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Brown Leadership Institute: Everything You Need To Know

For a young high school student, pre-college programs offer a preparatory playing field that simulates college life while inculcating essential life skills.

As covered in this post, there are a wealth of such programs available, which specialize in various fields of study. Choosing a program relevant to your chosen field will ideally give you a head start in imbibing the necessary knowledge and skills most crucial to success, and allow you to hit the ground running once you enroll in college.

For those interested in social justice, one such program is the Brown Leadership Institute.

What is the Brown Leadership Institute?

The Brown Leadership Institute is an opportunity for students passionate about social justice who aim to make an impact in the way problems are thought through and solved. It is a pre-college program offered by Brown University that aims to engage participating students with the social challenges in the world today: social entrepreneurship, racial justice, law & social movements, and gender equity. It is designed to introduce students to these complex social issues in a meaningful way, and provide them with the tools and knowledge to make a real impact in their communities.

We’ve covered everything else that Brown University offers during the summer here.

Who is eligible for the Brown Leadership Institute?

The program is open to 15-18 year-old students completing grades 10 to 12. Because of the availability of online sessions, students from across the globe can participate.

How is the program structured?

The program website explains the program structure in detail. In short-:

  • There are two ways to participate: 2-week on-campus sessions and 4-week online sessions.

  • There are two separate batches for the resident sessions: June 25th to July 7th, and July 16th to July 28th (based on the dates for 2023). Both take place at the Brown University Campus in Providence, Rhode Island.

  • The online sessions go from July 10th to August 4th

  • You will have to choose one course from a list of 15 that covers everything from STEM to intercultural communication to global health to women & leadership

  • The workload is about 20 hours a week of classes, and half as much again for homework and assignments

  • There is no formal grading, however you will receive a Course Performance Report and a Certificate of Completion

The course itself focuses on inculcating in participants a collaborative model of leadership, honing skills in active listening, public speaking, problem-solving, conflict resolution, and teamwork.

Course offerings

  • Women and Leadership

  • More than a Game: Leadership and Social Change in Sports

  • Leadership, Law and Social Movements

  • Leadership and Intercultural Communication

  • Leadership in Changing Business: Social Entrepreneurship

  • Leadership and Global Health

  • Here is the information session.

How much does it cost?

The residential program has a fee of $5,218 while the online course enrolment costs $5,313.

For those wanting to enroll but lacking sufficient funds, Brown University also has 4 scholarships available with their own respective criteria. Students are encouraged to apply to them without delay, as they are disbursed on a first-applied-first-awarded basis.

Pros and Cons of the Brown Leadership Institute

Like any program, the Brown Leadership Institute has its strengths and potential drawbacks. Here are some pros and cons to consider:


1. Focus on Social Justice

This is one of the few programs specifically structured around civil rights and social leadership skills, making it a solid choice for students passionate about these topics. If your scholar profile and overall narrative is centred around social justice, then this could be a good course. However, if you are looking for a general leadership course, then we’d recommend you check out some more options here.

2. Skill Development

The institute places a strong emphasis on developing leadership skills such as public speaking, problem-solving, and teamwork. Regardless of which field students choose in their future, these skills will serve them well. One thing that we found particularly interesting is that the course will analyse your existing leadership style and provide feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of it. This is more valuable as opposed to a ‘reinventing the wheel’ approach.

It’s also helpful that students who successfully complete in-person courses that are longer than two weeks or longer and online courses that are three weeks or longer in length receive a Course Performance Report (CPR) by early fall. The CPR has some good insights on a student’s performance during the course.

3. Cultural Exposure, Collaboration and Network

With students from all over the world, participants can gain a global perspective on social issues and how different nations and cultures perceive them. Working with peers from vastly different backgrounds helps build essential listening and teamwork skills.

4. Application-Oriented Learning

The program encourages students to put their learnings to use and develop an idea to tackle an existing social problem, providing them with a tangible way to apply what they've learned in their own communities.

5. Accessibility & Resources

As a dedicated pre-college offering from Brown University, the program has access to a wealth of resources and benefits from the pedagogy and industry exposure of its parent institution. The availability of online sessions allows participation from across the globe.

6. College Experience

Whether you choose the residential option or the online option, the structure of classes is designed to give a true taste of college life. Of course, to make the most of this experience it’s recommended you choose residential, as it will also allow you to socialize with your classmates and enjoy the Brown campus.


1. Cost

The program can be expensive, although scholarships and application fee waivers can be available to those who qualify. Another drawback is that unlike many programs, there is no difference in fee between online and offline enrolment, making the online option inferior by default as it lacks peer learning and interaction.

2. Limited Availability

Unfortunately, the high accessibility also makes the program tough to get into. Being open to all high school students essentially makes it first-applied-first-enrolled. The nature of the courses is such that the program has limited spots and you will inevitably have to apply as early and as quickly as possible to stand a chance of getting a spot in your desired course.

3. Specific Focus

While the program teaches some valuable life skills, its primary focus is on social justice. This may be a pro for students wanting to pursue careers in law or the not-for-profit sector for example, but for those interested in other areas, this may not be the best fit. For example, if you are interested in the environment, then BELL is a better option for you.

4. Lack of Formal Grading

While it frees up students’ mental space to focus on the coursework itself, the lack of grades also prevents participants and their ideas from standing out. The other aspect of this is, as we’ve mentioned in the ‘pros’, is the CPR and feedback on the specific leadership style. While these are no doubt useful for personal growth, they do not contribute to substantiating college applications, even to Brown University itself.

5. Open Enrollment

This program does not, by itself, serve as an entrypoint into Brown University. Its purpose is to allow students to build on their existing narrative in the social causes field while providing them with additional resources and knowledge. Without sufficient work in the field before or after the program, its usefulness is limited.

Our Review

In conclusion, the Brown Leadership Institute stands as a pre-college program that serves as a pretty solid introduction to social justice and civil rights. With its diverse course offerings and focus on leadership skills, you will be empowered to enact meaningful change in your own cultural spheres.

The program's dedication to social justice, its emphasis on skill development, its international perspective, and access to the pedagogy of Brown University are all significant advantages and make it a program with a strong focus on foundational learning.

However, you must be quick to apply to get into the limited slots, and you must be prepared to pay the fee or apply to the scholarships. Note that the program’s lack of formal grading adheres to its spirit of learning and strongly discourages pursuing it for the purpose of “padding” - be sure that you are truly passionate about the courses offered, as that is the only way to derive true value from them.

Additionally, if you are looking for a more prestigious program that allows you to work with social justice and civil rights, you could consider internships with NGOs or volunteerships.

Ultimately, the Brown Leadership Institute offers a unique and enriching experience if you are passionate about making a difference in the world. It is an opportunity to delve into thought-provoking and relevant academic content, cultivate socially responsible leadership, and develop a meaningful action plan that you can then take forward to implementation. It's a chance to join a community of like-minded fellows who care about social change and gain guidance, insight, and empowerment to address critical issues in meaningful and sustainable ways.

Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you are passionate about research and would like to do it from the comfort of your home, you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 2100 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.

Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a PhD student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.

Image Source: Brown PreCollege logo



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