Ivy League Dreams: How To Get Into Brown University

Tiffany Mueller
Jul 17, 2023
Home » Ivy League Dreams: How To Get Into Brown University

If you’re wondering how to get into Brown, you’re not alone. As the #14 school on the US News Best Colleges list, Brown University is highly sought after by students. However, with a mere 5% acceptance rate, gaining admission to Brown is just as challenging as it is for other Ivy League schools.

Take a closer look at Brown University’s admissions data, average SAT and ACT scores, school history, fun facts, and what to expect from life at Brown once you receive your acceptance letter. This guide will give you the insights you need to know how to get into Brown University.

Table of Contents

The History of Brown University


The College of Rhode Island is founded

Brown University was the third college in the New England region and seventh college in all of Colonial America when it was established in 1764 in Warren, Rhode Island. 

But, it wasn’t always called Brown University. 

It was first named The College of Rhode Island.


The College moves to Providence, where it still stands today

After just six years at the Warren location, the school moved to its present-day location on College Hill, in Rhode Island’s capital city, Providence. University Hall, which still stands proudly on the College Green today, was the first building ever built at this location in 1770.


The college is renamed Brown University

In 1804 the school changed its name to Brown University, following a $5,000 gift from benefactor Nicholas Brown (Class of 1786). 


Brown begins accepting female students

In 1891, Brown University made history by opening its doors to female students at the Women’s College at Brown University. This milestone came after a lengthy debate which began in 1874 on whether or not to allow women to study at the university.

Despite excelling academically and achieving superior test scores, the Women’s School faced opposition from some who believed that women did not belong in higher education. In fact, at one point, a sign reading “Women’s College of Brown University” was surreptitiously replaced with “Women’s College Adjunct to Brown University” under the cover of darkness.


Legislation Founding the Women’s College in Brown University

The controversy was eventually put to rest when, in 1896, the Legislation Founding the Women’s College in Brown University was passed, officially naming the Women’s School as a department of Brown University. 

Some 75 years later, in 1971, the Women’s College finally merged with the men’s undergrad school, and in present times, female students now slightly outnumber male students.


Brown University Today

Brown University has come a long way since its founding and has undergone many changes over the years. Today, the university continues to uphold its 2002 charter, The Plan for Academic Enrichment, which focuses on enhancing the academic experience for students.

The university has also developed its 2014 plan, Building on Distinction, which builds upon the previous plan and aims to further strengthen the institution’s academic excellence and reputation. Through these plans and continued efforts, Brown University has remained a top-tier institution that attracts students and faculty from all over the world.

Brown University’s Notable Alumni

brown university alumni

Over the years, Brown University has been a beacon for top talent since its establishment in 1764. Consequently, the institution boasts of numerous renowned alumni, a common trait among Ivy League schools.

Some of Brown’s most notable alumni include:

  • Lillian Evelyn Moller Gilbreth
  • Ted Turner
  • John D. Rockefeller Jr.
  • Ira Glass
  • Andrew Yang
  • John W. Heisman 
  • Emma Watson

From Psychoceramics to Cursed Gates: Fun Facts About Brown University

1. The Improbable Tale of a Non-Existent Professor: Josiah Carberry’s Enduring Legacy

Imagine being so legendary that an entire university celebrates your existence, even though you’re not even real! Meet Josiah Carberry, the infamous professor of psychoceramics (that’s right, the study of broken pottery) who has become an iconic figure at Brown University since his supposed “debut” in 1929.

Carberry’s influence is everywhere, from the Carberry Book Fund that gets donations every Friday the 13th to a snack bar on the Brown campus named after him. He’s even been cast in Brown theatre productions and mentioned in American Scientist magazine for his book, “Psychoceramics”.

But here’s the catch: he’s a completely fictional character!

Yes, you read that right. Josiah Carberry never existed. He’s just a long-standing joke played by students and faculty alike, making him one of the most beloved fictional characters in university history.

2. Jingle bells and Brunonian yells: Brown students celebrate the holidays

Spooky melodies and festive tunes fill the air twice a year at Brown University’s Sayles Hall, as students gather to listen to a concert played on the world’s largest remaining Hutchings-Votey organ. With Halloween and Christmas as the perfect backdrops, this tradition is a must-see for anyone who loves music and holiday cheer.

3. The Strange and Spooky Side of Brown: Art, Books, and Mausoleums

Annmary Brown Hawkins
Annmary Brown Hawkins

The Annmary Brown Memorial Library is no ordinary library! Beyond the stacks of books and stunning works of art, lies a secret lurking in the shadows…

A mausoleum that houses the remains of the building’s namesake, Annmary Brown, and her husband, General Hawkins.

Legend has it, the spirits of these distinguished book collectors and patrons of the arts roam the halls at night, haunting those who dare to enter after dark. Who knows what kind of mysterious energy still lingers within those walls…

4. Commencement was once a public holiday

Did you know that Brown University’s Commencement used to be a public holiday? Yes, you read that right! Back in the early days of Brown, the Commencement was celebrated as a public holiday, and it was even the first public holiday in the state of Rhode Island.

Despite being conducted in either Latin or Greek, which most attendees did not speak or understand, the gathering was wildly popular and known for attracting a large and spirited audience. Things got so rowdy that in 1790, Brown University had to ask the Sheriff of Providence to attend future Commencements “to preserve the peace, good order, and decorum,” which they still do to this day.

While the Commencement is no longer considered a public holiday, it is still held over Memorial Day weekend and continues to be a momentous occasion for graduates and their families.

brown university graduation at van wickle gates

Unlocking Brown University’s Identity: A Look at Its Unique Majors

First, let me eliminate any potential confusion by prefacing that Brown uses the term “Concentration” rather than “Major”. This is because of the university’s unique Open Curriculum, which we will discuss later. So, when I refer to “Concentrations” in this section, I am talking about the academic programs that students can pursue at Brown.

Brown University has positioned itself as a major research school that houses both undergraduate and graduate programs, in addition to:

At Brown, undergraduate students can complete a degree in more than 80 different concentrations for which they will earn either:

  • bachelor of arts (A.B.)
  • bachelor of science (Sc.B.)
  • bachelor of arts and bachelor of science (combined A.B./Sc.B.)

(Fun fact: Brown awards its degrees in Latin hence the A.B. and Sc.B. being used instead of the more common B.A. or B.S.) 

The Power of Choice: Navigating Brown’s Open Curriculum

In the 1970s the school introduced the Brown Open Curriculum following a Group Independent Study Project (GISP) report penned by two Brown undergraduates (Ira Magaziner 1969 and Elliot E. Maxwell 1968) that closely examined a Brown education. 

The Open Curriculum introduced a different approach by stripping traditional core requirements away and replacing them with departmental concentration requirements.

At most universities, students must complete a set of core courses. At Brown, our students develop a personalized course of study — they have greater freedom to study what they choose and the flexibility to discover what they love.”

The University’s Open Curriculum is still celebrated today, with the school allowing its students to be “the architects of their own course education”.

Your concentration will be the focus of your studies and will need to be declared by your 4th semester. 

Some courses will still be required to fulfill concentration requirements; however, students are also encouraged to study other areas of interest to you personally even if they are not necessarily adjacent to your concentration. 

This is all in an effort to inspire individuality in students, as well as encouraging experimentation in students’ studies and problem-solving.

At Brown, You’re in Control: Design Your Own Course of Study

As you begin to research what your academic journey at Brown may look like, the school recommends students seek advice from professors, deans, and peers at Brown. In fact, most concentrations have a Departmental Undergraduate Group available to provide insights on getting the most out of the open curriculum. 

Additionally, Concentration advisors are available for consultations in addition to the annual Concentration Fair which is held each October and helps students “assess whether their interests align with the concentration.” 

Case Study: Brown Open Curriculum Helps Student Pursue Multiple Interests

Brown University Freshman, Jacob, is utilizing the Brown Open Curriculum to help decide between majors: Visual Arts or Environmental Studies.

Jacob, a freshman at Brown University, faced a common dilemma: deciding between two very different concentrations, Visual Arts and Environmental Studies.

He was passionate about both but didn’t want to be forced to choose one over the other. Luckily, Brown’s Open Curriculum allowed him to explore both options in his first year and a half.

During that time, Jacob took classes in both visual arts and environmental studies. He was able to network and build connections in the art world, even participating in an art exhibition at a local gallery in Providence.

His studies in environmental issues also inspired him to pursue conservation work, and by his fourth semester, he declared Environmental Studies as his concentration while continuing to pursue the visual arts outside of his Brown education.

Thanks to the flexibility of the Open Curriculum, Jacob was able to pursue his varied interests and ultimately choose a concentration that he was passionate about. He even noticed that his Environmental Studies degree influenced his artwork in a positive way.

Brown’s Open Curriculum allowed Jacob to make the most of his college experience and shape his academic path in a way that was best for him.

The Best of Both Worlds: The Brown/RISD Dual Degree Program

Additionally, the Brown-Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Dual Degree Program, allows students the opportunity to earn a dual degree over the course of five years from Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design, although it is also possible to earn only a single degree from Brown in the program. It depends on the individual student’s path and desires.

The idea of the program is to give students a world-class education in both the arts and the sciences. 

As Brown explains it, “RISD and Brown offer different but complementary strengths: RISD offers intensive, specialized education in all categories of the arts and design; Brown offers comprehensive concentrations in the humanities, social sciences, physical, and life sciences.”

Brown/RSID Dual Degree Admissions

Getting accepted into the Brown/RISD Dual Degree Program is more challenging than studying solely at Brown as students will need to be officially accepted to both Brown and RSID separately before undergoing an additional application process into the Brown/RISD Dual Degree Program itself.

However, students serious about acquiring a truly interdisciplinary education will be well served by the program. 

Some examples of this could be a combined education in photography as well as anthropology, painting in conjunction with archeology, or in Jacob’s case, visual arts and environmental science. There are more than 1,260 combinations of concentrations students can choose from, and students even have the option of proposing new, unique combinations when they apply to the program.

Presently, the most popular concentrations for the Brown/RISD program include:

Literary ArtsIllustration
Modern Culture and MediaPainting
Computer ScienceIndustrial Design

Discovering Campus Life: What it’s like to Live and Learn at Brown University

Providence is a densely populated metropolitan area that is home to six additional colleges besides Brown, bringing Providence’s combined college student population to 34,000 or more and giving the city as a whole a “youthful energy”.

Students interested in attending Brown should be comfortable experiencing distinct seasons, as Providence is known for its hot, humid summers and snowy, cold winters. 

Providence is proud of its thriving arts scene and foodie culture, but also offers plenty of waterfronts, parks, and nature trails around the area. The city is walking and bike-friendly.

Brown University Campus

Brown University is spread across 150 acres in Providence and is presently home to more than 230 different buildings, some dating back all the way to the 1700s. 

Behind the Admissions Curtain: What Brown University is Really Looking for in Applicants

In their own words, Brown University selects students who possess “deep intellectual curiosity, creativity, and individuality.” 

Similar to other Ivy League schools, Brown prides itself on building a diverse community that fulfills the school’s mission “to advance knowledge and discovery benefits from the presence of an intellectually stimulating mix of voices and ideas.” 

The institution takes note of an applicant’s interest in and ability to contribute to the community. If you want to get into Brown, having made contributions to your own or another community during high school can help you get noticed by admissions officers. 

The admissions process involves looking at applicants’ “unique talents, accomplishments, energy, curiosity, perspective and identity” and determining whether or not they might thrive and contribute to Brown’s culture.

Possessing strong interpersonal skills is equally important to great test scores and academic achievements. 

As such, students interested in attending Brown should have a strong record of academic excellence in addition to a diverse roster of interests in which the student has also demonstrated excellence.

Students who stretch themselves in one or more academic areas will stand out among applicants who choose a less demanding route. We are looking for students who are exceptionally eager to learn and willing to accept academic challenges. 

From Values to Vision: Is Brown University the Perfect Match for Your Academic Goals?

During the past 20 years, the school has expanded faculty and staff, invested in the repair and expansion of campus infrastructure, as well as established need-blind admission. 

These improvements are being made with the intention to attract a diverse and talented student body regardless of their economic background.

The collaborative nature of the student body is evident in both academic and social settings, so students interested in pursuing an education at Brown University should enjoy working collaboratively to solve problems together.

If you are deeply curious, proactive in solving problems, a creative thinker, and thrive in a collaborative environment, Brown may be the right Ivy League school for you.

Brown University’s Pre-College Programs: Experience College Life as a High School Student

Brown offers high school-aged students a number of pre-college programs in which students are invited to participate in. Most programs run during the summer, with some hosted online, while others are completed in various locations around the world, including on the Brown campus.

The summer programs are designed to offer students a real taste of what college life and learning is like on an Ivy League campus.

Behind the Numbers: Exploring Brown University’s Acceptance Rate

The Brown acceptance rate for the class of 2026 is a record low 5%.

This marks a new record low for admission rate for the class of 2026, following the 5.4% acceptance rate for the previous class of 2025, and a 6.9% acceptance rate for the class of 2024 in 2020. 

brown acceptance rate for class of 2026

Brown University provided admission offers to 1,651 students to join the Class of 2026 undergraduate cohort via the regular decision process. Together with the individuals who were accepted via the early decision process in December 2021, the total number of admitted students stands at 2,546.

For the class of 2026, Brown received an unprecedented number of applications, with 50,649 prospective students submitting applications, which marks a 9% increase from last year’s total.

This is the largest applicant pool in Brown University’s history, surpassing the previous record by over 4,000 students.

Brown Early Decision Acceptance Rate

The Brown early decision acceptance rate for the class of 2026 is 14.6%, compared to the regular decision acceptance rate of a mere 3.6%.

Source: Brown University
Brown early decision acceptance rate graphi
With the Brown early decision acceptance rate at 14.6%, it can help your chances of getting into Brown if you apply early decision.

Explore Your Options: Over 80 Concentrations Offered at Brown University

Brown offers undergraduate students more than 80 different concentrations to select from.

The 10 most popular intended areas of concentration are: 

  • Economics
  • Computer Science
  • Political Science 
  • International and Public Affairs
  • Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
  • Biology
  • Engineering
  • English
  • Applied Mathematics
  • Neuroscience

As a reminder, Brown takes a unique approach to curriculum design through its Open Curriculum course of study

The Open Curriculum model puts students in charge of designing their own course of study rather than having to take a set of general core classes typically required by colleges and universities.

Brown officials note that “most undergraduates sample courses in a range of subjects before diving into one of the 80-plus academic concentrations for in-depth, focused study.”

Understanding Brown University Admission Requirements

Based on the data available from the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, the latest available at the time of writing, it’s evident that the Brown University requirements include student’s have the ability, interest, and dedication to commit to rigorous study. 

Students serious about attending Brown University should have a secondary school record consisting of challenging coursework such as IB and AP courses in addition to having a high GPA, placing at the top percentile of their graduation class, and exceptionally strong SAT/ACT test scores (for those able to take the tests).

Additionally, Brown states that a student’s application essay, recommendations, individual talents, as well as their character and personal qualities are looked at with special importance by Brown admissions officers.

As with all Ivy League schools, a student’s extra-curricular record is also important and as such student’s should consider an impressive record a core Brown University requirements.

Brown University GPA Requirements (High School GPA & Percentile )

Figuring out the Brown University GPA requirements takes some calculating, as the school does not publish detailed data regarding the GPA of students accepted to the school. But, as a member of the Ivy League, it comes as no surprise that, based on high-schools that provided class rankings, 94% of students accepted into the Brown University Class of 2025 were in the top 10 percentile of their high school class.

brown university accpets top 10 percentile high school students

Is Brown University Test-Optional?

It should be noted that Brown University is test-optional, meaning students applying to the school need not submit SAT or ACT scores; however, they will be considered if submitted.

Brown University has stated that they still hope to see students who are able to take one of the tests submit their scores for consideration.

Brown will extend our test-optional policy to all first-year, transfer and Resumed Undergraduate Education applicants in the 2021-2022 admission cycle. We hope that applicants will have the opportunity to take the SAT or ACT and submit test scores as part of the admission process this year. The SAT or ACT, when submitted, will continue to be considered in the context of all the other information we have about a candidate. [SOURCE: Brown University]

In fact, 70% percent of applicants accepted to Brown during in the 2020-2021 admission cycle submitted SAT scores, and 43% submitted ACT scores despite the schools’ test-optional stance. 

Additionally, the school considers its decision to go test-optional to apply to the 2021-2022 academic year only and will reevaluate its stance on the test-optional admissions in the following year.

What It Takes to Impress Brown University: SAT and ACT Score Expectations

brown university campus photo with statistic on sat and act scores

SAT Scores of Students Accepted to Brown

Of the students accepted to the Class of 2025 who submitted SAT scores with their application, the middle 50% earned a composite score between 1480 and 1560 on the SAT.

Breaking it down further, we found that:

SAT Test ScoreEvidence-Based Reading and WritingMath
650 or lower4%3%

ACT Scores of Students Accepted to Brown

Of the students accepted to the Brown University Class of 2025 who submitted ACT scores with their application:

  • 54% of them earned a composite score of 35-36 on the ACT
  • 37% scored 32-34 on the ACT
  • 6% scored 29-31 on the ACT
  • just 3% scored below a 29

In other words, the middle 50% of students accepted to the Class of 2025 earned at least a 33 on the ACT.

If your ACT scores aren’t quite there yet, don’t worry, you have options:

Diversity and Inclusion at Brown University: Facts and Figures

Ethnicity of Students Accepted to Brown University

Brown University attracts students from a range of ethnicities and geographical locations, with 48% of the Class of 2025 self-identifying as a student of color—an increase of 8% from the year before.

brown university acceptance ethnicity demographics
Asian American23%
African American/Black American14%
Native American/Indigenous American2%
Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander1%
*U.S. citizens and permanent residents are included in each race they self-identified with on the Common Application and therefore sum to more than 100%. (Source: Brown University)

Geographical Data of Brown Students

Though the majority of Brown students come from the Mid-Atlantic region, the west coast, and New England, the Brown class of 2025 has students from all 50 states, as well as 66 international nations.

brown university acceptance geography demographcis
Mid Atlantic474
New England266
Alaska and Hawaii16

International students make up 11% of the Brown University Class of 2025. 

Those hailing from China, the United Kingdom, India, South Korea, and Canada make up the highest represented countries outside of the United States. 

If you are an international student planning on applying to Brown or another Ivy, be sure to bookmark our guide, How To Get Into The Ivy League as an International Student.

Academic Background of Students Accepted to Brown University

Students admitted to the Brown class of 2025 mostly come from public schools; however, private and parochial schools are also well represented.

brown university admissions from high school
Public school53%
Private school35%
Parochial school12%

The Secret to Getting Accepted to Brown University: Stand Out!

If you want to understand exactly what it takes to get into Brown, remember that the institution is similar to the other Ivy League schools in the sense that they seek out elite students and talent who have a demonstrable history of exceptional academic work in addition to a strong portfolio of extra-curriculars.

Excellent grades and test scores are definitely Brown University requirements, but, like other top tier universities, those alone won’t be enough on their own.

In Brown’s own words:

Students who stretch themselves in one or more academic areas will stand out among applicants who choose a less demanding route. We are looking for students who are exceptionally eager to learn and willing to accept academic challenges. 

If you’re interested in more customized admission tips to increase your chances of getting into Brown, we encourage you to schedule a free consultation with us. We can discuss your goals and what you need to do to level up your college application.

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