The Requirements: 4 essays ranging from 150-250 words each
This prompt sounds easy enough: describe what you want to study and why you like it. Not so fast. Since Brown has an open curriculum (the topic of the next question), you need to show that you have some direction even if you’re undecided. While you might be tempted to get technical or poetic, this essay will be more personal and memorable if you can share a story. There’s a big hint inside the parentheses. By telling the story of how you gained a valuable (to you) skill or struggled with a gripping intellectual challenge, you will demonstrate a personal relationship to your chosen area of study or broader interest. What excites you and why? When was the last time you got drawn down a Wikipedia rabbit hole – and what was the topic? While you don’t need to recount the unabridged origin story of your interest, try to zero in on some formative experience: the best book you ever read, the first time you spoke French to an actual French person, that one time when you used math in the real world! The concrete detail of your story will not only make the case for your genuine interest in an obscure or challenging topic, but also stick in the memory of your application reader when decision time rolls around.
This prompt is a double whammy. It’s asking about your goals for attending Brown, which is a veiled why question, as well as what you will contribute to the community! First things first: The Open Curriculum, a.k.a. the requirement-less Holy Grail coveted by many applicants. Cleverly, Brown has specifically mentioned the curriculum in the prompt itself to push applicants deeper. It’s not enough to say, “I want to go to Brown because of its uniquely flexible curriculum.” You need to explore exactly how this curriculum – among Brown’s many other assets – will benefit you specifically. Good research is the key to any good why essay because demonstrating deep knowledge of the school shows admissions how much you care. Also, as you know, the more specific details you harness, the more unique and personal your essay will be. That said, this essay is a bit trickier than your average research report because you also have to get introspective. What makes the Brown Curriculum right for you, a unique human? Is it because of the way you hope to study your topic of choice? (Oh, and aren’t you glad you didn’t talk about this above?) Or is it because greater flexibility will help you manage a learning difference? Maybe it’s just because you want to embrace the full range of intellectual possibilities at Brown. No matter what you say, be sure to also show what you’re talking about in the school-specific details you mention: the eclectic mix of classes you hope to take or the student groups that will foster and support your learning.
As you drill into your unique reasons for choosing an open curriculum, you’ll also be demonstrating your uniqueness as a person. Ahoy! The perfect springboard into a description of your fit within the Brown community, a.k.a. the student body and alumni network. Your response to this part of the question should be deeply tied to your hopes for your experience at Brown. Do you hope Brown’s Open Curriculum will allow you to explore your varied interests, like the connection between the mind and the body, and introduce your peers to the wonders of dance therapy? Are you hoping to fuse your passion for culinary arts and world history by creating a club in which members gather together to cook and enjoy cuisines from all over the world and throughout time? (And can we join?)
What are they really asking here? This prompt is deceptively straightforward. If Brown had simply wanted to know where you have lived, they could have asked you to submit a list of towns or schools you attended. Why devote 250 words to the answer? Brown wants to know what is important to you: what, where, or who you hold close to your heart. The admissions department even wrote in the prompt that “home” doesn’t have to be a physical place. What’s home to you and why is it special to you? Is it the camp you’ve been going to every summer since you were seven? Is it your local LGBTQ group that supported you through the coming out process? Is it anywhere with a roof and running water, because being a member of a military family taught you how to be resilient and be at home anywhere? Give the admissions department at Brown some insight into what you hold dear.
Surprise! We bet you didn’t see this sneaky question when you were first browsing through the Brown writing questions on the Common App. That’s because it’s one of the hidden prompts that we warn you about in our Common App tutorial. This prompt will ambush you in the “Activity” section of your Brown application, but don’t worry, the prompt itself isn’t all that surprising. Activity essays like this one are pretty common and really are as straightforward as they seem. The trickiest part is usually selecting the activity you want to talk about. So, we return to our favorite mantra: tell admissions something they couldn’t learn elsewhere. If you wrote your Common App essay about your tenure as captain of the basketball team, for this prompt you should focus on a different (ideally non-athletic) activity that shows a different side of who you are. This can be a great opportunity to highlight your leadership skills and any accolades you may have received as a result of participating in a particular activity. Did you win a community service award? Now is a great time to elaborate on your work. No matter what you choose, it should probably be something you’ve been involved in for a while, so you can demonstrate your growth and the impact that you have had on others.