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4 Tips to Write a Winning "Why Brown" Essay

Posted by Hayley Milliman | Nov 1, 2018 12:00:00 PM

College Essays



Students who are applying to Brown have to answer the “Why Brown” essay question. This essay asks students why they want to attend Brown and what they hope to contribute to Brown’s unique community.

In this essay, we’ll discuss what the “Why Brown” essay prompt is, why it exists, and how to answer it well, as well as going over a a real "Why Brown" essay example.


The “Why Brown” Essay Prompt

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)

You might be wondering why Brown asks this question - what are they hoping to learn about you from this essay?

While Brown has a great academic reputation, the admissions committee already knows that and doesn’t want to hear about it. The admissions committee wants to know why you’d rather go to Brown than any of the other Ivy League universities or other top schools in the world.

Specifically, they want to know why you’re interested in Brown’s unique academic model and what, in turn, you’ll be able to give back to their special community. Brown's admissions committee wants to make sure that you'll be a good fit on their campus, both academically and socially.


What Is the Purpose of the “Why Brown” Essay?

Why do schools like Brown require you to answer a “why this school” essay?

Colleges and universities want to see that you really want to attend their school. Applicants who love their school are more likely to be active and happy students and later, active and happy alumni.

Your essay should show the admissions committee that you really love Brown, which will make them feel more confident that you’ll be a great addition to the campus.

Brown wants to make sure you know and value what they offer, and they also want to assess how you’ll take advantage of the many opportunities on Brown’s campus to further your academic and professional career.

Applicants that really want to attend a school are also more likely to enroll, meaning that Brown’s rate of enrollment will be higher.

Brown also has a unique academic model - one that you won’t find replicated at the other Ivy League universities. Brown wants to make sure that you’re genuinely interested in that model and that you’ll take advantage of the opportunities it gives you.

This essay is a great opportunity for the admissions committee to weed out students who haven’t done their research on Brown or for whom Brown’s educational philosophy wouldn’t work.


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What Should You Write About in Your “Why Brown” Essay?

The “Why Brown” essay is a bit different than other “why this school” essays since it asks questions about two specific aspects of Brown: its Open Curriculum and its community. You need to make sure that you mention both in your answer.

Brown’s Open Curriculum is unique, especially among Ivy League institutions. The Open Curriculum means that you won’t have to take any required classes or activities whilst at Brown: you have complete control over what you take.

While the Open Curriculum may sound really exciting, you should present your interest in it as something proactive, rather than reactive. What does that mean? Well, rather than saying you’re simply excited to never take a math class again, show what you would rather take instead.

Basically, you want to show what you are interested in, rather than what you’re not interested in. Saying that you’re an engineer who also has a passion for Russian literature is better than saying you’re a Classics major who hates Calculus.

Your essay will be stronger if you have a concrete academic plan (or at least the makings of one). You can even go as far as indicating which specific classes you’d like to take.

You need to show that you’ll take advantage of the Open Curriculum and that you’ve given some thought to shaping your own education.

It goes without saying, but you need to show that Brown’s lack of structure is a good thing, not a bad thing, for you. Don’t write that you’re looking forward to the structure of Brown’s core curriculum - there is none.

The next part of the Why Brown essay flips the focus back onto you and how you’ll contribute to the Brown community.

Like all colleges and universities, Brown values its student body and how each student contributes to its community. You want to show that you have something to offer Brown.

Because this question asks about how you’ll contribute to the community, you don’t have to limit yourself to purely academic interests. You can discuss your extracurricular passions, too.

Your essay can focus on existing clubs or activities on Brown’s campus but you can also feel free to discuss how you would bring your own interests and passions to the school. If you love Scrabble, for instance, and want to start a Scrabble club, you could talk about that in this part of the essay.

Regardless of what you choose, you need to make it clear that you will add value to Brown’s campus. The admissions committee wants to make sure that you’ll participate and get the most out of your years in Providence.


“Why Brown” Essay Example

To help you get a better idea of what a great response to this prompt can look like, below is a “Why Brown” essay example from a current student, YouTuber heyitsjoshco. We’ll also explain what makes it an excellent response.

This "Why Brown" essay sample answers a previous version of the "Why Brown" essay prompt that did not ask about the student's addition to the Brown community. Nevertheless, it's a great sample of explaining how the student will take advantage of Brown's Open Curriculum.

The student shows that he'll take advantage of the Open Curriculum to pursue "learning for the sake of learning," which indicates that he'll study topics that interest him on all levels, not just those that are related to his major. This mindset is exactly what Brown hopes to encourage in its students. The student presents himself as a curious intellectual, which indicates that he'll be an active participant in his education.

By listing the exact programs and departments that he's interested in, the essay shows that the student really wants to attend Brown, not another school.


4 Tips for a Great Response to the "Why Brown" Essay

Regardless of how you decide to answer this prompt, there are four tips everyone should keep in mind to make sure they’re fully answering the question, giving the information Brown wants to see, and making sure they stand out from other applicants.


#1: Do Your Research

Before you begin writing your response to this essay prompt, you should know exactly why you want to attend Brown.

Familiarize yourself with the Open Curriculum and what it means.

Peruse the school website and course catalog to get an idea of what you’ll study with all of your open credits.

Get an idea for the different clubs and activities that you’d like to participate in. You can find this information on the school’s website. Talking to a current or former student is also a great way to find out what Brown has to offer.

It can also be worthwhile to schedule a meeting with a professor, especially if you have a particular area of study that you’re extremely interested in.


#2: Be Specific

From your research, you should have come up with specific reasons why Brown is a great school for you. The more specific you can be when answering this prompt, the better.

Don’t say Brown has great academics, caring professors, and an interesting student body. The vast majority of schools have that.

Instead, try to mention opportunities only Brown can provide, like specific professors, course names, extracurriculars, or research opportunities.


#3: Show Your Passion

Brown wants students who care a lot about their studies and their school, so make sure this comes across in their response. A bland statement like, “I am impressed by Brown’s academics” won’t make you stand out.

Explain why you want to take advantage of Brown’s Open Curriculum and how that will help you learn about a variety of interests, rather than just those related to your major.

Highlight what exactly you’ll add to their campus and how you’ll contribute to both existing and activities.


#4: Proofread

Your Brown essay should be the strongest example of your work possible. Before you turn in your application, make sure to edit and proofread your essays.

Your work should be free of spelling and grammar errors. Make sure to run your essays through a spelling and grammar check before you submit.

It’s a good idea to have someone else read your “Why Brown” essay, too. You can seek a second opinion on your work from a parent, teacher, or friend. Ask them whether your work represents you as a student and person. Have them check and make sure you haven’t missed any small writing errors. Having a second opinion will help your work be the best it possibly can be.



Your “Why Brown” essay can help give the admissions teams a good idea of why Brown is a great fit for you.

The purpose of this essay prompt is for you to show Brown that you’ve done research on their school, feel it’s a good fit for you, and already know some of the opportunities at the school you want to make the most of.

When writing your essay for this prompt, be sure to do lots of research on the school, be specific, show your passion, and mention plans you have for the future. Looking at “Why Brown” essay examples can also help, though they are hard to find.


What’s Next?

Trying to figure out what makes a good SAT score for each SAT subsection? We can help!

The "Why This College?" is a common essay topic on college applications. Learn how to write a great "Why This College" essay for every school you're applying to.

Looking for more great essay examples? We have links to 101 great college essays.


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Hayley Milliman
About the Author

Hayley Milliman is a former teacher turned writer who blogs about education, history, and technology. When she was a teacher, Hayley's students regularly scored in the 99th percentile thanks to her passion for making topics digestible and accessible. In addition to her work for PrepScholar, Hayley is the author of Museum Hack's Guide to History's Fiercest Females.

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