How to Approach Princeton's Essays (with Real Princeton Essay Examples from 2023)
20 min read
When it comes to college applications, writing the perfect essay can make all the difference. And for those applying to Princeton University, crafting standout essays is a must. But what sets a Princeton essay apart from the rest? In this article, we'll explore tips and tricks for nailing each of Princeton's essay prompts, along with examples from successful applicants. Whether you're just starting to brainstorm or putting the final touches on your essays, read on for expert advice on how to impress the admissions committee at one of the most prestigious universities in the world.
Princeton's Essay Prompts
250 Word Essays (Princeton's "Your Voice" Essays):
- At Princeton, we value diverse perspectives and the ability to have respectful dialogue about difficult issues. Share a time when you had a conversation with a person or a group of people about a difficult topic. What insight did you gain, and how would you incorporate that knowledge into your thinking in the future? (250 words)
- Princeton has a longstanding commitment to service and civic engagement. Tell us how your story intersects (or will intersect) with these ideals. (250 words)
Princeton's Extracurricular Essay:
- Briefly elaborate on an activity, organization work experience, or hobby that has been particularly meaningful to you. (150 words)
50 Word Essays (Princeton's "More About You" Essays):
- What is a new skill you would like to learn in college? (50 words)
- What brings you joy? (50 words)
- What song represents the soundtrack of your life at this moment? (50 words)
Princeton's Degree-Specific Essays:
For BA / Undecided Applicants:
As a research institution that also prides itself on its liberal arts curriculum, Princeton allows students to explore areas across the humanities and the arts, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. What academic areas most pique your curiosity, and how do the programs offered at Princeton suit your particular interests? (250 words)
For BSE Applicants:
Please describe why you are interested in studying engineering at Princeton. Include any of your experiences in or exposure to engineering, and how you think the programs offered at the University suit your particular interests. (250 words)
How to Write Princeton's Essays:
Princeton's "Your Voice" Essays:
Princeton's Difficult Conversation Essay:
"At Princeton, we value diverse perspectives and the ability to have respectful dialogue about difficult issues. Share a time when you had a conversation with a person or a group of people about a difficult topic. What insight did you gain, and how would you incorporate that knowledge into your thinking in the future?" (250 words).
When approaching this prompt, it's important to reflect on a time when you engaged in a conversation about a challenging topic. Choose a topic that you are passionate about or have experience with, and be sure to highlight your ability to listen actively to others' perspectives.
Start your essay by setting the scene, describing the context of the conversation and the people involved. Then, explain the issue being discussed and any differing opinions that arose. Show how you demonstrated respect for diverse perspectives and how you contributed to the discussion.
Next, describe the insights you gained from the conversation. Did you learn something new about yourself or others? Did the conversation change your thinking or perspective on the topic? Be specific about what you learned and how it impacted you.
Finally, discuss how you would incorporate this knowledge into your thinking in the future. What changes would you make to your approach to difficult conversations? How would you ensure that you continue to be open-minded and respectful of differing perspectives?
Remember to keep your essay concise and focused, while still showing depth and insight. By highlighting your ability to engage in respectful dialogue about difficult topics, you'll demonstrate that you embody the values that Princeton University holds dear. Here's a great example from Ryder, a current Princeton student. You can read all of his essays here.
Most people wouldn’t consider flutes and peas controversial, but at my family dinner table, they are. Years ago, my dad proclaimed flutes an inferior instrument stating, “Nobody likes the flute” (my mom does), and asking, “What great band features a flute?” (Dave Matthews Band), adding to the conversation some incendiary comments about peas culminating in the claim that “Peas are the least liked vegetable.” At the time, I couldn’t put my finger on why, but his assertions irked me. Irritated, I went to bat for flutes and peas with an inexplicable passion for all they had to offer, though neither are my favorite instrument or vegetable.
Since then, many dinnertime conversations and debates have taken place, the most volatile invariably circling back to touch on the value of flutes and peas, and I have come to understand why I have repeatedly championed their worth. When it comes to flutes and peas, my dad treats his opinions as fact—defending his views as “right” with googled information and naming as evidence a mysterious, undocumented majority of flute and pea haters. To this day, he remains convinced his opinion is irrefutably correct; those who think otherwise are brainwashed, don’t know better, or are lying.
Go ahead, call me a “flute and pea fanatic”; all I was ever fighting for was to stay open-minded. Thanks to my dad and his steadfast condemnation of flutes and peas, I watch out for opinion masquerading as fact and choose my own words carefully, believing that conflict often springs not from differing opinions, but from the way those opinions are asserted.
Princeton's Civic Engagement Essay:
"Princeton has a longstanding commitment to service and civic engagement. Tell us how your story intersects (or will intersect) with these ideals." (250 words)
To approach this prompt, first reflect on your experiences with service and civic engagement. Consider instances where you've made a positive impact on your community or participated in activities that align with Princeton's commitment to service. Begin your essay by briefly sharing your personal background or story that led you to engage in service and civic activities. This could include your upbringing, family values, or any transformative experiences that have shaped your commitment to service.
Next, provide specific examples of your involvement in service or civic-related activities. These could be volunteer work, community projects, leadership roles, or advocacy for social issues. Highlight the impact of your efforts, the skills you've gained, and any challenges you've faced along the way.
After discussing your past experiences, connect your story to Princeton's ideals by explaining how your commitment to service will continue during your time at the university. Research Princeton's service and civic engagement initiatives, such as the Pace Center for Civic Engagement or Community House, and identify programs or opportunities that resonate with your interests and goals. It also helps to briefly discuss your long-term aspirations and how your dedication to service will play a role in your future career or personal life.
Here's a great example of Princeton's civic engagement and service essay from Aileen, who got into incredible schools like Princeton, Harvard, UPenn, Dartmouth, Cornell, and Brown. You can read all of the essays that got her into those amazing schools here.
What makes a neighborhood feel like home? For me, it is cohesion, mutual dependency, and trust, but not necessarily residence: I don’t live in [Place Redacted]’s Chinatown, but it has nonetheless made an impact on me.
I became involved with Chinatown community organizations volunteering at one housing nonprofit’s annual summer film festival and neighborhood gathering. Witnessing the mutual obligation between neighbors and residents’ love for their community, I felt a connection to the neighborhood that ultimately motivated me to explore my cultural roots as an Asian-American and continue working with Chinatown organizations.
As part of a research project on economic inequality, I learned about the challenges Chinatown faces, from redlining and gentrification to language capability and racial discrimination. I became a tour guide with an organization to give college students and nearby young professionals a view of the neighborhood through an urban planning lens. I’ve continued this commitment to educating communities about the consequences of urban development and lack of awareness by holding similar conversations and workshops through school clubs.
I am so thankful to have engaged with the intricacies of a deeply connected neighborhood like Chinatown, but I am even more grateful for the skills its community has taught me. I have learned to advocate for community empowerment and reflection and combat economic inequality in a neighborhood by understanding its nuanced causes. Chinatown fostered in me the spirit of community organizing, which I will take with me for the rest of my life.
Princeton's Extracurricular Essay:
"Briefly elaborate on an activity, organization work experience, or hobby that has been particularly meaningful to you." (150 words).
When approaching this prompt, focus on an activity, organization, work experience, or hobby that has had a significant impact on your personal growth, interests, or values. Choose an experience that showcases your dedication, passion, and ability to make a meaningful contribution.
Begin by briefly describing the chosen activity or experience, providing context about your involvement. Be specific about your role and responsibilities, and explain why this experience is particularly meaningful to you. Be sure to also discuss the impact of this experience on your life. Consider the skills you've gained, the lessons you've learned, or the personal growth you've experienced as a result of your involvement. If possible, highlight any challenges you've faced and how you've overcome them, demonstrating resilience and adaptability.
Although the word limit for this prompt is short, it's crucial to convey a strong sense of purpose and passion in your response. By focusing on one meaningful experience and articulating its significance, you'll provide the admissions committee with a glimpse into your values and interests, making your application more memorable and compelling.
The incredible Princeton essay example below comes from Ryan, who got into Princeton, Stanford, Columbia, and Brown. You can read his entire college application here.
Since the cards were first dealt four years ago, I have not only become infatuated with the game of poker, but I've finally felt the warmth of genuine, requited best-friendship.
For its own sake, poker is an amazing game. A game of statistics, psychology, and luck, poker keeps objectivity enjoyable; whether through a sneaky play or just bad luck, the mathematically "correct" play is often wrong—you can't master the game.
But as much as I'm attached to poker, it'd be nothing without the "regulars": "Silverman"—the stone-cold bluffer. Jack—the sly psychologist. "Kato"—the careful calculator, and Jaden—the poker guru. Poker introduced us, but our friendships grew beyond the game: We get along like family.
I've made other friends along the way. I've grown as a student, as a friend, and even as a son over the same period. But nothing has made my life enjoyable like these four friends—through a game most see only in casinos, my dreams of authentic friendship have finally been realized.
Princeton's 50-Word Essays:
Princeton's New Skill Essay:
"What is a new skill you would like to learn in college?" (50 words).
When approaching the "What is a new skill you would like to learn in college?" prompt, start by selecting a specific skill that genuinely interests you and aligns with your academic or personal goals. In one or two sentences, explain why this skill is important to you or how it might enhance your college experience. Then, briefly discuss how learning this skill at Princeton could contribute to your long-term aspirations. Throughout your response, convey enthusiasm and curiosity, showcasing your eagerness to grow and learn during your time at the university. Remember to keep your response concise yet impactful within the limited word count.
Here is a great example of Princeton's new skill essay from Gabi, who got into incredible schools such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. You can read all of her college applications here.
From hip-hop to choreopoem, I want to learn how to critically analyze, histioculturally deconstruct, and stylistically perform dance. Studying or daydreaming, a rhythm constantly flows through my head, and I hope to channel it through Lewis Center’s co-curricular and academic offerings.
Princeton's Joy Essay:
"What brings you joy?" (50 words).
To approach the "What brings you joy?" prompt, reflect on a specific activity, hobby, or aspect of your life that genuinely sparks happiness and fulfillment. Describe it briefly and vividly, capturing the essence of why it brings you joy. Within the limited word count, aim to convey your passion and enthusiasm, allowing the admissions committee to gain insight into your personality and values.
Below is an excellent example from Adem, who got into Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth, and Brown. You can read all of his amazing essays here!
I pedal up the steep, 4-mile long Kancamagus Highway climb. Despite being 67 miles into my ride, I still maintain my power and efficient turnover. Cycling is my secret escape, and nothing brings me more joy than spending hours on the saddle exploring backroads on a perfect fall day.
Princeton's Soundtrack Essay:
"What song represents the soundtrack of your life at this moment?" (50 words).
For the "What song represents the soundtrack of your life at this moment?" prompt, choose a song that resonates with your current emotions, experiences, or aspirations. Briefly describe the song and artist, then explain why it's significant to you at this stage in your life. Within the limited word count, aim to convey a personal connection to the song, offering a glimpse into your thoughts and feelings as you navigate this moment in time.
Below is a stellar Princeton essay example from Ryan S, who got into Princeton, UPenn, Cornell, and CMU. You can read all of his college applications here.
“Une Belle Histoire” by Michel Fugain. The guitars, trumpets, and chorus of the “Big Bazaar” mirrors my desire to explore all the unknowns. As I sing along, not understanding a lyric, I’m reminded that I may not understand everything in the present, but that’s okay.
Princeton's Degree-Specific Essays:
Writing Princeton's Essay for BA / Undecided Applicants:
"As a research institution that also prides itself on its liberal arts curriculum, Princeton allows students to explore areas across the humanities and the arts, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. What academic areas most pique your curiosity, and how do the programs offered at Princeton suit your particular interests?" (250 words).
To approach this prompt, start by identifying the academic areas that genuinely pique your curiosity. Reflect on your passions, experiences, and future goals to determine which disciplines align with your interests. Be selective and focus on a few specific areas to provide depth in your response. Next, research Princeton's programs and offerings related to your chosen academic areas. This could include courses, majors, minors, research opportunities, or extracurricular activities. Familiarize yourself with the unique aspects of Princeton's liberal arts curriculum and how it encourages interdisciplinary exploration.
In your essay, briefly discuss your chosen academic areas and explain why they interest you. Share any relevant experiences, achievements, or personal connections that showcase your passion for these subjects. Then, demonstrate your knowledge of Princeton's programs by explaining how they suit your particular interests. Discuss specific courses, research opportunities, or resources that you are excited about and how they would enhance your academic journey. Additionally, consider mentioning any professors or ongoing projects at the university that align with your interests.
Finally, connect your exploration of these academic areas at Princeton to your long-term goals, whether they be professional or personal. Show how the university's approach to learning will equip you with the skills and knowledge necessary to achieve success in your chosen fields. By showcasing your genuine curiosity and demonstrating a deep understanding of Princeton's academic offerings, you'll convey your enthusiasm for learning at the university and illustrate how you would thrive in its intellectual environment.
The amazing Princeton essay example below comes from Kaya, who got into Princeton, Columbia, and JHU. You can read all of her essays here.
My life experiences and classwork have shaped my passion for neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy. Princeton's environment will deepen my understanding of my interests and allow me to develop new ones.
My concussions and visits with my neurologist and psychologist interested me in their fields, as I want to understand how the brain changes after trauma and how that affects behavior. Then, in junior year English, we read works by Emerson and Thoreau, and my previous tolerance of the humanities transformed into a love of philosophy. Philosophy allows for dissent and multiple interpretations, creating an ambiguity that balances the rigidity and clarity of science. The cognitive science certificate program combines neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy into one concentration, so I can explore the interconnectedness of all my interests.
Majoring in psychology gives me an opportunity to get an additional certificate in neuroscience. Instead of double majoring and taking all of the required neuroscience courses, I can just take neuropsychological classes that interest me, such as "Depression: From Neuron to Clinic" and "The Brain: A User's Guide." The psychology major also offers courses such as "The Psychology and Philosophy of Rationality" and "The Psychology of Moral Behavior," which combine my interests in psychology and philosophy.
Additionally, the "Princeternship" will allow me to apply classroom learning of psychology and neuroscience in my shadowing experiences with alumni in the field. It also gives me an undergraduate opportunity to create personal relationships with potential employers to begin my career path as a clinical psychiatrist.
Writing Princeton's Essay for BSE Applicants:
"Please describe why you are interested in studying engineering at Princeton. Include any of your experiences in or exposure to engineering, and how you think the programs offered at the University suit your particular interests." (250 words).
To approach this prompt, begin by reflecting on your interest in engineering and any experiences or exposure you've had in the field. Consider personal projects, internships, competitions, or coursework that have shaped your passion for engineering.
Start your essay by discussing why you're interested in studying engineering, highlighting any specific areas or fields within engineering that particularly excite you. Share relevant experiences or achievements that showcase your dedication to the subject. Next, research Princeton's engineering programs and resources, including majors, courses, research opportunities, faculty, and facilities. Familiarize yourself with the unique aspects of Princeton's engineering education and its interdisciplinary approach.
In your response, demonstrate your knowledge of Princeton's engineering offerings by explaining how they align with your interests and goals. Discuss specific courses, research projects, or resources that you're excited about and explain how they would contribute to your academic and professional development. Additionally, consider mentioning any professors or ongoing research at the university that resonates with your interests, showing your eagerness to engage with the academic community at Princeton.
Lastly, connect your pursuit of engineering at Princeton to your long-term aspirations. Explain how the university's approach to engineering education will equip you with the skills, knowledge, and opportunities necessary to succeed in your chosen career path. By showcasing your genuine passion for engineering and demonstrating a deep understanding of Princeton's engineering programs, you'll convey your enthusiasm for learning at the university and illustrate how you would thrive in its intellectually stimulating environment.
The incredible essay example below comes from Princeton student Lily. She also got into MIT and UPenn, and you can read all of her essays and activities here.
My parents’ focus on maintaining our Chinese restaurant meant I grew up entertaining myself with origami formed from menus and indestructible towers of cardboard boxes between a broken sink and a dusty cash register. However, Computer Science brought me to a community that supports and fuels my desire for innovation.
In eighth grade, after learning about Scratch (a platform where beginners can create and share coding projects) my classmates started gathering around each others’ desktops to test our projects. Scratch taught me block coding, but also the endless lessons contained in others’ creations. The communities it created through its website and in my computer classes reminded me I didn’t have to work alone. Unlike my origami folds, my creations were no longer limited to my little designated corner; my programs could touch the lives of people beyond our restaurant.
At Princeton, I want to learn from Assistant Professor Andres Monroy-Hernandez, a developer of Scratch. His interest in systems that emphasize consumers’ benefits resonates with my aspiration to create community-driven programs that give people who feel isolated a place to thrive with other like-minded individuals. I strive to give others the same drive that comes from participating in college engineering summer camps and HTML classes with passionate professors and students, sharing the satisfaction of explaining doppler equations to a classmate that helped me debug a Python program.
Wincing at the amounts of abandoned crab rangoons every time I cleared a table at the restaurant also sparked an innate desire to reduce waste and increase sustainability in everyday life. With the ENV certification program, I would customize the sustainability courses I take to complement my Computer Science major. Electives like Economics of Food and Agriculture will give me a deeper understanding of the economics and source of the bulk boxes of broccoli we ordered every Friday. Joining clubs like Green Dining, I would directly impact my local environment by creating programs that will analyze the amount of produced food waste.
Princeton Engineering’s focus on learning to help humanity will nurture my desire of developing programs that’ll create thriving communities and increase sustainability.
In conclusion, crafting standout essays for Princeton University requires a deep understanding of the prompts, genuine self-reflection, and a clear demonstration of your passions and goals. One of the most effective ways to master this process is by learning from real-world examples of successful essays that have helped students gain admission to prestigious institutions like Princeton.
By examining these examples, you can glean insights into what makes an essay stand out, identify patterns and strategies used by successful applicants, and ultimately apply those lessons to your own writing. Fortunately, we've built out a platform that lets high school students and parents access thousands of real-world examples of successful essays and extracurriculars that have landed students at incredible schools.
You can explore this vast repository of winning essays, learn from their successes, and refine your approach to tackling essay prompts from great schools like Princeton. Ultimately, by leveraging the power of real-life examples and the expert guidance provided in this article, you'll be well on your way to crafting compelling essays that capture the attention of Princeton University's admissions committee and pave the way for your future academic success.
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