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Last updated March 22, 2024

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How to Get into Brown University

Key Takeaway

Like their educational philosophy, Brown's application process is student-driven. You can submit a video introduction, and admissions officer really want to see you taking initiative across your entire application.

Brown University, perhaps best known for its emphasis on student-driven education, is a member of the Ivy League located in Rhode Island.

Its open curriculum draws in driven, intellectually curious students who want to explore everything the world has to offer.

But with an acceptance rate of 5.5%, less than six out of every one-hundred applicants get to experience its academic approach.

In this guide, I show you how to craft a winning application strategy to Brown.

Let’s dig in.

How to Apply to Brown

Brown’s on the Common Application, so you should be able to submit your application alongside many of your other apps.

You’ve got several things to submit, including those standard Common App sections—background information, extracurricular activities, and Common App personal statement. You’ll also have your high school counselor send in your high school transcript and school report, and your recommenders will also send their letters straight through the Common App.

Once you’ve got the basics down, you’ll need to fill out the Brown supplement, which includes your Brown supplemental essays.

Brown also has a few optional items you can submit. One is, of course, your standardized test scores (more on those in a minute). In lieu of an interview, you can also choose to submit an optional video introduction.

Brown Application Options

Brown is one of the Ivies that has a more normal Early Decision application plan rather than a single-choice or restrictive early action option.

Because it’s more normal, it operates in the way any other Early Decision application plan would: it’s a binding agreement that obligates you to attend Brown if you are admitted.

If you can’t picture yourself anywhere but Brown and are a strong applicant relative to Brown’s pool, then you might think about applying ED. As we covered in our Brown Common Data Set post, Brown’s ED acceptance rate is much higher—nearly 16%.

Keep in mind that that bump in acceptance rate likely corresponds with a higher number of qualified applicants who choose to ED to Brown. Applying Regular Decision might be the better choice for you, just like it was for 41,027 of Brown’s most recent applicants.

Brown Application Deadlines

Early Decision: November 1

Regular Decision: January 5

How hard is it to get into Brown?

Brown is an Ivy League school, and getting into any of the Ivies is really, really hard. That’s part of the allure of their prestige. When 94.5% of applicants are rejected, getting in carries a lot of weight.

That said, getting in isn’t completely impossible. Your likelihood varies depending on your background, statistics, and personal story and accomplishments.

Keep in mind that the 5.5% acceptance rate is an average. It includes students who apply to Brown with a 2.5 GPA and no extracurriculars to speak of as well as those 4.0 academic and extracurricular rockstars. That’s how averages work! While the acceptance rate is 5.5% for both students, the latter student still has a better shot of getting in.

All this is why taking a realistic look at your own statistics and accomplishments is important. The better they are, the higher your chances. Getting in will be really hard no matter how amazing you are, but the stronger your application, the better your chances.

What does Brown look for in applicants?

College applications are so difficult in part because your application serves multiple purposes at once. On one hand, it’s supposed to be an authentic representation of who you are. On the other hand, your application should align well with what a school looks for in applicants.

It’s serendipitous when students achieve these two purposes simultaneously. It’s also the key to getting admitted, especially at highly-selective schools like Brown.

Sometimes this serendipity happens without the student knowing it. But like many things in life, it more often than not requires you to do a lot of work.

To get started on that work, you need to know what Brown looks for in the first place. Let’s take a quick detour to Brown’s Admissions Process page.

There are a few key facts you should learn from this page:

  1. Your high school performance and preparation are paramount. Those are the most essential factors Brown admissions officers look for.
  2. Your accomplishments in and out of the classroom can determine your admissions decision. Brown admissions officers use your accomplishments to see how good you are at taking advantage of opportunities. By extension, they’ll draw conclusions about how well you’d excel at Brown.
  3. Brown looks for certain personal characteristics. These include problem-solving, open-mindedness, work ethic, willingness to challenge yourself, curiosity, and communication skills.

As you put your Brown application together, keep these criteria in mind. Find the alignment between your own background and Brown’s evaluation process. Have you sought out-of-the-classroom learning opportunities? Highlight them. Do you have a particularly impressive accomplishment? Don’t be afraid to talk about your impact. Honing in on that serendipitous intersection between what you bring to the table and what Brown has to offer is the perfect place to find admissions success.

Brown GPA requirement

Since there aren’t any GPA cutoffs at Brown, your application will be considered no matter your GPA.

However. Not all applications receive the same level of consideration. If you’ve read our How a Selective Admissions Office Actually Reads 50k Applications post, then you’ll know what we’re talking about. The lower your GPA, the more likely it is to receive a lighter read. That lighter read may uncover compelling aspects of your story that still earn you a longer look. But in general, the stronger your GPA, the more seriously admissions officers will consider your application.

So what’s a good GPA for Brown? Well, Brown doesn’t give away all their cards in the Brown Common Data Set. They only tell us about enrolled first-year students who reported class rank. But that alone is revealing: 91% were in the top tenth of their class. And if you’re in the top tenth of your class, chances are you have a near-perfect GPA. That’s what you should aim for.

Brown SAT Scores

Brown’s still test-optional, so you aren’t required to submit any test scores. Still, you may be considering it. Let’s take a look at Brown’s middle 50% ranges, which I’ve drawn from their Common Data Set:

SAT Composite: 1470-1550

ACT Composite: 33-35

If you know anything about test-optional admissions, then you know that a lot rides on the middle 50% numbers, which represents the score range in which the middle half of students scored. These ranges are fairly moderate compared to some other schools (I’m looking at you, MIT).

In any case, these ranges are also great baselines. If your score falls within them, you can probably submit your scores (there is some nuance to this decision, though, so check out our test-optional strategy post for more advice).

Does Brown superscore?

Yep—Brown will let you use the College Board’s Score Choice, and they’ll even superscore your SAT and ACT scores. So you can send in results only from the test dates you prefer, and they’ll compile your highest scores in each section, even if you earned those scores on different testing dates. Wahoo!

What high school coursework do I need to get into Brown?

Getting into Brown means taking the most challenging courses you can. No rigor, no acceptance. That’s the bottom line.

With that truth bomb dropped, we can look more closely at the kinds of courses Brown admissions officers like to see on your transcript:

  • 4 years of English
  • 4 years of math
  • 3-4 years of science (2 years with labs)
  • 3-4 years of social studies or history
  • 3-4 years of foreign language
  • Electives, especially in the arts, are also encouraged

Different schools offer different options in terms of rigor. The three most popular kinds of rigor are AP, IB, and dual-enrollment classes. The more of these you have on your transcript—especially if you’re participating in programs like AP Capstone or the IB Diploma—the better.

Of course, Brown admissions officers use your school report to contextualize the rigor you’ve taken. If your school doesn’t offer much, then they won’t expect you to have taken much. (Although if that’s your situation and you’ve still managed to accumulate some rigor through community college courses or self-studying for AP exams, then you’ll get extra admissions brownie points).

No matter what your school situation is, Brown straight up tells us that it’s better to take a rigorous course and get a B than to take a less challenging course and get an A. So don’t be afraid to challenge yourself and take on all the rigor you can reasonably manage.

What extracurriculars do I need to get into Brown?

Unfortunately, Brown doesn’t tell us a whole lot about what they want to see in your extracurriculars.

But thankfully, what Brown wants to see doesn’t really matter. Wait–what??

Yep. I said what I said.

You shouldn’t be choosing extracurriculars just because you think they’ll get you into Brown. And Brown doesn’t want you to do that either.

Instead, you should develop extracurricular activities that speak to your passions, talents, and future goals.

The key to application success, then, is learning how to write about them effectively. For all of your extracurriculars, you should highlight how your actions positively impacted the world around you. We call this approach focusing on the “magnitude, reach, and impact.” You can read more about it in our post on extracurricular strategy.

Final Takeaways + Brown Supplemental Essays

Whew—we’ve covered a lot. From Brown’s admissions approach to average stats and high school preparation, you’re all set. With your new Brown application strategy in hand, I think you’re ready to start putting together your application.

Next stop? Your Brown supplemental essays. And we have another post to help you out with those, too: our Brown Supplemental Essay Guide. See you there!



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