written by
Allie Greenberg

The English Major at Brown University

Mentor Community 5 min read

First off, if you’re reading this because you just got accepted or are planning on attending Brown, congrats! Brown is such a great place that fosters and promotes creative expression and ideas both inside and outside the classroom. Now you’re probably thinking with the Open Curriculum it can be kind of daunting having so many options because of no core requirements. Have no fear—embrace the Open Curriculum and try everything! But, keep in mind what interests you while you explore classes. You may start off wanting to major in Political Science, but after one Classics course, you may change your mind! For me, the Open Curriculum allowed me to dive immediately into my passion: writing. So, for those interested in analyzing literary classics and discovering worlds unknown, the English major is the one for you. For those interested in further honing their writing skills in a variety of genres while also participating in the aforementioned, then look no further than the English Nonfiction Writing Program.

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Photographer: Thought Catalog | Source: Unsplash

Why English Nonfiction Writing?

For me, this program was truly the best of both worlds. I love critically reading and discussing literature, but I wanted more of a focus on writing, specifically nonfiction writing. I wanted a major that allowed me to explore the personal, memoir style writing I was already doing on my own and take it that extra step further. How could I best capture a certain detail? How could I better describe a place the reader has never visited before? I have always enjoyed storytelling, a medium in which people can make meaningful connections and find commonalities with complete strangers. Over my four years at Brown, I worked to answer these questions and create my own connections with my readers through my nonfiction writing courses.

What was your favorite class?

One of my favorite courses within the program was Travel Writing. The best part of it was truly the professor, Jonathan Readey. Professor Readey engaged all his students to make sure he truly knew them. This connection he made with the students pushed all of us to write honestly and open because the Professor created that space. Although the class might seem limited to just travel, the vehicle only proved as a jumping off point for our personal essays. The class was divided into three essays over the course of the semester. Our first essay was to touch on a local place in our lives. I chose Cape Cod—a summer vacation spot rich in memories and history for my family. The second essay prompted us to travel a little further from our day to day worlds. I wrote about my time abroad in Copenhagen and working through new relationships. The last essay we wrote was supposed to take us somewhere completely far away. My story took place in the depths of Nepal while on a 30-mile trek through the Himalayas. The course taught me the importance of setting in a story and how a place can transform into a character of its own through specific details and observations in a personal essay.

Nyhavn Denmark
Photographer: Nick Karvounis | Source: Unsplash

What is it like to write a thesis for your major?

Before you freak out about the idea of writing a long thesis over the course of a year, this is optional! But, come junior spring, if you do decide to write a thesis during your senior year, it is an amazing experience! Classes like Travel Writing gave me the experience and skills to spend my senior year crafting a thesis for the Nonfiction Writing Program. Writing a thesis for me was a great way to have a tangible piece of work as a culmination and final product of my studies at Brown. In all my nonfiction writing classes prior, we workshopped our essays with each for feedback, whether one on one or in small groups. Learning to receive and accept constructive feedback was crucial to becoming a successful writer. These fresh and different perspectives I learned in my classes helped me to write audiences different than me and my point of view. While in my thesis seminar and workshop the fall semester of my senior, the other students, who had been in most of my nonfiction writing classes, were all integral to the thesis writing process. At the end of the year, I had a piece of work dedicated to a topic of Millennial dating. The Nonfiction Writing Program allowed me the opportunity to explore in depth an interesting topic to me while weaving my personal experiences. This program strengthened my voice and deepened my sense of self in my writing, only making me a stronger writer and overall learner.

So you graduated with an English degree. Now what?

The possibilities are endless. The English major not only teaches you how to critically analyze literature, but also how to analyze the world around you. The writing skills you will develop over the four years can be applied to any field. I now work as a copywriter at an advertising agency. The creative process I honed at college translates perfectly to the world of advertising. Whether it’s concepting for new business pitches or crafting copy for emails, I have my English degree to thank for allowing me to push creative boundaries and think outside the box. It gave me the confidence to advocate for my work. It allowed me to share my voice and taught me that, if a story is compelling, people will want to listen.

I’m just one example though. You do not have to pursue a field specifically in writing if you studied that as an undergraduate. I have friends who are in film, studying law, or working for start-ups. Being an English major does not end once you graduate. Rather, receiving an English degree is just the first step in becoming a lifelong learner that opens you up to so many opportunities once you leave College Hill.


This informational essay was written by Allie Greenberg, Brown Class of 2018. If you want to get help writing your Brown application essays from Allie or other Bullseye Admissions advisors, click here to schedule a free call.

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