How To Get Into Brown – Ivy League Admissions Guide [UPDATED]

Matt Larriva
Feb 19, 2023
Home » How To Get Into Brown – Ivy League Admissions Guide [UPDATED]

Ranked as #14 on the US News Best Colleges list, there’s little wonder students are curious about how to get into Brown University. But, with an acceptance rate of 5%, Brown University is just as difficult to gain admission to as the other Ivy League schools. The good news is, if you want to get into Brown University, you’ve come to the right place.

Read on to discover how to get into Brown University by examining its admissions data, average SAT and ACT scores, as well as the schools history, some fun facts, and what to expect from life at Brown once you get your acceptance letter in the mail.

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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 Islands’ 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

Brown University began accepting female students to the Women’s College at Brown University in 1891. This accomplishment, however, followed years of debate over whether or not to open the school’s studies up to women when the issue was first brought up in 1874. 

The Women’s School was not universally accepted from the start despite the fact that the women studied the same coursework–often earning superior test scores–as their male peers. 
At one point, a sign which read “Women’s College of Brown University” was placed above the doorway of the school. However, it was sneakily replaced in the dark of the night with a sign that read, “Women’s College Adjunct to Brown University”.


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

A lot has changed for Brown University since it was founded. The school continuously works to uphold its 2002 charter, The Plan for Academic Enrichment, as well as building upon it through the 2014 plan, Building on Distinction

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Notable Brown Alumni

Since it was founded in 1764, Brown University has attracted top talent. As such, the school has an extensive share of famous alumni, as do most 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
brown university alumni

Fun Facts

The infamous Josiah Carberry

Josiah Carberry, an infamous Brown professor of psychoceramics—that’s the study of broken pottery—is so revered his name has become an institution at Brown since making his faculty “debut” in 1929. Most notably as the namesake of the Carberry Book fund, to which donations are made every Friday the 13th, and then used to purchase books for the school library.

Carberry has also been listed as part of the cast in Brown theatre productions, had his book, Psychoceramics, mentioned in an issue of American Scientist magazine, was named “The World’s Greatest Traveler” by the New York Times, and, has a snack bar on the Brown campus named after him.

The catch?

Josiah Carberry never actually existed and is, in fact, the foundation of a very long-running prank around the Brown campus.

Brown students get into the holiday spirits

Around Halloween and, again around Christmas, students gather to listen to a concert played on the world’s largest remaining Hutchings-Votey organ where it lives in Brown University’s Sayles Hall.

Only the brave cross the Van Wickle Gates

Brown University has a long-standing myth surrounding the campus’ Van Wickle Gates.

The gates are only opened three times a year: once to allow students to enter campus at the beginning of the year, then again during mid-year and end-of-year commencements to allow graduates to pass through. However, it’s said that if you pass through the gates more than twice, you may not graduate or, worse, be cursed for life.

The iconic Van Wickle Gates at Brown University, one of America's prestigious "Ivy League" colleges, in Providence, the capital of, and largest city in, Rhode Island. The ornamental entrance to the main campus were built with the bequest of graduate Augustus Stout Van Wickle, who was president of a bank and several coal corporations. Dedicated in 1901, the gates stand as a symbol for the campus and its long history.
Annmary Brown Hawkins
Annmary Brown Hawkins

Art, books, and mausoleums

The Annmary Brown Memorial Library is home to more than books and art. Located in the back of the library is a mausoleum that houses the remains of the building’s namesake, Annmary Brown as well as her husband, General Hawkins, “a distinguished book collector and a discriminating patron of the arts”.

Commencement was once a public holiday

During Brown’s early years, the Commencement was celebrated as a public holiday.

Interestingly, the Commencement was the first public holiday in the state of Rhode Island. The gathering was wildly popular and known for attracting a large and spirited audience despite being conducted largely in either Latin or Greek which most attendees did not speak or understand. 

Things got so rowdy, that in 1790, Brown University asked the Sheriff of Providence attend future Commencements “to preserve the peace, good order, and decorum,” which they still do today.

Nowadays the Commencement is no longer considered a public holiday in and of itself, however, it is typically held over Memorial Day weekend.

brown university graduation at van wickle gates

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Brown University Majors & Identity 

First, let me eliminate any potential confusion by prefacing that Brown uses the term “Concentration” rather than “Major”. The reasoning behind this relates to Brown’s Open Curriculum, which we will discuss in the following section. I mention it now, as I will be referring to them as concentrations in this section. 

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.) 

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.

Building 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.” 

Brown Open Curriculum Case Study

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

You may find it helpful to read how some current Brown students and alumni have made the Open Curriculum/Concentration model work for them.

Here is an example:

Jacob is a freshman at Brown University but is conflicted on which concentration he would like to pursue: Visual Art or Environmental Studies. 

He is passionate about the visual arts and has thoroughly enjoyed partaking in art exhibitions and shows in the past.

Contrastingly, he is deeply interested in environmental studies and dreams of contributing to environmental conservation in a meaningful way.

At other universities, this would typically mean that he would be forced to choose between the two very early in his education. At Brown, however, he is free to explore both paths initially. During his first year and a half at Brown, Jacob took a mix of classes that included studies in both visual arts and environmental studies.

Through his visual art classes, he was able to network and build connections in the art world and even partook in an art exhibition off-campus at one of Providence’s local art galleries.

Meanwhile, his studies in environmental issues served to inspire Jacob’s interest in conservation further, and by his fourth semester, Jacob was confident in his decision to declare Environmental Studies as his concentration, while continuing to pursue the visual arts outside of his Brown education. As he pursues his Environmental Studies degree, he has also noticed it influencing his artwork in positive way.

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

Life 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. 

What Kind of Students is Brown Looking For

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. 

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Is Brown The Right Fit For Me?

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 present 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.

Experience Life at Brown During High School

Brown offers high school-aged students a number of pre-college programs in which students are invited to partake 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.” 

Brown University 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.

This year, 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.

Intended Field of Study

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.”

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Brown University 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 SAT and ACT Scores Does It Take To Get Into Brown?

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%

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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.

Brown University Demographics

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%

If You Want to Gain Admission To Brown University Make Yourself Standout

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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