It was a beautiful cool day in late September when I drove from Plymouth Rock Landing to Providence, Rhode Island. I was headed to visit Brown University, one of eight Ivy League schools.
In 1764, the “College of the Colony of Rhode Island,” the 7th college in America was established as a Baptist college with the idea of admitting students regardless of religious affiliation. Ezra Stiles, who maintained the religious freedom that Roger Williams brought into the colony, wrote, “That into this liberal and catholic institution shall never be admitted any religious tests; but, on the contrary, all the members hereof shall forever enjoy full, free, absolute, and uninterrupted liberty of conscience.”
In 1805, with a $5,000 donation, it was renamed Brown University for Nicholas Brown, Jr. one of the original founding members. During the first commencement, they debated both sides of a given issue. Today, the faculty selects two seniors to speak – they’ve never invited guest commencement speakers.
Pembroke College in Brown University was the coordinate women’s college founded in 1891 and merged into Brown in 1971. This system resembled those at Columbia University (Columbia College / Barnard College) and Harvard University (Harvard College / Radcliffe College). One of the last graduating classes from Pembroke Colleges included Susan Bennett – the voice of "Siri."
The Brown commencement has been held at the First Baptist Church in America since 1776. A replica of the church was built on the campus of Dallas Baptist University and is used as their chapel.
The mission of Brown University is to serve the community, the nation, and the world by discovering, communicating, and preserving knowledge and understanding in a spirit of free inquiry, and by educating and preparing students to discharge the offices of life with usefulness and reputation. We do this through a partnership of students and teachers in a unified community known as a university-college.
Brown offers a unique way of learning. First of all, applicants are accepted to all 80 departments and are asked to list their intended study. And Brown does not offer majors; they offer concentrations. This is key to understanding how students study and how they are graded.
 Choose How You Study
Open Curriculum – learn from everyone. The open curriculum was established in 1969 as the “New Curriculum” and brought Francis Wayland’s 1850 vision to fruition). Only ten colleges (including Grinnell College, Smith College, Amherst College) offer this type of learning.
Students choose how to study, have no rules, and lots of freedom. There are two desired outcomes.  Ensures you great freedom in directing the course of your education and  Expects you to remain open to people, ideas, experiences. The challenge for each student is to make connections between those courses. That’s what makes the open curriculum work.
 Choose How You’re Graded
Brown does not have a required core curriculum. Students take 32 courses with the option to drop a class if you fail. When registering for courses, Brown students must indicate whether they are taking a course for a grade (ABC) or satisfactory/no credit (S/NC). They don’t want learners to be intimidated by a letter grade. Students may change their grade option for a course online during the first four weeks of the semester.
 Choose What You Study
Finally, you can choose what you study. For the first two weeks of each semester, students can try out as many classes as they want. Then you’ll pick four classes to take that semester. The key to success is that after two weeks, those who want to stay will be committed to learn. In other college settings, classrooms are filled with students who have to take the required core class.
David, a Brown senior, said that he knew Brown was his is destiny when he quoted the first 14 lines of the Canterbury Tales with his freshman advisor. He has taken advantage of the open curriculum philosophy. His concentration is in physics and philosophy. He enjoys parkour, bird watching, formed the Brown Marshal Arts club, and has applied to become an American Ninja Warrior.
While computer science and biology are popular concentrations, students should know that the most popular program, engineering, was established in 1847 – first in the Ivy League and third in the country. However, it wasn’t until 2010, that Brown established the Brown School of Engineering.
Students can work with (or have a class under) Andries van Dam, the founder of the computer science program, who helped create hypertext, and whose work in computer graphics helped launch modern day animation (Pixar, etc). This is why he is the namesake for “Andy” (Toy Story). His book, Computer Graphics: Principles and Practice, appears on Andy’s bookshelf.
Another unique program is the Program in Liberal Medicine Education (PLME). This is for high achieving students who know they want to pursue medicine. This 4+4 medical concentration receives 2,500 applicants with only 100 being accepted. Less than half attend.
Accepted students average a 750 on each section of the SAT, take at least one SAT Subject Test in a science, and complete three years of the same foreign language. And since you cannot transfer in at any time, YOU must know you want to do PLME, not your Dad!
Yes, Brown is highly competitive with less than nine percent accepted. For the Class of 2021, 32,723 applied, 2,801 were admitted and 1,643 decided to attend. More than half are women, forty percent were students of color, thirteen percent are first-generation students, and sixteen percent are international.
Financial Aid advisor, Annie Cappuccino, shared that admission is not about specific students (how many X of Y were admitted). It’s about how THIS student shines among ALL applicants. What DO you bring and what WILL you bring are the questions to answer.
Brown costs $68,000 per year with no merit or athletic scholarships given. In 2003, they implemented a need-blind admission policy to eliminate the ability to pay as an admission factor. In 2018-2019, they will eliminate loans from all undergraduate financial aid packages with The Brown Promise by replacing packaged loans with grant funds that do not have to be repaid.
The financial success of their alumni (Brunonia’s) who give back will make the Brown Promise a reality. Some of the alumni include: Lee Eliot Berk (1964), president and namesake of Berklee College of Music; John Hope (1894), first African American president of Morehouse College and co-founder of the NAACP, John Seely Brown (1962) the inventor of spellcheck; Chuck Colson (1953) founder of Prison Fellowship; Horace Mann (1819) father of American public school education; Jim Axelrod (1989) Chief White House correspondent; Chris Berman (1977), ESPN host and anchor; Larry Elder (1974), radio personality and TV talk show host; John F. Kennedy, Jr. (1983), – lawyer; journalist; publisher of George magazine; son of President John F. Kennedy; Lisa Loeb (1990) alternative singer-songwriter; Emma Watson (2014) actress; Masi Oka (1997) actor; John W. Heisman (1891), namesake of the Heisman Trophy; Alicia Sacramone (2010) Olympic gymnast; Julie Bowen (1991), actress; the recently crowned Miss America 2018, Cara Mund (2016).
So if you are a student who doesn’t need structure, is ready to serve, wants a STEM and humanities focus, and is excited to explore your future, Brown might be a good fit for you. It also doesn’t hurt if you enjoy a colonial setting and cold winters.
Through student ministry and educational consulting (career and college planning), I have enjoyed guiding teenagers to discover their higher calling.