How to Write Princeton Supplemental Essays

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Young girl writing her princeton supplement essays on notebook

If Princeton is at the top of your list for best-fit colleges, you know that every component of your application counts. With a record-low acceptance rate of less than 4% for the University Class of 2025, it’s clear that applicants are going to have to submit their best work to be competitive, and that includes writing compelling supplemental essays.

While grades may pull the most weight in admissions decisions, supplemental essays give students an opportunity to highlight what makes them unique, demonstrate their knowledge of Princeton, and articulate the impact they will have on campus. Keep reading to learn how to write Princeton supplemental essays that will help you stand out for the right reasons.

What Are the Princeton Supplemental Essays? 

Before you start drafting your essays, it’s important to understand the different types of content that you will need to write and how each fits into the admissions process. If you’re wondering how to get into Princeton, writing a compelling essay isn’t enough on its own, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

For Princeton specifically, you will need to answer three different college application essay prompts that have a recommended length of 150 words each, as well as three shorter prompts that enable the admissions office to learn more about you as an applicant. Princeton also asks for a graded paper from a high school class as part of the application and a school-specific response for Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science Engineering applicants.

Supplemental essays are one of many soft factors that admissions officers take into consideration when reviewing applications. How important are supplemental essays? Although strong essays may not be enough to earn you a spot in the upcoming class, they will demonstrate that you’ve done your research, you’re interested in attending Princeton, and you have the writing and analytical skills needed to excel in college-level courses. Princeton supplemental essays can also show the admissions office another side of you and help them create a fuller picture of you as a student and community member.

Princeton Supplemental Essays: What Makes a Good Answer

Start With a Hook

When you set out to write your Princeton supplemental essays, one of the most important things you can do is draw the reader in right from the start with what is called a “hook”.  Consider using a personal anecdote that piques the reader’s interest, a fact that might surprise them, or a shibboleth, which is an opening phrase or statement that your reader will not fully understand without reading the rest of your essay.

Build Connections

If you want to write great supplemental essays, make sure every word counts. Essays give you the chance to reveal more about your personality and build a bridge between the topic you are discussing and what you have learned from it. For example, if you’re writing about playing a sport, make sure you tie your role on the team into a bigger-picture discussion about how it influenced your goals and dreams for the future.

Show Growth

The classic writing advice to “show not tell”, is certainly relevant when writing your Princeton supplemental essays. Admissions officers don’t just want to hear that you’re a good person, they want to see examples to support it. Whenever you’re writing supplemental essays, make sure to weave in examples that illustrate the impact you will have on campus and the elements of your personality that you wish to highlight.

Do Not Mistake Awards for Personal Development

Given how competitive Princeton is, you might feel like listing all of your titles and achievements is a good way to stand out. However, when it comes to college essay dos and don’ts, boasting about your accolades definitely falls into the latter category. Focus on answering the questions to the best of your ability and learning from Princeton supplement essay examples, and let your resume do the rest.

Princeton Supplement Essay Examples

Sometimes, the easiest way to work on supplemental essays is to see an example of a strong essay. Every applicant’s writing style is different, but there are some universal best practices that everyone can learn from by reviewing sample content.

Prompt 1

Briefly elaborate on an activity, organization, work experience, or hobby that has been particularly meaningful to you. (recommended 150 words)

“I’ve always been an avid reader and writer. Joining my school’s newspaper as a freshman not only nurtured my love of writing; it also inspired me to share my passion with others. Signing up to become a reading buddy at a local Boys & Girls club has given me the opportunity to help younger students find their voice and develop their own love of language, which has only furthered my passion for English and language arts. Having the chance to reread some of my favorite novels and see them from the eyes of my students has deepened my understanding, broadened my perspective, and inspired me to continue to pursue writing and reading and take my own work to the next level.”

To answer this question, students should pinpoint something that they are passionate about and ideally tie this pursuit into a bigger impact. In the example above, the Princeton supplemental essay discusses the writer’s love of reading and how this passion led the applicant to start giving back to their community.

Prompt 2 

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

“I’ve spent the last two summers working at a bakery. I’m greeted by faces that I’ve grown up seeing, but they take on a new perspective when I am behind the counter. I am not the neighborhood kid who kicked the soccer ball into their lawn or the trick-or-treater dressed up as a princess for the fourth year in a row. Instead, I am a small part of their daily routine, but I know there’s a chance to make a real impact. I’ve learned their coffee orders by heart, I know who loves to chat at the checkout and who’s always rushing out the door, and exactly when someone is having the kind of day that calls for an extra cookie. It might be easy work on the surface, but it’s the people that challenge me and inspire me to return each day with a smile on my face.”

To answer this question, students should focus less on trying to wow the reader with an adventure-filled summer and more on highlighting the lessons they learned from their experiences. This essay works because the writer focuses on the connections she made and the people skills she built.

Prompt 3 

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? (Please respond in about 250 words)

“I come from a family of meat-lovers. Steak is a staple, and no breakfast is complete without bacon. When I joined my school’s Environmental Advocacy Coalition, it opened my eyes to the meat industry’s major ethical issues. I swapped turkey for tofu at school, but I held back on sharing my views with my family. With the holidays coming up, I decided to sit down with my parents and see if we could make some changes to our menu that might be more planet-friendly. While I faced some initial resistance, I shared research with them that helped change their minds. Eventually, we came to a compromise and replaced some of our classics with plant-based alternatives. Even if we never see fully eye-to-eye, I’ve learned that raising your voice about something you care about is always worth it and that sometimes you need to be patient and give people time to change.”

In this Princeton supplemental essay, students need to make sure the lesson they have learned is clear, which this writer does by writing a conclusion that showcases how he has grown and changed.

Writing Princeton supplemental essays can feel overwhelming at first, but with practice and careful preparation, every student can write something that they are proud of. If you’re looking for additional guidance, you can learn more tips on how to write a supplemental essay.

Related Topics

College Application Tips, College Essays

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