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How to Get Into Princeton: 3 Expert Admissions Tips

Posted by Hayley Milliman | Dec 19, 2018 12:00:00 PM

College Admissions

 

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Princeton is one of the most prestigious and selective universities in the world, admitting less than eight percent of students every year. In order to be one of them, you need to make sure that your application stands out from the other tens of thousands of applicants the admissions committee must review.

In this article, we’ll break down exactly how to get into Princeton, starting with how difficult it is to get in. Then, we’ll move into talking about the test scores, essays, and supplemental materials you’ll need to really make your application stand out.

 

How Hard Is It to Get Into Princeton?

Princeton is an extremely competitive university. As of July 2018, Princeton’s admissions rate was just 5.5%, making it one of the most selective schools in the entire world.

Like many other colleges and universities, Princeton’s only getting more selective - their admissions rate has fallen in recent years as more and more students apply.

If you want to be one of the students admitted to the next Princeton University freshman class, you need to make sure your application reflects why you would be a great addition to the school.

 

What Is Princeton Looking for in Its Students?

If Princeton is so competitive, how can you make your application stand out?

In short, you need to focus on what makes you, you.

On Princeton’s undergraduate admissions website, the school offers several tips for how to get into Princeton. Let’s take a look at what they are:

 

#1: Challenge Yourself Academically

Princeton recommends that students have coursework in the following subject areas:

  • Four years of English
  • Four years of mathematics (including calculus for students interested in engineering)
  • Four years of one foreign language
  • At least two years of laboratory science (including physics and chemistry for students interested in engineering)
  • At least two years of history

But simply checking off those boxes won’t make you stand out. You need to demonstrate that you’ve challenged yourself academically; that means signing up for advanced coursework, like AP or IB classes. You need to show that you’re up to the challenge of Princeton’s rigorous academic requirements.

 

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#2: Spend Time on Your Essays

Princeton requires its applicants to write at least two essays and two short answer questions (three essays if you’ve indicated an interest in Engineering). The admissions blog recommends taking your time on your essays.

Use your essays as an opportunity to show off your writing skills. Your work should be polished and written in your own voice.

 

#3: Focus on What Makes You Stand Out

Finally, Princeton wants its students to demonstrate exceptionalism in and out of the classroom. The vast majority of students who apply to Princeton will have a stellar academic track record. You need to show the admissions committee what makes you different from the other thousands of applicants.

We’ll return to these tips more in a later section.

 

Can You Apply to Princeton Early?

Princeton offers single-choice early action.

Single-choice early action program is a non-binding process, which means that if you’re admitted, you have until May 1 to notify Princeton about your decision to attend. If you apply single-choice early action, also known as restrictive early action, on November 1, you may not apply to an early program at any other private college or university.

However, you can still apply early to other schools. Here are the exceptions to the single-choice process:

  • You may apply early to any public institution or service academy, as long as the decision is non-binding.
  • You may apply early to any international institution, as long as the decision is non-binding.
  • You may apply early to any college or university with a non-binding rolling admission process.

You should only apply to Princeton early action if Princeton is your first choice, since you’ll save money on other apps if you’re accepted. That being said, applying early doesn’t offer any significant statistical advantage over applying at the regular decision deadline, so if you’re not all in on Princeton, you can wait a few more months to submit your application.

 

 

Princeton Application Deadlines and Requirements

Here are the important dates and requirements for applying to Princeton:

 

Due on November 1 for Early-Action Students

  • Application and Princeton Supplement
  • Graded Written Paper
  • School Report, Guidance Counselor Letter and Transcript
  • Teacher Evaluation Form 1
  • Teacher Evaluation Form 2

 

Due on January 1 for Regular Decision Students

  • Application and Princeton Supplement
  • Graded Written Paper
  • School Report, Guidance Counselor Letter and Transcript
  • Teacher Evaluation Form 1
  • Teacher Evaluation Form 2

You can apply to Princeton using the Common Application, the Coalition Application, or the Universal Application. No matter which of those three you use, you’ll also have to submit the Princeton Supplement.

 

What GPA Do I Need to Get Into Princeton?

You’ll need a strong GPA to get into Princeton. The average unweighted GPA of Princeton’s admitted students is 3.9.

Princeton admitted less than 10% of students whose GPA’s were under 3.8 in 2018. If your grades aren’t the best, you’ll need to really strengthen other parts of your application, like your essays and your extracurricular activities.

 

What Test Scores Do I Need to Get Into Princeton?

Unsurprisingly, Princeton’s admitted applicants also have high test scores. Let’s take a look at the SAT and ACT scores you’ll need to be competitive in Princeton admissions.

 

What SAT Scores Do I Need to Get Into Princeton?

The vast majority of admitted students at Princeton score above 1500 on the SAT. The average SAT composite score of Princeton’s admitted applicants is 1520.

While Princeton doesn’t have a hard cutoff in terms of SAT scores, the data speaks volumes: Princeton accepted less than 5% of applicants who had scored under 1400 on their SATs. Go down 100 points and the numbers are starker: Princeton accepted barely 1% of students who had a 1300 or lower.

If you want to be a competitive applicant at Princeton, you’ll need great test scores. If you’re not quite at a 1500 yet, don’t panic. Invest in some solid test prep materials, make a study plan, and stick to it.

 

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What ACT Scores Do I Need to Get Into Princeton?

The average ACT scores of Princeton’s admitted applicants are also high. Princeton accepted less than 1% of students who scored under a 27 on their ACTs.

In order to have the best shot of admission, you’ll need at least a 32 to be in the middle range of admitted applicants.

 

Princeton Application Essays

Princeton likes a well-rounded student and your essays are one of the best places to show off what makes you unique.

Princeton requires a total of two essays and two short answers from all applicants for admission.

One of these essays will answer a prompt provided by the Common Application, Coalition Application, or Universal College Application (depending on which one you choose to submit your Princeton application through).

The other essay and the two short answers are part of the Princeton Supplement. If you’re interested in Engineering, you’ll also have to submit the Engineering Essay as part of the Princeton Supplement.

The good news about the Princeton essays is that you get to pick what you write about. Here are the prompts for the Princeton Supplement essay:

 

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

This prompt might look easy to answer, but remember that your ultimate goals here are to make your voice clear and stand apart from other applicants in a positive way.

Think carefully about whom you choose to write about. Lots of applicants tend to opt for the celebrity route, which is fine, but you need to be clear in your essay how this particular celebrity influenced you on a deeper, more personal level.

In other words, choose someone who is meaningful to you.

 

“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 is a little more academic-oriented than the first essay option, so make sure you’re prepared to write in-depth about a larger, more prominent social issue that affects not just you but lots of people.

That being said, don’t forget to bring yourself into the essay. Remember that your ultimate goal is to explain a valuable experience you’ve had and how this experience has shaped who you are today.

 

“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.

Just make sure that whatever approach you do, you emphasize how this cultural background, event, or experience has contributed to your development into the person you are today.

For example, if you immigrated to the US as a child, you could write about your upbringing and how a specific instance with a teacher as a teenager helped you ultimately come to terms with and learn to accept your unique cultural identity.

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.

You’ve got the reins for this prompt, so write about whatever feels most natural and whatever you believe is worth writing about.

This could be a specific person who you feel the quotation you’ve chosen resonates strongly with, or an event in your life whose meaning was made clearer to you through this quotation.

 

The Princeton Supplement also requires you to answer two short answer questions:

Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences that was particularly meaningful to you.

Princeton is asking this question to figure out which activities you’ve done that are most valuable to you personally.

This short essay is essentially--like the longer personal essay--a quick way for the admissions committee to get to know more about you and what motivates you in your spare time.

 

Please tell us how you have spent the last two summers (or vacations between school years), including any jobs you have held.

Princeton asks this question to not only get to know you better but also to see how you choose to occupy your time when you’re not in school.

As with the first short answer, don’t simply summarize your experiences. Instead, focus on the most meaningful experiences you’ve had during this time and explain why they matter so much to you.

 

Finally, if you’re interested in Engineering, you’ll need to answer the following essay question:

If you are interested in pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree, please write a 300-500 word essay describing why you are interested in studying engineering, any experiences in or exposure to engineering you have had and how you think the programs in engineering offered at Princeton suit your particular interests.

Princeton asks for this essay to learn more about your background in engineering, what made you interested in the field, and why you think Princeton might be a good fit for you and your goals.

Your goal here is not to come up with a creative way to define yourself or your values but to simply introduce your interest in engineering and elaborate on why you think the Princeton engineering program is well suited for your goals.

Want an in-depth look at how to ace these essays? Check out our full blog post on the topic! (Coming soon!)

 

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3 Tips for Getting Into Princeton

Getting into Princeton isn’t easy… but it’s certainly not impossible! If you want to boost your chances at admission, follow these expert tips for how to get into Princeton.

 

#1: Polish Your Academic Record

You need to demonstrate some serious academic chops if you want to be accepted to Princeton. Your grades and your test scores need to be near perfect.

Don’t expect to coast into Princeton if you haven’t put some serious work into both - you likely won’t get in. And you can’t make up for years of bad grades by finally putting effort in the first semester of your senior year - you’ll need to demonstrate a track record of academic achievement and rigor.

Start working towards a 4.0 early. Make a plan to take the most rigorous courses your high school offers.

When it comes time to take your standardized tests, make sure you study. Come up with a plan and stick to it.

 

#2: Spend Serious Time on Your Essays

Your Princeton essays are important. Don’t skimp on them or rush through! You should put hours of thought, writing, and revising time into each one.

Don’t write what you think the admissions committee wants to hear. Write what’s true for you. Remember, the admissions committee will be reading tens of thousands of essays. The ones that are trite or cliche will just become part of that noise.

The essays that stand out will be the ones that are honest, sincere, and original. Use the essays are an opportunity to show who you really are.

In other words, let them describe your spike.

 

#3: Find Your Spike

What’s a spike, you ask?

In short, a spike is something that makes you stand out. Something that no (or very few) other applicants have.

When you’re applying to college, it’s tempting to seem well-rounded and interested in all the things.

Don’t do that.

Your application won’t stand out if you’re mediocre in band, on the track team, and on student council. It will stand out if you travel to Japan to perform with a world-class performance ensemble or qualify for the Olympic trials in shot put.

When your focus is on one thing, you’ll be better at it than if you have to split your time and attention. It will also be more impressive on your resume.

 

What’s Next?

Even if you're only interested in Princeton, learning more about how to get into other selective schools, such as Harvard, can give you additional insight into how to polish up your application.

Looking for application tips for other selective schools? Read our complete guides to the University of California system and to the Georgetown application.

Should you apply early or regular decision to college? Find out the pros and cons of early decision in this article.

 


Want to get into Princeton or your personal top choice college?

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Hayley Milliman
About the Author

Hayley Milliman is a former teacher turned writer who blogs about education, history, and technology. When she was a teacher, Hayley's students regularly scored in the 99th percentile thanks to her passion for making topics digestible and accessible. In addition to her work for PrepScholar, Hayley is the author of Museum Hack's Guide to History's Fiercest Females.



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