Pursuing a Concurrent Master's Degree at Brown

Brown University offers a program wherein students can pursue a Master's degree at the same time as their Bachelor's degree, allowing them to earn two degrees in eight semesters. Considering that Brown (usually) doesn't allow early graduation (see: advanced standing), this is a pretty enticing option for those that want to get a little extra out of their time at Brown. This blog post will unlikely be helpful if you aren't a current or prospective Brown University student.

I'm writing this post for two reasons. Firstly to document my experience going through the program, and secondly as a resource for others either considering or currently going through the program. I often get younger students asking me what it's like; to avoid repeating myself, you might get sent here ;).

For context, I'm currently (as of March 2022) going through the Concurrent Master's program with a Bachelor's in Math and CS and a Master's in CS. The two degree programs don't have to overlap, but I think it's considerably easier when they do. The program isn't very well advertised, and many that would have liked to go through it often hear about it once it's too late, and their schedules or lives can no longer accommodate the requirements. I hope this post gets to you before then!

I want to first document the resources that helped me the most, knowing that this program isn't well advertised and most academic advisors don't know much, if anything, about it. The associated Brown webpage is hardly helpful, but good to see. The linked application was out of date when I first downloaded it, so I emailed the correct Dean (who I found at the Whom to Contact page) for an updated copy. Note that another great option is the Fifth-Year Masters program, which features less time crunch and fewer course requirements. Lastly, two other blog posts written by Eric Jang and Zachary Espiritu may also prove useful, as they were for me.

Requirements

There are a lot of requirements; I've done my best to detail everything here. Your degree requirements (for both degrees) will be different depending on your degree program; I highly suggest going through the requirements with the Dean responsible for the Concurrent Master's program at some point, just to see if any new rules or odd edge cases apply to you. I'll refer to students completing the program as "applicants".

Timeline: Applicants apply to the program no later than the end of their 6th semester. Once approved, applicants must complete the remaining requirements in 8 or 9 semesters.

Credit and Grade Requirements: Applicants must have at least 38 credits. There is an option to "double-count" up to two courses between the Bachelor's and Master's degrees, having them apply to both. Doing this lowers the minimum number of required credits to 36.

Moreover, applicants must have at least two-thirds of their grades be "A"s or "S with Distinction"s. Regular "S"s don't count as "A"s. Non-concentration courses count for this requirement.

Breadth and Depth Requirements: Applicants must earn at least 10 credits "outside of your area of concentration" (i.e. not counted towards any degree requirements and sufficiently unrelated to the main field of study), including at least 2 credits in each of the three fields outside of your area of concentration. The four fields are social sciences, humanities, life sciences, and physical sciences; a list of which departments fall into which field is available in the program application. This means that up to 4 credits can be within your area of concentration, so long as they aren't used for concentration requirements.

Moreover, applicants must take two courses above the introductory level (i.e. 1000-level or above) in a particular subject outside of your area of concentration. This might look like two 1000-level ECON or BIOL classes. These courses can overlap with courses used in the above breadth requirement, and must similarly not be used for concentration requirements. The breadth and depth requirements must be fulfilled by the end of the applicant's 6th semester, when they apply to the program.

The breadth and depth requirements are probably the hardest part of this program. If you're ever confused or unsure whether a course would count for this requirement, ask yourself if it fits the "spirit of the program". The less explaining you have to do, the better.

Bachelor's and Master's Degree Requirements: Of course, applicants also need to complete all of the requirements for the associated Bachelor's and Master's degrees. As mentioned abov, there is an option to use up to two courses on both degrees; I highly recommend doing this.

Reference Letters: Applicants require a number of reference letters; in particular, 1 letter from the department chair of your undergraduate concentration, 1 letter from a faculty member supervising your master's thesis research or graduate program, 3 letters from faculty members within your area of concentration with whom you took classes, and 2 letters from faculty members without your area of concentration with whom you took classes. This adds up to 7 letters, but you can double-count letters (e.g. the department chair letter can count as both the department chair letter and a faculty member with whom you took classes).

Personal Statement: Applicants must submit a personal statement explaining why they are pursuing this program. From the application:

The statement should discuss how this program will enhance your undergraduate education; a description of the graduate program you intend to pursue, including a tentative description of the final research project for the master’s degree (if any); and your professional goals This statement is comparable to the statement of purpose in a regular graduate school admissions process.

My Courses

The following are the courses I've taken so far. I'll update this list (and the associated advice) as I progress through my degree.

Semester Course Code Course Title
Fall 2019 CSCI 0190 Accelerated Introduction to Computer Science
MATH 0520 Linear Algebra
CHEM 0330 Equilibrium, Rate, and Structure
ENGN 0031 Honors Introduction to Engineering
ENGL 0900 Critical Reading and Writing I: The Academic Essay
Spring 2020 APMA 1655 Statistical Inference I
CSCI 0320 Introduction to Software Engineering
CSCI 0220 Introduction to Discrete Structures and Probability
MATH 0200 Intermediate Calculus (Physics/Engineering)
ARCH 0680 Water, Culture and Power
Fall 2020 CSCI 0330 Introduction to Computer Systems
CSCI 1270 Database Management Systems
CSCI 1470 Deep Learning
MATH 1530 Abstract Algebra
PHIL 1640 The Nature of Morality
Spring 2021 CSCI 1710 Logic for Systems
CSCI 2270 Topics in Database Management
CSCI 2540 Advanced Probabilistic Methods in Computer Science
MATH 1230 Graph Theory
PHIL 1785 Philosophy of the Environment: Environmental Utopias
Fall 2021 BIOL 0800 Principles of Physiology
CLPS 0010 Mind, Brain and Behavior: An Interdisciplinary Approach
CSCI 1230 Introduction to Computer Graphics
CSCI 1730 Design and Implementation of Programming Languages
ECON 1130 Intermediate Microeconomics (Mathematical)
Spring 2022 CSCI 1380 Distributed Computer Systems
CSCI 1680 Computer Networks
ECON 1710 Investments I
MATH 1560 Number Theory
MATH 1580 Cryptography
Fall 2022 CSCI 1510 Cryptography and Computer Security
CSCI 1760 Multiprocessor Synchronization
CSCI 2952L Secure Multi-party Computation
JAPN 0300 Intermediate Japanese
Spring 2023 CSCI 2270 Topics in Database Management Systems
CSCI 2660 Computer Systems Security
CSCI 2670 Operating Systems
CSCI 2951O Foundations of Prescriptive Analytics
JAPN 0400 Intermediate Japanese

Recommendations

I am not an academic advisor, and the following advice is based solely on my experience in the program.

Should I do the program? - If you're unsure if you want to (or can) do the program, I recommend mapping out your four-year course schedule as if you were going to do it (fulfilling the breadth and degree requirements), and then seeing if this schedule is reasonable for you. It probably isn't worth bending your schedule too out of shape to accommodate the program; often, doing the program would mean taking entire semesters full of breadth classes, which most people don't really want to do. But, if you can craft a schedule that you're happy with, the program might be for you.

Will I have no life? - That depends on you. If you balance out your breadth and required courses well, you can avoid killer semesters and still enjoy a college life. It will certainly be much harder than taking three or four classes a semester, but suffering is not a requirement for this program. I, along with many others in the program, still found time to TA, do research, run clubs, and have fun.

How do I obtain seven reference letters? - To be fully frank; seven reference letters is absurd. Especially over the course of six semesters, very few students will develop a deep relationship with seven separate faculty members. As a result, don't be afraid to ask professors with whom you just took a class, even if you didn't speak too much or contribute too fully. So long as they can write something, you're one leg up.

Is the program competitive? - No, it is not. To my knowledge, there are no hard caps on how many people can complete the program in a given year (this might change if enough people start doing it). So, if you encounter a fellow "concurrenter", work together!

Does this breadth course count? - The advice I've been given in figuring out if something counts or not for a particular requirement is to ask if it fits "the spirit of the program". What that means is that if you're hoping to evade a requirement on a technicality, or you're wondering if that course in the CLPS department that's really just computer programming counts as a life science's course, you should probably figure out a different course plan.

What's the benefit of doing the program? - Another piece of paper. Depending on your post-graduate path, doing this program might be a complete waste of time. If you're in a field where having a Master's degree isn't helpful, then why bother. If you plan on going to graduate school, where you can get a Master's en route to your PhD, then why bother. But if your Bachelor's degree is your last stop in higher education and a Master's is useful to you (i.e. may help you land higher-paying roles or qualify you for industry research), then it's a great program. One huge reason for completing this program, at least for me, is that it gets you a leg up in the H1-B visa lottery - if you are an international student hoping to stay in the US, this can be a great way to solidify your chances at a visa.

Closing

I hope this advice helps; if any of it is unclear or inaccurate, please email me and I'll update it.