Brown University (visited 3/21/14)
Although we arrived late for the info session, we arrived in time to hear the Director of Admissions say that Brown looks for students with “Conspicuous academic success, an unusual level of independence in and out of school, and who are unusually devoted to scholarly life. The key word there is ‘unusual’ – if we could define it, it wouldn’t be unusual anymore.”
Brown has the most flexible curriculum of the Ivies. There are no required classes, so people want to be in the classes they register for. Our tour guide said, “people are very in control of their lives here.” One of her favorite classes was her FYS – Italian Studies; she loved the integration, and she really got to work on her writing. Another guide told me that she choose Brown because “I wanted a place to balance me out. Everyone here has a passion.” One thing they would both change is the advising. “There’s almost too much. Everyone has different opinions and they think they’re right!” In addition to an academic advisor, there are resident advisors and meiklejohns (a peer advisor).
When the university was founded in 1764, it was criticized for being so large – with 7 students! Now, even with 6,500 undergrads, they manage to keep academic classes relatively small. They have one 500-seat lecture hall, but only 4% of classes have more than 100 students; 70% have 20 or fewer students.
Campus is relatively spacious but walkable. Simmons Quad (complete with a statue of Marcus Aurelius) is the physical center of campus. From there, you can walk anywhere from that point in 7 minutes (less if you hustle!). This is only one of several Greens around campus. The Quiet Green (named for obvious reasons) has plugs on the lampposts so students can use their computers outside The main gates from the road open twice a year – once for the new freshmen to come through (“People applaud; it’s kind of a cool way to be welcomed to campus!”) and again for seniors to leave at graduation. They aren’t supposed to go through the gates except those two times “or they won’t graduate or get married.” This quad also is home to the College Bell which rings when Brown wins a football game or a major world event happens – “both equally rare,” said the tour guide.
Behind the Quiet Quad is the Main Quad; this looks more like a traditional college quad and hosts many of the college events including the much-anticipated yearly Spring Fling. They also have a “Greek Quad” with the Greek dorms. The school charter says that only half of the house can be Greek. The rest of the rooms have to be reserved for Independents. About 10% of the student body is affiliated.
Although housing is guaranteed all four years, 70% of seniors choose to live off campus. “Some off-campus housing is closer to academic buildings than the dorms are,” said one of the students. Juniors can move off, but it’s harder to do this so most wait until senior year – and they aren’t unhappy on campus. Our tour guide said, “I don’t leave campus much. There’s too much going on here.” Although it’s difficult to have cars (parking in Providence is limited), it’s easy to get around town, take day trips, or travel to get home. The bus and the train stations are a 10-15 minute walk from campus. A bus ticket to Boston costs $10 making it an easy and cheap outing.
Sports and Arts are both big on campus. There are 37 varsity sports (gymnastics recently won championships) as well as lots of intramurals including inner-tube water polo and cornball. Brown students can cross-register for 4 classes at RISD “but that’s pretty loose. I know someone who took 8.” Not surprisingly, they have a bunch of a cappella groups (what bigger school doesn’t anymore?) including ARRRcappella (pirate acappella), Jockappella, and more. There also have 3 improv troupes, and anyone can take part in theater productions. They own the largest Hutching-Votey organ in the world, and they hold four Midnight Organ concerts on “the 4 scariest nights of the year”: Halloween, the nights before fall and spring finals, and the night before the first classes in the fall.
Not surprisingly, there are multiple libraries around campus. “The Rock” is the main library, shortened from The John D. Rockefeller Junior Library. Apparently, the Foundation was so annoyed that it was being shortened to The Rock that they wrote a letter to the Brown student body to say that they couldn’t call it The Rock; “Brown students in the ‘60s, being Brown students, told them that they were happy to stop using The Rock and would commence calling it The John. The Foundation changed their stance quickly!”
The Science Library, voted the ugliest library several years running, is the tallest point on campus with 14 floors; “the joke is that the books get more basic as you go up” (even the tour guide admitted to this being a bad science/PH scale joke!). However, it has been used as a huge Tetris game! Brown also has 3 “sacred libraries” which don’t allow books to be checked out. One has the largest collection of tin soldiers in the country (world?), flowers from Lincoln’s funeral, and apparently 3 books bound in human skin.
Brown ranks in the top 50 most expensive schools at $58K a year. “The Good News is that we have gobs of money!” said the admissions rep. “If the family makes less than $100,000 a year, there will be no loans; less than $60,000 there are no loans or EFC.”