SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

The Complete Guide to the Princeton Supplement

Posted by Hannah Muniz | Sep 25, 2018 12:00:00 PM

College Essays, College Info

 

feature_princeton_nassau

Got your heart set on Princetonthe #1 ranked university in the US? Then you’ll need to learn how to write amazing Princeton essays for your Princeton Supplement, a key part of your application for admission.

In this detailed guide, we go over the different types of essays you’ll be required to write for your Princeton application and provide you with some expert tips on how to write your most effective and unique essay possible.

Feature Image: James Loesch/Flickr

 

What Are the Princeton Essays?

The Princeton application requires two essays and two short answers from all applicants. One of these essays must answer a prompt provided by the Common Application, Coalition Application, or Universal College Application (depending on which system you choose to submit your Princeton application through).

The other essay prompt, as well as the two short answer prompts, are part of the Princeton SupplementThe Princeton Supplement also requires an Engineering Essay from applicants who have indicated on their applications an interest in pursuing a BS in Engineering.

So what exactly are these essay prompts? Fortunately, you have a lot of options when it comes to the Princeton Supplement essay and the two short answers. Below, we look at each prompt in the Princeton Supplement.

 

Princeton Supplement Essay Prompts

You'll have to write one long essay and two short essays as part of the Princeton Supplement (and also an Engineering Essay if you're considering getting a BS in Engineering at Princeton). Here, we look at all possible Princeton essay prompts and their length requirements.

 

The Long Essay Prompts

After you write one personal essay through the Common App, Coalition App, or Universal College App, you need to write an additional essay through the Princeton Supplement (which will be available on whatever application system you use).

You’ll get to choose one of four options for your essay prompt. These essay prompts are the same regardless of the application system you’re using. Your essay should be about 500 words long (with a minimum of 250 words and a maximum of 650 words).

Here are the current prompts for the 2018-19 Princeton Supplement:

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 Coalition Application, the Common Application or Universal College Application.

  1. Tell us about a person who has influenced you in a significant way.
  1. "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.
  1. "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.
  1. 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.

 

The 2 Short Essay Prompts

As stated above, you’ll need to write two short answers as part of the Princeton Supplement in addition to a long essay (see above for more details).

The first short essay should focus on your extracurricular activities or work experience, and your response should be about 150 words long:

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

The second short essay must talk about how you’ve spent your previous two summers. Once again, your response should be around 150 words in length:

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

 

The Engineering Essay Prompt (Required for Engineering Applicants)

If you have indicated on your application an interest in pursuing a BS in Engineering (even if you’re not sure whether you’ll actually major in engineering or not), Princeton requires you to submit an additional long essay detailing why you want to apply for their engineering program.

Your essay should be 300-500 words long. Below is the prompt for this essay, which can also be found on the Princeton Supplement:

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 Essay Prompts Analyzed

Now that we’ve gone over what essays are required for the Princeton application, how can you make sure that you’re writing an effective one that’ll increase your chances of getting accepted here?

In this section, we’ll go through each essay prompt on the Princeton Supplement, providing you with tips and strategies you can use to brainstorm and ultimately write a great essay.

Note: I won’t be going over how to answer the essay prompts for the Common App or Coalition App (coming soon) since we already have separate articles with tips on how to do this.

 

body_writing_pen

 

How to Write the Princeton Supplement Essay

We'll start by looking at how to answer the most important part of the Princeton Supplement: the personal essay.

This essay must be about 500 words long and answer one of four prompts on the Princeton Supplement. But which essay prompt should you choose? Let’s take a closer look at each possible prompt to figure out what each one is really asking you to do.

 

Princeton Essay Option 1

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

This prompt is pretty clear: it's asking you to simply introduce somebody who has had a major impact on your life.

The parameters are pretty big hereyou could talk about someone you know personally, such as a friend, parent, mentor, or teacher. Or you could focus on somebody you’ve never met before but whose work or legacy has motivated and inspired you in some significant way; this could be a historical figure, celebrity, scientist, author, etc.

 

Should You Choose This Prompt?

Ask yourself the following questions to help you figure out whether this prompt might be a good fit for you:
  • Do you prefer broader, more open-ended essay prompts?
  • Is there somebody in particular that immediately comes to mind when you think about your biggest influences in life?
  • Did the person you want to write about truly have a significant impact on you? Will you be able to clearly explain how this person’s impact was significant to you?
  • Are there specific details, anecdotes, and/or experiences you can put in your essay to help contextualize and personalize your story?

 

Tips for Answering This Prompt

  • Remember that your ultimate goals are to make your voice clear and stand apart from other applicants in a positive way. Don’t get lost in writing about whomever you choose to focus on; rather, find clear ways to connect this person back to you so that you're ultimately revealing something unique about yourself to the admissions committee.
  • Think carefully about whom you choose to write about. Lots of applicants tend to opt for the celebrity route, which is not necessarily a bad choice; however, you must be clear in your essay how this particular celebrity influenced you on a deeper, more personal level. In other words, you need to clarify exactly how this person has managed to impact your life in such a valuable way. For example, if you’re writing about Ruth Bader Ginsburg (or Notorious RBG, as I and many others like to call her), you could talk about how something she said drove you to apply for a political internship that you originally didn’t feel comfortable going for.
  • Don’t be vague and say that someone inspired you to enter a field. Instead, think of it like this: what specifically did this person say or do that, had she not said or done that, could have altered the course of your life?

 


Want to build the best possible college application?

We can help. PrepScholar Admissions is the world's best admissions consulting service. We combine world-class admissions counselors with our data-driven, proprietary admissions strategies. We've overseen thousands of students get into their top choice schools, from state colleges to the Ivy League.

We know what kinds of students colleges want to admit. We want to get you admitted to your dream schools.

Learn more about PrepScholar Admissions to maximize your chance of getting in.

Get Into Your Top Choice School

 

Princeton Essay Option 2

"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 second essay prompt revolves around a quotation by a professor of politics; however, it's still a fairly open-ended prompt in that you don't need to specifically analyze this quotation—just use its overarching theme of "great challenges of our time" as a basis for your essay.

In fact, this key phrase is a hint that your essay should center on some sort of political, ethical, and/or philosophical dilemma currently affecting society (and, of course, you). This means you should write about a specific issue that has influenced your life, goals, or viewpoint in some significant way.

For example, you could discuss how a high unemployment rate in a certain field has affected your family's income over the years and how you and your parents have actively worked to counteract or solve this problem.

Another option is to talk about an issue that you haven't yet figured out how to solve, and how this ongoing problem has taught you the fact that some challenges are more difficult to overcome than others.

 

Should You Choose This Prompt?

Here are some critical questions to ask yourself when considering whether to choose this prompt for your Princeton essay:
  • Is there a social or political issue that has had a big impact on your goals, values, opinions, personality, beliefs, etc.?
  • Can you easily connect this issue to yourself through a relevant anecdote or experience?
  • Do you have a clear stance on the issue and a reason for developing that stance?

 

Tips for Answering This Prompt

  • 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. This prompt is a little more academic-oriented than the first essay option is, so you'll need to be able to write about bigger issues instead of just a single person who influenced your life specifically.
  • Don’t forget to bring yourself into the essay. Remember that your overall goal is to explain a valuable experience you’ve had and how this particular experience has shaped who you are today.
  • On a related note, don’t focus solely on the social or political issue itself. Talk about how you came to learn about this issue, how you developed a stance on it, and how it affects you as a person. Be sure to also elaborate on how this event or experience has helped to define your personality, values, beliefs, etc.
  • Another option for this essay is to focus on a personal dilemma you’ve faced. You could then relate this challenge to a larger social or political issue at hand. For instance, if you had a friend who was deported, you could talk about how watching this process firsthand helped to make you more aware of the difficulties of living as a non-citizen in the US. You could then relate this experience to your own political views on immigration.

 

body_rallyTry to think about larger political or social issues that affect more than just yourself.

 

Princeton Essay Option 3

"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.

Like option 2, this Princeton essay prompt revolves around a quotationin this case, one on the value and significance of culture. Therefore, with this prompt, you'll want to focus primarily on the concept of culture (however you choose to define it) and how it's shaped you as a person.

Culture can mean a lot of different things. On the one hand, you could write about how being part of (or even just observing) a certain culture has influenced your lifestyle and beliefs. Options for this include writing about celebrations and holidays, customs, international travel, immigration, language barriers, etc.

On the other hand, culture can also refer to the arts or specific creative pieces. In this sense, you could write about how a particular painting, sculpture, book, movie, etc., influenced how you define yourself and your future goals.

 

Should You Choose This Prompt?

Here are some questions to ask yourself when considering whether to choose this prompt for the Princeton Supplement:

  • Do you come from a family with a strong sense of culture or cultural identity? For example, if you're the child of an immigrant or an immigrant yourself, this prompt might be a good fit for you.
  • Is there a specific experience/person/piece of art you could write about that strongly relates to the theme of culture? Can you clearly explain how this experience/person/piece of art has affected you on a personal level?
  • How has this particular cultural experience, event, or piece of art shaped your personality? Your future (career or academic) goals? Your perspective on life or a specific issue?
  • Is there a particular person whose sense of culture or cultural identity has influenced your own sense of identity?

 

Tips for Answering This Prompt

  • Regardless of your approach to this prompt, make sure to emphasize how this cultural background/experience or piece of art 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 ultimately helped you come to terms with and learn to accept your unique cultural identity.
  • Come up with a unique approach to this essay prompt and use concrete anecdotes. Don’t just say that your immigrant parents worked hard when you were young and so you want to work hard, too. Instead, go into detail about how your mother would smile and sit down to play LEGOs with you at the end of her 14-hour shiftand how you never realized until you got older how difficult and draining this must've been for her.
  • If you live in a multicultural community or have lived in several countries throughout your life, you could write about these experiences and what kind of impact these different cultures have had on your personal growth.
  • Alternatively, if you’ve been studying a foreign language and/or culture for a long time, you could write about how you became interested in this language and area, and what kind of impact learning about it has had on your life and future goals.

 

Princeton Essay Option 4

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.

This prompt is arguably the broadest of the four options you have for the Princeton Supplement essay. With this prompt, you can choose any quotation from an essay or book you’ve recently read. Using that quotation as the foundation of your essay, you'll then write about a valuable experience in your life that helped to shape your personality in some critical way.

Don’t feel as though you need to choose some super academic-sounding quotationjust pick whatever speaks to you personally and works best with the experience or event you want to write about.

 

Should You Choose This Prompt?

Here are some questions to ask yourself before you choose this prompt:

  • Can you think of a specific experience or event that you believe has had a large impact on how you define yourself, your perspective, and/or your values?
  • Can you easily find a quotation from a book you've read that fits well with the overall theme of your essay or the particular experience you want to write about?

Because this prompt is so open ended, it’s a good idea to choose this one if you think the other, slightly narrower prompts just won’t work well for the type of story you want to tell about yourself.

 

Tips for Answering This Prompt

  • You've got the reins here, so write about whatever you believe is worth knowing about you. This could be a person whom you feel a certain quotation strongly resonates with or an event in your life whose meaning can be illustrated through a quotation you like.
  • Avoid selecting an extremely common or famous quotation. This essay is your chance to really showcase your personality. Most people have heard the first line in Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, so you're not making your personality clearer by using a quotation like this. Rather, you'll leave a much stronger impression on the admissions committee if you go with a highly specific quotation; it doesn't need to be super obscure, but it should specifically speak to you and your essay's topic.

 

body_writing_hand

 

How to Write the Princeton Supplement Short Answers

Besides the longer personal essay you’ll write for the Princeton Supplement, you’ll also submit two shorter essays in response to two different prompts. Each response must be about 150 words. Below, we give you specific tips for the two short answer prompts.

 

Princeton Short Answer 1

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

By this point, you’ve likely already listed all your extracurricular activities and work experience on another part of the application. So what’s the purpose of this essay prompt? Princeton wants to figure out which activities you’ve done that are most valuable to you personally.

This shorter essay is essentiallylike the longer personal essaya quick way for the admissions committee to get to know more about you and what motivates you in your spare time. Instead of just seeing what extracurriculars you’ve done, Princeton wants to know which activities had a bigger, more lasting impact on you and helped to shape you as a person.

You don’t have a lot of space to write (just 150 words!), so choose the extracurricular that is most meaningful to you. Don’t pick an activity that you think the admissions committee wants to read about. If you believe that your brief stint working at McDonald’s had a bigger impact on you than your long-term membership in Honor Society did, write about that!

It's also not a bad idea to use this space to focus on the activity that is most relevant to what you want to study in college. This way you can elaborate on what role this extracurricular played in your process of developing an interest in this particular field of study. Essentially, you'll be using this short answer to talk about your "spike," or the long-term passion in your life.

Be careful not to just summarize the activity or your duties/roles within it. Princeton doesn’t want to know more about the activity itself but rather more about your relationship to this specific experience.

Here are some key questions to ask yourself as you brainstorm:

  • How did this activity influence you, your thought process, your opinions, and/or your future goals?
  • Why do you think this particular activity had such an impact on you? How did it differ from other activities you've done in the past?
  • If you’re no longer participating in this activity, why is that?
  • Do you want to continue participating in this activity (in college)? Why or why not?

 

Princeton Short Answer 2

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

This second short answer prompt for the Princeton Supplement is about how you’ve spent your past two summer vacations. 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.

Here are some questions to ask yourself before you begin writing your answer to this prompt:

  • Do you have any particular hobbies you engage in more often during the summer, when you’re not busy with classes?
  • Do you often use your summers to travel or try something new?
  • Do you usually work during the summer to save money for yourself and/or your family?

As with the first short answer, don’t simply summarize your experiences. Instead, concentrate on the most meaningful experiences you’ve had over the past two summers, explaining why they matter so much to you.

For example, if you typically go on vacation to Canada with your family every summer but felt that your experience taking piano lessons one summer had a bigger impact on your personal growth, write mainly about this activity for your response.

Finally, and this is a really important tip, don't repeat anything you've already talked about in your personal essay. Each essay you write, whether long or short, needs to be about something different so that the admissions committee can learn about multiple aspects of your personality, thereby giving them a more detailed and well-rounded view of who you are.

 

How to Write the Princeton Engineering Essay

If you're interested in pursuing a BS in Engineering at Princeton and note this on your application, you’ll be required to write an additional essay focusing on why you're interested in studying engineering at Princeton. Here is the prompt:

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

Compared with the personal essay for the Princeton Supplement, the engineering essay is a bit more direct and academic-oriented. Your goal with this essay is not to come up with a creative way to define yourself or your values but to introduce your interest in engineering and elaborate on why you think the Princeton engineering program is well suited for your goals.

That said, you still want to use the space you’re given wisely, so don’t be afraid to find a creative way to grab the admission committee’s attention. For example, you could start your essay with a memorable anecdote that’s related to engineering or shows how you got interested in the field. As with any essay, try to avoid clichéd, overly broad openings, such as something like "I knew I wanted to study engineering when …"

Afterward, discuss your experiences in engineering and explain how these have ultimately ignited your curiosity and passion for the field. Don’t just offer a chronological list of activities—focus on the most important experiences you’ve had, taking care to discuss why you think these had such an impact on you and your interest in engineering.

You should also be as specific as possible in this essay, especially when you talk about what you think Princeton can offer you in terms of engineering. Are there certain professors whose research or experiences align with your own engineering interests? Is there a particular engineering club or group you'd like to join?

Do some research to figure out why Princeton’s engineering program might be a good fit for you, and then clearly express this reasoning to the admissions committee in your writing by using concrete examples and anecdotes.

 

body_coffee_computer_notebookTip 0: find a cozy coffee shop to start writing your essay in.

 

How to Write a Great Princeton Essay: 4 Key Tips

To wrap up, here are some final tips to keep in mind as you write your Princeton essays and any other essays for college applications.

 

#1: Be Specific

A vague essay is certain to squelch your chances of getting into Princeton, so make sure you're being as specific as possible in your writing.

For example, if you’re writing about somebody who inspired you, touch on the little quirks or traits they have to help the admissions committee more easily visualize this person, such as their subtle mannerisms, the way they handled stress, or their perseverance in a difficult situation.

Remember that you’re writing about something real, whether that's a person, event, object, or experience. Your aim should be to make the subject of your essay feel as real to your readers as it did and does for you.

Other ways to ensure that you’re being specific enough in your essay are to use common literary devices such as anecdotes, dialogue (an actual conversation you had with someone), imagery, and onomatopoeia. These not only add color to your writing but also paint the subject of your essay in a more effective, relatable way.

Lastly, I recommend getting somebody else to read over your essay (which I talk about more in tip 4); this person can let you know if your writing isn’t specific enough and if too much is left to be implied.

 

#2: Be Honest and Use Your Voice

The whole point of writing an essay for a college application is to show the admissions committee who you are. In short, what makes you you? This is why it’s so critical to use an authentic voice in your Princeton essays.

For example, if you love making people laugh (and think humor is one of your defining traits), then it might be a good idea to include a joke or two in your personal essay.

However, don’t exaggerate anything that happened to you or any feelings you might havethe admissions committee will more than likely be able to see through it. Remember that you want your voice and feelings to come across strongly but also (and more importantly) authentically.

Don’t claim in your engineering essay that you’ve liked engineering since you were 3 years old if you only recently developed an interest in it. Lying about or exaggerating anything in your essay will simply make you seem insincere and, yes, even immature. So avoid it!

 

#3: Write Well and Avoid Clichés

You’ll need to be a decent writer if you’re hoping to get into Princetonone of the most selective universities in the US! On the technical side, this means that your Princeton essays should have no grammatical, spelling, or punctuation errors. 

If you’re unsure about a certain grammar rule, such as how to use a semicolon correctly, feel free to consult our SAT grammar guide for a quick refresher.

Writing well also means varying up your sentence lengths and styles (in other words, don’t start every sentence with "I," even though you're likely talking about yourself).

On the more stylistic side, your essays should really grab your audience's attention—and keep it throughout. Therefore, you’ll need to come up with a unique way to hook your readers from the beginning. For example, you could start with a piece of dialogue that someone said to you once (I’d avoid famous quotations, though, since these can come across really clichéd).

Alternatively, you could start with a memory, opening a description with a strong emotion you had, a sound you heard (using onomatopoeia would be a good idea here), or powerful, sensory images of the setting.

As a final tip, make a conscious effort to avoid clichés. These include quotations that have been quoted to death and phrases or idioms that are often overused. Using clichés indicates laziness to the reader and a lack of authenticity in your voice and storytelling.

For example, instead of writing, "I woke up at the crack of dawn," you could write something like "I woke up as soon as the sun began to peek over the horizon" (if you’re the poetic type) or even just "I woke up at dawn" (if you’re more like Hemingway). 

Here is a lengthy but useful list of clichés to avoid in your writing.

Remember that you’re ultimately telling a story with your essays, so don’t be afraid to get creative and use a variety of literary techniques!

 

#4: Proofread, Proofread, Proofread!

The final step before you submit each of your Princeton essays is to edit and proofread it.

Editing isn’t a one-step process. After you finish your rough draft, put your essay away and take it out again a few days or even weeks later to get a fresh perspective on what sounds good and what comes across awkward, unclear, or irrelevant. Do this step numerous times. At this time, you should also be checking for any typos, grammar errors, etc.

Once you’ve done a few editing sessions on your own, give your essay to someone you trust, such as a teacher, counselor, or parent, and have that person look it over and offer any feedback or corrections. Getting another set of eyes to look at your essay can help you catch smaller mistakes you might've failed to notice; it also gives a clearer sense as to what kind of impression your essay will likely leave on the Princeton admissions committee.

 

What’s Next?

If you're applying to Princeton through the Common Application, you'll need to write an essay that answers one of the Common App promptsOur in-depth guide goes over all the current prompts and gives you expert tips on how to answer them.

You can also check out our guide on how to choose a Common App prompt if you're struggling with deciding on the best one for your college application.

Not sure what your chances are of actually getting into Princeton? Calculate them with our own college acceptance calculator, and read up on how to submit a versatile college application.

 


Want to write the perfect college application essay? Get professional help from PrepScholar.

Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. We'll learn your background and interests, brainstorm essay topics, and walk you through the essay drafting process, step-by-step. At the end, you'll have a unique essay that you'll proudly submit to your top choice colleges.

Don't leave your college application to chance. Find out more about PrepScholar Admissions now:

Craft Your Perfect College Essay

Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
Hannah Muniz
About the Author

Hannah graduated summa cum laude from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in English and East Asian languages and cultures. After graduation, she taught English in Japan for two years via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.



Get Free Guides to Boost Your SAT/ACT
100% Privacy. No spam ever.

Ask a Question Below

Have any questions about this article or other topics? Ask below and we'll reply!