We’re continuing our “Schools Like” series with Brown—the crunchy, liberal, social justice-warrior of the Ivy League family. We’ll take your reach school, boil it down to what makes it most unique, and give you a slew of schools to contemplate that also possess some of those same qualities. Over and above its culture (one that tends to attract extroverts), what makes Brown stand out is its open curriculum. It’s not for everyone, but those who work well with flexibility and desire creativity within academics truly thrive and love the lack of definitive structure, core classes, or even the requirement to choose a major (though students must choose a “concentration). It’s a free-spirited, liberal arts-focused, creative intellectual student’s Disneyland. The only requirement that Brown imposes on its undergraduates is that they must pass a writing course.
Its proximity to RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) means that it’s a doubly creative community with lots of contributors from every creative standpoint. Brown also has a prestigious medical school, so the diversity of interests on campus is notable. The campus community is incredibly tight-knit, but Brown also encourages its students to participate and contribute to the Providence community. It is expected to the degree that it might as well be required that all students engage with and work to improve their surroundings. Providence is also a unique place to spend four years in that it’s small enough to actually make an impact in the community, but large enough that it has a distinctive personality despite the collegiate presence. There is no greek life.
Location: Providence, RI
Faculty to student ratio: 7:1
Schools like Brown
Location: Saratoga Springs, NY
Skidmore is all about originality, inventiveness, and expression of your individual self—it’s where “creative thought matters,” and they mean it. Skidmore’s faculty to student ratio is 8:1, rivaling Brown’s quite closely, and 94% of its classes have less than 30 students in it. It’s a small community but with quite a bustling college town. Saratoga Springs is known for its creative culture and “artsy” community outside of Skidmore students’ realm of participation. There are tons of art galleries, Saratoga Performing Arts Center (a landmark artistic venue), and numerous restaurants, bookstores, cafes, and museums that make it a very busy and exciting place to spend four years. Its departments and major choices are also unique and encompass a wide range of interests so that students don’t feel too confined—some of the more unusual majors and minors include American Studies, Intergroup Relations, Exercise Science, and Geosciences, among others.
Location: Middletown, CT
Size: ~3.2K undergraduates
The student body at Wesleyan prides itself on its collective ability to stir the inner social justice and political warrior inside each student who attends. The student body is particularly “activist-y”—even creating the Wesleyan University Organizing Center, a “student space for activism and anti-oppression work,” in charge of the annual “Disorientation” for students who wish to understand the importance of allyship and understanding marginalization on a college campus. The “wokeness” factor contributes to the significant amount of overlap between the two schools, but even further, Wesleyan’s open curriculum makes this school essentially like Brown’s slightly smaller identical twin. Students are encouraged to direct their own education with very minimal general education requirements, meaning maximum control and agency over the academic direction that you go in as a student.
Location: Clinton, NY
Size: ~1.8K undergraduates
Hamilton is a true oasis of intellectual curiosity and freedom in upstate New York. Its goal is to educate free thinkers and academics who wish to pursue “informed and responsible engagement” with the world’s issues. With no distribution or curriculum requirements, Hamilton students can truly wholeheartedly pursue whatever academic journey they want to. Hamilton offers a number of “Proseminars,” which are intensive courses meant to inspire discussion on various topics. Students are “encouraged” to complete four of them but are by no means required to. The only requirement is a writing course, just like Brown, and the completion of “The Social, Structural, and Institutional Hierarchies” course, which inspires discussion amongst students about the presence complexity of institutionalized and systematic hierarchies based on various social categories. If we’re being honest, we feel that the former should be a requirement at every high school and institution of higher learning.
Location: Amherst, MA
Size: ~1.8K undergraduates
Amherst has an open curriculum, with no core or general education requirements, and students are given the opportunity to design and create their own majors or programs of study. Or, you can forego the option of choosing a major altogether and pursue Amherst’s Independent Scholar Program. In addition, it’s incredibly academically rigorous and difficult to gain entry to, but once you do you gain access to the Five College Consortium. This means that if you gain admission to Amherst (or any of the colleges in the FCC) then you can take classes, attend events, and participate in student and community groups at Mount Holyoke, UMass Amherst, Hampshire College, and Smith College.
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Size: ~6.1K undergraduates
Though Carnegie Mellon doesn’t have a technically open curriculum, what it does do is maximize opportunities for and encourage students to study and collaborate across interests and academic departments. In fact, it has multiple interdisciplinary programs that allow students with multiple interests to pursue them simultaneously as opposed to choosing just one academic area to silo oneself within. The BXA Intercollege degree program encompasses the Bachelor of Humanities and Arts, the Bachelor of Science and Arts, and the Bachelor of Computer Science and Arts programs.
Location: Oberlin, OH
Size: ~2.9K undergraduates
Oberlin seems to trigger an extreme reaction with our students that we work with—students are either sure that they’re meant to be there or sure that they’re meant to be elsewhere. Interestingly enough, that’s how we feel about Brown as well but because it’s an Ivy League school many people are blinded by the brand. Oberlin represents a true hippie/crunchy ideal for many, but it also represents a space for serious creative intellectual collaboration for others. The college often draws prestigious faculty and lecturers, and in terms of academics does not have a core curriculum. Instead, it has a “curriculum exploration requirement: two full academic courses in each of the three divisions of the College (Arts and Humanities, Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and Social and Behavioral Sciences).”
Location: Pomona, CA
Size: ~1.6K undergraduates
While Pomona doesn’t technically have an open curriculum like Brown does, its distribution requirements are incredibly easy to accomplish in a way that you feel like you are being true to your academic focus. In other words, you won’t have to take a lab to fulfill some silly requirement if you don’t want to. The “Breadth of Study Requirements” require students to take a course in each of five general areas (hint: you just find the course you want and figure out how to have it fall under the category you want) ranging from “History, Values, Ethics and Cultural Studies” to “Social Institutions and Human Behavior.” Pomona is also part of the Claremont Colleges situated in or near sunny, gorgeous Claremont, CA. This means that you can take classes and participate in events at any of the other undergraduate institutions included in the Colleges (Scripps College, Claremont McKenna College, Harvey Mudd College, and Pitzer College).
University of Rochester
Location: Rochester, NY
Size: ~6.4K undergraduates
Though it might seem like an unlikely character, the University of Rochester is one of the most academically flexible and open colleges out there. The University has an open curriculum, ensuring students ample flexibility in terms of their major and focus. The requirements include a writing requirement, as is the case at Brown, as well as the choice of a major within either the humanities, social sciences, or natural science & engineering divisions, as well as the completion of two “clusters,” which is essentially just three courses that are related to each other. Students have complete control over what those clusters are and have the freedom to propose their own cluster if the combination they desire is not offered. Rochester, NY is also home to a number of museums, artistic exhibitions, and a cultural community that is often overlooked.
We know that this can be stressful, and there are tons of reasons why a school like Brown might be great for you. If you have more questions and need help navigating these tricky waters, give us a call or email us. We’re here to help.