How to Write the Brown University Supplemental Essays 2020-2021: The Awesome Guide

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Brown University is a private university located in Providence, Rhode Island with an acceptance rate of 9%.

A member of the Ivy League, Brown University is well-known for producing elite scholars and government leaders. In 2017, Brown experienced the largest application pool in its history with over 37,723 applications.

Brown University is also home to several celebrities from various industries. The much-beloved Emma Watson from the Harry Potter franchise graduated from Brown University in 2014. Current President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, also claims Brown University as his alma mater.

What makes Brown University most notable among its peers is its open curriculum that does not require students to complete general education requirements, but rather encourages students to form their own individualized plan of study.

This commitment to a truly liberal arts education requires independent, courageous individuals who are not afraid to create their own paths and define their own lives.

If you are excited about the possibility of charting your own course and looking to apply to Brown, this guide will help you create standout responses for Brown’s supplemental essays.

What are Brown’s Supplemental Essay Requirements?

All of Brown’s supplemental essay requirements are found on the Common App website beneath the “Questions” section. In addition to the Common App personal essay, applicants must answer three questions.

  • The first prompt assesses the student’s area of interest. Students must explain their intended major of study and interest in that major.
  • The second prompt asks students to express why they are interested in the Brown Curriculum and how they intend to contribute to the Brown community.
  • The third prompt asks for a personal narrative about the applicant. Questions about an applicant’s background and where they consider home are central to this prompt.

Each supplemental essay has a word limit of 50-250 words. To create an excellent supplemental package, responses to these questions must be well-written and concise.

Brown Supplemental Essay 1: Intended Major

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. (250 word limit)

In this prompt, you must write about what you would like to study, and how the Open Curriculum will help you pursue your interests.

Brown wants to know what motivates you academically. In essence, what…

  • …topic(s) energize you when they’re being discussed?
  • …excites you to learn more than was assigned in class?
  • …are you endlessly curious about?
  • …class stimulated you the most in high school?
  • …experiences have led you to your chosen major of study?
  • …future will open up for you by choosing this area of study?

To stimulate your thinking, ask yourself these questions and make a list of all the answers. Don’t forget to write down any specific memories associated with those answers.

When you come up with your list of memories, think about your feelings and thoughts surrounding those memories. Write them down so you don’t forget later if you choose that memory as the focus of your essay.

  • For example, if English is your favorite class, can you think of a memory that occurred in English class that was particularly important?
  • Was that moment the deciding one for you to choose the nonfiction writing track in the English department? What about it made you decide that track?

Ask yourself more questions. If you feel that deep thinking is not your forte, do not be intimidated. You simply need to exercise the art of self-reflection a bit more.

Self-awareness is a skill. Anyone can do it. You are not an exception.

  • You may find some help by asking those close to you why they think you are drawn to or will be successful in your intended major.
  • Their perception may give you some ideas to branch off of when formulating your essay response.

Now that you have generated a healthy list of favorite classes and poignant memories, a good next step would be to understand why and how Brown wants you to answer this question in the first place. Understanding Brown’s values is the key to this, so you can show how your goals fit within Brown’s overall mission.

You need to understand Brown’s values. To gain an understanding of Brown’s academic and campus culture, you must look through their website.

Upon navigating the “About Brown” page and then the Mission section, you’ll see the type of campus culture Brown University wants to create.

  • Their mission states that Brown University’s purpose is to: “serve the community, the nation, and the world by discovering, communicating, and preserving knowledge and understanding in a spirit of free inquiry, and by educating and preparing students to discharge the offices of life with usefulness and reputation. We do this through a partnership of students and teachers in a unified community known as a university-college.”

Brown wants individuals who are deeply committed to the process of learning and self-discovery. They want to foster students to become positive and contributing citizens once they graduate to continue Brown’s reputation in society.

For this question, the admissions committee is looking for more than a simple, pithy explanation. You just read what Brown wants to see in this essay response, but do not write something that isn’t genuine. Your essay should be authentic to you and not what you think will win over admissions officers.

You are writing about why you are interested in attending Brown for a certain major, so be you!

If you want to study Egyptology & Assyriology (which is a real major at Brown!), they want to know about the thought process and experiences that led you to such a desire.

  • Tell the story of how you came to this decision or how you plan to use your education after graduation.
  • What about those studies and their namesake cultures fascinate you?

They want to see deeply into who you are, in 250 words or less. In your response, you need to demonstrate that you are a free thinker who respects knowledge and the pursuit of your study.

If you are undecided about what you want to study in college, like the prompt mentions some students may be, still engage in the exercises mentioned above without focusing on a specific major but, instead, on a topic that fascinates you.

Next, you must explain how you are pursuing this field with Brown’s Open Curriculum. The Brown Curriculum is unique in that there are no general education requirements. In other words, if you hate history, you do not have to take history just to fulfill a history requirement.

However, it is important to note that while Brown supports individualized learning, they also expect all their students to “remain open to people, ideas, and experiences that may be entirely new. By cultivating such openness, you will learn to make the most of the freedom you have, and to chart the broadest possible intellectual journey.”

Every school wants to know why they are your choice, and Brown is no exception.

In the end, it does not matter what you intend to study.

  • What matters is the process that led you there, your motivations, and your ability to communicate your intellectual fortitude in a personal and precise manner.
  • After all, this is your intention now. After you begin at Brown, you have the opportunity to change your academic concentration if your intentions change.
  • Above all, try to add action. Don’t simply discuss how something fascinates you; if possible, discuss an experience in which you took the initiative to pursue this interest.
  • Demonstrating to admissions officers that you’re someone who chases your interests in a proactive manner is an efficient and safe way to convey your curiosity.

Be sure to have trusted individuals review your response to ensure that you are expressing yourself the way you have intended.

Ask them if the words they read sound like you, or someone else.

Remember, being authentic is key to making this essay impress admissions officers. Another key is proper spelling and grammar, so ask your proofreading friends to check for any errors, too.

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Brown Supplemental Essay 2: Community

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? (250 word limit)

For this question, you need to think critically about why you are applying to Brown and what aspects of its community interest you. This means performing research on Brown’s website.

  • Are there extracurricular activities that speak to your unique interests?
  • What features of the campus are attractive to you?
  • Be explicit regarding what about the curriculum and campus attract you to Brown University.
  • What parts of the university culture are you excited to be a part of?
  • Does Brown house a professor whose research you’ve studied?

It is not enough to discuss what Brown can do for you. You must be sure to communicate what you will add to the student body. Think about how your interactions with others at Brown will spark your own contributions to the university community.

Briefly discuss the qualities and experiences you possess that will add to Brown’s student body and community. Consider the university’s mission again for this question.=

Connect the activities and interests you intend to have on campus with the way you can contribute to the Brown community. This could mean many things, including:

  • Starting a club on renewable energy technology and traveling to Goddard Memorial State Park for cleanup.
  • Raising or seeking money for a grant that would help students travel to Macedonia to study the history of Phillip II.
  • Organizing trips to Boston and New York City to volunteer with youth while practicing your Spanish skills.
  • You can even draw upon one of your own experiences from high school to write this essay.

Communicate what you will add to the student body.

Again, show action. Demonstrating initiative is the safest way to write an effective college essay.

The most important part of the essay is tying it back to your character, values, lessons, and personal themes, and how those will fit into the larger community that is Brown University.

Brown Supplemental Essay 3: Where’s Home

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

Because Brown offers such a unique opportunity to pursue a truly liberal arts education, the admissions committee needs to create a student body that will be open to diversity, new ideas, and different perspectives.

This question is not just asking where you are from. This question is assessing your growth, maturity, and open-mindedness.

  • Most people have a single answer to “where are you from?” even if they’ve lived in multiple places.
  • Brown wants to know all the places you lived that you still call home.
  • Note: If there are several places, try to stick to 1-3.

As such, be encouraged if you have grown up in the same small town with a population size of 1,000 for your entire life. Most towns and cities, regardless of size, experience new things every once in a while.

  • Describe how a change in your small town opened your mind to a new idea or how it shaped your perspective on being part of a larger community.

In answering this question, be honest about your experiences.

  • Authenticity is a key recipe for success.
  • Do not pretend to be cosmopolitan if you are not.
  • Do not downplay your experiences living in four countries over the past 16 years if that is, indeed, your story.
  • Own your experience, write about it, and through expressing yourself, be sure to let your natural curiosity shine through.
  • If you have lived in one place all your life, you could talk a little bit about how you have always wondered what exists beyond your geographic boundaries.

If you’ve lived in several places since you were born and it’s nearly enough to utilize the entire word limit, be sure to express why you may have moved so much. Consider a brief explanation of the place that meant the most to you.

Brown also wants to see your personality, so talk about your home(s) in ways that show how living there has shaped you.

As such, it’s important to not only talk about your home. Tie it to your perspective on life and who you are.

  • How has home changed you?
  • How has home affected your personality?
  • If you want to get away from home, why?
  • What will/do you miss about where you live or have lived?
  • If you could bring something from your hometown to Brown, what would it be and why?

This part of the essay provides context to where “home” is. It’s important because you’re showing Brown the circumstances that have played an important role in shaping your worldview.

Additional Writing & Brainstorming Tips for the Brown Essays

In the Shona language of Zimbabwe, there is a word/saying called “Ubuntu.” It translates to “I am what I am because you are.” This beautiful expression illustrates the power of community and how community makes individuality possible.

Since Brown wants to admit a student body that prizes holistic and diverse learning,  take time to identify a community or group that has had the most profound effect on you. There are several ways to measure a profound effect.

Consider how your community or group has influenced…

  • how you think about and view the world (belief systems/worldview)
  • what you do and how you act (behaviors)
  • your preferences (attitudes)

Evaluating these areas of influence will help you write concise responses that effectively communicate the importance of your community and learning in your application narrative.

A key way to express the importance of this community in your life is to focus on a single memory or moment that solidified your sense of belonging.

Like many prompt strategies, make a list of important moments and memories you have experienced, then link them to a certain community or group in your life.

Conclusion: Writing the Brown Supplemental Essays

All students applying to Brown will have to answer the following: intended major, why Brown & Brown’s curriculum, place(s) of origin, and how community or group involvement has shaped your growth and existence in the world.

Due to the word restrictions for each prompt (50-250 words per response), it is imperative you think deeply about your most poignant values and communicate this in a way that reflects how Brown’s values and your unique traits are interconnected.

As always, have someone proofread your responses for clarity and intent, as well as spelling and grammar. You don’t want your essay to stand out for the wrong reasons.

By following the above guidelines, you can assemble an excellent admissions package that will help you stand out from other applicants.

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