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How to Write the Brandeis University Essays 2022-2023

Founded in 1948, Brandeis University is a private research university in Waltham, Massachusetts. The university has a liberal arts-focused curriculum and historically has ranked amongst the top fifty national universities. Since Brandeis is a competitive university, students hoping to secure a spot in the class of 2027 will need to write standout responses to the school’s supplemental prompts.


Brandeis University only has one required supplement for all applicants, and while that may come as a relief, it also means that more emphasis will be placed on how well-written and thorough that response is. International students and those hoping to be in Brandeis’ Transitional Year program will each have one more prompt to complete, and this guide will cover all prompts.


Read this Brandeis essay example to inspire your own writing.


Brandeis University Supplemental Essay Prompts


All Applicants


The Brandeis community is a diverse group of critical thinkers defined by their ability to dive deeper into their learning by questioning, analyzing, evaluating, creating, critiquing and seeking other perspectives. Share an example of how you have used your own critical thinking skills on a specific subject, project, idea or interest. (250 words)


International Students


What excites you the most about being an international student at Brandeis University? (250 words)


Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program Applicants


What makes you a good candidate for the Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program? (300-400 words)


Prompt 1

The Brandeis community is a diverse group of critical thinkers defined by their ability to dive deeper into their learning by questioning, analyzing, evaluating, creating, critiquing and seeking other perspectives. Share an example of how you have used your own critical thinking skills on a specific subject, project, idea or interest. (250 words)


This year, Brandeis is providing students with just one supplemental prompt, so it is imperative that you make it count. This prompt centers around the abstract idea of “critical thinking” so that must be your topic, but the avenue you choose to show off your critical thinking (i.e your subject, project, idea, or interest) is up to you.


This supplemental essay will be short, which means that your concept is important. First, consider what comes to mind when you think about “critical thinking.” Some simple questions to consider:


  • What have I been critical of in life?
  • What is something other people support that I am not so sure about?
  • When have I challenged the status quo?
  • When have I had to solve a problem in my environment and how did I solve that problem?


If a story comes to mind, start there! The goal of your short answer should be to tell admissions officers about either 1) your passion and aptitude for your field of study or 2) your background, personality, and values. 


Here are some examples of responses to this prompt that show the applicants’ commitments to their fields of study:


  • A student applying to Film, Television, and Interactive Media writing about the movie review blog that they started in middle school and have continued for five years. They watch a movie every Friday night, review (criticize!) it, and then use the lessons they learn when perfecting their own craft.
  • An English major with a passion for Victorian literature writing about how they used close reading and a queer literary lens to analyze the relationship between Jane and Helen in Jane Eyre. This student might draw on queer literary theory, homosocial and homosexual commentary from the classics, and their own personal experiences with and observations of queer relationships to shed new light on this traditional text.


With both these examples, keep in mind that your response is less about the what and more about the how. While your admissions reader may be interested in your movie blog or your experience with Jane Eyre, they’re really looking to see how you used critical thinking skills to expand upon your interests. 


Since you only have 250 words to work with, spend only about a third of those describing your interest, and then the last two-thirds discussing how they employed critical thinking skills. Using these examples, perhaps you write about an experience on-set or in your own writing that made you call back to some of the movies you’ve watched for the blog. Or with the Jane Eyre example, discuss how thinking about the novel through the lens of queer literature allowed you to make conclusions outside of the classroom.


Here are some examples of responses to this prompt that show the applicants’ identities, values, and perspectives:


  • A student who is very involved in a BLM activism group writing about a time when they challenged their group’s attitude. They noticed others in the community describing members as angry and mean, instead of passionate and empowered. The student held a meeting with their group’s leadership team and emphasized the importance of maintaining a positive reputation if they wanted to achieve their goals. Then, things changed!
  • A student who worked at the same pizza joint throughout high school writing about how over the years they noticed that the business’s marketing was not reaching the younger demographic. They provided constructive feedback to the joint’s owner. The owner valued their attention to detail and promoted them!


If you are stuck for ideas, you can work backward and think about what you want to tell admissions officers about you, then come up with an example from your life that tells them that, while weaving in critical thinking.


You can think critically about anything—that’s part of what this prompt is hinting at. Instead of using a particular story or anecdote to show your critical thinking skills, you could use your 250 words to reflect or muse on something that you aren’t sure your opinions on or a topic where you see “both sides to the story.”


Some topics that students could reflect on:


  • Balancing Eastern and Western values – we can learn lessons from both!
  • Applications of the grief process in diverse aspects of life (failure, moving, learning)
  • The best and worst aspects of the private education system – everything in life is a trade-off!


It’s okay to stretch the definition of critical thinking—and, if well-executed, stretching this prompt might even help you demonstrate your critical thinking skills! Just start thinking, commenting, criticizing, and questioning, and your writing will follow. Also, the more connected you feel to your chosen topic, the more it will likely connect with your admissions reader. Passion is contagious, so be sure the topic you choose is one you are genuinely interested in or have experience with.


That being said, you can take a strong stance or you can vulnerably admit your ambivalence. You can tell a story or you can reflect on something random. You can reference the thoughts of others or just describe a critical spiral in your own mind. This prompt is ripe with opportunity!


International Students

What excites you the most about being an international student at Brandeis University? (250 words)


Essentially, this prompt asks, why do you want to attend Brandeis as an international student? Brandeis prides itself on its diversity and wants to continue enriching university culture with different perspectives. As an international student, your admissions reader wants to know why you most want to be a part of that community and bring your perspective to Brandeis. In other words, it’s close to a standard “Why This College” essay with an international twist, meaning a lot of the same advice applies.


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 why you want to attend Brandeis, but what makes you most excited to be there. 


Think about how your life experiences so far can contribute to the overall Brandeis community and how you feel as though your perspective will be represented on campus.


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 share that you feel as though you can provide a primary-source perspective on how locals view the issues in question and that you know that perspective has a place at Brandeis, which places a lot of emphasis on International Studies, both domestically and abroad. You can also write about how Brandeis would provide you with a home base to conduct your studies of globalization, and that the importance that Brandeis places in interning and studying internationally would allow you to continue your understanding of the globe.


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, and how learning about the American market at Brandeis through such a specialized program would give you important insight that your peers at home may not have. 


Or, if you are a future Studio Art or Theatre Major, you can share how you’re excited to share your country’s folklore through the art you complete through the program. You can get specific about what your country’s culture, art, or history may look like as well as note exactly what programs you’re excited to participate in. For instance, you can write about how you’re excited to showcase your work in Brandeis’ 10-day Festival of Creative Arts, and bring your culture to an American audience.


But what you may be most excited about may also be outside 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, how you addressed them, and how Brandeis offers a plethora of opportunities to continue helping women, such as Brandeis’ chapter of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, and the International Business Women Leadership and Networking group. Remember, don’t just name drop – do thorough research on these organizations and write about why they excite you.


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 admissions committee how you will are excited to foster a better understanding of your belief system among your peers. Alternatively, if you find that your faith is not well represented at Brandeis, tell the admissions committee how Brandeis’ spirit of diversity and inclusivity makes you excited to bring your religion to start your own organization to bring together a new community of people and educate the rest of the student body about your beliefs.


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 it is 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 write about your excitement to share your perspective with your classmates and discuss 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 excitements you have together to form one cohesive essay. For example, you can first delineate how you are excited to provide insight into your country’s domestic policy in the classroom and then pivot to your plans for joining Brandeis’ Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance to piggyback off your previous experience in your home country. Just remember to ground your response in the unique perspective that your origins will allow you to share with other students!


Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program Applicants

What makes you a good candidate for the Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program? (300-400 words)


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 admissions committee 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 peanuts, 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 admissions committee, 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 an 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 testament to your leadership qualities. You need not have been a part of an after-school program or a community service organization; leadership doesn’t need to occur in a formal setting. If you’ve helped or pushed others to reach a goal, then you’ve 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. 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 pursue. Tell the program admissions committee 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 relevant 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 this College?” 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.


Where to Get Your Brandeis University Essays Edited for Free


Do you want feedback on your Brandeis essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 


If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school.


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