How to Write the Brandeis University Essays 2019-2020
Brandeis University is a private liberal arts institution located in Waltham, Massachusetts. Brandeis consistently ranks within the top fifty national universities according to the US News and World Report and has a top-ranked men’s soccer team.
Brandeis accepted only 31% of its 11,798 applicants during the 2018-2019 application cycle. It’s clear that students will need more than solid test scores to stand out to the admissions committee. Well-written essays allow students to show how they will be a good fit at Brandeis University.
Applicants need to complete one of three brief supplemental prompts in addition to their common application essay. International students need to complete an additional supplement. Students enrolling in the BA/MA Program in International Economics and Finance, or the Brandeis Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program will also need to complete an additional supplement. Want to know your chances at Brandeis? Calculate your chances for free right now.
All Applicants – Select One of Three Prompts
This prompt follows the “Why School?” format that will become familiar to you as you continue the college application process. Your response should focus on unique aspects of Brandeis that you are unlikely to find at other universities. Try to choose one academic and non-academic Brandeis-related interest to demonstrate a holistic desire to attend the school.
For example, if you want to study business at Brandeis, you could discuss the partnership between Brandeis International Business School and the College of Arts and Sciences. You could then explain why you are interested in a humanities-based education to better understand the business world. If you want to study social psychology and stereotyping, you could discuss your desire to work as a research assistant in a specific professor’s lab that interests you.
You should also discuss non-academic reasons for wanting to attend Brandeis. What student organizations would you like to get involved in during your time at the school? What Brandeis traditions resonate with you? For example, maybe you want to participate Bad Grammer (sic), a short-form action improv comedy group, as you were a member of the improv group at your high school. Connecting your current activities to your intended extracurriculars will help establish a deeper interest and credibility. Brandeis has over 260 student-run clubs and organizations, so you should be able to find at least one that interests you.
The Jewish community opened Brandeis in 1948 in response to the discrimination faced by women and minorities within the higher education system. Today, Brandeis prides itself on its rich history of trailblazing. This prompt asks you to explain how you would contribute to the Brandeis tradition of social progress.
The first step to answering this prompt is identifying an issue. While detail is usually beneficial, do not be so specific that there is a clear solution. Your issue should be broad enough to impact a wide range of society. Selecting a change that others may believe is impossible to achieve is crucial to answering this prompt.
For example, maybe your town has a food desert, and you think that starting a community garden might be a solution, or convincing a supermarket chain to build in your town. While this task is admirable and important, it does not embody the wide-scale nature of this question. However, you could write about your desire to end food deserts in rural communities throughout America instead.
This prompt primarily focuses on how you would implement change. Try to give as specific answers as possible within the context of a broad problem. For example, if you want to end food deserts, you could talk about using novel technology such as Amazon drones to receive fresh produce. You could also discuss using modern avenues such as social media to raise awareness on the issue.
This prompt allows you to demonstrate your self-reflection and personal growth. Topic choice is crucial to successfully answering this prompt. Avoid sensitive or controversial subjects like alcohol use to avoid isolating your reader.
Although it is tempting to choose a deep, philosophical subject, it is not necessary to successfully answer the question at hand. A meaningful explanation of an everyday thought showcases your creativity and writing ability. For example, writing about your recent support for your student newspaper could become more meaningful if you explained how you grew to understand the importance of a community voice.
The structure of this question lends itself to a longitudinal narrative structure. Begin your essay by establishing your initial belief, then transition into the events that changed your mind. Conclude your essay by reiterating your new belief and explaining how these events changed your mind.
For example, you could begin your essay why you initially found your school newspaper to be a waste of time because it did not report on major events. However, you could then describe how the newspaper’s coverage of a hot-topic community forum event helped change your mind. You could end your essay by explaining how the coverage made you realize the importance of a community voice. Maybe you now buy the newspaper weekly, and you’ve even contributed an op-ed!
Required for International Students Only
Essentially, this prompt asks, what can you contribute? Brandeis prides itself on its diversity and wants to continue enriching university culture with different perspectives. As an international student, you can share unique experiences and insights with your fellow classmates, and the prompt wants to you to give the admissions committee a taste of what those insights may be.
Before answering this prompt, you need to do your research. Read up on the major you’re planning to pursue, learn about student organizations that exist on campus, and figure out how you can get involved in campus life. Whichever angle you choose for your response, make sure to reference something specific to Brandeis, whether that’s a club you are eager to join, an accelerated BA/MA business program that perfectly suits your academic goals, or the university’s commitment to volunteering and tracking service hours that inspires you.
When it comes to planning your response—a brief 250 words total—you need to first realize that the question does not simply ask how you will get involved at the university. It wants you to emphasize your international perspective.
Think about how your life experiences so far can contribute to enhancing Americans’ perspective on the world, on your culture, and on any socio-economic, or political issues.
For example, if you are pursuing International and Global Studies, you can write about having lived abroad in the regions you will be discussing in class. You can provide a primary-source perspective on how locals view the issues in question, and the nuances that locals care about that may not be considered in the American curriculum. This gives you a different angle through which to debate pressing policy issues with your American peers. Perhaps your experience studying history and politics in high school in a different language will allow you to provide a different lens on your country’s diplomatic relationship with the U.S.
If you are planning to work toward the accelerated BA/MA business degree that Brandeis offers, you can discuss your country of origin’s economic system and fundamental financial practices, as well as the feasibility and potential benefits of such if applied to the American market.
If you are a future Studio Art or Theatre Major, you can show how your country’s folklore serves as an inspiration for your work. By sharing images, color schemes, and design philosophies from your native culture with Brandeis students, you can foster collaboration and create unique art or performance pieces that would not be possible otherwise.
If you want to focus on your contributions beyond the classroom, spend some time perusing the extracurricular offerings at Brandeis. Perhaps you were heavily involved in your local women’s rights advocacy club back in high school in Taiwan. Write about the challenges you faced in trying to change the perception of women as homemakers that is ingrained in the local culture, and how you addressed them.
If religion and spirituality are important to you, see if you can find an organization that practices your faith. Talk about the way your religion’s practices vary from country to country, and the specificities that your country brings to worship. Tell the adcom how you will foster a better understanding of your belief system among your peers. Alternatively, if you find that your faith is not well represented at Brandeis, describe your aspirations to start your own organization to bring together a new community of people and educate the rest of the student body about your beliefs. Remember that Brandeis was founded on the spirit of inclusivity!
Is your culture represented on campus? Brandeis sports a variety of cultural societies, from the German Club to the Taiwanese Student Association. Do other students who hail from your country of origin have a place to come together and promote their culture? If not, think about creating such a space! You can frame your aspirations in terms of multicultural understanding and dialogue and share some ideas you may have for spreading your culture on campus—whether through film screenings, dinners, or anything else that strikes your fancy.
Perhaps you come from a country where journalists are marginalized and free press stifled. You may wish to join a media organization on campus to let your voice be heard and to advocate for the maintenance of free speech in the United States. You can educate your classmates about the importance of giving everyone an opportunity to voice their opinions and beliefs by grounding it in your own experiences at home.
Although you don’t have a lot of room in your response, don’t be afraid to combine the various academic and extracurricular aspirations you have together to form one cohesive essay. For example, you can first delineate the new insights you will provide for your country’s domestic policy in the classroom, pivot to your plans for joining Brandeis’ Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance to introduce the organization to the gender issues your country of origin faces specifically. Just remember to ground your response in the unique perspective that your origins will allow you to share with other students!
Applicants to BA/MA Program in International Economics and Finance Only
Students enrolled in the BA/MA Program in International Economics and Finance undertake a serious five-year commitment. As a result, your essay should clearly convey your passion for economics and finance and reaffirm your dedication to the five-year program.
Your response should focus on the hands-on nature of the joint BA/MA degree. How do you believe that focusing on real world problems with actual clients will benefit your career? For example, would working with clients help you gain consulting experience? Would access to the state-of-the-art technology in the Bloomberg Lab help prepare you for a future career in data analytics?
You should also relate your decision to participate in the BA/MA program to your career goals. Discuss one of the BA/MA’s five concentrations and how a specialization would help to fully prepare you for your career. In addition to various practical experiences, how would your coursework provide you with a theoretical base for your applied learning? How will student-run organizations help you practice your skills from class?
For example, a marketing specialization could explain how classes in consumer behavior would allow them to better understand their target audience. They could also discuss how a capstone project would allow them to put these skills into action.
Applicants to the Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program Only
The Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program (TYP) is an important manifestation of the university’s commitment to social justice, founded in 1968. Each year 20 students are selected among approximately 200 applicants.
According to the program mission statement found on the Brandeis website, the Myra Kraft TYP “is targeted toward students who have developed the skills for college success by practicing leadership in their life experiences.” Typical participants in the Myra Kraft TYP have not had the opportunity to participate in rigorous academic programs such as AP and IB courses while in high school. This program enables these students to enroll in small classes with strong academic support and challenging coursework, and to explore new possibilities in their lives.
The Myra Kraft TYP offers exclusive academic opportunities in writing, quantitative reasoning, science, social science and computer science. Students take a combination of undergraduate courses at Brandeis and non-credit-bearing courses designed for the college level.
The key criteria that the program is looking for in its applicants are:
- Showing determination and focus in difficult circumstances
- Demonstrating leadership potential practiced in life experiences
- Commitment to the pursuit of a postsecondary education
In crafting your response to the program prompt, you want to make sure that the necessary qualities above shine through on your application. This prompt gives you the opportunity to show the adcom why you would be a good fit for the program by highlighting your academic and leadership potential.
Don’t worry if you are someone who lacks the conventional list of extracurricular activities and leadership roles. In fact, the Myra Kraft TYP is looking for unconventional students who show promise and potential despite lacking the resources to pursue their interests in high school. When responding to the prompt, think about the character you have developed in high school while challenging yourself to push for higher academic success despite not receiving adequate support to do so. How will this grit you have cultivated help you succeed in college?
Below you will find some ideas for how you can best exemplify the above program criteria and discuss them in your essay.
Determination and Focus
If you are someone who had to take on caretaker duties in your family, such as looking after younger siblings or grandparents while your parents work, you can detail this experience in your response. Highlight the time-management hurdles you encountered while trying to balance your schoolwork and your household duties, and show the adcom what you have learned through this experience.
For example, you could describe how your study time was compromised because your sister with peanut allergy accidentally ingested peanut, and you had to take her to the emergency room. Despite your lack of sleep and underpreparedness, you made sure to catch up on the material you missed, so though you did not do well in the quiz the next day, you still aced the final exam. What did this experience teach you? What quality or strength did this train you to have?
If you had to work while in high school in order to provide for yourself or contribute to your family’s income, write about this in your response. Your ability to take on adult responsibilities while remaining a full-time student at such a young age will undoubtedly impress the adcom, even if your grades may have not been optimal as a result. In fact, describing your commitments beyond the classroom will help to justify your academic performance, if necessary, and make you a stronger candidate for the program.
If you or your family are migrants, fleeing poverty, war, or another hardship, this prompt is a fantastic opportunity for you to relate your experience to the program admissions. Tell the story of how your life has been affected by the turmoil in your environment, and highlight your determination to receive a quality education in spite of it.
For instance, if you have been unable to attend school for long periods of time due to political or economic instability but continued to read and study independently, write about your motivation and explain what drove you to push forward.
Leadership Practiced in Life Experiences
Leadership does not always mean becoming the captain of a sports team or the president of a school club. Leadership potential can shine through in your daily life.
If you had to be a role model for your younger siblings, and guide them through school as your parents were absent, you have shown leadership potential. Discuss all the tasks you performed while caring for your siblings, all the lessons you’ve taught them, and all the guidance you’ve provided. This can be as small as teaching your younger brother to play basketball or helping your sister with homework every day.
In a similar vein, if you are someone who comes from an underprivileged community, and you have taken the time to mentor younger kids in your school or neighborhood, then that is also a highlight your leadership qualities. You need not have been a part of an after-school program or a community service organization; leadership does not need to occur in a formal setting. If you have helped or pushed others to reach a goal or complete a task that they needed to, then you have demonstrated the kinds of qualities the Myra Kraft program is looking for in its cohort.
Commitment to the Pursuit of Education
Even if you are someone who lacked access to rigorous coursework, you can still underscore your commitment to higher education in your response.
Think about any interests you have. Have you ever taken the time to research a particular topic you were passionate about? Have you sought out a film screening or an exhibit on something that interests you? Perhaps you frequent the local natural sciences museums because you have always been curious about geology or evolutionary biology. Maybe you never miss an independent film showing in your town because your aspiration is to become a movie director or a set designer in the future. Or are you an avid reader who has read a myriad of political autobiographies in hopes of learning the skills needed to one day lead your community as its mayor or Congressman? Any initiative you have shown beyond the classroom to educate yourself and broaden your horizons is evidence of your passion for education and your desire to keep learning.
Another approach to tackling this portion of your response is to browse the Myra Kraft TYP course offerings found here. Think about the ways that these classes will advance your interests and how the skills you develop there will help you in your future academic career. Read the descriptions carefully and try to connect the offered courses to the academic interests you already have or knowledge you have always wanted, but have been unable, to learn. Tell the program adcom that participating in this program will enable you to remain intellectually stimulated and to discover new subjects and disciplines you have never encountered before. Be sure to reference the offered courses directly – this will show the committee that you have thoroughly researched the program and are committed to participating if accepted.
As you think about these three key aspects of a Myra Kraft TYP student, remember that the core purpose of this prompt is to understand why you want to be a part of this group of students. Think of this as any other “Why College X?” essay you may have written. Your response should be well-researched, referencing specific aspects of the program that appeal to you and the opportunities it presents to each cohort. Of course, it should also demonstrate why you—with your past experiences, your values and skills—would be a good fit for the program.
Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
Want more college essay tips?
We'll send them straight to your inbox.