How To Get Into Princeton From A Former Admissions Officer

18/07/202422 minute read
How To Get Into Princeton From A Former Admissions Officer

Getting into Princeton University is a lot like winning the lottery, according to a former Princeton University admissions officer.

“There is a grim joke in the Princeton admissions office that students’ chances for admission are roughly the same whether they apply or not—especially in Regular Decision (RD),” he says. “That’s what a sub-5% overall acceptance rate and a sub-3% RD acceptance rate mean.”

But don’t be put off by these odds if you have the prerequisites. “Treat applying to Princeton as one of the few lotteries that smart people play,” says Chris, who for professional reasons prefers not to disclose his surname. “Take your shot, because the outcome might be amazing, but realize that the most likely outcome for any applicant is denial.”

Chris has read and made decisions on thousands of applications for students from across the globe—more specifically from suburban Boston, New York, and the Bay Area of San Francisco, as well as the UK, Western Europe, and South and East Asia. As a Crimson strategist, he works one on one with students on their college application journey.

About Princeton University

Princeton University is an Ivy League college that has ranked number one among universities in the U.S. for 13 consecutive years. A world-renowned research university with a reputation for liberal arts, Princeton has a large endowment distributed across a comparatively small student body, a needs-blind application process, and offers scholarships to students who get accepted and need financial help.

As you might imagine, the academic requirements are rigorous. “Princeton is often considered the most academically rigorous,” says Jamie Beaton, Co-founder and CEO of Crimson Education and author of the bestselling book ACCEPTED!: Secrets to Gaining Admission to the World’s Top Universities. “This is a school that has a strength in liberal arts and humanities. And Princeton is of course in Princeton, New Jersey—a beautiful place, really quite a picturesque suburban campus environment.”

The neo-gothic architecture of the college coupled with the town’s historic 18th and 19th century homes, plush green lawns, and leafy canopies of mature trees make it just about postcard perfect.

“Its campus is perhaps the blueprint for the American gothic university architecture standard. Nassau Hall was even once the capital of the United States during the American Revolution, and scars of the Battle of Princeton can still be seen on the exterior of the building. Princeton is iconic.”

- Chris, Princeton FAO

And of course all of this is within commuting distance of New York City and Philadelphia, PA, making weekend trips very accessible.

Princeton attracts a stellar teaching faculty of literary luminaries, Nobel-prize winners, and other top-in-their-field professors. Students not only get to attend lectures by these great minds but also participate in small-group seminars and work one-on-one with them for their junior papers and senior thesis, which are requirements.

“Princeton University is exceptional in every sense of the word. It has held the number-one ranking in USNews and World Report for over a decade, its athletic teams are the most successful in the Ivy League, its faculty and groundbreaking research are unparalleled (Albert Einstein, John Nash, Toni Morrison, etc.), its endowment per student is perhaps the highest in America, and it offers all of the institutional support and resources one would associate with that.”

Clearly a lottery prize worth winning! So read on to learn insider advice on how to improve your odds.

How hard is it to get into Princeton?

“It’s absurdly competitive,” says Chris. The school receives far more qualified applicants than it is able to accept—and each and every one was an academic star in their secondary school.

“There is literally no level of academic achievement that “stands out” in the Princeton pool,” he says. “Most students accepted to Princeton were in the top 5% of their class, with 42+/45 IB scores and IGCSE results that are all As. More valedictorians, students with 1600 SATs, 36 ACTs, or 45 IBs are denied from Princeton than admitted.”

The majority of admitted students have perfect scores on standardized tests in their field of study and near-perfect scores in other test subjects. A prospective engineer will have an 800 in math on the SAT and might not have an 800 EBRW, but she’ll be above 700 if she wants to be competitive, he says.  

Academic rigor and testing performance are prerequisites for a competitive application. 

Princeton University’s acceptance rate

Princeton has started to withhold admissions data. The school continues to report data to the Common Data Set, but the information is focused more on demographics than applications. Even so, experts say an analysis of past application figures, yield rates, and the school’s own announced plans to slow enrollment growth suggests that the acceptance rate for the class of 2028 might be around 4% percent—the most competitive in years.

For the class of 2026, Princeton received 38,019 applications and only accepted 2,167 students—with an acceptance rate of 5.7%. And it has become ever more challenging for the classes of 2027 and 2028.

The table below provides a breakdown of Princeton’s acceptance rate over three years. Where available, the data is from the common data set.

Princeton's Acceptance Rates
Class ofTotal ApplicationsAccepted StudentsEA Acceptance RateRD Acceptance RateOverall Acceptance Rate


What GPA do you need to get into Princeton?

The average high school GPA of admitted students at Princeton is 3.95. This indicates that students who were admitted typically earned A grades.

Around 68% of admitted students had a GPA of 4, about 25% had a GPA of 3.75-3.99, and about 4% had a GPA of 3.50-3.74.

This data highlights the importance of maintaining a high GPA to be competitive in the admissions process.

“Demonstrated academic achievement may not be the most important part of a successful application, but it’s the first step.”

What SAT/ACT scores do you need to get into Princeton?

Princeton went test-optional beginning with the class of 2025—meaning applicants are no longer required to take the SAT or ACT. But those who do take standardized tests can submit their scores. And if you test well, it can help you. 

Crimson Education strategists advise taking standardized tests to see if your scores will help. If you choose to take them, take them early. This way, if you don’t score well you still have time to focus on weaknesses, get some tutoring help, take practice tests, then take the tests again.

“Students should only submit their scores if they’re exceptional (34/1500+). Testing is considered part of demonstrated academic achievement.”

Standardized test scores can be especially helpful for international students from countries or schools where Princeton doesn’t see a lot of applicants, Chris adds. 

“If a Princeton admissions officer isn’t fluent in a student’s curriculum or high school context, a strong score (1450+) can be a real boost as it gives the student’s academic achievement some known grounding.”

On the flip side, students from countries where Princeton does see a lot of applicants should only submit test scores if they are stellar.

“Students applying from schools, curricula, or countries that typically see lots of very strong testing (the UK, India, Singapore, Hong Kong, and China come to mind) should probably only submit scores that are 1500+”

Most students applying to Princeton are still submitting test scores. For the class of 2026, 60% of applicants submitted SAT scores and 25% submitted an ACT score. And students who were accepted had very high scores, with 95.31% of students scoring in the 1400-1600 range for the SAT composite and 96.83% scoring in the 30-36 range for the ACT composite.

SAT Scores of Princeton Admits
25th Percentile50th Percentile75th Percentile
SAT Composite151015401570
ACT Scores of Princeton Admits
25th Percentile50th Percentile75th Percentile

What courses do you need to take to get into Princeton University?

Not all secondary schools offer the same courses, so the Princeton admissions team doesn’t have specific course requirements.

They expect that applicants will have taken the most challenging and rigorous curriculum available to them, including honors classes and advanced placement (AP) courses.

For international students, the admissions team looks at International Baccalaureate (IB) and A-Levels achievements as well.

Students who took AP courses or even college-level courses outside of their school may be able to skip introductory courses if they meet the requirements. AP courses may even help you qualify for “advanced standing” at Princeton, allowing you to graduate early.

To skip a year, you’d have to have eight qualifying AP units across at least three of the following subject areas: languages (other than English), historical analysis, literature and the arts, quantitative and computational reasoning, science and engineering, and social analysis. 

If you have only four AP units across those subject areas, you might be able to skip a term. 

B.S.E. candidates with eight AP units need at least two in physics, two in mathematics, and one in chemistry to skip a year. Those with only four AP units—two in physics, one in mathematics, and one in chemistry—might be able to skip a term.

Recommended Courses
CourseRecommended Units
Foreign Language4
Laboratory Science2
Social Studies2
Performing Arts1

For students whose high schools don’t offer AP courses, there are online programs that do. Crimson Global Academy (CGA) is accredited by the College Board to offer the Advanced Placement (AP) curriculum.

How to write a Princeton essay?

When you apply using the Coalition Application, Common Application or the QuestBridge Application, you will see several Princeton-specific essay prompts:

  • A maximum 250-word academic statement
  • A two-part “your voice” essay
  • Answers to three “more about you” questions, in 50 words or less

These questions are looking for evidence of your character, intellectual qualities, and cultural fit. To demonstrate your intellectual qualities, show the Princeton admissions team not just what you think but how you think, suggests Chris.

Here’s what your admissions officer is looking for and ways to show it:

Deep intellectual curiosity

Introduce a new idea or reframe a familiar idea through a new intellectual lens. 

Applied intellectual curiosity

Write about where your own interests have led you. “This can involve either applying a curiosity around an idea or discipline to an outcome,” says Chris. For example:

  • An engineer innovating to create a new device
  • An English major applying Romantic thinking to social media to create a new publication
  • Or applying a curiosity around one idea or discipline to another seemingly unrelated discipline, such as physics and philosophy, or religion and computer science, or economics and creative writing.

Collaborative excellence

“It’s not enough to be a rock star,” says Chris. “Successful Princeton applicants will show evidence of making the rest of their ‘band’ better, too.” Talk about a team effort that you participated in and the role you played. “This is very difficult for applicants to pull off without sounding braggadocious,” he acknowledges. It takes sophistication as a thinker and as a writer, but if you can pull it off, it will be impressive.


Write about a time when you used your talent to benefit others. “Compelling applicants show evidence or aspiration of using their gifts to positively impact others,” says Chris.

What is Princeton looking for?

As was mentioned, it’s pretty difficult to stand out when everyone applying is in the top 5% of their class. But all things being equal, the Princeton admissions team likes to see:

Intellectual depth and rigor.

“Superior academics are prerequisites for a competitive application to Princeton—not solid academics, not strong academics, but superior academics,” says Chris.

Ability to contribute to graduate-level research opportunities.

“The defining academic aspects of the Princeton experience are the junior papers and senior thesis (or senior project, for engineers) that are required for graduation,” says Chris.

In addition, Princeton’s world-leading faculty often tap undergraduates for help in their research. Applicants who will be able to contribute to graduate-level research opportunities along with a demanding classroom schedule stand out.

Desire to make a difference in the world.

"Princeton’s Project 55* is one of the University’s proudest distinctions,”* says Chris. “Competitive Princeton applicants need not have deep service experience, but they need to show an inclination–an excitement, even–about the prospect of applying what they learn at Princeton to the benefit of others.”

Project 55 brings alumni together with students and recent graduates to work on critical issues affecting the public interest. Programs and fellowships offer opportunities for mentorship and professional development in a variety of fields, including social justice, advocacy, housing, community development, education, health and medicine, employment and welfare, environmental issues, women's issues, and youth services.

Superb essays

“Essays are part of the equation that separates the merely strong applications from the truly superior ones,” says Chris. “And it explains why many valedictorians and perfect testers are outcompeted by students with markedly lesser grades.”

How to increase your chances of acceptance at Princeton?

While the Princeton University application process is competitive, Chris says you can increase your chances of acceptance by demonstrating strong academics, intellectual curiosity, and preparedness for the research opportunities (junior papers, senior thesis/project) that are going to come your way during your Princeton academic experience.

Here are some dos and don’ts for applying to Princeton:


  • Familiarize yourself with Princeton’s Project 55 and show what service toward others means to you.
  • Reveal the strong character and values that will make you a good fit for a school that has un-proctored exams and relies on the Princeton “honor code.”
  • Obtain recommendation letters from teachers who would characterize you as one of the most impressive students in their teaching career.
  • Highlight extracurriculars—they won’t lift a subpar application, but they can distinguish a strong one.
  • Show your fit and affinity for a suburban campus over an urban one (avoid the “suburban apology,” and instead celebrate the positives of living in a close-knit residential community).
  • Remember that original thinking is more important than mastery.
  • Consider single-choice early action if Princeton is your top choice and you have the prerequisites; the acceptance rate is 5x greater than the RD rate.


  • Characterize the junior paper and senior thesis as requirements but, rather, opportunities.
  • Overemphasize the University’s proximity to New York City or other big cities. 
  • Call out specific professors you’d like to study with.
  • Sound boastful or claim subject-matter expertise.
  • Gamble on single-choice early action in the hopes of lifting a subpar application: “No round is prioritized over another, and no round is easier than another—they are all brutally selective,” says Chris.

Final Thoughts

While the admissions process for Ivy League schools like Princeton is notoriously competitive, understanding what top-tier universities are looking for can help you stand out. Former admissions officer Chris offers invaluable insights into how you can enhance your application by showcasing academic rigor, intellectual curiosity, and a strong fit with the university’s culture and values.

At Crimson Education, our proven strategies and personalized guidance have helped students achieve remarkable success in gaining admission to Ivy League institutions. Our team of former admissions officers and experienced strategists is dedicated to helping you maximize every aspect of your application, from academic performance to extracurricular involvement and essay writing.

Ready to take the next step towards your Ivy League dream? Book a free consultation with Crimson Education today to receive a comprehensive application profile analysis. Discover how our tailored support can help you achieve your college admission goals and set you on the path to success.

Book your free consultation now and start your journey to an Ivy League school with Crimson Education.

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