As you weave through parked cars and scattered shopping carts, the bold red lettering on the warehouse beckons you: COSTCO. At the door, you confidently display your membership card as a smiling employee welcomes you inside. Flat-screen TVs line the walls, displaying vivid images that catch your eye. The smell of freshly baked bread wafts through the air. You even try a sample or two. And yet, your cart remains empty. Surrounded by countless items that compete for your attention, you suddenly wish you had come to Costco with a shopping list.
Walking through the Van Wickle Gates, gripping a brand new Brown ID, can feel a lot like walking through Costco. First-years arriving at College Hill are met with a plethora of choice: Not only do students choose new friends, academic clubs and cultural organizations, they also select from a wide array of over 2,000 courses in 45 departments with minimal core requirements. Brown advertises its Open Curriculum as fertile ground for academic creativity and self-discovery — and this freedom can also prove daunting.
I found that the more I explored different academic paths, the more I accumulated additional interests and additional doubts. My first semester course load consisted of big lecture classes in chemistry, calculus and neuroscience as well as a First-Year Seminar that inspired me to study literature from around the world. Brown’s emphasis on interdisciplinary studies allowed my diverse interests to co-exist in an academic utopia, while simultaneously raising uncertainties about which career path I’d eventually choose.
Students at Brown “have greater freedom to study what they choose and the flexibility to discover what they love,” according to the University’s website.” As a first-year student, I believed students could spend four years dabbling in anything and everything and miraculously wrap it all up with a degree and a career path. But in reality, Brown students surrounded by a dizzying array of choices — coupled with an intense pressure to succeed — begin to second guess their decisions. As I repeatedly modified my course of study, I often wondered if I was trading off chasing my dreams with setting myself up for a lucrative career. Some decisions introduce more risk, while others require years of grad school. Choosing one academic possibility means giving up another, and that can feel like a loss.
But in retrospect, I only smile at my worries. What I could only realize in my third year after successfully committing to my field of interest was that the Open Curriculum was my anchor all along.
Brown mitigates some of the risks of academic exploration by underwriting our journey. While students may be unsure about their eventual concentration, they can be assured of graduating with a degree. Instead of viewing the college experience as a race that was slowed down by exploratory “detours,” I began to appreciate that the reason our curriculum is so effective is that it makes room for midstream adjustments that ultimately benefit long-term academic, career and personal success. Some students need time to explore and others find their passion right away. Though this framework can remove the pressure of having everything figured out, it preserves the joy and agency that lives in the process of discovery itself.
So, the next time you find yourself wandering the aisles of Costco, be sure to take your time, look around, try something new, and you might just end up with a cart full of inspired possibilities. And a $1.50 hotdog on your way out wouldn’t hurt.
Meher Sandhu ’25 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and other op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.