Two questions to ask yourself as you brainstorm topics for this prompt:
What sort of service and civic engagement projects have you been involved with? Your Activities List is a good place to start.
Are there any essays you’re already writing for another school that you could double with this prompt? If so, it may be a candidate for a Super Essay.
Do you have meaningful examples and anecdotes that bring the values of service and civic engagement to life—like the club you started to teach chess to fifth-graders, or the recycling project you led in your neighborhood, or the comedy skits you put on for the local senior center? Your topic of choice should be something you genuinely care about. You’ll find it much easier to write with enthusiasm if you talk about something you actually find important and interesting.
Once you’ve picked a topic, you’ll notice you’re (probably) writing an extracurricular activity essay. Here’s a complete guide on how to write that. You’ll want to make sure your values are super clear by the end of the essay.
Finally, you may choose to weave in how you’ll continue this work (or continue to explore these values) at Princeton. If so, consider connecting your goals with unique resources at the university. Read this “Why us?” essay guide for tips and examples. This might make up just the end of your essay.
Below is an example of how to segue from an extracurricular activity (in this case, the experience described in the prompt above this one) into a “Why us?” essay.
Note that this was written for a different school, and the word limit is longer, but the principles here apply.
When I joined the Durham Youth Commission, I met Miles. Miles told me his cousin’s body had been stuffed into the trunk of a car after he was killed in a gang fight. After that, my notion of normal would never be the same.
Drawing its nearly thirty members from a spectrum of public, charter, and private high schools, the DYC is a group of motivated students chosen to represent youth interests within the Durham County government. To say it is diverse would be an understatement. It is a melting pot of ideologies, skins, socio-economic classes, faiths, and educations that is nearly unparalleled in Durham.
When I first heard stories like Miles’, I only saw the ways in which our lives seemed to be going in thirty different directions. However, I soon realized that the members of the DYC never let those differences become an obstacle to understanding. Even now, our experiences are like an elaborate network of roads: weaving, bumping, and diverging in unexpected ways. The DYC became an outlet for us to bring our individual experiences into a shared space of empathy.
Miles recounted heartbreaking stories about boys who are brutally punished for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. DYC supervisor Evelyn Scott told me about girls who get ten-day school suspensions for simply stepping on another student’s sneakers. Witnessa educated us about “food deserts,” where people never know when their next meal will be. And I talked about being born in Tokyo, moving to North Carolina, and living in London for a year, finding a way to call each place home. How my family’s blending of Jewish tradition and Chinese culture—bagels and lox on weekends and dumplings every Lunar New Year—bridges distinct worlds. Honest discourse takes place at every meeting, adding new facets to my knowledge of the local community.
My experience in this dynamic space of affirmation and engagement has shaped me into a more thoughtful person and listener. We learn from each other and use our differences to come up with multifaceted solutions for issues facing 21st-century youth. It is that motivation to solve real problems through cooperation and tolerance that I would bring to the Macalester community. After joining the DYC, I felt my life’s frame of reference double in size. I want to continue this effort and be the woman, friend, classmate, and student who both expands perspectives and takes action after hearing people’s stories. Macalester has a genuine devotion to increasing multiculturalism, promoting diversity, and broadening students’ worldviews. Whether it be through the SPEAK Series, nearly thirty organizations promoting on-campus diversity, over ninety study-abroad programs, or a multitude of course partnerships with Twin Cities businesses, Macalester is the ideal place for me to continue the growth I’ve started in the DYC. Reconciling disparate lifestyles and backgrounds has prepared me to become a compassionate leader at Macalester, a place where I can both expand perspectives and take collaborative action. (489 words)
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