The Requirements: 3 essays of 250 words; 1 essay of 150 words
This prompt sounds simple 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 show that you have not only 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 adapted to a learning 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 a formative experience: the best book you’ve 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 topics that are unfamiliar to you (as of yet), but also stick in the memory of your application reader when decision time rolls around.
Engaging others in meaningful conversations about important issues can be daunting. It can also be insightful or, unfortunately, polarizing. Brown wants to know about a time when you were challenged by a perspective that differed from your own. So, think back to identify a time when you had a conversation with friends, family, or even mere acquaintances that offered you a new lens through which to view a topic or issue. Maybe you were introduced to multiple new perspectives all at once when you visited family members overseas. How did you respond? Were you able to hear their side? Were you able to effectively communicate yours? If you were to have the conversation again, what would you do or say differently?
In order to impress admissions, you need to show that you’re open-minded and committed to lifelong learning. Brown doesn’t expect you to possess the wisdom and life experience of someone thrice your age, but this Ivy League does hope that you will take opportunities to gain insight into the lives and minds of others. Brown University will present you with the chance to meet and engage with people who are very different from you, so show admissions that you’re game to have the hard talks.
Try not to overthink your response to this question. Admissions even goes so far as to say that the focal point of your response can be big or small. So, go with your gut. Maybe, you love watching the sunset on your grandmother’s porch over a pitcher of lemonade and a game of checkers. Or, perhaps, you want to tell admissions about the look on your sister’s face everytime you agree to a custom makeover (neon eyeshadows only). If you want to write about something bigger, maybe it’s the app you’re building to help people find volunteer opportunities in their community or the scientific discovery you made last spring. Whatever it may be, be true to yourself, and you’ll ace this response.
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.