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How to Answer the Princeton University Supplemental Essay Prompts 2019-2020

NOV 17, 2019 • 10 min read

Princeton looks for applicants who have pursued and achieved academic excellence. Admissions Officers expect students to have a passion for education and a strong sense of intellectual curiosity. Personal and extracurricular accomplishments are also taken into account when choosing the incoming class.

It’s important that when applying to Princeton, you exemplify these accomplishments in your application essays. The answers to your supplemental essays are what give you the opportunity to stand out, get noticed and ultimately gain admission to the #1 ranked university in the nation, according to US News.

Keep an eye out for our next blog of the series featuring Harvard’s supplemental essay prompts!

If you would like your essay reviewed by an expert so you can feel confident when submitting your college application, get your essay reviewed by Crimson.

Princeton A

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1. Detailing your activities

Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences that was particularly meaningful to you. (Response required in about 150 words.)

For this first short answer question, the key word is meaningful. This isn't merely an opportunity to brag about an additional accomplishment (although if this essay ultimately includes an accomplishment, that's ok!). It's really an opportunity to discuss an experience you've had outside of school that you feel gets buried by the rest of your application. Since it specifies an "extracurricular activity," it likely wants you to write about something that appears on your Common App list of extracurriculars but does not appear elsewhere in your app. Writing an anecdote, rather than a mere summary, is advised.

Pro tip: It could be a good idea to choose an activity that contrasts with your intended major. This shows your diverse interests and gives your application more texture overall.

To find a great extracurricular opportunity search through our online database.

2. How you spend your summers

Please tell us how you have spent the last two summers (or vacations between school years), including any jobs you have held. (Response required in about 150 words.)

(A few details: your favorite book and its author, your favorite website, your favorite recording, your favorite source of inspiration, your favorite line from a movie or book and its title, your favorite movie, two adjectives your friends would use to describe you, your favorite keepsake or memento, your favorite word)

For the summers prompt, the best approach is to briefly explain your summer activity and then spend two sentences or so highlighting takeaways and insights from those activities. The committee will want to see that you really learned something from your experiences during this time.

Once again, be concise and clear.

Potential topics can be:

  • a summer internship
  • a job that taught you a valuable lesson in customer service
  • a summer spent taking care of a relative / what you learned from it.

This prompt is straightforward. Answer the questions honestly while also ensuring you cover a diversity of interest areas. There is no need for the answers here to be over-serious or too academic; make it personal, make it you, and make sure to keep it appropriate.

3. Your Voice

In addition to the essay you have written for the Common Application or the Universal College Application, please write an essay of about 500 words (no more than 650 words and no fewer than 250 words). 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 Common Application or Universal College Application.

Possible prompts include:

  • Tell us about a person who has influenced you in a significant way.
  • “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 and co-founder of This quote is taken from Professor Wasow’s January 2014 speech at the Martin Luther King Day celebration at Princeton University.
  • “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.
  • 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 'Your Voice' essay should be approached much like the original Common App essay - many of the same standards apply. These include: deep insight or self-reflection, grammatically correct language, compelling language that is clear and concise.

As the prompt says, this essay should be about a person or experience that helped define one of your values. During the brain-storming process, try writing a list of values you think you have, then next to each one, note the experiences from your life that helped you learn that value. Or inversely, think of profound moments in your life and assess what those experiences showed you about your own value system. It is likely that the experiences that come to mind for you will be able to fit the theme of at least one of the above prompts.

Notice that 3 of the 4 prompts include a quotation. This does not mean you have to reference these quotations word for word in your essay. Rather, use them as a jumping off point. Remember, every applicant has the same prompts; how can you make yours stand out? How can you creatively spin the meaning of these quotations? How can you take that meaning and apply it to your own value system?

This prompt is asking for deep reflection; the committee wants to know how you see yourself and what kinds of values you hold as a person.

As a refresher, feel free to reference our Common App criteria.

For more help with the application process see our Application Support service.

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