How to Get Accepted to Princeton with Average Grades

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

One of Princeton University's gates

How to Get Accepted to Princeton with Average Grades

As a high school student, there is little doubt that one of your most important jobs is to do the very best that you can in your courses and earn as many high grades as possible.

That is especially true for students who are trying to get into top schools in the country.  So, if you are wondering how to get into Princeton with average grades, then you have come to the right place. Learn how to get into Princeton with average grades!

Here at AdmissionSight, we make it our goal to help all of the students that we work with to improve their chances at getting into top schools.

a student writing on her notebook and looking at the camera

For that reason, we have to let everyone know that getting into Princeton – or any Ivy League school for that matter – is incredibly difficult. After all, it is hard for students to get into Princeton with even top grades, and the average grade point average for students who do get into Princeton is a fantastic 3.9 out of the perfect 4.0.

Princeton is truly one of the hardest Ivy League to get into. That’s just part of the reason why it is part of the “Big Three,” made up of Princeton, Harvard, and Yale. Its acceptance rate for the class of 2025 was just over 4 percent. From that alone, it should be clear that getting into Princeton with average grades is going to be a tough task.

However, that does not mean that it is impossible. Every year, there are students that get into Ivy League schools and other top-10 schools with average grades. But that in no way means that it is easy. As you will soon find out, if your grades are average, you are going to have to overcompensate in basically every other aspect of your application.

Still, there is little doubt that the entire application process is quite a bit more stressful and harrowing for students who do not have super high GPAs. But that doesn’t have to be the case. We’ve broken down some of the best ways for students to improve their chances of getting into Princeton and other similar schools even with average grades.

Let’s get started!

Princeton’s admission requirements

One thing that is important for all students to understand is that Princeton does not have a list of concrete admission requirements. However, that does not mean that the admissions officers at the school are not looking out for some pretty clear benchmarks for students to meet.

Still, on their site, they admit that they know that they “understand that not all secondary schools offer the same academic opportunities, and we give full consideration to students who don’t have access to all of these courses.”

So, students in specific circumstances should not sweat if they do not meet the following benchmarks when it comes to their high school curriculum.

  • Four years of English (including continued practice in writing)
  • Four years of mathematics (including calculus for students interested in engineering)
  • Four years of one foreign language
  • At least two years of laboratory science (including physics and chemistry for students interested in engineering)
  • At least two years of history

In addition, most candidates have had some study in the visual or performing arts.

Princeton also stresses that students who are interested in applying and attending the school for an undergraduate education should spend their high school years challenging themselves with rigorous courses, such as honors, AP, and IB.

From this alone, you can see how seriously Princeton takes high grades and academic achievement very seriously. But that doesn’t mean that it’s an insurmountable task to get into a school without fantastic grades. Well, here are the ways to improve your chances.

Take responsibility and offer explanations for your low GPA

For many students, there are some pretty understandable reasons why their grades dropped at a certain time during their high school years. After all, one bad school year – or even one bad semester – can take what would be a wonderful GPA and turn it into a pretty average one.

If you experienced a dramatic drop in your GPA due to family issues, illness to yourself or a loved one, a switch in schools, or even a circumstance that you could control, there are some really good reasons why you should delve into it in your application.

Tutor explaining something to a student.

In fact, if the reason for a fall in grades was because of a situation that you could feasibly control, admitting that you made a mistake and owning up to the personal failure – as well as diving deeply into what you have learned from the mistake – can look really great in the eyes of admissions officers.

After all, everyone makes mistakes. And schools like Princeton are not looking for the “perfect” high school student, because they know that a perfect high school student does not exist. Instead, they are looking for students who are mature and introspective. Learning from your mistakes and improving as a person and as a student from that experience can be seen as a major positive.

It is also really important to mention that the COVID-19 pandemic did wreak havoc on some students’ performance and – frankly – their mental health. If you saw your performance in school suffer as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is absolutely nothing wrong with going into what specifically impacted you.

Everyone has been impacted differently by the COVID-19 pandemic, and admissions officers will surely be empathetic if you felt that your performance in school suffered due to isolation, remote learning, general anxiety, and more.

So, whatever the reason behind your drop in grades, make sure that you open up about it and discuss the challenges you faced and what you learned from the experience in retrospect.

Get impactful letters of recommendation from teachers and your counselor

If you are even interested in applying and attending Princeton, there is very little doubt that you are a pretty special student. After all, the students that attend Princeton are amongst the very best students not only in their school, or in their state, but in the entire world!

One great way to prove that you are amongst that group of students even with an average grade point average is to get impressive and impactful letters of recommendation from your teachers and high school counselor.

For every student who is applying to Princeton, the school requires that you send in one letter of recommendation from a high school counselor at your school and two letters of recommendation from your teachers. But the value that these letters hold can range greatly. And experts know that letters from teachers and counselors who knew you well during your time in high school can go a very long way.

A young male student is undergoing a counseling session

The first way to ensure that you get wonderful letters of recommendation from your teachers and counselor is to make sure that you are forming strong relationships with them early on in your high school years.

This does not have to be seen as something that is opportunistic and disingenuous. In fact, chances are pretty good that your relationships will form naturally with the teachers who instruct the courses in subjects that you are naturally interested in and excel in.

Beyond that, one tactic that students have a lot of success with is – once they have identified the teachers that they want to get letters from – to speak with them about the letters themselves.

This does not mean that students should be telling their teachers what to write about them but giving them an idea of how you plan to discuss yourself as a student as a person will likely help them craft the best letter possible. Moreover, if you plan to discuss your average grades in your application to Princeton, it would certainly help to let them know that you do.

The reason why is because they could actually offer some pretty helpful words on what they witnessed while you struggled, and what they witnessed once you started to get your grades back up to strong scores.

Get fantastic SAT or ACT scores

This should be a pretty obvious one, but it is so important that we knew we had to go into it nonetheless. High SAT and ACT scores are not going to completely cancel out a low GPA, but on top of the previously mentioned tactics that students should employ, they will certainly help.

Perhaps most importantly, high SAT or ACT scores for a student with an average GPA are going to prove that they have the necessary intelligence to perform at a high level academically. What this will not do is assuage any concerns that college admissions officers at a school like Princeton may have about the maturity level needed to succeed consistently in a rigorous university curriculum.

Row of students taking an exam

So, the most important thing that a student can do in this sphere is made sure that they are preparing for the SAT or ACT with enough time to grapple with and master the subject matter. Studying with a reputable prep book should be considered the baseline approach. Really, students who want to ace either the SAT or ACT should be seriously considering enrolling in an in-person or remote class or finding a tutor to meet one-on-one in the months leading up to the exam.

With all this being said, it is really important to mention that a lot of schools have made the SAT and ACT optional for students due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Obviously, if you have average grades, you are going to want to find a way to take the exam nonetheless.

Moreover, even for students who have great GPAs, if they are able to take the exam, they should. After all, Princeton is one of the most competitive schools in the world, and students should be taking advantage of every possible opportunity to prove that they belong.

Don’t apply early action, focus on improving your GPA

The misconception that some students who have average GPAs hold are that applying early to highly prestigious schools such as Princeton will allow them to overcome something like an average GPA.

That should not be considered a viable approach. Instead, it is much more important for students to actually focus on their grades and their performance in the first half of their senior year and apply regular decisions to top schools.

For regular decision at Princeton, the application and all of the other documents needed to supplement the application are due on January 1. That gives you ample time to earn fantastic grades in your first semester at school and send them in to prove that you are able to maintain a high GPA when you know what is on the line.

A male student studying very hard

Beyond that, if your GPA is a concern, you are also going to want to try to fill out your curriculum with as many difficult courses as possible. Getting A’s in honors, AP, and IB courses are going to help you a lot more than applying early action to Princeton.

Consider applying to other schools and transferring in

This may not be what most students who are dreaming of attending Princeton want to hear, but now is not the time for magical thinking. If you simply do not have a GPA that is going to work for the admissions officers at Princeton, then you may want to seriously consider putting off that dream – for now.

What we mean is that, for some students, the best way to prove that you are Ivy League material is to start at a school that is not in the Ivy League and transfers in. This can mean applying to and attending a different fantastic four-year program for a year, or even going to a community college and excelling there.

Whichever route you take, you are going to have to make sure that you make your grades and your extracurriculars a top priority. If you want to transfer from one school to Princeton, you are going to have to forego some of the fun stuff that college has to offer for a little bit.

You are going to absolutely prioritize studying and preparing for exams over partying, making friends, and more. While those are certainly fantastic aspects of the college experience, your grades are going to have to take precedent if you plan to transfer from one school to a school like Princeton.

The reason why is because this approach will truly show transfer admissions officers at Princeton whether or not you have what it takes to really thrive at their school. Princeton comes with a lot of pressure for students and the curriculum offered is one of the most challenging in the world.

If a student who is applying to transfer was not able to earn something very close to a 4.0 GPA at their community college or initial four-year program, then there will likely be quite a lot of doubt whether or not that same student would be able to handle the pressures that come along with studying at Princeton.

We can help you improve your chances of getting into Princeton

Well, there you have it. By this point, you know that there is no magic wand that you can wave in order to overcome an average GPA to get into a school like Princeton. Princeton, the other Ivy League schools, and other top 10 schools in the United States are not known to give students the benefit of the doubt. Therefore, a student who has average grades is only going to really overcome them if everything else about their application profile is essentially perfect.

Here at AdmissionSight, we work with some of the most dedicated and passionate students in the world. We know better than almost anyone that having a perfect 4.0 GPA (or even better) isn’t all it takes in order to get into a school like Princeton.

It’s not all it takes to get in and it’s not going to be the only thing that keeps you out. But hopefully, this breakdown of how to overcome an average GPA and getting into Princeton has helped to better explain what you are up against.

We are proud of the fact that 75 percent of the students that we work with getting into either Ivy League schools or top 10 schools elsewhere in the United States. Whether your GPA is a 4.0, higher, or quite a bit lower, if you are interested in figuring out how to improve your chances of getting into the school of your dreams, contact us today for a free consultation. We’d love to break down the approach, and philosophy that we employ to help our students achieve their college admission dreams.



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