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MIT student blogger Jess K. '10

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.”

43 responses to “A Blog Entry About Transition”

  1. Craig says:

    Probably the best lead in paragraph for a Blog entry I’ve ever read. I’m still smiling. Thanks.

  2. debbie says:

    haha. thats just awesome. i loved the entry. it made me laugh. again and again. thanks for some pretty great advice, even if it was ‘subtle.’

  3. Christina says:


    PS are you coming to Matt’s tonight? PLS COME. I am missing The Bachelor *AND* The Hills for it.

  4. Charlotte says:

    This is the first post but also the post with no substance. So what’s the big deal about first posts?

  5. Paul ('11) says:

    Hey Jess,

    You should write a book. I’d buy it. smile

    No, in all seriousness, your entry really was great – and it’s actually kind of funny, because I was just talking about some of the same things with my older sister (a junior at Notre Dame – not quite Harvard, but it works for her :D), and your entry fit into all that perfectly.

    Anyway, you talked a little about not getting through it alone – and while I have no doubt that’s true, I was hoping you could share some of your own perspectives on working alone vs. working in groups, especially as a freshman?

    (I just realized that I wrote two paragraphs that consist of one sentence each. Mea culpa.)

  6. Vytautas says:

    I spent about 10 minutes reading this entry. I could have learned a lot of new thing or written a few dozens lines of code, but I’m happy. This entry makes me to rethink my high school studying habits(I haven’t seen any college preparatory courses in any nearby school). Maybe I’ll actually start WORKING on problems instead of saying that I’m working.

  7. Liane says:

    Hey, I got ur cell number from ur mom and am gonna call u tomorrow—I’m comin’ for CPW! Hopefully I’ll get to see you sometime! =) Perhaps I’ll bring some Lion King songs….

  8. Teresa ('11) says:

    What do you mean, your AP Chem teacher fell short?! I’m 4’9″ and will be lucky to grow another inch in my life! raspberry

  9. Larry V says:

    Blah, study habits… I still haven’t gotten my study habits fixed. For instance, instead of sleeping, I’m currently sitting in the Athena cluster in the basement of building 66, reading blog posts. T_T

  10. I am doing finl year of A levels at Maru a Pula school, one of the oldest schools here in Gaborone, Botswana.

    There are around 20 students in my year and about six hundered in my school – which is a private secondary school.

    The atmosphere at MAP is very relaxed with no uniform for A level students.

    Students and teachers share a very unique and friendly relationship at map and there is always something happening at Maitisong – our school hall/ theatre, from school functions to shows by acclaimed artists from around the world. ( a couple of weeks ago I watched a piece of contemporary french dance- it was amazing)

    thats a bit about my school

    Ankit Chandra
    Gaborone, Botswana

  11. Daniel '12 says:


    Great post! I agree with Paul, let’s hear more about working together vs. going it alone… I think very few of us are used to asking for help on a regular basis. That horse is smart…

  12. Michael says:

    hmm… very interesting. I personally want to take AP classes just for the fact that I love to be challenged. I succeed much better under the crunch then with tons of free time. But I definitely see what you mean. I personally am only taking the AP classes I think I will enjoy. I am not going to take one’s just for the sake of taking them because then you don’t learn how to absorb the material. Thank you for this EXTREMELY insightful blog posting. I will definitely take it into consideration seeing as I am only a high school sophmore and all the AP’s start next year.


  13. Snively says:

    lol, Teresa. I was going to try to find a subtle way of asking how tall you were because when I first met you I was quite startled. I was gonna guess five nothing, but 4’9″ is actually quite impressive!

    Also, JKim, um, you used a rolly backpack? There are some things that just shouldn’t have wheels on them. One is a backpack. Another is a pair of shoes.

  14. Ying Wei says:

    Thanks for sharing your high school story with us, Jess

    Here is mine:

    I come from a private high school of 7000++
    graduating class of 1000++
    class size of 45~50
    teachers seldom use microphone, classrooms are small ,no air conditioners ,strange administration system and only three labs ( one bio, one chem and one physics )(amazing huh?)My school dun offer AP ,and the great academic opportunities are not too much

    although i am not a super freakin genius, not an Olympiad medallist, no ISEF, no RSI, no AP Scholar
    i always try to think and deduce answers by myself before i go to ask for other’s help
    i always seek for chances by myself, such as international science camp, academic competitions, science talks , etc…
    i prefer cooperation rather than competition, and i cherish friendship and familyship
    my dream is to become a biologist and help others as much as i can
    i am always eager to try new thing which i think it is worth a try

    all of these really makes me feel that i have certain degree of match with MIT
    MIT is my first choice dream school
    i know i stand very little chance of getting in, but i really wanna give it a try…

  15. milena '11 says:

    Hahahaha I loved the blog idea horse thing lol

    Please keep ’em coming!! Did you (or any of the bloggers) go to Interphase? If so, could you/any of them write about it? thanks!

  16. Melissa '11 says:

    I’m coming from a school with a class of 200 each. That worries me – I don’t know what it’ll be like to be in a class where I don’t know everyone’s name, and not everyone knows mine! And the whole finding friends, being without family, all that… I’m worried =( Do teachers even know your name?

  17. Melissa '11 says:

    I’m coming from a school with a class of 200 each. That worries me – I don’t know what it’ll be like to be in a class where I don’t know everyone’s name, and not everyone knows mine! And the whole finding friends, being without family, all that… I’m worried =( Do teachers even know your name?

  18. Melissa '11 says:

    Sorry about the double post.

    Forgot to add: can’t have rolling bags at my school. We’re built on a hillside. Rolling bags are essentially useless =)

  19. TUBETUBETUBE says:

    Ok this has nothing to do with this particular blog (which was really really good btw): did anyone else who was admitted NOT yet get one of those fabled MIT tubes in the mail yet?

  20. Paul ('11) says:

    Your school sounds like mine, Melissa – there’s only going to be 190 kids in my graduating class, but that’s what I get for going to a small Catholic school in northern Indiana. :D

    To try and answer your question, from my own secondhand experience of college – yes, some of your professors won’t know your name. But that’s simply the way college is, with so many kids taking the same classes, year after year – it’d be impossible for anyone to form a meaningful relationship with them (yes, even at MIT).

    I think that’s only part of the reason, though. Throughout most of high school, it wasn’t that hard to know your teachers, and vice versa. You remember those neatly-arranged seating charts? They didn’t just (attempt to) keep the class orderly, they helped the teachers know your name. Of course, your high-school teachers also had to know who was who, mainly to fill out those stupid little attendance sheets that supposedly kept track of where everyone was at all times. (Of course, your teachers probably knew who you were anyway because you were the one who kept blowing the curve on their tests.)

    In college, all that changes. Those little attendance sheets don’t matter so much anymore. If you skip class, no angry MIT attendance minion is going to hunt you down and force you back to class. (More likely, you’ll fail the next p-set. Which is probably worse, actually.)

    And your profs, unlike your high-school teachers, don’t have to know who you are. Some of them will simply lecture at you for an hour (and they will probably be amazing lectures, at that), and then they’ll take off to go stop global warming or cure cancer or whatever it is MIT profs do in their spare time. But that’s not to say they don’t want to know who you are – they simply don’t have the time to get to know every single Joe or Jane Genius that shows up to their class. Essentially, what I think we’re going to find in college is that the burden of starting any kind of student-teacher relationship will be on us, not them.

    If you ask questions in class, if you go to your profs’ office hours…then, without a doubt, they will get to know your name. You may even end up having a very friendly, amicable relationship with them. (Grad-school recommendations, anybody?) But if you allow yourself to just sit in the back of 8.012 or whatever, it’s probably not going to happen.

  21. Myriad of ?s says:

    I have so many questions after each one of your entries, I don’t even know where to start. Mostly, I just want to know, how are you doing in your first year at MIT? *coughdidyouactuallyhavetousepass/norecordcough* Second, how stressed are you? Being at MIT, I imagine a student is surrounded by mathematical, scientific, WHATEVER geniuses; people (including my parents) warn me about the difficulty of learning in an environment where everyone is so fast-paced, intense, and QUICK-THINKING.

    Point blank: how much of a jolt has MIT given you academically speaking?

    Thanks for answering.

    P.S. How curved is the average course grade?

  22. Eliza says:

    I read all of the blogs nearly religiously, but the quirky and yet earnest manner in which you write (particularly this entry) more than warranted my first comment on any blog. Essentially, I think you’re absolutely adorable, and I laughed for a good while at your blog idea horse.

    Thank you for taking the time to prepare us and excite us. (Speaking of excitement, I can’t wait for CPW!)

  23. Robin says:

    I really like that last sentence.

  24. Scott '10 says:

    > P.S. How curved is the average course grade?

    It varies. A lot.

    For example, the average grade on my last 7.013 (introductory biology) exam was in the mid-eighties–probably a lot like what you remember from high school. 3.091 (solid state chemistry) tests were the same way; a significant fraction of the class would get perfect scores, or close to it.

    In contrast, there was one VERY memorable exam last fall in 8.012 (the more difficult mechanics class) where the average was somewhere around 40%.

    In general, the latter is much more meaningful–if you look at the grade distribution, you see a nice, symmetric bell curve. This is a good thing. In a class where the grades are bunched together at the top of the spectrum, it’s really hard to tell who _really_ understands what’s going on.

    (On that 8.012 test, it turned out that if you did better than one standard dev. below average, you got a C. On pass/no-record, that’s all we cared about.)

  25. Jess says:

    Tubes only go to the early admits. If you should’ve gotten a tube, you should’ve gotten one by now!

    Eliza, you are a cool lady.

    You too, Robin.

    Other dudes and dudettes – I will answer your questions soon! If you didn’t give me an email to write back to, I probably didn’t send you an email – those that did I tried to write back personally. But your time will come!

  26. Michael says:

    I love how this thread has turned into people griping about their height… I’m 6 ft and waitlisted. Believe me, I would trade a few inches for an acceptance any day…. grin

  27. Fangfei says:

    *sigh* The Chinese school I attend is filled with kids rolling around with such shoes. I suppose I only see the shoes there because that’s the only setting where many little kids congregate. Anyway…

    I considered my BC Calc teacher to be phenomenal–at least in the high school AP teacher context. She taught us the material so well and so thoroughly, and she manages to get every single one of her students through with a 5 on the exam every year. But much of the material is spoon-fed to us in class, to some extent. So I wonder how next year will shape up with calculus… still, I’m excited to take whichever 18.02 course I decide on!

  28. Teresa says:

    Five nothing would be wonderful!

    It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. I may be small, but six years of martial arts and a black belt say don’t mess with me if you value anything within 4’9″ of the ground. wink

  29. Jillian says:

    They give you partial credit on MIT exams?? Yay!

  30. Drew H says:


    I have to agree with you on the AP classes in high school not being like college, at least as you describe it. My high school is a lot like yours was, 2000+ students, class of 600, and Bay Area to boot! (Yay!) My AP teachers are pretty relaxed; my Calc BC / Phys C class is something like a cross between college and kindergarten — we do cramming for midterms and then make things like construction paper Valentine’s Day mailboxes or Pi Day decorations. From what I’m hearing from your blog and others, I think college will be like that except the fun time will be in the dorms with other crazy college kids.

    Sounds exciting! I hope to get in next year for the class of ’12!

  31. Sila says:

    Hey Jess!

    You and your fellow bloggers are almost like rockstars now. That should be pretty awesome, right? =) But, of course, you guys deserve all the admiration you receive because your blogs are wonderful. Honestly.

    By the way, I have a question. How good are the social departments at MIT? And, at the risk of sounding like a complete idiot, I have to ask: do people always talk about science at MIT? I mean, obviously it IS the institute of “technology”, but are people socially aware,m for example? Are there people strongly interested in the arts, politics and literature?

    Thanks a lot.

  32. Irena says:

    Howdy! I’m a little concerned about MIT’s degree of toughness…is it possible, once one has established effective study habits, to maintain decent grades with time to do other things besides study? And I got the impression (somehow) that despite the scary workload, you guys find some fun/enjoyment in the work and what you’re learning. Is that true? (I dearly hope it is…)

  33. Vytautas says:

    Hau, Sila, you should check this link:

  34. Vytautas says:

    Hau, Sila, you should check this link:

  35. Kyle J says:

    Hi, Jess,

    You are lucky to have AP teachers at high school to spoon feed you. My Physics AP teachers is a long-term sub teacher, ummm, up to this point, the seventh month already, who always guiltily asks the help from a smart GIRL in that AP Physics class to TEACH us. (I AM NOT SURE IF IT IS THE SUB TEACHER TEACHING US OR THAT SMART GIRL TEACHINGI HIM AND US, THE 8 BOYS AND ANOTHER GIRL IN THE CLASS. And sorry to say, that smart girl does not know better than the rest of us.) I would die to have an AP teacher to spoonfeed me at this time, especially when thinking that Collegeboard AP test is NEXT MONTH. Can you see I am pulling my hair at this moment?

  36. Nina says:

    Oh, Jess. I adore you.

    “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.”


    Reading your entries kind of alleviates the pain of losing my own journalley record of my first few years at MIT. ‘Cause I’ll tell ya, I DID write a novel. But you reminded me of a novel’s worth of stuff in this very thoughtful post.

    (I’m also glad to hear that you and your friends are seemingly so focused on learning. I don’t remember having that impression. This is what happens when your roommate is a premed. WAIT A MINUTE ….)

  37. Tina '11 says:

    Yeah, I’ve been concerned about the degree to which AP courses truly prepare you for college…in our school system, they have open enrollment for AP courses, so anyone and their brother can sign up, whether they are prepared to take them or not, and consequently the class gets watered down because over 50% of the class truly shouldn’t be in AP. It’s extremely frustrating…last year in my AP World History class, we were slowed down so much by people who came in not even knowing how to write a coherent paragraph with a thesis statement that with three weeks until the AP test, we had 13 chapters left to go in the book. And unfortunately, I had so many other tests to study for that I just didn’t have time to pick up the slack, and ugh, needless to say, I didn’t do well on that test. Which I know is probably my fault, as I should have tried harder all along instead of waiting for the teacher to assign the next chapter, but it was extremely frustrating.

    But I know in my school, anyway, the administration looks at nothing but AP enrollment, and thus they don’t care about how well students do in the class, but only how many students are in the class. It’s quite sad, really, and I am SOOOO excited that college is not going to be like that!

    And Kyle, you have my full sympathy: in my AP Physics B class, the teacher essentially said “Okay, you guys are on your own now” after the first semester, so we’ve had to teach ourselves the material and take his tests, and now like none of us have signed up for the AP tests because we don’t know anything about phsyics lol. But I commend you for being brave and taking the test!!! Good luck!!!

  38. Kyle J says:

    Hi, Tina,

    Do you know I have foreknown the result of my AP Physics C test even now? I am not going to make it even though I still dream I will be doing it well out of pure luck. AP Physics C actually is “two” tests and THEY made my parents pay $53 + $53 to register for this/these test/s. This is my thought– since our school offers only AP Physics AB with a long-term sub and by no means will I do well on the BC test, which counts only “ONE” test according to college board and charges my parents only $53 for it, I will simply go ahead to take the “C” test and see how well the “SMART” girl in my AP Physics AB class and myself have taught me for the “C” test. It sounds like a joke, but no no no no, it is not a joke to me at all. I have been long forced to teach myself some other 4 or 5 AP courses since junior year, and I have done some of them pretty darn well at AP tests last year and I guess some of the good scores actually have helped MIT admissions officers decide to give me the admission through EA. AP courses have become to me a test stone to show myself I, even though not able or capable enough at first, have to struggle and eventually find a way to master something by myself through only the help from myself and/or from the “SMART” girl. For example, I know MIT will not give credit to AP Chemistry or AP Biology. I have still studied my own way through and paid $106 for these two tests next month already. I don’t need MIT’s recognition to bring myself through these two courses and the AP tests. I just want to know how well or how poorly I have tried to teach myself these two courses, which I don’t take at school because of schedule conflict this year. Self teaching or self learning has been a huge part of my high school education, and I have to admit that I “LOVE” it. It is a biggest pleasure to me. Who cares about the test results? MIT does or doesn’t. I DON’T as long as I am learning it through success or failure. I know MIT will turn me on to a new chapter this fall. I just cannot wait to “FORSAKE” my self learning task a little bit.

  39. Anonymous says:

    Kyle J, that sounds bad, but at least your school offers AP courses. I am an international student and most teachers at my school don’t even know what AP is. I have no idea I am going to deal with my AP exams next month. And, stop pulling your hair. I’ve tried that, and that is one thing that sucks more than a terrible AP teacher or no AP teacher at all.

  40. Sila says:

    Thanks Vytautas! =)

  41. Amirah says:

    Haha, Paul. “Your school sounds like mine, Melissa – there’s only going to be 190 kids in my graduating class.”

    There are going to be between 20 and 30 in mine. At the moment, there are 60 in my grade.After this year, (and the completion of British GCSEs), half the grade is flying away to boarding school or whatever. I love my school, it’s awesome knowing everyone in your grade as well as most of the juniors and seniors. Though I think I’m going to be the only one in A-Level French…

  42. Katie K. says:

    Jess, I just want to say that I LOVE your blog. Your narration is funny and informative at the same time — so awesome!

    Also, the topic was very enlightening…I’ve been worrying about the college transition lately.

    MIT seems like an amazing school, and I am thinking about applying next year (if you apply RA, does your hypothetical acceptance letter come in an envelope instead of a tube?) I am a bit concerned about being able to succeed at MIT though…I am not a genius by any means. Is genius necessary to survive (or thrive) at MIT?

    Also, I can’t believe that your school offered 30 AP courses…my Midwest school has 7 true APs (restricted to juniors and seniors only) and I’m not even going to be able to take all of them. Yikes!