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Can Good Essays Make a Difference When Applying to Brown?

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:



Essays Can Be Tiebreakers Between Applicants


In college admissions, especially at highly selective institutions, essays are often tiebreakers between applicants. Brown University has a large number of applicants, just like any Ivy League school in the US, with roughly four to five equally qualified applicants for every spot available. Applicants may have comparable academics, test scores, and extracurriculars, so admissions committees end up with a pool of applicants with similar profiles. 


As a result, essays are often how admissions committees differentiate and sort through the large number of qualified applicants. Essays provide context to an applicant’s background, environment, and values. 


As you write your essays for Brown, try to show the admissions officers a good reason that they should admit you instead of the four or five roughly identical students. Ideally, you want them to empathize with you, feel like they know you, and be actively rooting for you. This is why it’s so important to establish personal qualities within your essays—it turns you into a real person and provides essential context to your application. Additionally, if you have any circumstances that have made your admissions journey more difficult, essays can be a great way to show that.


Understand the “Human Factor” in Admissions


Impacts of Politics and Religion on Admissions


As you think about your essays, it is crucial to understand how the “human factor” plays into admissions. The main goal of your essays is to encourage admissions officers to root for you, but keep in mind that their personal circumstances and history are going to affect how they read your essays. Different admissions officers will read your essays with different levels of context, familiarity, and sympathy. Factors like politics and religion can also affect how they read your essays, so be sure to demonstrate your alignment with Brown’s specific mission and culture. 


For example, Brown is a generally liberal school, and it could make it harder for you to get admitted if you write about your involvement in a more conservative extracurricular activity, such as being the president of your statewide chapter of Students for Life. Even if you demonstrate leadership with that activity, it might not be something that the admissions officer personally agrees with. If you have an activity or experience that may not align with the school’s values, consider framing it in a way that speaks to their mission so they can appreciate it even if they might disagree.


Admissions Officers’ State of Mind and Emotions


One more thing to note is that an admissions officer’s state of mind or emotions at the time of reading your essay can affect their interpretation of it. For example, if an admissions officer from UCLA has to drive through LA traffic every day to get to work and they get cut off on their way, that could put them in a bad mood when they read applications. While this is an extreme example, it is essential to understand that to some degree, admissions decisions are up to chance. Ultimately and especially for admissions to highly selective schools like Brown, you will need the stars to align for you in a way that goes beyond aptitude to get admitted.


Think About the Brown Essays as a Portfolio


As with all college essays, you want to consider the Brown essays as a portfolio. Your essays and short answers need to work together, so anything that you mention in one essay shouldn’t be repeated in another. Each essay should provide a complementary aspect of your story. 


It might help to think of your portfolio as a television show. If a show has multiple characters, there may be whole episodes focusing on each one to demonstrate their journey. Your essays can be like different “episodes” demonstrating the various sides of yourself, but with the summation of all your essays ultimately being stronger than any specific essay on its own.


Additionally, if you write your common app essay about a topic like your intended major or an idea that you find fascinating, this can cause you issues down the line, as you will most likely have to repeat yourself in your Brown supplemental essays. Keep in mind the supplemental essays prompts that you will have for Brown and other colleges as you decide on your common app personal statement topic. Otherwise, you may end up repeating yourself in multiple essays and leaving out other important information.