Princeton Supplemental Essays

November 9, 2020
By AdmissionSight

The Ultimate Guide to Writing the Princeton Supplemental Essays

The Princeton supplemental essays are an important part of the application process for students hoping to attend this highly-esteemed university. There’s a lot of stress involved with filling out this application since it’s the sole method you have for conveying your justification for requesting admittance into Princeton. While many parts of the application are straight-forward and rather dry, the Princeton supplemental essays give students a chance to expand on their background, academic interests, skills, and desires for joining the university. At AdmissionSight, we know just how nerve-wracking this part of the process can be. Having helped hundreds of students make their way into Ivy League Schools like Princeton, we know a thing or two about helping people like you write awesome applications. Let’s take a deeper look at the Princeton supplemental essays and some ways you can improve your responses.

The Key to Getting into the #1 University in the United States

Princeton University has repeatedly been ranked at the top of US News’ Best National University Rankings, and 2020 has been no exception. Situated in Princeton, New Jersey, this iconic and prestigious institution has a long history of providing elite education to some of the brightest minds around the world. With an impressive list of famous graduates including Michelle Obama, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Feynman, there’s no question why a student might dream of attending this illustrious university.

Understandably, Princeton’s eliteness also brings with it a sense of exclusivity which is the source of stress and anxiety for many eager applicants. After all, only 1,895 applicants were admitted into the university out of the 32,804 that applies. This lands Princeton’s acceptance rate at a daunting 5.8% for the class of 2023. While strong test scores, solid grades, and impressive extracurriculars are certain to bolster your chances of getting in, the application process itself is an important factor determining your chances of admittance.

With tens of thousands of fellow students applying at the same time, the application is your only way of standing out. Fortunately for you, we here at AdmissionSight have already helped a number of students find their way into Ivy League Colleges. We know what it takes to perfect your application in order to greatly increase your chances of receiving that coveted acceptance letter in the mail. In this guide, we’re going to take a look at the Princeton supplement essays and how you can best approach the prompts to improve your application.

What Are the Princeton Supplemental Essays?

Princeton University requires all applicants to complete the Princeton Supplement in addition to the Common Application and Coalition Application. The Supplement is essentially a series of essays to give admission officers a better understanding of each applicant’s academic interest, background, and personality. The essays are split into short answers and longer essay questions. Keep in mind that some of the essays are only required for applicants to certain programs. The experts at AdmissionSight have broken down these Princeton supplemental essays to help you write the best responses possible.

A front view of Princeton

The Princeton Short Answer Essay Prompts

Activities: Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences that was particularly meaningful to you. (Length = 150 words)

At first,150 words are going to see a little brief for fitting all of the information you want to in response to this prompt. We recommend students to approach this essay, not like a school paper where getting the maximum amount of words is ideal. Instead, you want to focus on brevity, conciseness, and detail. Use your words carefully, drive home specific points, and 150 words shouldn’t be an issue.

When tackling this Princeton supplemental essay, don’t jump into the first work experience or extracurricular activity that pops into your mind. You should brainstorm different options and create an outline to see how much mileage you can get out of each topic. Just because you had a meaningful experience doesn’t mean it translates well into a college admissions essay. You’ll want to find something that was impactful yet still suitable for the essay.

Don’t spend more than 40 to 50 words describing the particular experience that was meaningful, as the prompt primarily requires you to focus on how it impacted you. The bulk of the piece should be highlighting what you took from the experience and how it has shaped the way you think, act, feel, etc. You’ll need to accurately convey how this experience affected you in order to nail the prompt.

Establish as much detail and description as you can in the first sentence or two to really pull the readers in and make the piece as engaging as possible. This is a great time to use really imaginative adjectives and descriptors that give life to the setting. Following this catchy intro, you just need to honestly describe why and how the experience impacted you. When choosing a subject, don’t be afraid to venture outside of your area of study. This can help add some diversity to your application and show admissions officers more about your personality and interests.

High school student writing a Princeton supplemental essay

Summers: Please tell us how you have spent the last two summers (or vacations between school years), including any jobs you have held. (Length = 150 words)

This Princeton supplement essay is a fairly open-ended prompt that requires students to write about how they spent their previous two summers. Similar to the previous essay about activities, this one is rather brief, demanding a rather concise response that still fulfills the requirements while keeping the college admissions officers interested. If you had life-changing work or extracurricular experience, this is an appropriate place to talk about it, but you want to avoid repeating what you talked about in the first prompt.

Instead of diving into everything you did over the summer and running the risk of writing too much or overlooking some important details, it’s better to hone in on a few specific experiences you had. Maybe you shadowed a professional in your dream job for the first time and it solidified your passion for that area of study. Perhaps you spent the summer abroad experiencing other cultures and that gave you a newfound interest and respect into social sciences.

Since the prompt asks you to talk about the previous two summers, make sure you mention at least one experience from each. It’s enough to give a short introduction to what you did and then follow it up with a description of how that event changed you for the better. Like the first prompt, resist the urge to go into too much detail about the experience itself. The primary focus should be on how it impacted you. That’s what college admissions officers want to know about.

Regardless of what topic you choose for this essay, be sure to not overly exaggerate your experiences. Not only will this come off as forced, but college admission officers at Princeton read enough to know when somebody is being genuine or not. You’ll come out ahead if you’re honest about your experiences without feeling the need to hyperbolize for the sake of it. After all, it’s more about how you present your experiences and takeaways in this piece rather than what they were.

Students that spent their summer volunteering at their local homeless shelter

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

Ironically, this series of short, pointed questions could actually end up being the most stressful for students to answer. There’s a temptation to greatly overthink your responses to try and make them as meaningful as possible. With such basic questions though, trying to extract a greater level of importance and meaning can be daunting and seemingly impossible. The good news is that you shouldn’t be overdoing these questions. They’re intended to be casual.

This rapid-fire series of questions doesn’t have to be approached with the same level of formality with which you answered the first few prompts. Think of these Princeton supplemental essays more like a quick personality test. The admissions officers simply want to get to know you a little more, outside of an academic context. You should feel free to let loose a little bit, but keep in mind that all of your answers should still be appropriate. That hilarious line from a Kevin Hart movie probably shouldn’t be listed as your favorite movie quote. Keep your answers short, fun, honest, appropriate, and simple…you get the idea.

The Princeton Essay Questions

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. (Length = 250 – 650 words)

This is one of the broadest prompts you’ll have to address in the Princeton supplemental essay portion of the application. Notice, you only have to choose one of the following prompts. While all of the pieces should discuss how an experience, event, or person changed the way you saw the world or defined a key-value you live by, each prompt provides you with a unique starting point.

  1. Tell us about a person who has influenced you in a significant way.

Although your mind might immediately go to a family member, either intermediate or extended, you played a large role in your life, there’s a good chance thousands of other applicants are thinking about the same answer. While you have to avoid this angle altogether, just be sure to take a unique angle so it sounds less cliche. The same thing can be said if choosing a close friend. Don’t be afraid to talk about some opposition you faced from people close to you and how that changed your perspective on the world. Be sure to keep it close to home since talking about the impact a famous person had on your life can sound impersonal.

A family spent quality time together to reflect on their blessings

  1. “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.

Starting with a quote as a prompt instead of a detailed question can seem more difficult, but it’s the openness that really gives you a chance to be creative and expressive. If there’s a political or social issue that you are passionate about, this is a great prompt to talk about your views. Try not to get too analytical and make an effort to keep it personal though. Remember, the admission officers are interested in how you think about these topics and how they impact you. They’re not looking for an overall analysis. Maybe you want to talk about the gender pay gap and how that disparity has played a large role in how you view the world.

  1. “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.

Similar to the previous prompt, this one is fairly open-ended. While that makes it harder to narrow down your main points at first, it leaves you more room to be creative and develop your own thoughts. While you might be tempted at first to talk about your personal background and culture, this could be an overdone topic since many other students think the same way after reading the quote. It’s no problem if you do decide to go this route, but make sure you take a unique angle. An alternative approach would be to talk about a meaningful experience you had with a culture different than your own and how it changed your view on diversity, your own culture, acceptance, and more. You might even consider broadening the definition of diversity to talk about your local community and how it shaped how you think and see the world.

  1. 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.

If you like the idea of kick starting this prompt with a quote but don’t like the ones provided, then you’ll appreciate this last option. You can choose any quote you want from a favorite book you’ve read within the past three years and use it as a launching point to talk about an experience or event that helped define your core values or how it changed the way you see the world. This is a great way to further personalize your application by showing admission professionals the types of books you read, thinkers you admire, and quotes you like.

Books that influenced a scholar.

The Princeton Engineering Essay

Describe 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. (Length = 300-500)

This last essay is only for those students who are interested in receiving a Bachelor of Science in Engineering for their degree from Princeton. This is a relatively straight-forward prompt simply asking the student to further describe their interest in engineering and how the programs at Princeton will help in their particular interest. It’s helpful if you can narrow down a particular area of interest within engineering that really intrigues you. This not only displays your knowledge in the subject matter but also shows the admissions officers that you’re a great option for the Engineering Program.

AdmissionSight is your ticket to an Ivy League School

AdmissionSight has been helping students from a variety of different social and academic backgrounds write the best applications possible in order to increase their chances of getting into some of the most coveted institutions in the world, including Princeton. Feel free to reach out to us for a free consultation. Whether you’re looking for help on your supplement essays, want to discuss some different summer programs, or anything else, AdmissionSight is here to help make your college admissions experience a breeze.


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