Are you applying to Princeton University in 2023? Or perhaps you're a parent curious about what it takes.
If so, writing great application essays is the most effective way you can stand out.
In this article, I've gathered 5 of the best Princeton essays that worked so that you can get inspired and improve your own essays.
As a world-renowned college, Princeton has highly competitive admissions. Located in Princeton, New Jersey, the Ivy League school received 37,601 applications this past year and only 1,647 of those students were accepted.
That gives Princeton an overall admit rate of 4.4%, or in other words only 1 in every 18 students get accepted.
While admissions into Princeton is difficult, this only means that your application essays have more of an impact.
To have your best shot of getting admitted, it's important you write stand-out essays in response to Princeton's writing supplement.
This year, Princeton requires applicants to write three short essays and answer three short answer questions. Princeton also requires that you submit a graded academic paper as a part of your application.
The questions on this page are being asked by Princeton University:
Extracurricular Activity and Work Experience
- Briefly elaborate on an activity, organization, work experience, or hobby that has been particularly meaningful to you. (Please respond in about 150 words) (1-200 words)
Please respond to each question in an essay of about 250 words.
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? (50-350 words)
- Princeton has a longstanding commitment to service and civic engagement. Tell us how your story intersects (or will intersect) with these ideals. (50-350 words)
More About You
Please respond to each question in 50 words or fewer. There are no right or wrong answers. Be yourself!
What is a new skill you would like to learn in college? (1-50 words)
What brings you joy? (1-50 words)
What song represents the soundtrack of your life at this moment? (1-50 words)
Princeton requires you to submit a graded written paper as part of your application. You may submit this material now or any time before the application deadline. If you choose not to upload the required paper at this time, you may mail, e-mail, or upload your paper through the applicant portal. Detailed instructions for our graded paper requirement can be found here.
Do you wish to submit a graded written paper at this time?
Upload the graded written paper here. (0-2000 words)
Additional Information (Optional)
Please attach a document if you wish to provide details of circumstances or qualifications not reflected in the application. (0-2000 words)
Here are 5 of the best Princeton essays that worked, inclunding responses to Princeton's writing supplement.
I've also included some Common App essays written by admitted Princeton students.
- Prompt: Elaborate on an Activity
- Prompt: Last Two Summers
- Prompt: Influential Person
- Prompt: Accomplishment, Event, or Realization
- Prompt: Background, Identity, Interest, or Talent
Prompt: Briefly elaborate on an activity, organization, work experience, or hobby that has been particularly meaningful to you. (Please respond in about 150 words) (200 words max)
For the past five years, I have participated in a service group called CTeen (Chabad Teen Network). It is comprised of about twenty-five Jewish teenagers from surrounding high schools. Every Sunday morning we have breakfast and class with our rabbi. We discuss current events and world dilemmas from a Jewish point of view. These discussions have deepened my understanding of Judaism and brought me closer to other members of CTeen. Through CTeen I have met many of my closest friends. My chapter annually travels to Brooklyn for a shabbaton in Crown Heights with 200 other CTeen chapters from around the world. Every year during this time I am imbued with the dedication of my community to our faith, and I experience a heightened connection to both Judaism and my friends. As president of my CTeen chapter and member of the International CTeen Leadership Board, I continue to be impacted by the authentic ideas and dedicated people I meet.
- Detailed Descriptions:
This essay provides good specifics that elaborate on their extracurricular activity. It is specific where possible, which helps provide context and make more compelling.
- Address the "So What?":
This essay touches on the impact of this activity (connection to their religion and friendship), but it could go deeper. The takeaways in this supplement are somewhat surface-level, which is fine to start, but ideally would be expanded upon and more in-depth.
Prompt: Please tell us how you have spent the last two summers (or vacations between school years), including any jobs you have held. (200 words max)
Two summers ago I took AP Chemistry at Northwestern University through the Equinox Program. Taking an entire AP class in five weeks was extremely challenging; I learned time management, collaboration, independent living, and scientific laboratory and inquiry skills. This course really piqued my interest in the sciences, as it was my first exposure to chemistry at the university level. I became intrigued with the research happening in the labs I saw every day. My interest in research gained from that summer translated to last summer when I participated in Boston University’s Research in Science and Engineering program as a part of the intensive molecular biology practicum. I conducted scientific research with a group of my peers and learned many facets of university laboratory work. These experiences were pivotal to my passion for the sciences and guided me towards my interests in university level work.
- Focuses on Challenges:
By admitting when things are difficult, you aren't making yourself seem less capable. Instead, showing what is challenging is what admissions wants to see. Challenges are what cause growth and development, so they are important to address.
- Be More Specific:
In several areas of this essay, the author could be more specific to be more engaging. Rather than saying "the research happening in the labs" they could specify what types of research they witnessed. Rather than saying "these experiences were pivotal to my passion for the sciences," they could specify how these experiences gave them a new appreciation and for what areas of science in particular.
Prompt: Tell us about a person who has influenced you in a significant way. (250-650 words)
Last summer I participated in molecular biology research at Boston University. Surrounded by 39 other high school seniors, I perceived with new clarity how an inquisitive, curious mind must interact in an unapologetic manner. Entering lectures about the basics of molecular biology, most of us initially thought we knew a great deal about biology. I quickly realized my naivete, and once I accepted my own ignorance, I settled into a passive absorption mode. The looks on all our faces told the same story. Well, all of ours except Kelsey’s.
Brilliant and inquisitive, Kelsey exhibited no fear raising her hand and boldly asking questions. Even during the portions of the lectures when we were simply reviewing concepts of biology, she never ceased to question the current topic. The first few times she asked questions, I thought she had little background knowledge so she just needed clarification. Yet as the first week progressed, I realized that not only did she have the background information required for this course but also the grit and determination needed for success in research. The levels of her questions stumped our lecturer at times and he responded, “I’ll have to get back to you on that one.”
Often I just wanted to yell, “PUT YOUR HAND DOWN!!!”, as my tolerance for her constant inquiry began to erode while sitting through her questions and their subsequent answers. Due to her deep and thought-provoking questions, she became the class pariah; not necessarily because she was annoying but because of her resolute and indefatigable inquisitiveness. She was insatiable in her pursuit of knowledge, like a ribosome clinging to the endoplasmic reticulum.
Yet as the course progressed, I finally began to notice the value of Kelsey’s questions. She asked questions of importance, questions researchers must ask themselves every day. Her inquiries were thoughts no one else my age seemed to have. The depth and breadth of her ideas fascinated me, especially given that she was only sixteen.
Kelsey’s questions made me realize the importance of questioning preconceived notions.
Subsequently, I became aware of my own willingness to challenge concepts that were accepted and taught as seemingly concrete, and I recognized the danger of blindly absorbing information without disputing it. Seeing the scholarly nature of Kelsey’s intellectual curiosity, I began to emulate her queries during the final few weeks of the program. Not only did I get more out of the lectures, but I also gained the experience necessary to question ideas and facts and search for answers, a vital skill in every academic realm.
As a student with an interest in the sciences, I ask questions that may not have an obvious answer. As someone who strives for knowledge, I am willing to do research if what I am asking has no answer, but I do not simply possess an affinity toward knowledge. I wish to create it. Most young people cite coaches, teachers, or other adults as influential; however, for me, a peer-modeled approach to learning also has merit.
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Common App Prompt #5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. (250-650 words)
As I sat alone in a crowded airport, I felt both excitement and nervousness. I took my laptop and opened it to the Facebook profile of my third cousin Joey. I remembered how curious I was the first time I learned about his existence. He seemed just like me. I could not have been more excited, for I was on my way to New Jersey to spend spring break at his parents’ house.
It may seem strange that I was so eager to meet a third cousin, as most Americans have minimal contact with relatives as distant as third cousins. Meeting distant relatives meant expanding the family tree, forming new connections, and expanding support networks. Setting down new roots by travelling to New Jersey to meet Joey not only felt right but also necessary.
After landing and meeting Joey and his mom Alla, I felt awkward; we had absolutely nothing to discuss. Maybe visiting people I have never met was a mistake.
That night Alla explained to me that partner dominos was a family tradition dating back 50 years in the Soviet Union. I had never played dominos with a partner. Absolutely stunned, Alla cried, “YOU HAVE NEVER PLAYED PARTNER DOMINOS? HOW THE HELL IS YOUR MOTHER RAISING YOU?” The rest of the night we played partner dominos, and let me admit, I was awful. Nevertheless, I experienced a strong sense of belonging and connection to my heritage by taking part in an old family tradition. That game broke the ice and made me realize that we share a cultural and personal connection; starting with that game, I actually felt like we were family members. Unsure of what else my mom had neglected, Alla inundated me with an entire rundown of my extended family. I learned that I could travel to almost every continent, knowing there would always be someone to whom I am related. Due to my family’s Russian heritage, I would always be welcome, adept at partner dominos or not.
A week later when I sat waiting for my flight home, I smiled. People whom I had just met, who had their own busy lives to live, took me in and made me feel welcome. At the end of the visit, I felt as if I had known Joey and Alla my entire life. I had to acknowledge that I had underestimated the need for extended family in my life. Furthermore, as I contemplated the transition from stranger to family member, my mind took me further to comprehend that whether related or not, I would live a more fulfilling life if willing to make vital connections. I consider every person with whom I forge a connection part of my “family” network, regardless of how remote. Though I had thought of “family” as merely a support system, I realized now that it is comprised of the people who, through powerful shared experiences, help one find a place in the world.
When I launch into the next phase of my life, I am hoping to forge relationships with roommates, classmates, and professors. As a global citizen, I am also dedicated to connect with others and help them find a place in this world, just like Alla and Joey did for me.
- Shows Personality:
It's important to create a "voice" in your personal statement, so that admissions officers can imagine your character and personality. Try to write as you would speak, but refined and polished. In this essay, natural-sounding phrases like "...let me admit, I was awful..." humanizes the author and makes the reader feel like they're being spoken to.
- Compelling Narrative:
This essay is a perfect example of how effective essays don't need to have a super unusual story to be compelling. What makes this essay's story compelling is not necessarily the topic itself (meeting distant relatives), but instead how the student reflects and makes interesting connections to broader ideas. Even seemingly mundane experiences can make for meaningful personal statements topics.
- Stronger Conclusion:
This conclusion works well by connecting to the main story of the essay. However, certain phrases like "As a global citizen" and "I am hoping to forge relationships" are potentially too generic. Instead, try taking your main idea (in this case forming connections with others) and broaden it or connect to more universal ideas.
Common App Prompt #1: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. (250-650 words)
People love to ask why. Why do you wear a turban? Why do you have long hair? Why are you playing a guitar with only 3 strings and watching TV at 3 A.M.—where did you get that cat? Why won’t you go back to your country, you terrorist? My answer is…uncomfortable. Many truths of the world are uncomfortable. A couple of examples are that an equal number of pets are euthanized as are adopted each year and that cats roam the streets at night because they are actually looking for owners with better food. One of those statements is a horrible truth and the other is a thought I had in the shower. Either way, the point still stands. Uncomfortable truths are just that, uncomfortable. The answer to ‘Why won’t you go back to your country, you terrorist?’ is the most uncomfortable answer I can give, barring the current status of aboriginal street cats.
Sikhs like myself have borne the brunt of the backlash through our forced subjection to hate crimes, bullying, and job discrimination. In [Date], a misguided gunman took the lives of six Sikhs who were praying peacefully in their house of worship in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Their families, through their tears, asked the nation, like I continue to ask myself, “Why?”
The uncomfortable truth is that as a society, we have not found a solution to the growing trend of extremism and hate crimes—we failed at the whole “freedom of religion” clause in the Bill of Rights. The media tells us that these crimes are carried out by individuals that are ignorant and motivated by hate. I would personally call them losers, but that would solve none of underlying system problems that have grown from anti-immigration rhetoric. When my cousin joined the US Army, he was told that he’d have to cut his beard and hair. Every time I tell that part of the story I can’t help but guffaw at how ridiculous it sounds. My then eleven-year-old angst came to a climactic fruition hearing those words—it was a call to action.
I helped to gather signatures for a petition to Robert Gates, then Secretary of Defense, pleading with him to allow Sikhs to serve without having to cut our hair. We garnered over 15,000 signatories, receiving generous media attention. We called and convinced our local congressional offices to support this issue. I created a Facebook page to help spread awareness, and helped to organize fundraisers to help fight this ban on our articles of faith. Our message is simple. Through service, we can push back against both hate and intolerance. But, if the largest employer in the U.S. does not allow us to serve with our articles of faith, then we will continue to be victimized as outsiders, contrary to the founding principles of our nation.
I’m proud to say my cousin deployed to Afghanistan as the first Sikh to be granted a religious waiver in nearly a generation. He saved countless lives as a doctor on the front lines of war and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his efforts. But, (there’s always a but) Sikhs today still face a presumptive ban. Despite being in perfect—for the army’s sake—physical condition, I cannot join the US Army because of my hair.
So now the uncomfortable story that was the uncomfortable answer to an uncomfortable question comes to an uncomfortable ending. And, like all great uncomfortable answers, I never really answered the main question. I don’t have the answers to why people do the hateful things they do. But by wearing my turban proudly every morning, by answering questions when they come up, by being willing to talk about everything that is wrong, I become a personification of what is right. My solution to the systemic problem starts with me.
- Central Theme:
Having a unifying idea is key to successful personal statements. Find your deepest idea or realization and focus your essay around that.
- Connects to Accomplishments:
Find a way to showcase your achievements while connecting to broader, more universal ideas.
- Strong Conclusion and Hook:
Connecting your ending to your beginning is a powerful way to bring your essay full circle. A great conclusion expands on your ideas introduced earlier, while leaving some room for more to be said.
These 5 Princeton essays that worked showcase great examples of responses to the Princeton writing supplement.
What did you think of these Princeton essays?
Ryan Chiang, Founder of EssaysThatWorked
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I'm Ryan Chiang and I created EssaysThatWorked - a website dedicated to helping students write college essays they're proud of. We publish the best college admissions essays from successful applicants every year to inspire and teach future students.