What Does It Really Take To Get Into Princeton?

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College applications are no walk in the park, so it should come as no surprise that college applications to some of the most selective colleges in the country can be even more demanding. For students with their sights set on the Ivy League, this is certainly the case.


We at CollegeVine often hear from students wondering how to maximize their chances at scoring a coveted acceptance to one of these elite institutions. In this series of posts, we break down the requirements for acceptance to each of the most selective colleges in the country, and offer our tips for optimizing your application. In this post, we discuss how to maximize your chances of getting into Princeton.


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.


Applying to Princeton: A Quick Review


It probably comes as no surprise that we’ve written about getting into Princeton before. In fact, for a super in-depth analysis of its application process, don’t miss our post The Ultimate Guide to Applying to Princeton. Here, you’ll find important stats about the college, its application process, and all the nitty gritty details you should know. In this post, we’re going to specifically address what it takes to get into Princeton and how you can ensure that these qualities shine on your application.


Speaking of applications, it’s worth noting that Princeton accepts the Common Application and the Universal College Application. You should take note that Princeton does not accept the Coalition Application (CAAS).


Students applying to Princeton should know that Princeton accepts Early Action and Regular Decision applications. The Early Action deadline is November 1 and applicants must complete all standardized testing by the November test administration. Early action decisions are typically rolled out by mid-December. Princeton’s Early Action program is single-choice, so you aren’t obligated to attend if you’re accepted, but you cannot submit other Early Action or Early Decision applications. For more about this, check out our post Early Decision versus Early Action versus Restrictive Early Action.


The regular decision deadline is January 1st, and applicants have until the January test administration dates to complete all standardized testing.


To learn more about the Common Application, don’t miss our post A User’s Guide to the Common App.


To complete your Princeton application, you’ll need to submit:


  • A school report and transcript completed by your counselor
  • Two recommendations from your teachers
  • A mid-year report completed by a counselor or school official
  • Test results from either the SAT with writing or the ACT with writing
  • The supplemental Princeton essay and short answer questions. More information about these can be found in our post How to Write the Princeton University Supplemental Essays 2018-2019.
  • A graded paper that was submitted for a course that appears on his or her transcript during the last three years of high school. Learn more about this requirement on the Updated Application Requirements page


You might choose to submit an arts supplement as well. In addition, Princeton recommends that you submit SAT Subject Tests. You can learn more about the testing policy on Princeton’s standardized testing page.


How Difficult Is It To Get Into Princeton?


Princeton is one of the most difficult schools to get into in the country. In 2018, it accepted just 5.5% of applicants to the class of 2022. This places it as the third hardest school to get into, behind Stanford and Harvard.  


Princeton yields about 67% of students it accepts, meaning that the majority of students who are offered admissions will ultimately attend.

So, How Does One Get Into Princeton?


Due to its minuscule acceptance rate, it’s fair to say that getting into Princeton requires just the right mix of achievement, skill, and yes, a bit of luck, too. In fact, Princeton routinely receives far more applicants from well-qualified students than it can actually accept. This means they are regularly rejecting students who are academically or otherwise qualified to attend. For more about this, check out our post Why Are Acceptance Rates So Low?


In any case, students who do receive the golden ticket into Princeton generally submit impressive test scores, perfect or near-perfect GPAs, and a number of extracurricular awards and achievements. Princeton’s admissions website boasts that last year alone it received more than 14,000 applications from students with a perfect 4.0 GPA (the average GPA of accepted students was a 3.91). Nearly 18,000 applicants also received combined scores of over 1400 on the SAT, and the middle 50% was 1470-1560 (it was 33-35 on the ACT).


Ultimately, test scores and GPAs alone probably won’t score you a spot at Princeton, though. You’ll also need to stand out for more personal qualities. These are the types of details that the admissions committee will glean from your essays, extracurriculars, and recommendations. While the admissions committee definitely cares about what kind of a student you are, they also care about who you are as a person and as a member of your community.


How To Make Your Application Stand Out


Start Early. Don’t rush your college application. Instead, allow plenty of time to mull over important essay questions and go through multiple rounds of editing. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.


Highlight Your Strengths. You’ve probably spent the last 18 years developing a sense of humility and learning not to boast. Well, here’s your chance to get it out of your system. Your college application is no place for modesty. Go ahead and toot your own horn.


Show Dedication. Dedication and commitment are among the top personal qualities admissions committees want to see. Highlight prolonged involvement in extracurriculars, particularly if you’ve grown into roles of leadership or increased responsibility.


Consider Early Action. Of the 1,941 students offered admissions to the class of 2022, 799 were accepted through the Early Action program. This means that your odds of getting in are significantly increased by applying early.


Be Yourself. Admissions committees see a lot of applications over admissions season and they are well trained at recognizing students who paint a rosy picture of themselves. Don’t be that person. Be authentic and genuine and unapologetically you. If you don’t get in, at least you’ll know if was the real you who didn’t fit, and you can take comfort in knowing the real you will do better elsewhere.


What If You Get Rejected?


Welcome to the club. The sad reality of selective college admissions is that the huge majority of students who apply to Princeton are ultimately rejected for any number of reasons. Don’t take it personally. Getting into Princeton takes all sorts of academic achievement, impressive extracurriculars, and a certain amount of luck. If you don’t get in, it could just be because the admissions committee was looking for a slightly different hook. While it can be hard to move past a rejection, try not to dwell on it.


Princeton does not accept transfer students and does not allow applicants to appeal admissions decisions, so you don’t have many other options. While you could take a gap year and reapply, this generally isn’t advisable as your odds of getting in probably won’t change significantly. If you do decide to take a gap year and reapply, make sure that you do something extraordinary with your time.  


Your best bet after a rejection is to set your sights elsewhere. While this can initially be a bitter pill to swallow, it’s important to remember that ultimately it’s not where you go to college that matters, but what you do with your time there. For our advice on adjusting to life at a college that wasn’t your first choice, read our post Envisioning a New Future: Preparing for Life at Your Second-Choice (or Third, or Fourth) School.


For more information about admissions to the Ivy League, check out these CollegeVine blogs:


Meet the Ivy League Class of 2021

The Demographics of the Ivy League

What Are the Average High School GPAs of Admitted Students at Ivy League Schools?

Which Ivy League School is Right for You?

Dealing With Ivy Day

Colleges That Are Great Beyond the Famous Eight: How Success and Achievement Exist Outside the Ivy League, Too


Curious about your chances of acceptance to Princeton? Our free chancing engine takes into account your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and other data to predict your odds of acceptance at over 500 colleges across the U.S. We’ll also let you know how you stack up against other applicants and how you can improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started!

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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.