Commencement 2011

Brown’s annual Commencement (our fancy word for graduation) features two graduating Brown seniors, chosen by Brown faculty and students, as Commencement speakers. Commencement 2011 took place this past weekend, and thousands of students, friends, family members, and alumni gathered on Brown’s Main Green to watch Commencement proceedings.

This year’s senior orators provided valuable lessons on altruism and self-discovery, and you can find their speeches here:

Jacob Combs ’11 and VyVy Trinh ‘11.5

Enjoy your summers!

It’s Waiting Time!

We are currently in the middle of our heavy reading and committee season; stay tuned for March 30th, when decisions will be released on our online portal. If you have submitted an application to us, you have received an email stating at what time you should log in to our system (the time you have been given does not correspond to your admission decision).

Please log in at the time stated on your email; our servers do not handle 30,000+ simultaneous log-in attempts.

If you have any pressing admission questions, you may contact us via email or phone.

When applying to Brown, you’ll be doing a fair bit of writing; there are essays on the CommonApp, essays on the Brown supplement, and essays that haunt you in your dreams. Perhaps your English teacher has red-penned your papers more than a few times for some of the following grammatical errors; they are mistakes that are quite common for high school students and adults alike. Your word processor’s Spell Check/Grammar Check function may not always catch these,  and ultimately, having a few mild typos isn’t a disaster; still, remember to proofread, proofread, proofread, and then have someone else proofread!

And please, use the thesaurus sparingly. Words that have been ‘thesaurused-in’ can stick out like sore thumbs in an essay. Write in your voice with your words, so that your writing is an extension of your thoughts. All this being said, have fun writing your essay; it’s your chance to talk about what makes you you!

Some of the most frequent grammar/spelling stumbles, and some clarifying sentences with the correct usages of the words in question:

They’re/Their/There: ‘Their’ is a possessive pronoun, indicating that something belongs to ‘them.’ ‘There’ refers to a place. ‘They’re’ is a contraction of ‘they are.’

  • e.g. They’re going to their Batcave, and they’re going to repair the Batmobile there.

We’re/Where/Were: Similarly to they’re/their/there, ‘we’re’ is a contraction of ‘we are,’ ‘where’ refers to a place, and ‘were’ is the past tense of the verb ‘to be.’

  • e.g. We wanted to go to the Fortress of Solitude, but now we’re not sure where we want to go.

Your/You’re: ‘Your’ is a possessive pronoun, indicating that something belongs to ‘you.’ You’re is a contraction of ‘you are.’ If in doubt, replace the your/you’re in question with ‘you are’ and see if the sentence makes sense.

  • e.g. You’re in charge of your own elephant!

Affect/Effect: ‘Affect’ is usually used as a verb (though it is also a noun), and ‘effect’ is generally used as a noun (though it is also a verb). When in doubt, consult the dictionary to determine the proper usage.

  • e.g. The awe-inspiring effects of my transformation from Peter Parker into Spiderman were beginning to negatively affect my life.

Than/Then: ‘Than’ is a word that is used to compare things. ‘Then’ refers to time.

  • e.g. This llama is shaggier than that llama, so I will wait a few weeks, and then I’ll cut that llama’s hair.

It’s/Its: This one confuses many people. ‘It’s’ is a contraction of ‘it is,’ while ‘its’ is a possessive pronoun indicating that something belongs to ‘it.’

  • e.g. As for the squirrel, it’s too bad that its tail was too big to fit in the costume.

Too/Two/To: ‘Too’ means ‘also.’ ‘Two’ is the number that comes after one. ‘To’ is a preposition.

  • e.g. Two flying saucers are going to Mars, and I hear that a rocket ship may fly there, too.

Phase/Faze: These often get mixed up when people are writing about remaining cool as a cucumber in a tough situation, as in “That exam didn’t faze me.” ‘Phase’ is a noun and verb; it can refer to phases of matter (liquid, solid, gas), or stages in a life cycle, or part of a schedule.

  • e.g. I wasn’t fazed by the kryptonite changing phases right before my eyes!

Peak/Pique: This is another popular mixup, especially when people want to talk about how something inspired curiosity in them.

  • e.g. That lesson piqued my interest in mountain peaks.

Flare/Flair: These two are confused when people want to write about a talent/something special that they have.

  • e.g. I have a flair for the dramatic; I like to wear neon orange pants that have a giant flare at the hem.

Alot: This is not a word. The correct way to write this is ‘a lot.’

Ending sentences with a preposition: Don’t do it. This is something up with which we shall not put. May the force be with you.

But/Butt: This should require no explanation…

Happy writing!

On the Early Decision application deadline of November 1st, just three short days ago, students across the country were clicking “Submit” or licking envelopes, and were hoping that their dream school would send them a ‘fat’ envelope instead of a ‘skinny’ one come December. The six weeks between November 1st and D-Day (which in this case is Decision Day, in mid-December) can be nerve-wracking and anxiety-provoking. The phone call and email volume in the Admission Office picks up dramatically, while Admission Officers steadily and surely read through 3,000 applications. There are some common worries that students (or parents) contact the office to resolve; here are some of them, with our best responses:

How and when do I find out my admission decision?

  • The Application Summary webpage, for which you’ve been emailed a user ID and password, will allow you to track the status of your application. We will make your decision available online on [edited as of 12/1] December 13th at approximately 5PM EST. Don’t panic if you can’t access your decision at exactly 5PM; our servers are inundated at that time. Try again an hour or two later if at first you’re not able to log in.

How do I know that you’ve received all of my documents?

  • It takes us a few weeks to upload thousands of documents into our online reading system. So, we may not mark your teacher recommendation/transcript/scores/etc. as “Received” in our system until well after November 1st. We will notify you if any of your documents are missing.

What is your Early Decision policy? Can I apply to other schools now?

  • If you have applied to Brown’s Early Decision program, you may not submit an application to another Early Decision plan, as Brown’s program is binding. You may apply to other schools’ Regular, Rolling, or Early Action programs, as long as they allow you to apply to Brown’s Early Decision program.

What’s the most likely outcome of my Early Decision application? What is your Early Decision acceptance rate?

  • The majority of applicants in our Early Decision cycle are deferred to our Regular Decision cycle. Many factors go into our decision process. In recent year, only about 35% of our freshman class was comprised of Early Decision applicants; the majority of students at Brown were accepted during the Regular Decision process.

Should I send in more test scores/news about my accomplishments/samples of my award-winning cookies if I’m deferred?

  • If your circumstances have changed significantly, or if you’ve produced an especially noteworthy accomplishment, you may let us know; it is not necessary to completely update your application. We will expect to receive your Mid-Year report from your school’s counselor.

Who’s reading my application? Will the whole thing be read? Do you use robots to weed through applications?

Hard at Work

  • Your area Admission Officer will do a “first-read” of your application, and it may then be sent on to another reader, and may subsequently be discussed  in an Admission Committee. We do read the whole thing, and spelling does count. Real people (Admission Officers) read through every application, though we do have a team of friendly Brown Kodiak bears who scan all your documents with their paws for our viewing pleasure.

When will I find out about my Financial Aid package?

  • If you are accepted to Brown, you will receive your Financial Aid award at the same time as you receive your admission decision in the mail.

How do I get an interview?

  • We try to offer all our applicants interviews, though due to the limited number of alumni in some areas, we are unable to provide an interview for every applicant. Our alumni network does its best to reach out to as many applicants as possible. You will be contacted by an alumnus or alumna in your area to schedule an interview close to your home by the end of November. If you’re unable to have an interview, it will not hurt your chances of admission. Think of the interview as a chance for you to find out more about Brown from someone who knows it first-hand, rather than as a test of your mettle (or nerves).

If I’m applying to the Brown/RISD program, can I apply to RISD Early Action?

  • Yes, though please do be aware that if you are accepted to Brown’s Early Decision program, and not into the Brown/RISD program, you are still obligated to attend Brown. RISD’s Early Action application due date falls after Brown’s Early Decision due date.

Good luck to those of you who have submitted your Early Decision applications, and to those who are working on their Regular Decision applications!

Visiting Brown Virtually

Dear Professor Carberry,

Senior year is a hectic time for me, and I’m not sure if I can visit campus before I apply to Brown. Should I skip my important physics exam/my team’s first basketball game/my after-school job/my hours of playing Rock Band to visit campus prior to submitting my application? How else will I be able to talk to Brown students, see the beauty of New England in the fall, or get a feel for Brown’s campus? Should I sell my vintage Elvis stamp collection to buy a $2000 plane ticket to Providence?

-Pursuing Providence Perspective

Dear Pursuant,

Many students wonder if a campus visit to Brown is necessary before they apply. Experiencing a campus first-hand through your lens is, of course, an ideal way to become acquainted with a school, though it’s certainly not essential to understanding what Brown is all about. If you do decide to visit, Jana’s post on making the most of your visit to Brown is extremely helpful. As a retired tour guide, I can say with great conviction that Brown’s tour guides are well-trained, quite enthusiastic, and excellent representatives of the school.

However, a campus visit isn’t the only way for you to become acquainted with Brown’s residents, research, and resources. Information on faculty and facilities can be found in abundance on Brown’s website, as well as a virtual tour and other resources to connect you to life at Brown. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • A virtual tour of Brown created by the Bruin Club (the student organization that organizes campus tours, information sessions, and other prospective student events): this student-designed tour conveys the experience of one of our campus tours, with mentions of Brown’s traditions and notable locations. There are 360-degree views of some areas on campus (including a dorm! see Stop 6, Pembroke Campus) and this virtual tour covers some spots on campus that our in-person tour doesn’t!
  • Brown on iTunes U: A sampling of lectures, sounds, and images from Brown’s faculty and students. It’s the next best thing to sitting in on a class at Brown.
  • Today at Brown: What’s happening at Brown right now? Current events, student group activities, notable achievements, and more – this is a treasure trove of material about Brown today.
  • The Bruin Club blog: another Bruin Club project, this blog details the real-life experiences of current Brown students, including their academic pursuits, extracurricular activities, and what they love about Brown. See also: Brown in Color, another student-run blog.
  • Departments at Brown: want to get in touch with a professor or department at Brown that you’re interested in? Here’s the place to find a listing of departmental webpages.
  • Still wondering about what life on campus is like? You can ask a Brown student!

With all these virtual resources available, you can get a great sense of what Brown is like without missing your important PE rock-climbing exam, or selling your Monopoly-token collection.  And if you do decide to visit campus, check here before planning your trip. Happy [virtual] visiting!

Once you have chosen the topic for your personal statement, perhaps you have sat at your computer, opened up a blank document and…nothing? Writer’s block is only natural. Maybe you start thinking about how if you don’t write the Best Personal Statement Ever you won’t get in to your dream school and then you won’t win that Nobel you’ve had your eye on since you were 5 and everything you have worked towards for your entire life will be for nothing and how can you be expected to write at a time like this?

Well, some anxiety is normal, but try to just focus on the task at hand and don’t get carried away – the personal statement is only one of many components of the application. If you are having trouble getting words on the page, try making a list of the main points you want us to learn about you through your topic. What should the reader take away from the story you are telling? If you are clear on what you are trying to accomplish, the writing will become easier.

We mentioned in the first post that while there are no bad topics, there are better and worse ways to write about common experiences. It is important that you make meaning of your experiences and it is often more effective to do the “meaning making” throughout your personal statement instead of merely at the end. Think about the purpose of each paragraph and what point you are trying to make. Challenge yourself to go beyond your most immediate reactions and conclusions and carefully consider how (and why) your experience actually changed your perspective. Also, that rule you learned in 3rd grade still holds true: showing is better than telling. Rather than simply listing the things you want us to know or understand, illustrate your points with examples or reflections.

Regarding word counts, every school has different policies. 500 words is the most commonly suggested length and it can be a good guideline to follow. That being said, most admission officers will not stop reading at word 501. Try to use your best judgment- if you have already written 20 pages and you aren’t even halfway done you most likely need to be more discriminating with what you are including; however, as long as you are saying something worthwhile, we will want to read what you are writing.

We are not attempting to develop a winning formula for a personal statement (as much as you might like us to) because truthfully no such formula exists. Each of you has your own unique voice and the personal statement is the perfect vehicle for you to showcase it. If there was only one way to write it that would be awfully boring for you (and for us).

Once you have finished writing, give yourself a pat on the back, treat yourself to an ice cream sundae, and take a well-deserved break. Editing is a necessity, but it can be helpful to spend some time away from your essay – after awhile all of those well-articulated thoughts start to run together. When you come back to it, you will have a fresh perspective.

At this technologically-advanced point in time you most likely have spell-check on your computers, but unfortunately it does not correct for those word usage errors. As amusing it is to see that someone is a black belt in “marital” arts, it can also come across as sloppy, so make sure you haven’t fallen prey to this particularly unfortunate brand of error. Printing out a copy of your essay can be especially helpful because it is often easier to notice mistakes on paper than on a computer screen.

Now that you have completed your essay, it is a great time to ask for feedback. Before you hand off your essay, note areas about which you are most unsure. Ask your editors to keep your hesitations in mind as they read. Are you repeating yourself? Do you not go into enough detail? Be prepared for lots of opinions. It’s important to listen to advice and try to incorporate relevant changes, but make sure that at the end of the day the essay still reflects you, not your editors.

While it is most natural to approach people who are close to you for editorial advice, you might consider also asking a slightly more objective source, like a teacher or family friend who doesn’t know you as well.  What is most valuable about the advice of others is that they aren’t as close to the material and they can tell you what you are actually conveying to your audience. Keep in mind that admission officers unfortunately do not have the chance to get to know you on a personal level, so this essay is a chance to tell us who you are in your own words. You want to be honest, but you also want to make sure that you are putting your best foot forward.

Editing can be a tiring task – at some points you will probably feel like ripping up your personal statement (or throwing your computer out the window). In those moments, make sure to take a break and preserve your sanity. Ultimately, you just want to make sure that you feel proud of your final draft. Don’t over-edit or over-think – trust your instincts. Remain authentic and you will naturally rise to the top of the pile at whatever school is the best fit and match for you.

One of the most common and most difficult questions that we admission officers are asked by prospective applicants about choosing a topic for a personal statement is, “How can I stand out among 30,000 applicants?” I say that it is a difficult question because there is honestly not an answer to it, at least not a specific one. There is no one particular way to make you stand out through your personal statement. And truthfully, the longer you spend thinking about how to “stand out,” the more likely you are to be dissatisfied with what you write. The most important thing to remember about the personal statement is that the purpose of it is actually as simple as it seems – we really just want to learn more about you. We want to know what matters to you, what accomplishments you are most proud of, what obstacles you have worked to overcome, and how you reflect on the way that your experiences have shaped who you are. If you are being genuine you will automatically stand out because there is only one of you in the pool. We are looking for what makes you special and if you write an authentic and thoughtful essay about yourself, we will uncover just that.

So, should you write about your fear of public speaking and how you overcame it during the annual school play? (Is that too clichéd?) Should you write about the death of your childhood pet? (What if the admission officer doesn’t like animals?) Should you write about how your mom is your role model? (Doesn’t everyone write about that?)

For starters, there is no such thing as a “clichéd topic”, but there are better and worse ways to write about a common topic (which we will get to in the next post about the personal statement). When choosing a topic, you might want to bounce ideas off of people who know you, but it is important to pick the topic that resonates best with you. If you don’t like what you’re writing about, it’s hard to expect that we will. Most likely, you will be spending a good deal of time with this essay, so you want to actually like your subject.

Just as there’s no inherently cliched topic, there are no inherently boring ones either. Many students feel that if they haven’t gone through some kind of life-altering or traumatic event that they have nothing to write about in their college essay. But many successful application essays are centered on topics that might initially seem mundane to you. Things like a student’s bus ride to school or that time they won the cross country meet can be interesting essay topics as long as the student writing about them feels strongly about those experiences.  This does not mean that all of you should run to your computers and write about your bus ride to school or that time you won the cross country meet. It means that you shouldn’t worry too much about your topic being ordinary. What makes the topic interesting is the way you reflect upon it. Trust your experiences and don’t embellish.

Here’s a tip about how to actually go about choosing a topic. Take a look at the Common Application Personal Statement prompts.  Try writing a paragraph about each prompt and see what you come up with.  You might discover that trying to write about a person who has had a significant influence on you has got you thinking about something really important that you’d like to share.  Likewise, if you have too many ideas in mind and can’t decide which topic to go with, try writing a few paragraphs about each one.  What would your central point be regarding each of those specific topics?  Whichever one has you must excited is likely the best to pursue.

One final tip:  you might worry that you can’t fully describe yourself or something important to you in 500 words or less.  Well, you’d be right.  You are so much more than your personal statement, and we know that the essay gives us only a glimpse of who you are.  Hopefully, you will feel that even though your essay doesn’t tell us everything about you, it tells us something great.

After two years and thousands of applications read, Jana and Zaineb have collected some of their thoughts in two posts about the personal statement.  While we hope you find them helpful in the process of choosing a topic and writing your statements, we don’t intend to suggest that the statement/essay is of paramount importance in admission decisions.  Application essays are important in that they tell us something about what you think, how you think, and how you express what you think–but they rarely “make” or “break” a case by themselves.  There are a couple main questions to keep in mind as you craft your statements.  How does this essay complement the rest of my application? And what does this essay suggest about me as a potential student and citizen of the Brown community?

We often say that we consider applications holistically, and it’s true.  We gather information from every component: background, activities, short answers, transcript, test scores, essays, recommendations, interviews, even supplemental items like musical recordings.  Taken together, these components represent a multi-layered means of telling your story.  Consider what your application would look like without essays.  Is there something important about you that would be left out?  Of course there is – you are more than a sum of numbers and grades and activities.  If your teachers and counselor know you well, they should be able to add more of a humanistic view of who you are.  Still, teachers likely know you in a limited context.  What would get left out?

One of the age-old pieces of English teacher advice is to keep your audience in mind while writing.  What are they looking for when they read?  In the case of admission officers, we are a diverse bunch, but we are reading with a key question in mind:  How would this applicant add to our college community?  Is she a stellar scientist or a talented linguist?  Can I see him adding fresh perspectives in a first year seminar?  Is this someone who would make a great roommate, lab partner, or club leader?  What this means for you as a writer is that you are not just writing about who you are, but who you are as a candidate.  Does your essay show what you have to add to Brown, or any other college?

When your application is complete, you should feel satisfied that, as a whole, it does a reasonably good job of representing who you are as a candidate for admission.  Keep the big picture in mind, be thoughtful and genuine, and it will come across in your personal statement and help us consider if you are a good fit for Brown.

Financial Aid

As part of our of our summer “lite” information sessions for the Admission Office, Director of Financial Aid Jim Tilton filled us in on some trends and updates in the world of Financial Aid.  While this may not sound like the most riveting topic, it certainly is important to our applicants and students and their families.  The most important points that we communicate in our information sessions are that 1. Financial aid at Brown is need-based (no merit or athletic scholarships are awarded Ivy League-wide) and 2. We have a need blind admission policy for U.S. citizens and permanent residents.  (Financial aid funding is limited for foreign citizens, transfer and Resumed Undergraduate Education students, but financial need is met in full for those who are admitted and who have applied for financial assistance.)  We want to make it possible for all of our accepted students to choose Brown, stay at Brown, concentrate in their chosen field, and graduate with manageable loans or no loans at all.  Because of our financial aid policies, no one should rule out applying to Brown because of the “sticker price” – the full amount paid by families with no financial need.

Some key numbers for FA at Brown:

  • $81,500,000  Amount budgeted for need-based financial aid 2010-2011.
  • $5,500,000  Increase in FA budget from 2009-10 to 2010-11.
  • $31,835  Average University Scholarship for 2010-11 (ranges from $1000-51,000).
  • 45%  Percentage of the Class of 2014 receiving aid.
  • $0  Loans in FA packages of students with total parent income of less than $100,000 per year.
  • $0  Parent contribution for families with less than $60,000 in annual parent income and less than $100,000 in assets.
  • 143  Sidney Frank Scholars, students from low-income families who have no work or loans in the first year of their FA packages.
  • $21,000  Average family income of Sidney Frank Scholars.
  • $2400  Expected student contribution from summer earnings before freshman year
  • 8-10  Hours generally worked per week by students with work study jobs or other campus jobs.
  • 1  Percentage of Brown grads who default on student loans.
  • 20   Yellow Ribbon Program awards available to undergrads in 2010-11 for eligible veterans or their dependents.

Of course much more information, including answers to common questions and financing examples are on the Office of Financial Aid website.

Director Tilton stressed that Brown has the ability to adapt to families’ circumstances.  For example, there is an incoming freshman who did not apply for aid, but then had spring floods wash away the family home.  Fortunately, we are able to be flexible and assist the student.

Tilton encourages families to “tell their stories” in their FA paperwork, and to send in letters of explanation if there are circumstances that may be unclear from the FAFSA and CSS Profile.

Through all the facts and figures, the key message of the session was crystal clear:  Brown is committed to making the extraordinary education here affordable for all.

A couple of months ago I was representing Brown at the Summer@Brown college fair and though the kids I met were great I also noticed some general (and avoidable) anxiety on behalf of many of them. Of course, some nervousness is only natural – hordes of teenagers, admission officers to meet, and only a few hours to acquaint yourself with hundreds of universities – anyone would be overwhelmed. However, if your stress level is interfering with what you can learn at these fairs, here are a few ways to modify your approach.

First it’s important to consider the purpose of a college fair. A college fair is a great way to both familiarize yourself with a variety of schools in which you are interested as well as introduce yourself to schools you may not have previously considered. If you are just beginning the college search process, it is also a great time to pick up informational materials from lots of schools. Depending on how large the fair is, it might not be the best time to have an in-depth conversation with a college rep about whether or not that school is the right fit for you. But it can be a great time to get any questions you have answered.

One helpful tactic is to do a little research beforehand. It is a good idea to peruse the list of schools that will be at the fair and identify those in which you are most interested. Think about what you already know and what you have yet to learn about those schools. If you have basic background information down, it will lead to more fruitful discussions with the college reps.

Regarding questions – it’s true that there is no such thing as a stupid question. However, there are some questions, which garner lots of interesting information and other questions which may produce less beneficial answers. For example: “Can you tell me more about your Program in Liberal Medical Education?” is a fine question. A more productive question might be, “What is the application process to the PLME program?” or “What is the philosophy of the PLME program? “ or even “What are the advantages of an 8 year medical program as opposed to an accelerated one?” Basically, the more specific your question, the more specific our answer and the more satisfied you ultimately feel about the information you receive. When I am asked a very general question, I usually have to flesh out what information the student is actually looking for. But unfortunately, admission officers are not mind readers. So the interaction will probably be more positive for you if you get specific.

Additionally, questions like, “Can you compare your school to school X?” will rarely provide you with a satisfying answer. First and foremost, admission officers are generally the most knowledgeable about the schools that they represent and secondly, we usually do not like to trash talk our peer institutions – it’s considered bad form. Also, as a prospective applicant, it is really you who is in the best position to compare schools – not admission officers. As the applicant it is your job to take the information you receive from college reps and compare and contrast it among all of the schools in which you are interested.

Hopefully, armed with this advice, next time you walk into a gymnasium overcrowded with high school students, parents, and admission officers, you will feel more confident as you wend your way through the maze of wonderful choices. Happy searching!

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