What is Brown University Known For? Is Brown a Good School?

The seventh-oldest higher learning institution in the U.S., Brown University was the first North American college to accept students without regard to their religious affiliation. 

Its admission rates are among the most competitive in the nation at 5%, and its undergraduate population is just shy of 10,000

Brown is small enough to find one’s niche easily and large enough to explore various interests and intellectual pursuits.

Brown is located in Providence, Rhode Island – an eccentric city that extends along the Narragansett Bay. 

Artistic and architectural attractions dot the town. At WaterPlace Park, students walk past Venetian-style bridges and local street art displays. 

The free WaterFire celebration includes a hypnotizing lights display along the water and must be experienced by all Brown students and Providence visitors. 

Students can also be seen buzzing in and out of bistros, bakeries, and delis in the Little Italy section of Historic Federal Hill. 

Students attending Brown will join the ranks of some of the nation’s greatest writers, inventors, leaders, and humanitarians. 

As of June 2022, the school is associated with nine Nobel Prize winners, a U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice, 99 US Congresspersons, and 38 Olympic medalists. 

In the sections that follow, we’ll share key information about Brown’s most popular majors, then explore some of their traditions, exciting extracurricular activities, and acclaimed sports teams. 

What Majors & Academics Are Brown Known For?

Brown University
Farragutful, Quiet Green – Brown University, CC BY-SA 4.0

For the last several years, computer science and economics have ranked among the top two undergraduate degree programs at Brown. 

Most recently, Brown presented computer science diplomas to 21.8% of the graduating class! Some of Brown’s newest computer science graduates progress to work in exciting positions at Disney, Deloitte, the Washington Post, and Google.

The economics department offers several combined tracks, where students can marry their studies in economics and one of the following fields: computer science, mathematics, or applied mathematics. 

Brown economics professor Emily Oster was recently named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People for 2022 based on her most recent publication – The Family Firm.

As home to the nation’s oldest engineering and applied mathematics programs, it is no surprise that both majors’ popularity persists today. Applied mathematics students get many opportunities to engage in interdisciplinary research. 

At the Carney Institute for Brain Science, for example, applied mathematics students and faculty may collaborate on projects studying neural networks in the brain, novel indicators for neurodegenerative diseases, or retinal imaging. 

There are even three student groups dedicated to supporting and fostering connections among students in applied mathematics.

Brown’s engineering majors pursue a degree in one of six concentrations. 41% of engineering majors are female, making Brown a supportive environment for a historically male-dominated field. 

Recent engineering student projects at Brown have focused on heart repair procedures, building space-craft compatible robotic arms, and bubble growth in carbonated beverages.

Is Brown a Good School?

Students love Brown University for its Open Curriculum, which came about in 1969 after a student lobbying effort. 

In essence, the Open Curriculum strikes out the notion of mandatory requirements and challenges students to design their own pathways. Students can also opt to take any class on a Pass/Fail scale.

With a 6:1 student-to-teacher ratio, Brown students receive more individual attention from their professors than their peers at other universities. On top of that, teaching quality is exceptional – Brown was recently ranked #4 in best undergraduate teaching.

Brown graduates go on to work in lucrative positions at top companies like Meta, Spotify, and SpaceX. 

The median earnings for a Brown graduate amount to almost $79,000, while the median starting salary of computer science graduates is the highest in the United States! The school also ranks #3 for its number of successful startup software developers (following MIT and Princeton).

Brown is easily one of the best universities in the nation, and other eminent sources agree. The Wall Street Journal and Times Higher Education both ranked Brown #5 in their Best Colleges edition.

Brown Traditions

The first of many Brown traditions started at the Van Wickle Gates, gifted to the class of 1876 by Mr. Van Wickle. 

The gates only open upon three annual occasions: convocation, mid-year convocation, and graduation. Rumor has it that if you go through the main door more than two times, you won’t graduate, you’ll never marry, and you’ll be forever cursed!

The Campus Dance – held in September – dates back to the mid-1800s. At the time, commencement celebrations involved concerts, speeches, and class dinners. 

Dancing became the most popular activity by 1886, and today, over 14,000 guests show up to dance and listen to music under streams of hundreds of paper lanterns.

In the middle of the spring semester, Brown’s Class Coordinating Board puts on Gala, the only school-wide formal dance of the year. 

Major performers like Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, and Bonnie Raitt headlined back in the 1960s. Today, thousands of students attend the themed event with contemporary performers like Kendrick Lamar, Modest Mouse, and Lauryn Hill.

A whimsical tradition involves Josiah Carberry, a fictional professor of psychoceramics (the study of ‘cracked pots’). On Friday the 13th, students can donate change to cracked pots placed in various campus buildings, meant to go to a fictitious Josiah S. Carberry Fund (the money goes to purchase various library books).

Prominent Clubs & Extracurricular Activities at Brown

Brown University
Filetime, John Hay Library (Brown), CC BY-SA 4.0

Brown has more than 500 student organizations ranging from club sports and performing troupes to governing bodies and community service groups. 

Brown Esports is one of the most popular clubs at Brown and the largest esports and gaming group within the Ivy League. 

It is made up of students from Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design (in fact, many student groups have shared populations based on their proximity to one another). 

The group is open to gamers of all levels, with nearly 100 students competing on various teams.

To say a capella is a popular activity at Brown would be a major understatement – there are currently ten all-male, all-female, and coed a cappella ensembles on campus. 

The Brown Derbies, formed in 1982, are the oldest, continually performing tenor-through-bass a cappella group at Brown, with a reputation for high-energy performances. 

Those who prefer consuming to performing entertainment may enjoy the guest speaker and/or podcast series from the Brown Lecture Board (known as the BLB). 

The BLB organizes recording sessions and on-site lectures with a broad range of cultural figures. Recent visitors have included author John Green, actress Keke Palmer, and comedian Hasan Minhaj.

What Sports Are Brown Known For?

The women’s rowing team boasts the most successful athletic record at Brown – the university’s 7 NCAA national championships have all been won by the women’s rowing team! 

Most recently, the group made its 24th consecutive appearance in the NCAA championships.

Brown’s sailing team is one of the oldest and most successful groups on campus. Brown’s current sailing cohort is ranked among the top ten teams in the United States. 

When they’re off the water, team members devote significant time to teaching community members how to sail.

The sailing team just recently converted to varsity status as a part of the Excellence in Brown Athletics Initiative

Brown currently maintains the third-largest number of varsity teams in the United States, and the initiative was designed to transition 11 varsity teams to club sports in order to expand opportunities to a diverse array of non-recruited student-athletes. 

In the years to come, the school will invest more in coaching, athletic training, and facility development.

Of the many club sports at Brown, the men’s ultimate frisbee team – known as Brownian Motion – has one of the most impressive records. They have won three men’s national titles, with the most recent victory taking place in 2019. The team is currently ranked #12 in the Ultiworld power rankings.

Why Brown?

Admission to one of the United States’ best universities doesn’t have to break the bank. Brown recently eliminated loans from their undergraduate financial aid packages as part of a new $30 million campaign called the Brown Promise

Through this effort, Brown meets the full demonstrated financial need of all admitted students. 

Award packages may include a combination of state or federal grants and work-study placements, while a university scholarship covers the balance. 

On average, Brown disburses $48,000 per financial aid package.

Once at Brown, students will flourish within the Open Curriculum. Unlike standard general education requirements (which mandate classes for which students may have no interest), the Open Curriculum allows Brown undergraduates to construct their personalized educational journeys.

Brown’s many traditions taking place in the charming town of Providence harken images of a quintessential Ivy League education. 

The Bear Bargains program offers local perks to students – with a Brown Card, undergraduates are eligible for discounts at fitness centers, restaurants, salons, and grocery stores, among other businesses.

There are countless ways for students to get involved in a variety of student organizations. Politically active students will especially enjoy the social dynamic, where philosophical discussions are frequent and new ideas are welcomed. 

Brown is a place where, regardless of background, graduates are likely to move on to fulfilling positions at the forefront of social and cultural innovation.