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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 Meaningful Activity Essay for Princeton

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.


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Are you interested in Princeton University? The college requires a few supplemental essays, and while the prompts may seem simple, you could find yourself stumped when it comes time to write. You also have very limited space you can use to express yourself. This article will help you figure out how to plan an essay about a meaningful experience and offer some tips about the writing process. 


Structuring the Essay


This prompt asks you to elaborate on an activity, organization, work experience, or hobby that has been particularly meaningful to you. With a word limit of 150, you may not have enough space to say all that you want to, so you should try to find a targeted story or angle.


When you’re planning this essay, you should keep the shortness of the piece in mind. Only 150 words probably isn’t enough to describe an experience or pastime to the fullest extent. You need to formulate a precise approach that lets you convey as much emotion as possible, along with your personal voice and a few specific details that let the piece come to life. 


Although you don’t have many words available to you, you still need to write multiple paragraphs. One long paragraph makes your essay look shorter and cramped, and the reader won’t want to engage with it as much as they would multiple paragraphs. Three or even two paragraphs let the reader see a fleshed-out narrative much more clearly. Admissions officers often don’t view single paragraphs as very appealing, so don’t write only one. 


If you’re struggling to come up with an idea, keep the word “meaningful” in mind. Figuring out what’s meaningful to you will let you respond to this prompt thoughtfully and in a way that will resonate with your admissions officers.


Once you have an idea in mind, you should get right into it. You can include enough details about the setting to provide your reader with context, so don’t waste the word count. You have to pack in as much action as possible into a short space, so avoid unnecessary background information or explanations. You should be trying to tell a story. Jump right into where the story begins.


Showing Personal Growth


While you don’t want to make the entire essay about how you’ve grown and changed, writing about how this experience has shaped you makes for a more compelling narrative.


You want to make the person reading your essay root for you. You should consider starting with a moment of failure or doubt. Because pretty much everyone has messed up at some point or another, this kind of scene provides a good, relatable emotional hook for the reader. Think about sports movies: the protagonist often begins by falling on their face or struggling in some way, only to overcome the odds in the end. Working past these devastating moments makes for a more compelling narrative than writing about something that’s always come easily to you.


This can also help to highlight why the activity is meaningful to you—you’ve had to work past difficulties. It gives an admissions committee better insight into your experiences and how you’ve grown.


You don’t even need to pick an activity where you’ve accomplished a lot. While you would ideally have success in something meaningful to you, and that you’re very passionate about, you sometimes have the most profound experiences in something that you’re not naturally good at. It’s totally fine if you’re not super impressive in the activity you selected. What matters is capturing exactly why it has meant a lot to you.


What To Avoid


Don’t Restate Your Resume


While it might be tempting to use this essay as an opportunity to share your many accomplishments, you should avoid writing a list of experiences or extracurricular activities. This doesn’t single out anything particularly meaningful. It also can read like a resume. Admissions officers already see your Common App resume, so you don’t want to write about a lot of different activities. 


If you’ve won some awards and want to write about how that came to be, you should work to avoid sounding braggy. Maybe you led a benefit dance or held a major position in the National Honor Society. Maybe you made varsity and led your team to a championship victory. All of that is excellent, and it’s fine to write about it. But you don’t want to focus on how impressive other people might find it. Ask yourself: What did you gain from that experience? How did you work to make it happen?


Focus on the Journey


You have to show why all the work you did paid off, and you have to put emotion behind your writing. Try to focus on your feelings, and how you grew from it all. Rather than writing about the moment of success, emphasize the long nights and the early mornings. Draw on specific scenes and emotions to ground your essay in something real.


College essays, including this one, show an admissions committee who you are—what you stand for, how you’ve grown, and how you express yourself. This essay should help to remind you of what work you find meaningful. Just go from there, and the rest will follow.