An Undergraduate at Brown University from Chennai
Abhinav Sriram, Freshman @ Brown
Hi! I’m a Freshman at Brown University and my first semester here has been quite exciting and pretty overwhelming at the same time. The first 2 weeks are the most intense. We start off with International Orientation and then move onto General Orientation. Orientation is packed with activities throughout the day and is super tiring but is also a great way to make friends and discover the campus.
We then register for classes and as classes start, so do the application season for clubs. There’s certainly a lot going on while trying to adjust to a new country, and a different environment. At the same time there are so many different support structures in place that assure you that everything will be alright and that it is perfectly okay to feel overwhelmed.
Brown has this unique concept of a “Shopping Period” at the start of the semester that lasts about 2 weeks, to help you pick classes for the semester. During this time, you can sit in on as many classes as you’d like and pop in and out of classes without professors being bothered by it. It gives you the chance to test out different courses you are considering, the professors, and then pick your classes for the semester. It is pretty cool because you can sample the same course being taught by different professors and select the one you like best! This is especially helpful for larger intro courses.
Once the classes get going, papers, projects and midterms come fast. The good news is that professors can be lenient about the due dates for the papers and projects because they understand the pressure of settling down.
The dorms are super nice – some of the biggest dorm rooms you’d find on any campus in the US. I luckily have one of the much bigger rooms that I share with a student that was randomly assigned. Some dorms have 3 students in a room because more students decided to matriculate to Brown than was expected.
The food has been better than I expected :). I ate on campus for the first month, and then I started exploring Thayer Street. Thayer Street is essentially this major street that runs through the campus (Brown is an open campus) and has tons of restaurants, shops, theatres and lots of other small things that I am yet to discover.
The meal plan is pretty complicated. Essentially you have 2 ways to “purchase” food on campus – meal credits or points.
A meal credit is the equivalent of just over 8 dollars. One credit allows entrance to buffet style dining halls like the Ratty and V-Dub or can be used to purchase a meal priced under 8 dollars at other places like Andrews, the Blue Room and the Ivy Room.
Meal "points" are the equivalent of about a dollar. These can be used to supplement a credit if your meal is over 8 dollars, or to purchase smaller snacks and drinks.
As a freshman, you must choose either the 20 Weekly plan or the Flex plan.
The 20 per week plan gives you 20 credits to use every week (this is the equivalent of 3 meals a day minus one). You can space out these 20 credits as you wish during the week (for example using 4 one day and only 2 the next) but once the week ends, they expire, and you are given another 20. You are also given a certain number of points to use throughout the semester.
The Flex plan gives you a bulk amount of meal credits that you are free to use at any point in the semester. This plan gives you 100 less credits than the 20 per week plan. But the plan supplements the missing credits with more points. Also, if you don't use all your credits and points during a semester, you can carry them over to the next semester.
The most popular plan is the Flex plan because in college it is rare for you to eat all 3 meals every single day and very rarely would you always only want to eat at Brown’s dining halls.
The 20 Weekly plan is best for those who are consistent eaters.
As far as food selection and dietary requirements are concerned, Brown meets Halal, Kosher, Vegetarian, Vegan, Gluten-Free (and maybe other) dietary requirements. Food selection is pretty diverse – they try their best to incorporate food from every different culture including India. The food can sometimes get repetitive, but it is certainly tolerable.
Classes, Students and Professors - An Emphasis on Learning
Brown being an Ivy League School and the 5th hardest school to get into in the country means that everyone here is brilliant. They’re not just brilliant academically but also insanely talented outside the classroom. I have met some of the most amazing people in my life here at Brown and I’m sure anyone at a comparable peer institution would back me up on this. It truly is an amazing place to be at.
Obviously, you’d thus expect competition to be intense and it is, but in a healthy way. People share notes with each other, study together and almost everyone will help you any chance they get. This healthy environment is further supported by Brown’s Pass/Fail (or Satisfactory/No Credit) system. This means that you can take any class S/NC. This allows you to explore new fields of interests without fear of any negative impact to your transcript. Students end up choosing subjects that they like and want to take. In addition, if you get an NC on a course, it will be kept off your transcript!
A note on the academic system at Brown: it is called the open curriculum and is the #1 most distinctive feature of Brown – so there’s tons of information online and I encourage you to read more online.
The Professors at Brown are very accessible. The classes are small and in seminars the professors interact with students almost like peers – they treat us with respect and listen to our views, and this creates a very healthy environment in which students can have constructive conversations amongst themselves and with professors.
The classes are certainly difficult but completely manageable if you put in the time and effort and have good planning skills. Additionally, because of the large amount of material covered, studying smart instead of hard will help you a lot. There are lots of projects, quizzes, homework assignments and work to do outside of class – and all of this is assessed is part of your final grade.
Campus Life & Clubs
The Clubs at Brown are quite novel. There are 2 kinds of clubs – ones that you can just sign up for, and others for which there’s an application process involved and is actually quite competitive. You can join clubs at the start of each semester.
I joined one club in the first semester – The Brown Annual Fund - set up to help students with Financial Aid and any other form of financial assistance, without touching Brown’s Endowment money! This requires pitching in from alumni and convincing other students to contribute to this fund. This is challenging because students are already paying a pretty big amount to the college already. So, it requires appealing to their sense of larger good which would make it possible for deserving students to attend Brown.
By the way, if you don’t find a club you like, find a few like-minded folks and you can start a new one!
The Campus life at Brown is Work Hard and Play Hard. It is vibrant with a lot of partying over the weekend. For those that don’t want/like to party, the downtown has movies and lots of places to hangout or just talk.
Advice to Aspirants
I would strongly recommend Brown to any applicant. Brown welcomes a wide variety of students with varied interests, passion, skills and accomplishments. The University encourages a great balance between academics and social life. The Professors are very good at what they do and foster great interaction with the students.
Additionally, I feel the Shopping period is a big selling point - the ability to sample classes before signing on - rather than playing Russian Roulette with your classes. It leads to better outcomes and of course a better education.
The S/NC system enables a healthy academic environment and a great academics-social life balance.
Lastly, grading is more “relaxed”. 90+ is an A, there are no A pluses or minuses. Further, if get 89 on a course and the Professor feels you worked hard, then he/she may move give you an A!
Go ahead and apply. Brown is an amazing place and I’m sure you’ll love it here.
If you have any questions about Brown or other US Colleges, go ahead and ask me by posting questions on our Forum.