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The Requirements: 1 essay of 200 words, 2 essays of 350 words, 3 short responses
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 2020-21.
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?
To ace this question, you’ll need to articulate for admissions why a well-rounded liberal arts education is important to you. Do you think Princeton’s liberal arts curriculum will allow you to build upon your communication and problem solving skills, preparing you for a career in civil service? Maybe you think it will help you be more marketable once you enter the working world, preparing you to work in a variety of fields (which is especially helpful if you’re undecided). What classes are you dying to take? Which academic programs call to you and why? Demonstrate your interest in Princeton’s academic offerings (and liberal arts curriculum, for brownie points) and admissions is bound to be impressed!
You can get an engineering degree at thousands of schools across the country, so why are you so keen to study engineering at Princeton specifically? Remember that this isn’t set in stone, so don’t stress over your vision; just show that you’ve done your research. Maybe your sister regaled you with stories about her experience studying engineering at Princeton, and you knew you wanted the same experience for yourself. Maybe there is an alum who is doing what you aspire to do, and you want to follow in their footsteps! Does Princeton have a specific program that many other schools do not offer? Whatever it is that draws you to Princeton’s engineering program, make sure that, after reading your essay, admissions has a clear understanding of your interest and goals.
Engaging others in meaningful conversations about important issues can be incredibly intimidating and challenging; the Princeton admissions department knows this. That is, in part, why they are curious to learn about your experiences engaging with others on issues near to your heart. So, think back to identify a time when you had a conversation with friends, family, or even mere acquaintances about a difficult topic. Maybe you engaged your grandparents in a conversation regarding racial income inequality. Were you able to clearly communicate your perspective? If you were to engage them in the conversation again, what would you do or say differently? You don’t need to have changed someone’s mind to impress admissions here. You just need to show that you’re not afraid to speak up about important issues and engage with those who may have different opinions than your own. College will present you with a plethora of opportunities to meet and engage with people who are very different from you. Show Princeton that you’re game to learn, listen, share, and grow.
Princeton wants to welcome motivated, socially aware students to campus next fall, so tell admissions about a time when you gave back to your community in a meaningful way. (Hint: your community can be as small as your neighborhood and as large as the entire world, or even universe!) Maybe you’ve volunteered at your church’s food pantry every other weekend since you were a middle schooler, or canvassed for political candidates that you believe will generate positive change for generations to come. Whatever your examples may be, don’t be afraid to touch on what those experiences meant to you (after all, you do have 350 words to work with!). And bonus points if you can connect your past service to what you hope to do in the future.
Do not, we repeat, do not overthink your responses to these questions. Admissions even goes so far as to say that there are no right or wrong answers. So, go with your gut. Maybe, in college, you’re hoping to learn how to speed read, or play frisbee, or even ride a bike! Perhaps you want to tell admissions about the look on your sister’s face everytime you agree to play dress-up with her (what brings you joy?). As for the song, we’d recommend keeping it clean, but other than that, let your freak flag fly. Are you currently listening to “Midnight Sky” by Miley Cyrus on repeat? Or maybe “Ooh La La” by The Faces really resonates with you as you’re growing up and learning life’s tough lessons. Whatever it may be, be true to yourself and you’ll ace these short answers.