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How to Master the 2020-21 Princeton Supplement

The Princeton supplement requirements are extensive. In addition to your Common App essay, you will need to respond to a number of short-answer questions and submit a graded academic paper. But don’t be nervous—in this guide, we’ll help you tackle the Princeton essays with confidence!


The first prompt gives you the opportunity to describe one of your activities in greater detail:

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

For this prompt, we recommend that you choose an activity that has had a significant impact on you. That might be an activity that has influenced your choice of major, but it could also be an activity that has shaped your identity in another way.

Questions to Consider: Have any of your activities connected you to a community you cherish? How have you made an impact through this activity? How has this activity informed your identity and passions? Why does this activity matter to you?


The next prompt asks you to reflect on a time when you engaged with others on a difficult topic.

  • 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? (Please respond in an essay of about 250 words.)

For this prompt, we recommend selecting a conversation that deeply impacted the way you think and how you engage with others. Because Princeton specifically mentions valuing “diverse perspectives,” your response will be most successful if you focus on a time you engaged with a person or people who were different from you.

Questions to Consider: What topics do members of your community generally avoid? What makes these topics “difficult” for people to talk about? After you’ve selected a particular conversation to write about, consider describing how you demonstrated respect for those you conversed with. What did you learn from hearing their perspective? Why was this lesson important?


In Princeton’s service prompt, you have the opportunity to describe how you’ve contributed to your community or hope to do so in the future.

  • Princeton has a longstanding commitment to service and civic engagement. Tell us how your story intersects (or will intersect) with these ideals. (Please respond in an essay of about 250 words.)

“Civic engagement” is a broad term that encompasses volunteerism, fundraising for charitable causes, political participation, protesting, signing petitions, and more. Your essay will be most successful if you can describe a concrete experience or longstanding commitment to these ideals. If your career ambitions intersect with them, you could also speak to the values that draw you to a career in the service of others and describe how you hope to advance Princeton’s commitment to service and civic engagement.

Questions to Consider: What issues in your community are you passionate about? How have you worked to make an impact around these issues? Have you engaged in service work or petitioned your elected officials? What have these experiences taught you about active participation in your community? How will you carry these lessons forward?


The Princeton supplement also includes three super-short answer questions. Each has a word limit of 50 words, and Princeton emphasizes that there are no right or wrong answers!

Here are the prompts:

  • What song represents the soundtrack of your life at this moment?
  • What brings you joy?
  • What is a new skill you would like to learn in college?

You get 50 words for each response, so you can take the opportunity to provide brief explanations for each of your answer choices. When taken together, these short answers should showcase your individuality and core traits.


As an example, here’s what I’d write:

  • I can achieve my artistic goals if I remain open to opportunities and work slowly and intentionally. But it takes everything in me not to trip over myself in my impatience! “Vienna” by Billy Joel speaks to my passion, my drive, and the determination that supersedes my fear of failure.
  • I foster dogs with my local animal shelter, teaching them how to be good pets so they can get adopted. Dogs are exuberant, loving, and often ridiculous, and their antics delight me. Playing with my fosters is fun, but the greatest joy is helping them find their forever homes.
  • As a creative writing major, I would like to learn how to make substantive revisions to my fiction and poetry. I can apply feedback on the line level, but I want to learn how to revise to enhance character development, clarify the story arc, and deepen my core themes.

These responses each show at least one of the 5 Key Traits that prove you'll be successful in college—the first demonstrates drive, the second shows my contribution to my community, and the third showcases my intellectual curiosity.

Finally, Princeton requires a program-specific essay. If you’re applying to Princeton’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, check out our guide for that essay here! If you’re applying to a Bachelor of Arts program or are currently undecided, you will need to answer the following prompt:

  • 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)

This prompt is essentially a “Why Major” essay, though it’s broad enough to include students who are as-yet undecided. You have a great opportunity here to showcase your intellectual curiosity!

Questions to Consider: What are you especially curious about? What questions do you hope to investigate through seminars or research opportunities? Are there any skills you’ll need to acquire in order to pursue the career you dream of? How will Princeton help you gain these skills and discover the answers to your questions?


You’re well on your way to mastering the Princeton supplement! Happy writing!

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Prompt’s Essay Specialists reviewed 13,000 admissions essays in 2018, helping thousands of students submit their applications with confidence.

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