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How to Respond to the Princeton Supplemental Essay Prompts
When applying to an Ivy League institution such as Princeton University, the stakes can feel especially high. You will likely feel pressured to stand out among so many qualified applicants applying to a school with a 6% acceptance rate. Fortunately, Princeton includes a variety of questions in their supplemental essays. This series of prompts is advantageous because it allows you to share multiple perspectives. Your answers should give admissions a better picture of who you are and the dynamic things you bring to the table.
Let’s walk through how best to approach each essay.
Breaking down each of the Princeton supplemental essays
The first prompt will differ depending on what kind of degree you are trying to pursue. Both iterations address your academic interests, what influenced those curiosities, and how you can further explore them at Princeton. Keep in mind A.B. degree is the same as a Bachelor’s of Art, just in Latin. B.S.E. is a Bachelor’s of Science in Engineering.
Related: How to write an essay about yourself
Prompt #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)
This prompt is pretty straightforward. Think about what subjects you have been most drawn to throughout your schooling. Next, trace back where you formed that interest or how you have engaged it. Did your nightly routine of reading bedtime stories ignite your love for creative writing? Are you pursuing Asian studies after your experiences traveling?
Once you have nailed down what intellectually excites you and a short anecdote of its origins, connect it to Princeton. Be as specific as possible in citing how Princeton’s academics will support your goals. For instance, look into course catalogs and find a class that sounds right up your alley. Make sure your Princeton example aligns with the intellectual passion you’ve woven throughout your response.
Questions to consider:
- When were you first fascinated by your chosen subject?
- Does Princeton offer a niche major or minor most other schools lack?
- Is there a study abroad program or other special learning opportunity that intrigues you?
Prompt #1 (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 about 250 words)
This prompt is like the first, but with a specific concentration on engineering. Do not be afraid to unleash your curiosity for the subject or brag on relevant work you’ve done. You could go for a more abstract response and describe what it is about designing and building that excites you. You might reference your knack for fixing household objects growing up. Or, you may describe engineering projects you have completed that inspired this career goal. For example, your participation in a robotics club in high school could have been instrumental in forming your enthusiasm.
To help you outline how Princeton can further your interests, dig into its website. Is there a spotlight on students’ research that models what you’d like to explore? Is there a part of the school’s strategic plan that excites you? This track is especially competitive and focused. Aim to show admissions your zeal for engineering and back it up with examples.
Questions to consider:
- Do you have your sights set on a particular field within engineering?
- Have you received any accolades for engineering-related projects or classes?
- Is there an undergraduate student organization within the engineering school that you hope to join?
Prompt #2 (extracurricular activity and work experience)
Briefly elaborate on an activity, organization, work experience, or hobby that has been particularly meaningful to you. (150 words)
This prompt is very open-ended. It is common to feel overwhelmed by broadness due to the many directions you could take your answer. However, try to focus on the words “particularly meaningful.” If more than one engagement comes to mind, make a list. Write out all the activities you’ve been involved with and why you value each one.
Has one of your hobbies allowed you to find community? Has volunteering for a non-profit given you a cause to fight for? Did you hold a job that solidified why you want to pursue your intended career path? Admissions wants to learn about the experiences that have shaped your character. Your sincerity should shine here!
Questions to consider:
- Has one of your hobbies taught you a new skill you cherish?
- Have you participated in travel that challenged your beliefs?
- Did growing up playing a sport influence how you define teamwork?
Prompt #3 (your voice)
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)
Unlike Prompt #2, this question is very specific. It instructs you to share a particular situation, what you learned from it, and how you are applying those insights going forward. Keep in mind that “diverse perspectives” can reference those with differing political views, socioeconomic statuses, sexual orientations, ethnic backgrounds, and more.
Think about a time when you’ve had to navigate tricky subjects with someone that identifies differently than you do. Did you hear about a friend’s struggles with bullying and vow to never be a bystander? Did you have to talk to your religious parents about your questions about faith? Princeton wants to know how you can work through conflict and come out with a more accepting, informed worldview.
Questions to consider:
- Have you learned about prejudice after discussing social issues with those who belong to a marginalized group?
- Did you overcome biased thoughts about someone and leave the conversation with greater empathy?
- What difficult conversations have you had to initiate vs. being confronted with them by others?
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 question wants to know how you have made a mark in your community. Have you volunteered consistently for a particular charity? Did you write a research paper on a social problem that has made you want to get involved? Do you plan to run for student government? Use this space to discuss a cause you are passionate about, whether advocating for animal rights or fostering financial literacy. If you have not had much experience giving back in this space, be sure to reference how you will do so once at Princeton. Be careful not to discuss the same examples in this prompt as prompt #2.
Questions to consider:
- Has any community service you’ve done felt particularly special?
- What problems do you wish you could solve in the world?
- What Princeton clubs or student activities interest you in the civic engagement space?
Prompts #5,6,7: More about you
Please respond to each question in 50 words or fewer. There are no right or wrong answers. Be yourself!
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?
Trust the admissions team’s encouragement to be yourself! Do not overthink these answers and be authentic in what first comes to mind to best portray your personality.
Have you wanted to play a new instrument or learn a new language? Do you have a “happy place” that brings you joy? Or a hobby like crochet? Has your mood been optimistic like “Walking on Sunshine,” or is there a new hit you can’t stop playing? Let these flow easily from you and have fun!
With the response limit, there is a bit of room to offer more context or explanation. Don’t feel pressured to use all 50 words, though—a simple answer is expected!
Final thoughts on writing the Princeton supplemental essays
Now you have broken apart each prompt and jotted down examples to reference in your answers. Before writing, be sure you are taking advantage of the variety of questions to showcase different aspects of yourself. Try not to be repetitive with anecdotes you share across prompts.
You are likely to have too much to say once you start writing with these 250 word limits. We suggest you get all your thoughts down and trim responses later. With proper planning, you can surely find success with the Princeton supplemental essays. We wish you the best of luck!
Next steps for students
As you are writing your Princeton supplemental essays, be sure to check out our guides on how many schools to apply to. Make sure you prepare well and also read about how to find safety, reach, and match schools.
With so many colleges and universities going test-optional, you might be wondering, whether or not to send your SAT/ACT scores. Learn about what is best for you to maximize your chances for acceptance. Speaking of acceptances, once you start hearing back, we can help you create a college comparison spreadsheet to make your college choice. Finally, apply and earn all the scholarships you qualify for with our free scholarship search tool. Good luck!