How To Get Into Princeton

Matt Larriva
Oct 10, 2021
Home » Blog » How To Get Into Princeton

Move over, Harvard. Princeton is the best university in the country, according to US News and World. And with that kind of prestige, you can rightly assume it’s nearly impossible to get accepted. If you want to know how to get into Princeton, and are feeling discouraged, remember that nearly impossible doesn’t mean entirely impossible.

So, nevermind that Princeton accepts just 5% of their hyper-competitive applicant pool and the school ranks among the most selective in the country.

You’ve got Princeton in your sights. You dream in Princeton Orange and you secretly have a stuffed animal tiger mascot that you look to for strength. 

Sound familiar? Well, if Princeton is your dream school, then you’re reading the right article. 

Here we will discuss:

  • what defines Princeton
  • what kinds of students tend to get into Princeton
  • and most importantly, what you can do to increase your odds of admission into Princeton 

Princeton History

Princeton university Nassau hall
Nassau Hall at Princeton University

First chartered in 1746, when it was known as the College of New Jersey, Princeton is the fourth oldest college in the United States.  It was originally founded by the New Light Presbyterians to train ministers dedicated to their views.  However, the school was unique amongst the colonies in that its charter granted by the Province of New Jersey stated that “any Person of any religious Denomination whatsoever” might attend. 

A group of six men became the college’s first graduates in 1748.

In 1756, the school relocated to Nassau Hall in Princeton. 

At Nassau Hall’s competition, it was the largest stone building in America.  It was named after King William III of English, Prince of Orange, of the House of Nassau, and would go on to withstand occupation by both British and American troops during the Revolutionary war as well as two catastrophic fires during the 1800s.  It housed the entire college, from the dormitories to the kitchen, for nearly half a century.  

In 1768, John Witherspoon, who had been a prominent evangelical Presbyterian minister in Scotland, became Princeton’s sixth president and transformed the school from one designed to train clergymen into one which produced leaders of the Revolutionary War.  His students during this period included James Madison, Aaron Burr, Philip Freneau, and John Breckinridge.

The 1800s marked a century of upheaval and transition at Princeton. 

The school’s religious roots resulted in strict rules which led to student riots in the early 1800s.  Later, those same conservative roots caused pre-Civil War disputes over slavery and abolitionism which later gave way to the school supporting Lincoln in the late 1850s.  Then again, during the late 1860s and 70s, Princeton became a microcosm over the debate between religion and science brought on by Darwin’s work.

A Milestone in Princeton History

In 1896, as part of it 150th anniversary, the College of New Jersey achieved university status and was officially renamed Princeton University.

woodrow wilson and Princeton university students
Woodrow Wilson with Princeton University Students in 1913.

In 1902, Woodrow Wilson became Princeton’s 13th president and brought about several reforms, ranging from doubling the faculty size to developing the small discussion classes called precentorials.  Around this time, liberal Christians also began to dominate the student body.  However, it was not until the 1950s and 60s, after World War II, that the university expanded its admissions policies to admit more minorities and began to admit women.

Princeton University Today

Today, Princeton’s campus has grown to 600 acres encompassing 160 buildings.  Its 1,200 full and part-time faculty publish over 2,000 scholarly documents every year, and the school hosts approximately 5,000 undergraduate and 2,500 graduate students every year, most of which live on campus. 

Moreover, as one of the smallest leading research universities in the nation, Princeton boasts close interactions between its students and faculty as well as a host of research opportunities for its students.

Princeton University Fun Facts & Trivia

The main gate of Princeton University, designed by McKim, Mead & White using adapted Georgian ironwork. It is named after Nathaniel FitzRandolph, who donated the land on which Nassau Hall sits. Built in 1905. Djkeddie, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The FtizRandolph Gateway was first erected in 1905. 

By William Ranney - Princeton University Art Museum - Washington Rallying the Americans at the Battle of Princeton

Nassau Hall was where the British’s officially surrendered to George Washington after the Battle of Princeton in 1777. 

During the battle, one of the shots from Alexander Hamilton’s battery mutilated the portrait of King George II which hung on the wall of the Hall.  Remnants of the cannonball can still be seen in the Hall today.

Princeton University's Nassau Hall Photo: By Ken Lund - https://www.flickr.com/photos/kenlund/40545844173/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=98640203

The first Legislature of New Jersey met in Nassau Hall in 1996 where it approved the State Constitution.

Nassau Hall also served as the Nation’s Capital from June to November 1783.

Constitutional Convention including nine Princeton alumni

More Princeton Alumni attended the Constitutional Convention of 1787 than those from any other American or British college or university.

They have since been dubbed the 1787 Tiger Nine and include: Alexander Martin, William Paterson, Oliver Ellsworth, Luther Martin, William Houston, James Madison, William Davie 1776, and Jonathan Dayton.

Princeton University Majors & Identity

Princeton can best be summarized as primarily a liberal arts college with a focus on research and its undergraduate students, which produces some of the best trained students of politics, economics, and computer science.

Princeton confers approximately 900 Bachelor of Arts degrees and 300 Bachelor of Science and Engineering degrees every year, so the institutions focus lies primarily in Social Sciences and Natural Sciences. 

For instance, the B.S.E. degree only includes six programs, while the B.A. Degree’s offers 33.  That said, all of the university’s B.S.E. programs are highly ranked nationally, with Computer Science being the standout at 5th in the nation. 

It is simply that the majority of students pursue a B.A.

The three most widely pursued programs are Public and International Affairs, Economics, and Computer Science.  Computer Science can be pursued either through the A.B. or B.S.E degree programs. 

After those, the most popular programs are Politics, Ops Research and Financial Engineering, and History.  Ops Research and Financial Engineering is Princeton’s only major related to business and finance.

Overview of Princeton University

Princeton University Statistics: 4th oldest college in the USA. 20 is the average age of Princeton students. 92% are liberal and 8% identify as conservative, Princeton is the#1 Undergrad university in the USA. Princeton has 8200 students & 1260 faculty members Undergrads are 50% male, 50% female. Grad students are 60% male, 40% female
Source: The Daily Princetonian

Academic Freedom at Princeton

Princeton lies in the middle ground between complete academic freedom and rigid structure. It has a set number of core, required classes, which include writing, calculous, literature, and computer science. 

However, it is relatively easy for students to pursue at least one minor, even for engineering students.

Princeton’s Atmosphere

In terms of atmosphere, Princeton is frequently described as more collaborative than competitive.  Most students are undergraduates, compared to less than a third of students at Harvard and less than half at Yale.  Much of the student body is actively involved in politics, both related to the campus specifically and to the nation at large.

Princeton does not have any fraternities or sororities.  Instead, they have “eating clubs” which students may join after their sophomore year.  Eating clubs are essentially social clubs, with an application process and which host events for their members. Ironically, Woodrow Wilson tried to abolish the eating clubs during his time as Princeton’s President but failed to do so.

Princeton Location & Setting

Princeton University is located in Princeton, New Jersey.

The campus is in a suburban setting, although—not completely isolated, like Cornell and Dartmouth are, but neither is it in the middle of a city like Harvard and Penn are. 

However, students who want easy access to a large city can commute to either New York or Philadelphia.

Take A Princeton University Campus Tour

Let a student show you around with their version of a virtual Princeton University campus tour in the video below.

Athletics at Princeton University

Princeton has a competitive athletic program. 

It has won over 200 individual and team championships since 1897 and participates in 37 varsity sports. Its athletic program ranks 3rd amongst Division 1 schools in the Director’s Cup.  

No other Ivy League School even comes close to Princeton’s athletic performance. 

Dartmouth is the closest ranking 55th in the same cup.

Princeton Alumni

famous princeton alumni, michelle obama
Famous Princeton Alumni, Michelle Obama

The roster of Princeton alumni has several notable graduates, including Woodrow Wilson, Michelle Obama, James Madison, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John F Kennedy, Jeff Bezos, Alan Turing, and Ted Cruz.

Many Princeton alumni and faculty members are Noble Laureates. 

Most recently, Princeton’s Nobel Laureates have been:

  • Frances H. Arnold (2018 in Chemistry)
  • Oliver Hart, PhD (2016 in Economics)
  • Mario Vargas Llosa, Distinguished Visitor in the Program in Latin American Studies and visiting lecturer in the Program in Creative Writing and the Lewis Center for the Arts (2010 in Literature)
  • Woodrow Wilson (1919 in Peace)
  • James Peebles, the Albert Einstein Professor of Science, Emeritus, and professor of physics, emeritus (2019 in Physics)
  • and James Rothman, the Squibb Professor in Molecular Biology (2013 in Physiology or Medicine). 

Princeton also has many winners of the National Medal of Science, National Humanities Medal, Fields Medal (Mathematics), and the Pulitzer Prize.

What Kind Of Student Is Princeton Looking For?

Like most Ivy League schools, Princeton is looking for students who are intelligent, self-motivated, and work well under pressure.

Unique things Princeton University admissions look for in students are a student’s readiness to take advantage of research opportunities (Princeton is ranked 5th in the nation for undergraduate research and creative opportunities), participate in community service (the school’s unofficial motto is “Princeton in the Nation’s Service and the Service of Humanity”), and interest in creating alumni connections.

Also like many other Ivy League Schools, Princeton is looking for a well-rounded student body rather than well-rounded individual students. 

Princeton prefers students who specialize in a single area.  An ideal student has an incredibly unique area of interest and an extreme passion for it. 

In this same vein, exceptional athletes and artists are also desired. 

Princeton is proud of its athletic performance, so students who want to seriously pursue both division 1 sports and a top tier education may have an advantage in the admissions process. 

While less widely known, Princeton sends out talent scouts to recruit students who excel in writing, music, visual arts, or theatre and dance.

Is Princeton University The Right School For Me?

If you find that you fit the ideal type of student Princeton is looking for, then it is probably a good choice for you as a school.  

Students looking for smaller class sizes and more facetime with professors will also find what they are looking for at Princeton, as it boasts more intimate seminar style classes than other schools.  Students are also required to write a Senior Thesis (or an independent project for some engineering students).  So, if the idea of pursuing your own research sounds exhilarating to you, then Princeton is probably a good fit.

However, students who are highly competitive may not find the atmosphere they are looking for at Princeton.

Not Sure About Princeton?

Dive into our comprehensive, data-backed guides to learn what it takes to get into any of the Ivy Leagues, including:

  • what your high school GPA should be
  • what your target SAT or ACT test scores need to be
  • what kind of extra-cirriculars to focus on

Plus, other actionable tips you can use to gain an ethical edge when applying to your dream school.

Princeton Acceptance Rate

The Princeton acceptance rate was 5.6% for the class of 2024. 

All Ivy League schools have an incredibly low acceptance rate compared to other schools, and Princeton is no exception. 

The acceptance rate has been steadily lowering over the past few years and will likely continue to gradually decline in the future. 

For the class of 2019, the Princeton acceptance rate was 6.99%. Somewhat surprisingly, Princeton University’s acceptance rate for the Class of 2014 was 8.3%. 

Princeton acceptance rate 5.6%

So, while Princeton’s acceptance rate has never been high, it will only become more difficult to gain acceptance as time goes on.

Princeton Admissions Demographics

The ratio of male to female students at Princeton is roughly equal, with slightly more male students matriculating in the class of 2024.  11.3% of students were legacies; 16% were first generation college students; and 19.3 qualified for a Pell grant.

The majority of the Class was white, followed closely by Asian Americans, then by International Students.  The smallest proportion of the class were American Indian and Hispanic.

racial diversity among princeton students

Students in the Class of 2024 came from across the United States and the world, but the majority of students accepted came from the East Coast, which made up 53% of the class. 

The West Coast, Mid-West, and South East each make up about 12% of the student body.  However, California, Texas, and Florida were the biggest contributors to that number.  California sent over 100 students, and both Texas and Florida each sent about 50.  Students from the South West and North West made up about 8% and 3% of the student body, respectively.

Princeton acceptance rates by state
1 Source: Princeton University (https://admission.princeton.edu/how-apply/admission-statistics)

Princeton GPA Requirements

By the end of high school, students should have a minimum 3.9 GPA. 

Students who want to be accepted to Princeton should plan on taking four years of English (with continued practice in writing); four years of math (including calculous for engineering students); four years of one foreign language; at least two years of laboratory science (specifically physics and chemistry for engineering students); and at least two years of history. 

In addition, Princeton’s admissions webpage states that “most candidates have had some study in the visual or performing arts,” so applicants should look into creative classes and programs offered by their school.

SAT Scores For Princeton Admissions

The average accepted SAT scores for Princeton for the Class of 2024 was around 1500

The middle 50% of students scored 1450 and the upper percentages scores closer to a 1600. 

The average Princeton ACT score was 34, with the middle 50% scoring a 32 and the upper percentages scoring near or at a 36. 

Competitive applicants should aim to achieve an SAT or ACT score at or above the accepted average if they want to get into Princeton.

Princeton does not require students to submit SAT Subject Tests. 

They do recommend that students applying for a Bachelor of Science in Engineering program submit a SAT Subject test for Math Level 1 or 2 in addition to either Physics or Chemistry.  However, as always, submitting excellent results from a high level test such as an SAT Subject test can only help admissions changes.

Additional Princeton Admissions Requirements

Letters of Recommendation

Princeton has notable requirements for submitted letters of recommendation. 

They require a recommendation from the student’s school counselor as well as from two separate teachers.  They specify that both teachers should have taught the student a high-level course (such as AP, IB, Higher/Standard Level, or A-levels), and each teacher should be from a different academic field.

Essays and deadlines and recs—oh my!

When filling out college applications, there is a lot to juggle, and plenty of reasons to stress.

But remember: keep perspective and know what’s important, and what isn’t.
Here are five of our best pro-tips to help you succeed and get into Princeton or any of your dream schools.

Graded Written Paper

Princeton also requires students to submit a “graded written paper”.  This is a 1-2 page essay, with teacher’s comments, which was written for an academic course, preferably in either English or History.  Throughout their Junior years, students seeking to apply to Princeton should be on the lookout for such a writing assignment where they excelled.

Princeton also has six writing supplements: three essays (ranging from 150 to 250 words apiece) and three short-answers (50 words each). 

The prompts are as follows:

  • Briefly elaborate on an activity, organization, work experience, or hobby that has been particularly meaningful to you.  (about 150 words)
  • At Princeton, we value diverse perspectives and the ability to have respectful dialogue about difficult issues. Share a time when you had a conversation with a person or a group of people about a difficult topic.  What insight did you gain, and how would you incorporate that knowledge into your thinking in the future?  (about 250 words)
  • Princeton has a longstanding commitment to service and civic engagement.  Tell us how your story intersects (or will intersect) with these ideals.  (about 250 words)
  • What is a new skill you would like to learn in college?  (50 words)
  • What brings you joy?  (50 words)
  • What song represents the soundtrack of your life at this moment?  (50 words)

Students should consider each prompt throughout and well in advance. 

Know this:


These supplements along with the Personal Statement are the best chances a student has to distinguish themselves from other Princeton applicants. 


Students should not waste precious words regurgitating accomplishments or resume items which appear elsewhere in their application. 

A students response to each prompt should be carefully considered in the context of the complete portrait they paint of the applicant.

How To Get Into Princeton By Getting An Edge On The Competition

There are different ways students can get an edge on the competition when seeking admission to Princeton University:

  1. Apply single choice early action
  2. Apply to a smaller major
  3. Have a unique background
  4. Work with the right test prep company

Let’s consider each:

1. Apply Single Choice Early Action

While not available for students applying during the 2020-2021 cycle due to Covid-19, applying early action is always a good decision for students serious about getting into Princeton. 

Princeton’s Early Action acceptance rate is 13.93%, a great deal higher than its regular admissions rate. 

Early admissions applicants are generally stronger than regular decision applicants and applying early better demonstrates genuine interest in the school.

The one downside is that Princeton stipulates that students applying early action cannot apply to any other private university early, though they may apply early to any public or international institution early as long as the decision is non-binding. 

This means that if a student applies to Princeton early, they lock themselves out of applying early to any other Ivy League School, so students should only take advantage of this if Princeton if their first choice.

Most college admission advice is wrong.

When I was in high school, I kept hearing the same canned advice about what I should be doing to get into my dream college. I heard things like:

  • “Enroll in every Advanced Placement (AP) course your school offers.”
  • “Join as many clubs and teams as you can, and try to be president or captain.”
  • “Take the SAT and ACT and see which one you do better on.”
  • “Do 200+ hours of community service.”

This conventional advice we hear about college admissions is wrong and it keeps thousands of great students out of their dream colleges each year.

Here’s what to do instead:

2. Apply To A Smaller Major

If you can demonstrate a genuine interest in a smaller major, it may give you a leg up in the Princeton admissions process

The Humanities and Engineering make up the smallest proportion of undergraduate concentrations, making them a good option here.

This is especially true if you come from a demographic underrepresented in the field.  For instance, women make up a smaller portion of Engineering majors than men, and there is evidence that Princeton has been trying to increase the number of female B.S.E students who attend their school in recent years.

However, this particular piece of advice can be a double-edged sword. 

Most Princeton admissions officials can tell when students choose a major as their intended concentration simply because they think it will look good on an application.  Furthermore, for students who are genuinely interested in a less prominent major, there may be other institutions with better programs in that field.  

Choosing a smaller major is a good option if you are genuinely interested in the major, can demonstrate your interest in it, and are certain that you want to go Princeton.

3. Unique Background

Princeton values diversity in its student body, so students should try to bring a unique perspective to the table.  That perspective can be from location, ethnic group, or unique life experiences.  

A massive number of qualified students apply to Princeton come from the East and West Coasts, so applying from states with fewer applicants, such as Wyoming, South Dakota, and so on, can give students a slightly better chance at acceptance. 

Furthermore, students who are part of a minority group, especially Hispanic, African American, Native American, may have an edge in the application process, as those are the most underrepresented minority groups at Princeton. 

Just remember that both geographic location and racial identity will only give you an edge to get into Princeton if you already meet the baseline academic expectations for an accepted student.

4. Get The Most Out Of Your ACT/SAT Test Prep

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