How to Write Brown’s Open Curriculum 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.
- Showcase Your Academic Passions
- Demonstrate Interdisciplinary Thinking
- Approach This as a “Why Brown” Question
- Do Your Research
The first Brown University supplemental essay asks students to respond to the following prompt:
Brown’s Open Curriculum allows students to explore broadly while also diving deeply into their academic pursuits. Tell us about any academic interests that excite you, and how you might use the Open Curriculum to pursue them while also embracing topics with which you are unfamiliar. (200-250 words)
In this article, we discuss how to demonstrate your academic passions and interdisciplinary thinking, how to make this a “why Brown” essay, and the importance of doing your research.
Showcase Your Academic Passions
The best way to think of this prompt is as a “why major” essay, which is a commonly used prompt by many colleges. However, keep in mind that this prompt is asking you to put more of an emphasis on subjects that you’re not necessarily going to major in but that interest you. Therefore, the essay should provide a clear insight into your academic passions and how you will pursue them instead of your intended major.
One strategy when approaching this prompt is to explore topics or hobbies that you enjoy but that are not directly related to your intended career path, as you can use this essay to expand upon these alongside your major.
Demonstrate Interdisciplinary Thinking
For Brown University, interdisciplinary thinking is essential, and it is critical to demonstrate this in this essay. You can approach this in two ways. Either you can narrow your essay down to one specific discipline that combines multiple subject areas, or you can write about the common interest that motivates you to pursue multiple subject areas.
Combine Two Subjects into One Discipline
For the first strategy, try combining multiple topics that you are interested in to arrive at a specific discipline, like combining neurology and psychology to get neuropsychology. This may require extra research into the various majors and departments at Brown, and you can even get a little creative in the way that you tie together your interests. One caveat, however, is to not stretch this too much; if you can’t think of one overarching discipline, it may be best to employ another strategy for this essay.
Find a Common Thread Among Multiple Disciplines
The second strategy is to reflect on various subjects that you are interested in and try to find a common thread or similarity that interests you in those topics. For example, if you are interested in history, economics, psychology, and sociology, the common thread might be understanding how societies function or the relationship between people and markets. You can use this central theme as a way to highlight the different disciplines that interest you and to clearly show the reader what about them is so compelling to you personally.
As you work to demonstrate your interdisciplinary thinking through this essay, remember that this is a short essay with a limit of 200-250 words. We recommend sticking to two subjects maximum and simply mentioning other disciplines rather than discussing them deeply.
Additionally, it’s okay if you’re divided between two different subjects that are hard to reconcile. If you choose to include topics like this, make sure to give insight into why they are challenging to combine and what draws you to each.
Approach This as a “Why Brown” Question
Since Brown’s academic branding is highly focused on the open curriculum, this essay is also like a “Why Brown” essay. In fact, in the past, this prompt used to include a question about “Why Brown?” alongside the language about Brown’s open curriculum.
Therefore, when writing this essay, try to frame your interests in a way that shows that the open curriculum at Brown is the best way to explore them. Demonstrate that you would be served well by having the opportunities specifically allotted to you by Brown to explore your academic interests and that it would be much harder for you to do so in a core curriculum system.
Do Your Research
Before you write, be sure to do your research into academic opportunities and programs related to your interests at Brown. Ultimately, you will want to tie in any relevant academic offerings at the university naturally into your essay.
For example, if you are interested in biology and geology and plan to write about your fascination with the line between living organisms and the natural world, you will also need to include specific examples as to how you will pursue these interests at Brown.
Something that you might want to bring up are the Departments of Earth, Environments and Planetary Sciences, or DEEPS, which at Brown, is the overarching academic department covering both biology and earth sciences. By doing your research into Brown’s academic offerings and course structure, you’ll be better able to organically explain why you specifically seek to pursue your interests at Brown.
Keep in mind that when including specific opportunities and programs, you should not be artificial. It is important to show that you’ve done the research, but it has to come from the heart, or admissions officers will immediately notice, and you may sound awkward or inauthentic.