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How to Write the Brown University Essays

Updated for 2023-2024

For the 2023-2024 application cycle, Brown University asks prospective applicants to write seven supplemental essays in total. Three are short essays of 250 words in length. The remaining four are even shorter, at 3, 50 or 100 words. As with any supplemental essays, be sure to take advantage of the seven opportunities to demonstrate accomplishments, qualities and personality, and show Brown University why you would be a good fit for their school!

Prompt 1:

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 pursue them at Brown. (200-250 words)

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Explanation:

To answer this question, you first need to research the Open Curriculum at Brown. Brown doesn’t have general education requirements and instead encourages its students to explore their academic interests by taking courses in many topics, including business, education, sociology, music, and more.

After you understand the interdisciplinary philosophy behind Brown’s Open Curriculum, you should write about the ways you want to take advantage of its flexible nature to explore your academic interests. Write both about where your motivation to learn more about the areas you’re passionate about comes from and how Brown’s Open Curriculum will help you reach your intellectual and professional goals.

Including particular professors or types of research that you’re interested in will go a long way towards showing admissions officers that you’ve done your research about how their school can help you reach your specific academic goals. For example, if you’re planning to study astrophysics, you could write about wanting to conduct research on atmosphere composition alongside a specific Brown professor or engaging with a center or institute that does similar work.

Following this up by discussing an interest in a field unrelated to your intended concentration—or perhaps an interest outside your intended concentration that could still inform your main work— can show exactly how the Brown Open Curriculum can help you pursue your multifaceted academic interests. Brown wants to understand how you plan to take ownership of your education and how intellectually curious you are.

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Sample:

Growing up, I was always told that if I like to think analytically, I’m left-brained, and if I resonate more with my creative side, I’m right-brained. The problem is that I’m an Aristotilian, so the whole of my brain is greater than the sum of its parts. In that case, I’m just brained.

Thankfully, Brown’s Open Curriculum does not discriminate on the basis of one’s cerebral leanings. As a metaphysically whole-brained human, the academic flexibility that the Open Curriculum affords makes it possible for me to explore my dual interest in both philosophy and neuroscience and the intersections in between.

At Brown, I look forward to the opportunity to conduct research at the Carney Institute for Brain Science to continue my research efforts in pathogenesis, while drawing from the deep knowledge of philosophy professors like Dr. Christopher Hill to make connections to topics in the philosophy of mind. Since I also plan to continue writing for my Brain Philosophy blog, I look forward to partnering with students to write for Impulse, the largest undergraduate research journal focused on neuroscience.

Outside philosophy and neuroscience, I also anticipate cross-registering for graphic design courses at the Rhode Island School of Design to continue in my passion for designing aesthetic neuroimages. Coupled with Brown’s famous Introduction to Object-Oriented Programming and Computer Science course, I plan to explore the possibility of creative neuroimaging through code.

Whether I like it or not, I’m whole-brained—at Brown, I look forward to continuing being just that.

Prompt 2: 

Students entering Brown often find that making their home on College Hill naturally invites reflection on where they came from. Share how an aspect of your growing up has inspired or challenged you, and what unique contributions this might allow you to make to the Brown community. (200-250 words)

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Explanation:

This prompt requires you to think deeply about your identity—your roots—and how that has shaped who you are today. For example, perhaps you were born into an immigrant home that constantly moved across enclaves—an experience which has sparked in you a passion for sociology. Or maybe you were raised by an ultra-conservative grandma who still encouraged you to think freely, which inspired your current belief system. Where you started from doesn’t have to define where you’ll end up, so it’s best to show your open-mindedness as you prepare to engage with other students of all backgrounds and trajectories.

Lastly, you’ll want to draw a connection to how these experiences might contribute to Brown’s melting pot of a community. Does a particular identity of yours lead you to gravitate toward a particular academic study or extracurricular? How might the way you think now disrupt or challenge current modes of thinking on campus that might lead to a more flourishing community? Wherever you came from, and whoever you are now, give Brown a glimpse of how you—and only you—might make a difference there.

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Sample:

It was an ordinary trip down to the Philippine Foods market…until it wasn’t. As a curious but naive 7-year-old, my eyes peered toward the top shelf on Aisle 6, where a glass jar containing light-purple jam sat in brilliance. “Why is the jelly so bright?” I exclaimed. With a helpless sigh followed by her classic Filipino death-stare, my mom corrected me: “It’s not jelly, it’s ube.”

To any other Filipino 7-year-old born and raised in America, the jar of mashed purple yam, known as “ube,” is simply “jelly”—but apparently not the type you’d want on your PB&J. But it was a common misconception, or rather, ignorance, that many Fil-Am kids had whenever they interacted with a part of themselves that was simultaneously so close and yet so far.

I’ve never been to the Philippines, nor do I speak Tagalog. But it’s this dissonance that has empowered me to learn about the things that still make me, me. Brown is committed to celebrating people for who they are while helping them uncover, deconstruct, and step into parts of their identity that ignorance or a lack of opportunity may have shielded them from. Whether it’s by joining Brown’s Filipino Alliance or exploring unique histories through Brown’s Ethnic Studies concentration, it’s my goal to continue reclaiming the identities I feel far from as well as the ones I have yet to discover, and empower others to do the same.

Prompt 3:

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. (200-250 words)

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Explanation:

This question is designed to allow the admissions committee to gain unique insight into what you’re interested in. For this reason, avoid topics that may bring anyone joy, unless the reason you enjoy them is incredibly unique. Try to tap into your individual interests and don’t feel like you need to take this question too seriously! Focus on presenting an authentic viewpoint that will allow your excitement to shine through in your writing. Think about your favorite things, what you enjoy doing in your free time, what books you love to read, or the YouTube rabbit holes you get lost in. For example, you could write about how walking into your favorite coffee shop and chatting with the same barista every morning brightens your day or how corgis bring you joy because, despite everyone literally looking down on them, they always have a smile on their face! Once you’ve settled on your topic, try to write about why it brings you joy. Describe the way it makes you feel, your curiosity, or what makes it special to you. With these tips in mind, go forth and write with joy!

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Sample:

The purples, the ambers, the baby blues. They’re hues of brilliance and awe—radiant, majestic, a work of art that’s common to us all. It’s an escape from fast-approaching deadlines, a balm to a long day at work, an added joy to the already joyous. The sky is altogether pure, untainted by human hands or motives or politics or greed. It hovers over the well-off and the less fortunate, the just and the unjust, over folks of every color. It’s the same sky that everyone watches—a reminder that while we are different, we are yet the same.

As a student who’s moved from country to country, the sky connects me to distant friends in ways that feel more real than instant messaging or social media. And as we enter into a technological age of AI, I fear that we are heading toward a time when much of what we think is real is not. We tend to exchange well-being for technological progress by conflating the two, but we often fail to find something more constant, more eternal, more grounding like the sky. The sky feels tangible even though I can’t feel it at all.

The sky brings me joy because it is equitable. It’s always there and available to anyone. It may be purple, or black, or red, or blue, but it’s our sky; we all share it.

Prompt 4:

Help us get to know you better by reflecting briefly on each of the questions below. We expect that answers will range from a few words to a few sentences at most.

What three words best describe you? (3 words)

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Explanation:

The best words to use are ones that no one uses, ever—at least colloquially. They’re the words that string together complex issues or illustrate something very specific.

Instead of thinking about words that describe you, think about bigger ideas, hobbies, and identities that describe you. Then narrow them down to phrases, and then, finally, words.

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Sample:

  1. Ornithophile
  2. Kantian
  3. Anthophobic

What is your most meaningful extracurricular commitment, and what would you like us to know about it? (100 words)

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Explanation:

The key term in this prompt is “meaningful.” It’s easy to talk about a large-scale project you’ve devoted years to, but if that’s not more meaningful to you than going out on the weekends to clean basketball courts with your community service club, then share the latter. Brown’s admissions committee will already have a baseline sense of your extracurricular portfolio through your activities list, so this is your chance to give one of those activities 100 more words of life.

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Sample:

As a fellow resident of the concrete jungle, I don’t feel that I’m around nature often (unless you call rats and dog poop nature).

But it was for that reason I started my school’s Varsity Birdwatching Club. Now, this isn’t your typical sport. It’s one that requires deep concentration and more patience than a man stuck in NYC traffic on a Friday night. Birdwatching empowers students to actively participate in something that might seem boring, but it also teaches them—myself included—the importance of slowing down, taking deep breaths, and taking breaks from the rush of city- and secondary-school life.

If you could teach a class on any one thing, whether academic or otherwise, what would it be? (100 words)

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Explanation:

This prompt requires you to think about what you’re passionate about, whether that’s related to your academic focus or something completely unrelated. Some good questions to ask yourself are: What are you good at? What quirky interests of yours do you like exploring on the weekends? What do you think about when you zone out in class? What do you feel everyone in the world should know? Feel free to make this as serious or as silly as you’d like.

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Sample:

Every year on my brother’s birthday, we go out to eat—or at least we try to. One…two…three hours go by, and the indecisive 12-…13-…14-year-old still has no idea where he wants to eat. The worst part of it all is that it’s his birthday, so you can’t rush the young lad. It’s an issue that I believe many, many families face today.

In honorable commemoration of June 21st, I present thee: “The Not-So-Complicated Philosophy of Food (In)Decision: How To Choose Which Restaurant To Eat At So The Entire Family Doesn’t Starve While Waiting For You To Make Your Decision.”

In one sentence, Why Brown? (50 words)*

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Explanation:

Continue to dig deep into your creative side, and imagine yourself at Brown as a graduating senior. Over the past four years, what has made your time at Brown beautiful? Where did you enjoy studying? What did you like learning about? Where did you like exploring? What did you often think about or talk about with friends? A stellar answer to this question will show Brown that you’re able to zero in on details that are unique and telling of what Brown really has to offer.

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Sample:

I’ve never written a 50-word sentence, but as I wonder, “Why Brown?” I’m immediately drawn to entering into a world where things clash in harmony; be it the bustle of Thayer Street two blocks from the Quiet Green or a Gendo Taiko performance before a peaceful night of studying.