September 20, 2019

Princeton Your Voice Essays

Princeton University

In addition to the essay you have written for the Coalition Application, 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 Coalition Application, the Common Application or Universal College Application.

1. Tell us about a person who has influenced you in a significant way.

This is already baked into the main question. If you can quickly pin some evolution in your “rudder/worldview/etc.” to a person, this is a great, simple one to use. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you can win points through your choice of person here. It’s ALL about the values shift, and your ability to allow yourself to have had your values… shifted. That all make sense? It says something about you if you can demonstrate the capacity to see something in someone else, or let someone else’s approach affect you in a way that contradicts (or affects, somehow) your pre-existing take. It shows you can introspect. Of all high school students applying to badass colleges, only a few score high on THAT PARTICULAR THING.

Again, Princeton isn’t gonna admit “your awesome grandfather” based on his insane story that changed your life. Pick your person, and then dig into YOUR PERSONALITY before and after you interacted with that person. You were something BEFORE this person influenced you in some way, and then you were CHANGED in some way after it. There’s a delta there. That delta is what this essay is all about. And the process by which you went from X to Y. No points for what X is, or what Y is, or who Change Agent Z was. It’s all about the progression from X… to Y.


2. “One of the great challenges of our time is that the disparities we face today have more complex causes and pointless 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.

So, when you think about how you view the world, ways in which you’ve evolved on something, something stirring in you, etc., is there a connection between that and “disparities” that Wasow might be obliquely referring to? (May help to watch the speech, by the way.)

As with any quote like this, you’ll need to devote just a bit of time interpreting it, and then use it as a REFERENCE to the main question. Always remember the main question here is “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.” Don’t just leap into unpacking the quote. But also, don’t leap into your story and ignore the quote. A few sentences remarking on what Wasow might have meant, and then diving into why this connects with your response to the main question, that’s what we’re going for here.


3. “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 chair,  Department of Philosophy, Princeton University.

Same deal here. A few sentences on what Rosen meant, your take on it, and then, circle it back to the “main question,” the stuff we talked about earlier. Any jumping off point like this should somehow connect to someone or some event or experience that shaped you. Don’t forget that.

And remember the “delta” principle here. Does this quote remind you of a moment when you went from ONE way of thinking to ANOTHER? Or evolved from a 2 to a 10 along some continuum? It’ll only be truly compelling when we can peek into the way you USED to construct an issue, to how that changed to a NEW/EVOLVED way you constructed the same issue. Presumably on account of an event, series of events, some kind of change agent in the form of a person, whatever.


4. 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.

You’ll need the quote NOW, by the way. If you have to thumb through essays and books to find it, chances are, the quote doesn’t mean enough to you and this isn’t the best prompt to use. This prompt will either make you think of a quote immediately, or not. If it DOES make you think of a quote that jolted you somehow… hold onto it. Explore it. If it doesn’t, keep fishing around these five prompts and feel the one giving off the greatest amount of “heat.” Which one… just feels like the one that makes you think about your values, people in your life who have influenced you, experiences you had that were “defining”? Zero in on those because that visceral feeling will be your best guide.

Once you lock into your jumping off point, just find an efficient way to connect it to YOUR story, and then simply build a rough draft based on walking us through a portrait of “Version 1 You,” the influence that then somehow shaped you in some way to “Version 2 You.” Walk us through “the shaping.” This is the key, folks. Then in a final short paragraph, tie it all up. Why did you just tell that to us? Why was that transformation meaningful? What will you take with you? Why will any of it matter?

At the end of that exercise, friends, you will have… a first draft. That’s when the fun begins.


You can also read through our team’s analysis of the rest of Princeton’s application essays.

Learn more and explore each step of Princeton’s undergraduate application process here.

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