic settings. If you’ve set your sights on Princeton, a world of possibility is awaiting you. But first, you have to overcome the university’s admissions process.
Here, we’ll take a look at how hard is it to get into Princeton along with some “how I got into Princeton University” success stories.
How hard is it to get accepted to Princeton?
Princeton University is well-known for being a highly competitive school. As one of the most popular and highly esteemed universities in the entire country, it attracts some of the most talented students from across the country. From the tens of thousands of students that apply each year, admissions officers at Princeton have to determine which ones are the most qualified and the best fit. For the Class of 2024, the school received 32,835. Of this group, only 1,848 students ended up receiving a letter of acceptance. This puts Princeton’s acceptance rate at 5.55%, meaning that for every 100 students that apply, only five end up getting accepted.
How does Princeton’s selectivity stack up against other Ivy League schools? Well, Princeton is actually the second most exclusive school just behind Harvard which had an acceptance rate of just under 5%. When compared with the average acceptance rate of colleges throughout the country – which hovers around 68% – this difference is even more pronounced. It’s important to keep in mind that an acceptance rate doesn’t necessarily determine your chances of getting into a school. Depending on your application, your chances might be even higher than Princeton’s standard rate.
What kind of students are accepted into Princeton?
Princeton takes a holistic approach to its admissions process which means admissions officers based their decision on whether or not to accept a student on a wide variety of characteristics. Although academic performance is only a piece of this larger admissions puzzle, these objective stats do give applicants a metric against which they can effectively measure their own performance. More subjective information such as professional experience or extracurricular participation is difficult to compare between students. Fortunately, Princeton releases information about the academic performance of students it accepts.
As you might have expected, students who made it into the Princeton Class of 2024 have some impressive scores. The middle 50% of applicants received a composite score ranging from 32 to 36 on the ACT. For the SAT, the same group received a range of 740 to 800 on the Math section and 710 to 800 on the Reading and Writing portion. This comes out to a range of 1450 to 1600 on the SAT in total. Although Princeton doesn’t publicize the average GPA of accepted students, we estimate it to hover around 3.87 on a 4.0 scale.
According to this data, you’ll need to earn straight A’s in your high school classes while performing competitively on standardized tests in order to increase your chances of getting accepted. In order to boost your grades, we’d recommend taking honors or Advanced Placement (AP) courses. These weighted classes can help increase your grades overall. In terms of the standardized tests, it’s advisable to take each at least twice to increase your chances of getting a high score. Taking them too often, however, can come across negatively to admissions officers.
How I got into Princeton University success stories
Now that you understand how hard it is to get accepted to Princeton, it’s now time to take a look at some tips and advice from those who have already succeeded in what you’re attempting. These students have been through the Princeton college admissions process and have come out on the other end victorious. Although they’re not professional college admissions experts, these first-hand accounts of “how I got into Princeton University” are still inspiring, informative, and motivational.
Success Story #1
Generally, the way you get into Princeton is based on five primary things:
First and foremost, Princeton is a top-tier university. They will not admit someone who they think won’t do well academically. This means you should have a strong track record of doing well in class and on standardized exams. It is very important that you consistently during high school excel in your classes. The higher your GPA, combined with taking the most challenging courses during high school, will be important.
Doing well on standardized tests is also key. It is a constant across schools. Whether you go to an elite private school or a normal public school, standardized tests are a way for the admissions committee to compare. If you get a very high GPA and low test scores, it will inform the admissions committee that your school may not be very rigorous. So, try to do well on the SAT/ACT (and SAT 2).
Whether you are interested in poetry, sports, music, or whatever, you need to have passion. There are tens of thousands of applicants to Princeton. They could literally fill their class with people who have perfect SAT scores. The way to stand out from here is to have some sort of passion. You should present this by being in clubs, doing extracurriculars, sports, etc.
Try to find something early and stick with it. If you spend 8 years playing an instrument, it will reflect better than playing one for 2 years. If you have the opportunity and gifts to excel at something (tournaments, publishing articles, making an app, etc.), even better. Try to push yourself throughout high school to find your passions and excel. The admissions committee knows that you are young and still trying to find yourself, but you should have an idea of what you want to do with the experiences and background to show it.
Go out and experience things in life. You do not need to be the cookie-cutter applicant to get into Princeton. When I was in high school I worked at a McDonalds and Walmart. I met people and spoke with them. I tried to make a movie and submitted it to a competition (and lost miserably!). But all of these experiences shaped me. I was able to tie in my personal experiences in school, at my job, through my hardships, to paint a more complete picture of myself.
These experiences will shine through in your essays and interviews. If you only focus on “stereotypical activities” and don’t actually live your life, this will be obvious in your application. Now, as I mentioned, not everyone is wealthy and can travel the world, volunteer in different countries, etc. That’s fine – Princeton understands that not everyone is wealthy. People have different experiences and circumstances. It is important that you can show Princeton that you are excelling given your circumstances. I once interviewed a woman who was homeless throughout high school, whose parents passed away when she was younger. She didn’t have the same opportunities as a trust fund kid. But her life experiences were very inspiring, and she was accepted with a full scholarship.
Spend time writing your essays. Try to get your voice to shine through. Start early on all aspects (essays, exams, etc.) and plan. That first (or tenth) draft of your essay may still need work. Give yourself time to read and reflect. Make sure your voice shines through. Avoid cliches. Read your essays multiple times, then wait a week to give yourself a fresh perspective.
Don’t take it personally. Maybe your admissions officer didn’t like your essay. Maybe Princeton really needed a tuba player that year. You might be the right (or wrong) person for Princeton that year. It doesn’t reflect poorly on you, but it’s true.
Also, as some people have messaged me asking, if you don’t fulfill every category perfectly, that’s fine. In some cases, you can make up for a shortcoming in one aspect by excelling in others. The admissions committee considers all aspects of an applicant before making a decision.
However, keep in mind that not everyone gets into Princeton (or an Ivy League school, or whatever category you want to consider), and that’s fine. Your life will continue normally if you go to a different school. If you are a motivated person, you will do fine wherever you go, whether if it’s an Ivy league school or not. And if you really want to try to get into Princeton again, there is always graduate school!
- Chris Shuck, B.S.E. Chemical and Biological Engineering, Princeton University (2013)
Success Story #2
Most students accepted into Princeton are exceptional in some way. But those students can be exceptional in a great variety of ways. They might have:
– Exceptional academic skills (being smart, basically). I knew one math grad student there who was 19 years old, working on his PhD.
– Exceptional service to the community or the world (“exceptional” here might mean sustained, informed, and pioneering work. Founding a nonprofit to serve Haitian children might be an example.)
– Exceptional creativity or ability in the arts. I knew one student who put a professional career as a violinist on hold so she could attend college.
– Exceptional social skills. I had a friend who was so loved, and knew so many people, that it was basically impossible to walk across campus with her. Everybody wanted to talk to her.
– Exceptional emotional stability and resilience. Princeton could be filled with neurotic perfectionists if it isn’t careful. To create a healthier community, they try to balance them with cheerful, stable students, who might even be less talented in other ways, but who theoretically act as control rods, to calm the place down.
– Exceptional drive or courage. This might include students from very disadvantaged backgrounds, or who are the first in their family to attend college.
– Exceptional maturity, tolerance for complexity and uncertainty. It is very rare to find a high school student who does not have fixed, simplistic, uninformed views on complex topics (such as abortion, race, poverty, etc.)
So students might be exceptional in any one of those, or several. Princeton also looks for geographical diversity (being from a small town in Tennessee might help). Being an alumni child helps. And last I heard, being of low- to middle-income can’t hurt either.
If I were to give advice to an applicant, I would say that you have to make sure some adult, preferably a teacher, knows you well enough to be able to testify to those traits above (many of which are not visible in a high school transcript.) It doesn’t matter what kind of qualities you have if you can’t prove you have them
- Karl Chwe, studied at Princeton University
Success Story #3
I was admitted to the Princeton class of 2020 as an undergrad, although I chose to attend MIT instead.
This is how to get into Princeton:
- Get stellar grades and test scores. Princeton ironically cares less about standardized test scores and grades than other top schools. I have friends that went to Princeton who were admitted without high scores. You can see this reflected in its admission statistics, where the 25th percentile for Princeton’s ACT composite is 32, as opposed to MIT’s 25th percentile which is 34.
- To be safe, you want to aim above the 50th percentile which is an ACT score of approximately 34.
- Remember that stellar grades and test scores don’t guarantee your admission to Princeton. You get good grades and test scores in order to be taken seriously by admissions officers for further evaluation.
- Have strong focus in 2–3 areas. Be really strong in a couple themes. For me when I applied, this was music – piano and politics / community service. Make sure you have many experiences to support these strengths, and bonus points if your experiences required you to overcome some sort of difficulty.
- It helps if a strong focus is related to your major. If not, make sure you are able to explain how you decided on your major and support your reasoning with past experiences.
- Do something that stands out from the crowd. It turns out that most high schoolers are pretty similar. Everyone does NHS, Deca, QuizBowl, and Mu Alpha Theta, etc. If you can do something that is both impressive and unique that no other applicant did, then your chances of getting in are significantly higher – this lets you write a unique narrative that makes an impression on admissions officers.
- This is hard to do but will almost guarantee that you can get into a top school because it shows personal initiative, creativity, and individual thought, qualities that make students successful in life in general.
- For example, I helped my high school raise $150,000 to purchase Steinway pianos, and a Princeton admissions officer sent me a handwritten note in response to the project that was included in my acceptance package.
Understand that every college’s culture is unique, and admissions officers try to find students that fit the culture of that particular college. If you want to better optimize for getting into top schools, your essays will need to have a different flavor that matches the culture of the school that you’re applying to.
Based on my observations for Princeton specifically, Princeton prioritizes its essays significantly more than other top schools like MIT or Stanford. For example, there is a Princeton supplement with a ~500 words requirement that prods applicants pretty deeply, for which I literally wrote about existentialism in connection with my public phone banking experience. This means that to get into Princeton, I would additionally recommend that you:
- Engage in existential thoughts. Ask yourself questions like “What is my purpose in life,” and “What do I really care about?” Being able to at least vaguely answer these questions using support from past experiences will help you not only get into Princeton but also live a more meaningful life.
- Collect interesting experiences. Has anything happened in the life that was bizarre and made you reflect deeply on a subject? If so, write it down because these will make great Princeton essays later. If not, you should deliberately seek out these experiences so that you’ll have interesting stories to tell for your Princeton application.
The formula for writing these great Princeton essays is to engage in an interesting experience that made you think deeply about life.
- Catherine Zeng, 2020 Princeton admit
Success Story #4
Hi, Class of 2018 admit here.
Background: Asian female. No legacy.
I applied to an engineering major. Was rejected from some ‘hard sciences’ school, and accepted into some other liberal arts-oriented schools.
I think the thing that helped me the most (aside from fairly good scores/grades, extracurriculars I really like, and hopefully good recommendations) was that even though I really like science and engineering (and have done works outside the classroom that portray this side of me), people consider me a ‘well-rounded’ type of person. I like literature and greek mythology. I wrote my essays about Scrabble and my favorite quotes. My ‘why engineering?’ essay is not all about pure love for science, but also some political criticism as well.
Princeton and its students seem to really value broad interests. To quote an answer from http://realtalkprinceton.tumblr.com/ (where current students answer questions from admitted students):
Anonymous asked: do you know any science/engineering majors who chose Princeton over MIT and why they made that decision?
Response from Dr. Love:
The ones that I know who chose Princeton over MIT chose it for the more well-rounded education and undergraduate experience. Princeton and MIT have very different personalities, despite offering top-notch academics. You should try and see which one is better for you on visitation weekends and by speaking to current students!
This sentiment seems to be reflected in other students that I have talked to as well.
Another aspiring engineer that was admitted is a brilliant musician. Another writes kickass poetry. This is just anecdotal and sounds like I just cherry-picked, of course, but I think, observing the overall population of the admitted student Facebook group, people they let in seem really excited about a variety of things in different areas of study.
At schools where its acceptance rate is as low as Princeton’s, I think admission officers have the privilege to pick students that are not only fairly bright but also fit its ‘culture’ as well. After all, the school probably wants to preserve its yield rate and make sure students fit in and are happy.
Also: some luck. I agree with the rough observation that Princeton/other uber selective schools can pick students from the rejected pool at the same acceptance rate and still somewhat retain its student quality.
*This is simply how I see things based on my experience. I’m sure there are others that were admitted for different reasons as well.
- Anonymous, 2018 Princeton Admit
Write your own “how I got into Princeton University” success story
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