How to Write the Princeton Supplemental Essays

Picture of a man in a collared-shirt writing on a sheet of paper. This is symbolic of how he is learning how to write the Princeton supplemental essaus
July 20, 2022
Purpose of the Princeton EssaysPrinceton Essay Prompts & How to Answer Each of Them6 Simple Tips for Writing the Princeton Essays3 Princeton Supplemental Essay Examples From Admitted Students With Feedback


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 7/20/22

College application building means you’ll need to write many supplemental essays. If you’re wondering how to write the Princeton essays, read on!

Applying to Princeton is a monumental, thrilling, and intimidating task. As one of the Ivy League schools, Princeton strives to accept the best of the best. But, it takes more than just good grades and excellent test scores to attend Princeton. Part of the application process includes writing Princeton supplemental essays. 

This article will outline the essay prompts and pass along several writing tips, so you’re fully prepared to impress Princeton’s admissions team.

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Purpose of the Princeton Essays

When applying to universities, the admissions team only knows what you give them. They judge you based on your: 

It’s hard to determine who you are based on just grades, so these essays provide insight into your character that admissions committees value. These essays are your opportunity to “speak” directly to the admissions committee and show why you deserve to attend Princeton. 

Every university wants to feel special, know that you chose to apply for a specific reason, and know that your application was intentional, not a fluke. You don’t get the opportunity to talk to the admissions team right off the bat, so you use the essays to show why you deserve to attend Princeton. 

Each prompt allows you to express yourself and explain: 

Princeton also wants to know your expectations, dreams, how it can help you achieve those dreams, and what kind of mark you’ll leave on it. 

But, don’t write your essays to cater to what you think the admissions committee wants to read. Admissions officers want to see your true self, so devote a healthy amount of time to these essays to give yourself the best chance of acceptance. Use this opportunity to show your true personality.

Princeton Essay Prompts & How to Answer Each of Them 

For the most part, each student answers similar questions about themselves. Princeton’s supplemental essay prompts range from 50 to 250 words, and the prompts aim to uncover more about you. Let’s explore each topic in a little more depth.

Essay Prompt #1: How to Write the Princeton Supplemental Essays (Track Essay)

The first Princeton essay prompt you’ll answer depends on what track you plan to take. If you’re undecided or what to pursue liberal arts, you’ll respond to the first prompt, while engineering hopefuls will respond to the second: 

1. “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.)” 
2. “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 about 250 words.)” 

If you plan to answer the first prompt, it’s okay if you’re unsure what major you want to pick. It’s a difficult decision to make, and Princeton understands that. To make it a little easier for you, Princeton wants to know what kind of topics interest you and how Princeton fits into those interests. 

Be sure to conduct some college research to determine Princeton’s programs to ensure the university is a good fit for you. This is your opportunity to: 

If you’ve been interested in engineering your whole life, the second prompt will be fairly easy to answer. These supplemental essays are your chance to discuss your dreams and share any anecdotes that nurtured your interest in engineering. Use this opportunity to talk about your goals and how Princeton fits in with those plans.

Essay Prompt #2: The Princeton Activity/Work Experience Essay

Capped at 150 words, Princeton asks you to respond to the following prompt: 

“Briefly elaborate on an activity, organization, work experience, or hobby that has been particularly meaningful to you.” 

So, how do you write this Princeton essay? First, think about all the activities or work experiences you found most meaningful. Whether you choose an activity, work experience, or hobby doesn’t matter as much as the essay’s content. Consider these questions to set yourself in the right direction: 

The prompt allows you to share your passion in detail. Consider how the topic you choose uncovers your personality, skills, or knowledge and whether it helped make a positive impact in your community or organization. 

Essay Prompt #3: The Princeton Diverse Perspectives Essay

The Princeton diversity essay prompt doesn’t ask about how your acceptance will add to the school but your ability to shift perspectives based on new information and experiences. The prompt is: 

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?” (250 words) 

Princeton’s admissions team wants to know how you deal with difficult discussions and what you might have learned from these debates. Whether it’s political or social issues, the admissions team wants to see how you handled a difficult conversation topic with respect. 

To direct your narrative, you’ll need to break this prompt into pieces: 

The critical piece of this essay is showing that you’re capable of changing your perspective in light of new information or ideas; the ability to change and grow without blindly sticking to biases and opinions is paramount to your success at Princeton. 

Essay Prompt #4: Writing the Princeton Mission Essay

The last essay prompt before you answer the Princeton short answer questions is: 

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

Princeton wants to know how you’ve helped others, relating your experiences and values to the school’s mission. To get some clarity and help formulate your story, you should ask yourself these questions: 

After you’ve decided on a topic, you can write about your future plans to contribute to your community or Princeton’s community. To strengthen your narrative, you can reference Princeton-specific initiatives that you’d love to participate in that relate to your passions and interests. 

Remember, Princeton wants to see students with personal missions that intersect with its own. 

Princeton Short Answer Prompts and How to Write Them

There are three remaining short questions you must answer: 

1. “What is a new skill you would like to learn in college?"
2. “What brings you joy?"
3. "What song represents the soundtrack of your life at this moment?”

Each Princeton short answer question response must be 50 words or less, and the topics are more fun and creative. Don’t be afraid to have a little fun answering these! Here are some tips on how to write concise answers that showcase your personality: 

Remember, you should be honest with these answers. Writing what you think the admissions committee wants to hear can come across as insincere. If you’re a fan of fantasy books, there’s no need to say you’re “a fanatic for classic literature.” 

6 Simple Tips for Writing the Princeton Essays

Now that you know what the Princeton essay prompts are, you’re ready to learn tips about how to write the Princeton supplemental essays. 

Tip #1: Determine Your Track

Whether you’re pursuing a liberal arts degree or interested in engineering, you should determine what career path you want to take. Ensure you answer the correct prompt for the first supplemental essay. 

Tip #2: Conduct Research

Ensure that Princeton offers the degree you wish to pursue. You wouldn’t want to write an essay about a major that Princeton doesn’t offer. You should also research the extracurriculars offered to see if there are clubs or offerings that interest you. You could use that as an opportunity to contribute to the school’s culture.

Tip #3: Choose Your Words Wisely

Keep in mind that your responses should range from 50 to 250 words. This word count is barely two paragraphs, so you want to make sure you concisely answer the prompt. Avoid overly sophisticated sentence structures and language. 

Tip #4: Be Yourself

Remember that some of these prompts are supposed to be fun, so let your personality shine through! The admissions team wants to get to know you. A little honesty and creativity can help you stand out. Be honest to stand out from the other applicants. 

Tip #5: Proofread

Be sure to proofread your essays to ensure there aren’t any grammatical or spelling mistakes. Remember that this is your way of proving you deserve to attend Princeton. You don’t want to discredit your argument by making mistakes. They can distract admissions committees from your message! 

Tip #6: Ask for Help

Don’t be afraid to ask friends, family members, or even teachers to read through prompts to ensure that your answers are concise and easy to understand. If you want to truly elevate your writing, an admissions consultant can evaluate your essays the way admissions committee members would. 

Another set of eyes can also help find errors that you might have missed. 

3 Princeton Supplemental Essay Examples From Admitted Students With Feedback

If you’re feeling stumped and unsure what your essay should look like, check out these examples of Princeton essays that worked. 

Example #1

“Briefly elaborate on an activity, organization, work experience, or hobby that has been particularly meaningful to you.”

“For the past five years, I have participated in a service group called CTeen (Chabad Teen Network). It is comprised of about twenty-five Jewish teenagers from surrounding high schools. Every Sunday morning we have breakfast and class with our rabbi. We discuss current events and world dilemmas from a Jewish point of view. These discussions have deepened my understanding of Judaism and brought me closer to other members of CTeen. Through CTeen I have met many of my closest friends. My chapter annually travels to Brooklyn for a shabbaton in Crown Heights with 200 other CTeen chapters from around the world. Every year during this time I am imbued with the dedication of my community to our faith, and I experience a heightened connection to both Judaism and my friends. As president of my CTeen chapter and member of the International CTeen Leadership Board, I continue to be impacted by the authentic ideas and dedicated people I meet.”

Princeton Essay Examples #1 Feedback

This student wrote about the service group they’re involved with to show their connection to a community. 

The student talks about the group and how they serve their community, perfectly embodying Princeton’s ideals. It’s also a unique experience that sets them apart from other candidates. Consider the time you’ve served your community and how it shaped you. 

The student’s response also shows their leadership skills and capacity to reflect on how being a part of the service group continues to shape them. The last sentences show the student’s openness to growth. 

Example #2

“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? (Please respond in about 250 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.”

Princeton Supplemental Examples #2 Feedback 

This student aptly discusses how an interaction changed their perspective on asking questions in a class. Although the student’s initial reaction to the student does not paint the writer in a positive light, their ability to reflect and understand the value of curiosity shows their ability to question their preconceived notions. 

This response shows the writer’s capacity to learn and grow when presented with new information and realizations. They now take the initiative to ask tough questions: a valuable quality in the next generation of academics and leaders. 

Example #3

Briefly elaborate on an activity, organization, work experience, or hobby that has been particularly meaningful to you.

For the last three years, I’ve savored the intellectual stimulation and pressure-filled competition of the Public Forum debate…This year, as debate captain, I strengthened my high school team into a female-majority powerhouse ten times as large as last year…I Implemented a system of accountability by checking my teammates’ cases for completion in a shared online folder and holding them responsible for organizing their own practice debates before competition. I also trained them in attitude, instructing the quieter girls to speak with confidence because they are more brilliant than they realize. Slowly, I watched my smattering of nervous freshmen transform into an army of fearless champions who hugged me with pride every time they took home a top trophy.”

Princeton Supplemental Essay Example #3 Feedback 

The response shows us what is clearly one of the student’s most impactful activities. The activity they write about shows their time commitment (three years), leadership capability, and impact on the new team. 

Overall, this essay satisfies the prompt and discusses the student's most meaningful activity but does so in a way that shows their positive character traits. 

Final Thoughts 

Essays can be stress-inducing, especially when they determine your acceptance into your dream school. You want to show you have goals and dreams that Princeton can help you achieve. It can be difficult to know where to start, but you’ll have a foolproof plan for tackling these essays if you follow these guidelines. 

As long as you stay true to yourself and set yourself apart from other candidates, you should have no problem writing amazing Princeton supplemental essays. Good luck and happy writing!

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