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The Success Stories of Brown University’s Most Notable Alumni

Monday, August 21, 2023

Walkway and the Carrie Tower, on the campus of Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island.

As an Ivy League institution, Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, is one of the top universities in the U.S. Founded in 1764 as the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, it is also one of the nation’s oldest universities and the first one codified to admit and instruct students regardless of religious affiliation. The college changed its name to Brown University in 1804.  

The school attracts students from all over the world and boasts many distinguished alumni — known as Brunonians — who have made their mark in the world through politics, fashion, entertainment, academia, entrepreneurship, and philanthropy. Keep reading to learn about some of the most influential people who attended Brown University.   

What Is Brown University Famous For?

Brown distinguishes itself from other institutions by offering its Open Curriculum, a flexible, yet rigorous approach that allows students to control their own educational path. Instead of fulfilling general education requirements, students at Brown University design their own curriculum based on their interests and area of concentration. This highly personalized approach allows students to be more engaged, think more creatively, and take risks intellectually. 

In terms of athletics, Brown is especially known for its sailing team. Founded in 1896, the sailing team consistently ranks among the top 10 in the nation and boasts several Olympic sailors among its alumni.    

Who Were the Notable Alumni at Brown?

Brown University’s most famous alumni represent a variety of fields and include political leaders, actors, fashion designers, journalists, entrepreneurs, prize-winning authors, academics, and more. If you succeed at your goal of getting into Brown University, you will follow in the footsteps of John F. Kennedy Jr., Ted Turner, Lincoln Chaffee, John D. Rockefeller, John Krasinski, Emma Watson, Julie Bowen, Allegra Versace, Janet Yellen, and Dr. Kat Cohen, among numerous other accomplished alumni.  

Politicians and Leaders from Brown University

The political science concentration is one of the largest and most dynamic areas of study at the university. Students who pursue the political science concentration will develop many critical skills that can help them build a promising career. The department has close partnerships with several institutes, research centers, and programs to enhance students’ learning and experience. Students interested in politics and leadership can also pursue a concentration in international and public affairs. Graduates of both concentrations are prepared for leadership positions in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, though some of Brown University’s notable politicians and leaders pursued other areas of study. 

Lincoln Chafee: 74th Governor of Rhode Island

Before Lincoln Chaffee started his political career, he was an undergraduate at Brown pursuing a concentration in classics. He was also captain of the wrestling team. Chafee graduated in 1975 but would return in 2007 as a distinguished visiting fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.  

After graduating from Brown, Chaffee trained to be a farrier and worked at harness racetracks throughout the U.S. and Canada. He left his work with horses in 1985 and entered politics as a Republican, working his way up the political ranks to become the mayor of Warwick, Rhode Island, in 1992. From there, he became a U.S. senator. After taking a hiatus from politics to accept the fellowship at Brown, he was elected Rhode Island’s 74th governor from 2011-2015. He made a run for the US presidency in 2016 as a Democrat and again in 2020 as a Libertarian.  

Other Brown alums with recent political careers include former Louisiana governor and U.S. representative Bobby Jindal, a 1992 Brown graduate in biology and public policy; and 2020 presidential candidate and entrepreneur Andrew Yang, a 1996 graduate in economics and political science. 

Business Tycoons 

Brown University offers several options for students who wish to pursue a career in business, including concentrations in economics and behavioral decision sciences, and an entrepreneurship certificate. The Open Curriculum also allows students to customize their program to prepare them for graduate studies in business or transition into the workforce.

Ted Turner and John D. Rockefeller Jr. studied at Brown before becoming hugely successful businessmen.     

Ted Turner: Media Mogul and Founder of CNN

Robert “Ted” Turner started out studying classics at Brown in 1956, then switched to economics. At Brown, he was the captain of the sailing team, vice president of the Brown Debating Union, and a member of Kappa Sigma. He was suspended twice, then expelled from Brown and never completed his degree.   

In 1960, he joined his father’s business, Turner Advertising, which he took over after his father’s death in 1963. From there, he bought several radio and TV stations. He went on to launch CNN, Turner Network Television, Turner Classic Movies, and the Cartoon Network. At one time, he even owned the Atlanta Braves. He now dedicates his time to philanthropy and has received dozens of honorary degrees, including an honorary bachelor’s and doctorate from Brown.

John D. Rockefeller Jr.: Oil Magnate, Entrepreneur, Philanthropist

An 1897 graduate of Brown with a bachelor’s in social sciences, Rockefeller, heir to the Standard Oil empire, participated in the glee club, served as junior class president, and was named manager of the football team. He was also inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. He supported Brown University throughout his life and received two honorary degrees and various awards from his alma mater.   

After graduation, Rockefeller joined Standard Oil, but he left in 1910 to devote himself to philanthropic and civic endeavors. With his father, he founded one of the nation’s first medical research centers — now known as the Rockefeller University. His philanthropy cast a wide net, from donating tens of thousands of acres to Grand Teton and Acadia National Parks to purchasing land in New York for the United Nations Headquarters. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of religious causes, educational organizations, libraries, museums, and historic preservation projects.   

Arts and Media Figures 

If you’re interested in a career in arts or media, Brown offers several relevant concentrations to prepare you for success. An interdisciplinary concentration like modern culture and media allows you to study film and media from a broader cultural and social perspective. Students interested in the performing arts can study theatre arts, performance studies, or dance. 

You may recognize some of Brown University’s alumni who have found success in these industries.    

John F. Kennedy Jr.: Magazine Publisher, Journalist, Lawyer

John F. Kennedy Jr., son of 35th President John F. Kennedy, attended Brown University from September 1979 through May 1983. While at Brown, he was a member of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and was active in rugby and theater. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in American history.   

After graduating from Brown, Kennedy founded a nonprofit that assisted workers who helped people with disabilities. He earned a J.D. from the New York University School of Law in 1989 and worked as a prosecutor for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office after passing the bar exam. He also worked as a journalist, writing for The New York Times, and co-founded George, a political magazine, in 1995. 

John Krasinski: Actor, Writer, Director

Krasinski is well-known for his role as Jim Halpert on The Office. As a student, he was part of Out of Bounds, a campus sketch comedy team. He also participated in Production Workshop, a student-run theater. Krasinski graduated from Brown in 2001 with an English degree and received an honorary doctorate from the university after giving the commencement speech in 2014.  

While at Brown, Krasinski interned on Late Night with Conan O’Brien as a scriptwriter. He moved to New York after graduation, appearing in commercials and small television roles until his big break in 2004 when he was cast in The Office. He also directed several episodes. Krasinski launched a film and television production company in 2013.    

Emma Watson: Actress, Model, Activist 

Best known as Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter films, Emma Watson graduated from Brown in 2014 with a bachelor’s in English literature. She took a gap year before enrolling in 2009, and it took her five years to complete her degree — mostly because she had a busy filming schedule, but she also spent the 2011-12 academic year studying at Oxford as part of a visiting student program. 

While she may be best known as an actress, Watson is also a successful model and activist. She was appointed a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador in 2014 and advocates for gender equality through her UN Women campaign HeForShe. She also supports a number of other causes related to sustainability and the environment. 

Julie Bowen: Actress 

You would think this two-time Emmy-winning actress — best known for her role as Claire Dunphy on the comedy series Modern Family — studied theater at Brown, but Bowen said she was “too intimidated by the department.” However, she performed in three plays while at Brown and also scored a lead role in an independent film. As an undergrad, Bowen studied abroad in Florence, Italy, for a year and graduated in 1991 with a bachelor’s in Renaissance studies. 

Bowen pursued an acting career shortly after graduation and now has numerous television and movie credits to her name. She launched her own production company in 2021. 

Other notable Brown alumni in arts and media include This American Life host Ira Glass, a 1982 graduate in semiotics; political commentator and news anchor Chris Hayes, a 2001 graduate in philosophy; country singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter, a 1981 graduate in American civilization; and actress Laura Linney, a 1986 graduate in theatre arts.

Fashion Industry Figures

Brown University does not specifically offer a concentration related to the fashion industry, but several areas of study can prepare students for a successful career in this field. Additionally, if you are interested in fashion, you can get involved with Fashion@Brown or f@b, a pre-professional student organization that puts on fashion shows, fairs, photoshoots, and a speaker series. The students involved in this organization come from a variety of professional areas that intersect with the fashion industry, including business, design, marketing, writing, and photography.    

One Brown alumna in the fashion industry is Allegra Versace, heiress to Gianni Versace’s empire. 

Allegra Versace: Heiress to Versace Empire

Allegra Versace, the niece of the late fashion designer Gianni Versace, attended Brown University for a time before transferring to UCLA to study art history, theater, and French. Despite legally inheriting 50% of the Versace empire at age 18, she preferred to focus on her studies. She did not become actively involved in the business until she was 24. Since 2011, Allegra Versace has been a director of Versace and has worked as a theatrical dresser in New York City. 

Academics & Educators

Brown University also has many notable academics and educators among its alumni, including numerous MacArthur “Genius” Fellows, Rhodes Scholars, Nobel laureates, National Humanities Medalists, National Medal of Science laureates, and Pulitzer Prize winners. As one of the top-ranked universities in the U.S., Brown is an excellent option for students who want to pursue an academic career. 

Janet Yellen: Former Federal Reserve Chair, U.S. Treasury Secretary

Janet Yellen, the first woman appointed as U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and former chair of the Federal Reserve, graduated summa cum laude from Pembroke College, the women’s college at Brown, in 1967 with a bachelor’s in economics. She continued her education, earning a Ph.D. in economics from Yale. 

From there, Yellen joined Harvard University as an assistant professor of economics until she began working at the Federal Reserve Board in 1976. She joined the faculty at the University of California at Berkeley in 1980 and is currently a Professor Emeritus there. She has served several presidential appointments, including Chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve, Chair of the Federal Reserve, and U.S. Secretary of Treasury. 

Dr. Kat Cohen: Founder and CEO of IvyWise

A sought-after speaker and expert on university admissions, Cohen graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. from Brown University before continuing her studies at Yale University, where she earned two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. Prior to founding IvyWise, she served as a Reader in the Yale University Office of Admissions, evaluating applications to Yale College. She started her own tutoring business in 1998, which soon evolved into IvyWise as it’s known today. 

Cohen has chaired the Brown University Alumni Schools Committee and is currently a member of the advisory board of the Brown Entrepreneurship Program. 

Other notable academics and educators who went to Brown include author and Columbia University professor Edwidge Danticat, a 1993 MFA graduate; Pulitzer Prize-winning author and NYU professor Jeffrey Eugenides, a 1982 graduate in English, and award-winning author and lecturer Lois Lowry.

Is Brown Easier to Get Into Than Yale?

Brown and Yale are both extremely selective institutions, though Yale’s acceptance rate is slightly lower — 4.35% to Brown’s 5.1% for the Class of 2027. Brown accepted 13% of prospective students who applied Early Decision and 3.9% of those who applied Regular Decision. By comparison, Yale accepted 10% of its Early Action applicants and 3.2% who applied Regular Decision. 

If you’re wondering how to get into Yale or Brown, you should be aware that you will likely need to graduate in the top 10% of your high school class, have excellent standardized test scores, and write a compelling and authentic personal statement. In general, your application materials need to demonstrate a strong academic performance and involvement in extracurricular activities that allow the admissions committee to understand how you will fit into the campus community. 

If Brown University is on your college list, you can get expert help to submit the strongest application possible. IvyWise counselors are a team of highly experienced former admissions officers at some of the top colleges and universities in the U.S., so they know what schools are looking for. Schedule an Initial Consultation today to learn how IvyWise can help you achieve your academic goals. 



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