Think you can get into a top-10 school? Take our chance-me calculator... if you dare. 🔥


Last updated March 21, 2024

Every piece we write is researched and vetted by a former admissions officer. Read about our mission to pull back the admissions curtain.

How to Use the Brown University Common Data Set

Key Takeaway

As you can probably guess, Brown cares a lot about your academic portfolio. It's one of the most important parts of Brown's application review—alongside your essays, recommendations, and talent and character. But did you know that extracurriculars aren't quite as important? (Okay, they're still really important, but not as much as academics.) Let's talk about how you can use that information to your advantage.

The Brown Common Data Set is one of the most valuable tools you have as a Brown applicant. It lays out all the information you’ll need to put together a strategic application.

In this post, I’ll walk you through the data highlights and give advice about using the information in your application strategy.

We’ll begin by looking at how Brown evaluates applications.

How Brown Evaluates Applicants — based on CDS data

Brown evaluates your application along all the standard lines. They look at your academic achievement by assessing how your GPA and level of rigor fall within their averages, they read your essays looking for traits that stand out, and they comb your recommendations to get a sense of your intellectual potential and character.

There are two fairly unique things about Brown’s approach.

First, extracurriculars are secondary to academic achievement and personal character. If you have a less impressive extracurricular resume but can still show outstanding talent and character, then Brown might be a good choice for your list. It’s still a super-reach, but it may be a better option than a school that prioritizes extracurriculars alongside academics (like Princeton or Stanford, for example).

Second, test scores are merely considered. They aren’t an important or very important application factor. This ranking is unique compared to many of Brown’s peers—places like Princeton, Dartmouth, and Stanford all rank them as very important. If you have lower test scores or are choosing to omit them, Brown may also be a good option.

Very important Important Considered Not considered
Rigor Extracurriculars Test scores Interview
Class rank   First generation Religious affiliation
GPA   Alumni/ae relation Level of applicant’s interest
Essay   Geographical residence  
Recommendations   State residency  
Talent/ability   Racial/ethnic status  
Character/personal qualities   Volunteer work  
    Work experience  

Does Brown track demonstrated interest?

No, Brown does not track demonstrated interest. The Common Data Set reports that the level of applicant interest is one of the factors not considered at all by admissions officers. So consider taking that time you’d spend doing extra virtual visits and opening emails and spend it on your essays instead.

Does Brown care about standardized test scores?

Yes, standardized test scores do factor into your application evaluation at Brown. But unlike other schools that rank test scores as very important or important, Brown merely considers them. That means that your test scores likely won’t make or break your application, but they will inform an admissions officer’s decision.

As the Brown Common Data Set reports, 51% of students submitted an SAT score, and 30% submitted an ACT score—slightly fewer students than Harvard or Yale.

Does Brown care about essays?

Yes. Essays are crucial to your Brown application. In fact, they’re one of the most important factors Brown admissions officers consider when reviewing your application. Why? Because if a Brown admissions officer is giving your application serious consideration, there’s no doubt that you’re already a standout student with exceptional involvement.

So what can set you apart from the thousands of other qualified applicants? That’s right: your character, personal qualities, and talent or ability. And how do you show those? Ding-ding-ding: your essays! As we know from the students we’ve worked with who’ve gone on to study at Brown, good essays are absolutely essential if you want to get in. When you’re ready to get started, be sure to check out our Brown supplemental essay guide.

What GPA do I need to get into Brown?

We don’t have specific GPA data from the Brown Common Data Set, but we do learn about class rank. Of the enrolled first-year students reported on, 99% were in the top half of their high school graduating class. A full 91% were in the top tenth. So if you’re hoping to earn admission to Brown, a higher class rank can work in your favor. Since nearly all were in the top half, you should at least aim to be there, too.

Brown Acceptance Rate

The Brown Common Data Set reports that 46,568 students applied to Brown. They only admitted 2,568 of them, making for a 5.5% acceptance rate. Of all the Ivy League, Brown’s 5.5% is one of the more generous admit rates. But it’s still lower than low. For virtually all students, Brown will be a “super reach” on your school list. There’s just no guarantee that you’ll get in when the acceptance rates dip so low.

Brown’s yield rate isn’t quite as high as, say, Princeton’s, but it’s still really high. Of those accepted, 1,705 enrolled as first-year students.

Brown Early Decision Acceptance Rate

Brown does have an Early Decision option, and it may slightly increase your chances of admission—given, of course, that you’re already a strong candidate. Of the 5,541 Early Decision applications Brown received, 884 students were admitted. Yep, that’s a 15.95% acceptance rate. Of course, an ED application won’t make miracles happen, so you’ll still need to have the requisite academics and involvement to have a chance.

What’s the right application option for you?

Now, applicants are likely applying ED to Brown because they think they have a shot of getting in, so they’re probably stronger applicants to begin with. But with over a 10% boost in the acceptance rate, an ED to Brown might increase your odds. If you’re set on going to Brown, an Early Decision application plan may be a smart move, as long as you’re a strong applicant to begin with.

If Brown isn’t your top choice, then Early Decision is definitely not the right application plan.

Most popular majors at Brown

Looking at the most popular majors of a school can tell you a lot about the academic personality of an institution. The Brown Common Data Set doesn’t list popular majors, but it’s easy to see what most students are majoring in by looking at data about what kinds of degrees are awarded.

The most popular degrees awarded at Brown are those in the social sciences, computer and information sciences, and biological and life sciences. That means that Brown is probably a safe bet if you’re interested in pursuing one of those fields, but you’re looking at more application competition if you do.

Major Percent of Degrees Conferred
Social sciences 17.9
Computer and information sciences 12.7
Biological/life sciences 10.8
Mathematics and statistics 7.5
Interdisciplinary studies 5.3
English 4.9
Engineering 4.6
Area, ethnic, and gender studies 4.2
Visual and performing arts 4.2
Psychology 3.6

You can also look at the last five majors on this list, which are still popular programs but far less competitive than the top five. Let’s say you want to study gender studies. Brown is still well known for its area, ethnic, and gender studies options, but only 4.2% of degrees went to students in those fields. If you’re already a strong applicant, the Brown gender studies department might be the perfect fit for you—same with the arts or psychology. Knowing your major’s popularity ahead of time can help you craft the right application strategy.

What should you do with all this information?

As far as the Ivies go, Brown’s acceptance rate is somewhere in the middle. Still, at 5.5%, you’ve got an uphill battle ahead of you. You might be more inclined to apply to Brown compared to some of the other Ivy League schools if you’re interested in the social sciences, computer science, or the biological sciences.

As an Ivy League institution, Brown will require you to think strategically about your application. Having good grades isn’t enough. You’ll need to stand out. More importantly, you’ll need to stand out in a way that Brown considers “very important”—that means going back through the evaluation criteria and identifying areas where your strengths align with what Brown is looking for.

Using the Brown Common Data Set data, you can position yourself strategically and increase your chances of admission. We go into this strategy in more detail in our How to Get into Brown guide, so hop over there when you’re ready to start your application.



Liked that? Try this next.