October 25, 2018

Brown University Essay 2

Brown University

What do you hope to experience at Brown through the Open Curriculum, and what do you hope to contribute to the Brown community? (250 word limit)

There are three pieces to this sucker:

  1. Demonstrating that you’ve researched and understood WHAT the Open Curriculum IS, and what it’s meant to accomplish.
  2. Having a thoughtful response about what you hope to experience THROUGH the Open Curriculum.
  3. And having a thoughtful response about what you hope to contribute to the community at Brown.

So, let’s take these one at a time. 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 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 (“open”) 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, etc.

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. Maybe, just maybe, you’re interested in Brown “because” of what their Open Curriculum implies about the experience. Walk us through that. 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 like an opportunistic fraud. If you don’t get into Brown and you DO get into Columbia… I think you’re gonna go there, right? And I hope your plan is to “flourish” there too? 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. See the difference? 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. THAT is the way to think about this.

Now for the last part about contributing to the Brown community, the key here isn’t to figure out what Brown is all about, and then MAP aspects of You… to It. Naw. The best (and most GANGSTA) way to approach this is not to care at all about what Brown is. But instead to think about what Brown MIGHT BE… once YOU get added to the mix. In that sense, it doesn’t matter at all what Brown is. It should be the case that when you add YOURSELF to ANY mixture, that mixture gets more interesting… SOMEHOW. This is your opportunity to FLIP THE SCRIPT and explain what it is you have to offer … to ANY SCHOOL. Yah, that’s right. Do this in a way that makes it HURT BROWN to imagine another school admitting you and stealing you away.

In order to do that, you need to essentialize what it is YOU tend to bring to a community. How? Could be through activities and hobbies that you like to be involved in (or will START at Brown). Walk us through it, and sell us why it will be cool for you and your classmates. Or, perhaps the way you grew up and experienced life affords you a unique LENS with which you process life. If it’s unique enough, hell yeah – that can be a meaningful addition to ANY campus. If you go this route though, just make sure this “lens” is, indeed, cool. “If you come at the king, you best not miss.” Meaning, if you make this claim, and your lens is common in the applicant pool, it could be a swing and a miss. Another great way to think about this is to examine the impact you believe you’ve ALREADY had on communities in the past (with evidence), and to suggest that Brown will be an extension of that, given your commitment to pursuing X, Y, and Z.

So, structure-wise, we’d suggest two meaty paragraphs:

  1. Walk us through what you’re hoping to achieve in ANY curriculum, in general, how you’ll approach things… wherever. Give us a sense of what that “success” will be, as YOU measure it. Now, walk us through the minor DELTA that occurs when you’re going through all that… at Brown, through its Open Curriculum. What’s the slight difference at the end of the day? And why is that potentially interesting to you? [150 words or so]
  2. Take us through examples of how you’ve impacted communities thus far. And explain how you plan to continue doing similar versions of that at Brown. Or, give us background on what makes YOUR lens unique (life experiences, etc.). And explain why introducing THAT LENS (you, as an agent) into a community might have a positive impact. [100 words or so]

That’ll get you a serviceable first draft we can start shredding…


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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