How to Get into Princeton University

How to get into Princeton University?

Princeton University - an overview

Princeton University is located in New Jersey, Princeton is an Ivy League private university, established in 1746 – which makes it the fourth oldest university in the USA.

It has been ranked No.1 for best undergraduate teaching quality every year since 2015, and produced alumni such as Jeff Bezos, Michelle Obama, and Alan Turing, two US presidents and 74 Nobel laureates.

Princeton’s current student population is 8,419 and it is ranked 12th in the world (QS,2021) and first in the USA. Unsurprisingly, its admission rate is around 5.8 percent, so getting a place is no mean achievement.

The average GPA for accepted students was 3.9 per cent and over, and while Princeton is currently test-optional, in view of the pandemic, the university normally expects SAT scores of 1530 and over, and an ACT score above 33. It is clearly highly competitive, and it is never too early to start preparing your application and drafting possible responses to the essay prompts which form part of the admissions process – described below. 

Remember that Princeton is need-blind and your ability to pay its fees plays no part in the selection process. If you secure a place, Princeton will cover all your expenses through a grant – not a loan – and is known for being generous in providing financial help. The university does not.


How to get into Princeton – academic requirements and documentation

When to apply:

You have two options:

  • Single choice early action. You need to put in your application by 1 November and will hear back by 15 December. This is only a good idea if Princeton is your first choice and does not offer any tangible advantages.
  • Regular decision. The deadline is 1 January, and you will get a response by 31 March.

Princeton University - General requirements

Princeton expects applicants to have a solid foundation in a range of subjects:

  • Four years of English and ongoing practice in writing
  • Four years of maths – as well as Calculus, if you are applying for engineering
  • Four years studying a foreign language
  • Two years of laboratory science – and physics and chemistry if you are applying for engineering
  • Two years of history


  • You will be asked to send in a graded academic paper, written in English rather than a translation.
  • School report with a letter from the head, vice-principal or a guidance counsellor, and a transcript, if needed
  • Two teacher evaluations
  • Mid-year report
  • Predicted grades
  • The final report, which has to be sent in as soon as you receive your results

NB: if you wish to send in an arts supplement, this can be done through Slideroom.

How to Get into Princeton - the Princeton Supplement

Princeton University – Ivy League schools allow you to apply through the Common App or the Coalition Application, but whichever route you decide to take, you will also be required to fill in the Princeton Supplement, online, since it forms a key part of your application.

The Supplement is made up of four essays and three short answers, which vary in length -see below – and provide additional information about your character, interests, beliefs, your passions, and personality.

Taken together with the dry facts, scores and projected exam results, the information provided in the Supplement enables admissions staff to take a holistic view of each candidate.

This is your opportunity to show your true colors, talents, and possibilities, so do not leave the essays to the last minute or treat them as an unpleasant but necessary task.

They are the spotlights, and you are the main character on the Princeton stage, so step up and amaze your admissions audience and show them that you deserve to be offered a place.

The subject-specific essay

The first essay ‘s title depends on what you are applying to study. There is a prompt for BA and Undecided students, and another for BSE students.

Do not answer both prompts and attempt both essays.

Word length is limited to 250 words.

Tips for writing an essay to Princeton University

Princeton University, writing an essay – Whichever essay you write, make sure that it is connected in some way to Princeton and the programs it offers.

Perhaps you wish to collaborate with a specific professor, or one or more modules tie in neatly with your established and verifiable interests.

Or perhaps you have been attracted to the study abroad options on a course – if so, make sure you build a persuasive case for wanting to study at a foreign university.

Be specific, avoid flabby general or sweeping statements.

Show the admissions board what you wish to explore, explain why, and demonstrate how the areas you are curious about are linked to Princeton research, resources, or particular lecturers and modules.

If you are applying for engineering, make sure that you provide a narrative that explains your areas of interest, creates links to actual research, courses, and people based in Princeton, and describes your personal vision.

If you are drawn to a niche topic, make this clear and justify your preferences for this subfield. Ensure that you have meticulously researched the course, its academics, and current research projects.

It is wiser not to mention school awards at this stage – after all, they have already been noted in your general application -but emphasize your passions and commitment to discovery and innovation.

Extracurricular and work experience

Princeton University here, in this essay, you are expected to briefly elaborate – aim for 150 words – on an activity, organization, work experience, or hobby that has been particularly meaningful to you. Here, the university is trying to get an idea of what matters to you, your beliefs, and your commitment, so simply listing what you have done during the summer holidays while working in an office is not the answer for which they are hoping.

You need to integrate what you have done with your values; explain why you chose to get involved and what it taught you. 

Tips for writing an essay to Princeton University

Avoid any form of lists and reciting responsibilities if you are describing a work experience or volunteering project. You can establish context in a few words, but try to concentrate on why you took part, what lessons you have learned and how this has affected your plans, world view and attitudes. Stress the positive aspects of your activities and hobbies. Try to avoid the cliches: I exercise regularly in order to lower my stress levels; I learned teamwork by being a scout or guide/playing sports. Remember, if you are going to cite a particular achievement, then make sure it is Tier 1 or Tier 2 – and demonstrates that you are extraordinary, not simply good. If you edited your school magazine for a term or played football for a local team, this is probably Tier 3!

Be truthful. Do not make any grandiose statements or answer in a way which you think might impress the admissions board. Do not try to entertain or use self-deprecating humour unless the incident or event you are referring to is intrinsically funny. 

Be aware of word length and make sure that you structure your essay correctly. 150 words are very short, so you need to plan what you are going to say, and keep your prose tight, so it builds to a climax/conclusion, rather than petering out because you have exceeded the allocated words. 

princeton university elab education laboraotry - your voice

Princeton University - writing an essay

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?

Your voice - Princeton University

This section asks you to write two essays of 250 words. The questions below were set for candidates in the 2020-2021 application cycle:

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 ideals.

The point of this exercise is to discover how well you will fit into the ethos of Princeton and whether you share the university’s values.


Both prompts are essentially asking you to tell a story in response to the questions. Therefore, make sure that you refer to first-hand experiences. In Question 1. try to concentrate on what you learned and not on what you achieved. Be precise, unassuming, specific and reflect on what the incident showed you about yourself and how it will inform your relationships with others at Princeton. In Question 2. it is not enough to relate volunteering work or letters and petitions you have signed for Amnesty International. Look at the role you have played in your local community, state why you decided to get involved, what you hoped to achieve and how this has shaped your plans to commit to civic engagement in the future.

Do not preach or attack others. Watch your adjectives and make sure you have a balanced response to the question. 

Princeton University essays - The short answers

Each short answer has to be 50 words or less. The questions are intended to give the admissions board a fuller flavour and picture of who you are, so that they can judge if you would fit in and be happy at Princeton. In 2021-2022 the candidates were asked:

  • What new skills would you like to learn?
  • What brings you joy?
  • Which song is the soundtrack to your life?

As you can see, this type of open-ended question allows you to spread your wings and declare who you are. Take advantage of the opportunity to be you, to be unapologetic and honest. Do not choose a song which you calculate the admissions board might know or like, and do not narrow down the definition of joy. 

You may derive joy from seeing a seed germinate in the cracks of a pavement and love polyphonic folk songs from Ukraine. If you do – say so. This will tell people more about you than so-called “classic” answers, such as watching your baby brother sleeping and the theme from The Titanic.

How to get into Princeton – be prepared to work hard

Princeton is a highly rigorous academic environment and, as an undergraduate, you will be expected to fulfil the general education distribution requirements before you can graduate. Princeton believes that learning is an integration of many disciplines and thus BA undergraduates have to take 31 courses and engineering students must complete 36.

Princeton University BA undergraduates will take courses in:

  • Literature and arts
  • Science and engineering
  • Social analysis
  • Culture
  • Epistemology and cognition
  • Ethical thought and moral values
  • Historical analysis
  • Quantitative and computational reasoning
  • AND one foreign language, two papers based on independent work and a senior thesis.
  • Seven courses in humanities and social sciences
  • Maths
  • physics
  • chemistry
  • computer programming
  • One foreign language
  • and an independent project OR a senior thesis
  • Every student has to do a writing seminar in their first year.

As you can see, Princeton’s reputation for academic excellence is firmly based on extremely demanding work. You will choose your BA major at the end of the second year, whereas BSE students decide on their major at the end of the first year.

The majority of classes are very small and contain 20 or fewer students.

Note that Princeton does NOT have a school of medicine, law, education, or business.

In addition, it only offers Master’s degrees in Architecture, Engineering, Finance and Public Policy. The majority of its postgraduates are working on their doctoral theses.

How to get into Princeton University - a summary

Princeton University offers world class education in a campus setting which has often been called the most stunning in the world.

Collegiate Gothic architecture and a residential college system, relatively small student numbers and a huge endowment, which pays for the libraries, sculptures, labs, and facilities that distinguish Princeton from other Ivy League universities, make it an enviable destination for any student.

Princeton leaves its mark. Alumni gather every year for a reunion which can number 20,000-30,000 participants and give generously to their alma mater. The artificial Lake Carnegie, set up to tempt Princetonians away from playing football and start rowing, continues to attract athletes, while 500 organizations stand in the wings, ready to offer you leisure activities as broad as your imagination. Princeton is the epitome of academic quality and achievement and if you intend to apply for a place, start getting ready to submit your application well in advance.

Elab is here to offer guidance, suggestions, and help, and to provide you with any practical information you may need. We have a team of US specialists, dedicated to showing you how to get into Princeton – and other Ivy League Universities and collaborating with you to ensure that you maximize your chances of being offered a place on the course of your dreams at Princeton University.

Call or email us and we will start the ball rolling and suggest programs or workshops which can meet your individual needs, and ensure that you are well prepared, confident, and ready to submit your application to Princeton University. 

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