Brown University 2017-18 Application Essay Question Explanations
The Requirements: 5 essays ranging from 100-200 words each
Supplemental Essay Type(s): Why, Community, Activity
Sure, Brown may like to think of itself as the black (brown?) sheep of the Ivy League, but its supplement is pretty by the book. Don’t let the five required essays intimidate you: four of them are exactly the kinds of prompts we have taught you to anticipate (if you’ve read any of our other guides). Before you get too comfortable, though, remember that a straightforward application sets a high bar for essay quality. When the questions are easy to answer, the writing had better be top notch. Luckily, we’re here to help.
Every essay is required.
Why are you drawn to the area(s) of study you indicated earlier in this application? If you are “undecided” or not sure which Brown concentrations match your interests, consider describing more generally the academic topics or modes of thought that engage you currently. (150 word limit)
This prompt sounds easy enough: describe what you want to study and why you like it. Not so fast. Before you dive into drafting your essay, a word of warning: Brown has split its why essay into two parts. Both are academically focused, so be careful about how you distribute certain factoids about your academic interests, needs, and philosophy. The next question is more directly focused on Brown, so take this one as your opportunity to talk about yourself. The only thing you need to know is the name of your department (or departments) of interest. Since Brown has an open curriculum (the topic of the next question), it’s helpful to show that you have some direction even if you’re undecided. While you might be tempted to get technical or poetic, this essay will be more personal and memorable if you can share an anecdote about your relationship with the topic. What excites you and why? When was the last time you got drawn down a Wikipedia rabbit hole – and what was the topic? While you don’t need to drill to the origin of your interest in a given topic, try to zero in on some formative experience: the best book you ever read, the first time you spoke French to an actual French person, that one time when you used math in the real world! Your story should showcase your unique connection to your chosen course of study.
Why Brown, and why the Brown Curriculum? (200 words)
Ah, the Brown Curriculum, the requirement-less Holy Grail coveted by many applicants. Cleverly, Brown has specifically mentioned the curriculum in the prompt itself to push applicants deeper. It’s not enough to say, “I want to go to Brown because of its uniquely flexible curriculum.” You need to explore exactly how this – among Brown’s many other assets – will benefit you specifically. Good research is the key to any good why essay because demonstrating deep knowledge of the school shows admissions how much you care. Also, obviously, the more specific details you harness, the more unique and personal your essay will be. That said, this question is a bit trickier than that because you also have to get introspective. Again, what makes the Brown Curriculum right for you? Is it because of the way you hope to study your topic of choice? (Oh, and aren’t you glad you didn’t talk about this above?) Or is it because greater flexibility will help you manage a learning difference? Maybe it’s just because you want to embrace the full range of intellectual possibilities at Brown. No matter what you say, be sure to also show what you’re talking about in the school-specific details you mention: the eclectic mix of classes you hope to take or the student groups that will foster and support your learning.
Tell us where you have lived – and for how long – since you were born; whether you’ve always lived in the same place, or perhaps in a variety of places. (100 word limit)
What are they really asking here? This prompt is deceptively straightforward. If Brown had simply wanted to know where you have lived, they could have asked you to submit a list of towns or schools you attended. Why devote 100 words to the answer? Although relatively brief, this essay still gives you a chance to examine how you deal with change and difference, the stable and unstable parts of your life. If you have moved a great deal, what grounds you? How do you adapt? If you have stayed in the same town your whole life, how do you see your place in that community? When have you pushed yourself to experience places and meet people who are different from you?
We all exist within communities or groups of various sizes, origins, and purposes; pick one and tell us why it is important to you, and how it has shaped you. (100 word limit)
Another supplement classic: the community essay! While “community” can feel like a vague term, the beauty of these prompts lies in the ambiguity. The meaning is totally up for interpretation, which means that you can choose to describe a standard community unit (your neighborhood, family, ethnicity, or religion) or really any other group you belong to. The possibilities are almost endless and there’s really only one key to getting this essay right: you need to tell admissions something they don’t already know. What aspect of your background have you yet to explore? If you already covered your geographic affinities in the previous prompt, you could talk about the online community of vloggers you belong to. Your sports team could be your community, too. Or maybe you feel connected to every person who has ever read Harry Potter. Think about the core parts of your identity and trace them to their origin; chances are, you’ll find your community.
Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (150 word limit)
Surprise! We bet you didn’t see this sneaky question when you were first browsing through the Brown writing questions on the Common App. That’s because it’s one of the hidden prompts that we warn you about in our Common App tutorial. This prompt will ambush you in the “Activity” section of your Brown application, but don’t worry, the prompt itself isn’t all that surprising. Activity essays like this one are pretty common and really are as straightforward as they seem. The trickiest part is usually selecting the activity you want to talk about. So, we return to our favorite mantra: tell admissions something they couldn’t learn elsewhere. If you wrote your Common App essay about your tenure as captain of the basketball team, for this prompt you should focus on a different (ideally non-athletic) activity that shows a different side of who you are. This can be a great opportunity to highlight your leadership skills and any accolades you may have received as a result of participating in a particular activity. Did you win a community service award? Now is a great time to elaborate on your work. No matter what you choose, it should probably be something you’ve been involved in for a while, so you can demonstrate your growth and the impact that you have had on others.
This is a pretty standard “Why medicine?” prompt, which means that you should use many of the same tactics as you would for that type of essay (see our overview to 7-year med programs). To provide a brief rehash, in order to convey why a guaranteed-admissions program is a good “fit” for your goals, there are few different things you need to discuss.
First, you need to discuss why you are qualified for medicine; namely what sort of extracurricular activities did you do in high school that were related to medicine, whether tangentially or directly. More specifically, you want to convey your abilities in two key areas: the scientific side of medicine (i.e., the ability to understand and cure diseases), and the humanistic side of medicine (the ability to connect with patients and care for them).
To address both of these aspects, you will need to weave a narrative that connects your technical scientific training to your capacity for empathy and care. You might begin talking about your fascination with physiology, the thrill of cutting open a frog, seeing the obscure jumble of organs, and learning how to sort out the parts that the text book identifies with neat colored markers.
Maybe what interests you about the human body is how it often deviates from the norms that appear in textbooks. Transitioning from an interest in the technical aspects of physiology, you might switch to the more humanistic side of talking about how, as a medical practitioner, you look forward to working with patients who have limited mobility.
More than just a technical understanding of how one human physiognomy might differ from another, you might talk about how the time you have spent working in a restaurant where you were responsible for serving all kinds of different bodies, with all kinds of different mobility restrictions. What did you learn from having people in wheelchairs tell you what they needed in order to comfortably enjoy their meal? How did you open up the space in order to make them comfortable asking you for accommodations? Your patients, after all, are not just frogs on a dissecting table.
Patient care experience is a big plus for this part of the essay, and experiences such as volunteering at a nursing home or shadowing a physician are great enhancers. In the process of outlining your qualifications, be sure to discuss why you enjoy each of those two facets of medicine. But, as I’ve suggested above, especially when you are talking about the humanistic side of medicine, your experience doing any kind of caring or service work can offer a useful perspective.
After all, when you are treating patients, most of them don’t want to be treated like “people who are in a hospital” — they want to feel like they are in a place where they have some measure of agency, where they can ask questions and reflect on their experience.
One thing worth mentioning: There is a particular clichéd version of this essay that talks about how your grandmother suffered from some kind of disease and died. You felt awful about losing her and hope to become a medical professional because you want to cure that disease.
While it is true that a compelling essay about the death of one’s grandmother can be written, it is also the sad truth that everyone’s grandmother dies. If you tell a story like this, you will want to address not just your desire to provide healthcare, but the specific aspects of your training and experience that have prepared you to pursue a career in medicine.
Moreover, it is also worth thinking carefully about how you talk about what the practice of doing medicine entails. The desire to “heal” people and return them to a “normal” life is certainly admirable. But there are some kinds of necessary healthcare work that do not result in a healthy ending where the hidden ailment is eradicated; sometimes healthcare is the persistent and empathetic management of suffering.
The final thing you want to address is why specifically you want to join an accelerated program. Simply saying that you want to save time (the real reason for many applicants) can backfire. Instead, if you have an application with lots of medical and science extracurricular activities, you can speak about why those activities solidified your desire to do medicine.
Otherwise, if your resume is more balanced, you can resort to saying that you are committed to medicine because you already spent high school exploring other fields and have ruled out other possibilities. In the end, probably your most compelling argument for entering the accelerated program will be the level of maturity and thoughtfulness that you demonstrate in your essay as a whole.