Brown University Guide

The Ivy Scholars guide to Brown University’s culture, admissions, and other essential information for prospective students and their families.

Location: Providence, Rhode Island

Mascot: Bruno the Bear

Type: Research University

Population: 9,000 (7,000 undergrads)

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About Brown University

Brown University was founded in 1764 in Providence, Rhode Island and was the first college in the US to accept students regardless of religious affiliation. It’s New Curriculum does not have mandatory gen-ed requirements, making students the “architects of their own syllabus”. All classes are taken to a grade of completion, and failed classes are not put on transcripts, giving students broad leeway to experiment with the courses they take.

Brown University Statistics

Year Founded: 1764

4 Year Graduation Rate: 83%

Gender Distribution: 54% female, 46% female

Acceptance Rate: 8%

Residency: 9% in state, 73% out of state, 18% international

Location Type: Urban

Schedule System: Semesters

Student/Faculty Ratio: 6:1

Average Class Size: 20

Demographics: 42% Caucasian, 24% other/unknown, 14% Asian, 11% Hispanic, 6% Black

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National Rankings

US News Rankings:

  • #1 Writing in the Disciplines
  • #3 Best Undergraduate Teaching
  • #9 Senior Capstone
  • #12 First Year Experience
  • #14 National Universities
  • #15 Most Innovative Schools
  • #45 Study Abroad

Independent Rankings:

  • #2 Best Professors in America per Niche
  • #7 Best Colleges in America per Niche
  • #7 National Colleges per The Times of Higher Education
  • #7 Top Colleges per Forbes
  • #8 Most Diverse College Nationwide per College Factual
  • #12 Most Politically Active Students per The Princeton Review
  • #13 Happiest Students per The Princeton Review
  • #53 World Universities per The Times of Higher Education

Brown University Admissions Information

Application Deadlines:

  • Early Decision: November 1st
  • Regular Decision: January 5th
  • Transfer Deadline: March 1st

Notification Dates:

  • Early Decision: Mid-December
  • Regular Decision: End of March
  • Transfer: Early March

Acceptance Rates:

  • Early Decision: 22%
  • Regular Decision: 7% 
  • Transfer: 8%

Average Applicant Pool: 38,700

Average Number of Applicants Accepted: 2,550

Average Number Enrolled: 1,700

Application Systems: Common App

Average GPA: 4.08 weighted

SAT Scores: 25th% – 1420, 75th% – 1550

ACT Scores: 25th% – 33, 75th% – 35

*Test mandatory. Writing section not accepted.

Demonstrated Interest: Brown University does not consider demonstrated interest.

Recommendation Letter Policies: Two letters of recommendation from teachers who taught major academic subjects sent through the common application. Up to four total letters of recommendation from teachers can be submitted.

Brown University Essay Prompts:

  • Personal statement 650 words
  • 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)
  • Program in Liberal Medical Education: 3 additional essays required
    • Committing to a future career as a physician while in high school requires careful consideration and self-reflection. What values and experiences have led you to believe that becoming a doctor in medicine is the right fit for you? (250 word limit)
    • Most people describe a career as a physician/doctor as a “profession”, beyond a job. Describe for us what “professionalism” and “the profession of a physician/doctor” mean to you. (250 word limit)
    • How do you envision the Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME) helping you to meet your academic personal and professional goals as a person and as a physician of the future? (500 word limit)
  • Brown-Rhode Island School of Design Dual Degree Program: one essay
  • The Brown|RISD A.B./B.F.A. Dual Degree Program draws on the complementary strengths of Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) to provide students with the opportunity to explore and engage with diverse spheres of academic and creative inquiry. The culmination of students’ five-year program is a capstone project that relates and integrates content, approaches, and methods from two distinct learning experiences.
  • Considering your understanding of the academic programs at Brown and RISD, describe how and why the specific blend of RISD’s experimental, immersive combined studio and liberal arts program and Brown’s wide-ranging courses and curricula could constitute an optimal undergraduate education for you.
  • Additionally, how might you contribute to the Dual Degree community and its commitment to interdisciplinary work? (650 word limit)

Special Notes:


  • Transfer students may only enter Brown as sophomores or juniors, and must complete at least two years at Brown.
  • Applications must be submitted through the Common App, and must include high school and college transcripts, two letters of recommendation from faculty at the school you currently attend, and standardized test scores.
  • Students who are accomplished in music may include a supplemental submission demonstrating this.
  • Interviews are not offered to transfer students, but they may submit a 2-minute video introducing themselves to the admissions officers.

Brown University Admission Strategy

Admissions Criteria:

The parts of the application they consider very important are: Course rigor, class rank, GPA, test scores, essays, recommendations, talnet, and character. Extracurriculars are considered important. 

The parts of the application which are considered are: First generation status, legacy status, interviews, geographic origin, race/ethnicity and volunteering. None of these factors will be enough alone, but can increase overall chances of admission.

Recruited athletes do have an advantage in the admissions process, while they do need to be academically competitive, they have an advantage if they are actively recruited by coaches.

Brown does not consider demonstrated interest or ability to pay.

What is Brown Looking For?

The school takes a fully holistic approach to the admissions process, examining and weighing each candidate individually. They are looking for curious students who will make an impact, and are much more free-form and independent than the other Ivy League schools. Further, they want to see how each student will benefit and be benefitted by Brown. All applications are decided on by a vote from the admissions committee.

Every student is rated from 1-6 (6 highest) on two scales: academic and personal. While no students will be rejected by their first reader due to low scores in one area, they will likely not be discussed long in the committee if their readers are not confident in their ability to succeed at Brown.

Engineering applicants to Brown go to an additional read by Engineering faculty during the admissions process. Brown is actively trying to improve its engineering program, and is seeking highly qualified and motivated engineering students.

Brown has a progressive and free-flowing atmosphere, and they look for students who will specifically benefit from that. They want to see how students would add fresh perspectives or contribute to classroom discussions. Further, they want students who care about things, and who will take the initiative to act on their passions.

Brown has a longstanding commitment to diversity, and is actively working to recruit underserved and disadvantaged populations. They do not take ability to pay into account when making admissions decisions, and have programs which guarantee aid for families earning under a certain threshold. 

Brown Strategy:

The best way to improve your chances of admission is to apply Early Decision, as the admissions rate there is far higher. While students must still be qualified, they are competing against a smaller pool, and their commitment to attend is also appealing. Brown’s yield rate is very high, and they want to maintain that; a high number of ED admits is a good way to do that.

Strong engineering applicants will have significant success applying to Brown, more so than similarly qualified applicants applying to a more tech-focused program, such as MIT. Engineering students who want to take an interdisciplinary approach are also sought after, as Brown is heavily focused on interdisciplinary approaches, due to their free-form curriculum.

For Brown’s essays, students should show their creativity and passions. The question about the open curriculum is a good place to explore interests you have outside your desired major, and how you may relate the two through interdisciplinary investigations. In all of the essays, students should display their character, and what they will contribute to the community at Brown.

Letters of recommendation are very important, and students should make sure their recommenders are able to say tangible things about how the student contributes to class and engages with their academic interests. Putting the student in perspective with others is also helpful.

Brown is well known for its unstructured and free-form curriculum, and this is why many of the students who apply choose to go to Brown. You should determine if this looser approach fits your needs and interests, or if you would thrive more in a more traditionally structured environment.

Brown University Academics


Core Requirements:

  • Brown has an Open Curriculum, which allows students to study without any course requirements outside of their chosen concentration (major).
  • Comprehensive Information  

Courses of Study: 

  • 80 Concentrations (Majors) Offered
  • Option to double major
  • Popular Majors: Entrepreneurship, Econometrics, Quantitative Economics and Computer Science
  • You may change your concentration, so long as you will still be able to graduate on time.
  • No minors offered.
  • Course Catalog

AP Credit Policies:

  • Brown does not accept AP credits in a traditional way. Their value is based on individual department policies.
  • Advanced Placement

Special Programs

Honors Programs:

  • University Honors are only awarded as a Magna Cume Laude to the top 20% of graduating students. 
  • Honors in Concentration are by department.
  • Distinguished Senior Thesis award is nominated by the dean.

Research Availability:

  • There are various opportunities to do research for undergraduate students. Brown sponsors many fellowships and grants to facilitate faculty and staff collaborations in research.
  • Undergraduate Research Assistance contains various opportunities for students to participate in research to include, but not limited to undergraduate teaching and research awards and Royce fellowships.

Study Abroad: 

Business Options: 

Pre-Med Options:

Pre-Law Options:

  • Brown does not have a law school, however it offers many opportunities for their students to learn in a way that would enhance their experience in law school. 
  • Brown offers an applicant guide to plan your course of study to adhere to the courses considered most valuable in an application to law school.
  • Focal Point enables Brown students to choose classes that will enable them to pursue their law careers. 
  • Brown Student Pre-Law Society is a great resource for students.
  • Brown University Pre-law Association focuses on providing law related resources for black students on campus.

Computer Science Options: 

Additional Specialty Programs: 

Programs for High Schoolers:

  • Pre-College Programs offer high school students a wide variety of options to learn at Brown, and conduct research with faculty or graduate students.
  • Brown Summer High School is an enrichment program for talented local high school students on its campus.

Student Life at Brown University

School Motto: In God We Hope

Mission and Values:

  • The mission is to serve the community, the nation and the world by discovering, communicating and preserving knowledge and understanding in a spirit of free inquiry, and by educating and preparing students to discharge the offices of life with usefulness and reputation.
  • Values: educational, multipartial, fair, transparent, and socially just.
  • A Vision for Brown through the eyes of their president.
  • Student Testimonials: (StudentsReview, Niche, Unigo)

House System:

Housing Statistics:

  • 100% of Freshmen live on-campus
  • 74% of undergrads live on campus overall

Campus & Surrounding Area:  

Not too big or too small, the campus is sandwiched between NY and Boston. A quick train or bus trip has you playing in two great cities.  

  • The campus is in Providence, the capital city of Rhode Island.
  • Thayer St. (the heart of life on college hill) as well as the entire campus are patrolled by campus security and Providence police.
  • Life in Providence offers a culturally diverse population.
  • Virtual Visits



Student-Run Organizations: 


Greek Life: 

  • Greek life has existed for 175 years at Brown University. Roughly 10% of students participate. Their chapters are wide ranging from coed to sorority and fraternities.
  • Program Houses allows students who don’t want to participate in Greek life to join residential houses that provide a living/learning community for students with similar interests and passions.


  • College Hill refers to Thayer Street and is the main hang out for students.
  • Testimonial on the nightlife at brown.
  • Parties often have fees to get in and fees to drink.
  • Brown Fish co. Wednesdays, frat and independent parties on the weekends make a great nightlife.

Financial Information

Yearly Cost of Attendance:

  • Total: $80,448
  • Tuition: $60,696
  • Fees: $1,000
  • Room & Board: $15,908
  • Books: $1,6420
  • Personal Expenses: $2,202

Financial Aid:

  • Financial Aid meets 100 percent of demonstrated need. Student loans are not part of the initial award, but can be applied for after the financial award is given.
  • Student employment is considered mandatory for all financial aid recipients as part of a student’s obligation to help pay for their education.
  • Health insurance scholarships are provided to students who don’t have personal health insurance and are receiving university need based scholarships.


  • Ivy League schools do not offer merit scholarships, however scholarships granted by outside organizations are accepted.

Fun Facts

  • Van Wickle Gates folklore states that using them incorrectly gives you bad luck.
  • The school was originally named “The College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations,” but was renamed after Nicholas Brown donated $5,000 to the school in 1804 when tuition was only $5.
  • The John Carter Brown library holds seven 15th century letters from Christopher Columbus proclaiming his “discovery” of the New World.
  • Every morning Brown sends you a morning mail that tells you about all the activities (that mostly also involve food) happening on campus.
  • There is no limit to how many courses you can pass and fail. You are in control of choosing how you’d like your course to be graded!
  • Their 1st Chancellor, Stephen Hopkins was a signer of the Declaration of Independence

  • The central gate is the subject of a Brown superstition; new students enter through the gate at Convocation and graduates exit through it at Commencement. It is said that students who walk through the gate a second time prematurely won’t graduate, but they can walk backwards to cancel the hex!
Wendy Y.
Below is my son's review. He was accepted to his dream Ivy League school!

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