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Last updated March 21, 2024

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How to Get into Princeton

Key Takeaway

Over 95% of Princeton applicants get denied. If you want to avoid being one of them, you'll need to be strategic with your application. Try infusing some of Princeton's core values—intellectual curiosity, integrity, impact, community—throughout your application and essays.

Located in Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University is one of the oldest and most sought-after universities in the country. It’s also one of the most selective.

Princeton boasts an acceptance rate of 4.38%--less than five applicants per every hundred are admitted.

In this post, I answer your questions about applying to Princeton and teach you how to craft an application strategy that will help you beat the odds.

Ready? Let’s go.

How to Apply to Princeton

Like many of your college applications, you’ll be applying to Princeton through the Common Application.

As you go, you’ll need to fill out all your personal and background information, craft your extracurricular activities list, and write your Common App personal statement. You’ll also need to gather letters of recommendation, your official high school transcript, and your school report. If you want, you can send in your test scores or do an interview, too.

Once all that’s through, you’ll start in on your Princeton supplement, which will include additional supplemental essays and the Princeton graded paper (more on that in a minute). If you’re applying to specific programs, you may have additional supplements to send in.

Princeton Application Options

Like many of the Ivy League schools, Princeton eschews an Early Decision application program in favor of something called Single-Choice Early Action. Unlike Early Decision, Single-Choice Early Action isn’t binding. But—and it’s a big but—there is a catch. You can’t apply early at any other private institution in the country.

If Princeton is the apple of your eye, and if you have the application credentials to match, then you might think about applying Single-Choice Early Action.

But chances are, you’ll probably be applying Regular Decision.

Princeton Application Deadlines

Single-Choice Early Action: November 1

Regular Decision: January 1

How hard is it to get into Princeton?

This should go without saying, but getting into Princeton is really hard. At 4.38%, Princeton’s acceptance rate is one of the most competitive in the Ivy League—it’s lower than Yale, UPenn, Brown, Cornell, and Dartmouth.

Because admittance to Princeton is so competitive, you should be realistic about your chances of admission before you apply. We know that the students whose applications are successful typically have near-perfect GPAs and test scores, the highest course rigor, and the most impressive extracurriculars. (Aren’t sure whether you’d meet the mark to be a competitive applicant? Use our chance-me calculator to find out.)

What does Princeton look for in applicants?

There’s always a lot of guess work that goes into college applications: What are colleges looking for? How will admissions officers view your academic and extracurricular accomplishments? Is what you’ve done enough? How do your credentials stack up?

You’ll never be able to escape all the questions, but a good application strategy is built on information. And the best place to start your strategy information hunt is, of course, the school itself. We’ve already begun our deep-dive into Princeton’s application process in our Princeton Common Data Set post. But now, let’s take it a step further.

With the Common Data Set information in hand, we can now start looking at the school’s values. This process is an oft-overlooked step in college application strategy. When acceptance rates drop below 5%, your good grades aren’t enough to get you in. You have to show specific alignment. And what better way to show alignment than through your values and associated actions?

Princeton’s acceptance rate may not be so generous, but the school’s admissions page is actually quite useful. Take this “Helpful Tips” page, for instance. They give you a big-picture overview of what Princeton admissions officers look for in applications—the perfect grounds for our values research.

Read the page on your own, but here are a few values I see right off the bat.

  • Intellectual curiosity
  • Academic excellence
  • Personal and extracurricular achievement
  • Willingness to take advantage of opportunities
  • Willingness to contribute to the Princeton community
  • Intellectual integrity
  • Desire to make a difference
  • Leadership

Now, as you’re thinking about how to spread your authentic story across your essays, activities section, and transcript, keep these values in mind. Continually ask yourself how you embody them through your own values, actions, and goals. Doing so might just be the difference between making it to the admit or deny pile.

What is the Princeton Graded Paper?

Ah, the Princeton graded paper. It’s one of the more obscure requirements by any of the Ivies. Essentially, Princeton admissions officers want to see that you can walk the walk when it comes to academic writing. That’s why they have you submit something you’ve written for class—preferably in English, history, or social studies—that your teacher has graded. They want to see your writing, your teacher’s comments, and your grade.

So why do they want to read your paper about the French Revolution? Well, personal statement and supplemental essay writing is way different than academic writing. The writing you do in your college application therefore doesn’t fully represent the writing you’ll be asked to do in college. The purpose of the Princeton written paper is to show admissions officers that you’re ready for the Princeton classroom.

Princeton GPA requirement

Remember up above when we were going over how hard it is to get into Princeton? Well, your GPA is kind of the baseline starting point. It doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect if you want a chance at getting in, but it does need to be pretty darn close.

If you’ve seen our Princeton Common Data Set post, you’ll already know that. There, we showed you that over 60% of Princeton’s enrolled first-year students had a perfect 4.0 unweighted GPA. That’s a lot. Another 30.26% had at least a 3.75.

If you want to be part of that 4.38%, you’ll probably need to be somewhere in there, too.

Princeton SAT Scores

Princeton doesn’t have a minimum SAT requirement, and they’ve actually extended their test-optional policy, so you technically don’t have to submit any standardized scores at all.

But that begs the question: should you?

The test-optional conversation is one that deserves a lot more attention than I can give it here. That’s why we have a test-optional strategy post that goes more in-depth. For now, all you’ll need to think about are Princeton’s middle 50% scores.

We can find these in Princeton’s Common Data Set. Let’s take a look:

SAT Composite: 1470-1560

ACT Composite: 33-35

Since you want to be around the same academic threshold as successful Princeton applicants, you should aim for test scores that fall within or above these ranges.

Does Princeton superscore?

Princeton is a little murkier when it comes to superscoring. Princeton allows you to submit your scores using College Board’s Score Choice option, which lets you choose which test dates you’d like to send. Princeton will take your highest scores in each SAT section, so they will superscore your SATs.

But if you’re thinking about submitting your ACT scores, they’ll only accept your highest ACT composite score.

What high school coursework do I need to get into Princeton?

Princeton’s admissions page comes in clutch yet again with some helpful recommendations about planning your high school coursework.

Here’s what they recommend:

English: 4 years

Math: 4 years

Foreign language: 4 years

Lab Science: 2+ years

History: 2+ years

(Princeton also notes that students tend to arrive having had some kind of preparation in the arts.)

Now, these aren’t just any English or science classes that students are applying to Princeton with. If you want to be a competitive applicant, your classes should be as rigorous as you can handle.

What “rigor” looks like varies from school to school. But the good (or bad?) news is that Princeton admissions officers are trained to know what your school is like. They’re familiar with the area, and they’ve read your school report.

If your school only has four APs and you’re taking all four of them plus two summer courses at your local community college, then they’re going to say “Wow, good for them!”

But if your school has twenty-four AP classes and you’ve only taken four of them, then your Princeton admissions officer may be a bit disappointed.

So whatever your context is, aim to challenge yourself as much as you can.

What extracurriculars do I need to get into Princeton?

If you’re applying to Princeton, then your academic excellence should be a given. But what about your extracurriculars?

Sure, winning a national competition, solving a real-world problem, or holding a world record will make you stand out among the other applicants. That’s also a given.

But at Princeton, it’s not just about your accomplishments themselves. It’s also about your impact.

Let’s return for just a moment to Princeton’s Helpful Tips page.

Princeton admissions officers want to see that you’ve used your time and energy to affect the world around you. Whether that’s making dinner for your family every weekday or organizing a basketball workshop for local youth, your actions will tell Princeton what you value. With your values in mind, they’ll be able to assess whether you’re the right fit for Princeton.

So if you already have excellent accomplishments, fantastic. Write about your reach and impact. If you don’t have any outstanding accomplishments in your extracurriculars yet, write about the meaning of the ones you do have. (And if you need new ideas, we have a great hack for finding impactful extracurriculars.)

Final Takeaways + Princeton Supplemental Essays

Alright—we’ve covered acceptance rates, stats, high school preparation, and a values-based approach to application strategy. Got it all? When you’re ready, start thinking about how you can apply this information to your own Princeton application.

Once you’ve done that, you’ll be all set to start writing your Princeton supplemental essays. And we’ve got a guide for that, too! Our Princeton supplemental essay guide awaits.



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