How to Write the Princeton University Supplement 2019-2020

Princeton is a research university in Princeton, New Jersey. One of the best schools in the country and a member of the prestigious Ivy League, Princeton also prides itself on doing well by the 5,300 undergraduate students. Of recent graduates, 82% graduated debt-free. With exceptional academics and generous loan-free aid packages, it’s not surprising that is it hard to get into Princeton. The overall acceptance rate is only 5.5%. When broken down by GPA, students with a 4.0 have a significant advantage. Last year, 8.1% of applicants with a 4.0 GPA were accepted compared to less than 3% of applicants with a GPA below 3.8.

This year, Princeton kept their main question the same but decided to mix it up by adding some variety The first question is the most intense, as it’s nearly another Common App essay.

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 and no fewer than 250 words). 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 or in some way changed how you approach the world. Please do not repeat, in full or in part, the essay you wrote for the Common Application.

Before picking a prompt, you need to let the last sentence of this sink in. Do not repeat anything that is in your Common Application. This is not limited to copying and pasting content. What you write below needs to be original in copy, but also in concept. Do not talk about the same things or highlight the same characteristics. Focus on something that will give Princeton a new perspective.

The word count for this essay is flexible. We advise our students to aim for between 480 and 580 words.  

Tell us about a person who has influenced you in a significant way.

This prompt can trigger responses that we’re not huge fans of. We don’t tend to like essays that focus on grandparents or parents or really anyone who you are related to. Unfortunately, those tend to be the first (and often only) people who pop into students’ heads. Also, writing about someone else can leave very little room to show something about yourself. If you insist on answering this prompt, make sure to write your answer as a scene that shows you engaging with the person you are focusing on. This will force you to keep yourself in the center of your response. If you’re feeling creative, try writing dialogue!  

“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.

This prompt isn’t really a prompt. It’s a statement. The suggestion appears to be that you identify and explore a complex challenge, and perhaps reflect on potential solutions. Given the enormous scope of this task, we recommend looking very local if you chose to take on this prompt. Don’t pick a global issue and attempt to engage in skilled international diplomacy. Pick a local issue, or a global issue with local implications, and use this prompt as a way to explore part of your lived experience while exhibiting your ability to navigate complex concepts and ponder grounded solutions. Crucially, they don’t actually expect you to solve the problem, but you should offer a few directions that may be effective.  

For example, if opiate addiction is a massive problem in your community, you can share the realities of opiate addiction in your hometown, dive into the complex origins of the crisis, and explore ways of healing a community that is in pain. Throughout, you should focus on your area, rather than being dragged into an international debate.

“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.

Diversity questions have become the bread-and-butter of college supplements, and this is, at its core, a diversity question. They want you to share something about your background or culture that is critical to who you are. We love this question — for the right person. If you are from a minority group racially or religiously or are part of a marginalized community, this could be a great place to share a piece of yourself with the reader. Remember, though, that minority-writ-large and minority-at-Princeton aren’t the same things. Over 20% of Princeton’s class of 2022 is Asian, while less than 1% is American Indian. A large number of students in the current freshman class are from Texas, but only two are from Alaska, and there is no one from Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, or Mississippi. If there are any Native Americans living in the Dakotas who are planning to apply to Princeton, this prompt is your best friend.  

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.

Later down this post, you will see that they ask you for your favorite quote from a book or movie as part of their rapid-fire question section. We would love this question if they hadn’t done that. By creating redundancy within the application, you either share a favorite quotation twice, or you avoid this prompt. We are skewing towards avoidance.

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

This question has a flexible word limit, and the dialogue box will let you enter up to 250 words, but we advise our students to keep their answers to under 165. You should always look at your application as a Thanksgiving dinner. On a stereotypical Thanksgiving table, there is the turkey, the mashed potatoes, the green beans, the gravy, etc. Each of those dishes is a critical piece of the perfect plate, and there are never 3 turkeys. Same goes for supplements. For this prompt, you need to focus on something that you haven’t mentioned anywhere else. Prioritize long-term experiences over short-term opportunities or internships, and we always aim to highlight an activity or job that involved leadership and team-work. Princeton knows you are smart, so doubling down on academics isn’t often the best option here until you are planning to major in a STEM field.

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)

Like the prompt above, this question will let you enter up to 250 words. Please be careful not to go over 165 words. “About 150,” gives some flexibility in either direction, but not a whole 100 extra words.

The most frustrating mistake we see with prompts like this one is that a student decides that there aren’t enough words for talking about two summers, so they pick one. That is a very bad idea and a very good way to be automatically rejected. Your number one responsibility is to answer the question. You must write about the last two summers. Since there isn’t much space, you’ll have to keep your answer concise. They have emphasized employment, so be sure to prioritize jobs and internships, even if jobs are unrelated to what you want to study. Jobs are evidence of a strong work ethic, regardless of what they are. If you’re going to study biology but have spent the past two summers working at Dairy Queen, don’t leave DQ out because it doesn’t ‘fit the narrative.’ A willingness to work hard is a key piece of the puzzle.

If you do not have work experience, that is ok. However, do not repeat anything related to the activity you focused on for the previous prompt.  

A Few Details

Please don’t overthink these. Answer them quickly, honestly, and don’t try to cram an explanation into a space designed for just a few words.

Your favorite book and its author

This should not be a book that you were assigned in school. You should also avoid books that are stereotypical.

Your favorite movie

Do not choose a movie that sounds “fancy” or that you’ve heard is quite elevated and advanced, but you’ve never been able to stay awake for more than 15 minutes of. Be honest, and it’s ok to be a little silly here. There’s nothing wrong with loving Moana.  

Your favorite website

This is a very broad question. It could be a news site, a service, a shopping site, or a blog. Look at your bookmarks bar and be honest.

Two adjectives your friends would use to describe you

Ask your friends! We recommend texting two or three friends and asking them for four words to describe you. 

Your favorite recording

Just like the website question, this one is very broad too. It could be a song, a podcast, a recording of whale songs. We like the idea of naming a specific episode of a podcast you’re addicted to.

Your favorite keepsake or memento

Think small here, sentimental, and be earnest.

Your favorite source of inspiration

This prompt is a little silly. Often, inspiration comes from surprising places, not planned sources.

Your favorite word

Resist the urge to refer to your SAT vocab list. We like quirky words that show a piece of your personality. One of our writer’s favorite words is confusterated — a combination of confused and frustrated — she’s convinced it’s the next frindle. Most of the time, though, it’s best to go with a word you can find in a standard dictionary.  

Your favorite line from a movie or book and its title

Try your best not to pull a line from the book and movie you named above. Think outside of the box to find a line that is short, simple, and that resonates with you. And yes, it’s fair to have to search around a little. Very few people have lines stashed in their head, waiting for this question.



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