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Savello '18: Rethinking the writing requirement

At Brown, the writing requirement is the only academic requirement for students outside of their concentrations. Created with the goal of helping students develop and maintain their writing skills, this requirement mandates that all students take two writing-designated courses during their time at Brown (one during their first two years and one during their second two years) to ensure that all students graduate with writing experience, regardless of their concentration. While this requirement seems almost effortless for humanities concentrators and those who enjoy writing, it is often seen as a burden — or even a cause for concern — for those who are less interested in writing.

It’s not uncommon, for example, for students to openly panic or fret over WRIT courses, especially within STEM fields. Some even opt for the “approved alternative” option available in select departments, which allows them to submit a writing sample instead of completing the second WRIT-designated course. Given that WRIT courses have taken on a reputation for being time-intensive (which, depending on the course, is often unwarranted), it makes sense that busy students would dread taking a writing course and would choose this option instead.

However, while allowing students to opt out of their second writing course saves them time and effort in the short term, Brown is ultimately doing these students a disservice in the long term. Not only will these students miss out on the valuable experience of improving their writing skills, but they are also likely to miss out on a potential opportunity to explore a field that is not their own, a loss which goes against Brown’s pillar of academic discovery. After all, submitting a writing sample for course credit is not the same as being in a classroom where you can get continuous, personal feedback over a series of weeks, which is the ultimate goal of WRIT courses.

Given these disadvantages, I think the biology, applied mathematics and German studies departments  should reconsider this alternative option. Two writing courses within four years is not too much to ask of students; in fact, it’s probably not enough to help students fully develop their writing skills. This is not an opportunity students can afford to miss out on. No matter how far removed students’ studies or jobs are from writing, these skills will always be necessary in order to be successful in life, whether in applying to a job or communicating an idea to a colleague.

In addition, students have more options than they think they do when it comes to the WRIT requirement, and should not feel forced to hand in a writing sample as a last resort. Many of the WRIT courses Brown offers are not as writing-intensive as the rumors make them out to be. There are some very time-consuming WRIT courses available, especially in humanities departments. However, students who are not interested in literature or creative writing have the option to take writing courses in other departments, including STEM and the social sciences, which often require less writing. A simple glance at course syllabi will show whether the final paper is four pages or 10, allowing students to make decisions based on their workload needs.

Keeping this information in mind, students should realize that the writing requirement was invented to help them, not to hurt them, and that they should do thorough research before opting out of their second WRIT course. Brown offers a wide variety of WRIT courses in areas from mathematics to history to foreign languages, and it would be a waste to give up the chance to work on improving your writing.

By removing the approved alternative option, Brown would encourage students to explore the wide range of opportunities available to them and help to reduce the unwarranted fears associated with taking a WRIT course. Being able to work on your writing while in college is a privilege. Once you leave college and enter adulthood, you likely won’t get such an opportunity again.

Samantha Savello ’18 can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and other op-eds to


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