2020-21 Princeton to Update Supplemental Essay Prompts


Compared to previous years, these supplements are (IMHO) more straightforward and less demanding. Here they are with my comments in italics below each prompt and underlined below

For A.B. Degree Applicants or Those Who are Undecided:

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? (Please respond in about 250 words.)

>>Very straightforward question. Your answer does not commit you to any area of study. They just want to get a sense of your academic interests and passions. Find specific courses that would satisfy these interests and, if appropriate, research opportunities with professors that match your interests. Be as specific as possible. Make sure this isn’t an essay that could be sent to another university. 

For B.S.E Degree Applicants:

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. (Please respond in about 250 words–though the max is 350.)

>> Because the engineering degree is more focused, they want to know where your interest came from. Pinpoint a moment or an experience that was a turning point. In the course catalog, look for concentrations or courses that correspondence to your interest.

In addition to the essay above, we ask all applicants a few additional questions:

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–though the max is 200.)

>> You’ve got this, right? Describe the experience AND why it matters to you! Again, be specific and personal.

Your Voice

Please respond to each question in an essay of about 250 words (though 350 max).

  1. 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?
  2. Princeton has a longstanding commitment to service and civic engagement. Tell us how your story intersects (or will intersect) with these ideas.

#1 seems like a good prompt to get at a wide variety of student experiences. A conversation about “a difficult topic” can be anything – personal, political, religious – and should be one where your thinking or feeling expanded.

#2 is probably the vaguest prompt in this new batch, so don’t be surprised if you find it puzzling. To begin, let’s look at Princeton’s mission: “Princeton University advances learning through scholarship, research, and teaching of unsurpassed quality, with an emphasis on undergraduate and doctoral education that is distinctive among the world’s great universities, and with a pervasive commitment to serve the nation and the world. ”  

 I understand it’s impossible to know, when you’re a senior in high school, how you might “serve the nation and the world.” Princeton knows that too…. Think about anything you’ve done in school or out of school that speaks to your interest in making the world a better place, even if it’s a small project. And/or think about people (those you know or public figures) who have an impact on the world and have been an influence in your thinking or your ambitions


Please respond to each question in 50 words or fewer. There are no right or wrong answers. Be yourself!

  1. What is a new skill you would like to learn in college?

Be specific and use some of these 50 words to convey a sense of who are you along with the skill. A skill could be anything from coding to learning Chinese or directing a play. What might you do with the skill?

      2.  What brings you joy? 

There is no right answer. An intellectual or creative endeavor can be a good direction. You need not limit yourself to one item. You might have a broad field (ie music/art) and within that a specific piece of music or work of art. You might focus on an activity, a person, a place, or a concept. Be specific. Fifty words isn’t a lot but it’s enough to convey something unique to you. 

         3.  What song represents the soundtrack of your life at this moment?

Go for it.


For help with these supplements and your application to Princeton – or anywhere else – please shoot me an email or call me:

1-855-99-ESSAY  Liz@DontSweatTheEssay.com

And please let me know if you want a packet of 35 College’s supplements. 


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