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How to Get Into Princeton University: The Tiger’s Guide

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How exactly do you get into Princeton?

Princeton University is an elite academic institution located in Princeton, New Jersey. It is one in the octet of institutions that comprise the Ivy League schools.

Often times, applicants will look at these eight Ivy Leagues as if they are one, meshed-together conglomerate of “elite” and submit applications that are not tailored to each school.

  • We urge you to stay away from this mindset.

While every Ivy League expects the absolute best from its potential students, these expectations are not uniform.

Each Ivy League defines itself with individual principles, values, and beliefs.

  • For the purpose of gaining admission, it is useful to look at what form of elite Princeton emphasizes – more so than its brother and sister institutions.

In this guide, we will talk about what Princeton is looking for in a potential member of its community.

We will address both the tangible elements (academics, test scores, etc.), and the intangible elements (extracurriculars and other activities that demonstrate characteristics or values Princeton looks for).

How difficult is it to get into Princeton?

In 2018, a total of 35,370 people applied to Princeton University. Of those, 1,941 students were admitted.

This makes Princeton one of the more difficult Ivy Leagues to get into.

  • Data from the 2018 cycle show that Harvard University had the lowest admission rate that year (4.59%), followed by Princeton and Columbia, which tie for the second lowest rate (5.5%).
  • In addition, Princeton states that 2018 was its most selective admission process to date.

If this trend continues, you can expect the admission rate for this upcoming cycle to be even lower than 5.5%.

The Tangibles: What test scores and academic scores are necessary?

These are the middle 50% SAT and ACT test scores for the enrolled class of 2022:

SAT Math Section730 – 790
SAT Evidence-Based Reading & Writing700 – 770
ACT Composite32 – 35

Out of the students who were accepted in 2018, 1,346 students enrolled.

This means that about 673 students from the class of 2022 received SAT Math, SAT Reading & Writing, and ACT Composite scores in the ranges shown above.

  • About 337 received scores below those ranges.
  • About 337 received scores above those ranges.

This means highly competitive scores are required to get into Princeton.

If it is possible, aim to get a combined SAT score of 1500 or higher, and an ACT Composite of 32 or higher.

  • 8% of students who scored in the 1500 – 1600 SAT range got accepted in 2018, while only 4.5% of students who scored in the range below that (1380 – 1490) were accepted
  • 4% of students who scored in the 32 – 36 ACT range got accepted, while only 5.2% of students who scored in the range below that (27 – 31) were accepted.

You will also need a competitive GPA. College Simply estimates that the average GPA of students who are admitted into Princeton is 3.87 on a 4.0 scale.

  • We suggest that you aim for higher: 8.1% of students with a 4.0 were accepted in 2018, while only 5.8% of students with a GPA in the range 3.90 – 3.99 were accepted.

Last, Princeton would like to see your scores in two SAT Subject Tests of your choosing. More on that further below.

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The Intangibles: What Future Princeton Students Should Do in High School

In its recent graphic guide to admission, Princeton makes a point of highlighting several key factors.

They show that their international students come from 59 different countries and lists those countries in the guide.

Princeton also has a map of the United States that represent the number of students that come from each state.

  • In addition, the school takes in extreme pride in the financial aid it is able to provide its students.
  • Princeton is one of the most generous Ivy League schools when it comes to financial aid; 82 percent of its most recent class graduated with zero student debt.

What we can glean from this is that Princeton highly values diversity – race, culture, talent, and socioeconomic status.

  • One of the benefits of generous financial aid packages is that it lowers barriers for many low-income and/or students of color who otherwise would not be able to afford to come.
  • They are looking for talent of every kind.

If Princeton is your dream school, diversity and commitment to diversity are two things you should aim to focus on in your high school career.

  • What makes you diverse and different from others?
  • What are some things that make you special or unique?
  • What are some skills you can become extraordinarily talented in?
  • Explore your options and make a 4-year plan for specialization in the area of your choosing.

It does not necessarily matter what unique activities, characteristics, or traits you choose to be your diverse factor(s), but these are the primary elements to keep in mind:

  1. Your diverse factor(s) – be it a deep connection to your cultural heritage or a skill you’ve worked hard to cultivate – must be genuine and must come from a place of real, self-generated interest. Do not choose something for the sole fact that it is unique.

Rather, it has to be rooted in the context of you and who you are as a person.

  1. No matter how genuine your interest or love of something is, it is not useful in a college application unless it is documented and/or demonstrated in some way.

In other words, be sure to be engaged in clubs and extracurriculars that involve your diverse factor so Princeton can actually see it. This will also help you be able to talk or write about it extensively and genuinely.

  1. Be consistent and comprehensive. If you choose a certain club, then stick with it for the 3 – 4 years of high school and participate in it thoroughly.

One other thing you should make sure to do in high school is to use your summers productively.

  • This could be to continue delving into one of your diverse factors, or to volunteer or pursue different interests.

Whatever it is, it should hold meaning and significance to you. Princeton will ask you to talk about your last two summers as a way to gauge your self-drive, self-motivation, and what you choose to do with your days when you have “free time.”

The SAT Subject Tests: What Princeton Wants

In considering what to begin specializing in high school, we suggest that you take a look at the list of SAT Subject Tests.

  • Unlike some of the other Ivy Leagues, Princeton recommends that you submit two SAT Subject Tests.
  • Take this “recommendation” as a must.

As Princeton values diversity and differentiation of students, these SAT Subject Tests are another way you can set yourself apart from other applications in Princeton’s evaluation process.

  • Princeton leaves it up to you to decide which two to take – meaning they want you to show your individuality.

A good strategy would be to align one or two of your chosen specializations with these subject tests.

  • Do you love studying different languages? Dedicate yourself to French or Japanese (or both), study with intent throughout high school, immerse yourself in the language and culture, then take the subject test to submit to Princeton.
  • Are you a history whiz? Load your schedule with the appropriate AP and upper-level history courses, join a club that relates to history or engage in some other activity that demonstrates your deep interest in it, then take the SAT Subject Test in World History or United States History.

Advice for the Princeton Supplemental Essays

Princeton accepts three types of applications – the Common Application, the Coalition Application, and the Universal College Application.

It treats all three equally and evaluates them with no discrimination. You can choose the one that best fits your needs. If you already have a Common App or Universal College App completed for other schools, go with one of those.

If you are a low-income student, then use the Coalition App.

The part of the application that you should spend a lot of time perfecting is the Princeton Supplement.

This portion asks questions specifically regarding you and your potential role at their school. The supplement is relatively short.

  • It has a section for you to elaborate on one extracurricular activity (150 words), a section asking about your last two summers (150 words), a “Few Details” section where you list some of your favorite things.
  • For example, a favorite book and its author, favorite movie, favorite word, etc.
  • Last, there is the longer form essay (250 – 650 words). There are four prompts to choose from, and you can find them here.

Approach the supplement cautiously.

  • Consistent with its M.O., Princeton continues to look for factors that makes you different you from the rest and that you can contribute to its community.
  • What’s different is that the supplement (especially the longer-form essays) is focused on your individual perspective, worldview, and approach to solving or thinking about things.
  • They are looking at your internal characteristics.

Since your words for most of these prompts are quite limited, we advise that you go into the Princeton Supplement with a general idea about how you want to present yourself in the supplement.

  • The goal is to present yourself as someone who is different or uniquely talented in some manner – but in a way that does not come off as arrogant or boastful.
  • Create a short list of adjectives or a short phrase that represent a unique you.

Refer to this list while you are working on the supplement as a way to check that you are staying on track.

A Checklist for Princeton’s Application

  1. Coalition Application, Common Application, or Universal College Application  (Due by January 1 for Regular Decision)
  2. Princeton Supplement (Due by January 1 for Regular Decision)
  3. Application Fee or Fee Waiver
  4. A Graded Written Paper (Submit with application by Jan 1)
  5. SAT or ACT test scores and SAT Subject Tests (December is the last month to take these tests for Regular Decision)
  6. School Report, Counselor Letter of Recommendation, and Transcript (Submit with application by Jan 1)
  7. Letters of recommendation from two teachers (Submit with application by Jan 1)
  8. Mid-Year Report (Submit when it becomes available)
  9. Princeton Financial Aid Application (Due Feb 1)

Conclusion: How to Get Into Princeton

Princeton is one of the toughest schools in the country to get into.

This guide covers the fundamentals, numbers, and elements your college application profile should include.

You’ll need top grades, differentiating factors, high test scores, and strong essays to have a chance to get in. If you need any help on how to get into Princeton, feel free to contact us!

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