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How to Answer the Brown Supplemental Essay Prompts 2019-2020

MAR 11, 2020 • 7 min read

Supplemental essays are a crucial forum within your larger application to show the aptness of your fit at a particular school. The supplemental questions for Brown University allow applicants to better explain their pre-existing interests and aspirations, as well as the ways in which they believe they could be furthered by a Brown education. Wondering how to make the most of your supplements for Brown? This guide will break down the essential strategies for these three essays.

Firstly, a general note: though Brown recently increased the word limit for supplements, it’s still important to write concisely and avoid generalities. While writing each essay, ask yourself if each sentence adds something that couldn’t have been written by any other applicant. To this end, the strongest essays will feature personal experience prominently, but will not pontificate needlessly about accomplishments for their own sake, instead relating them your hopes and projections for a Brown experience.

Applying to other Ivy League universities? Check out how our expert essay mentors answered the supplemental prompts for Harvard, Princeton, Penn and Columbia.

Essay 1: 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 words)

Essay 2: 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)

Essay 3: Tell us about a place or community you call home. How has it shaped your perspective? (250 words)

For the first essay, the primary goal is to show genuine passion or intellectual curiosity in your area of interest as well as how Brown will help will help you pursue that interest. Because this first essay combines two classic admissions question — “Tell us about your interests.” and “Why Brown?” — clarity and concision will be key when writing this essay.

For the interest portion, what was the experience through which you first became interested in this topic or area? Was it forged to help or challenge people close to you, or was it an entirely personal endeavor? The focus should be on the reasons why you find a subject so compelling, rather than why you’re so amazing at it—your tone needs to stay humble and self-aware. Did a particularly inspiring book, teacher, or experience first get you interested in this subject? How has your passion for this subject grown or developed over time? It’s perfectly fine to be undecided; if so, describe specific areas of interest you’re deciding between. If you choose to talk about a particular skill you find rewarding or challenging, depicting a struggle will be much more interesting.

Now that you have engaged the admission committee with your interests, you need to explain why Brown’s Open Curriculum will help you further that interest. Perhaps the most unique aspect of Brown is that students can choose their own course of study in place of general requirements. A Brown student might be a biomedical engineer who has taken every Ancient Egyptian archeology course, a comparative literature student who originally intended to study applied math, or a neuroscientist double-concentrating in philosophy. Brown wants to know how you’ll use this flexibility to explore your interests in a way that might not be possible elsewhere, and this will require some research. A strong response to this question would integrate gathered knowledge about Brown’s specific offerings into a personal narrative based around your stated interest, to demonstrate how the unique opportunities at Brown represent an obvious next step in developing your interests. Utilize the school’s website as much as possible to brainstorm specific ways the Open Curriculum will help you further your interests. You can even search Researchers@Brown to connect your interests with those of professors.

While the first essay was designed to learn more about you and how you will benefit from attending Brown, the second essay is all about how Brown will benefit by having you on campus. Admissions teams are striving to create diverse classes that come from a variety of backgrounds, but they also seek students who are able to work together for the better of the community. However, remember, humility, humility, humility. Show them how you will contribute to Brown rather than telling them. Generally, you will come across as humble when you describe something that is meaningful to you, not necessarily what you think the admissions committee will find most impressive. The best essay will describe how something you truly care about that had an impact on the world around you. Were you involved in a particular community service project that you found rewarding? Was there a time when you could contribute a unique life experience that deepened other understanding of the issue or caused them to reconsider their view? In other words, how have you made an impact on the people around you? This question is very broad, so you can talk about almost any way you have had an impact on your community. Lastly, relate your answer back to an aspect unique to Brown. You do not want to give the Admission’s Committee the impression that you sent this same essay to multiple schools, so personalize it! Look through the school’s website to brainstorm specific ways you’ll contribute to the school community. Peruse Brown’s student organizations to see how you can pursue your extracurricular interests, check out the Swearer Center to see how you can become involved in the Providence community, and search Researchers@Brown to connect your interests with those of professors.

The third essay is meant as a chance for you to show your belief in the power of community as an educative force--that an education is not just given to individual students in a classroom, but that recognition and formation of communities are significant components of education and life in general. You should be sincere and genuine in the way you talk about your chosen “home.” Just as with the first question, this isn’t the place to impress admissions officers (humility often wins more points than arrogance), but rather to describe something meaningful to you—whether it’s a place, community, or group. Think about the structures in your life that are meaningful, whether religious, familial, academic, or interest-based. You may choose to talk about a part of your life that isn’t expanded upon elsewhere in your application, or explain why something in your activities section was especially influential to you. Maybe you’ve moved around a lot and want to emphasize the diversity of places that have shaped you, or perhaps you’ve always lived in the same place and want to highlight your deep connection to your community. You could also talk about how you’ve impacted a group and how the group has impacted you in return. No matter what direction you choose to take this prompt, it’s crucial to avoid vague takeaways. The most important thing is to reveal something insightful about yourself and confirm your faith in the power of community in education and identity formation.

These tips should give you a better idea of how to approach the supplemental questions for Brown University. As with all schools, Brown’s supplements are crafted so you can show not only a more comprehensively personal side to your application, but also your interest in Brown’s specificities, both academic and communal. Good luck!

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