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Unlocking the Potential of Princeton Short Answer Essays - 01

Founded in 1746, Princeton is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the US. One of the seven Ivy League institutions, Princeton has sheltered great minds like Albert Einstein and Alan Turing over the last century. When it comes to admissions, the university accepts a paltry 4.4% of applicants; becoming one of the 1500 students accepted at Princeton each year requires writing essays that are focused and yet creative enough to set you apart.



We spoke with students, alumni, and faculty of Princeton to compile a comprehensive guide for every Princeton supplementary essay, allowing you to avoid critical mistakes and rapidly get started with your essays.


Princeton Essay Prompts

Click on any prompt to see a detailed analysis and step-by-step writing plan.

  • Extracurricular Activities and Work Experience

  • Conversation About a Difficult Dialogue

  • Service and Civic Engagement

  • Academic Areas that Pique Curiosity

  • Engineering Supplement


How to Write the Princeton Prompt on Extracurricular Activities and Work Experience

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


Three Top Tips

  1. Don’t stop at a bland description: While the prompt asks you to describe an activity, it asks you to ensure that it has been meaningful in your life. Don’t spend the entire essay giving bland information about what the activity is about, instead ensure that you dedicate at least half of the available space to explain the impact it has had on you.

  2. Experiment with a problem-solution structure: One way to approach this prompt is to present a problem/challenge that you faced and explain how tackling it changed your view of the world. This is a good starting point to begin thinking about ideas.

  3. Write a long essay and then trim it: Writing a 150-word essay is not easy; we recommend starting off with a draft that is 250-300 words long, and then trimming it to fit within the limit. This ensures that you transfer the best ideas to your final version instead of constraining yourself with sub-par ideas just to fit the space.


In Depth Strategies

This essay prompt is straightforward and expects you to discuss an activity that has had a profound impact on your life. While it is tempting to choose a topic like the time you scored poorly in an exam or suffered from stage fright, we advise finding a topic that is unique to you. Think of this essay as Princeton’s way of giving you space to discuss the most important extracurricular you have – make it worth the admissions officer’s time. Here are a few ways in which you can do so:


Hook the reader within the first 20 words: Leaving the best for last is not advised with this prompt. Princeton’s admissions officers don’t have enough time to read each application in depth; instead, they rely on first impressions to do a preliminary screening. Instead of starting this essay like one you would write in high school, consider starting with a suspenseful sentence, rhetorical question or even an exclamation. In any case, try and catch the admissions officer’s attention as quickly as possible.


Connect your personal, academic, and extracurricular lives: A good activity to write about in this essay will ideally connect your personal growth with something you learnt in class while tying it together with an extracurricular. An example would be the idea discussed in this Yale essay [hyperlink] where the student connected their interest in mechanical watches to mechanical engineering as well as their view of modern innovation. Uniting these three aspects of your life can dramatically improve your essay.


Make it a story of progress: When the prompt asks for something ‘meaningful’, it expects you to talk about an experience that has had a measurable impact on your life. Activities like these generally lead to personal growth – make sure to address that in your essay. For example, one student chose to reference a social impact project where they used origami to help students with Down’s Syndrome; their growth occurred in terms of how they developed non-verbal communication skills in the process.


Brevity is key – eliminate details that don’t need to be there: 150 words may sound like a lot, but they quickly run out once you start describing your activity. To make your essay as concise and powerful as possible, remove unnecessary details – for example, you don’t need to spend more than a few words discussing how you got introduced to the activity. It is also a good idea to avoid repeating information already discussed in other parts of your application. For instance, we commonly see students talk about the awards they won as part of the activity, when those details are already listed in the ‘Honors’ section of your Common Application.


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