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October 10, 2019

Brown University Essay 3

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

Once again, this comes down to “did this kid write this expecting/hoping me to be impressed?” Or… did this kid actually just write an authentic, thoughtful answer to this question? That second one is GOLD. The first one, garbage. Out of 10 attempts at answering this question, how many do you think answer it “the garbage way”? Seriously, take a guess.

Answer: 9.7 (at least)

That’s right, it is the absolute EXCEPTIONAL APPLICANT who doesn’t write this FOR an admissions committee reader. Most do, and it’s always trash. Very, very, very few applicants have the courage to write truly authentically. Maybe that’s why admissions rates are so low (stands to reason).

Don’t try to sound poetic here, folks. Don’t try to be Johnny Deep. That isn’t to say “be straightforward.” That’s not what we’re saying at all… It’s possible to be earnest AND thoughtful. Let’s dig in a bit.

First things first. Let’s get our heads around that word “home.” What does that mean? It’s not purely a physical dwelling, cuz, enough people will have that same essential answer, which therefore tells us nothing about any single individual, right? And that’s not what Brown is going for here.

Each individual’s interpretation of the word “home” will vary (we hope it does!). For some it might mean “where do I feel safest.” For others it might mean “where I feel most myself.” For others it might be “where I feel most emotionally secure.” Could be “most relaxed.” Can be lots of things. While it would be inefficient to go through each possible interpretation, one thing we CAN do is talk about the TYPE of answers that are most effective here. Answer? The ones that are REVEALING…

One of our favorite “tips” at Admissionado is to find an answer here that might SURPRISE a reader who is very close to you. Who knows you the BEST? Mom? Best friend? Sibling? Imagine someone asked them this question on your behalf. In other words, someone asked them to guess what YOU would define as “home.” They take their best guess based on how ridiculously well they know you. If you were to show them your answer, here’s what SHOULD happen… they should finish reading and say “Holy crap, I thought I knew you!” That would be amazing. Not necessary, but that’s one way to test whether you’re on the right track.

Here’s another cool test. If you think you have a good answer for this question, but you worry that “someone else reading this might have a hard time understanding what you mean” … that’s a FANTASTIC sign. Those often make for the BEST essays. Don’t worry, you’ll make it understandable through the re-writing process, but as a “soul” of an essay, one that “someone else” will have trouble accessing immediately… is gold.

The flip side to all this is true also. If others reading this would correctly predict your topic, and others reading it would easily understand where you’re coming from, chances are… you haven’t dug deep enough. Or, you’ve dug plenty, and your response simply isn’t coooool enough (not your fault, but you may have to get creative here).

[It’s possible to have a lot of FUN with this one, too. Of all the prompts that are ripe for cheekiness, this one’s ripest of them all. At the core, however, there must be evidence of some serious, “intellectual” thought. It doesn’t matter how creative the style is—there has to substance too.]

Now, let’s just dig into organization briefly, because there are two pieces you need to hit (and not necessarily in this order):

  1. What “your” perspective is, such that it might have been shaped by something. We need to understand how your perspective differs from someone else’s. So imagine a thing that most people have a standard way of perceiving, or describing, or experiencing. And now imagine how YOUR version is somehow a little different. Our first challenge is to identify WHAT is different about, and be able to describe it.
  2. The second task is to figure out what the “winds” were that shaped that perspective quirk to begin with. Once you start to get a handle on this, it should give you clues about the overlap areas between the perspectives that define you AND the “place/community” you call home.

Keep in mind that not all things that shape you are welcome/pleasant. And some things that have shaped you may very well belong to a category you decidedly feel is the OPPOSITE of home. That’s useful to keep in mind as you wrap your mind around the stuff that shaped you AND is also is very much linked to the place/community you consider home.

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October 10, 2019

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)

There are three pieces to this sucker:

  1. Demonstrating that you’ve researched and understand WHAT the Open Curriculum IS.
  2. Showing some enthusiasm about taking ADVANTAGE of this offering.
  3. And generally demonstrating that you have a cool brain, with a cool perspective based on what interests/excites you (and why).

So, let’s take these one at a time.

Piece #1

What IS the Open Curriculum at Brown? Well, in a nutshell, it’s the opposite of the CORE CURRICULUM that you’ll find at other schools. Is it better or worse… that’s for others to debate. Brown is giving you a blank canvas. Sorta. There’s a common misperception that the Open Curriculum is literally open season on taking whatever you want, whenever you want, throughout your four years at Brown. Not so much. You will still have to declare a Major (they call it something else at Brown, usually “Concentration”), like anywhere else. And that Major (and Minor, if you do more than one thing) will require a long set of classes in order for you to graduate successfully.

So not really “open” in the literal sense. The true spirit of the Open Curriculum lies in the freedom afforded to every student to find their own way TOWARD their “area of focus.” Brown requires that you get focused by the end of your sophomore year. They just don’t give you many rules about what you have to do in those first two years. With the exception of Engineering majors, you are free to take courses in any area, whenever, however, etc. There’s also the ability to potentially create a curriculum of your own, but there’s a process for that, and not everyone’s idea gets approved.

There’s more to be said about the Open Curriculum, and you should do some reading on it, as well as chat with Brown alums (no better way than that) and get THEIR take on the reality. The key for our purposes though is that it’s kind of Brown’s “thing.” Something they’re famous for, even if other schools have similarly lax restrictions on what courses you can take.

Piece #2

The next issue is, why is this appealing to you? Why does your passing through this kind of opportunity enthuse you more than a more traditional curriculum at a school of equal quality? Why does the idea of a curriculum that’s not “open” feel less inspiring to you than Brown’s?

Be careful. If you go too far, you may seem disingenuous. If you make it sound like the Open Curriculum is THE ONLY THING on Earth that inspires you, and it’s the only way you know how to flourish… and you’re simultaneously applying to places like Princeton, or Columbia, or “just about anywhere else,” you will seem insincere. If you don’t get into Brown and you DO get into Columbia, you’re gonna go there, right? And I hope your plan is to “flourish” there too? Because you really, really can! Just ask all the wildly successful Columbia grads who end up in the same (or better) places compared to Brown grads.

See what we’re getting at? The best answer here conveys a sense of drive that exists IRRESPECTIVE of the curriculum rules, but that might flourish in a particularly interesting way in Brown’s environment. It’s not that you will ONLY succeed with the Open Curriculum, it’s that your version of success might be different here, in a way that’s appealing to you.

Here’s a cool way to tease out that distinction. Imagine getting accepted both to a place like Columbia AND Brown. And for our purposes, let’s call Columbia’s curriculum more rigid and Brown’s less rigid. You’re holding admit letters to both. And again, for argument’s sake, let’s just stipulate that either program will bestow upon you the same “buying power” in the job market. Why might you gravitate toward Brown’s open curriculum? Explain why that path brings out a better (or simply different and possibly more appealing) version of you.

Piece #3

The third piece of the puzzle here is to weave in what interests you, but to do so in a way that reveals the specialness of Brown’s open curriculum. Let’s say that another way: you can (a) have a very cool, unusual, inspiring, impressive, exciting academic interest, and (b) demonstrate a very clear understanding of what the Open Curriculum at Brown is… but these pieces are meaningless until you connect them together. The trick is to demonstrate your understanding of the Open Curriculum opportunity THROUGH your academic interest, and what you plan to do with these two things, when you marry ‘em.

Let’s use Columbia again as a counter-example of a school that has a more rigid curriculum (comparatively). Your academic interests won’t change right? And there’s a good chance you might end up pursuing the exact same interest beyond college and well into your lifelong career, correct? The prospect of marrying your academic interest with ANY top-tier college curriculum should enthuse you, because you’re fully dedicated to success no matter what life throws at you. (You’ll want to convey that, always, in your college applications.) However, when you consider the prospect of combining your academic interest with the opportunities that Brown’s Open Curriculum affords you… an additional buzzer goes off inside you. There’s something unusually interesting, or possible, in this scenario. Let’s hear it.. If you do this correctly, we’ll get the sense for all of the following:

  • Your success is not dependent on an “open” curriculum
  • And yet, there are a few KEY ways in which you have imagined taking ADVANTAGE of this opportunity: A, B, C, etc.
  • These “deltas” between Brown’s open curriculum opportunity versus any other program’s, make you. . . excited, inspired, leaning forward, etc.

250 words is not a lot. It’s two beefy paragraphs, maybe three lean-ish ones. Here’s one way to consider a first draft:

  1. Explain what interests you, and why. (75 words)
  2. Now explain what an ideal curriculum might look like, and how you might take advantage of it. (Forget Brown for now, just describe an “ideal” curriculum.) (75 words)
  3. Now explain why Brown’s Open Curriculum fits the bill perfectly, given your interests and goals. (100 words)

That’ll get you going and give us a solid first draft to work with.

October 10, 2019

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 words)

Well, actually, we would argue that you stand to learn MORE from your peers outside the classroom than inside, but that’s a discussion for a different day!

Rather than use this space to demonstrate your interest in Brown, and to reveal things you know about Brown, our perspective here is to TURN THE TABLES. Some folks may have a different take here. (But ours is better, haha.)

Let’s think about this critically. Presumably, you have tons to give, right? Presumably, you have cool perspectives on things shaped by the circumstances of your upbringing (where your family is from, specific family dynamics, geography, socioeconomic status, whatever other influences exist that can shape a human). You have your talents, your interests, your passions, your personality quirks. You’re like a tightly wound coil, brimming with potential energy. Will that change if you end up at . . . Harvard? Or Yale? Or Stanford? Or Columbia? Or Cornell? Why would it? I mean, it’s possible that you’ll adapt to an environment that’s different, as anyone would, but would your contributions TO that environment fundamentally shift? If so, doesn’t that make … what you have to give… kinda flimsy? Shouldn’t your offerings be… your offerings… REGARDLESS of where you end up?

The badass answer here is yah, you’re going to contribute a ton of amazing stuff to WHICHEVER SCHOOL *YOU* END UP CHOOSING. This is the part where you (a) reveal what that is, (b) make Brown want you to contribute that stuff to Brown and NOT another program, so they can have you all for themselves.

Rather than go too hard on why you want to make that contribution to BROWN and not another school, go hard on what it is you have to contribute, and what it is you’re hoping OTHERS have to contribute that’ll enrich YOUR experience. It’s almost like you’re laying down YOUR demands to Brown here and challenging them to make you want THEM over another option.

Now, how do you do all that? Well first you have to establish what it is you’re hoping to get out of the “learning from peers” aspect. Can you point to a time when you’ve been better off for having been in the presence of others, in an outside-the-classroom situation? Something where, had you experienced it alone, you might have still succeeded or had a positive outcome, but it wouldn’t have been as rich? You’ll want to establish (from experience) your humility, and awareness of how much others can contribute to your own growth, and to explain what qualities made that possible. Once you’ve established that, now it’s time to offer a kind of quid pro quo, as if to say, “and now for MY part in this bi-directional peer-to-peer learning exchange!” This is what *I* bring to the party: A, B, C, etc.

What’s “A B C, etc.”? Well, it’s different for every individual. That’s the whole point. There has to be a way for you imagine how others experiencing college without you ends up being an A-, say. But that an alternate version that includes you along the way, elevates that “same” experience to an A+. What was in that you were able to provide, by way of fresh perspective, or talent, or energy, or an unusual passion, or your way of thinking, that could possibly have a rub-off effect like that? This is your opportunity to showcase how you’ve influenced others thus far, and what specific qualities you have to continue to contribute to the Brown campus. (Or any campus, for that matter.)

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