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How to Write Brown’s “Brings You Joy” Essay

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Shane Niesen and Vinay Bhaskara in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info. 


What’s Covered:



The third Brown University supplemental essay asks students to respond to the following prompt: 


Brown students care deeply about their work and the world around them. Students find contentment, satisfaction, and meaning in daily interactions and major discoveries. Whether big or small, mundane or spectacular, tell us about something that brings you joy. (200-250 words)


In this article, we will discuss how to select a strong essay topic, tips for writing a memorable essay, and strategies for choosing a topic that will demonstrate the type of student you will be on campus at Brown.


Avoid Writing Another Extracurricular or Academic Essay


The Brown University “Joy” essay is in some ways similar to Brown’s extracurricular essay, but with the caveat that this essay is not as formal and can also include things like hobbies or academic subjects. As you explore topics for this essay, avoid repeating information that is already evident in other essays or parts of your application. This means that academic subjects are often not ideal topics for this essay, although you still may choose to include them. 


This essay is mainly a space to talk about an aspect of your life that is important to you or that you’re really interested in but that isn’t highlighted in the rest of your application.


If there is something about yourself that you haven’t expanded on yet in the rest of your application, this essay is a great opportunity to do so. For example, if you are really interested in fashion, tabletop games, painting, or other creative endeavors, this is a great space to bring that up. This essay lends itself particularly well to topics related to the arts or creative pursuits, so if you have something like that that you would like to discuss, this could be a great space to do so.


Choose a Topic That Genuinely Interests You


As you explore topics for this prompt, keep in mind that you should be picking something that genuinely interests you. The goal of this essay is not for you to sound impressive, so avoid topics that you are not actually passionate about, but that you think admissions officers will be impressed by, like, “I am interested in the geopolitical state of the world in solving its problems.” An essay like this will not get you as far as one that focuses on your actual interests.


For this prompt, try selecting a smaller topic that allows you to surprise the reader or help them empathize with you. In your essay, you should not only be describing what the activity is, but also highlighting how you feel when you pursue it.


Consider how your activity, like painting tabletop figurines, for example, brings you joy and contentment. Reflect on your state of mind while doing this activity versus your state of mind going about the world. Is this activity like a retreat for you? If so, this could be a great topic for this supplemental essay.


Make the Mundane Interesting


One tactic to consider when responding to this prompt is to take a mundane activity but then present it in a new and interesting light that makes the admissions officer re-appreciate it. Think creatively about how you spend your time and you may find that you have a unique passion lying within a more common activity or interest.


For example, if you enjoy recreating classical buildings in Minecraft, that could be something that you talk about. The strategy would be to write not just about playing Minecraft, but instead about this specific niche interest that you have in relation to an otherwise common activity. A topic like this can be quite impressive and can allow you to show your passion and convey a narrative arc. Even if the topic is a little unassuming from the outside, you can breathe life into it for the admissions officer, which is another great way to approach this essay.


Be Memorable


Another strategy for selecting a topic for this prompt is to “go big” and choose something memorable. This may not apply to all students, but if you have a really unique activity or interest, or something that you have pursued to a high level, this could be a great way to make your essay stand out.


For example, if you were passionate about juggling and ultimately became a juggling performer, that could make a really interesting and memorable essay for an admissions officer to read. When admissions officers discuss your essays and applications, they remember the juggling kid in the back of their mind, and that will actually help you when they’re going back and thinking about filling in gaps in the class.


Being memorable is a great way to get accepted, especially to very selective schools like Brown, and this essay is a good way to do that if you have a unique and significant passion.


Show Improvement and Commitment Over Time


The point of this essay is to convey the genuine passion that you bring to your everyday life, and to demonstrate the kind of student you will be on campus. Brown is looking to see what kind of passion you will bring to the school community, and what kind of participant you will be in the extracurriculars at Brown.


As you write this essay, try to show commitment and some kind of improvement over time through your narrative arch. If your essay conveys that you started this activity and got better by continuously pursuing it, this will show admissions officers your genuine interest for and commitment to the activity. On the flip side, if you’re just casually interested in an activity like drawing, but never really felt the drive to improve and you just like to doodle, then you may not have enough content to write about for this particular prompt.