How to Get Into Brown University

Pia Sahni

How to Get Into Brown University

If you’re thinking about how to get into Brown University, first be sure that it’s the right school for you. Do you love learning about a wide variety of subjects? Do you like making connections between what you learned in English class and AP Biology, and thinking about how to apply that knowledge outside the classroom? Brown prides itself on being a liberal arts university with an open curriculum. 

Because you’re in charge of the direction of your classes, admissions officers look for independent students who are excited and motivated to learn and try new things. Moreover, if you are passionate about making your community a better place, Brown University might just be a good fit. To help guide you through the question of how to get into Brown, I have outlined the numbers for admitted students, how to take advantage of the essay components, and the requirements and deadlines you need to take note of in order to successfully impress this Providence university.

The Numbers

There’s no denying it – like the other Ivies, Brown is a highly selective school. But what does that mean, exactly? In the 2018-2019 cycle, they had their largest applicant pool in history, receiving 38,674 applications. Of those, only 2,551 were admitted, resulting in a 6.6% admissions rate. 

In order to have a competitive chance when you’re thinking about how to get into Brown, you not only need to have excellent grades – 94% of the admitted class were in the top 10% percent of their high school class – but also make sure your transcript demonstrates that you’ve challenged yourself. This means showing that you’re skilled in multiple disciplines, capable of taking and succeeding in rigorous courses such as APs and IBs.

Brown accepts both the SAT and ACT, and recommends you take two SAT subject tests. (If a school recommends you take subject tests, do it unless you absolutely can’t!). If you’re applying to Brown’s Program in Liberal Medical Education, you should definitely take subject tests in either physics, chemistry, or biology to show your prowess in the STEM field.

The SAT median for admitted students is 1420-1590 (R&W 700-760 and Math 720-790), while the ACT composite score range is 32-35. But it’s not all about grades and test scores at Brown.


Brown University students are enthusiastically involved in both the campus and the greater Providence community. Prospective students need to be as well! If you’re interested in how to get into Brown, then consider how you spend your time both in and out of school. Don’t join Science Olympiad for only a year just to add it to your activities list. Pick extracurriculars in fields that you are passionate about and that are meaningful to you. Remember, you will have to elaborate on one of them in a supplemental essay, so it’s important that you can showcase their importance!

Admissions officers want to know how you go beyond just participating in clubs and whether you’ve taken on leadership positions. You don’t have to be the president of the student government to be a leader; what matters more is how active you are in the organization. Did you hold a bake sale to raise money for charity? That’s a great example of leadership. Take initiative and make a role for yourself that demonstrates your commitment to the group.

Be creative; if there’s no organization that fits what you’re passionate about, then start one! Look outside your school, whether it’s canvassing to get out the vote, or working part-time. Brown wants students who are ambitious, involved, and interested in the world around them. Your engagement can present the school with an accurate representation of how you’re likely to contribute to campus.

Personal Statement

Even though your personal statement isn’t tailored to Brown, it can make a difference in your application as admissions officers want to know who you are and how you spend your time. This essay is the one place in your application where the admissions officers get to hear your voice. Make it count! A good personal statement tells your story and showcases a moment of growth. What did you learn? How have you changed as a result? And how will you incorporate that change in the future? Brown wants their students to demonstrate their passion, whether that’s art, community service, or even making the perfect sandwich. When thinking about how to apply to Brown, be creative in your approach and tell the story of how you’ve grown as a result of whatever your topic may be.  

Supplemental Essays

If you’re considering how to get into Brown, you have to clearly articulate why you want to go there. What is it about Brown that sets it apart for you from other top schools? But, just as importantly, what will you bring to Brown that is distinct and unique? The goal of the supplemental essays is to address both of these questions in order to determine your fit at the college. 

In the 2019-2020 admissions cycle, Brown technically lists three prompts in the supplemental essays section, but when you check on the Common Application, an additional fourth essay is hidden. That’s why it’s always important to double (and triple) check the required supplemental essays for any school. Sometimes, like in the case of Brown, they might ask for a short essay elaborating on something else in your application. The best thing to do is to always look at the Common App website itself. Once you add the school, you can look through the required writing supplements and question sections to see if anything additional is hiding. 

Now that you know how many questions there really are, let’s break them down, one by one.

Prompt 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)

This is a crucial essay as it’s the space where you demonstrate your knowledge of Brown University and why you want to go there. As with any good “Why this school” essay, you cannot be generic, and you have to do your research beforehand. If what you say could be applied to another school, then it’s not specific enough and doesn’t belong in your essay, especially with such a tight word limit. In order to be as detailed as possible, it’s time for research!

Look through Brown’s curriculum carefully. Think widely about your interests. What sets Brown apart is, as the question states, the Open Curriculum. Your essay must demonstrate a knowledge of how it works. Students there can combine classes in fields as disparate as the visual arts and neuroscience. That doesn’t mean that you just pick two different fields and list them; you have to make the case for what connection you see between them. Show the admissions officer that you’ve considered what you want to study, and that Brown is the only place to do so. 

And be careful to use Brown’s own terminology. For example, they don’t have “majors.” Instead, they have “concentrations.” Saying that you’ll major in media studies is a clear signal that you’ve reused an essay and/or didn’t do any research. Saying you’ll concentrate in Modern Culture and Media demonstrates you’ve done your homework. 

Prompt 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)

For essays asking how you’ll contribute to student life, think about what you’ve done so far for your own school or community. Are you someone who is always volunteering? Passionate about the arts? Use what you’ve accomplished already and talk about how you would apply that to Brown. Look forward and imagine yourself as a Brown student; what organizations or programs will you join? Will you maybe start one? Be specific as possible and demonstrate how you’re going to contribute. 

Prompt 3

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

This is the space where you get to show what makes you different. Think creatively when considering how you define home, as it’s not just restricted to a physical location. Where do you feel the most comfortable to express yourself? How has your understanding of home changed, and how will that affect your time at Brown? Think about times where you’ve felt safe and understood - maybe home is certain people or a community and not necessarily a structure. 

Prompt 4 (hidden!)

Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences (Maximum: 150 words)

This is a common question for a number of colleges. Look at your application as a whole. Did you maybe write your personal statement about your experience starting a debate team? Don’t use the same activity to answer this question because admissions officers don’t want to read about the same topic over and over again. This is the time to write about an extracurricular or work experience that is important to you, that you haven’t been able to expand on yet. 

If you’re interested in programs like the five-year Brown-Rhode Island School of Design Dual Degree Program (BRDD) or the eight-year Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME), you will have additional program-specific essays to fill out as well. Give yourself plenty of time to write these!

Requirements and Deadlines

If you’re sure that Brown is the right school for you, and can’t imagine yourself at any other school, then it’s worth applying Early Decision. During the 2018-2019 admissions cycle, 4,230 students applied to Brown for ED, and they accepted 769 students, meaning the acceptance rate was 18 percent. Check the deadlines below, as well as other application requirements:

Requirements for Brown Application Deadlines and Notes
The Common Application ED deadline: November 1; RD deadline: January 1
Common App personal statement The word limit is 650 words.
Brown-specific essays These will appear on the Common App when you select Brown as one of your schools; make sure you answer the hidden prompt under the “activities” questions.
Official high school transcript The transcript must be submitted directly from your school.
School report The school report submitted by your counselor summarizes your academic performance, including your official transcript.
Counselor recommendation This letter is very important to help you stand out from your peers.
Two (2) letters of evaluation from teachers These letters are also crucial, as admissions officers want to know what you are like in the classroom; if you are considering a Bachelor of Science or applying to the Program in Liberal Medical Education, at least one of your recommendations should come from a math or science teacher.
Early decision agreement (if applicable) Early Decision (ED) to Brown is binding, so if you apply ED, you must commit if accepted.
Mid-year report If you are deferred from ED, this is due February 21. For Regular Decision (RD), this should be submitted whenever mid-year grades are available.
SAT or ACT All ED applicants should submit scores prior to the November 1 deadline; all RD applicants must submit test scores prior to the January 2 deadline.
2 SAT subject tests (recommended) All ED applicants should submit scores prior to the November 1 deadline; all RD applicants must submit test scores prior to the January 2 deadline.
Interviews All applicants are typically invited to interview with a Brown alum; ED interviews run from October to early December, RD interviews run from December to early February.
Arts supplement (optional) If you are an excellent artist, designer or a musician, consider submitting a portfolio of your work.
Financial aid documents U.S. citizens and permanent residents applying for aid must fill out the FAFSA, CSS Profile, and parents’ and student’s latest federal income tax returns

As you can see, there are several requirements and deadlines to keep in mind if you’re thinking about how to get into Brown. Adhering to them is just as important as having impressive essays and grades because if you miss a deadline, you can’t be considered for admission!

It takes more than a perfect GPA or SAT score when considering how to get into Brown. Since you’re competing against thousands of strong applicants from all over the world, you have to make sure you frame your application in a way that consistently highlights your leadership abilities and dedication to your community. Continue working hard in your classes, along with focusing on your extracurriculars and doing research on Brown’s offerings. If admissions officers are convinced that you’ll bring something exceptional to campus, you might just get that coveted “yes” letter. Best of luck!

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