What is it Like to Attend Brown University?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Daniel is a New York City tutor specializing in SAT prep tutoring, Grammar and Mechanics tutoring, Elementary Math tutoring, and much more. He graduated from Brown University in 2012 with a Linguistics degree. Check out his review of his alma mater:

VT: Describe the campus setting and transportation options. How urban or safe is the campus? Are there buses or do you need a car/bike?

Daniel: Brown University is nestled in a more upper-middle class, suburban neighborhood within Providence, RI. Generally, it's very safe, and I've never felt unsafe on campus even walking home from the library alone in the wee hours of the morning. But even then, campus police are very prevalent and very approachable, and there are blue lights/phones all throughout campus.

You definitely do not need a car on campus- almost nobody does even in senior year. The longest walk you'll ever have to make from end to end is 15 minutes. But with that said, Brown students are given free access to RIPTA, the statewide bus system.

VT: How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?

Daniel: Professors are incredibly accessible overall. All are required to have office hours, most are very responsive over email, and all courses are taught by an actual professor. Academic advisors--as well as academic Deans--are also easily accessible. They're made available to each student on an individualized schedule in the first year, and there are more general advising centers in the middle of campus during business hours. Teaching assistants can be graduate students, but are more often than not fellow undergrads, which brings a level of comfort and accessibility that might not come from a--usually falsely perceived--more intimidating professor.

VT: How would you describe the dorm life – rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?

Daniel: In my opinion, dorms are probably the worst thing about Brown, but even then they're not bad--they're probably average compared to other schools' facilities. However, the administration has made housing options a priority and positive changes are being made. Dorms are frequently in very good locations, and even the most far-flung ones are within a 10-15 minute walk from the furthest classrooms. All dorms have common spaces, and are usually a great place to socialize. And the best feature of dorms at Brown is probably that it's guaranteed for all four years, relieving a potential stress.

Dining options are just as varied as the housing options. There are traditional cafeterias, smaller cafes, and late-night eateries. The food is decent--and has been, in fact, improving greatly over the most recent years--but as with any college dining food, it gets boring eventually. Still, the great number of options make it interesting as long as you're willing to make the effort. Brown Dining also is one of the largest student employers on campus, and since students are entirely managed by other students, there are great opportunities for professional growth (as a manager or supervisor) while you're earning money on the side.

VT: Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? What did you study and why? Did the university do a good job supporting your particular area of study?

Daniel: The most popular concentrations are probably International Relations and Biology. Some of the most highly reputed are Neuroscience, Cognitive Science, Computer Science, and Applied Math. There are high points and low points of having a "popular" concentration in that class options are greater and there are usually more resources available. However, smaller programs provide a greater sense of community and more individual attention.

I double concentrated in Linguistics and in Latin American and Caribbean Studies (LACS). Both were very small programs, and I felt a sense of community with my fellow concentrators. Linguistics was a more structured program that taught me about a specific field and LACS was less structured and allowed me a space to apply my linguistic interests more specifically in a general field.

VT: How easy or difficult was it for you to meet people and make friends as a freshman? Does Greek life play a significant role in the campus social life?

Daniel: Only 10% of campus is involved in Greek life, and one can totally have a very social experience without Greek life. For others, Greek life can be a very focal part, but that only speaks to the wide range of social circles and social options that exist on campus. For me, making friends freshman year was really easy. I found that there were plenty of interesting people at Brown, and everyone was just as eager to find new friends as I was.

VT: How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? Do many reputable companies recruit on campus?

Daniel: I found that the Career Center (CareerLAB) at Brown is more helpful for certain fields as opposed to others. For example, for people interested in finance, it's a great resource. With that said, however, they have great, general resources for cover letter and resume writing. Brown, having a very large and established alumni network, also seems to have a lot of companies come and recruit. I know, for example, that many large finance firms and computing firms recruit very heavily and very well at Brown.

VT: How are the various study areas such as libraries, student union, and dorm lounges? Are they over-crowded, easily available, spacious?

Daniel: This is something that Brown is actively trying to expand to keep up with our growing student body. I personally only ever had difficulty finding a good study space during midterms and finals.

VT: Describe the surrounding town. What kinds of outside establishments / things to do are there that make it fun, boring, or somewhere in between? To what extent do students go to the downtown area of the city versus staying near campus?

Daniel: The main drag around campus is Thayer St., which has a good number of restaurants and stores to meet your basic needs. Just a quick 10-20 minute walk down the hill is the Providence Place Mall, the largest indoor mall in New England, and all other needs could be met there. Brown is up on a hill (literally named College Hill) that seems to set Brown apart from Providence, but if you make the effort, Providence is at your fingertips.  

VT: How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?

Daniel: Brown has about 6,000 undergrads, 2,000 grads, and a couple hundred med students. Even from that, it's clear that the focus is on the undergrads, which opens up a whole other set of great options as far as working directly with professors go. It was small enough that I felt a solid sense of community, but large enough so that I was still meeting new people in my class senior year. 

Class sizes depend greatly on what your main course of study is, but the effort is made to include small seminar style classes. Only a few classes are actually big enough to fill giant lecture halls, and even then, any class with more than 40 students enrolled are required to have smaller sections where students can discuss materials with either the TA or the actual professor. In my experience, even some smaller classes have even smaller section breakdowns. It takes some getting used to, but once I did, it was a great opportunity for learning.

VT: Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.

Daniel: In my first semester, I took a first-year seminar, and the professor required that we all meet with her at least once. When I did, I was a bit nervous, not knowing what to expect. I remember reviewing class notes and doing that week's reading extra carefully just in case! It just wound up being a casual conversation where she asked me about my family, where I came from, what my interests were, and where I wanted to wind up. It was so refreshing--and intimidating, in a way--to know someone so accomplished was truly interested in me! Not all professors are that way, but in my experience, many were, but as the years went on, I learned the onus was mostly on me to take advantage of that.

Check out Daniel’s tutoring profile.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.