The Question: Can I Really Major in Whatever I Want?

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Curious about every day life at Brown?  The Question aims to answer all the questions you have and didn’t know you had about Brown!  Here you get to read about everything from study spaces to Spring Weekend from a student’s point of view.  Follow sophomore Hannah Liu as she brings you The Answer each week.

You may have heard that at Brown you can concentrate (our fancy way of saying major) in anything you want.  Well, that rumor is absolutely true!  Not only are there nearly a hundred pre-formed concentrations here at Brown, you can also make up your own concentration if none of the ones that you see are exactly what you are looking for!  I’ll start this post by talking about some of the range of concentrations here, then I’ll talk about independent concentrations, then I’ll talk about declaring a concentration (don’t worry, you have a lot of time before you have to think about that!)

At Brown there are pre-formed concentrations from Biology to Africana Studies to Music to Computer Science to Classics (a personal favorite!).  The wide range makes it easy to find something that you like, and even though the most exciting stories are of crazy made-up concentrations (I heard once that someone concentrated in “Evil” which unfortunately turned out not to be true.), the reality is that most people are able to find the perfect concentration for them.

Since Brown doesn’t have any core requirements, most students are easily able to double concentrate in their time at Brown.  This is particularly easy in the humanities, because the requirements for the concentration are fewer, though it is certainly possible in the sciences as well.  Many of my friends (particularly pre-med students, but not always) double concentrate in a life science and something in the humanities.  There is one restriction, however, that Brown has in place to keep us students from going crazy and working ourselves into the ground.  If a student intends to get a ScB (Bachelor’s Degree in Science) and an AB (Bachelor’s of Art), they must stay for 5 years at Brown.

I often get asked about minors at Brown.  Here, since we believe that to concentrate in a subject is to devote your full attention to it and completely immerse yourself in it, we do not offer minor concentrations.  It can be annoying sometimes, to think that even if you take several classes in a subject, it won’t show up on your degree, but honestly I find it to be a good policy.  This way, my fellow students and I are not caught up in our credit or class requirements; we take classes in subjects that we enjoy.  If you feel very strongly about it, however, you can definitely write “the equivalent of a minor” on your resume.

If you do find that none of the concentrations at Brown fit you, you can indeed make up your own!  The process for this involves several things, but it can be summed up into finding an advisor to help you with the concentration, and creating a list of requirements for yourself.  Once your concentration is approved (it might take a few tries – Brown is pretty serious about keeping independent concentrations real and academically rigorous), you have to complete the requirements and write a senior thesis in your independent concentration to be able to receive the notation on your degree.

Students are required to declare their concentrations before they register for their fifth semester of classes (before Junior year).  This entails a personal statement, and a schedule guiding when you are going to finish your coursework.  Don’t worry – that schedule is pretty flexible even after it’s been turned in.  Your advisor just wants to make sure that you are on track to graduate on time.  Finally, if you would like to graduate with honors, any student can write a senior thesis on a topic relating to their concentration.  Also, if you decide to change your concentration, it is completely doable, and very common after you declare the first time.

As sophomores are narrowing down what they want to do this time of year here at Brown, many of you are working on applications or biting your nails about results.  Don’t worry!  I have a feeling that all of you are going to do just fine.  As always: good luck!

What are some questions that you have about Brown?  Is there anything specific that you would like to read about in The Question?  Please email me at hannah_liu@brown.edu with any suggestions, comments, questions, or concerns!

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