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Princeton University 2017-18 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

Regular Decision: 

The Requirements: 2 short answers, 1 list, and 1 longer essay

Supplemental Essay Type(s): Short Answer, Activity, Oddball

Princeton University 2017-18 Application Essay Questions Explanation

This is Princeton, the Number One university in the nation. Maybe you’ve heard of it? Jk, we can smell the sweat on your palms from here. So first, take a breath. The Princeton supplement is extremely straightforward (perhaps too straightforward?) and your greatest challenge will be to refrain from overthinking it. Don’t intimidate yourself with visions of what you think admissions officers want to see on an application. Self-aggrandizing or downright false stories aren’t going to win anyone over. It’s the unique, specific details that only you can share that will set you apart and seal you in an admissions officer’s memory. Take this as your mantra: be yourself!

For quick reference, below are the short answer and essay questions included in the Princeton Supplement for 2017-18.

Activities: Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences that was particularly meaningful to you. (Response required in about 150 words.)

Take one second to indulge that impulse you’re feeling — to scour your resume for the most impressive-sounding activity. Then, crumple up your resume and think honestly about the activities you look forward to. What would your life be mundane without? Elaborate on an activity, experience, or relationship that you are super passionate about or that is unusual for someone of your age. Your response should reflect your priorities and how you process the world around you. Do you do civil war reenactments on the weekend that charge your love for history? Do you take care of stray pets that one day you hope to save through veterinary work? Do your weekly visits with grandma have you declaring a gerontology major? Use your experiences to tell Admissions something about yourself that they wouldn’t already know. What gives your life meaning? Why do you wake up in the morning?

Summers: Please tell us how you have spent the last two summers (or vacations between school years), including any jobs you have held. (Response required in about 150 words.)

Princeton wants to know that you have used your time off wisely. Admissions officers don’t want to read that you laid by the pool in the morning and played Call of Duty at night, but they might also raise an eyebrow if you insist that you spent 12 hours a day in a lab doing cancer research. Summers belong to you, so this is your chance to reveal what you choose to do when it’s totally up to you. Two key questions you’ll want to consider answering are: (1) What passions or issues are so important that you devote time and intellectual energy to them over the summer? And (2) How do you relax and recharge? In other words, how do you bring balance to your life? This is a great opportunity for you to showcase wisdom and self-awareness.

A few details:

Your favorite book and its author
Your favorite website
Your favorite recording
Your favorite source of inspiration
Your favorite line from a movie or book and its title
Your favorite movie
Two adjectives your friends would use to describe you
Your favorite keepsake or memento
Your favorite word

Look, there’s only one trick to nailing this question: be yourself. It doesn’t pay to waste time racking your brain for answers that you think will impress an admissions officer. The point here is to be genuine, almost slapdash. What pops into your head first? Be honest and specific and you’ll end up with a list that offers a constellation of new information about who you are and what you like. If you spy an opportunity to offer a clever answer or witty interpretation of any of these mini prompts, by all means, take the opportunity to showcase your sense of humor, but above all do what comes naturally!

Essay: your voice: In addition to the essay you have written for the Common Application or the Universal College 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 or Universal College Application.

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

For all the people who love their grammies out there, this is your going to be your favorite prompt! You can gush about how your grandma gives the biggest hugs, makes the most delicious oatmeal cookies, and is the best listener ever, but be careful! The most common mistake students make with these prompts is focusing too much on the influencer and not enough on the influencee (a.k.a. you)! Make sure to spin the essay to reflect something about you. Do you take constructive criticism well? Did this person make you kinder? More open-minded? And how have you applied what they’ve taught you to your life and interactions with those around you? The proof is in grandma’s pudding, so focus on that.

“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 and co-founder of This quote is taken from Professor Wasow’s January 2014 speech at the Martin Luther King Day celebration at Princeton University.
“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 director of the Behrman Undergraduate Society of Fellows, Princeton University.
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.

Ah, cunning Princeton, we always knew you were smart. Several questions ago, the supplement asked for your favorite line from a movie or book, so we can’t allow you to reuse it here. We also can’t fully endorse this prompt, in general. Unless it immediately makes you think of a moment when a text helped you understand your life or values, it might not be worth pursuing. The results risk being forced, overly general, or downright clichéd. If you still want to try, you might consider backing into it: start by writing a compelling story about your life (that doesn’t appear elsewhere on your application) and then scour your favorite texts for a passage to match.


For context, here’s our favorite line: “Choose a quotation wisely, many Admissions Officers were once English majors.” – College Essay Advisors.

Please note: the information below relates to last year's essay prompts. We are going to update this guide with the prompts for 2021-22 as soon as they become available. Check back soon!
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