The College

Explore the Open Curriculum

Learn more about Brown’s distinctive approach to an undergraduate education.

The Open Curriculum enables you to craft a rigorous but personalized degree program that fits your interests, strengths and goals, while also encouraging exploration and challenge. This successful approach of encouraging you to become the architect of your own education has defined Brown's place in the landscape of higher education for more than 50 years.

The defining components of Brown’s Open Curriculum include:

  • The flexibility to complete coursework in a variety of fields of study, without general core requirements
  • A grading system without grade point averages or class rankings
  • The option to take any course for a letter grade or satisfactory/no credit
  • An invitation to “concentrate” rather than “major” in broad, interdisciplinary fields of study

Brown offers nearly 80 concentrations in a range of academic departments and interdisciplinary areas of study. You also may design an independent concentration or independent study for academic credit.

The Open Curriculum


For more than 50 years, Brown’s Open Curriculum has propelled generations of graduates into high-impact lives and careers.

To earn your Brown degree, you must complete at least 30 courses, fulfill the requirements of at least one concentration, demonstrate writing competence and be enrolled for the equivalent of eight full-time semesters of instruction.
As a Brown undergraduate, you may choose to take any course for a grade or satisfactory/no credit (with the exception of courses which are designated as mandatory satisfactory/no credit by the instructor). In addition, you may request narrative evaluations of your performance from your course instructors.
In 1969, faculty and students began rethinking methods of teaching and learning at Brown, ultimately giving students a more active role in shaping their education.

Liberal Learning Goals

The Open Curriculum does not outline course requirements and is rooted in the liberal arts tradition of educational discovery. Brown students are encouraged — and tend to greatly enjoy — distributing their courses across the curriculum, exploring multiple fields and disciplines, in addition to choosing an area of focus for their concentration.

As you consider how to begin your path through the Open Curriculum, start by looking at the College’s liberal learning goals and the core competencies you should expect to develop through your liberal arts education. Look for courses with special designations, such as those that focus on writing or delve into topics around race, power, and privilege.

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Work on your speaking and writing

Writing, speaking, and thinking are interdependent. Developing a command of one of them means sharpening another. Seek out courses, both in and out of your concentration, that will help you to improve your ability to communicate in English as well as in another language. Whether you concentrate in the sciences, the social sciences, or the humanities, your ability to communicate clearly will help you succeed in your college coursework and in your life after Brown.

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Understand differences among cultures

Your future success will also depend on your ability to live and work in a global context. And that means knowing as much about other cultures as you do about your own. Brown offers a wealth of courses and international opportunities that will help you develop a more expansive sense of how different groups define themselves through social, aesthetic, and political practices. Working with international peers and instructors on the Brown campus can make you equally aware of the challenges of communicating across linguistic and cultural barriers. Fluency in a second language, coupled with time spent studying, interning, or working abroad, will sharpen your sensitivities, enlarge your sense of geography, and prepare you for leadership in an increasingly interconnected world.

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Analyze how power shapes human behavior

Knowing how individuals are socialized and express their identities can lead to deeper insights about the nature of human organization, the sources of political power and authority, and the distribution of resources. Learn to critically analyze the ways categories of differentiation, such as ability, citizenship, class, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and others, have been produced by and through hierarchies of power. Doing so can help you think more deeply not only about yourself, but also about the social institutions that define our very notions of self and other, together with the policies and institutions that maintain them. Analyze the ways in which structures of knowledge in your field have been embedded in historical formations such as racism and colonialism. Perhaps most importantly, demonstrate the capacity to be transformed - in knowledge, attitudes and behavior - by engaging with multiple points of view, experiences, and worldviews.

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Learn what it means to study the past

Understanding how people and institutions have changed over time is fundamental to a liberal education. Just as you should expand your cultural breadth, so should you also develop your historical depth. Coming to terms with history involves far more than learning names and dates and events. It means understanding the problematic nature of evidence, and of the distance that separates the present from the past. It also means thinking critically about how histories themselves are written and who has the power to write them.

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Experience scientific inquiry

Evidence is also a central aspect of scientific inquiry. The interpretation of natural or material phenomena requires a unique combination of observation, creativity, and critical judgment that hones your inductive reasoning, sharpens your ability to ask questions, and encourages experimental thinking. Understanding the nature of scientific findings, along with their ethical, political, and social implications, is also critical to an informed citizenry. As you plan your course of study, look for opportunities to engage in direct, hands-on research.

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Develop a facility with symbolic languages

Symbolic languages make it possible to think abstractly across many disciplines. Linguistics, philosophy, computer science, mathematics, even music, are among the disciplines that have developed symbolic systems to make theoretical assertions about their objects of study, or to imagine alternate realities. Courses in these areas will teach you what it means to conceptualize systems and structures that have the potential to reframe our notions of time and space.

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Expand your reading skills

Studying written texts, interpreting graphs, and evaluating systems and codes are all forms of analysis that belong to the more general category of “reading.” Learning how to read closely makes you aware of the complex nature of expression itself, where the mode of expression is as important as what is expressed. Gaining experience with close reading—across many genres—may be one of the most important things you will learn to do in your time at Brown.

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Enhance your aesthetic sensibility

A liberal education implies developing not just new ways of reading but also of sensing and feeling, based on exposure to a range of aesthetic experiences. Courses in the visual and performing arts, music, and literature will deepen your understanding of many kinds of expressive media, past and present, and the kinds of realities they aim to represent. Developing your own creative abilities in one or more art forms will deepen your self-understanding and enhance your ability to appreciate the work of others.

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Embrace diversity

Achieving excellence in liberal education requires a commitment to diversity in the broadest sense. This means embracing not only a range of intellectual perspectives, but also a diversity of people. Brown’s diverse educational environment offers you the opportunity to think broadly about the nature of complexity itself, and to learn how to participate productively in a pluralistic society. Seek experiences inside and outside the classroom that challenge your assumptions, and allow you to develop a more open and inclusive view of the world and your place in it.

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Collaborate fully

Learning never happens in isolation, and the quality of your experience at Brown will depend on your ability to collaborate fully with others: with teachers, with fellow students, with advisors and mentors of all kinds. The Advising Partnership is thus a necessary complement to the Brown curriculum. Be as bold in seeking guidance as you are in pursuing your educational aspirations. Begin developing your network of collaborators early, and work to stay connected with those teachers, advisors, and peers who have meant the most to you. Visit office hours not just to expand your understanding of course material, but to get to know your teachers as people. Reach out to faculty at other events, or over lunch or coffee. Work on research projects or independent studies with professors whose interests match your own. And make use of the many offices and centers that can support you in reaching your academic goals. By taking charge of your education in this way, you will enrich your teachers’ and mentors’ understanding as much as you will expand your own capacity to learn, not just here at Brown, but in many other environments, and for many years to come.

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Engage with your communities

Your general education at Brown will be enriched by the many kinds of work you do beyond the classroom. Real-world experiences anchor intellectual pursuits in practical knowledge and help you develop a sense of social and global responsibility. Internships, public service, and other community activities both on campus and beyond Brown have the potential to strengthen your core programs; they can also strengthen your moral core, by showing you how and why your liberal education matters. Looking beyond the horizon of your immediate interests and sharing your knowledge and talents with others can expand intellectual and ethical capacities that will make it possible for you to lead a full and engaged life, or, in the words of the Brown charter, “a life of usefulness and reputation.”