College Spotlight Series: Everything You Need to Know About Princeton
Do you know how to improve your profile for college applications?
See how your profile ranks among thousands of other students using CollegeVine. Calculate your chances at your dream schools and learn what areas you need to improve right now — it only takes 3 minutes and it's 100% free.
Princeton University is a perennial favorite among applicants looking for a top-quality college education. The school has a storied history as a member of the Ivy League, and is undeniably among the best colleges in the United States. In fact, the popular US News and World Report college rankings place Princeton in the coveted number one slot, ahead of other highly respected institutions like Princeton, Yale, and Stanford.
Princeton offers its students exceptional opportunities to grow personally and intellectually in a rigorous academic atmosphere. Still, just like any other college, it’s not right for every student, and it’s important to do your research before you apply. The college also has an especially competitive admissions process, and in order to get accepted, you’ll need to understand what Princeton is looking for in prospective students.
Whether you’re already committed to applying to Princeton, or you’re just getting started researching colleges, here are the basics you’ll need to keep in mind as you consider this world-class university for your college list.
Want to learn what Princeton University will actually cost you based on your income? And how long your application to the school should take? Here’s what every student considering Princeton University needs to know.
Princeton: The Quick Facts
Type: Private University
Location: Princeton, NJ
Enrollment: 5,400 undergrads, 8,181 students total
Tuition: $49,330 (2018-19)
Average Financial Aid Award: $50,600 (2017)
Acceptance Rate: 6.4% (class of 2021)
Average SAT score: 2200 (old SAT) or 1520 (new SAT)
An Introduction to Princeton
Students and Culture
Princeton is currently home to 8,181 students, of whom roughly 5,400 are undergraduates. This makes it a moderately large university, but also one whose student body is more weighted toward undergraduates than many major universities.
Each student who comes to Princeton does so because they’re serious about receiving an exceptional education. With a 5:1 student-faculty ratio and fewer than 20 students enrolled in 73% of the courses it offers, students get plenty of interaction with their instructors. All students complete senior theses based on their own independent research.
The climate on Princeton’s campus is intellectual and highly rigorous, both in the classroom and out of it. This isn’t to say that students don’t have fun or take up pursuits aside from academics—the large number of student groups and competitive sports teams attest to that fact—but at its heart, Princeton is a place for those who are prepared to take full advantage of all of the university’s educational opportunities.
Tuition and Financial Aid
As with most of its peer institutions, Princeton is an expensive place to attend college. The total cost of attendance for an average student in 2017 was $70,010. However, many students don’t pay this whole sum; generous need-based financial aid is available to assist students who need help with the cost.
Financial aid applicants are required to submit the FAFSA as well as a Princeton-specific financial aid application form to demonstrate their need and eligibility. (Princeton does not use the CSS Profile.) 60% of students end up receiving some amount of financial aid, and the college was the first in the United States to replace required student loans in its aid packages with additional grant aid, making it much easier for students to graduate debt-free.
Princeton is located in an eponymous suburban town in central New Jersey. Its 500-acre campus includes quite a few buildings of historical and architectural significance as well as thoughtful landscaping, and the campus has been widely acclaimed for its physical beauty.
The town of Princeton is approximately equidistant from Philadelphia and New York City, putting both of these population centers within easy reach by train or car. Since it’s on the East Coast of the United States, it’s also accessible to many of the other large cities in that part of the country.
Academics and Popular Majors
As we’ve noted, the student-faculty ratio, small class sizes, and intellectually rigorous atmosphere make Princeton a place where academics are taken particularly seriously. Students can major in a total of 37 different subjects, and also have the unique opportunity to earn “certificates of proficiency,” which are somewhat akin to minors.
While Princeton is home to excellent programs and academic resources in many different subject areas, its best-known and most popular undergraduate programs lie in the fields of public policy, economics, and history. Its graduate programs in these fields are strong as well, attracting a community of well-respected scholars to the school.
Engineering is another particularly strong subject at Princeton, with students given the opportunity to earn a Bachelor’s of Science in Engineering (BSE) from the School of Engineering—an option that not every college is able to offer.
Student Life and Activities
While Princeton students are serious about their studies, there are plenty of other activities to pursue if you attend this college. Over 300 different student groups currently exist on campus, and the university’s athletic teams are well-regarded—lacrosse is a particular favorite. Some activities are competitive, whether within the Ivy League or with other schools, but others are focused on personal development or cooperative projects.
Princeton’s fame draws students from all over the globe, adding diversity and the opportunity for students to engage with and learn about many different cultures in their extracurricular pursuits.
Like a number of other colleges, including Harvard and Yale, Princeton’s student housing is organized according to a traditional residential college system. Students are split up into six residential colleges, which provide housing, meals, and a sense of community for students within the overarching world of the university.
Juniors and seniors have the opportunity to join optional “eating clubs,” organizations that offer additional dining options as well as a tighter-knit social environment. Some students also choose to live off-campus, but most—96% of the student body—stick to on-campus housing.
Walking Through the Princeton Admissions Process
As you might guess, Princeton, like most other top-tier colleges, has an extremely competitive application process. Its prestige draws a large number of applicants each year—over 30,000 in recent years—and its acceptance rates hover in the mid-single digits. As of 2017, 6.4% of applicants were accepted into the class of 2021.
You can find a more detailed breakdown of Princeton’s admission statistics for the most recent application season, including demographic information, on Princeton’s undergraduate admission website.
Who Gets Admitted to Princeton?
With such a competitive admissions process, you can be assured that Princeton has high standards when it comes to prospective students. Students with very high test scores and GPAs are more likely to be admitted, as are students who have found other ways to show exceptional academic performance in high school. Not every student has access to the same opportunities, but Princeton wants to see that you’ve made the most of whatever educational opportunities were presented to you.
Outside the classroom, successful Princeton applicants tend to have extracurricular and personal backgrounds that show hard work and time investment, intellectual promise, leadership skills, and the ability to handle the demands of such a rigorous college environment. Like any college, they’re looking for students who are ready to dive in and take advantage of Princeton’s particular strengths and resources, and also to bring something special and unique to the campus environment.
It’s important to recognize that even if you’re an ambitious and high-achieving high school student, Princeton (like other similar colleges) will always be considered a reach school for the purposes of your college list. The university attracts so many highly qualified applicants that it can’t admit more than a fraction of them- there simply isn’t enough room. However, keeping Princeton’s expectations in mind will give you the best chance to receive one of those coveted acceptances.
Princeton offers two choices of application timeline: Regular Decision and Single-Choice Early Action. If you choose the SCEA option, you’ll receive your decision earlier, and since it’s not an Early Decision program, you won’t be contractually obligated to attend Princeton if you’re accepted. However, you still won’t be able to apply early to any other colleges.
For the SCEA application timeline, applicants should submit all materials by November 1st, and can expect to receive their admissions decisions in mid-December. For RD applicants, materials are due on January 1st, and decisions are sent out in late March. Accepted applicants from both timelines have until May 1st to decide whether to attend.
How to Apply
Students can apply to Princeton using the Common App, the Coalition App, or the Universal College App; the school has no preference, so use whichever form works best for you. Along with the basic application, you’ll also need to submit the Princeton application supplement, which is available through each of these application systems.
If you’re planning to apply to Princeton, keep in mind that the Princeton application supplement is particularly lengthy and probing. Applicants are asked a number of short-answer questions and must also provide a longer essay in response to a prompt, which is in addition to the essay requirement on the Common App or other application form. Prospective engineering students must submit yet another essay as well.
Along with your application, supplement, and application fee, Princeton requires you to submit a number of other materials. You’ll need to report your scores on the SAT with Essay or ACT with Writing, and it’s recommended that you include scores for two SAT II exams. Your school should submit your transcripts, school report, and a counselor recommendation, and you’ll also need two recommendations from teachers in two different academic subjects.
If you have an exceptional talent in the arts, you may choose to submit Princeton’s supplemental arts form, but this is entirely optional. Interviewing with a Princeton alum in your area is also optional, but it’s recommended if available.
As we’ve said, Princeton is an extremely competitive college, and it’s not the best match for everyone. However, those applicants who get accepted and find Princeton to be a good fit for their needs can reap major rewards. By reading this post, you’re starting the process of making an informed decision about your college choices and preparing for the demands of your future applications.
Now that you know the basics about Princeton and its admissions process, it’s time for the next steps. If you’re interested in applying, visit Princeton’s undergraduate admissions and financial aid website to explore this venerable institution in greater detail. You can also visit our post How to Write the Princeton University Application Essays 2017-2018 for a sneak peek at the university’s most recent set of supplemental application questions.
Preparing to apply to a top-tier college like Princeton can be tough; you’ll need to balance academics, extracurriculars, standardized tests, and many other factors while you’re in high school. Having a mentor to help you through this process and to guide you as you identify and pursue your goals can make a major difference. To learn more about the mentoring and other opportunities that CollegeVine provides, take a look at the CollegeVine Student Mentorship Program on our website.
Want more tips on improving your academic profile?
We'll send valuable information to help you strengthen your profile and get ready for college admissions.