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College Spotlight Series: Everything You Need to Know About Brown
If you’re a high school student who’s planning to apply to top-tier colleges, Brown University is probably already on your radar. Like the other members of the Ivy League, Brown provides an exceptionally strong undergraduate education and fantastic student resources in an atmosphere of active intellectual inquiry.
Where Brown really stands out, however, is in the great freedom it offers its students to chart their own academic paths, explore new topics, and collaborate in unique and exciting ways. Its open curriculum and eclectic atmosphere make it a great fit for independent-minded, self-motivated students who want to approach their futures creatively.
Brown’s acceptance rate is quite low, hovering around 9% in the past few years, and the admissions process is very competitive, so doing your research is a necessity if you want to mount a successful application. In this post, you’ll find all the basics you’ll need to start considering Brown for your college list.
Brown: The Quick Facts
Type: Private University
Location: Providence, RI
Enrollment: 6,926 undergraduates, 9,781 students in total
Tuition: $52,231 (2017-18)
Average Financial Aid Award: $47,940
Acceptance Rate: 8.6% (class of 2021)
Average SAT Score: 1500 on the new SAT, roughly equivalent to 2180 on the old SAT
An Introduction to Brown
Students and Culture
With almost 7,000 undergraduates, Brown is a moderately large university, but many classes are quite small or break down into smaller discussion sections. The school is also home to around 3,000 graduate students, some of whom serve as teaching assistants or interact with undergraduates in other ways.
Brown’s most distinctive feature, and one that informs every aspect of life on campus, is its open curriculum. Outside of the requirements for your major, you’ll be able to take any courses you wish—there are no distribution or general education requirements. Students can also take any class on a pass/fail basis, so you can explore new subjects freely without worrying about their effect on your GPA.
The student body at Brown is heavily composed of people who are actively interested in taking advantage of this academic freedom. They tend to be independent and eclectic thinkers with a global perspective and a drive to create an impact on the world, sometimes in unexpected ways.
Academically, Brown students are strong performers who take their courses seriously and have high standards for themselves. However, they tend to be less directly and personally competitive with each other than at some other top-tier colleges; instead, the academic atmosphere on campus is more one of collaboration, cooperation, and learning for its own sake.
Tuition and Financial Aid
Like most high-profile private universities, Brown is an expensive place to get an education. In the 2017-2018 school year, the average student’s total cost of attendance was $71,050.
However, Brown offers generous need-based financial aid to students whose families are unable to afford this high price tag. The university has also stopped requiring students to take out student loans and replaced that aid with grant funding that doesn’t need to be paid back later.
You should know that Brown’s financial aid is entirely need-based; Brown does not offer academic, athletic, or other merit-based scholarships. Your aid award will depend upon your family’s income, assets, and overall ability to contribute financially to your education.
Brown is located in Providence, Rhode Island, an East Coast city about an hour’s drive south of the larger metropolis of Boston. Providence offers many of the features of urban life, but its smaller size makes it less overwhelming than some cities can be, and it has a quirky culture all its own. It’s also accessible to many other major cities via plane, train, or car.
More specifically, most of Brown’s campus is nestled into the College Hill neighborhood of Providence, an area of the city that’s full of beautiful restored 18th- and 19th-century homes and historically significant architecture. College Hill itself towers over downtown Providence, offering great views, and is also home to the Rhode Island School of Design, which gives the neighborhood an artsy flair.
Academics and Popular Majors
The most popular majors at Brown are in the fields of economics, computer science, biology, political science, and entrepreneurship. Its computer science program is particularly well-known, and has produced some major figures in that field. Brown’s engineering department is also well-regarded, and was the first engineering program in the entire Ivy League.
Of course, these are far from the only areas of academic excellence at Brown. The school currently offers 80 different concentrations, their name for majors, including unusual options like Contemplative Studies, Science and Society, and Social Analysis and Research.
For students who are interested in becoming doctors and are considering combined BS/MD programs, Brown is home to the eight-year Program in Liberal Medical Education, or PLME. You can learn more about this small and selective program in our Ultimate Guide to Applying to the Brown University PLME Program.
Student Life and Activities
The creative and varied approach that Brown students take to their educational pursuits extends outside the classroom as well. The campus is home to a wide range of student groups and extracurricular activities, including cultural and religious organizations, service groups, and clubs devoted to every topic.
Brown is particularly known for its performing arts programs, and hosts performance opportunities from traditional a capella and theater groups to cutting-edge electronic and experimental musical groups. Even if you’re not interested in being on stage yourself, you’ll always find a concert or performance to attend.
When it comes to athletics, Brown’s teams particularly excel in rowing, soccer, football, and Ultimate Frisbee. You’ll also find many speaking engagements to attend on campus; student groups and academic departments bring luminaries in every field to the university to speak.
Brown is primarily a residential community. Students are required to live on campus for their first three years, and while some seniors receive permission to live off-campus, they’re in the minority.
Unlike some of its neighbors in the Ivy League, Brown does not have a residential college system; all first-years are housed together, and in subsequent years, students enter a campus-wide housing lottery. However, some special housing options, such as Greek and interest-based housing, are available.
Walking Through the Brown Admissions Process
Brown’s high profile and academic reputation make it a popular target for applicants. In recent years, the university has received over 30,000 applications per year. Since there’s only room for a fraction of these students, the acceptance rate is very low; the most recent figure available stood at 8.6% for the class of 2021, and in the past few years, it’s hovered around 9%.
With such a low acceptance rate, Brown should be considered a reach school for any applicant—there are simply too many qualified applicants for the university to accept all of them. Even students who are at the top academically may not be a good fit for Brown’s unusually open curriculum and academic culture, and might be turned down for this reason.
Who Gets Admitted to Brown?
As a top-tier college, Brown is looking for students who have demonstrated exceptional performance in and out of the classroom while in high school. However, given the competitiveness of the application process, performance alone is not enough. Applicants also need to show that they’ll bring something unique and positive to campus that will make the university a more interesting place.
As we’ve mentioned, Brown’s open curriculum presents a special challenge for prospective applicants. To be accepted to Brown, they’ll need to convince admissions officers that they’re self-motivated and open-minded enough to thrive in Brown’s academic culture. Successful Brown applicants tend to be those who wholeheartedly embrace the opportunities this particular campus environment offers.
Brown offers two application timelines: Early Decision (ED) and Regular Decision (RD). ED applications are due by November 1st, and applicants receive their admissions decisions by mid-December. RD applications are due by January 1st, and applicants hear back by late March or early April.
If you’re interested in applying early to Brown, keep in mind that Brown offers a binding Early Decision option, not an Early Action option. This means that if you apply to Brown early, you commit to attending if you’re accepted, and you’re expected to keep this commitment. For more information about what binding ED means for you, check out our post How to Decide Where to Apply Early.
How to Apply
Brown uses the Common Application, which we’ve covered in detail in our post A User’s Guide to the Common Application. Alongside the basic Common App, you’ll need to fill out Brown’s supplemental questions. You can take a sneak peek at the 2017-2018 Brown supplemental questions, including special questions asked of PLME applicants, in our post How to Write the Brown University and PLME Essays 2017-2018.
In addition to the Common App and supplement, you’ll need to provide your scores from the SAT with essay or ACT with writing. You’ll also submit your transcript, a school report and other forms provided by your school, and two recommendations from teachers in major academic subjects. Submitting SAT II scores is optional but recommended, as is completing an interview with a Brown alum in your area.
In its supplement, Brown asks you to specify which majors or fields you’re most interested in, but this choice is not binding and does not affect your chances of admission. However, if you indicate interest in certain STEM fields, you may be asked to submit an additional essay concerning your interest in that field.
Applying to a highly competitive college like Brown is a challenging process, but the rewards of attending an exciting college that’s a great fit for your personality and needs can change your life. It’s worth putting in the time to learn more about this and other colleges that have exceptional opportunities to offer.
Did this post pique your interest? This is just the beginning of the process. To find out more about life at Brown, the application process, and the most up-to-date Brown news, visit Brown’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions website.
For more of CollegeVine’s insight on Brown and its application, take a look at the following posts:
If you’re hoping to apply to Brown and similar colleges in the future, it’s never too early to start considering what you’ll need to get there. CollegeVine’s experienced mentors are here to help you identify your passions, set and meet goals, and prepare for the challenges of college application season. For more information about the services we offer, check out the CollegeVine Student Mentorship Program on our website.