October 25, 2018

Brown University Essay 1

Brown University

Why are you drawn to the area(s) of study you indicated earlier in this application? (You may share with us a skill or concept that you found challenging and rewarding to learn, or any experiences beyond course work that may have broadened your interest.) (250 word limit)

You’ve indicated your interest in an area (or areas) of study on your Brown application. And now Brown wants to know what’s supplying the electric current behind that interest. Why does Brown care about this, do you suppose? Think about it carefully. This isn’t a contest of ideas, where the person who describes the most complex concept wins. It’s a contest of “who seems likeliest to be THE KIND OF PERSON most likely to succeed… (and inspire others to succeed)… in things… later in life.” That’s the game.

So, how can an admissions committee reader get all that from a 250-word essay? To start with, forget about what you think will impress the admissions committee.

  1. It’s transparent.
  2. Tons of applicants don’t do this.

Put those together, and if it seems like YOU’RE doing it, it’s lose-lose. Instead, you need to convince us that what you’re saying is real. That’s harder than it sounds. Think about political campaigns: All candidates make big lofty claims like, “I’m gonna be tough on crime!” “I’m gonna get people back to work!” “I’m gonna improve our standing internationally!” Great. But do you believe them all just because they SAY they’re going to do something? Hardly. They have to EARN it. Maybe – just maybe – you can learn something by looking into the whites of their eyes, seeing how they present themselves in person. Maybe you have the benefit of time and can observe how their claims hold up over months or years and review their track record on similar issues. In a college application, the admissions committee has none of that stuff. They’re gonna buy in (or not) based on the 250 words you use.

Here’s a neat trick we like to use at Admissionado: Try writing TWO drafts, back to back. For the first draft, write it as you want, knowing that an admissions committee is gonna read it. Use smart-sounding sentences, proper English, all that stuff you’ve learned. Be as impressive as you know how. Set it aside for a second. And now that you have ONE potential draft, try another one… “just for fun.” But this time, write it as though you were writing a journal entry. To yourself, to be read only by you. Feel free to say stupid, meaningless things. Feel free to “swear.” Feel free to go off on ridiculous tangents. But no matter what, get “the real, authentic” answer down on paper. What IS your real motivation? Be honest. What genuinely motivates you about an area of study? If you ticked a bunch of boxes because your parents forced you to, indicate that here. No one’s gonna read it, after all. If you ticked those boxes because you think that that’s something the adcom might find impressive, say that here. Whatever you do, be brutally honest. Get it out.

Phew, now that that’s out of the way, it’s time to throw away the draft that’s utterly useless. (You can see where this is headed, right?) Yah, it’s the first draft you wanna TORCH. That’s the irrelevant one. The one you THOUGHT someone else would wanna read. Useless. Garbage. Trash it, now. It’s all about that SECOND one. The one you thought no one would ever read. The one that MIGHT contain an insight into what makes your gears churn. Nine out of 10 times, these exercises yield absolutely THRILLING first drafts of really thoughtful, beautifully constructed essays. But in order to get there, you have to really embrace the conceit and write it for yourself. We dare you to try.

Okay, so let’s talk organization/approach. 250 words is three short paragraphs, or two meaty ones. First, take us through your indicated area(s) of study. Couldn’t be simpler; just… say it cleanly, clearly, crisply. Don’t burn words here.

Now, explain why this interests you. Here’s another neat exercise: start your thought process by saying (even on paper, if it helps to get it out of your system), literally, “Whereas most others are interested in X because of reasons A, or B, or C… what interests ME is something entirely different.” Or “while most folks pursue X in order to achieve Y, here’s the thing *I’M* hoping to get out of it.” You don’t have to write the first part, but it’s a neat way to get your gears thinking in the right direction to “find your unique angle.” Your very own, personal angle.

Imagine someone reading this so far saying to you “well, that all sounds fine and dandy, but I don’t believe you’re seriously committed to it.” Or, “that all sounds great, but I see no evidence of this interest in your past. Great idea, but I don’t buy it.” How would you build a case (in a few sentences) to turn this SKEPTIC into a BELIEVER? One way to give yourself a little shove before you leap off the cliff (in a glider, obviously), is to say “I know you don’t believe me, but here’s the proof.” Or “If you have any doubt about my commitment, let me walk you through a high-level plan to show you just how much I have thought this through.”

Make that case. Give us the sense that if something knocks you off track (like, say, living independently for the first time in a college dorm), there’s still something in you that will get back up and take another crack at it. Make us believe.

This will get your first draft to a workable place that you can start chewing up and shaping into something brimming with TNT.


You can also read through our team’s analysis of the rest of Brown’s application essays.

Learn more and explore each step of Brown’s undergraduate application process here.

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