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Fifth-year master’s programs see rise in enrollment, expand to new depts.

Across disciplines, fifth year master’s programs offer undergrads faster, less expensive post-grad option

Over the past few years, the University has seen a significant rise in the number of departments offering fifth-year master’s programs that are exclusive to Brown students.

Sixteen programs currently exist, spanning the humanities, sciences and social sciences. Sociology, the newest addition, will be offered for the first time this year, while many of the other departments’ programs have expanded.

“Even around 10 years ago, many of our biology (master’s) programs were under the umbrella of just biology, but since then they have branched out into specific disciplines, including neuroscience and pathobiology,” said Brian Walton, associate dean of administration and program development.

“Since the program is exclusive to Brown students, we have a known applicant pool of highly qualified individuals,” he said, adding that the program could attract potential undergraduates and that efforts could be made to promote the program nationally to high school students compiling college lists.

Students who enroll in fifth-year master’s programs must complete eight courses, two of which are usually completed while they are undergraduates, Walton said.

The program allows Brown students to attain a master’s in one year, as opposed to the usual two years required at other universities. “These programs are generally unfunded, so paying tuition for only one year instead of two is a good decision — it ends up saving a lot of money,” said Valerie Langberg ’14 MA’15, who completed the fifth-year master’s program in biostatistics last year.

Langberg attained a research associate position in the School of Public Health during her graduate course, gaining ample research experience and later landing the job full-time after earning her degree.

“As an undergraduate, I took a few master’s courses so I knew a lot of the professors, and I knew it was a good program. And then when I was looking for jobs my senior year, I noticed that everything I wanted to pursue required a master’s degree,” Langberg said.

The biostatistics department currently has one student enrolled in the fifth-year master of art’s program, said Christopher Schmid, professor of biostatistics and director of the department’s master’s program.

Obtaining a master’s in biostatistics can help lead to the attainment of an interesting and high-paying job, Schmid said, adding that many students “may go into a health care-related field.”

While the programs are readily accessible, they do require planning as an undergrad, he said. Students should start considering the program during their second or third year, he added.

But the computer science master’s program may most benefit those who decide on the discipline later in their undergraduate studies, said Tom Doeppner, director of computer science graduate studies.

Students who begin studying computer science their sophomore or junior year may have only taken a minimal number of computer science courses, and the fifth-year master’s program allows these students to learn more while also gaining research experience, he added.

Computer science’s program has seen a large rise in enrollment over the past decade — jumping from five students to 10, Doeppner said.

“In general, we are expanding our master’s program, so we are definitely willing to accept more students who are applying. If they’ve done well in their courses, they are fairly likely to be admitted to the program,” Doeppner said.

Andy Ly ’16 is one such senior who may apply for the program in order to take more courses. “During my time at Brown, I was jumping between concentrations in the beginning, so that kind of limited my acceleration in general. Now I can take more computer science classes,” Ly said.

“But it may be a bit awkward because there will be less people that I know on campus, and of course I need to find somewhere to live,” he added.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated that there are 17 students in the fifth-year biostatistics program. In fact, there are 17 students total in their first year of the biostatistics masters program, only one of whom is a fifth-year student. The Herald regrets the error. 

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