Brown University prompts for 2019-2020 are off and running as of July. For those of you wanting to do an East Coast/West Coast Split, you will be pleased to find that you will be able to modify a Stanford essay a bit and use it on your Brown application (or vice-versa) and you will also find that all three of Brown’s questions have overlap with essays for other, elite universities. Before I explain further, here are the Brown University essay prompts for 2019-2020:
First Year applicants to Brown are asked to answer three supplemental essay questions, which are provided below if you would like to begin work on your essays now.
- 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)
- 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)
- Tell us about a place or community you call home. How has it shaped your perspective? (250 words)
This post will focus primarily on Brown’s Prompt 1; I will look at Prompts 2 and 3 in later posts, and also compmare the Brown prompts to other college admissions prompts–finding ways to reuse ideas is a key concept if you are doing ten or more applications.
Let’s start by comparing Brown’s prompt 1 to Stanford’s Prompt 1 and look at the two-birds-with-one-stone approach to writing application essays:
- The Stanford community is deeply curious and driven to learn in and out of the classroom. Reflect on an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning.
The key difference between Brown’s prompt and Stanford’s prompt is in the wrinkle that Brown wants you to discuss the Open Curriculum as you address the question. So in addition to defining an area of intellectual interest, there is a secondary need to do some research on the Open Curriculum, which you can start now by introducing yourself to the Open Curriculum: About Brown’s Open Curriculum.
You will want to do more research on the Open Curriculum after you define your area of interest for this essay, as you explore concentration areas, classes and even professors that you could tap via both your main area of study and the Open Curriculum; you will want to be able to name-drop class names, professors, and general ed subjects based on the passion you define in the essay. This will require an hour or two or research to do well, and it may boil down to a couple of sentences or a paragraph in an essay of this length–but if you want the admit, it is worth doing.
Brown Essay for Prompt 1–Structure and Getting Started
I would recommend an essay structure that starts with your academic interest(s), then concludes with specific aspects of Brown and its Open Curriculum–though the essay does not need to be evenly divided between the two.
The next thing to consider would be what definitely piques your interest, and with only 250 words, you want either a single subject that is a passion (and that should probably be related to your application spike–the area of interest or passion that sets you apart and that hopefully also ties in with your prospective major), or you want two or three things that you can quickly define and tie together easily–the key is to create a “box” of clearly related ideas and activities, not to create a laundry-list of things you do. Let your activities take care of the range of your interests. This essay should focus on one area of interest that is particularly important to you.
Starting the Essay–
There are many ways to do this. With an essay this short, however, you should probably not use, or else seriously truncate, the dramatic narrative hook and opener that so many students use. You know the essay I am talking about–it starts with the you-are-there moment in present tense that is heavy on sensory detail and drama. This opener is used (very, very) often in college essays, because it is used (very, very) often in high school essays, which is one problem–it’s pretty much a cliche–but problem number two is that it also takes a lot of space. And 250 words does not allow a lot of space. 250 words suggests a more expository opener. (Oh, and before we look at some examples, a warning about one other opening strategy: if you are going to use a question as a hook, make it a really good one. Starting essays with questions or quotes is an overused strategy and quite often the questions asked are overly obvious or not well connected to the topic (except for those prompts that use a quote, or ask you to use one).
Example Hooks and Introductions—
You could open up with a simple statement, and I will give you a few examples on the same subject:
Saturday morning is when I catch up on sleep; Saturday afternoon is when I take my fully-charged and well-rested brain out to the garage, where, on a bench of three-quarter inch plywood, you will find my prototype for a fusion reactor.
(Before you laugh at my opener, I had a client a few year’s back who was involved with the DIY fusion reactor movement. No joke. He’d run the thing a few times and had some results though, of course, no true cold fusion. Nobody has done that.)
Most kids are into superheroes and dream of gaining some superpower and saving the world someday. And most kids give up those dreams. I have not. My dream of saving the world is taking shape in my garage. My dream takes the physical form of a heavy, steel case protruding wires–this is my fusion reactor prototype.
(I am using the subject a former client used, but I am not using his language; the examples are mine, meant to show a couple of ways to use a more expository opener that does not waste words with much scene-setting but that still allows a nice hook)
Notice how both descriptions do set the scene and provide a hook, and notice how the subject does a lot of work for you: the project itself sets up a focus on science and engineering, which can be developed through quick references to classes, to research done and contacts made in the course of constructing the reactor prototype–in the case of this essay, the student had done enough sincere work that he got the attention of a Berkeley nuclear engineering professor, who gave him some advice that he could cite. So he used the process of building this device as a way to pull in things he’d done that were not activities per se, but that could be used here to show his academic/intellectual curiosity.
It’s not likely that you, my reader, are building a fusion prototype, but if you do have some kind of project or relatable set of activities, driven by a clear central interest, use that for your essay. You could simply like books, for example, as I do, and talk about books as a kind of wormhole; each time you open a good book, you are opening a door into a new universe, a parallel dimension of an alternate mind . . . notice how even the common book becomes an object of passion and interest, both of which will make your essay stand out. Walking into Moe’s Books in Berkeley, for example, and sampling the shelves is like a combination of time and space travel . . . notice that this paragraph also offers another idea for a hook and intro, on a seemingly mundane topic made dramatic by a personal passion for it.
Returning to our fusion reactor essay, I suggested that the author dial back his enthusiasm and his claims a bit–there are plenty of folks doing fusion projects at home (again, not kidding about that) and some are pretty nutty, so I suggested that my client recognize that he was engaging in an experiment that was about personal development more than it was about realistically achieving cold fusion, and after looking at some of the stuff my client wanted to include, I had him delete a reference to a (very) eccentric fellow who had offered some advice; in the end, this applicant described how he became interested in this project (carbon-free energy=saving the planet) and he used only one specific reference, to that Berkeley prof who offered him some feedback on his experimental “reactor.” Ultimately, this essay worked in the sense that this applicant was admitted to UT Austin and Purdue. (Final word on this: if cold fusion piques your interest, read on for more: Cold Fusion DIY.)
Returning to this academic/intellectual essay as a problem: once you have defined an area of interest, written a hook and intro, and then described your interest(s) in the body of the essay, you are done . . . . for Stanford. But I would suggest that it would be a good idea to do some research on courses and profs at Stanford as well; name-dropping a program/class of interest (or two) at Stanford is always a good way to support that Demonstrated Interest, by showing that you know who, what and therefore why you are applying.
For Brown, you definitely need to do more, so it’s back to that Open Curriculum for a bit more research–no footnotes needed. Here is another link (no video testimonials, this time) for Brown’s Open Curriculum, giving some background on it: Background on the Open Curriculum. You want to look at courses that make up this liberal-studies program to see if any appeal, then select those that somehow overlap with your interests.
And I also suggest you look at this informative discussion of the Open Curriculum on Quora: How Open is Brown’s Open Curriculum?
If our friend, the fusion reactor inventor, actually got some results from his experiment, his discoveries would roll out in that broader system called modern American capitalism and society, about which a liberal studies curriculum might help our narrowly-focused engineer think more broadly as he assessed how to develop his invention further. But of course, he also wants to mention his major, excuse me, his concentration.
So next, go to Brown’s Concentrations (Otherwise know as majors) located here: Brown Concentrations. For someone with a clear science/engineering interest, like our friend with the fusion reactor project, you’d start by clicking on and reading courses of interest that are required as well as optional courses that would allow you to pursue your area of interest.
In addition to looking at courses in the major that you might name-drop a class or two and perhaps a professor you might find teaching that class, whom you could also click on to read about (for me; comparative lit: how about that prof Richter: Undergrad courses taught by Gerhard Richter, et al. Yes, at Brown you can directly access courses taught by specific profs to see if they fit you. Get on it, People.
I also strongly suggest you look into research and ongoing work at Brown in your area. To do this, just go to the main Brown page and click on the search window, top right side, and type in a suitable term; here is what you will get it you type in “Engineering Research” in that window: Brown Engineering Research.
And of course as you do all of this and closely read what you find, you are taking notes, and copying and pasting information, maybe one or two pages, all of which will boil down to . . . a couple of sentences or maybe a paragraph. But it’s worth it, to get to know Brown and to come up with solid material so that you are not writing just another generic essay.
As for Stanford, they have a general education requirement, with a useful focus found here: Thinking Matters— and if we took our same engineering/reactor guy who wrote the fusion reactor essay and searched engineering research on the Stanford page, we’d again get a juicy list of things to read on and do further research into in order to make this essay work. Take a look here for more: Engineering Research at Stanford.
Rather than researching broadly, I would suggest using some of the links that are most interesting/most applicable to define more narrow areas of interest and clicking to go deeper down the rabbit hole of your passions, as it were. And yes, it seems perfectly okay to suggest that you are inspired by the work of professor x on subject y . . . even it if is unlikely that an undergrad would actually work with professor x and y. If it fits in with your interests, you show interest in it by name-dropping.
And in your conclusion, you would love the opportunity to further pursue that professor x in area y in order to contribute to z or solving problem zz. Or something even more interesting, in which you do not simply repeat your introduction.
Finally, for help developing and editing essays, contact me.
And come back soon fore more on Brown essays and on Stanford applications.