The Question: What are Classes Actually Like?

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 4.51.40 PMWelcome to The Question, where you’ll get answers about life at Brown all year long! I’m Celina Stewart, and I’ll be bringing you insights (and photos!) into my fourth year at Brown and my answers to some of the questions I wish I’d asked before college. 

Note: In the next couple weeks, I’ll be posing (and answering) some less traditional questions about relationships, friendships, keeping connections to home, and other more ~personal~ aspects of coming to Brown. Have a specific concern? Feel free to comment and I’ll try to answer your question in a post! 

This week I wanted to give you one more academic ‘question’ as you’re finishing up applications and thinking about what type of schedule you may have next year! As you know, Brown has an ‘Open Curriculum’ which allow you to take courses in any department, given you have the prerequisites for that course. As you can see from the scheduler above (the courses I’m actually taking next semester are in gray), there are a whole variety of course lengths, meeting sections, and time slots. So, that begs the question: What are classes really like at Brown?

In my experience, courses are what you make of them. In general, liberal arts courses tend to be more writing and reading heavy, while STEM courses require more time spent on problem sets, programming, or modeling. I am a double concentrator in International Relations and History, and am almost a triple concentrator in Religious Studies, as well as a Head Teaching Assistant in Computer Science, so I’ve dabbled in a considerable number of departments. The best part about thinking through your course schedule is Shopping Period, a two week stretch when you can go to class, grab a syllabus, and casually slip out (even if you’re taking the class!) without anyone questioning your motives.

So, what does the average work load look like? Last semester, I took Computers, Freedom, and Privacy in the Computer Science dept., Technology and International Politics in the Political Science dept., Chorus in the Music dept., Europe in the High Middle Ages in the History dept. and The Viking Age in the History dept.

Computers, Freedom, and Privacy was a good seminar, with one law textbook, a presentation, a midterm, and a final paper. Each week, we had to post a question related to the reading online before class. I would say that for this course, I probably had an average of 2-3 hours of work, not including the final paper. The cool thing was that we could write our final papers on any topic, so I chose to write mine on ‘anonymous’ applications, like Whisper, Secret, and Yik Yak. The midterm was also pretty simple, so that wasn’t too stressful.

Technology and International Politics was really interesting, although much more reading heavy than CFP. Another seminar, we had to do 2 response papers, a research paper, and a brief presentation in addition to the weekly readings. This is a pretty average workload for a typical seminar; as long as you prioritize your reading, you usually can get buy pretty easily. This course was around 1-1.5 hours of time outside of class, but I’m also a very quick reader so that may differ depending on who the student is.

Chorus required two, two-and-a-half hour practices each week, plus the occasional bonding experience and performance. Clearly, this is a low work course, however, you do have to audition to get in and need to practice.

Europe in the High Middle Ages was a difficult but incredibly interesting course. It was lecture based, with two lectures each week, and a discussion section in which we unpacked a primary source book. We had to write seven response papers, a midterm exam, and a final project (I made a board game chronicling what life would have been like for someone living through the Middle Ages). This was definitely a very time intensive, thought provoking course. I spent a significant amount of time each week on this class, around 5 hours.

The Viking Age was fairly typical in terms of history course assignments. Another lecture course, this one met twice and then had a discussion section in lieu of the third meeting each week. We had to do readings and a post each week for the discussion section, had a midterm, and a final project or paper to do. Overall, this course was not quite as difficult as my other history course, but I think that is because the content was not as in depth. I spent around 4 hours a week outside of class completing work.

Keep in mind that time spent outside of class really depends on the type of student you are- do you have to spend significant time writing and reading, or do those things come easily to you? When I took an introductory course in Computer Science, I spent a minimum of 10 hours a week on the course outside of class, and up to 30. This is fairly typical of CS. For me, programming is really, really difficult and I learned that reading and writing are much more my style.

Want more photos and FAQ updates? Check out @thebruinclub on Twitter! Have questions or comments for me? Want more details?  Send an email to and I’ll get back ASAP!


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