This post about the Brown supplement to the Common Application is part of a series of posts written to help you complete the 2013 Common Application supplement for Ivy League schools.
Today, when I visited the Brown website, the academic page banner proclaimed, “Brown gives students the freedom to direct their education.” If that tenet wasn’t clear before, it should be now. The independence that Brown seeks from its students is evident in the most lengthy of Ivy league supplements. If you are seeking a Brown education, however, the included questions should be both thought provoking and interesting. Flexibility is a hallmark of the Brown experience. Unfettered by a core curriculum or even the distribution requirements of many other colleges, students at Brown pursue their own education. The courses a student chooses are based upon his or her own ideas of education and of challenge, interest, and intellectual development.
With these tenets of the Brown education in mind, consider the writing component of the Brown Supplement to the Common Application. Whether you draw inspiration from the biblical statement of “to whom much has been given, much is expected, “ or from Spiderman (“with great power comes great responsibility,”) the application makes it clear that a Brown student should embrace the application as he would the curriculum: with purpose, creative thought, and determination.
The first writing section asks applicants to consider their academic interests within the context of the Brown curriculum, identifying potential areas of study and elaborating on the roots of their interests. Many other colleges ask a similar version of this question, which can be challenging for the student who is truly “undecided”. Use this short answer to share some insight into your academic curiosity and in the follow-up question, consider why the flexibility to explore and potentially combine disciplines is important to you.
The second writing section asks about your background and influential experiences. Brown (in a question similar to one from the University of Michigan,) looks to see how you define yourself relative to others – by asking you to write about a community with which you identify. It’s easy to identify yourself by geography, ethnicity, or politics – groups for which we already have a label. If you choose one of these more common groups, try to avoid relying on cliché and general conclusions. As always, keep it personal. Feeling creative? There are a number of other ways to define yourself. Are you the only male in a women’s studies class, the only artist in BC Calculus, or the class clown on the debate team? Think not only about your role, but why this community is important enough to you that you wrote about it at all.
Several of the writing prompts in this section ask you to consider how you define yourself and how you react to change. As you brainstorm, consider the following questions:
How do you think about yourself relative to others? If you are a visual thinker, a Venn diagram could be useful here. Diagram the many circles to which you belong. Do you define yourself by where you have lived, or by how often that has changed? Do you remain the same in all situations or share common ground with a chameleon, adapting to your environment? Do you seek to take risks? What kind? Are you afraid of failure? How have you reacted to a difficult or unexpected situation? It is easy to identify yourself by your hometown, or your ethnicity and more challenging to look at your identity through a variety of lenses. When I was thinking about these questions, the correlation between risk and changed perspective was evident. How do those two elements interrelate for you? Many strong essays rely on a central conflict, and these elements offer a strong starting point for this construction. Whether you choose to address these questions in the most traditional manner or a more creative way, the admission committee will learn more about you if you set a scene and tell a story.
One option for the longer essay is to discuss your reasons for attending college. For many students who are applying to Brown, they have always known that they would go to college. It’s just the next step in the path after high school for them. The straight line to college was drawn in preschool, if not before. If this is your current answer, make another choice for the optional essay. Then spend some time thinking about your reasons for attending college. You will be a better college student, at Brown or any other college, for understanding this about yourself.
By Whitney Bruce, who has worked in college admissions since 1996. She has served as a Senior Assistant Director of Admissions (Washington U), Application Reader (University of Michigan), Assistant Director of College Counseling (private prep school in St. Louis), and an independent college counselor. She is happy to advise you as you apply to college.