Brown University’s 2017 writing supplements
Brown University presents applicants with prompts to four supplemental essay questions. Here’s a look at how your child can answer each one:
Why are you drawn to the area(s) of study you indicated earlier in this application? If you are “undecided” or not sure which Brown concentrations match your interests, consider describing more generally the academic topics or modes of thought that engage you currently. (150 word limit)
This goal of this question is for an admissions officer to better understand your academic interests and gauge your fit within Brown’s various departments. What specific academic offerings interest you at Brown? Maybe it is a specific program, subject area or class. Start approaching this question by describing the “why” as it relates to your current academic interests. How did you become interested in this area and how do you hope to further explore it at Brown?
Why Brown, and why the Brown Curriculum? (200-word limit)
Answering the question “Why Brown?” should be viewed as the culmination of your demonstrated interest and a reflection of your “fit” on campus. Universities are constantly trying to assess fit in the same way their applicants are. As such, be sure to craft a thoughtful and honest response here. If Brown is your top choice, then this answer should come easily. If you find yourself struggling to answer this question, then it’s likely you haven’t done your due diligence on researching the school. Brown, in particular, has a very unique academic curriculum and works well with a specific type of student. You’ll want to make sure that it will be a good fit for you academically and, if so, tell them why within your response.
Tell us where you have lived – and for how long – since you were born; whether you’ve always lived in the same place, or perhaps in a variety of places. (100 word limit)
Here’s a chance to give admission officers some insight into how and where you grew up. Were you grounded in the same area? Or did you travel around a lot? Your answer should provide context regarding your life experiences. Maybe you lived in an area that was heavily influenced by culture, or maybe you lived in a small town where all your neighbors knew each other. Was it diverse or homogeneous? Make sure to discuss how you felt growing up in this community and how it influenced the person you are today.
We all exist within communities or groups of various sizes, origins, and purposes; pick one and tell us why it is important to you, and how it has shaped you. (100 word limit)
Take some time to think about and reflect on a community or group to which you belong that has been especially meaningful to you. This could be a religious or ethnic group, a club at school, an online group, or a sports team – among many others. First, describe your selected community or group and your role within it. You can then focus your discussion on why the group is important to you and how it has influenced who you are today.
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This is a pretty standard “Why medicine?” prompt, which means that you should use many of the same tactics as you would for that type of essay (see our overview to 7-year med programs). To provide a brief rehash, in order to convey why a guaranteed-admissions program is a good “fit” for your goals, there are few different things you need to discuss.
First, you need to discuss why you are qualified for medicine; namely what sort of extracurricular activities did you do in high school that were related to medicine, whether tangentially or directly. More specifically, you want to convey your abilities in two key areas: the scientific side of medicine (i.e., the ability to understand and cure diseases), and the humanistic side of medicine (the ability to connect with patients and care for them).
To address both of these aspects, you will need to weave a narrative that connects your technical scientific training to your capacity for empathy and care. You might begin talking about your fascination with physiology, the thrill of cutting open a frog, seeing the obscure jumble of organs, and learning how to sort out the parts that the text book identifies with neat colored markers.
Maybe what interests you about the human body is how it often deviates from the norms that appear in textbooks. Transitioning from an interest in the technical aspects of physiology, you might switch to the more humanistic side of talking about how, as a medical practitioner, you look forward to working with patients who have limited mobility.
More than just a technical understanding of how one human physiognomy might differ from another, you might talk about how the time you have spent working in a restaurant where you were responsible for serving all kinds of different bodies, with all kinds of different mobility restrictions. What did you learn from having people in wheelchairs tell you what they needed in order to comfortably enjoy their meal? How did you open up the space in order to make them comfortable asking you for accommodations? Your patients, after all, are not just frogs on a dissecting table.
Patient care experience is a big plus for this part of the essay, and experiences such as volunteering at a nursing home or shadowing a physician are great enhancers. In the process of outlining your qualifications, be sure to discuss why you enjoy each of those two facets of medicine. But, as I’ve suggested above, especially when you are talking about the humanistic side of medicine, your experience doing any kind of caring or service work can offer a useful perspective.
After all, when you are treating patients, most of them don’t want to be treated like “people who are in a hospital” — they want to feel like they are in a place where they have some measure of agency, where they can ask questions and reflect on their experience.
One thing worth mentioning: There is a particular clichéd version of this essay that talks about how your grandmother suffered from some kind of disease and died. You felt awful about losing her and hope to become a medical professional because you want to cure that disease.
While it is true that a compelling essay about the death of one’s grandmother can be written, it is also the sad truth that everyone’s grandmother dies. If you tell a story like this, you will want to address not just your desire to provide healthcare, but the specific aspects of your training and experience that have prepared you to pursue a career in medicine.
Moreover, it is also worth thinking carefully about how you talk about what the practice of doing medicine entails. The desire to “heal” people and return them to a “normal” life is certainly admirable. But there are some kinds of necessary healthcare work that do not result in a healthy ending where the hidden ailment is eradicated; sometimes healthcare is the persistent and empathetic management of suffering.
The final thing you want to address is why specifically you want to join an accelerated program. Simply saying that you want to save time (the real reason for many applicants) can backfire. Instead, if you have an application with lots of medical and science extracurricular activities, you can speak about why those activities solidified your desire to do medicine.
Otherwise, if your resume is more balanced, you can resort to saying that you are committed to medicine because you already spent high school exploring other fields and have ruled out other possibilities. In the end, probably your most compelling argument for entering the accelerated program will be the level of maturity and thoughtfulness that you demonstrate in your essay as a whole.