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princeton common app essay

Successful Princeton Essays

Princeton essays →, princeton mentors →, common app essay: discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth | anaika.

Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What…...

princeton common app essay

Princeton Supplemental Essay: 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

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…...

Princeton Supplemental Essay: Tell Us About an Event or Experience That Helped You Define One of Your Values or Changed How You Approach the World

In addition to the essay you have written for the Common Application, please write an essay of about 500 words (no more than 650 words…...

Princeton Supplemental Essay: How You Have Spent the Last Two Summers

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

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Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences that was particularly meaningful to you. (About 150 words) Upward Bound has been…...

Princeton Supplemental Essay: How Can We Unlearn the Practices of Inequality?

Tell us how you would address the questions raised by the quotation below, or reflect upon an experience you have had that was relevant to…...

Princeton Essay Prompts

Princeton university supplement prompts.

For A.B. and Undecided Applicants As a research institution that also prides itself on its liberal arts curriculum, Princeton allows students to explore areas across…...

Common Application Essay Prompts

The Common App Essay for 2020-2021 is limited to 250-650 word responses. You must choose one prompt for your essay. Some students have a background,…...

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princeton common app essay

An Application Story

October 15, 2014.

So I have a few brothers and sisters , three of whom went to college before me.


Every time one of my older siblings headed off, my parents would find a stuffed animal that matched the mascot of the new school, then pop it on one of their pillows as some affectionate decoration. As my time to begin applications rolled around, I remember looking at this little growing pile and wondering:


What would I add?

Around now, a new beautiful field of college applications is budding up!  After watching my little sister begin her apps this summer break and realizing it's been two years since I did the same, I thought I'd look back at my own days of Common App and interviews.

There's no magic key to unlock any school, plus I'm not on the admission committee, so my story doesn't suggest a formula for getting into Princeton. However, maybe these recollections can offer some counsel.

Everyone tells you to relax and just be yourself during your college interviews. You actually should—they're pretty chill opportunities to get free food and talk about yourself. However, there are a few things you can do to make the experience more harrowing than it needs to be, and I will tell you one of them.

My Princeton interviewer, an extremely cool lady, arranged for us to meet at a fancy little coffee shop. After we shook hands and sat ourselves in comfy sofa chairs, she urged me to order whatever I liked from a leather-bound menu. While I really don’t like coffee, I love sugar, so I ordered some sort of frappuccino-like chocolate ice blend.

The drinks arrived in a short while. She had a demure cup of coffee.


a monstrous, foaming tower of chocolate and cream. As I tried to drink it, sometimes with a straw, sometimes with a spoon, the concoction spluttered all over my hands in the enthusiasm of its own excessive existence. It was all mildly traumatic.

The conversation itself, however, was great! She asked me about my interests and background, and since she was expecting twins, once we got on the subject of family and siblings, we really hit it off. When I asked her about Princeton and her college experience, I remember being struck by how she lit up and talked about her alma mater with really sincere affection.

The whole time, I was smilingly trying to subdue my drink and surreptitiously wipe the chocolate from my hands on a tiny, elegant napkin. My interviewer didn’t seem to notice, or at least compassionately pretended her 17-year-old Princeton applicant wasn't having such difficulty surmounting the task of drinking. I will remember that drink for the rest of my life. 

The Written Application 

Aaah, the most beloved part. I wrote a Common App essay about playing viola and being a sibling, and another about moving from Hawaii to Bahrain and finding my place through a reading program. My Princeton essay featured the 10th grade English teacher who changed how I saw literature , and as you can see, I'm still not done talking about that. The fact that I enjoy writing definitely eased the whole process, so I'd encourage you to make it fun by liking to write. And choose to write about subjects you really care about! 

However, I do remember that one part of college apps that caused some unwarranted agony lay in Princeton’s mini “get to know you” questionnaire, particularly one space. 

Favorite word

I didn't even know having a favorite word out of the entire world vocabulary was a thing. That's like picking a favorite child if you had millions of babies! And you haven't even met all the babies! Why would Princeton wanted to know this?

Were they looking for logophiles to flaunt obscure words like "crepuscule" or "smorgasbord"? I do like words, but I spelled "league" wrong in my 7th grade spelling bee and "teriyaki" wrong in my 8th grade one. It's not my strongest point, and I wasn't going to put on airs. What did they want? Earnest Pollyanas to light up the admission office with "love" or "hope"? Smart-alecs who just  have  to put down "word"? Kiss-ups offering words like "Princeton" or "admission"?

Eventually I remembered this quirky little section was meant to be fun, and I chose a word I realized I really did love: 


It's a tasty gingersnap/gingerbread thing that my Finnish grandma always used to have out when we visited. The name pops off your tongue, plus the cookies are incredibly delicious.

Smoothie and popcorn

You might want to have some tricks to prep yourself for essay writing, or at least make it more tasty. I compulsively chugged smoothies and popcorn on the evenings I really wanted to buckle down.


I have a ritual of choosing a set playlist when working on a project and only listening to those albums as long as I’m working on the task. I did it for the past two reading periods at Princeton (the Beatles discography freshman year and CAKE sophomore year). For college essays, I picked out a Massive Attack and Cranberries album, and just listened to the two around and around and around. Sometimes in the background, I'd have a track of Rainy Mood   playing since it rained about twice a year in Bahrain and I missed Hawaii's downpours. 

I can never listen to those albums without thinking of working at my desk on those college essays. I guess they are kind of like Pavlov's bell, except they trigger an essay-writing instinct. Is this a helpful tip or psychotic tic? Helpful tip! 

There weren’t any of the technical glitches in the Common App that I understand ‘18ers had to go through. If there were, they would have overcome my application efforts, and I probably would now be going to school in a cave or something.

Oh, I never hear the end of this one from my family. Toward the end of junior year, I was all prepared to take my SAT II subject test in literature. I had practiced with a few Princeton Review SAT Literature tests, read up on those little tips, and had my number two pencils sharpened and polished.

The night before the test, I was chirping all cheerily about how ready I was. Then I searched my email for the College Board SAT ticket.

SAT tickt

But it wasn't there. I checked the actual college board account and couldn’t find it there either because, as it turns out, I never registeredl! I had just thought about the test, prepared for it, and talked about it to the point that I somehow falsified this memory of my signing up for it. What a strong and healthy imagination I had.

So a tip I have to getting a score on your SAT, maybe even a  good  score, is to sign up for the SAT!

Early Action

Over the summer before senior year, I   decided I wanted to apply to Princeton early action. My college tour had been fantastic (yay Orange Key tour guides!), and it had the academic programs and environment I knew I would love. I planned to apply to other colleges whether or not I got in EA, so why not just go for it? 


The morning of December 15 rolled around. The results came online around 1 a.m. Bahrain time, but since no one should be awake at that hour, I slept nicely on through. In the morning, I sat down in my night clothes with my laptop.


And then waited for the page to load.


and load... 


...(our apartment's internet was super slow)...

Then the screen flickered to a short wall of text.

I couldn't soak it all in, but one word popped out and told me everything I needed to know. 


It was cool not to be completely out of the Princeton running, but I won't deny there was a secret part of me that stung a little.  After all, I didn’t apply without some small hope that I would be accepted, and it wouldn’t be that bad knowing I had somewhere to go the following year, especially to a school as awesome as Princeton. But with a prayer and a couple of good long breaths, I closed the computer and carried on.  

Since there really are other good schools besides Princeton (believe it or not), and to have multiple financial options, I had planned on completing my other college application whether or not I got into Princeton early action. So Dolores O'Riordan sang, the popcorn popped, and more college applications wrapped up. Life carried on into the final semester of senior year with lots of viola, art, and International Baccalaureate (IB)!


After my family's move in junior year, I'd begun at a British-system international school and committed to the International Baccalaureate curriculum. I really liked the structure of taking higher (English, economics, art) and standard level courses (physics, Arabic, math) according to my interests, and I was kept pretty busy senior year wrapping them up. All my close school friends were waiting for regular admission decisions, so we got to excitedly share the same boat of finishing high school and waiting on college. For those of you IBers out there (woo hoo!), you know the joy of finals and EEs, IAs, TOK essays, CAS and all those acronyms IB loves so well.

Don’t get me wrong, I actually had a really good high school experience! Giving IB grief is kind of a rite of passage, but man,  when those extended essays were over for IB students around the world, I'm pretty sure there was an international bacchanalia.

I did have a little ticking clock in the back of my mind during all this, knowing I was waiting for decisions. But you can’t (and don't want to, I hope) stop life from carrying on, especially when there are a lot of good things that happen between December and the end of March! At a certain point, I realized my applications were out of my hands and just gave it up to God.

Another pet

The night Princeton's decision came out, I slept a healthy eight hours and awoke to a bright Sunday morning. I turned on a track of Rainy Mood, typed in my name and password, prayed a prayer of trust, then clicked and waited for the decision page to load...

With tiger

Given that my parents have a little tiger on their bed now (and I'm writing for this blog), you might guess how things turned out. 

The thing I will forever wonder about in my Princeton applications story is not why I was deferred EA, but why they let me in at all. It's a miracle I'm pretty grateful for! I've had an incredible, incredible college experience thus far, and I really look forward to making the most of my two more years here at Princeton. 

So! I'm one tale out of the thousands who have gone through applications, survived, and found their own ending to the college application story. To those upcoming college 2019ers applying this school year, have lots of fun writing yours! 

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Advice from a nostalgic senior, are princeton students competitive, my rise summer fellowship in nyc (recognizing inequities and standing for equality).

Being a member of the Princeton community comes with the responsibility of serving communities beyond just our own. RISE gives us a unique opportunity to do just that.


Princeton University 2023-24 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

Early Action: 

Princeton University 2023-24 Application Essay Questions Explanation

The Requirements: 2 essays of 250 words, 1 essay of 500 words, 3 short responses

Supplemental Essay Type(s): Community ,  Why , Oddball

This is Princeton, the Number One university in the nation. Maybe you’ve heard of it? JK, we can smell the sweat on your palms from here. So first, take a breath. The Princeton supplement is extremely straightforward (perhaps too straightforward?) and your greatest challenge will be to refrain from overthinking it. Don’t intimidate yourself with visions of what you think admissions officers want to see on an application. Self-aggrandizing or downright false stories aren’t going to win anyone over. It’s the unique, specific details that only you can share that will set you apart and seal you in an admissions officer’s memory. Take this as your mantra: be yourself! 

For A.B Degree Applicants or Those Who are Undecided:

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 about 250 words or fewer.) .

To ace this question, you’ll need to articulate for admissions why a well-rounded liberal arts education is important to you. Do you think Princeton’s liberal arts curriculum will allow you to build upon your communication and problem solving skills, preparing you for a career in civil service? Maybe you think it will help you be more marketable once you enter the working world, preparing you to work in a variety of fields (which is especially helpful if you’re undecided). What classes are you dying to take? Which academic programs call to you and why? Demonstrate your interest in Princeton’s academic offerings (and liberal arts curriculum, for brownie points) and admissions is bound to be impressed!

For B.S.E Degree Applicants:

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.).

You can get an engineering degree at thousands of schools across the country, so why are you so keen to study engineering at Princeton specifically? Remember that this isn’t set in stone, so don’t stress over your vision; just show that you’ve done your research. Maybe your sister regaled you with stories about her experience studying engineering at Princeton, and you knew you wanted the same experience for yourself. Maybe there is an alum who is doing what you aspire to do, and you want to follow in their footsteps! Does Princeton have a specific program that many other schools do not offer? Whatever it is that draws you to Princeton’s engineering program, make sure that, after reading your essay, admissions has a clear understanding of your interest and goals.

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?  (Please respond in 500 words or fewer.)

Engaging others in meaningful conversations about important issues can be incredibly intimidating and challenging, and the Princeton admissions department knows this. That is, in part, why they are curious to learn how your lived experiences will impact the way you engage with others on campus. What has shaped you as a person and how has that made your perspective unique? What lessons have you learned and applied? What can you share with others? Is there anything you can teach your classmates or peers about your hometown, culture, religion, identity, race, or ethnicity that they might not already know? Admissions wants to know how your lived experiences will affect the conversations you have and the ways in which you contribute to the Princeton community. Tell admissions a story that demonstrates your investment in listening, learning, and connecting.

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? (Please respond in 250 words or fewer.)

Princeton wants to welcome motivated, socially aware students to campus next fall, so tell admissions about a time when you gave back to your community in a meaningful way. (Hint: your “community” can be as small as your neighborhood and as large as the entire world or even universe!) Maybe you’ve volunteered at your church’s food pantry every other weekend since you were in middle school or canvassed for political candidates that you believe will generate positive change for generations to come. Whatever your example(s) may be, don’t be afraid to touch on what those experiences meant to you (after all, you do have 250 words to work with!). And bonus points if you can connect your past service to the work you hope to do in the future. 

More About You

Please respond to each question in 50 words or fewer. there are no right or wrong answers. be yourself, what is a new skill you would like to learn in college, what brings you joy , what song represents the soundtrack of your life at this moment.

Do not, we repeat, do not overthink your responses to these questions. Admissions even goes so far as to say that there are no right or wrong answers. So, go with your gut. Maybe, in college, you’re hoping to learn how to speed read, or play frisbee, or even ride a bike! Perhaps you want to tell admissions about the look on your sister’s face everytime you agree to play dress-up with her (what brings you joy?). As for the song, we’d recommend keeping it clean, but other than that, let your freak flag fly. Are you currently listening to “Midnight Sky” by Miley Cyrus on repeat? Or maybe “Ooh La La” by The Faces really resonates with you as you’re growing up and learning life’s tough lessons. Whatever it may be, be true to yourself and you’ll ace these short answers.

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How to Get Into Princeton: Essays and Strategies That Worked

How hard is it to get into princeton learn strategies and review sample princeton supplemental essays.

princeton common app essay

learn how to get into princeton

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: princeton admission requirements, part 3: applying to princeton early action vs. regular decision, part 4: 2023–2024 princeton supplemental essays (examples included).

"My son... who was advised by you... has been accepted by Princeton University. ... Thank you for all your help." PARENT OF A STUDENT ACCEPTED TO PRINCETON UNIVERSITY

"I wanted to thank you and Jordan for all your help and guidance through the application process. ... As of now, he is more inclined towards Princeton..." PARENT OF A STUDENT ACCEPTED TO PRINCETON UNIVERSITY

Part 1: Introduction

As you consider the prospect of your child attending an Ivy League or Ivy Plus school, Princeton University, one of the oldest and most prestigious of the Ivies, has probably crossed your mind.

On Princeton’s leafy campus, Gothic towers and dormitories stand alongside colonial-era Nassau Hall, where George Washington once drove out British troops, and where Congress met in 1783, briefly making it the United States’ capitol. Beyond its stately beauty and rich history, Princeton’s campus is brimming with vibrant student life: a long running athletic tradition, eating clubs—posh alternatives to dining halls—and even the oldest touring collegiate musical-comedy ensemble in the nation.

What might a student admitted to Princeton expect? They can study with National Book Award winner Joyce Carol Oates or Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith. They can take courses in economics or physics or mathematics with one of the 27 Nobel Laureates currently on faculty, or study in the unique Woodrow Wilson School, which teaches a multidisciplinary approach to public policy. 

They can spend a summer abroad as part of the International Internship Program, researching nanobiology in the Czech Republic or sustainable development in the Brazilian Amazon. They’ll access Princeton’s network of alumni—professionals with positions in America’s most esteemed financial institutions and museums and state-of-the-art laboratories.

And though sometimes people think about Harvard first among the Ivies, it’s Princeton that’s been ranked at #1 in U.S. News and World Report’s college rankings for the past 11 years straight. So if your child is an ambitious and big dreamer, read on to learn more about creating a successful strategy to get into Princeton. 

Want to know exactly what it takes to get into America’s most selective colleges?

Get the free 110-page guide we use to help our students routinely get admitted to schools like Stanford and Princeton: How to Get Into America’s Elite Colleges: The Ultimate Guide

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Princeton University ranking

Princeton is situated at or near the top of Ivy League rankings :

U.S. News and World Report: 1

Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education: 5

Where is Princeton?

Princeton is located in Princeton, New Jersey—a small town about an hour’s drive from Philadelphia and an hour and a half from New York City.

A special shuttle train, known as “the Dinky,” takes students directly from Princeton to the Princeton Junction Station, where commuter trains can be taken to Newark, New York City, Philadelphia and other urban centers.

Princeton setting

Princeton is a quiet suburban town of historic districts and colonial-era houses and churches. As the site of a key Revolutionary War battle, and the home of presidents and signers of the Declaration of Independence, it is a town steeped in American history.

But there are also plenty of local shops and eateries. Hoagie Haven, a sandwich shop, is a favorite among Princeton students, and Palmer Square offers dining and shopping options.

Princeton student population

Undergraduate students: 5,548

Graduate and professional students: 3,157

Princeton acceptance rate

Princeton has announced that they will not provide their acceptance rate during the early action, regular decision, and transfer admission cycles. Below are the admissions statistics for the class of 2026 :

Applications: 38,019

Acceptances: 2,167

Matriculants: 1,500

Acceptance rate: 5.7%

(Suggested reading: Ivy League Acceptance Rates )

Princeton scholarships and tuition

Princeton’s 2023–2024 cost of attendance (i.e., tuition, room, board, and fees) is $83,140.

Princeton has need-blind admissions and covers 100 percent of demonstrated need without loans. Among recent Princeton grads, 83 percent graduated with zero student debt. For those who did elect to take on loans, the average amount owed at graduation was $9,400.

61 percent of the class of 2026 received financial aid, and the average grant amount was $62,635.

Who gets into Princeton?

To help you evaluate your child’s odds of getting into Princeton, we’ve compiled important statistics related to successful Princeton applicants.

Princeton average high school GPA: 3.92

Princeton average ACT score:

25th percentile: 33

75th percentile: 35

Princeton average SAT Evidence Based Reading and Writing score:

25th percentile: 730

7th percentile: 780

Princeton average SAT Math score:

25th percentile: 760

75th percentile: 800

International students: 15.1%

First-generation students: 17%

Among the class of 2026 , 25% are Asian American, 9% are African American or Black, and 8% are Hispanic or Latino. Presumably, around 43% are white.

The most popular plans of study at Princeton are economics, the Woodrow Wilson School (a multidisciplinary major focused on public policy), and computer science.

Princeton academic requirements

Like every Ivy League or Ivy Plus university, Princeton is seeking students with superb grades and test scores. Admissions officers also hope to see a robust interest in a limited number of clubs and extracurricular activities . This means that it’s not so much a matter of being well-rounded, but rather participating in one or a handful of passionate pursuits. Princeton wants to see that your child has made interesting and intense commitments to themselves and their community, and lived up to those commitments.

It’s also important that your child take advantage of whatever academic opportunities they’re afforded. This means taking IBs or APs and other advanced courses, as well as foreign language classes. Most Princeton candidates have also participated in some form in the visual or performing arts.

Princeton’s admissions website states that if possible, students are expected to complete the following coursework:

English: 4 years (including continued practice in writing)

Math: 4 years (including calculus for students interested in engineering)

Foreign language: 4 years of a single foreign language

Laboratory science: At least 2 years (including physics and chemistry for students interested in engineering)

History: At least 2 years

In addition, most successful applicants have studied some amount of visual or performing arts.

Princeton application requirements

Here is a checklist of what your child will need to assemble for their application. Princeton accepts the Common Application, the Coalition Application, and the Universal College Application.  

Common App Essay

Princeton supplement

Optional in 2023–2024: ACT or SAT test scores

Optional: IB, AP, or AICE test results

2 teacher letters of recommendation

1 counselor recommend

School report, transcript, and midyear senior year report

A graded written paper (“a paper you have written, preferably in the subjects of English or history”)

TOEFL, IELTS or PTE Academic scores (“If English is not your native language and you are attending a school where English is not the language of instruction…”)

Optional: Arts Supplement, if your child has excelled in creative writing, film, photography, theater, visual arts, etc. 

Your child may apply to Princeton in one of two ways: single-choice early action and regular decision.

To apply via single-choice early action, students must submit all materials by November 1st. Once a decision has been reached, admission will either be denied, offered or deferred. If admission is deferred, your child will be reentered into the pool of regular decision applicants. Early action applicants are notified of the admissions office’s decision in mid-December.

Princeton, like most schools in the Ivy League, has a higher acceptance rate among those who apply early. This does not suggest, however, that your child will have a “better chance” of getting in by applying early, since early applicants tend to be more prepared and better qualified than the regular decision pool, overall.

To apply via regular decision, students must submit all materials by January 1st. Regular decision applicants are notified April 1.

Should my child apply to Princeton early?

Early action is a good fit if Princeton is your child’s top choice and their application is ready. If their grades could stand to be improved, or they need more time to strengthen test scores, we recommend waiting to apply regular decision.

(Suggested reading: Early Action vs. Early Decision: Pros and Cons and What Your Child Should Do )

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Beyond the Common App personal statement, Princeton requires applicants to answer several short answer and essay questions. Princeton’s supplemental essays give the admissions office a more personal and comprehensive portrait of each applicant. They also provide students with an opportunity to stand out as a unique and promising candidate among other candidates who will have similarly high GPAs and test scores.

While we’ve provided sample essays that respond to the Princeton supplemental essay questions below, we also encourage you to look at additional college essay examples and Ivy League essays .

First, let’s meet a few students, all of whom are closely based on or composites of students we've worked with in nearly 20 years of advising college applicants.

Michelle has an avid interest in physics and astronomy. She’s taken Advanced Placement physics and other science classes, and she’s even taken an Intro to Astronomy course at her local community college. The practical application of scientific concepts is also of interest to Michelle, and she thinks she may end up deciding to major in engineering. She also loves theater, especially musical theater, and hopes to minor in it. She’s gone to theater camp since she was a kid, and taken voice lessons. Recently, she wrote a play about a physicist who builds a time machine and brings Einstein back to the present.

Atif is an aspiring poet and writer. He’s attracted to Princeton because of its esteemed English department faculty. Throughout his high school years, he attended youth writing workshops and summer camps for writers, and one of his poems won a Scholastic Art and Writing Award.

Camila wants to study medicine and earn a certificate in global health policy. She grew up in Puerto Rico, where her father worked as a family medicine physician. After seeing the impact he made in their community, and volunteering at a local nursing home herself, she realized that she wanted to devote herself to helping under-resourced communities, especially those with aging populations.

Lucas is passionate about public service and giving back to his community. In the neighborhood where he grew up in Chicago, Lucas played an active role in his uncle’s campaign for alderman, making calls and canvassing door to door. He wants to earn a degree from the Woodrow Wilson School.

Question 1: “Why Princeton?” essays

Depending on what your child hopes to study at Princeton—engineering or anything else—they’ll respond to either one of two prompts.

Option 1: For A.B. degree applicants or those who are undecided:

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 about 250 words.)

Here’s how Atif chose to answer:

Four summers ago, I traveled to Saudi Arabia with my dad for Hajj. My camera was stolen on the first day, and so in my free time, I described the sights and sounds in my journal. I wanted to remember everything about the experience, and this forced me to be specific. To this day, when I read the entries, I have a much clearer picture than any camera could provide.

I left Saudi Arabia not only with vivid memories but also with an itch to write. At home, I started composing short stories based on my travels as well as poems that responded to my experiences of growing up Muslim American in Texas.

Last summer, I attended the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio in Iowa City, a two-week summer program. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by other poets and storytellers—kids from around the world who took writing seriously, and not just as a pastime. I was able to hone my craft and have my work read by published authors, and many of the people I met are still my friends.

I’m eager to keep developing my voice by taking Lewis Center classes from poets and writers I admire like Jhumpa Lahiri, Yiyun Lee, and Tyehimba Jess. I also want to deepen my knowledge of important literature, and I know that studying English at Princeton will not only allow me to dive into the canon, it will also teach me to think—and write—critically.

Atif tackles the prompt skillfully. Here’s how:

Atif hammers home his love of writing and literature in both halves of the answer, without flattening himself. By pointing to the time he spent honing his writing craft, he’s explicitly telling Princeton he’s invested in his art form. By pointing to the time he spent with his family, connecting with his culture and religious heritage, he’s pointing to his life, and his subject matter.

He doesn’t overstate the experiences or make them sound pretentious. The Young Writers’ Studio was not just an academic opportunity but also an opportunity to make friends and have fun doing something he loved.  

He displays knowledge of the plentiful resources that Princeton has to offer and how they will help him accomplish his goals.

Option 2: For B.S.E degree applicants:

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).

Learn how to write outstanding Ivy League essays

Get our free 110-page guide to help you with every single one: How to Get Into America’s Elite Colleges: The Ultimate Guide

Questions 3–4: Your voice

Question 3: 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).

Question 4: 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).

Questions 5–7: More about you

For the final three questions, Princeton writes: “Please respond to each question in 50 words or fewer. There are no right or wrong answers. Be yourself!”

You can take this to mean that your child need not be overly serious. These kinds of questions offer your child an opportunity to be playful, while still expressing genuine interests.

Question 5: What is a new skill you would like to learn in college?

Question 6: What brings you joy? 

Question 7: What song represents the soundtrack of your life at this moment?

princeton common app essay

Gain instant access to essay examples for every supplemental essay prompt from the top universities and BS/MD programs in the United States.

Final thoughts

It’s easy to see why so many gifted students set their sights on Princeton. With its world-renowned faculty, regal campus, and vast network of alumni, attending Princeton can be a life-changing experience. By focusing on the passionate intellectual pursuits and community commitments that make applicants stand out from an otherwise well-qualified field, your child can present a strong case for admission.

princeton common app essay

About the Author

Dr. Shirag Shemmassian is the Founder of Shemmassian Academic Consulting and one of the world's foremost experts on college admissions. For nearly 20 years, he and his team have helped thousands of students get into top programs like Harvard, Stanford, and MIT using his exclusive approach.


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princeton common app essay

10 Stellar Princeton University Essay Examples

What’s covered:.

  • Essays 1-2: Why This Major
  • Essay 3: Extracurricular
  • Essay 4: Difficult Topic
  • Essays 5-7: Civic Engagement
  • Essays 8-10: Quotation and Values
  • Where to Get Your Essay Edited for Free

Princeton University is consistently ranked within the top three colleges in the nation, and is world-renowned for its quality of education. Admissions is extremely selective, with an acceptance rate dropping lower every year. Since most applicants will have a strong academic profile, writing interesting and engaging essays is essential to standing out. 

In this post, we’ll share Princeton essay examples that real students have submitted to give you a better idea of what makes a strong essay. We will also explain what each essay did well and where they could improve.

Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized. 

Read our Princeton essay breakdown to get a comprehensive overview of this year’s supplemental prompts. 

Essay Example #1: Why This Major

Prompt: If you are interested in pursuing a B.S.E. (Bachelor of Science in Engineering) degree, please write a 300-500 word essay describing 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. (300-500 words)

In 7th grade, I was assigned a research project. Although I didn’t know it at the time, this project would end up sparking an interest which would guide me throughout the rest of my public school career. The project was simple: using Google and other resources, I had to find a potential career I’d be interested in pursuing later in life. Being a naive 7th grader, I had virtually no idea where to start. I knew I had a strong preference for STEM, but as to which area of STEM to pursue, I was clueless. After looking at a myriad of other careers, I finally came across aerospace engineering. 

At first, I was intrigued by the name. I remember thinking that it sounded awesome, and I was compelled to learn more. Fast forward a few days and many hours of research, and aerospace engineering stole my heart. When I got to high school, I took all of the classes my school offered that would be beneficial for an aerospace engineer. AP Physics, Multivariable Calculus, PLTW engineering courses, and countless others made the list, and all the while my desire to become an aerospace engineer intensified. I joined numerous STEM clubs to nurture this interest, and in doing so I not only became a better engineer, but also a better person. I also began looking into outstanding aerospace colleges, and Princeton made the very top of my list.

When I look back on it now, I’m not surprised that aerospace engineering is what called to me in that project. In fact, I’ve been fascinated with planes and rockets since a very young age! I would often build models out of LEGOs, and there are numerous times I spent way too many hours playing Kerbal Space Program. When I discovered there was a career dedicated to those parts of my personality, it makes sense that I’d be drawn to it. I find it fascinating that just by using the arsenals of math and science, we can fabricate every tool needed to explore and catalog the cosmos. If that isn’t powerful, I don’t know what is.

Although aerospace engineering has been my main interest throughout high school, I’ve also felt a pull towards mechanical engineering and robotics. Princeton is unique in that it offers a joint major in mechanical AND aerospace engineering, which is something I haven’t seen at any other school. In addition, Princeton’s certificate program in Robotics and Intelligent Systems will allow me to pursue robotics in the context of aerospace engineering. In particular, if I am admitted to Princeton University, I would love to have the opportunity to conduct research in the Intelligent Robot Motion Lab. The IRoM-Lab’s focus on how robots function in complex environments safely and efficiently has me especially excited, and I’ve come up with a few ideas of my own to be pursued. 

Engineering is the driving force behind progress in society, and I am willing to do everything I can to contribute to that progress.

What the Essay Did Well

This essay does a nice job of covering each aspect of the prompt. We learn why this student wants to study aerospace engineering, what steps they have taken to explore their interest in the subject, and how they will expand on their passion at Princeton. It’s important to make sure you touch on every part of the prompt, so going through each paragraph and finding where you address each question is a nice way to check when you are editing.

Another positive aspect of this essay is the open and conversational tone. It feels like the reader is having a casual discussion with this student about where their love for engineering came from and where they hope to go with it. Using phrases like “ f ast forward a few days, ” “ in fact, ” and “ awesome ” grounds the essay by being more informal. Although you’ve been told in school informality is a bad thing, in college essays it allows you to be more open and comfortable with the admissions officers reading your work and makes you seem more like a person, and less like an application.

Finally, this student did a good job of picking something about Princeton’s engineering program that is unique . Many students reference opportunities at a school that are widely available at other colleges as well, for example an aerospace engineering club. However, this student was very clear about why they are so attracted to Princeton’s program: “ Princeton is unique in that it offers a joint major in mechanical AND aerospace engineering, which is something I haven’t seen at any other school. ” This tells us that finding a joint program is something very important to this student and that they are applying to Princeton for more than the name and recognition—they genuinely value the unique offerings this school has!

What Could Be Improved

One thing this essay could work on is showing, not telling. They tell the reader “ aerospace engineering stole my heart ,” that joining STEM clubs made them a “ better engineer, but also a better person, ” and that they have “ felt a pull towards mechanical engineering and robotics, ” just to name a few.

What we don’t know is what about aerospace engineering stole their heart; was there a particular topic, a movie they watched, or some new revelation they had from studying it? What we don’t know is how they became a better person by joining STEM clubs; did they engineer a useful tool that became implemented in their school or community? What we don’t know is what about mechanical engineering and robotics excites them; was there a specific experience that influenced them or do certain emotions overtake them when they construct a robot.

If the essay used more active language and relied more heavily on placing the reader in stories, rather than recounting their takeaways from 17 years of experience, we would have answers to those questions posed above. It can sometimes feel like you need to summarize your life experiences to make everything fit in a college essay, but we promise that if you take the time to focus on individual anecdotes and the impact they had on you, your reader will take away so much more than if you gave them a rushed summary.

Table of contents

Essay Example #2: Why This Major

Prompt: 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 interests? (Please respond in 250 words or fewer)

The twang of the strings as the delicately strung horsehair bow grazes the steel strings, the enraptured sensation of my hand cramping as I write, and the feeling of connection as my hands dig deep into the damp earth as I nurture my plants. As an academic and most importantly a teen my interests are bilateral. My need for stimulation and innate inquisitive nature are reflected in my academic interests as well.  

As I learned about the intricacies of cell biology and genetics I was enthralled. My love for understanding how the world and humans work from a scientific lens stem from my love for humanity. When I learned about CAS 9 CRISPR and the future of science I felt I had stumbled onto my passion. Furthermore, familiarizing myself with scientific ethicality, I knew this field was for me.  

Princeton recognizes the importance of academics, and the humanities as do I. At Princeton I will take “Scientific Integrity in the Practice of Molecular Biology” where I will explore the conflict between innovation and morality. I can see myself appreciating the wonderful art around Princeton’s campus as I walk to my classes. I look forward to the exchange of knowledge at Princeternship where I will be able to spend time with well-versed individuals to further my knowledge.  

Princeton’s acknowledgment of the arts and humanities align with mine and I am sure yearning for the arts will grow alongside my intellect; gaining enough knowledge to potentially change the world with CRISPR.  

There are three important things that all students should do in their “Why This Major?” Essay : share how their academic interest developed, describe their reasoning and goals, and explain their school choice. While this student’s presentation needs improvement, they at least attempt to meet each of these requirements.

One good thing that this student does (that many students forget) is referencing the specific resources at Princeton — the class “Scientific Integrity in the Practice of Molecular Biology” and the resource of Princeternships. 

What Could Be Improved 

While this student attempts to satisfy the three requirements of a “Why This Major?” Essay , they have room to improve.

The first requirement is sharing how your academic interest developed. This student writes:

As I learned about the intricacies of cell biology and genetics I was enthralled. My love for understanding how the world and humans work from a scientific lens stem from my love for humanity. When I learned about CAS 9 CRISPR and the future of science I felt I had stumbled onto my passion. Furthermore, familiarizing myself with scientific ethicality, I knew this field was for me.

This would be more compelling if it was anchored by a story or anecdote. For example, they could begin with:

“You know how the Sorcerer’s Stone was awesome, but became super dangerous in the wrong hands?” I looked around and everyone was on the edge of their seats. “That’s CRISPR.”

I first learned about the revolutionary genome technology in my AP Biology class, and I must admit, I didn’t get it. Mrs. Gertry said it was powerful, but she didn’t say how. To make matters worse, when I stayed after class to ask how, she said “Honestly kid, I don’t fully get it myself. I just know the experts say that we are on a precipice of DNA advancement, and that’s exciting.”

Since that day, my excitement has steadily developed. It develops as I read The Scientific American blog under the covers each night. It develops as I walk to the UCLA research lab on Friday afternoons. And it will continue to develop until one day I become the expert that Mrs. Gertry told me about. 

Relatedly, the current start to this essay — “The twang of the strings as the delicately strung horsehair bow grazes the steel strings, the enraptured sensation of my hand cramping as I write, and the feeling of connection as my hands dig deep into the damp earth as I nurture my plants” — is confusing, grammatically incorrect, and does not advance the student’s response to the question they are asked. This paragraph should be cut altogether.

The second requirement is describing your reasoning and goals. This student tells us that they want to “change the world with CRISPR.” Though this is more specific than simply changing the world, it is not specific enough. The student should outline more specific, tangible goals like:

  • Advancing treatment techniques for neurodegenerative patients
  • Improving early identification of viruses like COVID-19
  • Creating CRISPR-modified foods that are better for the human body and the environment
  • Developing an economically-viable procedure for biodiesel production

The third requirement is explaining your school choice. While this student references a few Princeton-specific resources, they also write “Princeton recognizes the importance of academics, and the humanities as do I” and “I can see myself appreciating the wonderful art around Princeton’s campus as I walk to my classes.” Every college is interested in academics and humanities and every college has art on campus. These superfluous comments take words away from topics that need more exploration.

Finally, this essay could use editing. Grammatical errors interrupt the flow and confuse the reader. For example, the first sentence we read is not actually a sentence, but rather a series of clauses, and there are multiple instances where the student is missing offsetting commas.

To avoid this issue, have friends, family, teachers, and peers read your essays before submitting them to your top schools. Spelling and grammar errors can make a student seem unmotivated, which is the last thing you want in college admissions.

Essay Example #3: Extracurricular Essay

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

Soft melodies float in the air, feathery sounds of consonance and dissonance create a cloud of harmonies I fall into each night. Born into a family of musicians, I began practicing the piano at four years old. Thirteen years later, I still look forward to sitting at the piano day after day, embarking on adventures to transform a monochrome score into a piece of art with color and dimension. 

Although I relish the thrill of piano competitions and performances, the intellectual challenge that accompanies learning a piano piece in its entirety is an unmatchable experience. In light of the multitasking that musicians must master, the piano has first taught me discipline, that creating anything meaningful requires practice, patience, and persistence. But in the end, the many hours, days, and weeks practicing the piano are rewarded when I can share an emotional experience with others not by speaking, but through the movement of hands that make a piece come alive. 

This essay starts on a euphoric high point, placing the student and reader in the midst of music all around them. The use of delicate diction like “ soft melodies ” and “ feathery sounds ” creates a sense of beauty and comfort, conveying this student’s attraction towards the piano without explicitly stating it. The student continues to use their mastery of language to make the essay come alive with phrase, “ transform a monochrome score into a piece of art with color and dimension.”

Another positive aspect of this essay is how the student includes the effect playing piano has on them. Admissions officers aren’t just asking this question to get a longer summary of your extracurriculars than the 100 characters in your activities section; they want to see your personal reflection on the meaning this activity has to you. How have you grown? How has this shaped your personality? What is your emotional response to participating in this activity?

This essay touches upon those ideas to bring more depth and color to their essay. This lends to a nice structural separation of the two ideas. In the first paragraph, we see the physical aspect of playing the piano and understand the sounds of it. The essay shifts from physical to emotional description in the second paragraph by detailing the practice and discipline they have developed through their years of playing. Having this clear contrast makes it easier to focus on each idea on its own, so when the reader finishes the essay, we can appreciate the activity for both of its components.

The second paragraph could use a more emotional backbone. The student tells us about how practicing piano taught them skills like discipline and how they enjoy sharing an “ emotional experience with others ” by playing. Other than that, the rest of the second paragraph doesn’t convey anything new about the student and their emotional relationship to the piano. A more impactful paragraph might look like this:

“ Words get lost on my tongue but my music, the melodic crescendos of those black and white keys, fills the silence. When sitting on that stool, practicing and perfecting for hours on end, I replay the warm smiles, the tear-streaked cheeks, and the shaky breaths I coax from my audience, connecting us in a way no conversation ever has. Those images have instilled more discipline in me than a drill  sergeant’s whistle. Repeating the same three bars, I see my mom’s face as she hears my rendition of Clair de la Lune. Stretching my fingers to reach an octave, I hear my friends’ clapping as I finish Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. I can’t count the hours I’ve spent alone with my piano. All I know is it’s worth every second when I get to play for others.”

This paragraph reveals the same two central tenets but brings infinitely more emotional impact. One of the ways it is able to do this is by showing, not telling. If this student had shown what it looks like to connect with others and practice endlessly, the essay would have revealed much more about the student and been more engaging to read.

Essay Example #4: Difficult Topic

Prompt: 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? (350 words)

Superhero cinema is an oligopoly consisting of two prominent, towering brands: Marvel and DC. I’m a religious supporter of Marvel, but last year, I discovered my friend, Tom, was a DC fan. After a 20-minute vociferous quarrel about which was better, we decided to allocate one day to assemble coherent arguments and have a professional debate.

One week later, we both brought pages of notes, evidence cards, and I had my Iron-Man bobblehead for moral support. Our moderator – a Disney fan – sat in the middle with a stopwatch – open-policy style. I began the debate by discussing how Marvel accentuated the humanity of the storyline – such as Tony Stark’s transformation from an egotistical billionaire to a compassionate father – which drew in a broader audience because more people resonated with certain aspects of the characters. Tom rebutted this by capitalizing on how Deadpool was a duplicate of Deathstroke, Vision copied Red Tornado, and DC sold more comics than Marvel. 

40 minutes later, we reached an impasse. We were out of cards, and we both made excellent points, so our moderator failed to declare a winner. Difficult conversations aren’t necessarily always the ones that make political headlines. Instead, a difficult discussion involves any topic with which we share an emotional connection. Over the years, I became so emotionally invested in Marvel that my mind erected an impenetrable shield, blocking out all other possibilities. Even today, we haven’t decided which franchise was better, but I realized that I was undermining DC for no reason apart from ignorance. 

The inevitability of diversity suggests that it is our responsibility to understand the other person and what they believe. We may not always experience a change in opinions, but we can grant ourselves the opportunity to expand our global perspective. At Princeton, I will continue this adventure to increase my awareness as a superhero aficionado, activist, and student by engaging in conversations that require me to think beyond what I believe and viewing the world from others’ perspectives. 

And yes, Tom is still my friend. 

Diversity doesn’t always have to be about culture or heritage; diversity exists all around us, even in comics. The genius of this essay lies in the way the student flipped the traditional diversity prompt on its head and instead discussed their diverse perspective on a topic they are passionate about. If you don’t have a cultural connection you are compelled to write about, this is a clever approach to a diversity prompt—if it is handled appropriately.

While this student has a non-traditional topic, they still present it in a way that pays respect to the key aspects of a diversity essay: depicting their perspective and recognizing the importance of diverse views. Just as someone who is writing about a culture that is possibly unfamiliar to the reader, the student describes what makes Marvel and DC unique and important to them and their friend. They also expand on how a lack of diversity in superhero consumption led to them feeling ignorant and now makes them appreciate the need for diversity in all aspects of their life.

This student is unapologetically themselves in this essay which is ultimately why this unorthodox topic is able to work. They committed to their passion for Marvel by sharing analytical takes on characters and demonstrating how the franchise was so important to their identity it momentarily threatened a friendship. The inclusion of humor through their personal voice—referring to the argument as a professional debate and telling us the friendship lived on—contributes to the essay feeling deeply personal.

Choosing a nonconventional topic for a diversity essay requires extra care and attention to ensure you are still addressing the core of the prompt, but if you accomplish it successfully, it makes for an incredibly memorable essay that could easily set you apart!

While this is a great essay as is, the idea of diversity could have been addressed a little bit earlier in the piece to make it absolutely clear the student is writing about their diverse perspective. They position Marvel and DC as two behemoths in the superhero movie industry, but in the event their reader is unfamiliar with these two brands, there is little elaboration on the cultural impact each has on its fans. 

To this student, Marvel is more than just a movie franchise; it’s a crucial part of their identity, just as someone’s race or religion might be. In order for the reader to fully understand the weight of their perspective, there should be further elaboration, towards the beginning, on how important Marvel is to this student. Maybe they found parallels between a struggle they were going through and a character, maybe seeing Marvel movies was a bonding activity with their father, or perhaps the escapism brings them a peace they can’t find anywhere else. Letting the reader in on whatever the reason is would bring more weight to the story.

Essay Example #5: Civic Engagement

Prompt: Princeton has a longstanding commitment to service and civic engagement. Tell us how your story intersects (or will intersect) with these ideals. (250 words)

Many students had no choice but to engage in online learning during the pandemic. However, due to the nature of digital learning, many students have faced a gap in education that may take years to remedy. I am passionate about the importance of education. Everyone should have access to quality education regardless of race, zip code, or socioeconomic status. The cold facts are that while some students have access to resources that might lessen the effects of online learning, many do not. Through no fault of their own, students are held back from achieving their full potential. To help close this learning gap, my peers and I offered free tutoring during the pandemic. I taught math and reading to elementary and middle school students, concentrating on the African American community. From this experience, I was exposed to the deficiencies of the public school system and the consequent impact on its students. Nevertheless, I genuinely enjoyed my experience instructing those children. Their warm spirit, limitless energy, and ready minds are all characteristics that I wish to emulate. Due to my experience, I never take my education for granted and am forever grateful for the future it has helped me build. I hope I can work on the public education system and make it more accessible and profitable for the children it is supposed to serve and further give back to the community. 

Essays with lower word counts require students to be focused in their answers. This student does a great job of choosing a specific issue — education access — and sticking to it. While they reference the intersections of race/education and wealth/education (which are important!) they do not get sidetracked from their overall focus. 

They also provide evidence of their interest in education by mentioning their free tutoring initiative. This is important. Admissions officers read lots of essays where students claim interest in issues but do nothing to improve them. This student puts their money where their mouth is. 

The main issue with this essay is that the writing style and structure are not engaging or personal. 

For example, while you may not have space for a “hook” or introduction in a shorter response, your first sentences must draw the reader in. This student begins with stilted sentences that tell us nothing about them — neither their life experiences nor their personality. The first personal sentence that the student writes is “I am passionate about the importance of education,” which comes too late and is not written with personality.

Structurally, for a short Political/Global Issues Essay , we recommend that students focus on their personal connection to an issue rather than the issue itself. This student primarily discusses their issue — education access —, and when they do mention their own experiences, they fall into the unfortunate trap of telling instead of showing. 

To remedy this, the student should pick an anecdote that shows their personal connection to education, then use it as an avenue for communicating their values to admissions officers.

This student’s anecdote could be:

  • Their experience with online learning during the pandemic
  • How they started their free tutoring program
  • A specific moment with a specific student while they were tutoring
  • Forecasting a moment in the future when they are continuing to prioritize education access

Essay Example #6: Civic Engagement

When I began my internship in my state’s Division of Human Rights, some family members scoffed upon hearing the nature of certain cases I dissected. To them, it was a malapportionment of time to heed race-based workplace discrimination when genocides were ongoing. To them, these government institutions reflected the weakness of modern western culture. Despite this deterrence, I stayed confident that preventing severe human rights violations begins with taking more minor instances seriously.       

Exercising my critical thinking while putting justice into action was fulfilling regardless of a complaint’s validity — I dealt with companies firing employees upon discovering their illness diagnoses. I helped interview a woman claiming language harassment as an English speaker in a majority-Hispanic workplace. I accounted for factors such as respondents having attorneys (unlike complainants) when recommending determinations in the face of contradicting claims. I wasn’t discouraged when the same man called the office for the 10th time that day, shouting his demand that we process his case immediately.       

Bureaucracy can cause waste, yet when I compare human rights protections in the Middle East and the United States, I realize that upholding ethics through the law is necessary for many sectors. The same elements that slow the processing of cases safeguard moral consistency, allowing genuine complaints to be separated from frivolous ones. When “insignificant” discrimination slips through the cracks, more severe violations ensue. At Princeton, I’d extend my work in regional human rights to a global scale, building a safer future for vulnerable populations in the Arab world.

This essay engages a simple yet effective structure. Within 12 words, the prompt has been answered. How has the student shown vivid engagement? Through their internship in their state’s Division of Human Rights.

But they don’t stop there. They humanize their experience accepting the internship by describing the backlash they received from their family. They help us understand the nature of their work by describing the people they interact with. And they forecast what their civic engagement will look like at Princeton. This structure is pulled off beautifully. 

Additionally, the student’s moments of reflection do a great job of showing admissions officers their positive qualities:

  • THEY ARE THOUGHTFUL — This is seen as they recognize the importance of cumulative effects over time in the sentence “When “insignificant” discrimination slips through the cracks, more severe violations ensue.”
  • THEY ARE STRONG-WILLED — They do not let their family’s opinions shake their values and beliefs. They are invested in the cause of human rights, no matter the consequences in their personal life.
  • THEY ARE MATURE — They acknowledge that positives and negatives can exist at the same time, a mature concept. This is specifically seen in the sentence “The same elements that slow the processing of cases safeguard moral consistency, allowing genuine complaints to be separated from frivolous ones.” 
  • THEY ARE MOTIVATED — This student has taken on an intense job at a very young age. They are a hard worker, motivated, and willing to go above and beyond.

In a short essay, it is important to cut the fat. Every word should be intentional and any phrases that do not contribute to the essay should be cut. The main issue with this essay is that the student keeps a lot of fat.

For example, the sentence “Exercising my critical thinking while putting justice into action was fulfilling regardless of a complaint’s validity” can become “Exercising my critical thinking was fulfilling, regardless of a complaint’s validity.” The tighter version does not change the meaning of the sentence and helps the essay flow better.

The student also writes “when I compare human rights protections in the Middle East and the United States, I realize that upholding ethics through the law is necessary for many sectors .” The phrase “through the law” is fluff and the lack of precision about “many sectors” detracts from what the student is trying to say. 

Read each sentence you write individually and make sure it makes perfect sense. Make sure it is clear, tight, and does not require extensive mental acrobatics to understand. 

Secondly, while this student makes the wise decision to forecast their future, their forecasting should be more specific. They write “At Princeton, I’d extend my work in regional human rights to a global scale, building a safer future for vulnerable populations in the Arab world.”

Specific examples would make this forecasting more effective. This could look like:

At Princeton, I plan to continue my human rights work through PAJ organizations. As a vocal member of the Princeton Students for Immigration Empowerment, I will use my administrative skills and legal knowledge to help students acquire visas, housing, and support as quickly and easily as possible.

Essay Example #7: Civic Engagement

Since childhood, I have observed the adults of my life giving up their ideals due to financial struggle. My lawyer mother’s dream of justice was disrupted by the corrupt legal system revolving around bribery. My father’s architectural aspiration collapsed after his company’s bankruptcy. They wanted to contribute positively in society: my mother to protect the righteousness and fairness of the laws, and my father to creatively beautify the world surrounding him. Due to the constant pressure of satisfying the basic needs and the appeal of luxuries, they failed. They were not the only ones as illustrated by politicians whose words promise the people security yet their actions submit to corporations’ contributions. Thus, growing up, I chose to pursue money. Though it sounds like a disingenuous excuse for my own greed, I believe that studying finance and economics can exert positive changes on society because these disciplines are interwoven with industries and the well-being of individuals. Interning with a local financial service firm showed me the importance of financial security, which could produce a significant difference in more community involvement, philanthropy, and personal happiness, even among a small community. Whether it is improving financial literacy locally or addressing the wealth gap nationally, an understanding of money and its effects are necessary for meaningful changes to happen. Everyone seeks to solve world hunger, gender inequality, or climate change. Yet to each of these social problems exists an economic perspective that drives its entire operation to which I am committed to target.

One of the most important parts of writing a Political/Global Issues Essay , or a Civic Engagement Essay, is picking an issue close to your life. This student structures their essay around their family history, which helps the essay feel relatable.

The student humanizes themself by approaching their family history with vulnerability. They write about painful subjects — dreams being broken and hopes being let down — honestly, admitting that their parents were motivated by a desire for luxury and by corporate incentives. 

This student’s maturity also transfers to a larger scale. They have identified that capitalism rules the world at a very young age and are committed to working within the system with the ultimate goal of advancing service and philanthropy.

Though this may be a polarizing approach to capitalism, the student addresses it in a non-polarizing way. They position their desire to work in finance as motivated by the greater good. Lots of young people don’t have complex opinions on politics and the economy so, at the very least, this student showed that they have thought about the confines of capitalism and have an opinion.

A few changes could make this essay less confusing.

One simple but important change would be adding a paragraph break to separate the student’s discussion of their family history and their discussion of their life plans. This would help the essay flow better.

The break would occur before “Though it sounds like a disingenuous…” and would turn the preceding sentence — “Thus, growing up, I chose to pursue money” — into a transitional sentence, smoothly carrying us from the student’s childhood to their present life.

Second, as the student discusses their family history, they could more clearly communicate the facts of the story. For example, after reading the sentence “My lawyer mother’s dream of justice was disrupted by the corrupt legal system revolving around bribery,” we can’t tell if the writer’s mother was implicated in a scandal, if someone attempted to bribe her, or if she was disillusioned when she saw the success of a bribe. With tighter writing, we would have fewer questions.

Additionally, if we knew the details of the parents’ stories, the summarizing sentence “Due to the constant pressure of satisfying the basic needs and the appeal of luxuries, they failed” would be more effective. 

Lastly, because the connection between this student’s essay and civic engagement is looser than we’ve seen in other examples, it would benefit them to emphasize “civic engagement” at the end of the essay.

The student writes:

Whether it is improving financial literacy locally or addressing the wealth gap nationally, an understanding of money and its effects are necessary for meaningful changes to happen. Everyone seeks to solve world hunger, gender inequality, or climate change. Yet to each of these social problems exists an economic perspective that drives its entire operation to which I am committed to target. 

Instead, they could write:

While everyone seeks to solve world hunger, gender inequality, and climate change, most people fail to recognize that understanding money must come first. For civic engagement to be effective, it has to be financially informed. 

Essay Example #8: Quotation and Values

Prompt: 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. (250-650 words)

“I will be the gladdest thing under the sun! I will touch a hundred flowers and not pick one.” – Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Afternoon on a Hill” (Renascence and Other Poems, 1917) 

My teenage rebellion started at age twelve. Though not yet technically a teenager, I dedicated myself to the cause: I wore tee shirts with bands on them that made my parents cringe, shopped exclusively at stores with eyebrow- pierced employees, and met every comforting idea the world offered me with hostility. Darkness was in my soul! Happiness was a construct meant for sheep! Optimism was for fools! My cynicism was a product of a world that gave birth to the War in Afghanistan around the same time it gave birth to me , that shot and killed my peers in school, that irreversibly melted ice caps and polluted oceans and destroyed forests. 

I was angry. I fought with my parents, my peers, and strangers. It was me versus the world. 

However, there’s a fundamental flaw in perpetual antagonism: it’s exhausting. My personal relationships suffered as my cynicism turned friends and family into bad guys in my eyes. As I kept up the fight, I found myself always tired, emotionally and physically. The tipping point came one morning standing at the bathroom sink before school. I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the tired, sad girl that looked back with pallid skin and purple eye bags. That morning, I found my mother and cried in her arms. I decided that the fight was over. 

I took a break from fighting. I let go of my constant anger about global problems by first focusing on the local ones that I could do something about, and then learning to do things not because they fixed a problem, but for the simple joy of trying. I apologized to friends that I wronged previously, said yes when my mom asked me to go grocery shopping with her, and spent afternoons alone in the park, just reading. I baked brownies in the kitchen because it made me happy. I slept in on weekends when I could, but I also made an effort to get out of bed and move. I made an effort to be nice-optimistic, even-with the people around me, but more importantly, I made an effort to be nice to myself. 

After a period of self-care, the fight in me recharged, but this time I didn’t rush to spend it in anger. Now, it’s a tool I use wisely. I’ve channeled it into tangible causes: I don’t want the feeling of loneliness and anger to fester inside of anybody else, so I work with school administration to create community-building events for my senior class. From being the first to implement a class messaging system to starting a collaborative playlist with all 800 of my peers, I’ve turned my energy into positive change in my community. 

I’ve still got a few more years of teenage angst in me, but the meaning of my rebellion has changed. It’s not about responding to a world that’s wronged me with defiance, anger, and cynicism, but about being kind to myself and finding beauty in the world so that I can stay charged and fight for the real things that matter. 

I’ve realized that the world is my afternoon on a hill, full of sunlight and optimism if only I can see them. Now, I am the gladdest thing under the sun! I can be vulnerable and open, and I can show my passion to the world through love. I will touch a hundred flowers, seize a hundred opportunities, and love a hundred things. I will not pick just one. 

This essay does a really nice job of providing an overview of this student’s personality and how it came to be. The reader sees clear growth in the student as they progress through the essay. They weren’t afraid to be vulnerable, sharing details about feeling exhausted and lonely, which helped build empathy for the journey of self-discovery and reflection they’ve been on. Understanding their past personality allows readers to understand how confronting that personality formed their new, positive outlook on life.

There was a noticeable shift in the tone from the first paragraph to the second that brought the vulnerability with it. The beginning reads as a funny anecdote where the stereotype of a moody teenager is established. What the reader doesn’t expect is the sharp turn towards discussing the emotional impact of being a moody teenager. The tone shift subverts the reader’s expectations by surprising them with deep, personal reflection that makes them read the rest of the essay with more empathy.

This essay really captures the student’s outlook on life in different stages of their development, which provides so much insight to the admissions officers reading it. They reveal so much about themselves by continuously focusing the essay on how their internal feelings dictated their external actions.

One thing this essay could have done better was work the quote into the piece as a whole. The essay had a great story, but it was difficult to piece together how the story was connected to the quote until the student explicitly explained it in the last paragraph. It would’ve been helpful to keep the theme of the quote running through the entire essay so the reader could draw a connection. For example, using metaphors of sunshine and flowers throughout the piece would have called attention back to the quote and reminded the reader of why this quote is so important. 

Essay Example #9: Quotation and Values

“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 . 

The air is crisp and cool, nipping at my ears as I walk under a curtain of darkness that drapes over the sky, starless. It is a Friday night in downtown Corpus Christi, a rare moment of peace in my home city filled with the laughter of strangers and colorful lights of street vendors. But I cannot focus. 

My feet stride quickly down the sidewalk, my hand grasps on to the pepper spray my parents gifted me for my sixteenth birthday. My eyes ignore the surrounding city life, focusing instead on a pair of tall figures walking in my direction. I mentally ask myself if they turned with me on the last street corner. I do not remember, so I pick up the pace again. All the while, my mind runs over stories of young women being assaulted, kidnapped, and raped on the street. I remember my mother’s voice reminding me to keep my chin up, back straight, eyes and ears alert. 

At a young age, I learned that harassment is a part of daily life for women. I fell victim to period-shaming when I was thirteen, received my first catcall when I was fourteen, and was nonconsensually grabbed by a man soliciting on the street when I was fifteen. For women, assault does not just happen to us— its gory details leave an imprint in our lives, infecting the way we perceive the world. And while movements such as the Women’s March and #MeToo have given victims of sexual violence a voice, harassment still manifests itself in the lives of millions of women across the nation. Symbolic gestures are important in spreading awareness but, upon learning that a surprising number of men are oblivious to the frequent harassment that women experience, I now realize that addressing this complex issue requires a deeper level of activism within our local communities. 

Frustrated with incessant cases of harassment against women, I understood at sixteen years old that change necessitates action. During my junior year, I became an intern with a judge whose campaign for office focused on a need for domestic violence reform. This experience enabled me to engage in constructive dialogue with middle and high school students on how to prevent domestic violence. As I listened to young men uneasily admit their ignorance and young women bravely share their experiences in an effort to spread awareness, I learned that breaking down systems of inequity requires changing an entire culture. I once believed that the problem of harassment would dissipate after politicians and celebrities denounce inappropriate behavior to their global audience. But today, I see that effecting large-scale change comes from the “small” lessons we teach at home and in schools. Concerning women’s empowerment, the effects of Hollywood activism do not trickle down enough. Activism must also trickle up and it depends on our willingness to fight complacency. 

Finding the solution to the long-lasting problem of violence against women is a work-in-progress, but it is a process that is persistently moving. In my life, for every uncomfortable conversation that I bridge, I make the world a bit more sensitive to the unspoken struggle that it is to be a woman. I am no longer passively waiting for others to let me live in a world where I can stand alone under the expanse of darkness on a city street, utterly alone and at peace. I, too, deserve the night sky.

There are many positives to this essay. To begin with, launching into the essay with multi sensory imagery in the anecdote was really effective at drawing the reader in. The audiovisual context (laughter, street vendors) keeps the scene alive and fully immerses the reader, while the internal narration illustrates how this student looks at the world. The contrast between the imagery of the external scene and the internal thoughts and feelings fully immerses the reader in the essay and alludes to the overarching theme of things being more complicated than they seem on the outside.

Another good thing this essay did was provide a personal account of this student’s experiences with harassment. This established their authority to speak on the topic and underscores their essay with authenticity. They then “zoom out” to provide relevant background information that supplies additional context for readers who might not be that familiar with the extent of the issue at hand. By relating their personal stories to the large-scale issue at hand, they simultaneously develop a personal connection while demonstrating an understanding of a serious global issue.

What really could’ve made or broken this essay was the quote the student chose. Allowing you to choose any quote, this is an extremely open-ended prompt which gives students the opportunity to write about whatever they choose. This student did an excellent job of picking a quote that isn’t well-known or significant, but fit perfectly into the narrative they were trying to express in this essay. The approach the student likely took with this prompt is figuring out what experience they wanted to discuss and finding a quote that fit, rather than picking a quote first. This approach made for an essay that existed independently from the quote and didn’t rely on it as a crutch.

All together, the essay feels cohesive with every part relating back to the overarching theme of diving deeper than the surface level of things. The student’s vulnerability and personal reflection throughout the essay helps carry the theme through each paragraph. Even the conclusion does a great job of circling back to the anecdote at the beginning, bringing the societal problem the student addressed back down to the personal level to remind the reader the student’s personal stake in the issue.

One potential criticism of this essay could stem from the ratio of background to active work. The author spends a lot of time setting up their personal connection and the global context of the issue; however, their essay could stand to gain from more content centered on their actual actions towards fighting harassment against women. They could discuss another small-scale discussion or project they led or elaborate more on their current inclusion. Dedicating two paragraphs to this rather than one gives admissions officers a better idea of their leadership skills and active role in fighting harassment.

Essay Example #10: Quotation and Values

“If any man stopped and asked himself whether he’s ever held a truly personal desire, he’d find the answer. He’d see that all his wishes, his efforts, his dreams, his ambitions are motivated by other men . . . A stamp of approval, not his own. He can find no joy in the struggle and no joy when he has succeeded.”

Essay/Book: The Fountainhead Author: Ayn Rand —

The US Open.

My parents had asked me if I wanted to come along, and I agreed. We got there; we took pictures next to a giant tennis ball, bought some tennis rackets, and finally headed over to our seats. It was absolutely freezing–and as the match continued, the world around me got darker and darker. An open stadium, I could see the stars in the sky just as clearly as I could feel the cold seeping through my coat. Trying to forget about my discomfort, I gazed up at the stars and listened to the vaguely muffled sounds of grunts and balls hitting the court.

A million things ran through my head.

The persistent cold that I was trying to forget. The beauty of the twinkling lights in the sky. The vast emptiness of the world around me.

And, even as I pulled closer to my mom and dad, an abject feeling of loneliness settled over me, my isolation from the excitement of the crowd making itself apparent as I felt none of the frustration, disappointment, or adrenaline-fueled excitement that the crowd and the players were feeling–a million miles away from my surroundings, insignificant in this moment.

And, it dawned on me, I am. I am insignificant–we all are. Even the tennis players whom we so eagerly watch are only really significant for the few hours of their game–and, is that insignificance necessarily a bad thing? Why should I pursue significance–and essentially, recognition–throughout my life? Why do I feel the need to be recognized? Should I not just want to aid in world progress–whether that be dancing to promote emotional expression, or engineering to promote prosperity and scientific advancement?

I began to understand the futility of ambition revolving solely around world recognition. Why should the entire world know my name? Shouldn’t success be just knowing that I created something, something that helped someone or something somewhere, something that advanced the face of knowledge or innovation, regardless of whether I gained actual ‘credit’ for it?

Having changed my definition of success, I no longer search for significance. My absolute insignificance has never been clearer, clearing the way for me to discover myself in my passions, rather than discovering passions in the hope of gaining relevance. My success is no longer defined by the approval or recognition of anyone but myself, making my successes sweeter and my hard work more gratifying.

This leaves no bar on my dreams, no curb on my goals. I’m an aspiring engineer because I love how math and physics and purpose click together as you design and invent and innovate, how the electricity of passion sparks through my fingertips as I stay up late working on my model rockets and deriving simple harmonic equations. I’m a dancer because I love how the music and movements feel in my muscles and bones, how fiery adrenaline rushes through my veins when I am in the middle of a performance. I’m a hopeful social entrepreneur because I want to give purpose to my innovations; I’m a singer because I like to feel the vibrations of songs collecting in my throat; I’m a programmer because I like to ‘logic’ my way through problems. None of its for money, or for a prize, or for world recognition–because even that significance doesn’t last long. I’m insignificant, and whether or not I remain so–as long as I fulfill my own purpose and achieve my own goals–it makes no difference to me.

This essay has a strong opening that does an excellent job of setting the scene for the perspective shift this student is about to have. There is clearly a sense of the student’s indifference to attending through explaining the match was their parents’ idea, their focus on the freezing cold weather, and explaining how their mind drifted to think about anything but the match. Establishing how removed they were in the moment is a nice segway to their feeling of insignificance. Because we know how they weren’t able to appreciate a moment everyone around them hyped up and cherished, we better understand how they came to the conclusion they are insignificant. 

Even once the student delves into philosophical questions about our purpose—a topic that it is easy to lose your readers on—we stay engaged because of their continued use of rhetorical questions. Especially when discussing more abstract topics in your essay, asking questions is a great tactic to help the reader see things from your perspective and break complex ideas down into more manageable chunks.

This essay concludes by telling us a lot about the student and their passions. The repetition of the phrase “ I’m a… ” creates a sense of continuity throughout their multiple identities and builds momentum for what’s to come. Not only do they reveal they are an engineer, a dancer, a singer, a programmer, and a social entrepreneur, but they also explain their reasoning and purpose for pursuing each of these passions. Sharing all of this student’s facets is a nice way to demonstrate to admissions officers that although they have a unique perspective on success, they are still an engaged and active member of their community.

There are a few ways this essay could be tightened up. The first would be to better incorporate the anecdote of the US Open throughout the rest of the essay. While there is nice set-up, the student basically abandons their story after they shift to talking about insignificance. Yes, the prompt asks for an experience that changed how you approached the world, but that experience should have more of an impact on you than just the location of your life-altering perspective shift. It would have been nice to see them grapple with how they differ from the US Open crowd who idolizes significance or even simply utilizing tennis metaphors to keep the theme going.

Another thing this essay needs to work on is being less vague. Take this sentence for example: “ Shouldn’t success be just knowing that I created something, something that helped someone or something somewhere, something that advanced the face of knowledge or innovation, regardless of whether I gained actual ‘credit’ for it?”  That is wordy and reveals nothing about the student. They use a word containing “some” six times in a singular sentence—lazy writing! Although this is a particularly vague sentence, much of the essay focuses on the abstract idea of embracing insignificance without relating it personally to the student. Bringing in more concrete ideas and tangible thoughts or actions this student has to demonstrate their insignificance would leave a much stronger impression on the reader.

It’s also important to make sure your quote fits in perfectly with your essay. Since it’s the first thing your reader will see, it creates an immediate impression going into the story, but if it doesn’t obviously tie into your essay it will be forgotten by the time your reader finishes. This essay unfortunately lost the quote by the end because it wasn’t clearly connected to the essay. It possibly would have been better had they picked a quote about being insignificant, or even about staring up into the night sky and feeling alone, seeing as that was the moment that their perspective changed. Your quote doesn’t need to be moving and inspirational, it just needs to effortlessly align with your essay.

Where to Get Your Princeton Essays Edited

Do you want feedback on your Princeton essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 

If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

Other Princeton Essay Resources

  • Princeton Essay Guide
  • How to Answer Princeton’s “More About You” Questions
  • How to Write the Princeton Civic Engagement Essay
  • How to Write the Princeton Diversity Essay
  • 4 Example Hooks for Princeton’s Meaningful Activity Essay
  • How to Write the Meaningful Activity Essay for Princeton

Related CollegeVine Blog Posts

princeton common app essay

How to Write the Princeton Supplemental Essays: Guide + Examples 2023/2024

princeton common app essay


What are the princeton supplemental essay prompts.

  • How to write each prompt for Princeton University
  • Prompt #1: "Community" essay
  • Prompt #2: "Civic engagement" essay
  • Prompt #3: "New skill" essay
  • Prompt #4: "What brings you joy" essay
  • Prompt #5: "Soundtrack of your life" essay
  • Prompt #6: "A.B. degree & undecided applicants" essay
  • Prompt #7: "B.S.E degree" essay

The Princeton supplemental essays cover a wide range of topics, from extracurricular activities to community and civic engagement to complex dialogue to joy. While the breadth and depth of the Princeton essay questions may seem overwhelming, consider that they may be doing you a favor by giving you a chance to share more (okay, a lot more) about who you are beyond your grades and test scores.

For a clearer sense of what Princeton is looking for in its students, you can get an extensive, by-the-numbers look at its offerings, from enrollment and tuition statistics to student life and financial aid information, on its Common Data Set . And for insights into how the university envisions itself and its role, and how it wants to grow and evolve, read its mission and values and its strategic plan .

Princeton Supplemental Essay Prompt #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)

Princeton Supplemental Essay Prompt #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?

Princeton Supplemental Essay Prompt #3

What is a new skill you would like to learn in college? (50 words)

Princeton Supplemental Essay Prompt #4

What brings you joy? (50 words)

Princeton Supplemental Essay Prompt #5

What song represents the soundtrack of your life at this moment? (50 words)

Princeton Supplemental Essay Prompt #6

For Applicants Pursuing an A.B. Degree (or are Undecided): 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.

Princeton Supplemental Essay Prompt #7

For Applicants Pursuing a B.S.E. Degree: 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.

How to Write Each Supplemental Essay Prompt for Princeton

How to write princeton supplemental essay prompt #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? (Please respond in 500 words or fewer.)

This new essay prompt for Princeton asks you to be introspective and identify specific life experiences that have shaped you. It also wants you to reflect on how these experiences can contribute to the broader academic and social environment at Princeton.

Here are a few general tips to help you begin brainstorming your response:

Embrace your experiences. Begin by reflecting on your life experiences, both big and small. Consider significant moments, challenges, triumphs, and everyday interactions that have shaped who you are. How have these experiences influenced the way you see the world?

What makes you you? Get real about what sets you apart. Your background, your culture, your family dynamics—they all contribute to your unique perspective. Dive into the things that have shaped your thinking and consider how they might bring fresh perspectives to discussions. What makes your take on things different, and how can that make campus conversations richer?

Reflect on transformative moments. Recall moments that made you reevaluate or expand your beliefs. Did you have an eye-opening experience that changed the way you see the world? Did you encounter someone or something that challenged your assumptions? These are the pivotal points that can give insight into how you've grown and evolved.

Imagine yourself at Princeton. Picture it: you're walking across the campus, engaging in conversations in the dining hall, and participating in class discussions. Now, think about how your unique experiences can enhance these interactions. How might your insights spark meaningful conversations and open up new perspectives for your peers? Reflect on the lessons you've gained from your journey so far and consider how they could encourage your classmates to view the world in a fresh light or engage in more profound discussions.

One option is to treat this as a “how will you contribute” prompt.

Essentially, a way to think of this type of prompt is that it’s a combo of “community/identity/background” and “why us” prompts: use some of your response to show how you’ve become who you are, and then show how those experiences shape what you will bring to the college through linking to specific opportunities/groups/details. Connect your unique upbringing, in a very broad sense of the word, with what the school offers and how you will make a great team.

While there are many things outside of “community” that might fit this prompt, if you’re looking for a way to brainstorm ideas, that’s a good place to start. (But keep in mind that you’ll want to include some “how will you contribute” details in your essay—this isn’t just a “tell us about a community” prompt.)

For a full guide to “community” essays , head there, but here’s the short version, plus how to add “how will you contribute” elements:


Create a “communities” chart by listing all the communities you’re a part of. Keep in mind that communities can be defined by...

Place: groups of people who live/work/play near one another

Action: groups of people who create change in the world by building, doing, or solving something together (Examples: Black Lives Matter, Girls Who Code, March for Our Lives)

Interest: groups of people coming together based on shared interest, experience, or expertise

Circumstance: groups of people brought together either by chance or external events/situations


You’ll find detail on the BEABIES Exercise + a chart you can use at that link.


You’ll want to offer a few specific ways that show how the experience/s you’re discussing in your essay will allow you to contribute to the college. The easiest way to do this is to do some “Why Us”-like research and find ways you’ll engage with and contribute to the school’s community. 


Step 5: write a first draft.

Since this essay prompt is new, we don’t have a Princeton sample essay yet. But here’s an essay written for Rice University that’s could be slightly edited to fit this prompt.

I am Pradyoth.  “Pra-dy-oth? Is that how you say it?” Embarrassed as my classmates stare at me, I sheepishly say, “It’s a soft D.” This exchange has happened so many times that I have basically given up on correcting other people. I used to wish I wasn’t given my name and even considered changing it. However, when I learned that “Pradyoth” means “radiance” or “light” in Telugu (the language that I grew up speaking) my perception of my name changed. My name became less of an impediment to get along with others and more of a reflection of me and my beliefs. Instead of focusing on people mispronouncing my name, I look at my name as a proud representation of my culture and strive to have a positive mindset in spite of challenges I might encounter in response to it. I am autistic.  When I was five years old, I was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. While on the high-functioning side of the spectrum, my condition inhibited my social abilities for a long time and prevented me from pursuing activities outside of music, which was one of the few activities I felt comfortable doing. However, with the help of my parents, teachers, and counselors, as well as my own hard work, I broke out of my shell and made several long-lasting friendships by gaining the courage to talk with people through trial and error. I had to learn to be patient with myself as I figured out how to navigate social interactions. While I still have a long way to go, I have made lots of progress since I was younger, and I consider this growth to be one of the biggest accomplishments of my life. I am community-oriented.  Once I felt like I understood others, I had a desire to connect with my community. Over the past few years, I have volunteered with several community organizations, including Kaiser Permanente, the Almaden Branch Library, and Carnatic Chamber Concerts. These experiences have not only allowed me to experience the satisfaction that comes from helping others, but to also play an active role in improving my community. In our volunteer meetings at the library, we frequently have discussions about how to strengthen our community by getting teens involved in politics and improving the library’s services. Some of our suggestions, such as improving the children’s section, have actually been implemented. Through these experiences, I have gained the skills and knowledge to meaningfully connect with my community and to make changes that help others. I am Pradyoth. I am a teenager who has had my fair share of challenges and successes over time, and I am a more accepting, patient, and motivated person because of them. At Rice, I hope to share my perspectives with others and take theirs into account as well, so that, together, we can create a stronger community.  — — —

Tips + Analysis

Share personal stories. Just like the student from the sample essay, reflect on moments that were pivotal in shaping your beliefs or guiding your decisions. These stories don't have to be grand; sometimes, even the seemingly small events can have a profound impact. Sharing these stories can help Princeton understand what matters to you and how you've grown.

Show growth through challenges. Everyone faces challenges, and these experiences can shape us in powerful ways. To be clear, you don’t have to write about challenges here. But if you feel that they shaped you in important ways, you can. If you choose to do so, just like the writer's journey with autism led to personal development and growth, think about the obstacles you've encountered. Reflect on how these challenges have tested your limits and forced you to adapt. Highlight moments when you pushed through difficulties, learned important lessons, or discovered new strengths you didn't know you had.

Emphasize learning and future impact. Your experiences aren't just about the past —they influence your future too. Like the sample essay's ending, think about how you'll carry what you've learned forward. Princeton values individuals who can contribute meaningfully to their campus and beyond, so consider how you can channel your unique experiences into initiatives, conversations, or activities that will benefit others in your community. This is where the essay above could be expanded/further developed for the Princeton prompt: either in the body paragraphs, or toward the end, the author could include more specific details about how their experiences shape how they want to engage at Princeton.

How to write Princeton Supplemental Essay Prompt #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 max)

Two questions to ask yourself as you brainstorm topics for this prompt:  

What sort of service and civic engagement projects have you been involved with? Your Activities List is a good place to start. 

Are there any essays you’re already writing for another school that you could double with this prompt? If so, it may be a candidate for a Super Essay . 

Do you have meaningful examples and anecdotes that bring the values of service and civic engagement to life—like the club you started to teach chess to fifth-graders, or the recycling project you led in your neighborhood, or the comedy skits you put on for the local senior center? Your topic of choice should be something you genuinely care about. You’ll find it much easier to write with enthusiasm if you talk about something you actually find important and interesting.

Once you’ve picked a topic, you’ll notice you’re (probably) writing an extracurricular activity essay. Here’s a complete guide on how to write that. You’ll want to make sure your values are super clear by the end of the essay.

Finally, you may choose to weave in how you’ll continue this work (or continue to explore these values) at Princeton. If so, consider connecting your goals with unique resources at the university. Read this “Why us?” essay guide for tips and examples. This might make up just the end of your essay. 

Below is an example of a super essay approach—the student used this essay for many different school prompts, including for Princeton (where he ended up attending).

The rusty spigot spewed a stream of Malibu High’s signature yellow water into my bottle. I raised it to see the visible particles floating around. “I’ll just wait another 5 innings for a drink,” I thought.  Malibu High’s water was universally shunned. The only alternative was bottled water, which wasn’t an option for those who couldn’t afford it, and which led to tens-of-thousands of plastic bottles in landfills annually.  Our environmental club set out with one goal: to provide everyone on campus with clean, filtered water.  With a hint of ignorance, we marched into the school board meeting and made our case for filtration stations. Unfortunately, the board was not as enthusiastic as us. Despite passionate speeches from myself and my environmentalist colleagues, they didn’t see the importance of our mission.  So we went rogue. Nearly every student and staff member joined our movement with a pen stroke, and our community united under a common vision for Malibu High’s future. Everyone wanted the water (it’s useful for survival), but the district still refused funding. In response, I set up a GoFundMe, and we rallied community support. The GoFundMe raised over $2,500. The district was out of excuses.  We got our water! In only one semester with the stations, we have saved 30,000 plastic bottles. The stations have become the center of the Malibu campus and community: during passing period, students and staff get the rare opportunity to affiliate outside the classroom, all while enjoying a refreshing, non-yellow beverage. — — —

How to Write Princeton Supplemental Essay Prompts #3-5: The Short Answers

Prompt #3: What is a new skill you would like to learn in college? (50 words) Prompt #4: What brings you joy? (50 words) Prompt #5: What song represents the soundtrack of your life at this moment? (50 words)

Here are some general tips to get you started on the short-answer portion of the Princeton application:

#1: Think of your short answers as an advent calendar. Consider that each of your short answers, no matter how short, is a tiny window into your soul. Make sure the reader finds something inside that's awesome and different from the window before.

#2: Use all or most of the space allotted to explain your answer. You’re given space for 50 words for an answer that could easily be one or two words. So use it up! In other words, you can answer "why," even if the prompt doesn't ask you to. Do this because your core values may be hard to express in 1-2 words.

#3: Get specific. Don’t just give a generic answer followed by a generic reason for your generic answer. Be creative and use details that give you a distinctive/memorable voice.

#4: Feel free to take (calculated) risks on these. Get creative. Push boundaries (a little). To clarify, we don’t mean shock for the sake of shock value; make sure you’re still revealing core values (one of which might be humor, for instance). Speaking of which ...

#5: Don't check your humor at the door. If you're funny in life, feel free to be funny in your short answers. If you're not funny, no need to start now. ;)

#6: Offer a variety of things you're interested in. If you love science and wrote a supplemental essay about science, don't answer prompt #2 with 20 journals, websites, or publications you’ve read on ... science. Show how you find joy in astrophysics but also literature, philosophy, Star Trek, programming, and Godfather 1 and 2 (but not 3.)

#7: Note that there isn’t, like, some magical key/code with these where, if you answer the right thing for your favorite website, then the door to Princeton will be magically opened to you (although imagine that). These are just a chance (well, three chances) for the school to get to know you better. So make the most of them by sharing values and insights, but don’t over-obsess as though your life depends on them. ‘Cuz it doesn’t. 

How to Write the Princeton Supplemental Essay Prompt #6

For Applicants Pursuing an A.B. Degree or are Undecided: 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.

This prompt is essentially two essays in one: a “Why Major” + a “Why us?”—though at just 250 words, you’ll want to be judicious about using your word budget wisely to make sure to clearly articulate both the what (the field of study you’re interested in) and the why (the specific academic opportunities you plan to take advantage of at Princeton).

To get you started, here’s a complete guide to the “Why Major'' essay . And here’s the full guide on how to write the “Why us?” essay . When you read through the latter, pay close attention to the “Why Tufts” examples, since it was written for a 200-word prompt.

Action Items:

Read the “Why Major” guide. What mini-movie moments do you envision exploring?

Reflect on what you want out of your college experience. Collect those insights using this chart . Identifying specific or niche interests and needs will help you find equally specific resources at Princeton and make your “we’re a perfect match” case (see more on this in the “complete guide” link above) more compelling. 

Spend at least an hour researching 5-7  reasons why Princeton might be a great fit for you, mapping them out in the third column of the chart. 

Remember: The best “Why us?” pieces don’t celebrate how “x” school is the GREATEST SCHOOL OF ALL TIME. They’re more an explanation of why you and the school are the perfect match. Make sure to connect each of your Princeton examples to your goals and interests. 

Create an outline that combines your mini-movie moments for the “Why Major” top, then outline the “Why us?” portion based on either Approach One, Approach Two (recommended), or Approach 3 (as explained in our “Why us?” guide). 

Here’s an example essay (written for a version of the prompt with a slightly longer word count).

I hopped into my friend's car, having just finished my first day of summer macroeconomics class. Exhilarated by what I learned, I spent the fifteen-minute drive to the gym explaining to him the law of diminishing marginal returns and how the concept encourages manufacturers to adopt automation to eliminate human error... Silence…I asked him if he heard me. He responded, “yes, but whether or not I care is a different question.” In hindsight, his reaction made sense since economics can be boring for some. Economics fascinates me—combining math, political science, and social psychology to solve societal issues. Princeton’s economics major provides an array of courses such as The Chinese Economy which would allow me to further pursue my study of international trade (the subject of my IBDP extended essay). I’d complement this area of interest with computer science through a certificate in Applications of Computing.  Such a combination is increasingly important given the large amounts of data being collected, which can be analyzed to construct more complicated and predictive economic models. I look forward to taking unique classes at this intersection like Economics and Computing, as well as participating in interdisciplinary programs like CITP. Leveraging technology to aid in my analysis, I’m excited about researching social media’s impact on teenage financial decisions as part of my JIW or Senior Thesis on behavioral economics. The possibility of connecting with Professor Pietro Ortoleva for such a project excites me given his research on emotions and their role in consumer habits. Embodying President Eisgruber’s belief that Princeton allows students “to pursue multiple interests rigorously and deeply,” I’m enthusiastic about pursuing subjects beyond my degree. One such area is Latin, a language I’ve studied for seven years and would like to continue exploring through classes like Latin Prose Composition, something I’ve never been exposed to. I anticipate immersing myself into Princeton’s vibrant community through the precept system, whereby I could connect with fellow students over similar academic interests.  Attending Princeton would be a blessing given its value on intellectual growth and exploration which would allow me to continue what I love doing most… everything! — — —

Showcase passion and depth. Reflect on moments that ignited your curiosity, and dig into why this subject matters to you. Then, use vivid anecdotes or experiences that demonstrate your genuine interest and commitment. In the example essay, the writer's excitement for economics is evident through their explanation of a complex concept during a casual conversation with a friend, forming a nice thematic hook that propels the essay forward. This not only illustrates their enthusiasm but also hints at their ability to communicate complex ideas.

Align with Princeton's offerings. The example essay highlights the programs and opportunities at Princeton that align with the writer's academic interests. Similarly, research the specific courses, professors, research centers, and interdisciplinary programs at Princeton that resonate with your chosen field. Discuss how these offerings are tailored to your curiosity and how you plan to leverage them to deepen your knowledge. As a general rule, try to link every detail about the school back to some detail or value or interest of yours.

Explore interdisciplinary connections. Like the essay talks about combining economics with computer science and Latin, explore how your interests cross paths. Highlight how these combinations enhance your perspective and enable you to address complex challenges from multiple angles. In the example essay, the writer's interest in applying technology to economics and their desire to study Latin showcase a well-rounded approach to learning.

Connect to Princeton's values. The example essay effectively aligns the writer's goals with Princeton's emphasis on intellectual growth and exploration. Similarly, discuss how you see yourself contributing to Princeton's academic community and how the university's ethos aligns with your academic aspirations.

Here’s another example essay:  

After seeing The Vagina Monologues, I began exploring Gender Studies independently. From reading The Second Sex to watching Mrs. America, I sought solidarity and inspiration from the literature and media of marginalized voices. After taking the online course International Women's Health and Human Rights, I became informed on topics such as female circumcision, son preferences, and domestic violence.  Simply comprehending global women’s issues does not satisfy me. In college and beyond, I want to advocate for the rights of disadvantaged women and LGBTQ communities both quantitatively and qualitatively. At Princeton, I will major in Gender and Sexuality Studies while exploring Economics.  I appreciate that Princeton takes a highly interdisciplinary approach to Gender and Sexuality Studies. Through Media, Sex, and the Racialized Body, I can explore gender and race through the lens of media and theatrical productions. Having contributed to the Chinese LGBTQ workplace diversity campaign, I will become a more informed activist through the course LGBTQ Politics: Identity, Voice, Policy, in which I will better comprehend how officials, voters, and activism can come together to drive social change. Joining the GSS book club, I can explore topics such as the neurosciences of gender and the stories of first ladies. More importantly, I will meet a group of like-minded peers who share my vision for gender equity.  Economics at Princeton will allow me to take quantitative approaches to gender issues. Through Ethics and Economics, I will explore moral issues such as wage gaps, poverty, and sweatshops using mathematics and econometrics. I am excited to converse with Professor Janet Currie about her book Women in Economics, which investigates the implicit biases women scholars face in the field of economics.  I treasure Princeton’s interdisciplinary academic opportunities. Studying gender, economics, media, and politics as interwoven subjects, I will grow both as a scholar and an activist.  — — —

How to Write the Princeton Supplemental Essay Prompt #7

The guidance here is largely the same as the guidance for Prompt 6 above. You can check out our complete guide on the “Why us?” essay , and you have the option to include some “Why Major'' elements . Want the TL;DR version? Here it is…

Don’t talk about things Princeton already knows about itself and hears from tons of other applicants. These are things like weather, location, ranking, or reputation. Also try to avoid taking language directly from the website or brochures. Articulate things in your own words.

Weave in your qualities, skills, and interests. Don’t just talk about why you like Princeton. Explain why you’re a good fit for the school. Remember, it’s a two-way street.

Research—a lot. Find specific resources, programs, or classes that appeal to you. This includes reading student reviews and doing tours (online, in-person, or both). You might even want to talk to the local rep for your area. You can find this person on Princeton’s website.

Connect back to yourself. For each part of Princeton that you like and want to explore, explain how that relates to one of your values, interests, experiences, or guiding principles.

Here’s an excellent example essay you can look to for inspiration.

At the WEST Society of Women Engineers Robotics workshop, I programmed a robot to dance and learned about using AI to map the ocean floor and track sharks. And next door, I tested the stress strength of a gummy worm, learning about sustainable nanomaterials for the first time. These simple, yet engaging experiments showcased intriguing hands-on experiences I am seeking at Princeton. Princeton’s focus on independent research and its requirement of a senior thesis promise to deepen my knowledge of engineering and science. Through the Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) Program and the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials (PRISM), I will conduct research combining expertise in "hard" materials with knowledge of "soft" materials. Under Professor Nan Yao, I hope to utilize techniques of imaging and compositional analysis to construct organ transplant biomaterial, bettering the lives of others. Observing materials in action at the Shiseido Cosmetics Factory will provide me insight that I can use to showcase my knowledge by creating a keepsake at the annual blacksmith event.  While Materials Science allows me to explore the physical world, Computer Science allows me to explore the virtual one. As a selected participant for the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program, I developed a sisterhood through navigating coding difficulties. I will create new sisterhoods with Princeton Women in Computer Science and Society of Women Engineers. Princeton greats Olga Russakovsky and Gillat Kol inspire me to further my knowledge at Princeton. I can’t wait to follow in their footsteps. (249 words) — — —

Share your engineering journey. What convinced you that engineering was the best path for you? Just like the example essay, mention workshops, projects, or cool things you've done that got you excited about engineering. Show how you've gotten hands-on and problem-solved so that Princeton knows you're not just throwing around buzzwords.

Link to core values. Explain how pursuing engineering aligns with what matters most to you. For example, you can discuss how your chosen path resonates with your broader goals and how you see it contributing to making a positive impact. The writer's intention to create an organ transplant biomaterial showcases their commitment to bettering lives through engineering.

Show how you’ll leverage Princeton's offerings. Research specific programs, institutes, and resources offered at Princeton that align with your engineering interests. Show how these opportunities resonate with your aspirations. The writer's mention of the Materials Science and Engineering Program and the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials displays their knowledge of Princeton's offerings and how they plan to leverage them.

Get specific about Princeton. Rather than giving Princeton a general compliment, dive into the specifics. Name professors you're excited to learn from, programs that intrigue you, events you can't wait to attend, and any other details that make you go, "That's exactly what I'm looking for!" The writer's shoutout to professors Olga Russakovsky and Gillat Kol shows their excitement about learning from pros at Princeton.

Here’s another great example essay (from when the word-limit was 350).

My natural curiosity prompted me to start programming nearly seven years ago, working on a wide range of ideas, from a remote-controlled robot that carried toys to my sister’s bedroom to a game about knights that I have spent over 150 hours programming, and counting. Computer science is one of those disciplines that will creep up no matter what field you go into, which is why I value it so dearly. In this rapidly changing world, I’d be silly to think I will work in the same niche industry until I retire. This decade’s problem might be electrification in response to global warming, but the next’s might be vertical farming, and the ambiguity of these problems gives me all the more reason to continue reading on what makes the world move. The one commonality that I see in all these issues is that in some corner somewhere, there is a programmer helping, and being that helper in the bigger picture is what would give me meaning. Helping in these bigger picture scenarios means I don’t have to dream how the world will work, because I will be making a chip of it. I’m especially excited for Princeton’s “Advanced Computer Graphics” Module because that will not only allow me to create more stunning graphics for the small games that I code on the side but also learn important applications of computer graphics, such as SpaceX’s 3D CAD Software. Although the module “Great Moments in Computing'' seems less applicable, the history of computing seems vital in understanding the key turning points that explain why we think a certain way. And with fingers crossed, I hope to meet a computing legend, Brian Kernighan, who wrote the first “Hello, world” program. (287 words) — — —

By this point you should have all the tools you need to begin writing your own answers to Princeton’s supplemental essay prompts. It’s time to start. 

Want advice on dozens of other supplemental essays? Click here

Special thanks to Ameer for writing this post.

princeton common app essay

Ameer is a freelance writer who specializes in writing about college admissions and career development. Prior to freelancing, Ameer worked for three years as a college admissions consultant at a Hong Kong-based education center, helping local high school students prepare and apply for top colleges and universities in the US. He has a B.A. in Latin American Studies from the University of Chicago and an M.A. in Spanish Linguistics from UCLA. When he’s not working, Ameer loves traveling, weight lifting, writing, reading, and learning foreign languages. He currently lives in Bangkok, Thailand. 

Top values: Growth / Diversity / Empathy


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By submitting my email address. i certify that i am 13 years of age or older, agree to recieve marketing email messages from the princeton review, and agree to terms of use., popular college application essay topics (and how to answer them).

Get help writing your college application essays. Find this year's Common App writing prompts and popular essay questions used by individual colleges.

The college essay is your opportunity to show admissions officers who you are apart from your grades and test scores (and to distinguish yourself from the rest of a very talented applicant pool).

brainstorming college application essay topics

2023–24 Common App Essays

Nearly 700 colleges accept the The Common Application , which makes it easy to apply to multiple schools with just one form. If you are using the Common App to apply for college admissions, you will have 250–650 words to respond to ONE of the following prompts:

  • Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  • Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  • Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

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Read More: Get Expert Essay Advice From Former Admissions Officers!

Tackling the Common App Essay Prompts

Prompt #1: share your story..

Answer this prompt by reflecting on a hobby, facet of your personality, or experience that is genuinely meaningful and unique to you. Admissions officers want to feel connected to you and an honest, personal statement about who you are draws them in. Your love of superheroes, baking chops, or family history are all fair game if you can tie it back to who you are or what you believe in. Avoid a rehash of the accomplishments on your high school résumé and choose something that the admissions committee will not discover when reading the rest of your application.

Prompt #2: Learning from obstacles.

You're trying to show colleges your best self, so it might seem counterintuitive to willingly acknowledge a time you struggled. But overcoming challenges demonstrates courage, grit, and perseverance! That’s why the last piece of this prompt is essential. The obstacle you write about can be large or small, but you must show the admissions committee how your perspective changed as a result.

Perfect your college essay video

Prompt #3: Challenging a belief.

Your answer to this question could focus on a time you stood up to others or an experience when your own preconceived view was challenged. Choose this prompt if you have a relevant—and specific!—experience to recount (and reflect on). A vague essay about a hot button issue doesn’t tell the admissions committee anything useful about YOU.

Prompt #4: Reflecting on gratitude.

Colleges are looking for students with unique experiences that can enhance their future campus community, and this is your chance to share that by recognizing what someone else has done for you. Even though this prompt requires you to reflect on the action of another person, make sure that the focus remains on how the act of kindness impacted you and the way you live your life. This essay should make you and the reader smile.

Prompt #5: Personal growth.

Just like Prompt #2, the accomplishment or event you write about can be anything from a major milestone to a smaller "aha" moment. Describe the event or accomplishment that shaped you but take care to also show what you learned or how you changed. Colleges are looking for a sense of maturity and introspection—pinpoint the transformation and demonstrate your personal growth. 

Prompt #6: What captivates you?

This prompt is an invitation to write about something you care about. (So avoid the pitfall of writing about what you think will impress the admission office versus what truly matters to you). Colleges are looking for curious students, who are thoughtful about the world around them. The "what or who do you turn to when you want to learn more” bit isn't an afterthought—it's a key piece of the prompt. Make sure you explain how you pursue your interest, as well.

Read More: QUIZ: Test Your College Knowledge!

Prompt #7: Topic of your choice.

This question might be for you if you have a dynamo personal essay from English class to share or were really inspired by a question from another college’s application. You can even write your own question! Whatever topic you land on, the essentials of a standout college essay still stand: 1.) Show the admissions committee who you are beyond grades and test scores and 2.) Dig into your topic by asking yourself how and why. There isn’t a prompt to guide you, so you must ask yourself the questions that will get at the heart of the story you want to tell.

More College Essay Topics

Individual schools sometimes require supplemental essays. Here are a few popular application essay topics and some tips for how to approach them:

Describe a person you admire.

Avoid the urge to pen an ode to a beloved figure like Gandhi or Abraham Lincoln. The admissions committee doesn't need to be convinced they are influential people. Focus on yourself: Choose someone who has actually caused you to change your behavior or your worldview, and write about how this person influenced you .

Why do you want to attend this school?

Be honest and specific when you respond to this question. Avoid generalities like "to get a good liberal arts education” or “to develop career skills," and use details that show your interests: "I'm an aspiring doctor and your science department has a terrific reputation." Colleges are more likely to admit students who can articulate specific reasons why the school is a good fit for them beyond its reputation or ranking on any list. Use the college's website and literature to do your research about programs, professors, and other opportunities that appeal to you.

Read More: 5 Ways College Application Essays and High School Essays Are Different

What is a book you love?

Your answer should not be a book report. Don't just summarize the plot; detail why you enjoyed this particular text and what it meant to you. What does your favorite book reveal about you? How do you identify with it, and how has it become personal to you?

Again, be honest in answering this question—don't choose a classic from your literature class or a piece of philosophy just because you think it will make you seem smarter. Writing fluently and passionately about a book close to you is always better than writing shakily or generally about a book that doesn't inspire you.

What is an extracurricular activity that has been meaningful to you?

Avoid slipping into clichés or generalities. Take this opportunity to really examine an experience that taught you something you didn't previously know about yourself, got you out of your comfort zone, or forced you to grow. Sometimes it's better to write about something that was hard for you because you learned something than it is to write about something that was easy for you because you think it sounds admirable. As with all essay questions, the most important thing is to tell a great story: how you discovered this activity, what drew you to it, and what it's shown you about yourself.

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5 Princeton Supplemental Essays That Worked

Princeton University Essay Examples

Are you applying to Princeton University in 2023? Or perhaps you're a parent curious about what it takes.

If so, writing great application essays is the most effective way you can stand out.

In this article, I've gathered 5 of the best Princeton essays that worked so that you can get inspired and improve your own essays.

What is Princeton University's Acceptance Rate?

As a world-renowned college, Princeton has highly competitive admissions. Located in Princeton, New Jersey, the Ivy League school received 37,601 applications this past year and only 1,647 of those students were accepted.

That gives Princeton an overall admit rate of 4.4%, or in other words only 1 in every 18 students get accepted.

Princeton University Acceptance Scattergram

While admissions into Princeton is difficult, this only means that your application essays have more of an impact.

To have your best shot of getting admitted, it's important you write stand-out essays in response to Princeton's writing supplement.

What are the Princeton Supplemental Prompts for 2023?

This year, Princeton requires applicants to write three short essays and answer three short answer questions. Princeton also requires that you submit a graded academic paper as a part of your application.

The questions on this page are being asked by Princeton University:

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) (1-200 words)

Please respond to each question in an essay of about 250 words.

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? (50-350 words)

  • Princeton has a longstanding commitment to service and civic engagement. Tell us how your story intersects (or will intersect) with these ideals. (50-350 words)

More About You

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

What is a new skill you would like to learn in college? (1-50 words)

What brings you joy? (1-50 words)

What song represents the soundtrack of your life at this moment? (1-50 words)

Princeton requires you to submit a graded written paper as part of your application. You may submit this material now or any time before the application deadline. If you choose not to upload the required paper at this time, you may mail, e-mail, or upload your paper through the applicant portal. Detailed instructions for our graded paper requirement can be found here.

Do you wish to submit a graded written paper at this time?

Upload the graded written paper here. (0-2000 words)

Additional Information (Optional)

Please attach a document if you wish to provide details of circumstances or qualifications not reflected in the application. (0-2000 words)

5 Princeton University EssaysThatWorked

Here are 5 of the best Princeton essays that worked, inclunding responses to Princeton's writing supplement.

I've also included some Common App essays written by admitted Princeton students.

Princeton University Essay Example #1

Princeton university essay example #2, princeton university essay example #3, princeton university essay example #4, princeton university essay example #5.

Prompt: Briefly elaborate on an activity, organization, work experience, or hobby that has been particularly meaningful to you. (Please respond in about 150 words) (200 words max)

Why This Essay Works:

This essay provides good specifics that elaborate on their extracurricular activity. It is specific where possible, which helps provide context and make more compelling.

What They Might Improve:

This essay touches on the impact of this activity (connection to their religion and friendship), but it could go deeper. The takeaways in this supplement are somewhat surface-level, which is fine to start, but ideally would be expanded upon and more in-depth.

Prompt: Please tell us how you have spent the last two summers (or vacations between school years), including any jobs you have held. (200 words max)

By admitting when things are difficult, you aren't making yourself seem less capable. Instead, showing what is challenging is what admissions wants to see. Challenges are what cause growth and development, so they are important to address.

In several areas of this essay, the author could be more specific to be more engaging. Rather than saying "the research happening in the labs" they could specify what types of research they witnessed. Rather than saying "these experiences were pivotal to my passion for the sciences," they could specify how these experiences gave them a new appreciation and for what areas of science in particular.

Prompt: Tell us about a person who has influenced you in a significant way. (250-650 words)

Last summer I participated in molecular biology research at Boston University. Surrounded by 39 other high school seniors, I perceived with new clarity how an inquisitive, curious mind must interact in an unapologetic manner. Entering lectures about the basics of molecular biology, most of us initially thought we knew a great deal about biology. I quickly realized my naivete, and once I accepted my own ignorance, I settled into a passive absorption mode. The looks on all our faces told the same story. Well, all of ours except Kelsey’s.

Brilliant and inquisitive, Kelsey exhibited no fear raising her hand and boldly asking questions. Even during the portions of the lectures when we were simply reviewing concepts of biology, she never ceased to question the current topic. The first few times she asked questions, I thought she had little background knowledge so she just needed clarification. Yet as the first week progressed, I realized that not only did she have the background information required for this course but also the grit and determination needed for success in research. The levels of her questions stumped our lecturer at times and he responded, “I’ll have to get back to you on that one.”

Often I just wanted to yell, “PUT YOUR HAND DOWN!!!”, as my tolerance for her constant inquiry began to erode while sitting through her questions and their subsequent answers. Due to her deep and thought-provoking questions, she became the class pariah; not necessarily because she was annoying but because of her resolute and indefatigable inquisitiveness. She was insatiable in her pursuit of knowledge, like a ribosome clinging to the endoplasmic reticulum.

Yet as the course progressed, I finally began to notice the value of Kelsey’s questions. She asked questions of importance, questions researchers must ask themselves every day. Her inquiries were thoughts no one else my age seemed to have. The depth and breadth of her ideas fascinated me, especially given that she was only sixteen.

Kelsey’s questions made me realize the importance of questioning preconceived notions.

Subsequently, I became aware of my own willingness to challenge concepts that were accepted and taught as seemingly concrete, and I recognized the danger of blindly absorbing information without disputing it. Seeing the scholarly nature of Kelsey’s intellectual curiosity, I began to emulate her queries during the final few weeks of the program. Not only did I get more out of the lectures, but I also gained the experience necessary to question ideas and facts and search for answers, a vital skill in every academic realm.

As a student with an interest in the sciences, I ask questions that may not have an obvious answer. As someone who strives for knowledge, I am willing to do research if what I am asking has no answer, but I do not simply possess an affinity toward knowledge. I wish to create it. Most young people cite coaches, teachers, or other adults as influential; however, for me, a peer-modeled approach to learning also has merit.

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Common App Prompt #5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. (250-650 words)

It's important to create a "voice" in your personal statement, so that admissions officers can imagine your character and personality. Try to write as you would speak, but refined and polished. In this essay, natural-sounding phrases like "...let me admit, I was awful..." humanizes the author and makes the reader feel like they're being spoken to.

This essay is a perfect example of how effective essays don't need to have a super unusual story to be compelling. What makes this essay's story compelling is not necessarily the topic itself (meeting distant relatives), but instead how the student reflects and makes interesting connections to broader ideas. Even seemingly mundane experiences can make for meaningful personal statements topics.

This conclusion works well by connecting to the main story of the essay. However, certain phrases like "As a global citizen" and "I am hoping to forge relationships" are potentially too generic. Instead, try taking your main idea (in this case forming connections with others) and broaden it or connect to more universal ideas.

Common App Prompt #1: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. (250-650 words)

Having a unifying idea is key to successful personal statements. Find your deepest idea or realization and focus your essay around that.

Find a way to showcase your achievements while connecting to broader, more universal ideas.

Connecting your ending to your beginning is a powerful way to bring your essay full circle. A great conclusion expands on your ideas introduced earlier, while leaving some room for more to be said.

These 5 Princeton essays that worked showcase great examples of responses to the Princeton writing supplement.

What did you think of these Princeton essays?

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Princeton Admitted Essay

People love to ask why. Why do you wear a turban? Why do you have long hair? Why are you playing a guitar with only 3 strings and watching TV at 3 A.M.—where did you get that cat? Why won’t you go back to your country, you terrorist? My answer is... uncomfortable. Many truths of the world are uncomfortable...

princeton common app essay

MIT Admitted Essay

Her baking is not confined to an amalgamation of sugar, butter, and flour. It's an outstretched hand, an open invitation, a makeshift bridge thrown across the divides of age and culture. Thanks to Buni, the reason I bake has evolved. What started as stress relief is now a lifeline to my heritage, a language that allows me to communicate with my family in ways my tongue cannot. By rolling dough for saratele and crushing walnuts for cornulete, my baking speaks more fluently to my Romanian heritage than my broken Romanian ever could....

princeton common app essay

UPenn Admitted Essay

A cow gave birth and I watched. Staring from the window of our stopped car, I experienced two beginnings that day: the small bovine life and my future. Both emerged when I was only 10 years old and cruising along the twisting roads of rural Maryland...

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Princeton University Essay Examples

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Princeton Essay Examples – Introduction 

Are you wondering how to write the Princeton supplemental essays? Then this Princeton essay guide is just what you need! In fact, we’ll look at six Princeton essay examples and provide a detailed breakdown of why these were Princeton essays that worked. 

But before we dive into our Princeton supplemental essays examples, let’s learn more about Princeton University. 

Princeton University 

First, Princeton University is an elite private institution located in Princeton, New Jersey. Princeton is one of the Ivy League schools, founded in 1746. According to U.S. News , Princeton University is ranked #1 in National Universities. 

Princeton is a highly competitive university with an acceptance rate of around 4% . The university also routinely makes the list of Best Colleges for many of their majors. Want to know how to get into Princeton? It’ll take much more than just a good test score . The key to gaining admission to Princeton is to make your Princeton supplemental essays shine . 

Princeton essay guide

In this Princeton essay guide, we’ll explore that essential aspect of the Princeton application: the Princeton essay. We’ll highlight several Princeton supplemental essays examples and provide analysis on why these are Princeton essays that worked.

After reading through the Princeton supplemental essays examples, you’ll know exactly how to write Princeton supplemental essays! With strong essays, you have a better chance of beating that low Princeton acceptance rate.

How many essays does Princeton have? 

princeton essay examples

Wondering how to get into Princeton? One of eight Ivy League schools , Princeton attracts top-tier applicants who have near-perfect GPA s and test scores . If you want to stand out from the crowd, you’ll need to focus on crafting strong essays. 

We’ll give you more information on how to write Princeton supplemental essays later in this guide. Right now, let’s look at the Princeton requirements for essays. 

Princeton supplemental essay requirements

In addition to the Common App essay , Princeton requests four supplemental essays, one graded written paper, and three short answer questions as part of the Princeton admissions requirements. 

The purpose of the Princeton supplemental essays is to add another piece of the puzzle to your application by showcasing how your interests, passions, and goals match the college you hope to attend.  

You’ll be able to review some Princeton essay examples from Princeton essays that worked later in this Princeton essay guide. 

Princeton Essay Prompts

The current princeton essay prompts for the 2022-2023 princeton admissions cycle are listed below: , prompts are subject to change.

These are the most recent Princeton essay prompts. However, these Princeton essay prompts might change for next year’s Princeton admissions season. Before you start writing your own essays, verify which Princeton essay prompts Princeton admissions requires for your Princeton application. 

Aside from the Princeton essays above, you must submit a graded written paper as part of your Princeton application. Princeton admissions officers use the graded written paper to assess an applicant’s “written expression in an academic setting.” We’ll discuss this aspect of the Princeton requirements in-depth later in this article. 

You might notice that some of the Princeton essay examples below may not reflect the current Princeton essay prompts. That’s okay! The Princeton essay examples we’ve highlighted can still be valuable tools to help you write your own college essays. So, read on!

How often do Princeton essays change? 

princeton essay examples

If you’re starting your research on how to get into Princeton early, you might be curious whether the Princeton essay prompts will change by the time you’re ready to submit your Princeton application. 

Many colleges changed their admission requirements because of the pandemic, like the new test-optional policy. So, how often do the Princeton essays change? It depends. A Princeton supplemental essay that was required two years ago might no longer be required. 

The Princeton requirements are usually published online in mid-summer for the upcoming admissions season. Before you start writing your Princeton essay, be sure to verify which prompts are listed as part of the Princeton requirements. 

Princeton Essay Examples – Short Essay #1 

Now that we know more about Princeton’s essay requirements, let’s look at some Princeton supplemental essays examples. The first prompt for the Princeton essay examples asks you to describe how you have spent the last two summer breaks from school. 

With only 150 words for your response, you’ll want to get straight to the point. Even if your summers were jam-packed with activities, it’s best to select one thing to talk about (for each summer break) so that you can provide a rich description full of specific details. 

The Princeton essay examples you’re about to see are not a reflection of the current essay prompts. However, they are examples of Princeton essays that worked and should be viewed as a guide on how to write a successful essay. 

Keep this in mind as we review two Princeton essay examples for this prompt and explain the reasons why these are Princeton essays that worked. 

Princeton Essay Examples #1

During the summer after my Sophomore year, my father was laid off from work and money was tight for my family, so I was limited in what I could do. I dedicated myself to teaching my four-year old sister, and we developed a very strong bond. I taught her to read, sounding out letters and guiding her small hand in writing them. I held the handlebars as she pedalled her first two-wheeler, picking her up every time she fell.

During the summer after my Junior year, I was accepted into the Summer Science Program in Biochemistry at a major university. At SSP, I was immersed into hours of intense lectures and lab sessions, but with some of the most passionate people I’ve ever met. I emerged with a stronger sense of the successes and failures involved in research and my unique place in the vast science research field.

Why this essay worked

This is an example of Princeton essays that worked for several reasons. First, the author anchors their response to the prompt by providing a detailed account of the activities they participated in each summer. 

In the first part of the response, the author gives insight into why they may not have as many extracurricular activities on their application – “my father was laid off from work…so I was limited in what I could do.” This part of the Princeton essay examples is exactly how you want to address any gaps in your resume or educational activities. 

Another reason why this example is one of the Princeton essays that worked is that the author uses a description of the science program they attended to explain their academic interests . Doing so shows the admissions officer that they are committed to this field as a result of their experiences. 

Let’s look at another version of the Princeton essay examples for this prompt. 

Princeton Essay Examples #2

Last summer, I served as the leader for a Summer Reading program at my neighborhood library. Whether it is talking in different voices or victory celebrations after finishing a book, whenever I am with children, I find myself being pulled into their childhood world—a world of simplicity, of undying curiosity, and of pure innocence. It is a world in which if everything is not perfect, it definitely can be. 

This summer, I learned more about the ever-changing world beyond Oregon through a program at Princeton University. The Institute was the first time I was asked to think critically, challenge my perspective, and coexist with others who brought a variety of experiences that I would not have encountered in my sheltered upbringing as a child of Vietnamese immigrants. I became more conscious of my biases through role-play simulations and debates on social issues facing the 21st Century.

The second sample in our Princeton essay examples is another fantastic instance of Princeton essays that worked well. In this response, the author describes the activity they participated in as well as how they were a leader in this role. You’ll want to do the same if you have also been in a leadership position like the author of this second essay from our Princeton essay examples. 

Another reason this is an example of Princeton essays that worked is because the author mentions what they did and connected this experience to what they learned. This shows self-growth and interpersonal development, which are two key characteristics of a successful college student. 

As we mentioned above, these two Princeton essay examples are not related to the current Princeton essay prompts. However, these Princeton essay examples are still useful and can help you as you write your own college essays , as they demonstrate clear and well-written responses in a unique voice. 

In the next few sections, we’ll examine Princeton essay examples that are relevant to the current Princeton essay prompts. 

Princeton Essay Examples – Short Essay #2

There are also two Princeton essay examples for the second essay prompt. This prompt asks you to elaborate on an extracurricular activity or work experience that was meaningful to you. 

Like the Princeton supplemental essays examples above, this essay has a maximum of 150 words. 

To write a successful essay, like the Princeton essays that worked below, you’ll want to choose an activity or experience that holds significance to you.

You’ll want to name the activity, describe what the activity is, and elaborate on what you do in that activity. Bonus points if you can also add why it is meaningful to you and/or what you learned because of this experience. 

We’ll review two extracurricular activities essay examples below and explain why they are Princeton essays that worked. 

Serving as a Student Government leader at my college has taught me the power of student voice and collaborative leadership. During my Junior year, I began attending Senate Meetings and was elected as a Senator a few months later. I began proposing solutions to problems my college faces, from lack of STEM programming to low voter turnout rates to poor multicultural outreach programs.

I created student committees to tackle these problems, the most recent being a committee working to bring a series of local STEM professionals for our artist-in-residence series. I was appointed as a student voice to faculty committees, such as the Diversity and Equity Committee.

I use this position to bring student concerns I hear from SG directly to the college board to catalyze changes in our college, such as the introduction of STEM cohort groups or providing resources for students of color.

In the first of the extracurricular activities essay examples, you’ll see that the author mentioned the extracurricular activity they participated in as well as their role within this activity. 

This is an important step that most applicants forget to include within their responses. You don’t want to assume that your reader knows what your position was within your activity, even if it’s listed earlier in your application. By including the name of the activity as well as your role in it, it helps your reader understand the nature of your involvement. 

Another strong aspect of this extracurricular activities essay examples is how the author describes their approach to identifying issues and proposing solutions. The author takes time to explain what they did in their position to make a change. This shows how they are a critical thinker and problem-solver. It also shows how they are good at advocating for others, which are essential skills to have in college . 

You can learn a lot from the first response in our extracurricular activities essay examples. Most notably, this is one of the Princeton essay examples that shows rather than tells. 

Let’s look at another version of the extracurricular activities essay examples. 

After watching my grandfather suffer from heart ailments, it was particularly meaningful to have the opportunity to conduct echocardiography research with a pediatric cardiologist. During my summer internship at a major Health and Science University, I designed and built heart models to mimic hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) disease and investigate strain comparisons in a 2D and 3D model. 

Continuously designing and analyzing my own experiments has not only taught me the value of diligence, patience, and replication in the laboratory setting, but it has also instilled in me a profound respect for the biological intricacies that make life possible.

The critical-thinking and problem-solving skills I have honed through research will enable me to tackle difficult, and sometimes unknown, problems with sound reasoning and confidence as I serve the underrepresented to help eliminate health disparities.

Like the other samples in our Princeton essay examples collection, this response works for a number of reasons. First, the author explains why this was a meaningful activity to them. This provides the reader with the connection between the author’s personal experience and the extracurricular activity they chose to highlight. 

Again, the author describes what they did in this activity as well as what they learned. What takes this response to the next level is that the author describes how they will use what they learned. They explain how this experience will help them to reach their future goals. 

The Princeton supplemental essays examples above are perfect samples of how to respond to the extracurricular activities prompt. 

In the next sections, we’ll look at Princeton supplemental essays examples for the long response prompt. Although, Princeton admissions no longer uses this prompt, the Princeton supplemental essays examples are still helpful guides . They can show you how to write an effective essay with a higher word count. 

Princeton Supplemental Essay Examples – Long Response

We have two Princeton essay examples for the final prompt. As we mentioned above, some of the Princeton essay examples in this Princeton essay guide are from old prompts. This includes the Princeton essay examples below. 

When you read the next two Princeton essay examples, you’ll notice that they are long responses at 650 words each. Again, these Princeton essay examples are from old prompts, and you no longer need to write a 650-word essay in addition to your Common App personal statement . 

Even though these Princeton essay examples do not reflect the newest prompts, you can use them to guide you as your work on your own Princeton essays. 

The prompt for the Princeton essay examples below asks the applicant to choose from a list of themes as a starting point and write about a person, event, or experience that defined their values or changed the way they approached the world. 

We’ll provide the theme that the authors of these Princeton essay examples chose before we discuss why these are Princeton essays that worked. 

“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. (650 words)

“You’re too white.”

I stopped in my tracks in the middle of the mall parking lot, trying to comprehend the judgement that had been cast on me by my Arab girlfriends. Too white, my friend had said. I always knew that I didn’t fit perfectly into the mold of a Middle Eastern girl, but this was the first time I had been called too much of something.

I was raised by an Arab father and an Irish-American mother. Because my father was the ultimate authority in the household, his cultural values overruled my mother’s. I grew up learning how to prepare spreads of mansaf and dancing to Jordanian dabke songs on the Arabic channel.

I twirled in my Palestinian dress in front of the mirror and painted my eyes with kohl. I was submissive and complacent, seen but not heard. I learned how to be a good hostess and to act bubbly with my friends and guests. I learned the value of family and respect for elders. In short, I was the perfect Arab girl.

When I was sixteen, however, my mom, siblings, and I left my father and moved to a different state. My mom ran our household based on her cultural values, presenting an exhilarating amount of freedom. Instead of passing by American Eagle, I was allowed to buy a pair of distressed jeans. I ordered the number two at Burger King and danced to Katy Perry’s “Swish Swish” at non-Arab parties. I talked back to my mom and stormed out of the house angrily.

I never felt the “whiteness,” as some would call it, creeping up on me. I never woke up and just decided “I’m more white than Arab.” I simply took on the values that my mom’s family and my new friends expected me to have.

However, I felt that at any given time, I was either Arab or white, never both. With my Arab friends, I was the Middle Eastern fashionista princess. With my non-Arab friends, I was the rebellious American teenager. Of course, neither of these stereotypes represented my true personality; I was trying to mold myself into the cookie cutters others had created for me, so it hurt to be called too much of one thing. My cultural identity was dependent on the people I was with.

After adjusting to my new life of freedom, I reevaluated how I defined my cultural identity. Why am I limiting myself in who I can be? I thought. Why am I allowing culture to define my identity? Why do I feel the need to force myself into certain stereotypes in my family’s cultures? Faced with these questions, I realized that rather than fitting myself into my cultures, I should make the cultures fit me. I appreciate my heritage and many of the values I was raised on, but I am more than my cultural background. My experiences shape the lens through which I view and assimilate my Arab and American cultures.

My anthropology teacher once said, “Culture is a social construction. It’s what we make it.” My culture is not a force that defines me; rather, it is a conglomeration of my heritage and values that influences and guides me. Looking in the mirror, I don’t see just an Arab-American teenage girl. I see a person grown from years of stories, sorrows, and joys. I see the values that my mother and father have taught me. I see the people that have touched me.

I see the lessons I’ve learned from my mistakes. You’re too white. I can scoff at this remark now, knowing it is nothing but a cultural tag society places on me. As I continue down this lifelong path of identity formation, I will remember to keep my heart open to the lessons I can learn from experiences to shape me into the person I want to see in the mirror.

This is the first of our Princeton supplemental essays examples that starts with a direct quote. This can be an effective way to pull your reader in. 

What makes this response truly unique is how personal it is. The author shows who they were, who they are, and who they hope to be as a result of their culture. They paint a picture of what it’s like to grow up within two distinct cultures. 

Additionally, the author addresses the values they had before and after they moved to a different state. By describing the shift in their values, they are addressing the part of the prompt that asks how they incorporate values into their lives to make them meaningful. Overall, this is a very strong essay!

Now let’s look at a different version of the Princeton supplemental essays examples. Please note that names of specific programs have been removed to preserve the writer’s anonymity.

“Princeton in the Nation’s Service” was the title of a speech given by Woodrow Wilson on the 150th anniversary of the University. It became the unofficial Princeton motto and was expanded for the University’s 250th anniversary to “Princeton in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations.” Woodrow Wilson, Princeton Class of 1879, served on the faculty and was Princeton’s president from 1902–1910. (500-650 word limit)   

My seven-year-old cousin’s thirst for knowledge, as she meticulously traced letters of the alphabet into the sandy floor of her schoolroom in Vietnam, makes me wonder what would happen if her potential met optimal resources. My aunt has to tie strips of fabric onto public buses to know which ones to take home from the market because poverty prevented her from learning how to read.

These vivid memories after my family trip to Vietnam fuel my passion to return to my country to stimulate social change through empowering people to voice their needs in front of an audience of national legislators and international agencies. This will provide my cousin with the chance to put pen to paper and finally tell her stories. The hope that my aunt will be able to read the public buses’ destinations herself reassures me that the injustices in my country will be addressed with the presence of officials advocating for change.

During an intensive seven-week program at Princeton University, I examined the economic, technological, social, and environmental needs facing the globe in the 21st Century. Through state-of-the art innovative methodologies, such as role-play simulations, case studies, and presentations, I debated on topics ranging from the cycle of recidivism that fosters the prison industrial complex to the removal of people of color from 17th and 18th Century  paintings in current academia.

These enriching dialogues at three in the morning allowed me to recognize that not only does my voice matter, but the voices of other underrepresented communities do as well. I learned that my leadership abilities are no longer confined by my skin color, gender, or social and economic standing.

More importantly, this program launched my continual pursuit of the core values—Excellence, Integrity, Compassion, and Community—to empower those voices that are underrepresented in my own communities: locally and internationally. I plan to employ these values and my Princeton education to impact the societal and environmental influences on health and well-being as a public health expert.

My interests in medicine, the human body, and social activism were magnified in this program because I began to recognize that my presence in Vietnam as a future public health expert will serve as a catalyst for change, inspiring my people to become assertive in their quest for aid in a way that giving a check never could.

With a world-class education from Princeton, I will explore my passion for service through conducting lectures on making access to healthcare a reality in developing nations at the annual Princeton-Fung Global Forum. I look forward to meeting with students and professors to learn and collaborate with the goal of collective global health leadership to become a more just and equitable society. 

Returning to my birth country sparked my desire to bring justice and health care to those who are marginalized. My program at Princeton helped me realize that through activism and public health outreach, I can place a spotlight on the unheard voices in the developing world.

I often ask myself, is civic engagement the only catalyst for change or does one have to be in a position of power to create a more just and equal world? I am still wrestling with these questions as I strive to discover the right balance between making a contribution and raising awareness while maximizing the ultimate benefit to the recipients. Truly, I know that community service is for my cousin, aunt, and all the nations I seek to serve.

Like the Princeton supplemental essays examples above, this response works because it’s personal. In fact, the essay pulls you in with vivid descriptions of life in Vietnam. Then, the author connects that to the need for change and how they hope to achieve this change. 

Another thing that works about this sample of the Princeton supplemental essays examples is that the author bridges each example in the essay to the prompt’s theme of service . They are able to explain their interests, passions, and future goals and how each of these are related to service. 

The author also explicitly states how attending Princeton will help them reach their goals, which we haven’t seen yet in any of the Princeton supplemental essays examples above. This can be an effective tool to use in your own essays. You want to stand out from other applicants and show that you want to attend Princeton, which is what this essay does well. 

Now that we’ve explored all our Princeton supplemental essays examples, let’s discuss how to write the Princeton supplemental essays. 

How do you write the Princeton supplemental essays? 

5 tips on how to write the princeton supplemental essays, 1. start early.

As we saw in the Princeton supplemental essays examples above, writing a strong essay takes time. You’ll want to begin your Princeton essay well in advance of the application deadline. 

2. Brainstorm topics for your Princeton supplemental essays

Before you start writing, you’ll want to brainstorm potential topics for your Princeton supplemental essays. Read through the prompts and think about how you can use your essay topics to highlight different aspects of your identity, interests, or passions. 

3. Focus on one experience

It might be tempting to write about everything that has happened to you since you started high school, but less is always more. Focus on one experience per essay and use your word count to provide rich details about that experience. 

4. Be specific

Each of the Princeton supplemental essays examples did a great job of bringing specific details into their responses. As you are writing your own essays, incorporate specific points to help your essay stand out. 

5. Edit your essays

Although it might be tempting to do so, don’t skip this important step! Sometimes it takes two to four rounds of edits before your essays are ready to submit. Ask a friend, teacher, or advisor for feedback, and edit your essays appropriately . 

Princeton Admissions Requirements: The Graded Written Paper

princeton essay examples

As we mentioned above, the graded written paper is on the list of Princeton requirements for admission. So, you must submit a graded written paper as part of your Princeton application. 

There are certain guidelines to consider as you select which graded written paper to submit along with your Princeton supplemental essay. 

Your graded written paper must meet the following criteria: 

  • Your paper should have been written for an academic course, preferably English, social studies, or history, during the last three years of high school (including senior year).
  • You may choose a paper, essay, research paper, or essay exam to send. However, it must be an example of expository writing only, not creative writing. 
  • One to two pages in length. 
  • Must include the course instructor’s grade and/or comments. If a grading rubric was used, please include this as well. 

How to submit your graded written paper for Princeton

You can submit your graded written paper to the Princeton admissions office by choosing one of the following options: 

  • Upload the paper alongside your Princeton application materials on the Common App or QuestBridge application. 
  • Mail, email, or upload the graded written paper to your student portal. 

Princeton admissions officers will review the graded written paper. They will use it to determine whether an applicant demonstrates the ability to perform well in Princeton’s rigorous academic environment. 

Keep in mind that Princeton admissions is more interested in the quality of the writing, rather than the grade you received. We encourage you to submit a paper that demonstrates your best writing abilities, regardless of the grade. 

Additional Princeton Resources 

Need additional Princeton resources? Check out CollegeAdvisor’s How to Get into Princeton guide . In it, you’ll find more information on the Princeton supplemental essay, Princeton requirements, Princeton admissions, and more. 

How to Get Into Princeton Guide

If you loved our Princeton essay examples and Princeton essays that worked, you can read more college essay examples here . 

College Essay Examples: 10 Best Examples of College Essays and Why They Worked

Moreover, you can also watch our webinar to get an overview of common supplemental essay prompts . 

Supplemental Essay Prompts Overview

Finally, to learn more about how to get into Princeton, watch our Princeton University panel . 

Princeton University Panel

Princeton Essay Examples – Final Thoughts 

Lastly, we hope our Princeton essay examples guide helped inspire you to begin writing your own Princeton essay. Even though the Princeton supplemental essays examples we included in this article might not reflect the current prompts, they are a good to reference as you write your college essays. 

While you research how to write Princeton supplemental essays, you’ll want to pay particular attention to the Princeton essays that worked in this Princeton essay guide. 

So, if you want personalized support as you strategize on how to get into Princeton, we can help. Register with CollegeAdvisor today to receive one-on-one guidance through the college application process.

princeton essay examples

Claire Babbs wrote this article. Looking for more admissions support? Click  here  to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how  can support you in the college application process.

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