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12 Things to See On Your Campus Visit to Brown
Originally founded in 1764, Brown University is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution, and is also well-known as a member of the prestigious Ivy League. It maintains its stellar reputation and attracts tens of thousands of talented applicants each year by offering rigorous coursework, cutting-edge resources, and an open curriculum that encourages intellectual exploration.
As with any college, if you’re interested in applying to Brown, it’s a good idea to visit the campus if you’re able to do so. Brown’s admissions website offers a bevy of resources for potential applicants, and here at the CollegeVine blog, our Ultimate Guide to Applying to Brown University provides our expert advice on navigating the application process. However, visiting the college in person allows you to get a better understanding of what life at Brown is like and whether Brown is a good fit for you.
Whether you’re taking a tour, attending an information session, exploring on your own, or shadowing a current student, there is simply too much to see at Brown to fit it all into a short visit. However, we can offer a few highlights.
In this post, you’ll find a list of interesting sights on and off campus that you should consider making part of your schedule for your visit. These aren’t just fun attractions, though—they’re also windows into the student experience that can help you to decide whether life at Brown is a possibility that you’d like to pursue.
Things to see on campus at Brown
The Main Green
Every school has some kind of main outdoor area where everything seems to happen. At Brown, this is the Main Green, site of everything from major concerts to juggling practice, sunbathing to political rallies, and on a nice day, even the occasional class session held outdoors.
The buildings that ring the Main Green are important pieces of life at Brown, and include classrooms, administrative offices, performance and lecture spaces, and even a few dorms. This is a place where you’ll find yourself spending a great deal of time if you end up as a Brown student.
The “Quiet Green”
Just off the main green, beyond University Hall and its administrative offices, you’ll find this additional green space. As its (unofficial) name suggests, the Quiet Green doesn’t usually bustle with activity like the Main Green. Instead, it’s a peaceful enclave where you’ll find students reading against the pillars of Manning Chapel, gazing up at campus landmark Carrie Tower, or chatting quietly on the grass with friends.
At the front of the Quiet Green, you’ll find Brown’s Van Wickel gates, which mark the formal entrance to the campus. These gates only open twice a year, to admit new first-years at matriculation and to bid farewell to graduates at commencement. Beyond the gates, College Street runs steeply downhill toward downtown Providence.
Faunce House/Stephen Roberts ‘62 Campus Center
Faunce House, located on the Main Green, has stood for many years as a hub of student life on Brown’s campus. However, its renovation and renaming in 2010 have given it new life as an updated campus center, as well as a visible facelift that adds modern touches to the 113-year-old building.
If you end up attending Brown, you’ll inevitably spend time at the Campus Center, whether it’s sipping a coffee at the Blue Room Cafe, taking care of business at various administrative offices, or studying in one of the lounges. Taking a look at this space can give you a good sense for what it really feels like to make Brown your home.
Prior to 1971, female students at Brown were formally enrolled in the women’s college known as Pembroke College. When Brown went fully co-ed, Pembroke’s students and facilities were absorbed into Brown, but the former women’s college is still known as the Pembroke campus. (The name also lives on in Brown’s Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women.)
Don’t let the name fool you—Pembroke is continuous with the rest of Brown’s campus, and becomes more so every year as new construction contributes to a more unified campus. A considerable number of first-years are assigned to live on Pembroke, and while it can be a little out of the way for students from the other end of campus, it has its own amenities and its own charm.
The Sciences Library
You can’t miss the SciLi, which stands fourteen stories tall in the middle of campus. Nowadays, only a few of its floors are dominated by traditional library stacks. On the other floors, you’ll find study spaces of many shapes and sizes, the offices of Brown’s science resource programs, and even a meditation room.
If you’re visiting with a current student who can sign you in as a guest, don’t miss the chance to peek out the windows on the top floors. As a high-rise building that’s also on top of a major hill, the SciLi has incredible views of Brown’s campus and the entire College Hill area from windows facing in all directions.
Things to see off-campus while visiting Brown
As far as Brown students are concerned, this is the most important street around. It cuts directly through campus, is lined with restaurants, shops, and other amenities that students love, and is home to the Brown bookstore as well as various other university buildings. It’s always bustling with students, faculty, staff, and members of the greater Providence community.
Be sure to take a look at the impressive bus tunnel that allows Providence city buses to safely traverse the steep streets of College Hill during the treacherous winter months; it’s conveniently located right next to the ever-popular Starbucks. Brown students ride the bus for free, and from here, you can easily access the interesting and useful resources available downtown.
Located several blocks away from campus, in a neighborhood where many off-campus Brown seniors live, this street is packed with quirky restaurants, shops, cafes, and other fun things to do. It’s quainter, quieter, and less tourist-oriented than Thayer Street, and it strikes a nice balance between escaping the immediate campus bubble and visiting a familiar, pleasant space.
If you’re looking for a quiet walk amid beautiful surroundings, check out the historical charm of Benefit Street. Just down College Hill from Brown’s central campus, this peaceful street is home to many unusual and historic homes, quaint brick sidewalks lined with trees, and other fascinating relics of the neighborhood’s past.
Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)
Brown enjoys a special relationship with RISD, which is known as one of the best art schools in the United States. RISD’s campus is directly adjacent to Brown’s, and students from each of these colleges are able to take courses and use resources at the other college. There’s a lot of social overlap as well, so if you attend Brown, you very well may end up with friends from RISD.
RISD’s well-regarded art museum is a popular destination that’s big enough to have a wealth of interesting exhibits, but small enough to be seen in its entirety in a single afternoon. Every day, there are of course a number of other exhibitions, talks, and other events going on in the college’s galleries. Even if you’re not a prospective art major, proximity to RISD is a great and enriching benefit of being a Brown student.
Louis Family Restaurant
This local cafe, located on the fringe of Brown’s campus, gained some notoriety after an appearance on the TV show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. Regardless of media attention, it’s a perennial student favorite, especially the morning after an all-nighter. During finals period, you’ll find a line of students snaking down the street well in advance of the 5 AM opening time. The “grilled muffin”, crisp on the outside and warm all the way through, is often a baffling menu item to newcomers, but it’s delicious—and a true taste of life at Brown.
Meeting Street Cafe
Tucked away on the corner of Thayer Street, near the Pembroke campus, this small establishment is particularly well known for its gigantic half-pound cookies, especially the eclectic “garbage” version. On a winter evening, you might find TAs holding office hours in the booths, students warming up after a trip to the downtown ice-skating rink, and quite a few people gawking at the elaborate cakes in the display window.
If you visit Brown on a weekend between April and November, you may be around for a special treat. Technically, WaterFire is a sculpture, one first created by artist Barnaby Evans in 1994, but it’s a work of art that’s spread through the heart of downtown Providence, and—most importantly—it’s also an immersive community experience.
On various evenings throughout the warmer months, Providence is transformed by over eighty bonfires lit on platforms over the river, as well as musicians, dancers, and other performers. Small boats bearing torches, gondoliers, and a few lucky visitors drift quietly by as locals and tourists alike gather by the water. It’s a magical time and a treasured part of the arts scene in Providence.
For more information
Are you interested in visiting or applying to Brown? Whether you’re just starting your research or putting the finishing touches on your application, check out these helpful posts from the CollegeVine blog for more information and school-specific application tips.
Admission to Brown is very competitive, but for a qualified and motivated applicant, the potential rewards are substantial. If you’re looking for additional help navigating the often-stressful process of applying to such a competitive college, CollegeVine’s experienced mentors can help. To learn more about our services, check out our Elite Universities Application Assistance package.