Brown University’s New Admissions Policy: How It Came About and Advice on Applying from Current Students and Faculty



According to a September 12, 2016 announcement, Brown University shifted its admissions and financial aid policies to treat undocumented students as domestic students in calculating their aid awards. Following up on a blog post by Rachel Freeman, we provide some context on how the change came about, advice for undocumented students who are considering applying to Brown and some recommendations to keep the momentum from this exciting change moving forward. We hope that this will serve as a model for bringing about similar changes in college campuses across the country.

How The Change in Policy Came About: The Student Activism Part of the Story

There is a long history of student-led activism at Brown University, much of which was a central driving force behind the university’s recent shift in policy. The Brown Immigrant Rights Coalition (BIRC) is a student-led organization that was established in 2009 with the following mission: “BIRC is based upon the idea that no human being is illegal. As a student based organization, we stand by the truth that education is linked to our liberation. These principles orient our demands for justice and equality for all humans irrespective of immigration status, gender, sexuality, economic status, race or other forms of oppression” (BIRC Mission Statement, 2016).

Started in Fall 2008 by a group of students including Tam Ngoc Tran (AM ‘10)  who was an undocumented Ph.D. student at Brown, one of BIRC’s first major accomplishments was to advocate for the university to make a public statement on its website about admitting undocumented students. This statement would have the dual purpose of encouraging students to apply for admission and signaling that Brown is an institution, which will support students upon matriculation. The university posted a statement on its website in response to student organizing. The change in admissions policy that was announced this month, was therefore the result of many years of student activism and organizing. As the BIRC statement in response to the university’ statement reads:

“This work would have been impossible without the tireless labor of students, faculty, and alumni, especially women of color and undocumented students who are too often the subject of institutional erasure. We recognize that there is much work left to be done, and BIRC is determined to remain active in the implementation of these policies at Brown.”

In Spring of 2016, BIRC members came together and decided to build on the thesis of a recent Brown Alumnus, Angie Ocampo (AB ‘15) who is now a Ph.D. Student in Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. Ocampo’s thesis, “The Experiences of Undocumented Latino College Students at Elite Universities,” and her efforts to collect a list of resources at Brown University for undocumented students, motivated undocumented students and allies on campus to continue advocating for increased resources.

BIRC members and campus advocates for undocumented immigrant students were also inspired by the wave of student activism that took place on campus in the Fall of 2015. During this time, students of color, under the collective “POC Together,” held a Day of Reclamation responding to concerns of Students of Color on campus. A group of faculty and staff at Brown also submitted a set of recommendations as part of the Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan (DIAP)’s open feedback process. In Spring 2016, BIRC members worked to update the website Angie Ocampo had created and also met with university administrators and staff. On May 2, 2016, BIRC members approached administrators with the following needs:

  1. To consider undocumented students as domestic students rather than international students for the purpose of admissions and financial aid.
  2. To institutionalize resources across campus for undocumented students.
  3. To incorporate issues related to undocumented students into professional development for faculty, students and staff.

The students’ meeting with campus administration went smoothly and the university, acknowledging the organization and research BIRC members had conducted, began the process of moving forward with the student recommendations. Part of the research presented to university leaders, included excerpts from a larger research project which students in Professor Escudero’s course, “Immigrant Social Movements,” were in the process of conducting. By interviewing and assessing undocumented students’ academic and socioemotional needs, the project’s primary goal was to inform Brown’s administrators on how to support undocumented students. In Summer of 2016, a joint-committee consisting of students and administrators was formed to work on BIRC’s demands. Also, a Presidential Fellow, Christina Tapiero ‘17 played an important role in informing this committee throughout the summer by conducting more research on how these policies could become a reality at Brown. On September 12, 2016, university administration announced their plan to update its admissions policy for undocumented first-year applicants.

Advice for Applying to Brown as an Undocumented Student

As a result of the university’s recent announcement, first-year, first-time undergraduate applicants (with or without DACA status) are considered as “domestic” students for admissions and thus, fall under the need-blind admissions process. Under the current policy, if admitted, Brown commits itself to fulfilling 100% of students’ demonstrated financial need. Brown also currently partners with college access programs such as Questbridge to continue to admit undocumented students. However, all transfer students, documented or undocumented are considered under a need aware status.

In order to be considered for financial aid, applicants should fill out the CSS profile, indicate they are interested in applying for financial aid on their application, and submit tax returns (if available). Interested applicants are also encouraged to speak with the financial office if they are unable to submit tax forms or have any further questions about demonstrating financial need. Undocumented students are also eligible for a fee waiver based on income and regardless of immigration status. For other financial needs (travel home, books, etc), students can and should reach out to campus staff who can direct the student to the appropriate funding source. The university is currently in the process of creating a listing of contacts within university offices for current and prospective undocumented students.

Quotes from Current Undocumented Students and Allies: Encouragement on Applying to Brown

“We understand that applying and committing to a university can be an overwhelming process, but we want to reassure you that at Brown, there is a community that wants to see you thrive.”

“On campus there are several resources that aim to support undocumented students as well as the intersecting identities students may hold such as being first-gen, low-income, or a student of color.”

“The First-Generation and Low-Income Student Center (FLIC) houses an Undocumented Student Initiative and a First-Generation Student Initiative. Within the Undocumented Student Initiative, a student coordinator alongside a Faculty Mentor, organize support programming, peer networking and a mentorship program. Additionally, our Dean for Financial Assistance, Vernicia Elie, is versed in undocumented student issues and can connect students to emergency funds for things such as DACA, legal costs, and other financial necessities.”

“While students can find support in a variety of student centers, sometimes you find support in the places you least expect it. It could be a peer in one of your classes, a student in your club, or a student within your own residence hall that you will befriend and feel comfortable enough to confide in. It’s important to reiterate to undocumented students — current and future — that there may be inevitable challenges that you might encounter, but you are not alone in this journey. If you choose to come to Brown, please feel rest assured that there will be students here who care about you.”

Building the Momentum: Policy Applications and Next Steps

Finally, we recognize that students that are admitted to Brown represent a specific subset of the undocumented student community. We encourage students from a diverse set of backgrounds to consider applying to Brown if they see the university as a good fit with their college aspirations. We also hope that with this development in policy, Brown University can be a leader in facilitating the building of bridges with other Rhode Island state colleges and universities that support undocumented students, including: Rhode Island College, the University of Rhode Island, Providence College and the Community College of Rhode Island through the organization CASO: Coalition of Advocates for Student Opportunities ( Given that many undocumented students in the state attend the Community College of Rhode Island and that CASO awards scholarships in honor of Brown Alumnus, Tam Ngoc Tran (AM ‘10), we encourage the university to support CASO’s scholarship awards as a means of encouraging future generations of Rhode Island undocumented students to consider the possibility of matriculating to Brown.

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Categories: Applying to college, Get involved, News

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