Greetings Ivy-Seekers: Below is the post for last year’s Princeton essays (I am writing this in July, 2018). I expect most of last year’s prompts to remain, but they can tinker, and sometimes pull a fast one by trotting out a whole new set of prompts. The confirmed prompts usually appear in the last week of July, and I will write about them when I get an opportunity, after they appear. In the meantime, you can get an idea of their approach, and start doing some brainstorming, by looking at the material below.
Here is your content:
Wow, that title alliterates nicely.
Below you will find my annotated discussion of Princeton’s supplementals for this year, which popped up this week on Princeton’s website, complete with a pdf for those of you living with dial-up modems and whatnot.
So here goes my first post on Ivy League Essay prompts for 2017-2018; rather than a super-detailed analysis of each prompt, I am going to annotate as I go. And this post will cover the short responses for Princeton; we will look at the essay prompts in the next post, though I will list them below my advice on the Princeton short responses.
My note: Here is a link to the Princeton Supplement, with writing prompts, in pdf form— Princeton Application Class of 2022 pdf. Please note that, if you are using the Common Application site or another portal like Naviance, you do not need to print out and fill out the pdf form to mail to anybody—it is enough to fill in all the boxes online, thank you very much. But research also shows that handwriting ideas and scribbling is great for inspiration, so I also suggest that you print it out and use it as a scratch sheet or carry it around in a notebook so you can write down all those brilliant ideas before you forget them.
Next item, from Princeton:
In addition to the Common Application or the Universal College Application, Princeton University requires the Princeton Supplement. You submit the Supplement online through either the Common Application or Universal College Application. You will be able to view the Supplement in full on whichever application you choose, after you add Princeton University to your list.
For quick reference, below are the short answer and essay questions included in the Princeton Supplement for 2017-18.
My note: do not go into the Common Application portal, et al, and try to fill in the blanks or upload your essays until August 1st or later—all existing accounts on the Common Application will be eliminated at some point in the last week of July, when the Common App website is largely offline as it is set up for the coming year of applications.
Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences that was particularly meaningful to you. (Response required in about 150 words.)
Stick to the word count, though you may try compound words as a tried-and-true strategy for reducing word count. See what I’m saying? Note as well that just saying what you did in your activities is not enough–why did it matter? Try to let the reason it was important enough to list show, and make a statement about that if possible. You don’t need to be saving the world all the time, but it can be helpful to show that you actually like and care about what you are doing and you do try to help where you can.
Please tell us how you have spent the last two summers (or vacations between school years), including any jobs you have held. (Response required in about 150 words.)
Being a dishwasher is not necessarily held against you–hey, that would be classist, after all–but that N.I.H. internship in D.C. would obviously look better–maybe. If you were washing dishes to help support your family or making money for college and could not afford to find a place to stay near D.C. in order to do the N.I.H internship, then the dishwashing thing might actually look pretty good, especially if you were working on your kinetic sculptures and robotic submarine on your evenings off. Keep in mind that, on the one hand, you are filling in the colors of a picture of yourself, and you get to pick the colors–the details–you provide. Choose wisely. But on the other hand, keep in mind that the modern app officer can and will check on your social media–so with this and the last answer, be sure all the dots connect between your virtual life and the life you present to Princeton.
A Few Details
My comment: Think about these questions in this way: If a Princeton admissions officer were going to visit you, what kind of stuff would you put away and what kind of stuff would you keep out in full view on the coffee table and book shelves? If you think about it, we often arrange the information that others can see about us in order to create the right impression. So that is my overall comment on how to approach these short responses.
- Your favorite book and its author–My note–Try to avoid listing “school” books–and be aware that many books are on school reading lists as well as curriculum; I have written extensively on writing about books before, but this is a pretty good intro and can help you show how to think about this before writing, even if it is just a blurb: How to Write About Books, Part 1.
- Your favorite website–As with the books, you want to choose in a way that does not make you look like a phony or like an incurious and shallow social climber–so just as you should not be listing War and Peace and talking about your love of Russian literature for your favorite book, if in reality you only read graphic novels that eschew words, so you should not list The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as your favorite website if your idea of philosophy is quoting Dude Lebowski as deep philosophy (Note to hipsters: The Big Lebowski is in part a satire on what happened to the Love Generation and its social conscience. Oh, and I am a fan of the film, and the Cohn brothers). On the other hand, if Twitter, Snapchat or Netflix are your favorite websites . . . maybe put those in a drawer, so to speak, and come up with something else. TinHouse? Vox? N+1? Just be able to explain in a convincing and pithy way.
- Your favorite recording-–You are getting the picture by now, and I am not going to guide your musical taste . . . though maybe this book would help with some ideas on popular music and inspire some other essays: Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop.
- Your favorite source of inspiration—Now we start looking not for repetition between all these short statements; we look for how they add up. Go with your favorite inspiration as long as it seems okay. That little voice that Socrates supposedly heard in his head might not have worked so well for this one.
- Your favorite line from a movie or book and its title-Let me give you my own example, for this one; My favorite movie line comes from Casablanca, as the prefect of police, having just gambled, shuts down Ricks’ Cafe: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” I love the full-throated cynicism that keeps this romantic movie’s feet on the ground. And somehow it speaks fully to our current political moment.
- Your favorite movie–Hmm. Casablanca or Kurasowa’s Ran or The Big Lebowski or Blade Runner or Lawrence of Arabia or The Searchers or True Grit (Cohn Version) or The Marriage of Eva Braun . . . This would be tough for me. So I will just remind you to look at what fits you and the you that you want to show.
- Two adjectives your friends would use to describe you–Be positive but not cheesy.
- Your favorite keepsake or memento–Please, no alt-right memorabilia and no Disney plush toys. Well maybe the plush toy if you can make it meet cute instead of cheesy cute.
- Your favorite word—Be positive and don’t say positive.
Next up: the essay prompts–I will list them below in full, but will not comment on them in this post–it’s long enough already, I think. I will annotate them in my next post. To see the prompts, scroll down.
Essay: Your Voice
In addition to the essay you have written for the Common Application or the Universal College Application, please write an essay of about 500 words (no more than 650 words and no fewer than 250 words). Using one of the themes below as a starting point, write about a person, event or experience that helped you define one of your values or in some way changed how you approach the world. Please do not repeat, in full or in part, the essay you wrote for the Common Application or Universal College Application.
- Tell us about a person who has influenced you in a significant way.
- “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 and co-founder of Blackplanet.com. This quote is taken from Professor Wasow’s January 2014 speech at the Martin Luther King Day celebration at Princeton University.
- “Culture is what presents us with the kinds of valuable things that can fill a life. And insofar as we can recognize the value in those things and make them part of our lives, our lives are meaningful.”
- Gideon Rosen, Stuart Professor of Philosophy and director of the Behrman Undergraduate Society of Fellows, Princeton University.
- 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 you are interested in pursuing a 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.
*This essay is required for students who indicate Bachelor of Science in Engineering as a possible degree of study on their application.
To see my comments, come back soon. I will write about them before July 15th . . .if you are visiting on or after that date, just check the a post or two before this one or visit my homepage and start clicking if you do not see the post–you will find links there.