The Question: How do I choose a concentration?

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Welcome 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. 

Of the things you’ll get used to once you apply to colleges and start hearing back is the question “What are you planning to study?”. A favorite of well-meaning teachers, relatives, family friends, and parents/guardians, this question can feel really daunting. You’re 17 or 18 – how the heck do you know what you want to study when, if you’re like most people, you have dabbled in basic math, science, English, a foreign language, and social studies up until this point with no specific focus? The good news is that at Brown, you’re not obligated to know up front- in fact, you can be undecided up until well into your sophomore year, when you have to declare a concentration. So, how do you choose a concentration?

The good news is that with Brown’s open curriculum, you can sample classes in pretty much any department without needing prerequisites or committing to taking the class. The first way this is possible is shopping period, a two week span at the beginning of every semester in which you can go to classes to see if you like the professor, the workload, and the readings before formally committing to taking the course. If you do take it, you can do so for a grade or S/NC (pass/fail), which lets you sample something you may not feel as comfortable with (for me, this was Econ) without worrying about your grades slipping.

You also have leeway in that most concentrations are fairly small- unless you plan to do a Bachelor’s of Science, you will only use about 10-12 of your 30 classes for you concentration. Even if you do get an Sc. B., you will still have between 8-10 classes left over that you can use for whatever you like.

I am a double concentrator in International Relations (the B.A. with the most requirements, at 20) and in History (2 of my classes overlap with IR). I applied to Brown as a Philosophy concentrator (and never took a philosophy class, oops), then changed to Early Cultures, and finally landed in IR. While exploring my IR courses, I noticed that I kept going to the History department to look for classes – so much so that I ended up with 7 history classes. At that point, I realized I only needed 3 more, and I had a second concentration. And thus, my dual concentration was born!

You’ll likely do something similar- put interesting sounding courses in your schedule, and then find that you gravitate to certain types of classes. Of course, you can have a “serious” concentration (if you’re interested in business, finance, or a science, for example) and then a “fun” concentration (for example, my decision to pursue IR and then History with a focus on medieval Europe, or my roommate’s dual chemistry and French degrees). Then, when you have noticed that you tend to veer towards a certain department, you then meet with the concentration advisor and can begin the declaration process. After that, you’ve got yourself a concentration!

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

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