• Ethan Liebross

I almost went to Brown University

Updated: Jul 4, 2020

I almost went to Brown University. I applied early decision.  I wanted nothing else.  Brown won my heart.

I did everything I could to get in:

  • Interviewed with an alumni

  • Visited the school

  • Contacted a student at the school

  • Asked my cousin who went for advice

  • Wrote multiple essays

  • Emailed my admission counselor back and forth

  • Sent in extra work that I did

  • Lived on College Confidential (don’t do this)

Selfie of me before my interview (just look at my naive, panic-stricken face)

And then Brown broke my heart. I didn’t get rejected, something much worse: I got deferred and was forced to wait a couple more months, holding onto any last bit of hope I had, until they finally let me down easy.


This past summer, I became a mega fan of Malcolm Gladwell. After listening to his podcasts, watching his talks on YouTube, and reading a couple of his less famous books, I gave in and picked up David and Goliath, one of his best-sellers.

In it, he chronicles the story of a girl by the name of Caroline Sacks. She grew up a science lover: think magnifying glass in hand, crawling bugs, deep-sea creature posters–the whole shebang. She got into Brown University. Like me, she was enticed by the prestige, accomplished faculty,  resources,  and fascinating students. (I also liked that I could go to the school where Emma Watson went and that they had a midnight organ recital on Halloween night, but that’s a story for another time).

In high school, Sacks was in the top of her class. Now compared to everyone else, she was a ‘’small fish in the deepest and most competitive pond in the country.’’ She was smart compared to the rest of the world (probably in the 99th percentile), but in her new world, she was ‘’below average” and felt stupid. She struggled with her spring semester organic chemistry class and was told by her advisor that she would have no other choice than to drop it and retake it the following semester. Spoiler: next semester she didn’t do any better.

The tragedy here is the Caroline Sacks loved science with a passion. But because of her subpar grades, she was forced to switch majors.

When asked what would have happened if she went down a tier to her second choice school, University of Maryland, she replied with ‘’I’d still be in science.’’

The lesson here is that maybe Ivies are overrated. Perhaps they aren’t the best places for people like Caroline Sacks. In high school, for most high achievers, Ivies are the goal. I remember the first time I met with my high school advisor; I said matter of factly, “I want to go to Princeton. What do I need to do?” Some parents even push students in high school, sometimes a little too hard, to the point of headaches and general sadness just so they have a chance at getting in.

BUT what if a student was more successful if they went to UMD and not Brown?

In retrospect, I may have made the right choice coming to Penn State. Only time will tell. One thing is for sure: so far, it feels good to be a big fish.

Outside Sources:

Gladwell, Malcolm. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. First edition. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.

Originally published: September, 20th, 2018

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