princeton essay examples

Princeton Essay Examples – Introduction 

Are you wondering how to write the Princeton supplemental essays? Then this Princeton essay guide is just what you need! In fact, we’ll look at six Princeton essay examples and provide a detailed breakdown of why these were Princeton essays that worked. 

But before we dive into our Princeton supplemental essays examples, let’s learn more about Princeton University. 

Princeton University 

First, Princeton University is an elite private institution located in Princeton, New Jersey. Princeton is one of the Ivy League schools, founded in 1746. According to U.S. News, Princeton University is ranked #1 in National Universities. 

Princeton is a highly competitive university with an acceptance rate of around 4%. The university also routinely makes the list of Best Colleges for many of their majors. Want to know how to get into Princeton? It’ll take much more than just a good test score. The key to gaining admission to Princeton is to make your Princeton supplemental essays shine

Princeton essay guide

In this Princeton essay guide, we’ll explore that essential aspect of the Princeton application: the Princeton essay. We’ll highlight several Princeton supplemental essays examples and provide analysis on why these are Princeton essays that worked.

After reading through the Princeton supplemental essays examples, you’ll know exactly how to write Princeton supplemental essays! With strong essays, you have a better chance of beating that low Princeton acceptance rate.

How many essays does Princeton have? 

princeton essay examples

Wondering how to get into Princeton? One of eight Ivy League schools, Princeton attracts top-tier applicants who have near-perfect GPAs and test scores. If you want to stand out from the crowd, you’ll need to focus on crafting strong essays. 

We’ll give you more information on how to write Princeton supplemental essays later in this guide. Right now, let’s look at the Princeton requirements for essays. 

Princeton supplemental essay requirements

In addition to the Common App essay, Princeton requests four supplemental essays, one graded written paper, and three short answer questions as part of the Princeton admissions requirements. 

The purpose of the Princeton supplemental essays is to add another piece of the puzzle to your application by showcasing how your interests, passions, and goals match the college you hope to attend.  

You’ll be able to review some Princeton essay examples from Princeton essays that worked later in this Princeton essay guide. 

Princeton Essay Prompts

The current Princeton essay prompts for the 2022-2023 Princeton admissions cycle are listed below: 

PromptWord CountRequirement
“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 Required for A.B. Degree applicants or those who are undecided
“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 Required for B.S.E. Degree applicants
“Briefly elaborate on an activity, organization work experience, or hobby that has been particularly meaningful to you.” 150 words Required
“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 Required
“Princeton has a longstanding commitment to service and civic engagement. Tell us how your story intersects (or will intersect) with these ideals.”250 words Required
“What is a new skill you would like to learn in college?”50 words Required
“What brings you joy?”50 words Required
“What song represents the soundtrack of your life at this moment?”50 words Required
NOTE: Check for most up-to-date information each application cycle.

Prompts are subject to change

These are the most recent Princeton essay prompts. However, these Princeton essay prompts might change for next year’s Princeton admissions season. Before you start writing your own essays, verify which Princeton essay prompts Princeton admissions requires for your Princeton application. 

Aside from the Princeton essays above, you must submit a graded written paper as part of your Princeton application. Princeton admissions officers use the graded written paper to assess an applicant’s “written expression in an academic setting.” We’ll discuss this aspect of the Princeton requirements in-depth later in this article. 

You might notice that some of the Princeton essay examples below may not reflect the current Princeton essay prompts. That’s okay! The Princeton essay examples we’ve highlighted can still be valuable tools to help you write your own college essays. So, read on!

How often do Princeton essays change? 

princeton essay examples

If you’re starting your research on how to get into Princeton early, you might be curious whether the Princeton essay prompts will change by the time you’re ready to submit your Princeton application. 

Many colleges changed their admission requirements because of the pandemic, like the new test-optional policy. So, how often do the Princeton essays change? It depends. A Princeton supplemental essay that was required two years ago might no longer be required. 

The Princeton requirements are usually published online in mid-summer for the upcoming admissions season. Before you start writing your Princeton essay, be sure to verify which prompts are listed as part of the Princeton requirements. 

Princeton Essay Examples – Short Essay #1 

Now that we know more about Princeton’s essay requirements, let’s look at some Princeton supplemental essays examples. The first prompt for the Princeton essay examples asks you to describe how you have spent the last two summer breaks from school. 

With only 150 words for your response, you’ll want to get straight to the point. Even if your summers were jam-packed with activities, it’s best to select one thing to talk about (for each summer break) so that you can provide a rich description full of specific details. 

The Princeton essay examples you’re about to see are not a reflection of the current essay prompts. However, they are examples of Princeton essays that worked and should be viewed as a guide on how to write a successful essay. 

Keep this in mind as we review two Princeton essay examples for this prompt and explain the reasons why these are Princeton essays that worked. 

Princeton Essay Examples #1

During the summer after my Sophomore year, my father was laid off from work and money was tight for my family, so I was limited in what I could do. I dedicated myself to teaching my four-year old sister, and we developed a very strong bond. I taught her to read, sounding out letters and guiding her small hand in writing them. I held the handlebars as she pedalled her first two-wheeler, picking her up every time she fell.

During the summer after my Junior year, I was accepted into the Summer Science Program in Biochemistry at a major university. At SSP, I was immersed into hours of intense lectures and lab sessions, but with some of the most passionate people I’ve ever met. I emerged with a stronger sense of the successes and failures involved in research and my unique place in the vast science research field.

Why this essay worked

This is an example of Princeton essays that worked for several reasons. First, the author anchors their response to the prompt by providing a detailed account of the activities they participated in each summer. 

In the first part of the response, the author gives insight into why they may not have as many extracurricular activities on their application – “my father was laid off from work…so I was limited in what I could do.” This part of the Princeton essay examples is exactly how you want to address any gaps in your resume or educational activities. 

Another reason why this example is one of the Princeton essays that worked is that the author uses a description of the science program they attended to explain their academic interests. Doing so shows the admissions officer that they are committed to this field as a result of their experiences. 

Let’s look at another version of the Princeton essay examples for this prompt. 

Princeton Essay Examples #2

Last summer, I served as the leader for a Summer Reading program at my neighborhood library. Whether it is talking in different voices or victory celebrations after finishing a book, whenever I am with children, I find myself being pulled into their childhood world—a world of simplicity, of undying curiosity, and of pure innocence. It is a world in which if everything is not perfect, it definitely can be. 

This summer, I learned more about the ever-changing world beyond Oregon through a program at Princeton University. The Institute was the first time I was asked to think critically, challenge my perspective, and coexist with others who brought a variety of experiences that I would not have encountered in my sheltered upbringing as a child of Vietnamese immigrants. I became more conscious of my biases through role-play simulations and debates on social issues facing the 21st Century.

Why this essay worked

The second sample in our Princeton essay examples is another fantastic instance of Princeton essays that worked well. In this response, the author describes the activity they participated in as well as how they were a leader in this role. You’ll want to do the same if you have also been in a leadership position like the author of this second essay from our Princeton essay examples. 

Another reason this is an example of Princeton essays that worked is because the author mentions what they did and connected this experience to what they learned. This shows self-growth and interpersonal development, which are two key characteristics of a successful college student. 

As we mentioned above, these two Princeton essay examples are not related to the current Princeton essay prompts. However, these Princeton essay examples are still useful and can help you as you write your own college essays, as they demonstrate clear and well-written responses in a unique voice. 

In the next few sections, we’ll examine Princeton essay examples that are relevant to the current Princeton essay prompts. 

Princeton Essay Examples – Short Essay #2

There are also two Princeton essay examples for the second essay prompt. This prompt asks you to elaborate on an extracurricular activity or work experience that was meaningful to you. 

Like the Princeton supplemental essays examples above, this essay has a maximum of 150 words. 

To write a successful essay, like the Princeton essays that worked below, you’ll want to choose an activity or experience that holds significance to you.

You’ll want to name the activity, describe what the activity is, and elaborate on what you do in that activity. Bonus points if you can also add why it is meaningful to you and/or what you learned because of this experience. 

We’ll review two extracurricular activities essay examples below and explain why they are Princeton essays that worked. 

Princeton Essay Examples #1

Serving as a Student Government leader at my college has taught me the power of student voice and collaborative leadership. During my Junior year, I began attending Senate Meetings and was elected as a Senator a few months later. I began proposing solutions to problems my college faces, from lack of STEM programming to low voter turnout rates to poor multicultural outreach programs.

I created student committees to tackle these problems, the most recent being a committee working to bring a series of local STEM professionals for our artist-in-residence series. I was appointed as a student voice to faculty committees, such as the Diversity and Equity Committee.

I use this position to bring student concerns I hear from SG directly to the college board to catalyze changes in our college, such as the introduction of STEM cohort groups or providing resources for students of color.

Why this essay worked

In the first of the extracurricular activities essay examples, you’ll see that the author mentioned the extracurricular activity they participated in as well as their role within this activity. 

This is an important step that most applicants forget to include within their responses. You don’t want to assume that your reader knows what your position was within your activity, even if it’s listed earlier in your application. By including the name of the activity as well as your role in it, it helps your reader understand the nature of your involvement. 

Another strong aspect of this extracurricular activities essay examples is how the author describes their approach to identifying issues and proposing solutions. The author takes time to explain what they did in their position to make a change. This shows how they are a critical thinker and problem-solver. It also shows how they are good at advocating for others, which are essential skills to have in college

You can learn a lot from the first response in our extracurricular activities essay examples. Most notably, this is one of the Princeton essay examples that shows rather than tells. 

Let’s look at another version of the extracurricular activities essay examples. 

Princeton Essay Examples #2

After watching my grandfather suffer from heart ailments, it was particularly meaningful to have the opportunity to conduct echocardiography research with a pediatric cardiologist. During my summer internship at a major Health and Science University, I designed and built heart models to mimic hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) disease and investigate strain comparisons in a 2D and 3D model. 

Continuously designing and analyzing my own experiments has not only taught me the value of diligence, patience, and replication in the laboratory setting, but it has also instilled in me a profound respect for the biological intricacies that make life possible.

The critical-thinking and problem-solving skills I have honed through research will enable me to tackle difficult, and sometimes unknown, problems with sound reasoning and confidence as I serve the underrepresented to help eliminate health disparities.

Why this essay worked

Like the other samples in our Princeton essay examples collection, this response works for a number of reasons. First, the author explains why this was a meaningful activity to them. This provides the reader with the connection between the author’s personal experience and the extracurricular activity they chose to highlight. 

Again, the author describes what they did in this activity as well as what they learned. What takes this response to the next level is that the author describes how they will use what they learned. They explain how this experience will help them to reach their future goals. 

The Princeton supplemental essays examples above are perfect samples of how to respond to the extracurricular activities prompt. 

In the next sections, we’ll look at Princeton supplemental essays examples for the long response prompt. Although, Princeton admissions no longer uses this prompt, the Princeton supplemental essays examples are still helpful guides. They can show you how to write an effective essay with a higher word count. 

Princeton Supplemental Essay Examples – Long Response

We have two Princeton essay examples for the final prompt. As we mentioned above, some of the Princeton essay examples in this Princeton essay guide are from old prompts. This includes the Princeton essay examples below. 

When you read the next two Princeton essay examples, you’ll notice that they are long responses at 650 words each. Again, these Princeton essay examples are from old prompts, and you no longer need to write a 650-word essay in addition to your Common App personal statement

Even though these Princeton essay examples do not reflect the newest prompts, you can use them to guide you as your work on your own Princeton essays. 

The prompt for the Princeton essay examples below asks the applicant to choose from a list of themes as a starting point and write about a person, event, or experience that defined their values or changed the way they approached the world. 

We’ll provide the theme that the authors of these Princeton essay examples chose before we discuss why these are Princeton essays that worked. 

Princeton Essay Examples #1

“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 chair, Department of Philosophy, Princeton University. (650 words)

“You’re too white.”

I stopped in my tracks in the middle of the mall parking lot, trying to comprehend the judgement that had been cast on me by my Arab girlfriends. Too white, my friend had said. I always knew that I didn’t fit perfectly into the mold of a Middle Eastern girl, but this was the first time I had been called too much of something.

I was raised by an Arab father and an Irish-American mother. Because my father was the ultimate authority in the household, his cultural values overruled my mother’s. I grew up learning how to prepare spreads of mansaf and dancing to Jordanian dabke songs on the Arabic channel.

I twirled in my Palestinian dress in front of the mirror and painted my eyes with kohl. I was submissive and complacent, seen but not heard. I learned how to be a good hostess and to act bubbly with my friends and guests. I learned the value of family and respect for elders. In short, I was the perfect Arab girl.

When I was sixteen, however, my mom, siblings, and I left my father and moved to a different state. My mom ran our household based on her cultural values, presenting an exhilarating amount of freedom. Instead of passing by American Eagle, I was allowed to buy a pair of distressed jeans. I ordered the number two at Burger King and danced to Katy Perry’s “Swish Swish” at non-Arab parties. I talked back to my mom and stormed out of the house angrily.

I never felt the “whiteness,” as some would call it, creeping up on me. I never woke up and just decided “I’m more white than Arab.” I simply took on the values that my mom’s family and my new friends expected me to have.

However, I felt that at any given time, I was either Arab or white, never both. With my Arab friends, I was the Middle Eastern fashionista princess. With my non-Arab friends, I was the rebellious American teenager. Of course, neither of these stereotypes represented my true personality; I was trying to mold myself into the cookie cutters others had created for me, so it hurt to be called too much of one thing. My cultural identity was dependent on the people I was with.

After adjusting to my new life of freedom, I reevaluated how I defined my cultural identity. Why am I limiting myself in who I can be? I thought. Why am I allowing culture to define my identity? Why do I feel the need to force myself into certain stereotypes in my family’s cultures? Faced with these questions, I realized that rather than fitting myself into my cultures, I should make the cultures fit me. I appreciate my heritage and many of the values I was raised on, but I am more than my cultural background. My experiences shape the lens through which I view and assimilate my Arab and American cultures.

My anthropology teacher once said, “Culture is a social construction. It’s what we make it.” My culture is not a force that defines me; rather, it is a conglomeration of my heritage and values that influences and guides me. Looking in the mirror, I don’t see just an Arab-American teenage girl. I see a person grown from years of stories, sorrows, and joys. I see the values that my mother and father have taught me. I see the people that have touched me.

I see the lessons I’ve learned from my mistakes. You’re too white. I can scoff at this remark now, knowing it is nothing but a cultural tag society places on me. As I continue down this lifelong path of identity formation, I will remember to keep my heart open to the lessons I can learn from experiences to shape me into the person I want to see in the mirror.

Why this essay worked

This is the first of our Princeton supplemental essays examples that starts with a direct quote. This can be an effective way to pull your reader in. 

What makes this response truly unique is how personal it is. The author shows who they were, who they are, and who they hope to be as a result of their culture. They paint a picture of what it’s like to grow up within two distinct cultures. 

Additionally, the author addresses the values they had before and after they moved to a different state. By describing the shift in their values, they are addressing the part of the prompt that asks how they incorporate values into their lives to make them meaningful. Overall, this is a very strong essay!

Now let’s look at a different version of the Princeton supplemental essays examples. Please note that names of specific programs have been removed to preserve the writer’s anonymity.

Princeton Essay Examples #2

“Princeton in the Nation’s Service” was the title of a speech given by Woodrow Wilson on the 150th anniversary of the University. It became the unofficial Princeton motto and was expanded for the University’s 250th anniversary to “Princeton in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations.” Woodrow Wilson, Princeton Class of 1879, served on the faculty and was Princeton’s president from 1902–1910. (500-650 word limit)   

My seven-year-old cousin’s thirst for knowledge, as she meticulously traced letters of the alphabet into the sandy floor of her schoolroom in Vietnam, makes me wonder what would happen if her potential met optimal resources. My aunt has to tie strips of fabric onto public buses to know which ones to take home from the market because poverty prevented her from learning how to read.

These vivid memories after my family trip to Vietnam fuel my passion to return to my country to stimulate social change through empowering people to voice their needs in front of an audience of national legislators and international agencies. This will provide my cousin with the chance to put pen to paper and finally tell her stories. The hope that my aunt will be able to read the public buses’ destinations herself reassures me that the injustices in my country will be addressed with the presence of officials advocating for change.

During an intensive seven-week program at Princeton University, I examined the economic, technological, social, and environmental needs facing the globe in the 21st Century. Through state-of-the art innovative methodologies, such as role-play simulations, case studies, and presentations, I debated on topics ranging from the cycle of recidivism that fosters the prison industrial complex to the removal of people of color from 17th and 18th Century  paintings in current academia.

These enriching dialogues at three in the morning allowed me to recognize that not only does my voice matter, but the voices of other underrepresented communities do as well. I learned that my leadership abilities are no longer confined by my skin color, gender, or social and economic standing.

More importantly, this program launched my continual pursuit of the core values—Excellence, Integrity, Compassion, and Community—to empower those voices that are underrepresented in my own communities: locally and internationally. I plan to employ these values and my Princeton education to impact the societal and environmental influences on health and well-being as a public health expert.

My interests in medicine, the human body, and social activism were magnified in this program because I began to recognize that my presence in Vietnam as a future public health expert will serve as a catalyst for change, inspiring my people to become assertive in their quest for aid in a way that giving a check never could.

With a world-class education from Princeton, I will explore my passion for service through conducting lectures on making access to healthcare a reality in developing nations at the annual Princeton-Fung Global Forum. I look forward to meeting with students and professors to learn and collaborate with the goal of collective global health leadership to become a more just and equitable society. 

Returning to my birth country sparked my desire to bring justice and health care to those who are marginalized. My program at Princeton helped me realize that through activism and public health outreach, I can place a spotlight on the unheard voices in the developing world.

I often ask myself, is civic engagement the only catalyst for change or does one have to be in a position of power to create a more just and equal world? I am still wrestling with these questions as I strive to discover the right balance between making a contribution and raising awareness while maximizing the ultimate benefit to the recipients. Truly, I know that community service is for my cousin, aunt, and all the nations I seek to serve.

Like the Princeton supplemental essays examples above, this response works because it’s personal. In fact, the essay pulls you in with vivid descriptions of life in Vietnam. Then, the author connects that to the need for change and how they hope to achieve this change. 

Another thing that works about this sample of the Princeton supplemental essays examples is that the author bridges each example in the essay to the prompt’s theme of service. They are able to explain their interests, passions, and future goals and how each of these are related to service. 

The author also explicitly states how attending Princeton will help them reach their goals, which we haven’t seen yet in any of the Princeton supplemental essays examples above. This can be an effective tool to use in your own essays. You want to stand out from other applicants and show that you want to attend Princeton, which is what this essay does well. 

Now that we’ve explored all our Princeton supplemental essays examples, let’s discuss how to write the Princeton supplemental essays. 

How do you write the Princeton supplemental essays? 

5 Tips on How to write the Princeton Supplemental Essays

1. Start early

As we saw in the Princeton supplemental essays examples above, writing a strong essay takes time. You’ll want to begin your Princeton essay well in advance of the application deadline. 

2. Brainstorm topics for your Princeton supplemental essays

Before you start writing, you’ll want to brainstorm potential topics for your Princeton supplemental essays. Read through the prompts and think about how you can use your essay topics to highlight different aspects of your identity, interests, or passions. 

3. Focus on one experience

It might be tempting to write about everything that has happened to you since you started high school, but less is always more. Focus on one experience per essay and use your word count to provide rich details about that experience. 

4. Be specific

Each of the Princeton supplemental essays examples did a great job of bringing specific details into their responses. As you are writing your own essays, incorporate specific points to help your essay stand out. 

5. Edit your essays

Although it might be tempting to do so, don’t skip this important step! Sometimes it takes two to four rounds of edits before your essays are ready to submit. Ask a friend, teacher, or advisor for feedback, and edit your essays appropriately

Princeton Admissions Requirements: The Graded Written Paper

princeton essay examples
123/365 paper grade” by jentomaloff is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

As we mentioned above, the graded written paper is on the list of Princeton requirements for admission. So, you must submit a graded written paper as part of your Princeton application. 

There are certain guidelines to consider as you select which graded written paper to submit along with your Princeton supplemental essay. 

Your graded written paper must meet the following criteria: 

  • Your paper should have been written for an academic course, preferably English, social studies, or history, during the last three years of high school (including senior year).
  • You may choose a paper, essay, research paper, or essay exam to send. However, it must be an example of expository writing only, not creative writing. 
  • One to two pages in length. 
  • Must include the course instructor’s grade and/or comments. If a grading rubric was used, please include this as well. 

How to submit your graded written paper for Princeton

You can submit your graded written paper to the Princeton admissions office by choosing one of the following options: 

  • Upload the paper alongside your Princeton application materials on the Common App or QuestBridge application. 
  • Mail, email, or upload the graded written paper to your student portal. 

Princeton admissions officers will review the graded written paper. They will use it to determine whether an applicant demonstrates the ability to perform well in Princeton’s rigorous academic environment. 

Keep in mind that Princeton admissions is more interested in the quality of the writing, rather than the grade you received. We encourage you to submit a paper that demonstrates your best writing abilities, regardless of the grade. 

Additional Princeton Resources 

Need additional Princeton resources? Check out CollegeAdvisor’s How to Get into Princeton guide. In it, you’ll find more information on the Princeton supplemental essay, Princeton requirements, Princeton admissions, and more. 

If you loved our Princeton essay examples and Princeton essays that worked, you can read more college essay examples here

Moreover, you can also watch our webinar to get an overview of common supplemental essay prompts

Finally, to learn more about how to get into Princeton, watch our Princeton University panel

Princeton Essay Examples – Final Thoughts 

Lastly, we hope our Princeton essay examples guide helped inspire you to begin writing your own Princeton essay. Even though the Princeton supplemental essays examples we included in this article might not reflect the current prompts, they are a good to reference as you write your college essays. 

While you research how to write Princeton supplemental essays, you’ll want to pay particular attention to the Princeton essays that worked in this Princeton essay guide. 

So, if you want personalized support as you strategize on how to get into Princeton, we can help. Register with CollegeAdvisor today to receive one-on-one guidance through the college application process.

princeton essay examples

Claire Babbs wrote this article. Looking for more admissions support? Click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how can support you in the college application process.