Why Brown Essay Tips For Kids
Students applying to Ivy League schools find themselves having to wade through a particularly dense morass of conflicting advice. With Harvard and Princeton denying far more valedictorians than they accept, many students are coming to the the disquieting realization that overwhelming academic achievement and stratospheric scores may be not enough. Hence, the hope that a perfect essay might be where real distinction lies.
It’s been said that there are only two stories we tell each other: a familiar person leaves on a voyage, and a stranger comes to town. This is no less true of college essays, but it doesn’t make writing them any easier.
All of the Ivies use the Common Application with its single essay requirement. Students are given a choice of five prompts that ask them to tell a story that reflects their own identity, to recount a moment of failure, reflect on a time when they challenged a belief, describe a place of contentment, or discuss an event that marked their transition to adulthood. But the student who is applying to both Princeton and Pomona has to craft a personal statement that speaks to readers at both schools equally well. As Jon Reider, a well-known high school counselor in San Francisco, says, “It has never occurred to me that one Ivy (or anywhere else) would want a certain kind of essay. The whole point is that the main essay tell that kid’s own truth. Colleges take what they get.”
Admission officers at Ivy schools would agree that in telling their truth, students choose topics that more often reflect the reality of their own lives than they do the ethos of specific colleges:
- Brown admission officers Louis Trujillo and Natasha Go note, for example, that this year saw many more natural disaster essays: Sandy, Colorado flooding, Oklahoma tornadoes.
- Others point to a shift in the overused “helping others in exotic locales” topic, from the old staple in which a student discover peasants that are happy in spite of their poverty, to one in which witnessing the deprivations of poverty spur students to express gratitude for their American prosperity.
- Many students write essays in which they celebrate a rather anodyne version of diversity, marked less by political engagement, for example, than by servings of both sushi and stuffing, masala and mashed potatoes, turkey and tamales, at Thanksgiving dinner.
Students’ desire to write an Ivy-inspired essay is also complicated by the nature of the Ivy League itself. While the league shares a long tradition of academic excellence, exclusivity, and a set of admissions protocols that relate mostly to athletics (such as an Academic index that all Ivy athletes have to meet), the eight Ivies remain very distinctive institutions. It is hard to imagine how to write a Common Application essay that simultaneously speaks to Columbia’s focus on the intellectual value of a core curriculum, Brown’s notion that such value derives from the absence of a core, Cornell’s proud tradition as a land grant school, and Harvard’s exclusivity.
Of course, there is an element of self-selectivity that may set the essays of some Ivy applicants apart from others. Thoughtful applicants focus on how particular schools fit with their social and intellectual aspirations, and good essays mirror such self-awareness. Elisha Anderson, an Associate Director of Admission at Brown, notes that when he used to work in the admission office of a smaller, nonconformist liberal arts college in Massachusetts, he saw so many essays on protests, filmmaking and the Food not Bombs movement, that, “It wasn’t until I started working at Brown—where I almost never read essays on any of these topics—that I realized how different the self-selection of the two applicant pools must have been.”
Unlike the Common Application essay, however, the school-specific supplements do require that students write more targeted essays. It is here that the student needs to craft an essay that speaks to his or her fit with that particular institution, and some will ask the question very directly: “Tell us what you find most appealing about Columbia,” for example, or “Why Brown?” Dartmouth avoids additional long essays and Harvard’s is optional, but last year when the Common Application did away with its so-called activity paragraph (“choose one of your extra curricular activities and tell us about it”), these Ivies decided, as did Columbia, that it was useful enough for their purposes to include it in the supplement. The Ivies with engineering schools ask for additional essays from prospective engineers, but Cornell, not surprising given its seven colleges, asks every applicant for such an academic interest statement. Presumably Princeton and Yale are largely looking for exactly the same qualities in their top applicants—academic aptitude, intellectual depth, awareness of others, leadership qualities, and knowledge of the institution. To help them identify those elements, Princeton asks students to reflect on their own lives by writing, for example, in response to quotes on culture, service to the nation, and the practices of inequality. Yale, in contrast, asks simply that a student “Reflect on something you want us to know about you.” Associate Director Rebekah Westphal of Yale explains that the question is, “open enough that students write about whatever they feel like at the time, to present themselves to us without trying to fit into a certain topic or question.”
In a good essay the student embarks on a voyage to learn more about an idea, a place, or about herself, and she returns able to examine and understand what has been familiar with new eyes and a deeper perspective. In that narrative, Ivy admission officers are looking for qualities that are no different from those that readers at Stanford, Rice or Chicago are searching for, and for the greatest part, they are all likely to discern them in similar essays.
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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.