Although you made it through the initial application, you’re still contemplating next steps for , and examples of Princeton interview questions are what you need. Princeton is not one of the , so your application must be as competitive as possible.
This article presents several questions asked during Princeton interviews in a recent year. We also provide a breakdown of each question, variations of the question that might be asked, and a sample answer. We’ll end with several other possible questions so that you can start practicing and preparing for your interview.
“What made you choose Princeton?”
- “Why Princeton?”
- “Why do you want to study at Princeton?”
- “What is it about Princeton that made you apply?”
Getting ready for your college interview? Learn about 8 great prep strategies in this video:
How to Answer This Question:
This question – “why this school?” – is one of the most common questions in an interview. You are almost guaranteed to encounter it.
The key to answering this question is to focus on specifics for both you and the school and to ensure that these specifics match up. Show that you have put some serious thought into which school and program is perfect for you. You could consider both the school’s priorities and values, and your own; the particular way the school approaches education; or an aspect or opportunity afforded at Princeton that you can’t get anywhere else and that is perfect for your goals.
Avoid talking about the prestige of Princeton, its ranking, or the fact that there is clout that goes along with an Ivy League education. Those might be advantages, to some extent, but no interviewer is going to feel that you have seriously considered your decision if you are just looking for the “best” school.
There were a lot of things that I loved about Princeton, and all of them affected my application: high academic standards, the beautiful campus, the sense of community – those are just some of the reasons I selected your school.
But ultimately, the reason that I chose Princeton over other schools was the emphasis on independence in education. I have always learned best in a self-directed environment. I went to two different high schools in my teenage years: one was more traditional, and the other let students be more independent and trusted them to direct their own learning. I excelled in the second school, but I was only an average student in the first. In fact, I truly believe that, had I continued to attend the first high school, I would have had much lower grades because the learning environment wouldn’t have been as optimal for me. So, in a way, I owe my consideration of Princeton to independent learning in the first place.
I know that I will thrive in your learning environment and be a better student, which is more beneficial for my school and for my future.
“Tell me about your background.”
- “What sort of upbringing did you have?”
- “What was your high school/elementary school education experience like?”
How to Answer This Question:
Another of the most often heard questions at interviews, this question gives you the opportunity to tell your story, show your best qualities, and demonstrate some of the reasons why a person with your background belongs at Princeton.
The potential breadth of this question is both its advantage and disadvantage. How do you sum up your life in a few minutes? This is why help is so important, because it gives you a chance to think through this question with no pressure and learn how to answer.
Think of your answer as a mini story, in which you are the protagonist. Pick one or two main themes or interests. You'll probably touch on your academics, so you might also want to talk about a hobby or your family, and go chronologically through your life, discussing your journey based on the themes you chose.
With this question, stay away from making the question about why you’re perfect for Princeton. While you might make references to the school or talk about a particular interest of yours and throw in “That’s actually one of the reasons I wanted to go to Princeton,” generally speaking, this answer is about you, not Princeton. Certainly, your answers must always indicate why you’re a great fit for the school. However, while some questions warrant a direct response, others, like this one, come at this goal from a more oblique angle. The main thing is to focus on yourself and your story and personal journey.
The other thing to avoid here is just copy-pasting your resume and transcript into your answer. The interviewer might or might not have seen your academic data, but either way, they don’t need you to summarize your accomplishments. Focus on stories or major events, not bullet point lists of data, so that the interviewer gets to know the true you.
When I tell you that I grew up in the country, or in rural America, I don’t mean, “a farm”; I mean my nearest neighbors were mesas and roadrunners. We didn’t have a lot of contact with the outside world. Cell phone reception was basically non-existent out there, and even the internet connection was dodgy.
This rural environment and isolation are what led me take the paths that I have in life. My rural upbringing made me appreciate the value of family, resourcefulness and economy of needs, basic survival and first aid skills – my parents made sure that we all knew that stuff, me and my siblings. While I was developing this wonderful base of knowledge, I was also spending time outdoors, moving around a lot, and enjoying the desert. People think of deserts as empty places with tumbleweeds and cow skulls, but I know that they are full of life. I know what it’s like to really see the stars.
I remember complaining a lot as a kid because we were so alone out there, but without my rural upbringing, I would never have become as self-confident and assured as I am. Nor would I have developed the skills I have or had these wonderful experiences. Most of all, though, this rural life stoked my curiosity for the natural world, and that’s why I’m applying to your science program, because I want to explore the world that is my backyard.
Need more strategies to increase your chances of getting into an Ivy League school? Check this infographic:
“What makes you want to study your stated major?”
- “Why are you pursuing [your major]?”
- “What makes you want to be a [job role]?”
- “What excites you about [your major] field of study?”
How to Answer This Question:
The insights that the interviewer will gain here will tell them whether you’ve given some thought to your direction in life. The next few years will be about studying a subject that will greatly impact the rest of your life: the jobs you get, the relationships you form, the knowledge and skills that you have. Have you thought this through?
You owe it to yourself to answer this question, even outside of the context of the interview. Who are you going to become? Why does that future excite you? If you can’t answer those questions, you should start thinking about them.
People say that they want to make a difference in the world. They say they want change. They want a better life for themselves, for their families, or for people who they have heard about called “downtrodden” or “underrepresented.” Well, I used to say that a lot, too. The more I said “I want to change the world. I want to make the world a better place,” the better I felt.
One day, a few years ago, my dad called me on it. I was ranting about something that my friends were talking about at school – job markets, election reform, the ecosystem. I honestly don’t remember the exact topic, but my dad said that I was just talking and that I should actually do something. This was a huge moment for me, and I started to think of ways that I could have an impact on the world. By the end of my senior year, my goals had become more serious, and I had decided that working in government would be the best way to do this.
I want to take a double major in politics and entrepreneurship because in addition to becoming a politician, I need to understand businesses, management, and the practicalities of running my own business. Too many politicians live exclusively in that political sphere, and I want to maintain a sense of balance, which will let me do a lot more to make the world a better place.
“What’s your favorite hobby or thing to do when not in school?
- “What do you do in your spare time?”
- “If you could do anything in the world, what would you most like to do?
How to Answer This Question:
This is another common getting-to-know-you question, and one which focuses on who you are outside of your studies and professional pursuits. Although the field you are trying to enter may be a passion of yours, this question addresses personal passions that tell a different story about yourself.
Pick activities you are interested in, but also pick things that will be more interesting to the interviewer. That doesn’t mean to cater to their tastes, but to pick interests or hobbies that people, in general, might find intriguing. For example, if you like watching movies but also play trombone, talk more about the trombone. Don’t worry about picking something unique or strange. If you love it, your passion comes through.
You can either talk about several hobbies or one hobby. You can be a “specialist” or a “jack of all trades,” and it won’t make a difference to the interviewer or your standing. Just answer honestly and with enthusiasm.
We don’t take a lot of time to slow down and focus on something contemplative these days. That’s how I see it, anyway, and I have two things that I love to do that really make me take my time.
The first is coffee. Okay, everybody drinks coffee, or a lot of people do, but I’m one of those weirdos who grinds their own beans and has their own syphon. At first, I just wanted to know why some coffee shops had better-tasting coffee than others, and I wanted to explore how the process works. I’ve always been curious like that. I tend to get a bit obsessed, too, so I bought some of the equipment and some coffee beans from different countries and started experimenting.
So, a perfect day for me starts with a relaxed coffee, well prepared and ready to go. Then, I grab my kit and head out to engage with my second hobby: watercolors. I love to paint, particularly landscapes, and I’ll spend whole days standing with an easel, sipping my perfectly brewed coffee, blending colors. By the end, despite the caffeine, I have this incredible sense of peace.
I don’t drink coffee to wake up or to get a fix, but because it’s delicious. I don’t paint to relax, but because it’s beautiful. Yet, the side effect of turning coffee into art is that it enables me to slow down. I find I get such clarity after those days, too. Taking your time to do something right is a wonderful experience.
“Tell us about a time when you failed.”
- “What is your biggest regret?”
- “How have you dealt with setbacks in the past?”
How to Answer This Question:
A great student doesn’t just study well or have a good career plan; they know how to handle adversity, how to cope with stress, how to get back up from being knocked over, and how to move on and get better while ensuring that they don’t repeat their mistakes. These are the qualities this question is seeking.
So, I had begged my coach for weeks to let me switch positions from first base to pitcher. It was a huge jump up, but I had been practicing, I felt I would be a great pitcher, and I just wanted a chance to prove myself to the team. I like to think that ego wasn’t involved; I had been playing first base really well, and I thought that if I could pitch, I would be more valuable.
Since you asked me about my failures, I’m sure you can imagine how well I pitched my first game. It was awful. I wanted to quit baseball entirely after that. I don’t think that many people have walked to base in the history of the game.
Fortunately, I have a very supportive coach who encouraged me to try again and gave me a lot of space to practice and to build my skills. He would always find time to let me pitch a little in every game, especially if we had built up a pretty good lead and could afford some points going over to the other guys. He didn’t let me quit, but kept pushing me. I did get better, but I was never a great pitcher. I was a much stronger first baseman, and that’s where I should have stayed.
What were my takeaways from this?
Before anything else, let me mention the importance of mentors who believe in you. Without my coach, I could have become angry or depressed at being kept out of pitching. Instead, this understanding man allowed me to try and pushed me to try harder.
I learned the importance of hard work. I went from abysmal to passable. Maybe the end result wasn’t impressive, but I knew from that point onward that conquering obstacles is a question of persistence and effort.
Finally, I learned that I should put my own feelings aside and worry more about my place on the team than my reputation in the stands. I would rather be a good team member than the leader. That’s not to say that I’m a pushover or don’t think for myself or just want people to tell me what to do. What I want is to be a good, effective teammate and the best player I can be.
We have included the following additional questions so that you can take your answer strategies and the above examples and use them to practice crafting your own answers.
- Tell us about your proudest accomplishment.
- What’s the weirdest hobby or activity that you like to do?
- How do you cope with stress in your life?
- If you couldn’t study at Princeton, where else would you consider going?
- What are your career goals?
- What was your first job?
- Have you ever had to deal with bad team members in sports, academically, or in any other field? How did you deal with that problem?
Armed with these expertly written Princeton and , you’re ready to practice your own answers. Remember: you’re not learning by rote but preparing content. Know your story, know your material, and just let that shine through.
The next step is to use a mock interview, available through services, to sharpen your skills and then prepare for the big day. With the right prep, you’ll be ready to go. Given that you’re already here, studying up, you’re off to a great head start.
1. How long should my answers to Princeton interview questions be?
Two or three minutes is appropriate, although that is flexible depending on the question.
2. In what format are the Princeton interviews conducted?
One-on-one with an alumna or alumnus. These interviews last approximately one hour, but plan for more in case you go over time.
3. Are Princeton interviews optional?
Yes, they are; you can opt out in your Princeton supplement. Even if you don’t opt out, not everybody will receive an interview.
4. Should I request an interview if I don’t get one?
No. Interviews are asked for by Princeton, so you don’t need to contact them, nor should you.
5. Does it matter if I do or don’t get an interview?
You won’t be at a disadvantage without an interview.
6. If it doesn’t matter, is the interview even important?
All aspects of your application process matter, and if you do receive a call for an interview, you should take it incredibly seriously. Every aspect of your application is another opportunity to shine and show yourself to be the perfect Princeton candidate; take the opportunity.
7. Should I memorize my answers for Princeton interview questions?
Not at all. Rather, we encourage you to learn your “content,” not memorize the answers. If you have a base of knowledge, you can draw on it to answer any question. If you’ve only memorized specific answers, you can’t easily answer every possible question, and your answers are likely to sound stiff and stilted.
8. What if I don’t get an interview?
Don’t worry about it. Trust that Princeton has decided they don’t need more information from you and can make their decision without the interview.