How to Write the Brown University Application Essays 2015-2016
(Note: this post has been updated for the 2016-2017 application cycle. To view the updated post, click here.)
Brown University is often called the happiest school in the country, mostly due to its peaceful student body and reportedly less competitive environment. The university is located in the heart of Providence, Rhode Island, a mid-sized but extremely safe and friendly city in the Northeast.
However, Brown’s top-notch academics, social environment, and location have made it an extremely desirable school to apply and thus an extremely competitive one. Like many schools, Brown’s core supplement consists of three short essay prompts, however because they have a word limit of just 150 words (200 in the case of Why Brown), it is almost impossible to write a well fleshed out and multi-faceted essay. This doesn’t mean that our standard advice about using short essay prompts in concert with each other to create a portfolio of essays doesn’t apply. Rather it means that each essay must be highly specific, and that using vehicles and unconventional formats (like detailed anecdotes) is more difficult, though certainly not impossible.
Short Essay Prompts
Why are you drawn to the area(s) of study you indicated in our Member Section, earlier in this application? If you are “undecided” or not sure which Brown concentrations match your interests, consider describing more generally the academic topics or modes of thought that engage you currently. (150 word limit)
While a “Why Major” essay would normally require you to specifically address the reasons you chose the major, the qualifications you possess for that major, and the reasons you like Brown’s program of study for that major, because you only have 150 words, you should pick just one of these aspects to highlight. Specific details about Brown are only required if you plan on addressing why Brown’s (for example Mathematics) program appeals to you. Otherwise, you should focus on more intrinsic factors such as why you want to study math (ideally more than just for career reasons), why you enjoy doing math, or why you’re qualified to study math at Brown. For example, you could point to your favorite type of math, and briefly analyze why it appeals to you. Alternatively, you could discuss an extracurricular activity (such as Math League) that introduced you to the joys of competitive math. If by some chance you can’t come up with a specific major to discuss, then your essay should focus on the opportunities that Brown offers you. In particular, you should look to highlight Brown’s liberal arts curriculum, as well as the academic flexibility it offers to students.
Why Brown? (100 word limit)
“Why Brown” is a similar prompt to most other “Why School” essays, however with just 100 words to work with, the essay is in the awkward position of being too short to develop a fully fleshed out essay with some sort of vehicle, but too long to be a short consideration of one specific characteristic of the school. Things that you definitely want to highlight in your essay include Brown’s emphasis on learning (versus output, i.e. grades), the collaborative spirit of the student body, and the school’s academic flexibility. However, if you highlight these factors during a general response to the major prompt, then you should do some research on the school to find other things to highlight.
Tell us where you have lived – and for how long – since you were born; whether you’ve always lived in the same place, or perhaps in a variety of places. (100 word limit)
Regardless of whether you’ve moved around a lot or stayed in the same town your entire life, this question allows you to reveal some key insights about yourself. If your family moves often, you can use take this prompt as an opportunity to explain your adaptive personality and how you deal with unfamiliar situations. Or, instead of focusing on the experience of changing between locations, you can also discuss the impact of each individual place on you — how has each location contributed to who you are today? For example, maybe your disparate experiences with living in rural China and then metropolitan New York have played a large role in shaping your unique outlook on life.
If you’ve always lived in the same place, then fear not — there’s an opportunity to shine here as well. You can discuss the impact on your life of the location that you currently reside in. People are often products of their environments — how has your environment made you who you are today? Be careful not to overlap your answer with the next essay’s, though. Since the next question asks about a community that you come from, if you are not careful you might end up discussing similar concepts, resulting in a “waste” of an answer opportunity.
One unique angle to approach this question is to interpret the phrase “where you have lived” in a different way. Most students will assume that Brown is asking about the times that your family has moved to a new location, a la moving trucks and new apartments/houses; however, you can also interpret it to mean the different spaces that you have occupied. For example, maybe you’ve shared a bedroom with your older brother for as long as you can remember, but one day you moved into a new room by yourself — you could potentially use this situation as a launching pad for discussing the importance you place on independence. Or maybe you’ve always considered yourself to have multiple homes away from home. Especially if you possess a very strong extracurricular passion to back this interpretation up, you might want to talk about how you considered yourself to “live” in the local community center, the museum, or the art studio. Again, if you find yourself writing answers unable to write answers that don’t overlap with the next prompt, then thinking outside of the box might help here.
We all exist within communities or groups of various sizes, origins, and purposes; pick one and tell us why it is important to you, and how it has shaped you. (150 word limit)
This prompt is very similar to the background one for the Common App, and you should highlight a different community/group that you belong to if you chose that prompt for the Common App. While you may be tempted to discuss your ethnicity or nationality in response to this prompt, it is difficult to do so without drawing on clichéd themes because of the 150 word limit. Instead, you should probably draw on an extracurricular activity, friend group, or family. When you consider this group, the focus should be primarily on explaining the group’s impact on you. You should only spend one or two sentences explaining the group – the remainder of the essay should talk about interactions with the group and analyze them.
Brown – RISD Dual Program
In choosing to apply for the Brown-RISD A.B./B.F.A. dual degree program, your interests and future plans will be influenced and enhanced by the courses offered by both colleges. We are curious as to why you have chosen to apply for this specific dual degree program; please tell us your reasons for selecting it, and what you envision as its impact on your education and career. (500 word limit)
The Brown – RISD program is designed to give students an opportunity to blend a Brown undergraduate education with the artistic majors and options available at the Rhode Island School of Design. You should have a very clear interdisciplinary artistic academic or career goal in mind with this essay—just describing a general interest in art and another subject is not specific enough for the program. Since one of the short essay prompts asks you about your choice of major already, your primary focus should be on the artistic field you plan to study at RISD and the interdisciplinary application therein. While the prompt simply asks for your reasons for selection, the admissions committees also want to know about your qualifications for the program, and with that in mind, you should include some reference to relevant experience (whether extracurricular or in school) that will simultaneously serve as a reason and qualification for your application.
The Program in Liberal Medical Education (Both questions are required; please limit your response to each question to 500 words.)
Most high school seniors are unsure about eventual career choices. What experiences have led you to consider medicine as your future profession? Please describe specifically why you have chosen to apply to the Program in Liberal Medical Education in pursuit of your career in medicine. Also, be sure to indicate your rationale on how the PLME is a “good fit” for your personal, academic, and future professional goals. (Please limit your response to this question to 500 words.)
This is a pretty standard “why medicine” prompt which means that you should use many of the same tactics as you would for that type of essay (see our guide to 7-year med programs here). But to provide a brief rehash, in order to convey why a guaranteed admissions program is a good “fit” for your goals, there are few different things you need to discuss. First, you need to discuss why you are qualified for medicine; namely what sort of extracurricular activities did you do in high school that were related to medicine, whether tangentially or directly. More specifically, you want to convey your abilities in two key areas: the scientific side of medicine (i.e. the ability to understand and cure diseases), and the humanistic side of medicine (the ability to connect with patients and care for them). Patient care experience is a big plus for this part of the essay, and experiences such as volunteering at a nursing home or shadowing a physician are great enhancers. In the process of outlining your qualifications, be sure to discuss why you enjoy each of those two facets of medicine. The final thing you want to address is why specifically an accelerated program. Simply saying that you want to save time (the real reason for many applicants) can backfire. Instead, if you have an application with lots of medical and science extracurricular activities, you can speak about why those activities solidified your desire to do medicine. Otherwise, if your resume is more balanced, you can resort to saying that you are committed to medicine because you already spent high school exploring other fields.
Since the Program in Liberal Medical Education espouses a broad-based liberal education, please describe your fields of interest in both the sciences and the liberal arts. Be specific about what courses and aspects of the program will be woven into a potential educational plan. (Please limit your response to this question to 500 words.)
Brown’s PLME is unique in that it is one of few guaranteed admission medical programs that offers students the opportunity to blend liberal arts with the science heavy curriculum of most medical programs. Accordingly, they want to see that you have some significant connection with and interest in liberal arts fields while applying to the program. You should definitely do some research on the specifics of Brown’s PLME. Be sure to highlight specific research or academic opportunities in your essay, and even drill down into specific courses if you can find ones that meet your needs. Beyond the academics of the program, you should also highlight some sort of humanistic question or skill you are trying to develop. In particular, given the complexity of modern medicine, outlining a desire to learn about fields like medical economics or medical ethics could be extremely beneficial.
With these tips, you should be well on your way to writing the perfect Brown Supplement. Best of luck from the Admissions Hero team!
For more help, feel free to reach out to work 1-on-1 with one of Admissions Hero’s trained Brown essay specialists.
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