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How To Write The Princeton Supplemental Essays (2021-2022)

Working on your Princeton supplemental essays? Whether you’re completing the “Your Voice” prompt or writing about an extracurricular activity, we’ve got you covered with tips to make your Princeton supplemental essays stand out.

Welcome to the Princeton supplemental essays for the 2021-2022 application cycle!

The Princeton writing supplement divides its essays into the following sections: “Extracurricular Activity and Work Experience,” “Your Voice,” and “More About You.” For Princeton supplemental essay questions — which you can find here on the Princeton website — you have more power to shape your responses as you write your application. It’s worth putting significant effort into these since Princeton’s extremely low acceptance rate means you need to stand out in a very competitive pool.

Here’s how to write the best Princeton supplemental essays possible.

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.)

If you’re already familiar with many of the common questions on college applications, this question is essentially the “Why Major” prompt, which usually asks you about the specific programs, majors, and concentrations you’d like to pursue at the given school. The key to writing this essay is extensive research into Princeton’s offerings in the classroom.

Dive into class descriptions, syllabi, faculty research, and anything you can find to help you craft your essay with as much specific detail as possible. Without repeating your resume or getting too repetitive in the context of the rest of your application, tie in your experience to these specific offerings to show how you will take advantage of the resources you’d have access to at Princeton. Show them what makes you excited to learn and fuels your curiosity about the subjects you love the most.

Obviously, Princeton is world-renowned for its academics, but avoid mentioning this prestige as a reason you want to attend. With 32,835 applicants for the class of 2024, it’s safe to assume most applicants are interested in Princeton’s prestige — instead, focus on what makes Princeton a great academic fit for you and you a great fit for them.

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.)

The same “Why Major” insight mentioned above applies here as well. Since the prompt specifically asks for you to describe any previous experience, make sure that is a significant part of your essay — balance that the same specific, in-depth research you should do on the engineering program. Focus less on the aspect of academic curiosity since that is not a part of this prompt.

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.)

This is a very common prompt at top-tier and mid-tier schools alike, where they’re giving you the opportunity to elaborate on activities that you otherwise have to summarize in less than 150 characters earlier in your application. Some people have very impressive accomplishments that will naturally fall into this prompt: winning an international award in an academic competition, being an exceptionally talented musician, etc. For the rest of us, and for those people too, you should focus intensely on why the activity was meaningful to you beyond the awards and recognition. How did it shape you as a person?

Participating in a high school club and doing well at the state level is certainly an accomplishment, but that on its own isn’t enough to convince Princeton admissions officers that you qualify for admission to their school. To make a description of an otherwise-fairly-common activity into a standout essay, you need to analyze it in a compelling manner. What did you take away from this activity that nobody else did? Maybe you did martial arts, but instead of focusing on how you learned to work hard (which way too many extracurricular essays do), you discuss your reflections on the obedience culture and conflict of traditional practice and modern knowledge. A unique take with thoughtful discussion is necessary to present yourself as someone able to make the most of opportunities, and thus deserving of those Princeton provides.

Your Voice

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

1. 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?

This is frankly an exceptionally hard prompt to respond to in a mature and positive manner. First, it forces you to consider what difficult conversations you have had about sensitive topics — you may not have many conversations to reflect on. Second, it asks you to communicate the nuance of your conversation on an important and controversial topic, what you learned from the encounter, and how it will be important in your future endeavors… all in 250 words.

Many people will default to conversations on politics and race here, and while these can be strong options if you have had meaningful experiences, I’d encourage you to brainstorm a little longer, especially if you’re talking about hearing someone else’s story and empathizing with them. Unique topics can make your essay memorable. What is a conversation that made you view others or yourself differently?

Whatever you write about, make sure your opinion is well-informed and succinct. Read up on the topic to discuss it appropriately before writing your essay. Reinforce a feeling of compassion and understanding instead of claiming victory or insisting you were right (so maybe don’t talk about a debate competition). Show yourself able to engage in the gray answers to some of our biggest modern questions, and you’ll make progress in convincing the reader you would fit as a Princeton student.

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

This is a variation on a classic prompt about community and/or the meaning of community to you. Colleges understandably want students who are going to leave lasting impacts on their campuses, especially at a well-known school like Princeton. Consider how you can best convince the Princeton admissions committee that you are going to be a force for good on their campus. This will likely involve discussing a time you took initiative to change something upon noticing a problem.

Alongside being intelligent, Princeton students are also very passionate about making a difference. How have you done that in your school, town, or state already? If you haven’t done something yet, then write an essay looking towards the future (the “or will intersect” part) that convinces them you will. Come up with a viable and impactful plan to improve the world with your abilities and make them want to give you the education that will support that improvement. Avoid speaking in generalities and vague statements, as your essay will be forgettable without specific details.

More About You

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

First of all, there are definitely wrong answers — don’t be fooled. These questions help Princeton admissions officers get a better feel for how your personality fits their college and could also be called “personality questions.” Princeton is known as upscale, sometimes artsy, cerebral, and very put together, although there is a lot of diversity in these features among the undergraduate population. But since you don’t have much room, you need to convey all of this as efficiently as possible.

Would you get along well with the people at Princeton? This is where they look to find that out.

1. What is a new skill you would like to learn in college?

Think back to Princeton’s desired traits. Don’t just say you want to learn guitar or karate without a good reason to back it up. There are thousands of “skills” you could learn, so pick one and describe its unique appeal among this vast array of potential abilities. And make sure that it fits with the overall narrative you’ve been crafting throughout your Princeton application.

2. What brings you joy?

Well, ask yourself: what brings you joy? The best advice here is to be honest and be yourself, as they mention above. An admissions officer can smell a disingenuous answer to this question like “math problems” or “studying for history tests” from a mile away. Paint yourself as an honest and balanced human more than just an intense student in your answer to this. Obviously, stay away from inappropriate or completely irrelevant topics, but there is no need to convince Princeton that you’re someone you’re not.

3. What song represents the soundtrack of your life at this moment?

It would be smart here to pick something the admissions officers are likely to have heard — obscure music, even if it is a genuine interest of yours, may not play well. They probably won’t look up many of peoples’ responses here given their time constraints, so pick a song that strikes that balance between recognizable and unique. Stay away from overly explicit and inappropriate music. Consider the kind of music that tells a story similar to the situation you’re in currently.

Princeton requires you to submit a graded written paper as part of your application.

This is a pretty unique request on a college application, but it speaks to Princeton’s emphasis on their students’ academic prowess. Of course, pick a paper where you got great feedback and a high grade. The more complex and polished the argument you make in the paper, the better, especially if it’s about an interesting and/or unexpected topic. If you have no idea what to submit, ask your teacher in your best subject what they might recommend submitting.

If you’re looking for help on your Princeton supplemental essays, set up a free consultation with one of our expert college admissions consultants. We offer hands-on essay ideation, drafting, and editing assistance.

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