A Blog Entry About Transition by Jess K. '10
This blog entry is about transition. The act of passing from one state or place to the next, if you will.
So Matt got a question a few days ago requesting that we write about transition. And in one sentence, I’ve completely ruined your hope of being surprised at what this entry was about and where it came from. Er.. let’s start over. The other day this fabulous idea for a blog entry came from a piece of parchment lodged in the mouth of a dazzling, sparkling horse of sparkley sparkles flying through the sky, bearing the words “BLOG IDEA HORSE” painted on its side, but I’m not actually going to tell you what it is yet. Especially not that it’s about transition. Okay, I’m really not doing too well here. Forget that.
For four years, I attended a pretty standard public high school of 2,000+, graduating class of 620, class sizes of about 20-30. There was a club for everyone, and if there wasn’t you could start it – we had a Science Bowl, a Spanish Club, Future Physicians of America, and a National Honor Society. (I was publicity chair of the Math Club. I spent my four years trying to think of clever ways to fit “function” and “tensor” into the club emails.) Opportunities were everywhere, especially academically. AP classes were abundant – the school offered somewhere around 30 total – so I took as many as I could, as if the only way to succeed in life was to properly fill out your name and your AP Java teacher’s name on that useless green form that your mom later insisted you save for your four-year-old cousin to study. (Seriously, Mom; isn’t it a little early for Rachel to be learning about LIFO and FIFO?)
AP classes are supposed to be college-level classes, if you’ll remember waay back to going to that first AP introductory meeting as a scrawny rolling-backpack-wielding sophomore. (That WAS a long time ago, wasn’t it? You’re free to imagine me sitting in a rocking chair, spiderwebs from 4 B.C. winding around my creaking bones as I continue my tale.) “AP classes ARE college classes,” my AP teachers would profess grandly at those fantastically boring meetings, meetings of stale cookies and way too much paperwork. “You’ll have to study 10 hours a night, and don’t think you can take any more classes other than my class. You’ll have to carry this 80-pound textbook two miles to school and back, uphill, BOTH WAYS. And drop and give me 20 every morning. The weak will not survive here. But my class will help you transition into the world of COLLEGE!”
Generally speaking, though, this claim fell short, much like my AP Chem teacher. (No kidding; she was 4’10”.) Those “college-level” classes had a tendency to spoon-feed you the material, rather than let you study for yourself and draw conclusions that would later help you apply it to a testing situation. Worse, some of my classes simply went through the textbook, and not how to get anything of it. And those exams were like long, drawn-out marathons, when the typical exam I’ve taken thus far, at least at MIT, have been like sprints – scrambling to get one last bit of partial credit before your TA comes and yanks your paper from under your massively cramped hand.
By my senior year, it was pretty clear that the same type of kids were taking the same type of AP classes – we were your nerds, your work-a-holics, though a lot of us still had yet to develop proper study habits. We just knew how to work the system. One guy (a friend since kindergarten) would put everything off until the night before, 20 page research papers and two weeks’ worth of calculus homework notwithstanding, then crank through it in a night with a bowl of goldfish crackers and Conan O’Brien on in the background. (He’s now at Harvard.) Whatever works for you, works for you, right? Sadly, it’s not always going to be that easy, especially at MIT. Adapting my study habits was probably the hardest part of transitioning, for me, into a college environment – socially, they make it pretty easy since everywhere you go is littered with free food! AP classes also have more exams per semester than classes here, as well as lots of big projects and presentations to cushion your grade, while a typical a freshman class will have 3 exams in a semester, so there’s very little margin for error. Pass/no record is incredibly helpful.
I know a lot of you are super freakin’ geniuses out there – yeah, I’m talking to you, the 12-year old tutoring AP Physics C – but at MIT at least, even you will experience a time when you’ll have to figure out how YOU learn most effectively. Or maybe you already have, but have yet to experience doing a 37-page practice problem set of 42 problems – twice – because you really wanted to. Because YOU really wanted to know the material, whether or not you kicked butt on the exam. (That part’s the gravy!) MIT is a hard place – I can say that with confidence even after only having been here for six months, even after having been on pass/no record and taking “easy” freshman classes. But you might actually find yourself wanting to do the work, and it forces us nerds with crappy work ethic to sit down for several hours at a time and figure our way through our problem sets together. Even if we have to give up Conan.
Maybe you came from a school of only 5 AP classes, where you were the valedictorian of everything without studying or asking for help, ever. Maybe you went to a college prep school that motivated you exactly in the way you need to be motivated, and you’re more excited than scared to jump headfirst into your college education. Still, nobody really has it easy transitioning from high school to college, but the great thing about it, ESPECIALLY here at MIT, is that you get to meet so many crazy interesting people from amazingly diverse backgrounds, and you get to work with them up close. You get to complain to each other about how long you’ve been trying to make sense of the Hammond Postulate, or you get to explain the function of DNA topoisomerase to your course 6 roommate. You learn to ask for help yourself, and people are available and willing to give it to you. Nobody gets through it alone.
I could probably write a novel about the transition from high school to college – transitioning in terms of your relationship with your friends or your parents, in terms of learning the numbers for majors, in terms of FOOD – but it’s still happening for me; I’m still a freshman clawing her way through her first year, and I’m learning how to deal with all these changes just as you are. If you have a particular question or topic you’d like me to write about, ask! I’ll even try to be subtle about it. “We had a visit from the BLOG IDEA HORSE today! This one’s about friendshi- aw, crap.”