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Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

How To Write the Princeton Civic Engagement Essay

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Elias Miller in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.


What’s Covered:



Princeton requires all applicants to complete multiple supplemental essays. The civic engagement prompt reads as follows:


“Princeton has a long-standing commitment to service and civic engagement. Tell us how your story intersects or will intersect with these ideals. (Recommended 250 words.)”


Overview of the Prompt


This prompt is meant to better illustrate your personal values as an applicant. The prompt gives you some background on one particular campus value and asks you to reflect on your own experiences and how they align with Princeton’s commitment to service. Keep in mind that the keyword in the prompt is story. This prompt is not an invitation to list all your achievements in community service like you would on your resume. With a 250-word limit, it’s important that you convey relevant details from your story as effectively and concisely as possible.


This question is twofold. The admissions committee wants to learn about a deeply held part of your identity from which you are motivated to perform civic engagement and service. The prompt also asks you to reflect on how your values intersect with Princeton’s values, so it is OK to devote some space in this essay to discussing specific programs that do align with your interests.


Don’t be afraid to call out different clubs, classes, programs, or initiatives on campus that connect with your particular interests and how they intersect with service. Do focus on one particular interest or concern if you can. With only 250 words to spare, less is more, and focusing on one key experience or aspect of your identity will demonstrate more thought and effort than just listing several experiences from your resume. 


Connecting Your Values and Experiences to the Prompt


As you write, think deeply about what service means to you. It’s important not to fill up space by simply regurgitating the prompt or using buzzwords. Be specific in both your connection to Princeton’s values and your own unique experiences. Consider Princeton’s culture and opportunities unique to the university. Perhaps you’re planning to delve into research or create socially conscious art. Think about what you will bring to the campus and its broader community.


Be specific and authentic. Discussing broad issues like global poverty or homelessness are unlikely to set your essay apart and can potentially come off as impersonal, particularly if your extracurriculars and accomplishments don’t align with these service areas. Instead, pick a subset of a larger issue that seems manageable, such as providing essential services to homeless individuals in your area. Drilling down into a smaller issue that you can have a meaningful impact on will help you create a stronger, more personal response.


Once you’ve identified an issue or initiative that resonates with you, think about how studying at Princeton will enable you to reach your goal. Perhaps there are student organizations with similar missions or current student activism projects that you find interesting. Discuss how those opportunities would allow you to apply your skills in the best way.


How Does Service Differ from Civic Engagement?


The terms “service” and “civic engagement” are often used interchangeably. Service is often associated with volunteering or unpaid work. However, there is also “public service,” a term which is often used to describe the work that politicians or certain types of government workers perform. However, the blanket term “service” typically describes volunteer or community service projects aimed at providing important goods or services to the public.


Civic engagement is a little bit broader and is not limited to volunteer work. Civic engagement can describe almost anything you do to be an active part of your community. That could include voting, participating in a local town hall or community meeting, specialized internships, or working on an election campaign, to name a few examples.


Whether you’ve volunteered hundreds of hours or only two, writing a strong community service essay can be quite the feat. Check out this post for more tips on writing a standout community service essay.