Princeton University is an Ivy League favorite. Located in New Jersey, Princeton offers strong academic programs in both humanities and sciences that applicants all over the world dream of being a part of. How do you compete with over 29,000 applicants for one of those 1,800 golden acceptance letters to beat the 6.5% acceptance rate? Find out how these Princeton students won over the hearts of admission counselors:
Class of 2019
“Um, hello. My name is Alex.” As I timidly muttered my name, I felt my hands betray my true nervousness. At the beginning of eighth grade, my parents signed me up for Speech and Debate tryouts. My mother explained that I couldn’t stay in the house forever. She tried, often in vain, to impress upon me the importance of socialization and networking. I tried my best to refute her claims; after all, I had met plenty of “friends” on my beloved Xbox just the night before. Evidently, that wasn’t what she meant by friends. Oh well. Read on.
Class of 2020
I have grown up in the world of performing arts - a world of communicating emotions and conveying messages. From a young age I have been immersed in the innovative environments of theatre and dance, from performing in musicals at our local playhouse to participating in my ballet company’s production of The Nutcracker. Through these various endeavors I have learned much about myself, but it was not until recently that I learned, through dance, something about the world in which I live. Dance has been many things for me over the years, but the most important role this art form has played in my life is that of a vehicle which delivered me into adulthood. Read on.
Class of 2019
Picking up the burrito bowl I’d just ordered from Chipotlé, I sat down next to a girl I’d befriended earlier and a boy who I’d just met, and tuned into their conversation.
“Well, neither charge symmetry nor parity symmetry exists, because of weak interactions.” Wow, what light dinner conversation. I was curious, but only managed to catch a few snippets. View full profile.
Class of 2020
The cover is shredded from over a decade of use. The plastic is disintegrating and the binding fails to hold. Yet, under the worn cover are hundreds of pages containing fluorescent oranges and yellows from a collection of Calvin and Hobbes comic strips. The premise of the comics is simple, a six-year-old boy named Calvin and his best friend Hobbes (an anthropomorphic tiger) explore the world around them. When I discovered the comics at age eight, my creative drive underwent a dramatic, positive change. Beneath the colorful cover were hundreds of comic strips ranging from the comedic to the philosophical, all of which became an inspiration to think freely and truly discover my imagination. Most importantly, I was driven to learn more about the world I lived in every day. Keep reading.
Class of 2019
It is common knowledge among musicians that bananas will calm nerves. Evidence: The cafeteria’s banana rack was empty the afternoon of orchestra chair auditions. You know something is going on if teenagers are voluntarily eating fruit when they are hundreds of miles away from their parents. View full profile.
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About The Author
Frances was born in Hong Kong and received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University. She loves super sad drama television, cooking, and reading. Her favorite person on Earth isn’t actually a member of the AdmitSee team - it’s her dog Cooper.
A study conducted by AdmitSee, an undergraduate and graduate application-sharing platform created by University of Pennsylvania students, found students who used certain words, wrote about certain topics or even just wrote with a certain tone in their application essays were more likely to get accepted to one Ivy League school over another.
Upon analyzing its application archives, AdmitSee found students who referred to their parents as “mom and dad” in their application essays were more likely to get accepted to Stanford, while students who called them “mother and father” were more likely to receive a Harvard admission offer.
These findings, which were published by Fast Company, are based on essays — 539 of which were from students who were accepted to Stanford and 393 of which were from students who were accepted to Harvard — uploaded to the site at the time the study was conducted.
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So how does AdmitSee gain access to these application essays? The site invites college students, who are identified and verified by their official school IDs, to upload their application materials. Once uploaded, their application materials can then be accessed by high school students who are preparing for the college application process. Every time a high school student views a college student’s application materials, that college student is paid a stipend by AdmitSee.
AdmitSee found students whose application essays had a sad tone were more likely to be accepted to Harvard than Stanford. Specifically, essays written by students who were later admitted to Harvard focused on overcoming challenging moments in life. These essays frequently included words such as “cancer,” “difficult,” “hard” and “tough.”
This finding proved to be almost the exact opposite of what admissions officers from Stanford were looking for. Essays featuring a creative personal story or an issue the student was passionate about were among those accepted to the California-based school as opposed to Harvard, according to AdmitSee. These acceptance-winning essays often featured words like “happy,” “passion,” “better,” and “improve.”
AdmitSee also found surprising differences in the way Harvard and Stanford handle legacy applicants.
AdmitSee cofounder Lydia Fayal said that these differences play out primarily in the SAT scores and grade point averages of legacy versus non-legacy candidates.
“Harvard gives more preferential treatment to legacy candidates than Stanford,” Fayal said in an email interview. “Based on our preliminary data, the average SAT score at Harvard is 2150 for legacy students and 2240 for non-legacy; meanwhile at Stanford it’s 2260 for both legacy and non-legacy.”
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Fayal also said based on AdmitSee’s data, she found that the average GPA is three-tenths of a point lower for Harvard’s legacy students than it is for non-legacies. At Stanford, the average GPA of legacy students versus non-legacy students is just one-tenth of a point lower.
“If you take out diversity candidates and student athletes, the difference between legacy and non-legacy students gets really scary,” Fayal said.
Fayal was unable to provide exact numbers on this data – she said AdmitSee needs to wait to receive more applications containing this type of information.
Upon further quantitative analysis, AdmitSee found the most common words used in Harvard and Stanford essays have similar themes but are nonetheless different. For the Massachusetts-based Ivy, these words were “experience,” “society,” “world,” success” and opportunity.” For Stanford, they were “research,” “community,” “knowledge,” “future” and “skill.”
College admissions counselor Katherine Cohen didn’t find the differences between the application essays written by students admitted to Harvard and those admitted to Stanford surprising.
“Stanford and Harvard, while both extremely prestigious universities, actually don’t have that much in common when it comes to the feel on campus, their under-lying values, etc,” Cohen, who is also the founder and CEO of college admissions counseling company IvyWise, said in an email interview. “So it makes sense that they would be looking for different types of students, and therefore different kinds of essays.”
While the data collected from students admitted to Harvard and Stanford is the most specific, AdmitSee also collected interesting information on other Ivy League schools.
“There are 745 colleges with at least 1 application file on AdmitSee.com, and 286 colleges with 10+ application files on the site,” Fayal said.
For example, AdmitSee’s data indicates the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell favor essays about a student’s career goals. Like Harvard, Princeton tends to admit students who write about overcoming adversity. Essays that discuss a student’s experience with race, ethnicity or sexual orientation are well-received by Stanford, Yale and Brown.
Further, when looking specifically between Yale and Brown, AdmitSee found that Brown admitted more students who wrote about their volunteer experience, whereas there was no conclusive data that confirmed Yale favored essays of this type.
While AdmitSee’s findings focused specifically on applications submitted by students who were accepted to Ivy League institutions, the site has application materials for a wide variety of schools on its site.
AdmitSee co-founder Stephanie Shyu said, according to Fast Company, students who are gearing up to apply to college can learn two major lessons from the company’s data. One of these lessons: it is a good idea to craft unique essays for each school.
Fayal said that she wasn’t surprised that AdmitSee’s data reflected this tactic. It was a lesson she also learned during her time as a college consultant.
“I’ve worked with enough students to know that students should customize their application essay by university,” Fayal said. “I hope that, by releasing AdmitSee data, we’re leveling the playing field for students who can’t afford private college consultants.”
And Cohen agreed.
“Each school has slightly different values and focuses on different attributes, so the words, attitudes and themes expressed in a student’s application and college essays do matter when it comes to their chances of admission at one college vs. another,” Cohen said. “That’s why it is usually rare for a student to get accepted to every single Ivy League even if they have straight A’s, perfect SAT/ACT scores and 5’s across all their AP exams.”
The second lesson: students should aim to make their essays reflect the culture of the school they are applying to.
“The essays of admitted students are also a reflection of the community at these institutions,” Shyu told Fast Company. “It can provide insight into whether or not the school is a good fit for that student.”
Lea Giotto is a student at the University of Michigan and a summer 2015 USA TODAY Collegiate Correspondent.
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