2017 Common App Supplemental Essays: Princeton University


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• Your favorite recording

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

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.

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

Located in a suburban setting, Princeton is primarily a residential campus with a strong liberal arts focus. Its residential college structure, freshman seminars, and preceptorial system support the tight-knit student community. These are hallmarks of an education at Princeton and demonstrate the university’s commitment to student-centered learning within the context of a diverse student body, faculty, and staff.

Each of these essay prompts ask you to share something personal about yourself, discuss how the experience impacted you, and how you make sense of your world. They ask you to articulate your values and provide insight into your thinking process. They also reveal how you evaluate information and make decisions. Select the themed essay topic that strikes a chord with you. Make sure to convey your enthusiasm for that subject and for Princeton.

• Two adjectives your friends would use to describe you

• Your favorite website

• Tips For Answering Common Application Essay Prompts

By Marie Todd, Accepted’s college admissions specialist. Marie has worked in college admissions for over twenty years. She has both counseled applicants and evaluated applications. Most recently she evaluated 5000+ applications for the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts; College of Engineering; School of Kinesiology. She is available to assist you (or your child) with your applications. Want Marie to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!

This prompt asks you to share what you do when you are not in school. This may include just about anything you do outside of school. Don’t panic if your summer experiences don’t seem particularly exciting. The key here is to express your interests and perspectives about how you spent that time. Did you work, travel, volunteer? What did you learn? Who did you interact with? This response provides insight into your life experience and background.

It will come as no surprise that Princeton University is among the top schools in the nation and is recognized globally for academic excellence. This Ivy League school is renowned as a major research university as well as an outstanding liberal arts college. In addition to the Common Application or the Universal College Application essay, Princeton also requires supplemental writing responses. These additional essays help the admissions committee to understand comprehensively your particular strengths and potential contributions to the Princeton community. Princeton prides itself on the diversity of talents, achievements, perspectives, and interests of its student body. At the same time, it is looking for a freshman class that shares the following qualities: “integrity, a deep interest in learning and a devotion to both academic and non-academic pursuits.” Think about how you can contribute to Princeton as well as how Princeton can support your aspirations.

***Disclaimer: Information is subject to change. Please check with individual programs to verify the essay questions, instructions and deadlines.***

• Your favorite line from a movie or book and its title

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• Your favorite word

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)

“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, Politics; Founder, Blackplanet.com

Princeton offers a nonbinding, single-choice early action program, listed on the Common Application as restrictive early action. Under this program, you may not apply to any other early program at a private college or university however; you may apply to any non-binding early program at a public institution. This is a good option if Princeton is your first choice. The early action deadline is Nov. 1. Students admitted early may defer their admission decision to May 1st, which is the deadline to accept Princeton’s offer for regular decision. The deadline to submit regular decision applications is January 1st.

As you consider how to answer the questions above, remember Princeton is looking for independent thinkers with creative minds who are engaged with the world around them. Make sure to consider what your answers might indicate to the admissions committee. These responses provide clues about the kind of person you are and the kind of potential Princeton student you might be. They also reflect the way you think and what you find interesting, fun, and motivating. Be truthful, but also try not to mention anything that might be considered offensive. They are trying to get to know you better; share what is meaningful to you.

Discuss a person who has made a difference in your way of thinking that subsequently influenced your actions and/or behavior. This is someone who has inspired you, convinced you, and/or challenged you in some way (either positively or negatively). As you choose a person who has influenced you, also consider what you value about that person and what your evaluation reflects about you. This response tells the admissions committee the kind of person you aspire to be and what characteristics you hold dear. It is okay to compare yourself directly with this person. Just be sure to avoid being boastful- focus on how they inspired you to define your values and the way you approach the world.

“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, chair of the Council of the Humanities and director of the Program in Humanistic Studies, Princeton University.

• Your favorite source of inspiration

This prompt lends itself to a discussion of civil liberties and civil rights. Your response can relate to local or global issues. Begin by considering a broad range of inequalities but focus on something specific and significant to you. Consider the current state of inequalities– racial, sexual, political, economic, gender. Think about old approaches and new solutions. Reflect on the complexity of solutions in day-to-day interactions/business as well as the bigger picture (actively promoting equality). What other factors might come into play? This response illustrates how you think through complex issues and interpret varied sources of information. How do you make sense of the world around you? How does this analysis impact your personal values? What solutions do you have to address the disparities? What issues or aspects of these topics will you explore further at Princeton?

Remember to allow your writing to express your voice as you address the following Princeton supplemental questions; consider how your responses reveal your intellectual curiosity, passion for learning, and engagement with the world.

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.

• Your favorite book and its author

The best way to begin is by doing your research. Adhere to deadlines and word-limits. Spend time looking over the Princeton website, get to know what current undergraduates are saying about the school, familiarize yourself with the various majors, and imagine yourself there. If possible visit the campus, allow yourself to get excited about this opportunity, and make every effort to gain a sense of why Princeton is the ideal academic environment for you!

In addition to the Common Application essay and Princeton-specific short answer responses, a themed essay of 250 to 650 words is also required. Be careful to avoid repeating any portion of the essay you used for the Common Application. Use this opportunity to reveal other aspects of your identity and character.

This prompt asks you to discuss the non-tangibles you find valuable– traditions, family, religion, etc. It is about how you appreciate/perpetuated/embrace culture in day-to-day routines as well as lager patterns of thoughts and behaviors. It is also about your background and its influence on you. This essay is a good place to discuss your family’s history and culture. How does that culture influence your identity? How do you see yourself within a specific world context? Discuss your culture and what is meaningful to you. Remember to relate this back to how culture defines your values and the way you approach the world. Also discuss how a Princeton education fits into the picture.  

Use this opportunity to discuss an interesting aspect of an extracurricular activity or work experience that imparts something significant about your character. Many students talk about leadership in general terms, but specifics are far more revealing, distinctive, and engaging. For example, if you were involved with the Girl Scouts, focus on a particular event in Girl Scouts where you took on a leadership role and explain why that role was meaningful to you. Or perhaps there was a specific incident in your job that required you to take on additional responsibility, showcase what that reveals about your values. Consider what makes this activity or work experience noteworthy and what it demonstrates about your character.

This quote is taken from Professor Wasow’s January 2014 speech at the Martin Luther King Day celebration at Princeton University.

This prompt sets the stage for you to discuss just about any topic! As you select your favorite quotation, consider what it reveals about your values and how you look at the world. Consider how/why the quotation sparked you to think about the particular event or experience and how in turn, that influenced you in identifying your values. How does this new self-knowledge impact the way you engage the world around you? This response hones in on the process of critical thinking and evaluation. It allows you to discuss your identity and perspectives and asks you to articulate how you approach the world around you. It tells the admissions committee more about who you are and what is important to you. Remember to discuss how your values and world perspective make Princeton a place where you will flourish.

“Princeton in the Nation’s Service” was the title of a speech given by Woodrow Wilson on the 150th  anniversary of the University. It became the unofficial Princeton motto and was expanded for the University’s 250th anniversary to “Princeton in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations.” Woodrow Wilson, Princeton Class of 1879, served on the faculty and was Princeton’s president from 1902–1910.

• Your favorite keepsake or memento

• Your favorite movie

A response to this prompt will likely address leadership, service to your community, and/or service on an international level. What will a Princeton education allow you to do as a leader in your field? How do your previous leadership roles create a foundation for the sorts of leadership roles you will pursue at Princeton? What does service to others mean to you? This is a great place to discuss your involvement with community service projects. You can tie your response far-reaching source to local and international concerns. Focus on how the experience influenced or aligned with your values or approach to the world. What are your visions for the future and how does Princeton support those plans?

• 6 Tips for Getting Started on Your Application Essays

It is no surprise that Princeton has a highly competitive and impressive applicant pool. It received 27,290 undergraduate applications for the class of 2019. Only 1,947, or 7.1%, were offered admission and 94% ranked in the top 10% of their high school class. Add to that, average SAT scores of 740 in critical reasoning, 755 in math, 755 in writing and an average ACT score of 33.5 and you get a better sense of the level of competition. However, keep in mind Princeton is committed to a holistic approach to the admissions process. This means they use your essay responses to round out the picture of you as a prospective student. The supplemental essays are your chance to share critical information about yourself. There is no magic formula to gain admission to this prestigious Ivy League school. As you survey the numbers, it is clear that you must use your essays as an opportunity to differentiate yourself from your peers and to demonstrate that you belong at Princeton!

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