How to Write the Brown University Supplemental Essays 2021-2022: The Awesome Guide

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Brown University is a private university located in Providence, Rhode Island, with an acceptance rate of 5.4%.

A member of the Ivy League, Brown University is well known for producing elite scholars and government leaders. In 2021, Brown experienced the largest application pool in its history with more than 46,500 applications, up 27% from the prior year.

Several celebrities from various industries proudly call Brown their alma mater, including Emma Watson from the Harry Potter franchise, John Krasinski of Jack Ryan, and The Office’s Jim Halpert, the current President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, and John Sculley who worked as president of PepsiCo and CEO of Apple Inc.

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 academic interests and how they plan to use Brown’s Open Curriculum..
  • The second prompt focuses on Brown’s community, which strives for deeper understanding of society’s complex issues. Students are asked to share a time that their ideas were challenged and how they responded to that situation. .
  • The third prompt asks students to share something that brings them joy. This is a more personal question focused on the world and interactions surrounding students.

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 any academic interests that excite you, and how you might use the Open Curriculum to pursue them while also embracing topics with which you are unfamiliar. (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 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 later forget if you choose that memory as the focus of your essay.

  • For example, if English is your favorite class, can you think of a particularly important memory that occurred in English class?
  • Was choosing the nonfiction writing track in the English department a fateful moment? What about it made you decide on 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. Anyone can do it. You are not an exception.

  • You may get help by asking those close to you why they think you are drawn to or will be successful in your intended major.
  • Their thoughts may give you some ideas when formulating your essay.

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. 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, contributing citizens once they graduate, continuing to improve 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, 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 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, engage in the exercises mentioned above focusing on a specific 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 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 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.

Brown Supplemental Essay 2: Community

Brown’s culture fosters a community in which students challenge the ideas of others and have their ideas challenged in return, promoting a deeper and clearer understanding of the complex issues confronting society. This active engagement in dialogue is as present outside the classroom as it is in academic spaces. Tell us about a time you were challenged by a perspective that differed from your own. How did you respond?? (250 word limit)

This question focuses on broadening your perspectives. It can be easy to live in a bubble, surrounded by the people who support the same ideas that you do. Often, a major criticism of social media is that people generally choose to read, listen to, or watch news and entertainment that further supports what they already know and love.

Brown plans to challenge what you know, offering new perspectives on the beliefs you are familiar with. That doesn’t necessarily mean that your beliefs will change, but by pushing you with different ideas, you gain a greater understanding of another perspective.

When you are answering, Brown wants to know:

  • A time that your ideas have been challenged in the past
  • How you reacted to or responded to that challenge

With only 250 words available, keep the first part simple and focus on the second. Brown wants to focus on your transformation, so talk about when something or someone challenged you. They want to see how you reacted to that information. Get personal here: 

  • How did it make you feel? 
  • Did you initially reject this new information or idea? Why? 
  • Did it open up a dialogue with the person who challenged you?
  • Did it make you rethink your position on the topic?

There are some very large issues, like immigration, pandemic mitigation efforts, religious beliefs, climate action, and gun control, that can quickly divide people. There also are simpler, less divisive topics, such as going meatless on Mondays. Find something that is unique and true to you. Don’t pick a topic that you think might impress them; choose something that you can speak to and share that experience from your perspective. 

Be honest and vulnerable. Remember, the key here is to recognize how the moment changed you.

Brown Supplemental Essay 3: Where’s Home

Brown students care deeply about their work and the world around them. Students find contentment, satisfaction, and meaning in daily interactions and major discoveries. Whether big or small, mundane or spectacular, tell us about something that brings you joy. (250 word limit)

This is a great essay because it is simply about you and your passions. This essay might be lighter in tone, but don’t underestimate its importance. Brown plans on learning a lot about you by how you answer this question. This should be personal and authentic. 

  • What makes you smile?
  • What makes you happy? 
  • Why do you get up in the morning? 
  • What motivates your actions?

This could be about literally anything, but no matter how major or minor, extravagant or silly, be sure it is personal. It might be something so simple it doesn’t even hit you right away, so take some time to think about it.

  • Your family
  • Doing something for someone else
  • Your pet
  • The great outdoors
  • Volunteering
  • Discovering something new
  • Traveling
  • Cooking

Whatever it might be, provide some insight as to why it brings you joy.

  • Why does it make you so happy?
  • How does it affect who you are?
  • What are you like when you do not have access to it?
  • How will you find ways to continue finding that joy at Brown?
  • How does this joy drive who you are and what you do?

Don’t be superficial in your answer. Ice cream makes me happy, but it does not help me find satisfaction or meaning in my life. Think about how the thing that brings you joy makes you feel whole or motivates your actions. It might be the thing that inspires your major or career, or the thing that helps you find peace or happiness when you need a break. As always, be you and share your answer honestly.

Additional Writing & Brainstorming Tips for the Brown Essays

In the Shona language of Zimbabwe, the word “ubuntu”  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
  • What you do and how you act
  • Your preferences

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, something that has challenged you and how you responded, and what brings you joy.

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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