Understanding Brown’s Graduation Requirements

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

a female student typing in her laptop

Understanding Brown’s Graduation Requirements

As an institution known for its distinctive student-driven approach to teaching and learning, Brown University offers a transformative education and undergraduate freedom in College. This program encourages students to be the architects of their own course of study. This independence comes with its own set of unique graduation requirements. Understanding Brown’s Graduation requirements is vital to navigate successfully through the university’s expectations.

The Basics of Brown University’s Graduation Requirements

First and foremost, understanding the graduation requirements at Brown University begins with grasping the basics. The university’s approach encompasses more than just a set of mandatory classes to finish your degree.

Wayland Hall in Brown University

It involves comprehensive understanding and participation in various degree programs, understanding the Open Curriculum philosophy, and meeting the minimum credit hours required.

But what exactly does it mean to participate in degree programs and embrace the Open Curriculum philosophy at Brown University?

Overview of Degree Programs

Diversity in choice is an essential component when it comes to the degree programs offered at Brown University. The university provides undergraduate, graduate, and medical students with broad choices in liberal arts, basic and medical sciences, engineering, and professional areas. Students have the choice to follow their passion by selecting these degree programs based on their interests.

Whether you have a burning desire to explore the depths of literature, unravel the mysteries of the human body, or engineer innovative solutions to complex problems, Brown University offers a wide range of degree programs to cater to your intellectual curiosity.

But it’s not just about the variety of programs available. Brown University’s commitment to fundamental, critical understanding and creating knowledge for the wider community forms the bedrock of the Brown learning experience. By immersing yourself in these degree programs, you become part of a vibrant academic community dedicated to pushing boundaries and making a positive impact on the world.

Minimum Credit Hours Needed

Brown University mandates that all undergraduate students must successfully complete a minimum of 30 courses or 120 credit hours by the end of their eighth semester. This requirement is crucial to ensure that students receive comprehensive knowledge in their selected field of study.

120 credit hours may seem like a daunting number, but it’s important to remember that each credit hour represents valuable time spent engaging with course material, participating in discussions, conducting research, and honing your critical thinking skills. These credit hours are not just numbers on a transcript; they are a testament to your dedication and intellectual growth throughout your academic journey at Brown University.

In addition to the credit hour requirement, Brown University also emphasizes the importance of developing well-rounded individuals. Over the course of their academic career, students are expected to fulfill the writing requirement and take two courses addressing global and cultural perspectives. These additional requirements ensure that students graduate with a broad understanding of the world and the ability to communicate effectively.

So, as you embark on your academic journey at Brown University, remember that the graduation requirements extend beyond mere checkboxes. They are an opportunity for you to explore your passions, engage with diverse perspectives, and develop the skills necessary to thrive in an ever-changing world.

Core Curriculum at Brown University

A remarkable feature of Brown University’s educational philosophy is its Open Curriculum. Contrary to traditional core curriculums dictated by pre-set categories of knowledge, Brown follows a unique student-centric approach.

This approach grants students the freedom to explore various disciplines before settling down with a major, ensuring they get the most out of their educational experience at Brown.

At Brown University, the Open Curriculum philosophy is not just a buzzword; it is deeply ingrained in the institution’s educational framework. This philosophy is grounded in the idea that students will engage more deeply with their studies if they have the autonomy to guide their own intellectual journey.

Rather than being required to take mandated courses, students are encouraged to forge their own academic path. This freedom challenges students to take responsibility for their own education. It fosters independent thought, promotes self-motivated learning, and encourages students to take courses that truly interest them.

Imagine a student who is passionate about both biology and literature. In a traditional core curriculum, they might be forced to choose one over the other or take a limited number of courses in each. However, at Brown University, this student can explore both subjects to their heart’s content, diving deep into the intricacies of cellular biology while also analyzing the works of Shakespeare. The Open Curriculum allows students to pursue their passions without restriction.

To support students in their journey, Brown University provides academic advising resources. Advisors guide students in making conscious choices in their course selections, ensuring they meet the graduation requirements whilst simultaneously exploring their passions.

These advisors act as mentors, helping students navigate the vast array of courses available to them. They provide guidance on how to create a well-rounded academic experience, encouraging students to step out of their comfort zones and explore disciplines they may not have considered before.

Required Courses for All Majors

Despite its emphasis on student freedom, Brown University does maintain essential academic standards via certain requirements. All students, regardless of their major, are required to meet the writing requirement and the foreign language requirement.

Female student on her back walking in the campus.

The writing requirement ensures that students develop strong communication skills, which are crucial in any field. Through various writing-intensive courses, students learn to express themselves effectively, both in written and verbal forms.

Similarly, the foreign language requirement exposes students to different cultures and broadens their understanding of the world. Language learning is not just about memorizing vocabulary and grammar; it is about immersing oneself in a new way of thinking and communicating.

Notably, Brown University’s approach emphasizes depth and breadth. Students are required to designate a concentration, ensuring focused study in a single field along with a diverse academic experience.

This concentration allows students to delve deeply into a subject of their choice, developing expertise and specialized knowledge. At the same time, students are encouraged to explore other disciplines through elective courses, ensuring they have a well-rounded education.

For example, a student majoring in computer science may choose to concentrate on artificial intelligence, taking advanced courses in machine learning and robotics. However, they can also explore their interest in philosophy by taking courses in ethics or the philosophy of mind. This combination of depth and breadth creates a unique learning experience that prepares students for the complexities of the real world.

In conclusion, Brown University’s Open Curriculum is not just a departure from traditional core curriculums; it is a transformative approach to education. By granting students the freedom to explore and guiding them along the way, Brown University ensures that students not only gain knowledge but also develop critical thinking skills, intellectual curiosity, and a lifelong love for learning.

Departmental Requirements for Graduation

While students have the freedom to tailor their course of study, there are specific requirements that need to be met for each department. The following are the broad categories and their associated requirements in the following sections:

Humanities and Social Sciences

The humanities and social sciences departments, including Philosophy, History, Anthropology, among others, have specific requirements that need to be met. Students must delve deeply into their chosen field of study and demonstrate mastery through extensive coursework and often a capstone project or thesis.

They also need to take a broad variety of courses to meet the diversity requirement, which ensures that students gain a well-rounded education.

Within the humanities and social sciences, students have the opportunity to explore the rich tapestry of human thought and behavior. They can analyze the works of great philosophers, study the rise and fall of civilizations, and examine the complexities of human societies throughout history. Through engaging discussions, critical analysis, and deep reflection, students develop a profound understanding of the human experience.

Additionally, students in these departments often have the chance to engage in research projects, allowing them to contribute to the body of knowledge in their respective fields. They may conduct interviews, analyze data, or examine historical documents, all in pursuit of uncovering new insights and perspectives.

Life and Physical Sciences

Those studying Life and Physical Sciences, such as Biology or Physics, have requirements that differ from the humanities and social sciences. In these fields, students must complete numerous lab courses and focus on research work. The emphasis lies in fostering a solid foundation in scientific principles and hands-on experience to prepare for professional work or further studies.

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Within the life and physical sciences, students have the opportunity to explore the wonders of the natural world. They can unravel the mysteries of DNA, study the behavior of subatomic particles, or investigate the intricate ecosystems that exist on our planet. Through rigorous experimentation and observation, students develop the skills necessary to understand and analyze complex scientific phenomena.

Furthermore, students in these departments often collaborate with faculty members on cutting-edge research projects. They may work in state-of-the-art laboratories, utilizing advanced equipment and techniques to push the boundaries of scientific knowledge. By actively participating in the scientific process, students develop critical thinking skills and gain a deeper appreciation for the intricacies of the natural world.

Engineering and Applied Sciences

In Engineering and Applied Sciences, the requirements are even more distinct. Apart from taking intense, high-level mathematics and science courses, students must partake in design projects and often internships. This rigorous curriculum aims to produce competent and innovative engineers ready for the real world.

Within the field of engineering and applied sciences, students have the opportunity to apply scientific principles to solve real-world problems. They can design sustainable infrastructure, develop cutting-edge technologies, or optimize manufacturing processes. Through hands-on projects and practical applications, students develop the skills necessary to tackle complex engineering challenges.

Furthermore, students in these departments often have the chance to gain practical experience through internships with industry-leading companies. They may work alongside experienced professionals, applying their knowledge in real-world settings and gaining valuable insights into the field. By bridging the gap between theory and practice, students develop a deep understanding of engineering principles and enhance their problem-solving abilities.

Understanding Concentration Requirements

Brown University encourages students to take charge of their learning experience, and choosing a concentration is a significant part of this process. Concentrations at Brown are similar to what other universities call “majors,” and students must meet specific course and credit requirements for their declared concentration.

Choosing a Concentration

When choosing a concentration, students work closely with their advisors to ensure they select a field that matches their academic and professional goals. While students are encouraged to explore their interests, they must also ensure that their chosen concentration satisfies certain requirements for graduation.

From Africana Studies to Visual Art, Brown offers various concentrations, each with its own set of stipulations that students need to fulfill.

Meeting Concentration Course Requirements

The primary purpose of declaring a concentration is to ensure that students delve deeply into a particular area of study. To fulfill a concentration requirement, students must complete a series of prescribed courses in their chosen field. This typically includes foundational courses, advanced seminars, and often a capstone project or thesis. Concentration requirements are designed to ensure scholarly depth in a particular area of study.

Additional Graduation Requirements

Apart from departmental and concentration requirements, Brown University has a set of additional stipulations for all students, irrespective of their chosen field. This includes a writing requirement and a foreign language requirement.

Female student looking intently on her laptop.

Writing Requirement

The writing requirement is designed to ensure that all Brown undergraduates can write clearly and effectively. At least two writing-designated courses (or W-courses) must be completed by the end of the sophomore year. These courses focus on coherent argument, logical organization, and clarity of communication.

Regardless of the discipline, these skills lay the foundation for academic success and develop the ability to communicate ideas in a clear and meaningful way, a skill that is of outmost importance in any career.

Foreign Language Requirement

Brown University values linguistic diversity and believes in its students’ capacity to become global citizens. Therefore, the foreign language requirement is integral to graduation. Students must demonstrate competency in a language other than English. This can be fulfilled by completing the fourth semester of a foreign language course at Brown, passing a placement examination, or qualifying for an approved study abroad program.

This requirement reflects Brown’s commitment to internationalism and intercultural understanding, preparing students to navigate a diverse and interconnected world.

Understanding Brown University’s graduation requirements may initially appear complex due to its unique Open Curriculum and emphasis on student autonomy. However, with a comprehensive understanding and mindful planning, students can embrace the freedom that Brown offers while meeting all necessary graduation requirements. This distinctive academic journey is purposefully designed to equip students with a holistic education that fosters intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, and lifelong learning.


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