Dear Members of the Class of 2022,
It’s been an absolute pleasure to interact with you over the past six months, starting with all your wonderful questions and comments at the Early Action webcast. I’ve enjoyed getting to know you online and in person, and I have loved your memes and inside jokes. Now that I’m leaving the Institute, I feel confident that it’s in good hands with y’all.
Before I met you, one chilly autumn night at around 4am, I sat down to finally write down all the thoughts and pieces of advice I’ve accumulated over my time here. I was somewhat inspired by Ben Jones’ legendary 50 Things post (which you should totally read!), but also by the Class of 2021’s struggles to adjust to the Institute. This post, of course, won’t make things easy for you, but I hope that some of these thoughts can help, even a little bit.
As you submit your first MIT forms and choices, I wish you the best of luck. Please reach out if you have any questions. Also, I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of the points below, even if they come when you are all crusty, jaded seniors like me. Stay in touch, friends.
- Talk to upperclassmen. They are your foremost resource on “how to MIT.” Actually get to know us—first impressions aren’t always right, especially in nerd school.
- Everyone here has something to offer and something to learn—it’s how every class year gets built by Admissions. In my freshman year 8.01 Physics I, my two groupmates would compete over the marker during group problem-solving time. They would compete over who has already done more of the problems. At first, I’d stand behind them and learn little. But as the semester went on, I realized that I could do algebra better than they did! So I became the person they’d call on midway to simplify their expressions, and I learned physics, as well as an important lesson. Remember to acknowledge both your knowledge and ignorance.
- My theory is that, at MIT, especially in the first year, people feel like either “a shit” or “the shit.” But the first year at MIT is a great equalizer. If you fall under either of the categories, brace yourself for lift-off or landing.
- Get to know your professors and UROP mentors. The best way to treat the Impostor Syndrome for me was to sit in on my UROP office’s meetings. I listened with awe at the mentors around me discussing all the things that went into opening a new school. And I realized how little every single student around me knows compared to experts with years of experience. It was inspiring and freeing.
- Your Pass/No Record freshman fall grades are not predictors of future performance.
- Your first exam grades are not predictors of your performance in the class. Whether you get 91% or 20% on your first exam (and I’ve gotten both), things may still change dramatically during the course of the semester. Don’t panic, don’t procrastinate—I believe in you.
- The cut-off for an A might be 90%, or 70%, or lower, or higher, depending on the class. Don’t panic when you first see your grade. And rewire your brain to not think a low number means failure.
- It gets better after the GIRs. For many, if not most, the General Institute Requirements are the hardest classes at MIT. It gets better when you start taking classes in your major that you enjoy (if it doesn’t get better, switch majors).
- Try a class in your area of interest before declaring a major. Once you declare a major at the end of freshman year, continue to take classes outside of your department. MIT has grading options such as Sophomore Exploratory or Junior/Senior P/D/F designed just for that.
- Use MIT support services such as S^3 or MIT Mental Health. You matter. You are not taking up too much of their time. Your problem is not less valid than someone else’s. And, lastly, you’ve paid for them, so make the most of your tuition. Besides, when else can you get completely free support and counseling?
- Make as many friends as possible during Residence Exploration and Freshman Orientation. That’s when people are most receptive to meeting each other. Disclaimer: I didn’t do that, and though I wish I’d branched out more before the start of classes, I have made the most wonderful friends at the Institute.
- Figure out how you study best: with or without people, music, or regular breaks, the night or the week before, with the help of practice problems or class notes, in the morning, evening, or night, outside or inside your room, on- or off-campus, etc. Do that, and don’t feel like there is a right choice. For example, practice exams just don’t do it for me, but reading through class notes the night before a morning exam does. Despite what my 9.01 Intro to Neuroscience professor claims is right for the brain. Also, know when to stop studying. At some point, it’s just more efficient to sleep.
- Sleep, not nap. Your body will get used to napping every day, and that’s a nuisance.
- Get off campus as much as possible. You’re living in one of the most fascinating areas in the United States. And you can get student discounts to performances, movies, museums, etc.
- Follow the November Rule: do not engage in romantic or sexual relations with upperclassmen before November 1st. Trust me, it’s for your own good. We want you to establish your own friend and support group before you get pulled into another person’s. In fact, try not to date anyone before November.
- As the East Campus Head of House says, do not move at 90 mph when you get here. I think he means not to rush into “adult” things when it’s “college no parents.” Don’t feel the pressure to get into relationships, have sex, drink, or otherwise lose your purity points. It’ll suck, and it’s not as cool as you think. Pace yourselves.
- Don’t listen to other freshmen when making your choices at MIT: choices around classes, dorms, majors, etc. Relatedly, listen to, but don’t be like the upperclassmen.
- Learn to cook now, while there are people around to help you. Try to do this even if you’re on a meal plan.
- Make a resume early, if you haven’t already. The MIT GECD office will help you craft the best resume possible. Go to Career Fair, even if you feel like there’s no hope for employment. The value of your high school experiences might surprise you.
- Get a job before you go broke in the spring. There are a range of positions for different levels of effort. You could get a UROP for pay, even as a frosh, or work at desk in your dorm and do your work while you’re at it. You could teach SAT Prep with ATI or tutor GIRs with the OME. You could do Tech Callers and call alumni for donations. There is a range of things freshmen can do on campus—don’t give up hope.
- It’s ok to stay on campus over Thanksgiving. You can have a feast with your friends—more people stay over than you think.
- Invite your friends and neighbors into your life. Before you catch up on a popular TV show, get ice cream off-campus, or go out for a local concert, email out to see if anyone wants to join. Someone probably will. Relatedly, join people on outings when they email out.
- Take walks. Finish your PE classes. Use the free gyms and swimming pools. The freshman 15+ suck (although you shouldn’t feel guilty about them either).
- Find all the free stuff. Sign up for the reuse and free-food mailing lists. Go to Choose to Reuse events, and various on-campus fairs (my favorite is the Wellness Fair). Use MIT Medical and Mental Health as needed (almost all the services done in-house at Medical, now including birth control, are completely free). Off-campus, find out which museums offer free admission to students. You can even get a free Costco card for a day from the Institute.
- Go out to nature. I wish I’d done that more.
- Remain curious, even when life is hard. Attend lots of on-campus events while on Pass/No Record. Try to sign up for classes that require you to do that (I highly recommend 24.191 in the spring!). Follow the news and engage with friends about current events. Don’t let yourself settle in the bubble.
- Learn to be alone and enjoy it. Take yourself out for a nice dinner sometimes, or a cool place off-campus. There is almost nothing you can’t do by yourself. And you can’t be with someone until you can be alone.
- You will not be able to handle unlimited all-nighters. Most of my friends have fucked up their sleep schedules freshman year, and are now exhausted. Your body has a limited supply of energy, so try to use it wisely.
- Be prepared to study on your own, a lot. MIT classes often suffer from the Problem Set-Lecture Divergence Phenomenon. What that means is, in Lecture, you might learn parts of the cell, and in the following Problem Set, you might be required to cure a genetic disease. I am not exaggerating.
- For GIRs, ask around before you buy the textbooks. I’ve gotten all of mine from either my floor or the upperclassmen on my floor. The nice thing about GIRs is that we’ve all been through at least one.
- Don’t be intimidated by late-night discussions. We would love your input.
- Expect to change. Being prepared in college is way better than being decided.
- Come to your friends’ student group performances.
- In your freshman year, trying new things is a lot less awkward. So audition for a play, dance group, a capella group, or something else you’ve never tried. Here, it’s ok.
- Join pset parties sometimes even if you study best alone. Consider it “networking,” if you want, and that’s an essential skill.
- Make your room nice, even if you know you’ll move next year. Buy a poster or tapestry. Paint your room, if you can. Build a loft or shelf, if you can. Bring a stuffed toy or photographs from home—I promise it won’t look childish.
- Communicate with your roommate. Don’t let the bitterness accumulate. Discuss things like sleep, relationships, noise and cleanliness right away. I know it’s hard, but it’s an important skill, and it’s so worth it in the end. Even if you know you’ll move next year.
- Do laundry often. Get into a rhythm. I’m speaking as someone who didn’t do that, and someone who regrets it.
- Buy sweatpants, not nice jeans.
- Recognize and deal with MIT privilege early. Outside the bubble, things are very different. Remember how much you have.
- Buy tickets home early if you live far away.
- Try to keep a plant alive. Bamboo is a good option—it doesn’t require light. But try something more demanding as well—taking care of another will get you out of bed for sure.
- Don’t worry about memorizing department and building numbers, or relevant acronyms in advance. You’ll get caught up pretty quickly once you arrive.
- When you’ve been here for at least one semester, try to teach someone what you’ve learned. It might not feel that you learned anything from the firehose, but teaching is a way to recognize that’s false.
- Do not feel bad asking peers for help. We’ve all needed it at some point. And you can give back later.
- Learn at least some programming. It’s a magical skill. That said, you’ll probably be required to do it in your major anyway (even a social science major like Poli Sci).
- Be realistic about high school long-distance relationships. They’re possible if you see a future together. But don’t feel the pressure to stay by default. It’ll take a lot of communication to get through, so make sure you can do it with the person.
- Hallcest is banned. Do not hook up or date someone from your living area. That’s pretty self-explanatory, I hope.
- Find the type of “relationship” that works best for you, whether it’s an open, monogamous, or polyamorous arrangement, friends with benefits, casual hook-ups, or nothing at all. MIT in general exerts less pressure to have a specific sort of “relationship,” so don’t feel like there’s one right way to do things.
- Your relationship with your parents will change. It can be scary or liberating. Either way, try to call them at least once a week if you’re in a good place. If not, call someone from back home. Your roots will continue to influence your life in college.
- Get involved in your living community: attend events with them, invite them out, help with cleaning or cooking, or just hang around and talk. MIT’s residential system is too special to miss out on “local” experiences.