Which Introductory Course Should I Take?

Brown CS offers eight introductory courses in computer science. Here's a quick guide on how to choose which one to take.

For Potential Concentrators

Those planning to concentrate (major) in computer science should take one of CSCI0150/0160, CSCI0170/0180, or CSCI0190. Neither CSCI0150 nor CSCI0170 assumes prior programming background. Both prepare students for subsequent courses in the concentration, but with different approaches and some differences in content. The descriptions below outline the differences: to help you decide between them, you might attend the first lectures of both courses. CSCI0190 is an accelerated course that students must place into over the summer.

CSCI0111 is a new introductory course that will eventually be part of a three-course introductory sequence leading into the CS concentration. This sequence is designed for students who want to spread out their CS studies either to accommodate other high-demand courses or to give time to explore CS as a potential concentration. For academic year 2019-20, CSCI0111 will be offered both fall and spring.  CSCI0112 is likely to be offered in spring 2020. Students who do well in CSCI0111 in the fall and wish to accelerate into the concentration may do additional work over winter break to prepare for CSCI0180 in the spring.

For Non-Concentrators

None of the courses numbered 100 or lower (0020, 0030, 0040, 0100) satisfy prerequisites for other first-year programming courses. They do not count towards a CS concentration. Students who want to continue into the CS concentration after taking one of these courses will need to start over with 0111, 0150, 0170, or 0190. Accordingly, students who are considering a CS concentration are advised to start with one of the introductory courses for concentrators.

Placement Based on Prior Background

Brown CS does not offer credit for AP or IB courses. Students with prior background can either take the placement exam for CSCI0190 (offered only during the summer) or take CSCI0150/0170 (the style of programming in CSCI0170 is sufficiently different from that used in AP that many students with prior experience find it rewarding). Students may not simply skip CSCI0150/CSCI0170 and start in the next course. 

Summary of the Courses


CSCI0020, offered in the fall, is for students who want an introduction to the use of computers that does not involve much programming. It is intended primarily for humanities concentrators and may not be used as part of a CS concentration. This course offers a broad view of the digital world and acquaints the student with a variety of applications and the underlying theory that drives them. Students can expect to get a broad perspective on computing history and future trends as it applies to many current day activities and issues.


This course, an Introduction to computation in the social sciences and humanities, introduces students to the use of computation for solving problems relevant to the humanities and social sciences. The course is broken down into a series of real-world problems taken from the news, from books such as Freakonomics, and from current research. For each problem, students discuss how one might actually test the hypothesis the problem poses using available data. Students then create and run experiments that actually perform such tests. Topics covered include data gathering, data analysis, web-based interfaces, security, algorithms, and scripting.  Preference is for students with no prior computer science background, though some familiarity with using computers, such as having created spreadsheets, is useful.

csci0040 (not offered 2019-2020)

CSCI0040, offered in the spring, is intended for students in engineering and the sciences who want to learn how to program (in a combination of MatLab and Python), but who do not necessarily want to be CS concentrators. Students will write a number of programs and complete several larger projects, all of which are STEM-focused. The course introduces problem solving techniques that guide the thinking necessary to construct a program as part of the solution. It may not be used as part of a CS concentration.


CSCI0100, offered in the fall, introduces students to computational techniques that data scientists use to tell stories. Data fluency encompasses each of data literacy, the basics of statistics and machine learning, and data communication, which relies heavily on principles of design. Students will gain hands on experience using statistical tools such as 'R' to analyze real world data sets, and 'ggplot' to visualize them. Sample application domains include just about every field, since the only requirement is data, which there almost always are (e.g., the complete works of Shakespeare is a sample data set).

csci0111 & csci0112

CSCI0111/0112/0113 is a three-course introductory sequence designed to provide students with more flexibility in exploring CS within their overall academic program. The first course focuses on data: how we program with it, sanity-check it, and organize it depending on the computational problem at hand. The course combines basic data science content (though not statistics) with core data structures and algorithms from CS. Students work in a combination of programming languages (Pyret and Python) to begin to learn how different programming tools are suited to different tasks. Collaboration is welcome on most assignments.

Direct questions to the professor: Kathi Fisler, kfisler@brown.edu.

csci0150 & csci0160

CSCI0150/0160 is a two-course sequence that emphasizes programming practice in the fall (0150) and theoretical foundations in the spring (0160). CSCI0150 is a challenging object-oriented programming course (using Java) in which students gain experience with object-oriented design techniques and the use of Java-FX, Java's 2D graphics library. Basic data structures (arrays, lists, stacks, queues, trees) are covered as well. Students will design and implement a sequence of moderate to fairly lengthy interactive programs, including Tetris, a fascinating computer game. All programs use graphical user interfaces. While the course uses games as a motivating domain, this is not a course in game design, and the techniques and skills learned are equally applicable across other domains.

In CSCI0160, students learn the theoretical tools used to analyze computation and make programs more efficient. A number of fundamental algorithms and data structures are covered, as well as their implementations. Programming is in Java and (some) Python.

Direct questions to the professors: Andy van Dam, avd@cs.brown.edu (CSCI015) or Seny Kamara, seny_kamara@brown.edu (CSCI0160).

csci0170 & csci0180

CSCI0170/1080 is a two-course sequence that integrates learning programming with learning the theoretical foundations of computer science. In the fall semester (0170), students learn how to break problems down into elegant and concise programs using functional programming (in Racket and ML). Functional languages have a gentle learning curve, while differing from the styles of programming that students typically see in high school. The course introduces both practical and theoretical techniques for assessing how well programs satisfy their requirements.

In the spring semester (0180), students learn additional key data structures and algorithms of computer science, while broadening their programming skills to include object-oriented programming (first in Java, then in Scala, a language which combines functional and object-oriented programming). Helping students learn to solve problems in multiple programming styles, and choose languages appropriate to a task, is one of the main goals of this sequence.

Direct questions to the professors: Philip Klein, klein@cs.brown.edu (CSCI017) or Kathi Fisler, kfisler@brown.edu (CSCI0180).


CSCI0190 is offered in the fall. It compresses much of the first year curriculum into a single semester by spending significantly less time on fundamentals of programming. Students cannot enroll directly into CSCI0190; instead they must qualify for it by taking a placement exam administered the summer before. (The placement is self-contained, so even students with no prior computing background are welcome to try it out.) Additional information is available on the CSCI 0190 home page.

Taking CS0190 does not reduce the total number of courses that a student must take for a CS concentration. Students will take an additional course (of their choosing) to act as the second course of their introductory sequence. Many students go on to take CS0180 after CS0190, especially if they did not have a strong grounding in object-oriented programming prior to starting at Brown.

Direct questions to the professor: Shriram Krishnamurthi, sk@cs.brown.edu.