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Brown University 2020-21 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

Regular Decision: 

Brown University 2020-21 Application Essay Question Explanations

The Requirements: essays of 250 words; 1 essay of 150 words

Supplemental Essay Type(s): Why, Community, Activity


Brown’s Open Curriculum allows students to explore broadly while also diving deeply into their academic pursuits. Tell us about an academic interest (or interests) that excites you, and how you might use the Open Curriculum to pursue it.

This prompt sounds easy enough: describe what you want to study and why you like it — but not so fast. Since Brown has an open curriculum, you need to not only show that you have some direction, but also the ability to explore and cross-reference new subjects to inform your studies. First things first: the Open Curriculum, a.k.a. the requirement-less Holy Grail coveted by many applicants. 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. Is it because of the way you hope to study your topic of choice? Is it because greater flexibility will help you manage a learning difference? While you might be tempted to get technical or poetic, this essay will be more personal and memorable if you can share a story. 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 PEMDAS 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.

At Brown, you will learn as much from your peers outside the classroom as in academic spaces. How will you contribute to the Brown community?

How will you fit within the Brown community, a.k.a. the student body and alumni network? You’ve probably answered this question in some shape or form elsewhere, but your response to this question should be deeply tied to your hopes for your experience at Brown, specifically. 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?) You only have 250 words, so make sure to be succinct!

Tell us about a place or community you call home. How has it shaped your perspective? (250 words)

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. 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.

Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences.

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.

We also made a guide for the Common App essay prompts!
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