Even when it comes to graduation credits, Brown students don’t fit the mold. Only 19.9 percent of members of the class of 2007 graduated with the standard 32 graduation credits. The majority – 56.7 percent – had fewer, while 23.4 percent earned over 32 credits.
“A statistic like that makes it so easy to assume that we’re lazy,” said Nina Mozes ’08. “My hope is that a statistic like that says something about how we’re taking advantage of opportunities outside of the classroom.”
Though only 30 credits are required to graduate, the University’s recommended course load is four classes per semester, totaling 32 credits by graduation.
University Registrar Michael Pesta explained that the 30-credit minimum allows students to take two “risk” courses far outside of their concentration that they may have to drop. “You wouldn’t be holding your degree hostage to your desire to sample different parts of the curriculum,” he said.
Prior to 1969, students paid per course, were required to take exactly four courses each semester and needed 32 credits to graduate, Pesta said, adding that the flexibility of the current curriculum reflects the diversity of Brown students’ lifestyles and experiences.
“It’s an attitude toward education that emphasizes student choice,” he said.
Mozes has taken a course load of three classes twice in the past. Once, she opted to drop a class – a choice that many Brown students make. “It was hurting my course load, my life load,” she said. “I knew that nobody would care whether or not I took oceanography when they looked at my transcript.”
Mozes said she views senior year as a transition between academia and the job market. “I am finding that my work outside of the classroom is certainly taking precedence over my work inside the classroom,” she said. A literary arts major, Mozes is currently writing a screenplay as well as acting, volunteering at off-campus theaters and writing a column for post-, The Herald’s weekly arts and culture magazine.
Students interviewed by The Heraldcited many reasons for taking fewer than four classes a semester. Seniors often have to focus on graduate school applications or independent research, while others drop classes or take a lighter load to balance their schoolwork with jobs or activities outside of class.
“If you’re a senior and you only need one class left to graduate, it’s pretty hard to rationalize taking a fourth class just because it’s a fourth class,” said Katherine Costa ’08, though she said she has taken five courses multiple semesters to fulfill requirements for a joint bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degree.
For some students, enormous time commitments outside of class can limit their course load.
“It’s not something I feel I’ve ever been able to do,” said Mateo Mancia ’09 about taking five classes. He juggles work and school, to the extent that he had to take a two-year leave of absence because he couldn’t afford the tuition. Mancia described a particularly brutal semester when he worked 40 to 50 hours a week at Antonio’s Pizza in addition to his four courses. He plans to graduate with 32 credits, and he also contributes time to a campus literary magazine and the College Hill Independent.
Many students emphasized that the number of courses is not necessarily indicative of work load. “Five easier classes could very well be equivalent to three more difficult courses,” said Rosalind Bogan ‘08.5. “One of my humanities classes I’ve barely cracked a book for this semester and I’m doing fine. But it’s such a joke because another class that I’m spending 20 hours a week on, I’m barely getting a B.”
“Even five classes is not necessarily always hard,” said Douglas Benedicto ’08, a neuroscience concentrator. He has taken five courses for the past three semesters to fulfill extra requirements for his degree.
“I think most people here take five classes at one point or another,” Costa told The Herald. “My friend is shaking her head,” she added, laughing.
Dale Jun ’08 took five classes for three semesters because he simply could not choose which class to drop. “I was just really interested in all of them,” he said. He recalled one semester when he attended six classes for about three weeks without realizing it. “I was just swamped with work. I didn’t realize why,” he laughed.
Despite the extra hours at the library on top of numerous extracurricular activities, Jun said his extra classes were rewarding. He and other students enthusiastically recommended choosing the “Satisfactory/No Credit” grading option to alleviate stress, especially when taking five classes in a semester.
“Even if I didn’t need so many classes to graduate, I’d still probably be doing five,” Benedicto said, echoing students’ willingness to take on extra courses if they are particularly interesting.