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How to Master the Princeton Supplement

The Princeton supplement requirements are extensive. In addition to your Common App, Coalition App, or Universal College App essay, you will need to respond to a number of short-answer questions and write an additional personal statement. 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. (Response required 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 focuses on what you do with your free time:

Please tell us how you have spent the last two summers (or vacations between school years), including any jobs you have held. (Response required in about 150 words.)

The admissions readers are looking for an honest answer. But that doesn’t mean you have to simply list your summer activities. Feel free to focus on the most meaningful ones!

Questions to Consider: Which summer activities brought you the most joy? What summer memories do you cherish? How have you grown as a person during your summer breaks?


The Princeton supplement also includes several fun short answer questions.

  • Your favorite book and its author
  • Your favorite website
  • Your favorite recording
  • Your favorite source of inspiration
  • Your favorite line from a movie or book and its title
  • Your favorite movie
  • Two adjectives your friends would use to describe you
  • Your favorite keepsake or memento
  • Your favorite word

You get 300 characters 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. Think about the cumulative effect of your responses, and try to avoid being one-note!

As an example, here’s what I’d write:

  • Your favorite book and its author: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
  • Your favorite website:
  • Your favorite recording: “Hallelujah,” as covered by Jeff Buckley
  • Your favorite source of inspiration: Amanda Palmer inspires me to be more fearless and vulnerable in my own art.
  • Your favorite line from a movie or book and its title: “There is an art to flying, or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” - Life, the Universe, and Everything by Douglas Adams
  • Your favorite movie: Lady Bird, because I connected to Lady Bird’s experience. I’m also strong-willed, and I have a loving but complex relationship with my mom.
  • Two adjectives your friends would use to describe you: Spunky, perceptive
  • Your favorite keepsake or memento: A collaged plaster mask of my face (it’s a prop from a piece I performed about my self-image).
  • Your favorite word: Absquatulate


The last Princeton supplement essay invites you to reflect on your formative experiences and values. The prompt reads:

In addition to the essay you have written for the Coalition Application, the Common Application or the Universal College Application, please write an essay of about 500 words (no more than 650 words and no fewer than 250 words). Using one of the themes below as a starting point, write about a person, event or experience that helped you define one of your values or in some way changed how you approach the world. Please do not repeat, in full or in part, the essay you wrote for the Coalition Application, the Common Application or Universal College Application.

Before we get to the prompts you must choose from, let’s read the overarching prompt closely. Since Princeton specifically asks you to “write about a person, event or experience that helped you define your values,” you’ll want to recount a personal experience and demonstrate its impact on your worldview, no matter which prompt you choose.


Here are the individual prompts:

  • Tell us about a person who has influenced you in a significant way.
  • “One of the great challenges of our time is that the disparities we face today have more complex causes and point less straightforwardly to solutions.” — Omar Wasow, assistant professor of politics, Princeton University. This quote is taken from Professor Wasow’s January 2014 speech at the Martin Luther King Day celebration at Princeton University.
  • “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.
  • Using a favorite quotation from an essay or book you have read in the last three years as a starting point, tell us about an event or experience that helped you define one of your values or changed how you approach the world. Please write the quotation, title and author at the beginning of your essay.


Step One: Choose a Prompt

  • The first prompt allows you to reflect on your most meaningful relationships. Choose this prompt if you can identify a person who has had a significant impact on your values.
  • The second prompt invites you to discuss the disparities that have affected you or people you care about. Choose this prompt if an encounter with inequality changed your worldview.
  • The third prompt asks you to consider how culture has brought meaning to your life. Choose this prompt if your values have been shaped by your own heritage or by your encounters with cultural works such as art or music.
  • The fourth prompt is the most open-ended. Choose this prompt if you have an experience in mind that doesn’t fit the other prompts easily.


Step Two: Identify a Story

If you don’t yet have a story in mind, you’ll want to spend some time freewriting in response to the prompts. Here are some exercises to get you started:

  • List the people in your life who you are closest to
  • List the people in your life who you disagree with most frequently
  • List systems that are unfair
  • List every work of art that has stuck with you
  • List the cultures you belong to
  • List every time you’ve changed

What experiences do these lists bring to mind? Which experience has had the greatest impact on your personal growth?


Step Three: Identify Your Values and Craft a Core Message

After you’ve chosen a prompt and thought of a corresponding story, spend some time reflecting on your values. How have you changed as a consequence of your experience? What guiding principles inform your actions now?

The final step is to craft a core message that articulates your values. Here’s an example:

  • “My friendship with Michelle was rocky, but she has had a lasting influence on me. Before I met her, I shied away from conflict, but these days, I value disagreement. Under the right circumstances, disagreements can pave the way for deeper understanding.”

After coming up with your core message, you’ll provide supporting evidence in the form of additional stories from your life, and in no time, you’ll have a strong essay!


Click here for our guide to writing the Common App Essay 

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

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