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Brown University 101 for All First Years

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Brown chapter.

Brown Class of 2028 decisions came out March 31st! To all Class of ‘28ers, welcome to Brown! If you were anything like me two years ago—a stressed, confused high school senior, welcome to Brown University Her Campus’ Crash Course to everything Brown. This weekly series will cover a variety of topics you may be thinking about as you make your decision, ranging from academics to food to the social scene and everything in between. As I’m sure the adults in your life have continuously stressed to you, college is a VERY important decision, and we want to give you the run-down on everything Brown U to help you make an as informed decision as possible. 

Welcome to Week One: Academics! 

As you can read on Brown’s admissions website, 80 different concentrations (our word for majors) and several different certificate programs to undergraduate students. Many students will double-concentrate in several discipline areas or create independent concentrations. There is plenty of great information on the internet out there about Brown’s various academic departments and program of study, but here are my personal thoughts, experiences, and advice that I wish I knew before I committed: 

  1. Brown does not have minors: While Brown does have several different certificate programs, the University does not offer any minors. This is definitely something to think about if you have 3+ areas of interest or want to potentially double-concentrate with two course intensive majors (ex: engineering and computer science).While it is definitely possible (and fairly common) to double or even triple concentrate, this is something to think about before you commit! 
  2. Open Curriculum, WRIT Requirement, and Shopping Period: Full transparency… I didn’t really understand the open curriculum or shopping period when I committed to Brown, and I didn’t even fully understand it until courses started my first semester. Open curriculum means that there are no required courses or distribution requirements that all undergraduates have to take. However, each concentration may have specific required courses and distribution requirements that you should be cognizant of coming in! The only requirement that Brown has for all undergraduates is that you must take at least two WRIT-designated courses during your time as a student; however, these typically aren’t hard to fulfill as a variety of both humanities and STEM classes count. Shopping period occurs during the first two weeks of the semester, and students are allowed to add, drop, and attend whichever courses interest them. This is another great perk, but you need to be careful about how many courses you seriously shop so you don’t get too overloaded with work. 
  3. My Biggest Piece of Advice for First Year Students: I definitely made the mistake in the first semester of taking a few courses that were a little out of my depth—I was so excited to jump into the interesting courses at Brown that I definitely picked a few that were too challenging. There’s nothing wrong with pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, but there is so much adjustment and stress in the first semester of college for personal and social reasons that (I believe) it’s not the best time to take that step. You may be thinking: how do I gauge that a course is out of my depth in just one or two meetings? Pay attention to the other students in the class when you’re doing icebreaker activities or on the registration in CAB. If it’s mostly juniors and seniors, I would pick a different course and save that one for later. 
  4. Popular First Year Courses: On that note, you may be thinking “What courses should I take as a first year student?” Here are my recommendations:
    • Any First Year Seminar: I took a FYS my second semester of freshman year, and I really enjoyed it. The 2.5 hour long weekly class can get a little tough, but these classes are typically pretty small and only freshman so the professors really take the time to help you build essential skills. You may also make some new friends! I believe you may apply over the summer, but they are pretty easy to get into during the shopping period. 
    • ECON 0110: This is a classic freshman class for a reason! It’s the biggest lecture class at Brown, and it’s mandatory for all economics concentrators (which is also super popular). Even if you’re not interested in economics, it’s a great foundational course and odds are your friends or roommate will also be taking it. 
    • CSCI 0150: Another super popular freshman course. This is another great introductory course that is computer science focused. While I’ve heard that coding is a lot of work, if you’re able to complete the projects, you’re basically guaranteed an A. Many people come back to TA this one as well! 
    • ENGN 0090: This course is truly famous at Brown for how popular it is. While it falls under the engineering department, this course is part of the entrepreneurship sequence necessary for the entrepreneurship certificate. This course mainly consists of business case studies and several business owners and entrepreneurs come in as guest speakers! Professor Hazeltine (one of the course instructors) is legendary and beloved by his students. 
    • Any HIST 0150 Course: I may be biased as a history concentrator, but I would definitely recommend an introductory history course to a new student! I have had great experiences with all the professors and TAs in the history department. These courses also serve as a great introduction to reading, writing, and research at the college level! 
  5. Prioritize Balance: Now that you have an idea of what you may want to take at Brown as a first year, I would recommend choosing at least one course each semester that is “different” in some ways from the others. For example, if for three of your classes the homework will mostly be problem sets, pick a fourth where the homework is mainly readings. This will help break up your workload and balance your skillset as a student. 

There is no one formula for academic success at Brown, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself freshman year! Adjusting to a college social and academic environment takes time and trust that you will eventually figure everything out! 

I am a member of the Brown Class of 2026, and I am planning to concentrate in history and economics. In my free time, I enjoy reading historical fiction novels, baking chocolate chip cookies, and trying new restaurants and cafes in Providence.