October 10, 2019

Brown University Essay 1

Brown University

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.

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