Consistently ranked one of the best schools in the country, Princeton University boasts a cozy 5:1 student-faculty ratio, an excellent financial aid program, and a broad range of study abroad opportunities for undergraduates. If you’re admitted, you’ll be taking classes with professors at the tip-top of their fields – so now it’s just a matter of getting that acceptance letter. We’re here to show you how to write the Princeton supplemental essays, helping you give your best shot at walking through FitzRandolph Gate as a freshman in the Great Class of 2027.
What makes your application’s essay section so important?
For its class of 2026, Princeton reports an average ACT of 33-35, a math SAT of 760-800, and a reading and writing SAT of 730-780. With the norm being top-notch standardized test scores like these – and a similarly top-notch unweighted GPA of 3.9 for previous classes – you’ll need more than just a stellar transcript to stand out. This is where your essays come in.
Princeton asks you to respond to 3 long-answer and 3 short-answer prompts, and an additional 250-word prompt depending on whether you’re applying for a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree. This makes for a total of 7 prompts, nearly double the amount other universities require. Don’t let all the writing intimidate you! Each prompt is an opportunity to tip the scales of admission in your favor, and show Princeton officials who you really are beyond your grades and test scores. With that in mind, let’s have a look at Princeton’s 7 supplemental essay prompts for the 2022-2023 application cycle.
For the 3 short-answer prompts, you’ll need to convey a meaningful response within a tight 50-word maximum. To do this, we recommend the following tips: avoid restating the question, trim unnecessary connector words, and use colons, semicolons, and em dashes to improve concision.
The two example responses below have the same word count – but the first uses choppy, overly verbose writing, and the second cleans it up using the tips we’ve just discussed.
“A new skill that I would like to learn in college is how to analyze literature. I would like to be able to discuss books like John Locke’s Two Treatises in greater depth. This is because it interested me in high school, but I didn’t understand many of Locke’s theories.”
“John Locke’s Two Treatises on Government has confounded and intrigued me ever since I first read it in high school. At Princeton, I’d love to sharpen my literary analysis skills through discussions with my classmates – and return to writers like Locke with a new understanding of the written word.”
The long essay prompts give you more room to work with – 150 words for the first prompt and 250 for the other two – but choppy sentence structure, run-ons, and unnecessary fluff will confuse your reader no matter the length of the essay. As such, you should always strive for concision, even with the longer prompts.
To ensure a well-rounded application, try to write your essays on topics you haven’t mentioned in other prompts or your transcript. Admissions officials may start to see you as single-faceted if they see your coding team in your activity list, then read about the same coding team two more times in your short responses. To avoid this, vary your essay topics as much as you can – and take advantage of any prompts where you can discuss an aspect of your background that isn’t reflected in your transcript.
Finally, before we move to a prompt-by-prompt breakdown of the Princeton supplemental essays, here are two tips to keep in mind for both your short responses and long-answer essays.
One, be detailed. For longer essays, try to go from specific anecdotes to broader themes – introductory paragraphs in particular benefit from starting on a direct quote or an engaging scene. For shorter prompts, pick responses that showcase your unique personality. For example, good food brings everyone joy, but maybe your favorite food is your grandma’s red velvet recipe that you love making with her, even if you can’t quite get it right yourself.
Two, make sure you’re always telling admissions officials about you. This may seem like obvious advice, but many applicants get swept away in explaining the technical aspects of a topic that interests them or describing a school’s resources without connecting them to their own aspirations. Instead of telling admissions officials their School of Public and International Affairs is impressive, tell them why you’re dying to take that one class that aligns perfectly with your interests. Instead of flatly stating that conversations on healthcare are important, tell your reader how a conversation you had completely changed your perspective.
With these higher-level tips out of the way, let’s move on to a prompt-by-prompt breakdown of the Princeton supplemental essays.
Princeton’s 2022-2023 Prompts
Short Response (50 words)
- 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?
Essay Prompts (100-250 words)
- Briefly elaborate on an activity, organization work experience, or hobby that has been particularly meaningful to you. (150 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? (250 words)
- Princeton has a longstanding commitment to service and civic engagement. Tell us how your story intersects (or will intersect) with these ideals. (250 words)
For A.B. Degree Applicants or Those Who Are Undecided (250 words)
- 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 area most piques your curiosity, and how do the programs offered at Princeton suit your particular interests?
For B.S.E. Degree Applicants (250 words)
- 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.
What is a new skill you would like to learn in college? (50 words)
For this prompt, specificity is crucial – the more niche the skill you describe, the more interesting and unique your response. For instance, perhaps you want to pick up writing as a skill. But what kind of writing? Academic? Journalistic? Poetry? Narrowing your scope to a laser-focus will show admissions officials you’ve thought about your answer, and truly intend to pursue this skill once you’re on campus.
Another tactic is to focus on an extracurricular. Perhaps you want to learn bird-recognition through Princeton’s surprisingly active birdwatching community, or gain new knowledge about fashion by contributing to TigerTrends. For this approach, you might try skimming through Princeton’s list of student organizations to see if any interest you.
“I want to be funny – and not just dad-joke funny, but gut-bustingly hilarious at all times. As soon as auditions open, I’d love to try out for Fuzzy Dice or Quipfire and take up improv comedy, so I can overcome my stage fright and start thinking on my feet.”
No matter the skill you choose, your response should show admissions officials your willingness to learn through the resources you find at college. Pay attention to the word “new,” and steer clear of skills you already have or that relate to activities you’ve already discussed. Picking a skill you’re completely unfamiliar with will reflect that you’re unafraid to improve yourself by trying new things.
What brings you joy? (50 words)
This is an especially open-ended prompt, which leaves you free to interpret it in a way that’s genuine and personal to you. Your answer could be an object, an activity, a piece of media, a memory, or even a person that makes you happy in your day-to-day life. As always, detail is the key to a unique response – everybody likes a nice view, but only you know the joy of monthly hikes with your dad to the waterfall in the woods outside your hometown.
If you’re having trouble coming up with a specific answer to this prompt, consider the following questions: what do you do to cheer yourself up when you’re feeling down? If you had a spare $100 to spend on a hobby, what would you buy? Do you have strong feelings about your favorite color, or favorite food? As long as you can convey it in 50 words (and it’s appropriate), don’t be afraid to pick something strange – an unconventional answer will only help your essay stand out.
What song represents the soundtrack of your life at this moment? (50 words)
This one can be a bit tricky. Be creative, and make sure to show your reader why the song you choose reflects your life. It doesn’t have to be a serious classical number either – your little brother’s enthusiastic but slightly off-beat mixtape might represent your life in a more personal way than Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.
You might also draw from movie soundtracks, or even a sound that people wouldn’t normally consider a song, such as a crackling campfire. Think about a song that will grab your reader’s attention – unless you have an interesting reason for choosing it, a consistent breaker of the Billboard Hot 100 likely won’t stand out. In contrast, saying you relate to the Super Mario Bros. death jingle or the opening bars of the Star Wars theme will certainly pique some interest.
Briefly elaborate on an activity, organization work experience, or hobby that has been particularly meaningful to you. (150 words)
For this prompt, you may have a hard time coming up with a topic you haven’t already touched on. If so, try to choose an activity or experience you feel deserves more space than you were able to give it elsewhere – maybe you listed your part-time job at a movie theatre under your work experience, but weren’t able to properly convey how working there gave you a new appreciation for customer service. Narratives like these, if told well, show admissions officials a whole new side of you even if you already mentioned the activity on your transcript.
“As my mom drove us home from the animal shelter, I held a box in my lap – and inside it, a week-old kitten. She was only a foster, so we couldn’t keep her long. Still, at that moment, I decided to do everything I could to care for her until she landed at her forever home.
For the next two weeks, an animal smaller than my hand pushed my tenacity to its limits. I barely slept, waking up every two hours to feed her. Every time she sneezed, I panicked and watched her with one finger hovering over the vet’s number.
Now, she’s a full-fledged little cat – and just yesterday, a nice couple adopted her. This was the most meaningful part of my volunteer work at the animal shelter. From now on, I’ll always look at caregivers – whether human or feline – with nothing but immense respect.”
Of course, if you can think of an entirely new topic, go for it! Hobbies like crocheting or solving Rubik’s cubes may not fit outside your essay section without a formal organization to go with them, but if they’ve been important to you, this prompt is the perfect opportunity to explain why.
Overall, make sure you’re not only describing the activity you choose, but also conveying what it has meant to you, and why. Don’t just tell your reader you interned at a tech startup or a newsroom – tell them what you learned, who you met, and how the experience impacted your goals and perspective.
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)
When you respond to this prompt, pay particular attention to its third sentence. The conversation you choose to highlight should be one that changed your way of thinking, or taught you something new about your current worldview. Since this prompt requires you to describe a difficult topic, be prepared to write with tact – “respectful” is a key word here.
Dialogue may also be a key element of your essay, especially if you can remember exactly what someone said to change your way of thinking. You might consider starting your essay with that quote, or with other relevant dialogue that engages your reader directly with the conversation at the center of your narrative.
“‘I want to make sure other young women have the same opportunities I had.’
My English teacher’s response to my question was a splash of icy water. I’d asked her why she returned to teach high school in our tiny, rural hometown – where women rarely ever leave for college – when she could’ve stayed in a more progressive area out-of-state. She spoke casually, like her answer wasn’t a big deal, but it hasn’t left my mind ever since.
As a young woman with aspirations in software engineering, I’ve always intended to flee my hometown for a big city where people celebrate women for their achievements, rather than putting them down. My teacher was my only role model at school, cheering me on as I applied for coding camps and supporting me when I was the only girl in my computer science class.
Now I realize that if my teacher hadn’t been there for me, I might’ve given up my dreams altogether. If she’d taken the easy way out – staying in a place where change has already happened – all the women in my hometown would’ve been worse off.
After I spoke with her, I slowly resolved to also return to my hometown someday, if only to speak at my old high school and encourage young women to follow whatever path they choose. Just as my teacher did for me, I want to someday help make my home a better place for girls aspiring to college and careers beyond.”
Overall, the qualities admissions officials are gauging here are your open-mindedness and willingness to challenge your own perspective. Readers should clearly be able to tell how your beliefs changed from the beginning of your narrative to the end – as well as how that change will impact your actions in the future.
Princeton has a longstanding commitment to service and civic engagement. Tell us how your story intersects (or will intersect) with these ideals. (250 words)
This is another prompt where you might find yourself touching on topics you’ve already mentioned elsewhere – namely, any volunteering experience you might’ve listed in your activity transcript. However, bear in mind that you shouldn’t just be listing these experiences again in slightly more detail. Instead, try to present a compelling narrative about your beliefs regarding community and civic service, and how you came to believe them.
For instance, you might feel strongly that every citizen should exercise their right to vote. How did you first adopt this ideal? How have you furthered it in your own community? Have you volunteered for any voter outreach programs, or platformed information about voter registration on your social media? How did that work continue to shape your belief in being an active voter?
Even if you’ve already mentioned some of these activities in your transcript, providing the full narrative of your experience will give admissions officials a much deeper understanding of your commitment to service. You can craft this narrative by highlighting two things – one, how you gained your current beliefs, and two, how you’ve concretely demonstrated those beliefs in your volunteer work and activities.
Finally, you might also consider mentioning some volunteer opportunities you’re interested in at Princeton. Your conclusion would likely be the best place to include this – if you wrap up your essay by stating how you plan to carry your ideals forward into the future, explaining how you would do so at Princeton specifically could make a perfect endpoint for your narrative.
Prompt 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 area most piques your curiosity, and how do the programs offered at Princeton suit your particular interests? (250 words)
The key to this essay prompt is balance. While you want to be as specific as possible in naming the programs, courses, and professors you’d like to connect with at Princeton, make sure you don’t lose your own perspective along the way. Start by clearly identifying a single academic area where your strongest interests lie, and then explain why Princeton’s resources suit your chosen area. You want to give admissions officials the sense that your academic interests align with Princeton’s curriculum – not that you’re arbitrarily choosing a field of study based on what Princeton has available.
Above all, try to convey why the area you choose piques your curiosity so strongly. What history do you have in that field? What first sparked your fascination for it? What do you plan to do with it in the future? Do you plan to enter the field professionally, or do you just passionately believe in what it has to offer? Using your introduction to answer questions along these lines will provide readers with a profile of your interests before applying it to the programs Princeton offers.
Again, once you get to the body of your essay, try to be as specific as possible in naming these resources. Instead of just stating that you’d like to study Psychology, describe the courses you’d like to take and the professors you’d like to study under – perhaps you find the psychology of memory particularly fascinating, and so you want to take PSY 255: Cognitive Psychology your first semester. (And don’t forget to tell readers why you find memory fascinating, perhaps even opening your essay on the moment you first realized the topic was important to you.)
Prompt 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. (250 words)
In a similar vein to previous prompts, you may have already touched upon your engineering experiences in your transcript, so try to use this space to tie those experiences together into a cohesive narrative. As you write, keep Princeton’s programming in mind – most pertinently, which of the six departments that offer a B.S.E. degree are you interested in? How does your experience translate into your intended department?
Notice also that the prompt asks for “exposure to engineering” as well as experience. This is a clearer opportunity to explore a background in engineering not covered in your activity list or transcript. For instance, if someone in your family or community is an engineer who inspired you to pursue a degree in the field, you might describe your relationship with that person here. You might also relate to readers the event that first sparked your interest in engineering, if you can remember that moment. Overall, just as with the prompt for A.B. students, you should strive to strike a balance between describing your own background and describing the resources you plan to take advantage of at Princeton. Try to name specific courses, professors, and extracurricular engineering activities that appeal to you, but always do so through the lens of your own past experiences and future aspirations.
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