Brown University, located in Providence, Rhode Island, is known for doing things a little differently. From its unusual design-your-own major to school-sponsored entertainment that gathers plenty of critics, it’s not your run-of-the-mill prestigious institution of higher learning. As one of the country’s Ivy League schools, it’s not easy to get into. Those that do will find it a refreshing change of pace from some of the stuffier Ivy League institutions. Brown students know how to study, but they also know how to party.
An Ivy League institution with a history dating back to 1767, Brown University is certainly one of the most prestigious schools in the country, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is stuffy and uptight. Small classes and a committed teaching staff mean that Brown has high rankings for student happiness. In fact, in 2012, it was listed among the top five happiest colleges in the country by the Daily Beast. It’s also listed as one of the top 10 most stressful colleges, which means the overall atmosphere is happy while also academically rigorous and competitive. Students know how to have fun, but also how and when it’s time to get busy with their studies.
Brown sits in the heart of Providence, the capital of Rhode Island, which has become a hub of academic activity. This has given the city a young Vibe, and students will find plenty to do when they’re not studying. It’s also a safe, historic community to live and study in.
On-campus parties are common at Brown, and the social life on campus is highlighted by school-sponsored social events. One of these is the Spring Weekend, a musical extravaganza right before exams at the end of the spring semester. At the Spring Weekend, big names in music come to campus to help students release some of their tension prior to testing.
While Brown attracts a highly intelligent group of people, they are not the nerdy type who spend hours locked in their dorms studying. Students at Brown enjoy spending time in the community, giving back by helping the less fortunate.
Students who reside on campus live in co-ed dormitories that are broken into units. Units are overseen by peer counselors who supervise and provide guidance to students. Student dormitories are divided based on the student’s class. In 2012, Brown approved a $56 million overhaul of the housing on campus, and most dorms have been renovated. After their first year, Brown students can live in off-campus housing, but only with the permission of the Office of Residential Life. Off-campus housing may be privately owned or owned by the college.
Social life at Brown has a reputation for being a bit odd. Students often find themselves socializing among their specific interest group, but little connection between these groups exists. This creates the feeling of a disjointed community among the students. While there are plenty of clubs, teams and groups to join, they may not interact with each other with any frequency.
The Greek community at Brown is small but energetic. There are about 10 chapters, including some co-ed options. In addition, a variety of organizations and clubs are found on campus, including everything form the Alliance of Cartoon Animation Enthusiasts to the Harry Potter themed Quidditch Appreciation Club. At Brown, students will be able to pursue whatever they are interested in with their peers.
As an Ivy League school, Brown attracts very intelligent students. Classes are challenging, but the dedicated faculty, nine-to-one student-to-teacher ratio and small class size (over 70 percent of the classes have 20 or fewer students according to U.S. News and World Report) make asking and answering questions easier.
Like all Ivy League schools, Brown has its share of well-known professors. Among those are former congressman Patrick Kennedy, renowned author Chinua Achebe and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Rohde, who began teaching at Brown in 2011.
One of the things some critics dislike about Brown is its lack of a general Liberal Arts program. It does have a rigorous curriculum with 40 academic departments, but students must plan their own course of study rather than follow a traditional liberal arts major. This type of structureless curriculum is what makes Brown’s academic offerings unique. It has been rejected by other schools in the same league as Brown and can be a bit confusing to potential students, but advisors are on hand to help. U.S. News indicates that the more popular courses of study at Brown include economics, biology, international relations and affairs, history and political science, and government. Brown’s also the only place where you can major in the history of mathematics or Egyptology.
Of course, as a school that draws the best and brightest, Brown has its share of academic events. Researchers, artists, authors and academic speakers hold symposiums and lectures throughout the year. It’s not uncommon to find students holding a Brown Debating Union debate either. These are public events that students can take advantage of while attending Brown. Because of the many academic offerings, both in and out of the classroom, Brown has a high freshman retention rate of 97.5 percent.
All work and no play makes a body dull, and Brown has many sports programs to help with this, although sports is not heavily emphasized. The Brown Bears play most major sports, giving students the chance to play or watch their favorite. While the school isn’t known for its sports as much as its academics, the men’s soccer team is one of the best, constantly ranking among the country’s top 25. In total, the school has about 35 NCAA Division 1 athletic teams.
The student body at Brown is 48 percent male and 52 percent female. Opportunities for dating exist and the school is LGBT friendly, but the dating scene isn’t highly rated. Students appear to be focused on simply enjoying their experience and pursuing their academic goals, rather than hooking up.
Brown University recently made headlines when Emma Watson, the actress who played Hermione Granger in Harry Potter, pulled out in 2011 then announced her return to campus in the summer of 2013. She claims that the ability to design her own major was a draw for her to come to Brown. She is just one example of a famous student at Brown. It seems the school is rather open in its willingness to accept famous individuals.
In addition to the dorm renovation in 2013, Brown has added student lounges, which give students a place to hang out and study. The dining hall has been converted into a student commons area, which will have a dining hall as well as study areas and seminar rooms. A fire pit has also been added to the first-year residence hall. These improvements make Brown more appealing to young students who want to be comfortable while studying away from home.
Improvements are not just relegated to making students more comfortable. Some are focused on the academic realm. A rooftop greenhouse complete with conservatory and lab space is also in the works at the Building for Environmental Research and Teaching, and the same building will soon house a large auditorium for seminars and programs relating to the environment.
Brown’s open curriculum and excellent faculty are fairly well-known in academia. Many potential students are also interested by the fact that the John Carter Brown Library holds seven letters written by Christopher Columbus proclaiming his discovery of the New World. Another library, the Annmary Brown Library, is actually a tomb, with Rush Hawkins and Annmary Brown Hawkins both buried in it. Freshmen also often notice that the bust at the John Hays Library has quite a shiny nose. This is due to the fact that students believe rubbing the nose will bring them good luck, and they are entitled to three rubs during their stay.
With a diverse student body, open academics and a laid-back on-campus atmosphere, Brown, for the elite few who can get in, is an excellent choice for a college, provided students are wiling to tackle the strange social climate and structureless curriculum. Those who are looking for an Ivy League education, and are not dissuaded by these facts, should consider Brown.