The Secrets to Getting Accepted to the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis

Okay, so my title is a little bit of false advertising. There’s not a secret to getting in (at least as far as I can tell – and trust me – I asked). 

But, with the Brown School’s commitment to a holistic review process, it’s nearly impossible not to wonder: what are they really looking for in applicants? It feels like surely there’s some trick to gaming a holistic review – that one aspect of the application must outweigh the rest.  

I remember working on my application and trying to decide how to prioritize. Would they care more about my personal statement or my analytical essay? Who should I ask to write my letters of recommendation? Does my undergraduate GPA even matter or should I focus on my work experience? What exactly does the holistic review mean for my application (more on that below) and how do I make sure to add in the perfect ingredients to get accepted? 

Since I know many of you are also considering this as you approach the priority deadline, I’ve compiled some of the most frequently asked questions about the review process inside the Brown School as well as advice from student ambassador colleagues and Admissions Specialists below. 


The holistic review process is the center stone of the Brown School Admissions Office. What it means is that every single thing you’re asked to turn in with your application is reviewed together, concurrently. So, the committee will use all of the information available to look at who you are as a full, complex, and comprehensive person. 

Our admissions committee isn’t looking for just high GPAs or test scores. There’s no single item that will guarantee acceptance. Instead, they want to know your whole story and give you plenty of opportunities to tell it throughout the application. The holistic review process means, there’s no magic formula that designates a perfect Brown School Student, so your best chance is to be yourself and use the space provided to show your heart. 


There’s no set number. The holistic review process means that each cohort is created individually with specific attention to every unique application. That being said, if you want more details about the size and demographics of previous classes, you can find them here.  


Well, this is a hard one to answer. You should focus on all of it, but remember that the committee will view it all together. Play up your strengths and what you’re passionate about. Focus on the things that make sense for you. If you graduated from undergrad already, you can’t return and change your GPA, but you can work on creating a comprehensive resume that will highlight all of your amazing work experience, or an analytical essay that is really though provoking, or a personal statement that shows your passion. My personal advice is to concentrate on showcasing things that are in your control: your critical thinking and analytical skills and your passion that is driving you to joining Social Work or Public Health or Social Policy.  Use the space you’re given to really tell your story and make your case for why you’re the next Brown School student.  


People who know you best and can really speak on your account. The admissions committee isn’t as concerned with the level of prestige of your recommender* as they are with how this person can add to your story. So, maybe don’t pick your mom or your best friend, but the professor or supervisor who mentored you for years is perfect. There are no restrictions or qualifications on this. Because I came straight from undergrad, I had three academic recommenders, but other people utilize previous employers, colleagues, volunteer supervisors, or academic staff like advisors. Look for someone who can speak to your potential for success in this next phase of your professional journey.  

*Note: I’m not saying if Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is a close family friend that you shouldn’t ask her to write your letter of recommendation. That’d be cool. …But only if you’ve also worked for her. 


You enter the worst part of the application season: you wait. Meanwhile a committee at the Brown School will read (and reread) your application. They’ll consider every item you submitted, including your scholarship interview, and you’ll receive a decision within 4 to 6 weeks. 


You bet: 

*Disclaimer: Student Ambassadors are not in any circumstances part of the reviewing process and have no influence on whether a potential student is accepted or not. This advice is based on our own experience or the experiences of our friends and colleagues in the program.* 

“Make the leap.”
– Kellan, Student Ambassador 

“You know yourself best. You’ve gotten to where you are because you have strengths and passions that are unique and often times we want to only focus on our own weaknesses, but you also have to know your own strengths and how they got you here.”
– Sierra, Student Ambassador 

“Proofread. And consider running your essays through Grammarly.”
– Alexi (me), Student Ambassador 

“There is no right answer. Share your story and your passion… and follow the essay prompts.”
– Sarah Dexter, Admissions and Recruitment Specialist 

“If you have someone you trust (a friend, a mentor, a professor, even your mom) ask them to read over your materials. A second set of eyes can be really helpful.”
-Sarah Birch, Admissions and Recruitment Specialist 

“We know the application process can feel incredibly stressful. For folks with families, full-time jobs, or other big concurrent commitments, it’s even more difficult to find the time. For those of you who are in it and feeling lost in some fog, know this: 1) our office is here to be a conversation partner for you—please reach out 2) this is temporary—application season will not last forever, I promise 3) you’ve already done the majority of the work to get to grad school; let this serve as an deserved opportunity to recall and share all the things—personal, professional or otherwise—that have led you to the Brown School.”
– Brianna Coppersmith, Admissions & Recruitment Communications