Who should read this: Anybody applying to Princeton this year.
Here is your content:
Wow, that title alliterates nicely.
Below you will find my annotated discussion of Princeton’s supplementals for this year, which popped up this week on Princeton’s website, complete with a pdf for those of you living with dial-up modems and whatnot.
So here goes my first post on Ivy League Essay prompts for 2017-2018; rather than a super-detailed analysis of each prompt, I am going to annotate as I go. And this post will cover the short responses for Princeton; we will look at the essay prompts in the next post, though I will list them below my advice on the Princeton short responses.
My note: Here is a link to the Princeton Supplement, with writing prompts, in pdf form— Princeton Application Class of 2022 pdf.Please note that, if you are using the Common Application site or another portal like Naviance, you do not need to print out and fill out the pdf form to mail to anybody—it is enough to fill in all the boxes online, thank you very much. But research also shows that handwriting ideas and scribbling is great for inspiration, so I also suggest that you print it out and use it as a scratch sheet or carry it around in a notebook so you can write down all those brilliant ideas before you forget them.
Next item, from Princeton:
In addition to the Common Application or the Universal College Application, Princeton University requires the Princeton Supplement. You submit the Supplement online through either the Common Application or Universal College Application. You will be able to view the Supplement in full on whichever application you choose, after you add Princeton University to your list.
For quick reference, below are the short answer and essay questions included in the Princeton Supplement for 2017-18.
My note: do not go into the Common Application portal, et al, and try to fill in the blanks or upload your essays until August 1st or later—all existing accounts on the Common Application will be eliminated at some point in the last week of July, when the Common App website is largely offline as it is set up for the coming year of applications.
Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences that was particularly meaningful to you. (Response required in about 150 words.)
Stick to the word count, though you may try compound words as a tried-and-true strategy for reducing word count. See what I’m saying? Note as well that just saying what you did in your activities is not enough–why did it matter? Try to let the reason it was important enough to list show, and make a statement about that if possible. You don’t need to be saving the world all the time, but it can be helpful to show that you actually like and care about what you are doing and you do try to help where you can.
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.)
Being a dishwasher is not necessarily held against you–hey, that would be classist, after all–but that N.I.H. internship in D.C. would obviously look better–maybe. If you were washing dishes to help support your family or making money for college and could not afford to find a place to stay near D.C. in order to do the N.I.H internship, then the dishwashing thing might actually look pretty good, especially if you were working on your kinetic sculptures and robotic submarine on your evenings off. Keep in mind that, on the one hand, you are filling in the colors of a picture of yourself, and you get to pick the colors–the details–you provide. Choose wisely. But on the other hand, keep in mind that the modern app officer can and will check on your social media–so with this and the last answer, be sure all the dots connect between your virtual life and the life you present to Princeton.
A Few Details
My comment: Think about these questions in this way: If a Princeton admissions officer were going to visit you, what kind of stuff would you put away and what kind of stuff would you keep out in full view on the coffee table and book shelves? If you think about it, we often arrange the information that others can see about us in order to create the right impression. So that is my overall comment on how to approach these short responses.
- Your favorite book and its author–My note–Try to avoid listing “school” books–and be aware that many books are on school reading lists as well as curriculum; I have written extensively on writing about books before, but this is a pretty good intro and can help you show how to think about this before writing, even if it is just a blurb: How to Write About Books, Part 1.
- Your favorite website–As with the books, you want to choose in a way that does not make you look like a phony or like an incurious and shallow social climber–so just as you should not be listing War and Peace and talking about your love of Russian literature for your favorite book, if in reality you only read graphic novels that eschew words, so you should not list The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as your favorite website if your idea of philosophy is quoting Dude Lebowski as deep philosophy (Note to hipsters: The Big Lebowski is in part a satire on what happened to the Love Generation and its social conscience. Oh, and I am a fan of the film, and the Cohn brothers). On the other hand, if Twitter, Snapchat or Netflix are your favorite websites . . . maybe put those in a drawer, so to speak, and come up with something else. TinHouse? Vox? N+1? Just be able to explain in a convincing and pithy way.
- Your favorite recording-–You are getting the picture by now, and I am not going to guide your musical taste . . . though maybe this book would help with some ideas on popular music and inspire some other essays: Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop.
- Your favorite source of inspiration—Now we start looking not for repetition between all these short statements; we look for how they add up. Go with your favorite inspiration as long as it seems okay. That little voice that Socrates supposedly heard in his head might not have worked so well for this one.
- Your favorite line from a movie or book and its title-Let me give you my own example, for this one; My favorite movie line comes from Casablanca, as the prefect of police, having just gambled, shuts down Ricks’ Cafe: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” I love the full-throated cynicism that keeps this romantic movie’s feet on the ground. And somehow it speaks fully to our current political moment.
- Your favorite movie–Hmm. Casablanca or Kurasowa’s Ran or The Big Lebowski or Blade Runner or Lawrence of Arabia or The Searchers or True Grit (Cohn Version) or The Marriage of Eva Braun . . . This would be tough for me. So I will just remind you to look at what fits you and the you that you want to show.
- Two adjectives your friends would use to describe you–Be positive but not cheesy.
- Your favorite keepsake or memento–Please, no alt-right memorabilia and no Disney plush toys. Well maybe the plush toy if you can make it meet cute instead of cheesy cute.
- Your favorite word—Be positive and don’t say positive.
Next up: the essay prompts–I will list them below in full, but will not comment on them in this post–it’s long enough already, I think. I will annotate them in my next post. To see the prompts, scroll down.
Essay: Your Voice
In addition to the essay you have written for 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 Common Application or Universal College Application.
- 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 and co-founder of Blackplanet.com. 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 director of the Behrman Undergraduate Society of Fellows, 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.
If you are interested in pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree, please write a 300-500 word essay describing why you are interested in studying engineering, any experiences in or exposure to engineering you have had and how you think the programs in engineering offered at Princeton suit your particular interests.
*This essay is required for students who indicate Bachelor of Science in Engineering as a possible degree of study on their application.
To see my comments, come back soon. I will write about them before July 15th . . .if you are visiting on or after that date, just check the a post or two before this one or visit my homepage and start clicking if you do not see the post–you will find links there.
The Requirements: 2 short answers, 1 list, and 1 longer essay
Supplemental Essay Type(s): Short Answer, Activity, Oddball
Princeton University 2017-18 Application Essay Questions Explanation
This is Princeton, the Number One university in the nation. Maybe you’ve heard of it? Jk, we can smell the sweat on your palms from here. So first, take a breath. The Princeton supplement is extremely straightforward (perhaps too straightforward?) and your greatest challenge will be to refrain from overthinking it. Don’t intimidate yourself with visions of what you think admissions officers want to see on an application. Self-aggrandizing or downright false stories aren’t going to win anyone over. It’s the unique, specific details that only you can share that will set you apart and seal you in an admissions officer’s memory. Take this as your mantra: be yourself!
For quick reference, below are the short answer and essay questions included in the Princeton Supplement for 2017-18.
Activities: Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences that was particularly meaningful to you. (Response required in about 150 words.)
Take one second to indulge that impulse you’re feeling — to scour your resume for the most impressive-sounding activity. Then, crumple up your resume and think honestly about the activities you look forward to. What would your life be mundane without? Elaborate on an activity, experience, or relationship that you are super passionate about or that is unusual for someone of your age. Your response should reflect your priorities and how you process the world around you. Do you do civil war reenactments on the weekend that charge your love for history? Do you take care of stray pets that one day you hope to save through veterinary work? Do your weekly visits with grandma have you declaring a gerontology major? Use your experiences to tell Admissions something about yourself that they wouldn’t already know. What gives your life meaning? Why do you wake up in the morning?
Summers: 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.)
Princeton wants to know that you have used your time off wisely. Admissions officers don’t want to read that you laid by the pool in the morning and played Call of Duty at night, but they might also raise an eyebrow if you insist that you spent 12 hours a day in a lab doing cancer research. Summers belong to you, so this is your chance to reveal what you choose to do when it’s totally up to you. Two key questions you’ll want to consider answering are: (1) What passions or issues are so important that you devote time and intellectual energy to them over the summer? And (2) How do you relax and recharge? In other words, how do you bring balance to your life? This is a great opportunity for you to showcase wisdom and self-awareness.
A few details:
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
Look, there’s only one trick to nailing this question: be yourself. It doesn’t pay to waste time racking your brain for answers that you think will impress an admissions officer. The point here is to be genuine, almost slapdash. What pops into your head first? Be honest and specific and you’ll end up with a list that offers a constellation of new information about who you are and what you like. If you spy an opportunity to offer a clever answer or witty interpretation of any of these mini prompts, by all means, take the opportunity to showcase your sense of humor, but above all do what comes naturally!
Essay: your voice: In addition to the essay you have written for 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 Common Application or Universal College Application.
Tell us about a person who has influenced you in a significant way.
For all the people who love their grammies out there, this is your going to be your favorite prompt! You can gush about how your grandma gives the biggest hugs, makes the most delicious oatmeal cookies, and is the best listener ever, but be careful! The most common mistake students make with these prompts is focusing too much on the influencer and not enough on the influencee (a.k.a. you)! Make sure to spin the essay to reflect something about you. Do you take constructive criticism well? Did this person make you kinder? More open-minded? And how have you applied what they’ve taught you to your life and interactions with those around you? The proof is in grandma’s pudding, so focus on that.
“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 and co-founder of Blackplanet.com. 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 director of the Behrman Undergraduate Society of Fellows, 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.
Ah, cunning Princeton, we always knew you were smart. Several questions ago, the supplement asked for your favorite line from a movie or book, so we can’t allow you to reuse it here. We also can’t fully endorse this prompt, in general. Unless it immediately makes you think of a moment when a text helped you understand your life or values, it might not be worth pursuing. The results risk being forced, overly general, or downright clichéd. If you still want to try, you might consider backing into it: start by writing a compelling story about your life (that doesn’t appear elsewhere on your application) and then scour your favorite texts for a passage to match.
For context, here’s our favorite line: “Choose a quotation wisely, many Admissions Officers were once English majors.” – College Essay Advisors.