6 Stellar Princeton University Essay Examples

What’s Covered:

 

Princeton University is consistently ranked the #1 college in the nation, and is world-renowned for its quality of education. Admissions is extremely selective, with an acceptance rate of 5%. Since most applicants will have a strong academic profile, writing interesting and engaging essays is essential to standing out. Princeton requires three essays and a few short answers for all applicants, plus the submission of a graded paper. Engineering applicants have another essay.

 

In this post, we’ll share Princeton essay examples that can help you understand what makes a strong essay.

 

Essay 1: My Strong Mother

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. (250-650 words)

 

“I am a mother and mothers don’t have the luxury of falling apart in front of their children, even when they are afraid, even when their children are adults.” Kristin Hannah, The Nightingale 

 

My father was deployed to Afghanistan in the winter of 2009, and I remember two things about that day: my mother’s tears coating her lashes and the snowflakes coating mine. My dad was a specialist overseas, identifying and dismantling IEDs and other bomb-like configurations, but they dare not tell me that he was at risk of being blown up or killed every day. To me he was, and still is, my hero. But the war was fought at home, too; every day weighed upon my mom’s face like a decade. I was seven at the time, and my brother was almost four, so I understand why she kept so many secrets. But I am her person, her confidante, her mini-me, and I still saw, not everything, and many things I learned later, but I saw. I saw the pain in her face reading the mail, the bills. I saw her heart ache, I saw it bleed the snow that winter red.

 

The winter of 2010 was one of the worst in West Virginia’s recent history. The snow just kept coming; in droves, it filled our yard and driveway and window, over three feet of it. We could hardly walk outside, and frequently lost our dogs in the white sea of our backyard. That was the winter mom got sick. 

 

My mother has only had the flu twice in her life, and this year, in spite of her shot, one of the worst strains braved the snow to reach her. Determined to hide her sickness from us, she spent hours shoveling the feet of snow, trying to escape for medicine and help. Her yellow ribbon on the gate swayed with each passing car, with no one stopping to help. By nightfall, she was exhausted; the snow had won. In her sickness, exhaustion, and emotional turmoil, she was dying. 

 

So, she did what no mother would ever want to do: she broke down. In front of me. And asked if I could take care of my little brother for the evening. Make him food. Calm him down. Tuck him in. 

 

She felt as if she had failed as a mother in that moment, asking so much of her seven- year-old daughter. But I stepped up to bat for her willingly. 

 

The winter of 2010: the winter of a thousand snows and the winter of grilled cheese. 

 

It was the only sustaining thing I could make, and my brother, Caden, and I ate them constantly. I can still hear mom cry from the kitchen as I prepared our meals. (I made her an extra. I do not know if she ever ate it.) I tucked Caden into his train bed, put an extra Pull-Up on his nightstand, kissed his forehead. Mom got sick in the bathroom, so I quietly left her a note on her bed that said “I love you!” before heading off to my room. 

 

2010 was a defining year for me. I began dance classes, saw my dad leave to fight for our country, felt the jubilation of his return. But my mother’s struggle permeates that year like the smell of burned popcorn. For the first time, I saw my mother, my invincible mother, weakened by life, and it humbled me. Her struggles made me want to work harder, be better, be stronger,  for my family. That year, I vowed to serve my family in every way possible, and I try to even today. When I enter society as an adult, I want to be as strong and resilient as my parents, and to be empathetic toward everyone, even my enemies. Everyone has a story, a hardship, and no one, especially mothers, should feel ashamed to express it. 

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Essay 2: Teenage Angst

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. 

 

“I will be the gladdest thing under the sun! I will touch a hundred flowers and not pick one.” – Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Afternoon on a Hill” (Renascence and Other Poems, 1917) 

 

My teenage rebellion started at age twelve. Though not yet technically a teenager, I dedicated myself to the cause: I wore tee shirts with bands on them that made my parents cringe, shopped exclusively at stores with eyebrow- pierced employees, and met every comforting idea the world offered me with hostility. Darkness was in my soul! Happiness was a construct meant for sheep! Optimism was for fools! My cynicism was a product of a world that gave birth to the War in Afghanistan around the same time it gave birth to me , that shot and killed my peers in school, that irreversibly melted ice caps and polluted oceans and destroyed forests. 

 

I was angry. I fought with my parents, my peers, and strangers. It was me versus the world. 

 

However, there’s a fundamental flaw in perpetual antagonism: it’s exhausting. My personal relationships suffered as my cynicism turned friends and family into bad guys in my eyes. As I kept up the fight, I found myself always tired, emotionally and physically. The tipping point came one morning standing at the bathroom sink before school. I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the tired, sad girl that looked back with pallid skin and purple eye bags. That morning, I found my mother and cried in her arms. I decided that the fight was over. 

 

I took a break from fighting. I let go of my constant anger about global problems by first focusing on the local ones that I could do something about, and then learning to do things not because they fixed a problem, but for the simple joy of trying. I apologized to friends that I wronged previously, said yes when my mom asked me to go grocery shopping with her, and spent afternoons alone in the park, just reading. I baked brownies in the kitchen because it made me happy. I slept in on weekends when I could, but I also made an effort to get out of bed and move. I made an effort to be nice-optimistic, even-with the people around me, but more importantly, I made an effort to be nice to myself. 

 

After a period of self-care, the fight in me recharged, but this time I didn’t rush to spend it in anger. Now, it’s a tool I use wisely. I’ve channeled it into tangible causes: I don’t want the feeling of loneliness and anger to fester inside of anybody else, so I work with school administration to create community-building events for my senior class. From being the first to implement a class messaging system to starting a collaborative playlist with all 800 of my peers, I’ve turned my energy into positive change in my community. 

 

I’ve still got a few more years of teenage angst in me, but the meaning of my rebellion has changed. It’s not about responding to a world that’s wronged me with defiance, anger, and cynicism, but about being kind to myself and finding beauty in the world so that I can stay charged and fight for the real things that matter. 

 

I’ve realized that the world is my afternoon on a hill, full of sunlight and optimism if only I can see them. Now, I am the gladdest thing under the sun! I can be vulnerable and open, and I can show my passion to the world through love. I will touch a hundred flowers, seize a hundred opportunities, and love a hundred things. I will not pick just one. 

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Essay 3: Why Engineering 

If you are interested in pursuing a B.S.E. (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.

 

In 7th grade, I was assigned a research project. Although I didn’t know it at the time, this project would end up sparking an interest which would guide me throughout the rest of my public school career. The project was simple: using Google and other resources, I had to find a potential career I’d be interested in pursuing later in life. Being a naive 7th grader, I had virtually no idea where to start. I knew I had a strong preference for STEM, but as to which area of STEM to pursue, I was clueless. After looking at a myriad of other careers, I finally came across aerospace engineering. 

 

At first, I was intrigued by the name. I remember thinking that it sounded awesome, and I was compelled to learn more. Fast forward a few days and many hours of research, and aerospace engineering stole my heart. When I got to high school, I took all of the classes my school offered that would be beneficial for an aerospace engineer. AP Physics, Multivariable Calculus, PLTW engineering courses, and countless others made the list, and all the while my desire to become an aerospace engineer intensified. I joined numerous STEM clubs to nurture this interest, and in doing so I not only became a better engineer, but also a better person. I also began looking into outstanding aerospace colleges, and Princeton made the very top of my list.

 

When I look back on it now, I’m not surprised that aerospace engineering is what called to me in that project. In fact, I’ve been fascinated with planes and rockets since a very young age! I would often build models out of LEGOs, and there are numerous times I spent way too many hours playing Kerbal Space Program. When I discovered there was a career dedicated to those parts of my personality, it makes sense that I’d be drawn to it. I find it fascinating that just by using the arsenals of math and science, we can fabricate every tool needed to explore and catalog the cosmos. If that isn’t powerful, I don’t know what is.

 

Although aerospace engineering has been my main interest throughout high school, I’ve also felt a pull towards mechanical engineering and robotics. Princeton is unique in that it offers a joint major in mechanical AND aerospace engineering, which is something I haven’t seen at any other school. In addition, Princeton’s certificate program in Robotics and Intelligent Systems will allow me to pursue robotics in the context of aerospace engineering. In particular, if I am admitted to Princeton University, I would love to have the opportunity to conduct research in the Intelligent Robot Motion Lab. The IRoM-Lab’s focus on how robots function in complex environments safely and efficiently has me especially excited, and I’ve come up with a few ideas of my own to be pursued. 

 

Engineering is the driving force behind progress in society, and I am willing to do everything I can to contribute to that progress.

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Essay 4: Playing Piano

Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences that was particularly meaningful to you. 

 

Soft melodies float in the air, feathery sounds of consonance and dissonance create a cloud of harmonies I fall into each night. Born into a family of musicians, I began practicing the piano at four years old. Thirteen years later, I still look forward to sitting at the piano day after day, embarking on adventures to transform a monochrome score into a piece of art with color and dimension. 

 

Although I relish the thrill of piano competitions and performances, the intellectual challenge that accompanies learning a piano piece in its entirety is an unmatchable experience. In light of the multitasking that musicians must master, the piano has first taught me discipline, that creating anything meaningful requires practice, patience, and persistence. But in the end, the many hours, days, and weeks practicing the piano are rewarded when I can share an emotional experience with others not by speaking, but through the movement of hands that make a piece come alive. 

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Essay 5: Approval of Others

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 any man stopped and asked himself whether he’s ever held a truly personal desire, he’d find the answer. He’d see that all his wishes, his efforts, his dreams, his ambitions are motivated by other men . . . A stamp of approval, not his own. He can find no joy in the struggle and no joy when he has succeeded.”

Essay/Book: The Fountainhead
Author: Ayn Rand

The US Open.

 

My parents had asked me if I wanted to come along, and I agreed. We got there; we took pictures next to a giant tennis ball, bought some tennis rackets, and finally headed over to our seats. It was absolutely freezing–and as the match continued, the world around me got darker and darker. An open stadium, I could see the stars in the sky just as clearly as I could feel the cold seeping through my coat. Trying to forget about my discomfort, I gazed up at the stars and listened to the vaguely muffled sounds of grunts and balls hitting the court.

 

A million things ran through my head.

 

The persistent cold that I was trying to forget. The beauty of the twinkling lights in the sky. The vast emptiness of the world around me.

 

And, even as I pulled closer to my mom and dad, an abject feeling of loneliness settled over me, my isolation from the excitement of the crowd making itself apparent as I felt none of the frustration, disappointment, or adrenaline-fueled excitement that the crowd and the players were feeling–a million miles away from my surroundings, insignificant in this moment.

 

And, it dawned on me, I am. I am insignificant–we all are. Even the tennis players whom we so eagerly watch are only really significant for the few hours of their game–and, is that insignificance necessarily a bad thing? Why should I pursue significance–and essentially, recognition–throughout my life? Why do I feel the need to be recognized? Should I not just want to aid in world progress–whether that be dancing to promote emotional expression, or engineering to promote prosperity and scientific advancement?

 

I began to understand the futility of ambition revolving solely around world recognition. Why should the entire world know my name? Shouldn’t success be just knowing that I created something, something that helped someone or something somewhere, something that advanced the face of knowledge or innovation, regardless of whether I gained actual ‘credit’ for it?

 

Having changed my definition of success, I no longer search for significance. My absolute insignificance has never been clearer, clearing the way for me to discover myself in my passions, rather than discovering passions in the hope of gaining relevance. My success is no longer defined by the approval or recognition of anyone but myself, making my successes sweeter and my hard work more gratifying.

 

This leaves no bar on my dreams, no curb on my goals. I’m an aspiring engineer because I love how math and physics and purpose click together as you design and invent and innovate, how the electricity of passion sparks through my fingertips as I stay up late working on my model rockets and deriving simple harmonic equations. I’m a dancer because I love how the music and movements feel in my muscles and bones, how fiery adrenaline rushes through my veins when I am in the middle of a performance. I’m a hopeful social entrepreneur because I want to give purpose to my innovations; I’m a singer because I like to feel the vibrations of songs collecting in my throat; I’m a programmer because I like to ‘logic’ my way through problems. None of its for money, or for a prize, or for world recognition–because even that significance doesn’t last long. I’m insignificant, and whether or not I remain so–as long as I fulfill my own purpose and achieve my own goals–it makes no difference to me.

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Essay 6: Feminism and Activism

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. (250-650 words)

 

“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. This quote is taken from Professor Wasow’s January 2014 speech at the Martin Luther King Day celebration at Princeton University

 

The air is crisp and cool, nipping at my ears as I walk under a curtain of darkness that drapes over the sky, starless. It is a Friday night in downtown Corpus Christi, a rare moment of peace in my home city filled with the laughter of strangers and colorful lights of street vendors. But I cannot focus. 

 

My feet stride quickly down the sidewalk, my hand grasps on to the pepper spray my parents gifted me for my sixteenth birthday. My eyes ignore the surrounding city life, focusing instead on a pair of tall figures walking in my direction. I mentally ask myself if they turned with me on the last street corner. I do not remember, so I pick up the pace again. All the while, my mind runs over stories of young women being assaulted, kidnapped, and raped on the street. I remember my mother’s voice reminding me to keep my chin up, back straight, eyes and ears alert. 

 

At a young age, I learned that harassment is a part of daily life for women. I fell victim to period-shaming when I was thirteen, received my first catcall when I was fourteen, and was nonconsensually grabbed by a man soliciting on the street when I was fifteen. For women, assault does not just happen to us— its gory details leave an imprint in our lives, infecting the way we perceive the world. And while movements such as the Women’s March and #MeToo have given victims of sexual violence a voice, harassment still manifests itself in the lives of millions of women across the nation. Symbolic gestures are important in spreading awareness but, upon learning that a surprising number of men are oblivious to the frequent harassment that women experience, I now realize that addressing this complex issue requires a deeper level of activism within our local communities. 

 

Frustrated with incessant cases of harassment against women, I understood at sixteen years old that change necessitates action. During my junior year, I became an intern with a judge whose campaign for office focused on a need for domestic violence reform. This experience enabled me to engage in constructive dialogue with middle and high school students on how to prevent domestic violence. As I listened to young men uneasily admit their ignorance and young women bravely share their experiences in an effort to spread awareness, I learned that breaking down systems of inequity requires changing an entire culture. I once believed that the problem of harassment would dissipate after politicians and celebrities denounce inappropriate behavior to their global audience. But today, I see that effecting large-scale change comes from the “small” lessons we teach at home and in schools. Concerning women’s empowerment, the effects of Hollywood activism do not trickle down enough. Activism must also trickle up and it depends on our willingness to fight complacency. 

 

Finding the solution to the long-lasting problem of violence against women is a work-in-progress, but it is a process that is persistently moving. In my life, for every uncomfortable conversation that I bridge, I make the world a bit more sensitive to the unspoken struggle that it is to be a woman. I am no longer passively waiting for others to let me live in a world where I can stand alone under the expanse of darkness on a city street, utterly alone and at peace. I, too, deserve the night sky.

Where to Get Your Princeton Essays Edited for Free

 

Most students applying to Princeton will have stellar academics and extracurriculars, so your essays are your chance to stand out and humanize your application.

 

Because your essays are so important, you’ll want to get a wide array of feedback on them. That’s why we created our Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. Since they don’t know you personally, they can be a more objective judge of whether your personality shines through, and whether you’ve fully answered the prompt. 

 

You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. We highly recommend giving this tool a try!

 

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