Snapshots of Brown: Concentration Declarations

Week 8

Welcome to Snapshots of Brown, your destination for pics of Brown all year long! I’m Celina Stewart, and I’ll be bringing you little photo insights into my third year on Brown’s campus. What’s up this week? Let’s take a look… 

I applied to Brown picturing myself sitting at a local coffee shop, drinking free trade java and discussing the collected works of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche with friends. Thus would be my life as a Philosophy concentrator… until I visited the department during ADOCH and realized that philosophy requires quite a bit more quantitative reasoning than I’d expected. Three years later, I still haven’t taken a philosophy course, although I did read Kierkegaard for a religion course this semester.

As you can see above, I’m a double concentrator in History and International Relations. How did I get there from applying to Brown as a Philosophy concentrator? This week, I’ll explain the process of declaring, as well as give some tips for making it a simple, carefree process.

So what happened? My love of international affairs took over. I have always been a traveler, and had studied Spanish throughout middle and high school. I was president of Model UN and Youth in Government in high school, led mission trips and volunteer efforts abroad, and knew that I enjoyed international law and human rights discourse. I also knew that I love learning about people, as well as religion and history.

Early on in my sophomore year, way before the declaration deadline, I decided to take the plunge and declare IR. I’d heard rumors about the advisor, so with butterflies in my stomach, I entered her office with my meticulous course plan and essays. She smiled, started checking off boxes, and finally looked up at me. “Grab a pin on your way out, and welcome to IR!” It was really that simple. Swag in hand, I eagerly entered all of my info on ASK and waited to a green checkmark to appear.

The process of declaring obviously varies by department- some departments (like IR) are more intensive and require meetings with an advisor before going to our online portal (ASK) (pictured above) to add your electronic declaration. Others, like my roomie’s French concentration, simply ask you to be as complete as possible when filling out the declaration online, no meeting required. Some provide a concentration advisor for the entire concentration, while others allow you more flexibility with your advising.

Whatever concentration you choose, it is a good idea to start looking online at the concentration requirements if you suspect you’ll want to concentrate. The open curriculum  allows for flexibility; however, every concentration has its own requirements that you’ll want to start fulfilling as soon as you can.

Once you formally decide what you’d like to concentrate in, you’ll enter the ASK portal. As you can see from the picture above, ASK is the site that we file declarations, writing requirement fulfillments, and other academic “paperwork” so to speak. The main other site you’ll interact with at Brown, “Banner,” is where you’ll sign up for meal plan and assign your courses.

On ASK, you’ll be asked to input which concentration you’d like to declare, and then which track you’d like to pursue if the concentration divides into tracks (for example, I’m Security and Society for IR). Then, the advisor will be assigned by the department or input by you with their permission.

Then, ASK will prompt you to respond to a series of questions. Essentially, they break down into “Why do you want to be part of this concentration?” and “How have your writing skills developed at Brown?” and “How have you incorporated Brown’s Liberal Learning policy into your studies?” After that, you’ll put in the course plan, which lists the classes you have already taken, which semester, and your grade, and possibly what requirement they fulfill- for example, in IR, I would mark a Spanish 600 class as a “language” fulfilling course. Then, you add any courses you’d like to take in the future to fulfill the rest of the concentration goals. If your concentration requires any additional information, like courses you’d like to take outside of the department, further research you’d like to do, if you’re pursuing a study abroad program, or if you’d like to do honors, those questions will follow next. Click submit, and it’s off to the department for approval!

Usually when you’re declaration is approved, you get a pin or bumper sticker to show your inclusion in the department. Many concentrations and departments also have newsletters about events, as well as opportunities for students that concentrate, which you’ll begin receiving.

How can you make this process easier?

  1. Start EARLY!! Some concentrations (like IR) have upwards of one hundred concentrators a class- you don’t want a concentration declaration deadline to pass and your declaration to sit there in ASK, waiting for approval.
  2. Get to know your [potential] advisors. Many concentration advisors have open office hours and are happy to speak with potential concentrators about their questions and goals for a concentration.
  3. Be realistic- if you find yourself gravitating to a department over and over, you may want to see if your courses could equal a concentration. Brown doesn’t do minors. My History concentration emerged when I realized that I kept taking History classes (some to fulfill IR requirements, some based on my own interest). Eventually, I ended up with enough History classes that I’m only a couple away from fulfilling the concentration- why not just add a second concentration?
  4. Don’t go into your Brown experience expecting to double, or even triple, concentrate. Odds are, this won’t become a problem as your academic interests change. However, I know some people that spent their first semesters knocking out introductory classes for concentrations they no longer want to pursue. Why waste that time when you could be exploring (and potentially gravitating to a realistic second concentration)?
  5. If you don’t find a concentration that fits, you can be an independent concentrator! Not everyone can be fulfilled with a currently existing concentration. Ask around; there are possibilities!
  6. Don’t be afraid to drop a concentration. You are not stuck, and although your advisor will likely try to help you understand and work through any problems you may have, you are able to drop a concentration, provided you have another one to file.

Hopefully this has given you a better idea of how concentrations work at Brown. If you have questions about a specific department, feel free to Google it and check it out!

Have questions or comments? Want more details? Send an email to and I’ll get back ASAP!


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