Brown University


Brown University sits atop a huge hill in Providence, RI.  Providence is a charming city that is very accessible to Brown students.  There is a lovely and very collegiate area, along Thayer Street, right around the campus that is hopping with casual restaurants, coffee houses, ice cream parlors, pizza stands, an indie movie theater, funky little stores, and other interesting shops.  The campus and the surrounding area are beautiful and connected and inviting.

5800 undergraduate and 1800 graduate students attend Brown.

Brown is unique among the Ivy League schools because of its very minimal academic course requirements. Brown, in fact, is the most famous example of a college where students have the freedom to create their own schedules and follow their interests without much interference from the administration. It is often cited as the gold standard of schools with an “open curriculum.”   This academic freedom is unparalleled and is one of the main differentiators of Brown. The only requirements are those classes that are required for the major, which is known as a “concentration” at Brown.  Usually there are around 8 classes that define a concentration. Students can even write their own proposal for a unique concentration if they choose. Classes can be taken pass/fail or for a grade.  Brown sometimes gets a bad reputation for the freedom it offers students because outsiders assume that students skirt through their four years unchallenged and avoiding the tenets of a good solid education.  However, this is not what happens at Brown.  It must be remembered that it is incredibly difficult to get into Brown and that the students who are attracted to this unique school are high achievers and seekers of knowledge.  When Brown has studied the quality of their liberal arts education and the variety of classes that the students choose, they find over and over again that their student body continually challenges itself on an individual level.  Brown students are not the types who see the lack of requirements as an invitation to slack off.  The vast majority of them see the university as an opportunity, instead, to challenge themselves and step out of their comfort zones. The philosophy behind having this freedom in academic choice is that students will be more vested in their learning if they are in control of it.  The hope is that they will seek out a broad-based education taking the classes that most resonate with them. You will never find yourself in a class surrounded by people who don’t want to be there.  As a result class discussions are excellent and memorable. Our student tour guide said that most of the students at Brown are focused and self-motivated and “looking for better understanding.” Brown is clearly an academic wonderland for the student eager to learn and seek new challenges and stretch himself academically.  Brown students LOVE BROWN! But for the unmotivated or directionless student or for a student who is not a big academic risk taker, this academic model might be a hiding place from academic growth or simply an overwhelming forest of possibility. Few of these students make it through the rigorous admissions policy anyway.

Students are assigned a faculty and a student advisor as entering freshman. The faculty advisors are either professors or administrative staff. Students get a new faculty advisor once they declare a concentration.  Students have to actively seek out advising. It’s readily available, but only if students seek it. Brown offers other types of counseling as well.  There are three types of counselors beyond the academic advisors.  There are residential advisors – every student will have one in the dorm.  Then there are minority counselors and women counselors for minorities and women.  I’m not sure why this is fair and why all students don’t get equal access to counselors.  I worry about this reverse discrimination, and frankly cannot understand it. But I digress…

Also all professors have office hours and most encourage students to come visit.  Lots of individualized time with professors is available if desired.

Seventy-one percent of classes have fewer than 20 students.  About 5% have over 100 students and a handful have well over 300-400 students.  The classes with over 40 students have smaller sections led by a TA for smaller group breakout. However, full professors are the lead teacher in ninety-eight percent of classes.

Housing is guaranteed for 4 years for all students.  Most undergraduates live on campus, but about 50% of seniors live off campus—which usually means sharing a nearby house.  Freshmen live in predominantly freshmen dorms, always in doubles with a freshman roommate from a different geographical area.  Upper classmen are peppered through out freshman dorms.  The freshman dorms are not necessarily together on campus.  Brown does provide one unifying concept for freshman living and that is “Units.” Students are grouped, according to their location in the dorms, into groups of between 40 and 60 students into units.  The unit shares the same RA and living areas.  They bond closely within the first few weeks of school. There isn’t a structured “first year experience” like at many schools.  I believe this is probably a purposeful expression of the freedom that Brown grants students.  Again, Brown, with its unstructured philosophy shining clearly in everything from academics to housing, is for students who don’t need structure to thrive and stay motivated.  It’s for students who will succeed and find their path on their own—with support tempered in lots of freedom. This isn’t to say that the administration and professors are not present or concerned for students at all, it’s just not forced on the students.  Brown students are mature and sophisticated and already prepared to take on the challenges and choices of college life when they arrive. The students are at once laid back yet serious about their academics. They are some of the most collaborative in the country.  They work together and have a culture of helping each other.

Upperclassman typically live in suites in dorms that are often 4 singles attached to a common room.  There are some single sex halls, although most halls are co-ed.  Rooms are not co-ed. Bathrooms are not co-ed.  There are substance free halls and quiet halls available.

Student Life seems to revolve around the campus and nearby area.  Only ten percent of students are in a fraternity or sorority. There are two sororities and 8 fraternities. There are also some Greek organizations based on interests as well as 3 co-ed fraternities.  The students are described as being friendly and not too competitive. There are over 400 clubs and extracurricular groups.  If a group of students wants to start a club, they can, as long as they have 10 people.  Brown is known for having 15 a cappella singing groups

Students have lots of research opportunities at Brown.  It’s not difficult to get a $3000 grant to conduct research for a semester.  A student just writes a proposal and submits it.

Hints for applying.

Brown looks at:

  1. Grades in the context of the high school—in other words, rigor.
  2. Extracurriculars because you like them. Quality over Quantity
  3. Essays—especially important is the why Brown essay
  4. Whether a student is flexible and focused and self-motivated and persistent
  5. Counselor recs, where appropriate, and teacher recs
  6. Test scores



Brown welcomes CDs of musical auditions. They had a 40% increase in applications for the class of 2015. 28,671 students applied to be in Brown’s class of 2017.  2,760 were accepted for an over all acceptance rate of 9.6 %. 19% of ED candidates were accepted.  Brown hopes to enroll 1515 students in each freshman class.









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