Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Doing a Concurrent Masters at Brown

This is intended as a reference for students who are interested in the Concurrent Bachelor's/Masters programIf you are not a current or prospective undergraduate student at Brown University, the following post won't be relevant to you. 

A few Brown University students have been emailing me about the Concurrent Bachelor's/Masters (CM) degree and whether it would make sense for them to apply for this program. Brown doesn't offer a whole lot of information or resources on this topic (very few students do this), so I'd like to share my perspective as someone who went through the process (I graduated in May 2016 with a ScB in APMA-CS and a MSc in CS). This is not official advice - rules for the CM program may have changed since I graduated.


Universities like UC Berkeley allow undergraduates to graduate early, provided that they have satisfied all their degree requirements. Some students who complete their undergrad in 3 years (6 semesters) use the leftover year to do their "5th-year" Masters degree at the school, thus getting a Bachelors and Masters degree in 4 years.

Brown has 5th-year Masters programs too (CS dept has a popular one), but undergraduates cannot graduate earlier (it's possible to graduate in 7 semesters but this is rarely granted).

The Concurrent Masters degree does permit one to graduate with a Masters in 8 or 9 semesters though.

Strangely, CM doesn't seem to be advertised much at Brown - there weren't any guides or resources or other students to talk to for planning my schedule around CM (guidance counselors and Meiklejohns don't really encourage or know about unorthodox paths like these).

How to plan for CM

The CM application requirements can be found here
  1. During your First-Year (or beginning of Sophomore year at the latest), draw up your course plan for all 8 semesters to meet CM requirements. It will probably be re-arranged a lot (especially upper-level classes) each semester, but every set of courses you pick should keep you on track to meeting CM requirements.
  2. At the beginning of the Spring semester of Junior Year, bring your partially-completed CM application to your department chair, and show them how you are on track to fulfilling the requirements. Have them examine your application to see that your courses do indeed qualify and you are in good academic standing (i.e. you will also fulfill your intended undergrad degree requirements by graduation).
  3. Get recommendation letters from professors and the dept chair. You will need a lot of them - 3 within concentration, 2 outside concentration.
  4. Bring your packet (with rec letters) to the Dean of the College, who is in charge of CM review process.
  5. The applications are reviewed by the academic standing committee by April of your Junior year. You need to meet the course requirements, have approval of your dept. chair, have good letters of references, and say something fairly reasonable on your letter to the committee. From that point it's approved somewhat automatically.
  6. The CM course schedule is approved Junior year, but is contingent on classes that may not actually be offered your senior year. You will probably submit amendment forms to the application during your Senior year. They should be approved as long as they are reasonable substitutions.
  7. I recommend finishing your capstone requirements and 2nd writing requirement during your junior year. This removes a lot of constraints from the schedule optimization problem. 

What courses did you take?

I had a pretty unorthodox curriculum at Brown and basically stretched the "open curriculum" interpretation as far as I could to (barely) satisfy my degree and concurrent masters requirements. I didn't take many intro-level CS courses and substituted those requirements with upper-div math and CS courses. Towards the end the CS department chair got pretty annoyed with all the substitutions I was making; bless twd@ for being so patient with me. Here was my 4-year course schedule:

Fall 2012
Seminar: Computing as done in Brains and Computers

Methods of Applied Math I

Intro to MRI and Neuroimaging

Computational Cognitive Neuroscience

Intro to Probability and Computing
Spring 2013
Advanced Fiction

Computational Neuroscience

Intermediate Animation

Neurochemistry and Behavior

Monte Carlo Simulation with Applications to Finance
Fall 2013
Introduction to Computer Graphics

Abstract Algebra

Independent Study

Digital Electronics Systems Design
Spring 2014
Building Intelligent Robots

Interactive Computer Graphics

Recent Applications of Probability and Statistics

Individual Independent Study
Fall 2014
Probabilistic Graphical Models

Computer Networks

Data-Driven Vision and Graphics

Quantum Mechanics A

TA Apprenticeship: Full Credit
Spring 2015
Neural Dynamics: Theory and Modeling

Topics in Chaotic Dynamics

Individual Independent Study

Corporate Finance

Painting II (RISD)
Fall 2015
Models of Computation

Introduction to Composition

Persuasive Communication

Introduction to Computational Linear Algebra

Reading and Research (Masters Project)
Spring 2016
Reading and Research (Masters Project)

The Politics of Food


Operating Systems

Optimization Methods in Finance

ScB requirements:

My courses
MATH1530 instead of MATH0350
MATH0540 waived (AP Test)

Applied Mathematics
APMA1360 in lieu of APMA0360

Core Computer Science
(CSCI2980-HCI, CSCI1670) in lieu of (CSCI15, CSCI16)
CSCI 1450 (math)
CSCI 1680 in lieu of CS33 (systems)
CSCI0510 (math) (f15)
Additional Requirements
3 1000-level CS courses
CSCI1970 (approved pair waived via TA credit)

3 1000-level APMA courses
Pair: APMA1720 + APMA1740

Capstone course

And here's how I filled out the CM requirements. Note that degree requirements are subject to change and the courses I filled out may not be valid for current Brown students.

Is it Worth It?


  • Some entry-level roles in quantitative finance and Machine Learning strongly prefer candidates with at least a Masters degree.
  • Saves tuition compared to doing a 5-year Masters.
  • In the Bay Area (California), having a Masters Degree negotiates you a better interest rate for mortgages. 


  • Way more work compared to doing a 5-year masters. Mostly comes from the 10-course breadth requirements.
  • Being spread pretty thinly across many classes makes retaining information harder. You need to take an average of 4+ classes every semester, and the 10-course breadth requirements have to be completed before you submit your application.
  • Maintaining a social life with this course load is tricky.
I do not recommend doing CM just for the sake of getting a Masters degree - a Masters degree isn't that helpful in the big picture of things and you should only do it if it would require minor changes to the course plan you are already pursuing, or whether it is vital to your career.

Three other students in the CS department (two CS-Math concentrators and one other CS-APMA concentrator) did CM in the class of 2016. We all enjoyed taking hard CS/Math classes and would have probably taken the schedules we had anyway.

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