Five Tips For Submitting Graded Papers to Princeton University
While not the first school to ask for graded papers, Princeton University is the first to require them across a very large applicant pool—over 35,000 applied for just over 1,900 seats in the Class of 2022—for every applicant. These are required in addition to standardized tests. the Coalition Application, Common Application or the Universal College Application and supplemental essays. The graded paper is required in place of the Writing section on the ACT or the SAT.
This requirement favors students who come from schools where teachers have more time to comment on written work. I’m quite confident that the better endowed private and parochial schools have the right student/faculty ratio to help students to produce well-organized, well-written and throughly reviewed papers in these subjects. But when I consider that, with the exception of my Honors History course junior year, my public high school had no English or History class with fewer than 30 students. I have my doubts when it comes to public schools where that ratio is greater than 30 to 1.
Princeton University hires part-time readers to help review applications for admission, and no doubt the university will develop a process to evaluate graded work. It will probably be easy for applicants, or their school counselor, to attach the paper to their application as a PDF. My concerns test more with the students—who will need to consider which paper to submit.
It is unknown as to how much the written paper will count towards admissions. If it were up to me, it would count more heavily when the paper related to a prospective major that the student selected on the application, if the paper was poorly written (even if it raised thought-provoking ideas), or if the quality of the writing was inconsistent with the quality of the essays in the rest of the application package.
Suppose that you make a competitive application to Princeton this fall. What should you do to prepare to address this requirement during the summer?
- The paper should come from a challenging class. While Princeton’s admissions office has not disclosed what they expect to see in the way of a graded paper, the same office has expected applicants to take the most challenging courses possible, at least in the subjects that interest them the most. An admissions officer who reads essays wants to know not only how well you write, but also how well you think and organize your thoughts.
- Consider not only the paper, but also the teacher. Applicants will not only need to submit well-organized and well written work; they will also need to have it thoroughly and thoughtfully reviewed. This may mean asking a teacher to re-read something that s/he has already graded, and giving them enough time to comment appropriately. Ideally, you will have built relationships with teachers that you would trust to look out for you, but also not mislead an admissions officer.
- If neither English nor History is a favorite or best subject, choose a paper in a subject that is. If your best writing is in a Biology class, and your academic intentions in college lean towards the natural sciences, a well-organized and well-written science paper should enhance your chances for admission, provided that the paper is easy for a non-scientist to read and understand. A good high school science teacher should be able to review the paper not only for the ideas, but also for the structure and writing quality of the report. There is a fair chance that an admissions officer will have forgotten more high school science than s/he remembers, so keep in mind that a non-scientist might be your audience.
- Be careful on controversial topics or political positions. While you have seen that people are less shy to express their views online or in a public square, there are facts that have been well documented by scholars of multiple viewpoints. Your paper has to acknowledge the written work of others who share your viewpoint, and substantiate it, not make statements that are either slanderous or falsehoods.
- If the ideas behind your paper are supported through original music, art or creative writing, such as poetry, then apply using the Coalition Application or the Universal College Application. Both of these online sites allow students to build an arts-related portfolio as a complement to the rest of their application. The Common Application has encouraged students to use ZeeMee, a Web page builder outside of their site, to make a similar portfolio, but it will be easier for an admissions officer to review the portfolio along with the rest of your application in the other sites.
Princeton University will be providing more information on the graded paper requirement between now and the date that the admissions office will begin to receive and review applications. But the time to seek and discuss this requirement with the right teachers is now.
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