Brown University, a unique member of the Ivy League, is a high-caliber institution
that is low on pretension. Founded in 1764, before America gained independence from Great Britain, it is the 7th oldest institute of higher education in the country, and the first to welcome students from any religion.
With no core requirements, the innovative curriculum takes
academic decisions out of the ivory tower and puts them in the hands of students. Each
student becomes the architect of his or her own education and the result is a community of self-motivated learners who relish the chance to discover and explore their true passions.
The University is made up of several units, and students must decide which one to enroll in. Currently the campus houses:
- The College
- Graduate School
- Alpert Medical School
- School of Engineering
- School of Public Health
Brown stands out from other competitive colleges in its emphasis on student choice.
While most schools have distribution requirements that all students must take to
graduate—usually a series of introductory-level courses in different fields of study—here there are no core curriculum requirements. There are requirements only within a student’s concentration and to graduate, students need to pass thirty courses, demonstrate competency in writing, and complete the requirements for their concentration.
Some might fear that students would abuse this system and miss out on all that a liberal education has to offer. But this school’s students are inherently motivated and the school provides
academic advisors to help them consider their academic programs carefully.
At the end of the sophomore year, students begin to focus their studies on one field by
declaring a concentration. Requirements for concentrations vary greatly. Some departments,
such as history, have as few as eight required courses, while other programs may require as
many as twenty courses. Students also have the option to double-concentrate or create their
own concentration in collaboration with a faculty advisor.
Academic Advising and Support
All incoming first-year students are assigned an academic advisor, a faculty member with whom they meet during orientation and throughout the
year. Most academic advisors teach in the Curricular Advising Program (CAP). This program allows freshmen to take a class with a professor who will also serve as their advisor.
Class size and format vary depending on the department and type of course.
Most classes are small in size (about thirty to forty students) and are taught in a seminar style with an emphasis on student participation. Introductory lecture classes and lab
classes for sciences tend to be larger (one hundred students or more) but usually include
smaller section meetings during the week where students can get more individual attention.
A shopping period at the beginning of each semester allows students to check out a variety of classes before finalizing their schedule for the semester. Students often use the shopping
period to compare different courses and see which professors they prefer.
As with concentrations, students also have the opportunity to design their own classes.
Student-created classes develop as collaborations between a small group of students and a
faculty advisor and are known as Group Independent Study Projects, or GISPs. GISPs are
a perfect example of what happens when you give motivated students the freedom and resources to pursue their true passions. Many GISPs encompass several fields of study and
result in innovative research or help extend the interdisciplinary course offerings.
Cross-registration with RISD
(pronounced Riz-dee), the Rhode Island School of
Design, a top-level art school that is Brown’s neighbor
on College Hill is offered. Visual Arts concentrators make the
most use of this option. In the past several year, both
schools have committed to raising academic collabo-
ration to a new level.
Pass / Fail Grades
The S/NC grade option at Brown, which stands for satisfactory/no credit, is intended to
encourage academic risk taking. Since students can opt to take any course S/NC, they
are more likely to venture outside of their comfort zones academically without fear of sullying their transcripts with a low grade. For example, a history concentrator may decide to
take a competitive physics course S/NC or an economics concentrator might try art history
without having to worry about grades. Most students view the S/NC system as a nice option
but still take the majority of their courses for a grade. Very few students abuse the system.
Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME)
One final aspect of academic life here is the Program in Liberal Medical Education
(PLME). This program provides a unique path to medical education. Students apply to
PLME as high school seniors and, if accepted, are guaranteed spots in Brown’s medical
school upon graduation, provided they maintain a certain GPA. As undergrads, PLME students are just like other members of the class. They are encouraged to take full advantage
of the liberal arts offerings, and many end up concentrating in the humanities before
continuing on to medical school. Ultimately, this eight-year continuum of liberal arts
education and medical education encourages PLME students to develop into well-rounded
scholars who view medicine as a humanitarian pursuit rather than a trade.
The school does not currently have an online program that earns degrees, but in partnership with Coursera, offers free online classes to anyone in the world who wants to take part. No credits are awarded in these liberal arts or sciences courses, but the knowledge is there for the taking.
Most Popular Fields of Study
Each year the admissions process seems to get more selective. Students seeking admission must meet high
academic standards. Nearly half of the current freshmen were in the top ten percent of their
high school classes, and SAT scores average 1400 (based on 1600).
But meeting these requirements alone does not ensure acceptance. Admissions officers look at many different aspects of an
applicant’s profile in addition to his or her academic record. Like most competitive colleges, this school looks for students who have the whole package—exceptional academics, leadership in
outside activities, commitment to the community, and a certain intangible spark that can come
across in an applicant’s essay or recommendations.
Geographic and Ethnic Diversity
The admissions committee also tries to foster geographic and ethnic diversity in the
student body. For this reason, students who come from underrepresented regions, such
as the Midwest, may have an easier time getting in than students from the Northeast. The
university also actively recruits international students and values the diverse perspectives
they bring to the community.
Brown’s application process is fairly standard. Applicants submit academic transcripts,
recommendations, test scores for the SAT or ACT, two SAT Subject Test scores, and a
Once students have assembled all of their materials, they can submit their applications
by one of two deadlines: the Early Decision deadline or the Regular deadline.
Students choosing the Early Decision option apply by November 1 and receive decisions by mid-December. This option is reserved for applicants who have selected Brown as their first-choice
college and will attend if admitted as an Early Decision candidate. The Regular admissions deadline is January 1.
Students receive financial support both through financial aid and scholarship grants.
Nearly forty percent of Brown students receive some sort of aid.
Many students work part-time jobs as part of their work-study program or to make some
extra spending money. Food service jobs are the most common, but there are also job opportunities in academic departments, libraries, or other campus facilities. On-campus jobs pay an
hourly wage that typically increases as a student logs in a number of hours or rises to leadership.
The deadline for submitting financial aid forms is November 1 for Early Decision
applicants and February 1 for regular applicants, and financial aid awards must be renewed
Student Financial Aid Details
The freshman unit marks the beginning of every student’s social life. It comprises
forty to sixty students who live together in the same freshman dorm.
People tend to bond quickly with their unit mates, and units often travel as a pack during the first few months of freshman year. Members of the same unit will eat together in the
campus cafeterias or turn out in large numbers to support one of their unit mates at a performance or sporting event.
Fraternities and Sororities
Unlike many college campuses, Greek life plays a small role in Brown’s social
scene. Ten percent of students belong to the ten
fraternities and three sororities on campus. Of the
fraternities, two are coed and tend to throw less
traditional frat parties around themes such as swing
dancing. The more traditional frats and sororities
throw the majority of big public parties on campus.
These parties can draw a crowd, but many students move on to other social options after their first year or two on campus.
Things to Try at Least Once Before Graduating
- Dress up for the midnight organ concert on Halloween.
- Rub the nose of the statue of John Hay for good luck.
- Sing your stress away at Karaoke Night in the cafeteria during finals period.
- Nap on the couches in the Absolute Quiet Room in the John D. Rockefeller Library, AKA “The Rock.”
- Star gaze at the Ladd Observatory.
Other Social Activities
The alternatives to frat parties are as diverse and creative as the student body. Cultural
events are a particularly big draw. Students pack theater productions, dance performances, a cappella concerts, and improv comedy shows. There is also an on-campus bar and
music venue called The Underground. Funk night at The Underground is popular among freshmen and sophomores, while upperclassmen frequent the Graduate Center Bar, known for its
dungeonlike atmosphere, pool tables, and dart tournaments.
In addition to athletics, students can participate in a wide variety of activities. There are
more than 200 student organizations including theater and dance ensembles,
music groups, community service organizations, faith-based groups, student government,
and much more.
Student Enrollment Demographics
Student Graduation Demographics
A wide range of varsity sports (thirty-seven different teams) are offered with decent
facilities for a school its size. The Bears play in the NCAA Division I Ivy League.
There is, however, a strong sense of community among athletes, and students who do
attend games get caught up in the school spirit and cheer loudly. Many games are also attended by the very enthusiastic Brown band. The world’s first ice-skating band performs postgame ice shows that are a highlight of the hockey season.
Over ninety-four percent of students graduate, then they are faced with the anxiety of figuring out what to do next. Fortunately, the school provides a support network to help
seniors make post-graduation plans.
About a quarter of graduates go directly to graduate or professional school after
graduation. These students receive guidance from professors in the field and often attend the
top schools in their discipline.
For students who pursue professional tracks in
law or medicine, there are deans who
specialize in counseling prelaw and premed students. They guide students through the process of
deciding whether or not law school or medical
school is the right next step for them, and if students
decide to apply, they help them navigate the
involved application and interview processes.
There is also a dean who helps students apply
for scholarships or fellowships. Historically, this support has helped students fare very well in competitions for highly selective postgraduate awards,
such as the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships.
Career Services is the most valuable resource for
students who look for employment directly after
graduation. Each year, many finance and consulting
firms recruit seniors through interview
sessions at the Career Development Center. Additionally, the school provides excellent resources for the large number of students who wish
to pursue noncorporate tracks with their “Careers in the Common Good” speaker series.
And in recent years, Brown has assembled contact information for alumni who have agreed
to talk with students about their jobs and how they got to where they are today. This vast
alumni network gives Brown students an inside track to information about a wide variety of
- Mary Chapin Carpenter, Country Singer-Songwriter
- Ira Glass, Host of National Public Radio’s “This American Life”
- John Hay, Personal Secretary to Lincoln and Secretary of State under Presidents McKinley and T. Roosevelt
- John Heisman, the Trophy’s Namesake
- Charles Evans Hughes, Chief Justice, Supreme Court
- John F. Kennedy, Jr., Publisher
- Laura Linney, Oscar-Nominated Actress
- Horace Mann, Educator
- Joe Paterno, Football Coach
- Tom Scott and Tom First, AKA “Tom & Tom,” Creators of Nantucket Nectars
- John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Philanthropist
- Ted Turner, Media Mogul
- Thomas Watson, Jr., Former IBM Head
Justine Ventimiglia graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Michigan – Dearborn. Currently residing in a 1950’s modest ranch in Metro Detroit, she enjoys researching and writing about Mid Century Modern furniture and decor as she works on restoring her home and documenting the process.