Skip to content ↓
MIT student blogger Chris S. '11

A HASS[le-free] Semester by Chris S. '11

Stay for the videos!

I took four HASS classes this semester.

What, stop looking at me like that. .______.

I realized that I’m very capable of taking four HASS classes, but not capable of taking four science classes (friend: “why are you at MIT?”). But, I do feel that the HASS department is MIT’s hidden jewel that no one ever talks about.

For reference, my four HASS classes were: Introduction to Art History, Rhetoric (a different version from the one that lulu took), Japanese III, and Macroeconomics (14.02 – falls under the “Social Science” category of HASS).

Ironically, at the end of this semester I would have completed my HASS requirements for graduation (3 HASS Distribution courses, 5 HASS electives) as well, but I’ve only taken one course other than the GIRs in my major (7.03). Is there an “Eclectic Humanities Courses” major? =p

Anyways. I won’t bore you by speaking at length about each class, although I do want to write about a few things about MIT HASS (by the way, it stands for Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences).

Pet Peeve: HASS classes do not guarantee automatic As.

“How many classes are you taking?”
“5 – but 4 of them are HASS classes.”
“Wow, you must be getting a 5.0 this term!”


HASS classes, despite the common perception that they’re automatic A courses, are not breeze-through classes here either. True, classes like 14.02 are curved a lot better than the science courses, and if you stay some distance above the average you should be getting an A, but HASS classes aren’t all fun and games either. In writing classes, there are essays to write, speeches to give, and presentations to make. In Japanese classes, there are texts to memorize, drills to practice, and grammar to study. In Art History, there are dates to recall, names to remember, and paintings to scrutinize….I can go on and on.

The most enjoyable thing about HASS then, in my opinion, is that it’s so wonderfully different from the science classes. Gone are the formulaic problem sets and exams (with the exception of Economics – which functions like a science class, but with a better grade distribution). In its stead, we have essays, presentations, and discussions. I’ve always enjoyed writing essays more here than doing problem sets, as I love the freedom of expression and the absence of a “right answer.” In some regards, I was considering a LAC when I applied to colleges, but I also love the rigors of science, which I grew up with, and that’s why I ultimately decided to come to MIT.

The HASS requirement is not hard to understand.

Before you graduate, you will need to take 8 HASS classes. At MIT, HASS classes are broken down into two categories – HASS-D (stands for HASS Distribution, and are classes that are supposed to be representative of their respective HASS categories (there are 5 categories, not including Language) and HASS Elective (HASS classes that are not HASS-Ds)). Within these HASS classes, you will also need to take two CI-H (Communication Intensive) classes – which basically are classes where you will need to be writing more essays and giving oral presentations in.

Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is that you need a HASS Concentration within your HASS classes. The Concentration is a series of 3 (or 4) classes in the same HASS field of study. It’s designed to be a counterpoint to HASS-Ds, in providing more depth instead of breadth. You can concentrate in a variety of things – Language, Economics, Anthropology, History, Music…(see here).

Honestly, this sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. This is a list of the HASS classes I have taken up to this term and hopefully it’ll give you an idea of how the HASS requirement works:

4.601Introduction to Art HistoryHASS-D, Category 3 “Visual and Performing Arts”
14.01MicroeconomicsHASS Elective – counts for Economics Concen.MacroeconomicsHASS Elective – counts for Economics Concen.American Foreign PolicyHASS-D, Category 4 “Cultural and Social Studies,” CI-HJapanese IIIHASS Elective (or HASS-D: Language)Spanish II – in Madrid!HASS Elective, counts for Spanish Concen.Spanish IIIHASS Elective (or HASS-D: Language), counts for Spanish Concen.RhetoricHASS-D, Category 2 “Language, Thought, and Value,” CI-H

14.02 17.40 21F.503 21F.782 21F.703 21W.747

And aside from the HASS Concentration, that’s a valid combination of HASS classes for graduation!

Note that I can either concentrate in Economics (have to take another class in Econ), Spanish (have to take Spanish IV), or even Japanese (have to take Japanese IV and another Japanese class). It’s also not difficult to find a set of classes to concentrate in. :)

Foreign Language classes at MIT are awesome.

This brings me to another point. Foreign Language classes are MIT are SO COOL!! :)

Although MIT only teaches 5 languages (Spanish, French, German, Chinese, and Japanese – Italian during IAP), I’ve realized (after having taken 3 classes in 21F) that MIT actually has a really high quality of foreign language instruction.

For one thing, one of the primary focuses is placed on teaching you to SPEAK, rather than just read/write (which is the default in most language classes). This is especially true in Japanese, which I started taking this semester.

For example, Japanese classes here utilize huge scenarios each class in which students are consistently asked to play the parts of different people, to ask for information, to make telephone calls – with often the entire class consisting of one extended storyline. The benefits of such language instruction is that it tries to mimic real life as much as possible, and you’re not asked to provide standard responses to standard drill questions in the textbook (which is present in my language classes before MIT). What’s even more intriguing is that the sly teachers incorporate the grammar, vocabulary, and drills that you’re supposed to be learning into the scenario itself, so you still practice the essentials of the lesson in a very natural manner.

Although Spanish classes here are also focused on interaction, I found the Japanese model of teaching here to be the most unique approach to language courses that I’ve experienced. It should be of no surprise to you that course 21F (foreign languages and literature) consistently receives the highest student ratings across all departments :)

Try it if you come! Don’t just always cross-reg at Harvard because they have all the cool languages – there’s already a wealth of amazing classes to be found here :)

Summarize your four HASS classes, in a non-boring way?

Sure! (please note videos, aside from the nominal subject matter, does not have to do with actual course content and are provided for your entertainment – the course description, however, is accurate) =p

14.02 – Macroeconomics

Introduction to Macroeconomics, including macroeconomic data, Solow model of growth, money supply, aggregate demand (IS-LM), aggregate supply, labor markets, growth accounting, investment, consumption, and of course, discussions about the current financial crisis. Six problem sets and three exams assigned. No final.

4.601 – Intro to Art History

Comprehensive survey of the history of visual art, beginning from the Renaissance and continuing into the Modern Art of the 1960’s. Leading artists, representative works, and motifs from each representative period are discussed. Includes two field trips to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts – one mandatory to write the first paper, the second as a recitation trip. Three papers, one midterm, and one final assigned. Memorization of the dates, names, and artists of key works and an understanding of the artistic trends over history required to do well in the course.

If you’re ambitious, youtube “Andy Warhol Hamburger” or “Andy Warhol Empire.”

21F.503 – Japanese III

Intermediate Japanese I, meets four days a week for one hour. Utilizes creative scenarios that places a heavy emphasis on the verbal usage of Japanese. Memorization of “core conversations” (or short dialogues) and vocabulary required. Periodic writing assignments and exams (includes “interview exams” – or oral exams) assigned.

Props to people who know what the salt at the end of the video is actually for! :)

21W.747.1 – Rhetoric (more specifically, Modern Political Rhetoric)

Emphasizes modern political rhetoric through the discussion of the 2008 United States Presidential, Senatorial, and State Elections. Key speeches given by both the Obama and McCain campaigns analyzed. Television political advertisements, web content, and other forms of political persuasion (e.g. Saturday Night Live satire) discussed. Three major papers with an oral presentation assigned.

32 responses to “A HASS[le-free] Semester”

  1. Yan says:

    You can cross-register and take Latin at Harvard, I believe. I took Latin throughout high school and got excited when I found someone at WILG with a copy of Wheelock’s.

    @ Chris:

    Wow, I think I finally understand the HASS requirements. You’re amazing for taking completing eight HASSes in three semesters.

  2. Anonymous says:

    What the heck does Angelika think about what you’re doing? :p

    Also, check out the “CookingWithDog” YouTube channel (it’s not about what it sounds like) for awesome Japanese cooking shorts!!

  3. Matt A. says:

    I love how idiotic the economic mess sounds in layman’s terms.

    …and I’ll pass on the HASS overload.

  4. ρ says:

    Yay! Latin at MIT; that’s awesome. I wonder if there will full-on classroom discussions in Latin. I know that it is a dead language and not really used except for reading a writing, but at MIT…

  5. Anonymous says:






  6. Narce says:

    I love Japanese! It’s the foreign language I took in high school! (I had to Dual Enroll for it, but whatever. It was worth it)

  7. June says:

    I’m guessing that the Japanese video is a parody?? the repititions are hilarious.

    ..what is the actual purpose of the salt? (I tried googling but couldn’t find it)

    Your Spanish in Madrid looked like so much fun!

  8. Anon says:

    Any chance MIT will start offering Hebrew??

  9. Banerjee says:

    Hey Rhetoric sounds like a lot of fun!!

  10. sam says:

    I am really glad that someone addressed this subject. Do the level I and II foreign language classes also emphasize speaking over solely reading/writing?

  11. lala says:

    Is arabic offered anywhere close?

  12. Niki says:

    So I was thinking the salt was just to protect against ghosts (a custom found in Western cultures as well) but Googling turned up another interesting story.

  13. Oasis '11 says:

    @ Anonymous –

    Angelika is actually an amazing adviser. She’s really supportive of what I do and she pointed out – “you’re not in a rush to graduate, so take classes that you really enjoy!”

    @ June –

    (to everyone else that may be wondering)

    The Japanese video IS A PARODY, lol. People don’t actually use the sushi platter as shoes (although it does look like the wooden shoes they have in Japan). The video’s like 70% true (even the true things are exaggerated) and 30% false.

    @ Anon –

    You can cross-reg Hebrew at Harvard.

    @ Sam –

    Yes, even more so, since you hardly know much about the language and speaking is important. Something else I didn’t mention is that Spanish classes are conducted entirely in Spanish and 3/4 of your Japanese classes are conducted entirely in Japanese, beginning from level I. It’s quite a challenge to go in to the first day of a language class and there’s no English from the very beginning!

    @ Lala-

    You can take literally any common language you want at Harvard through cross-reg. As long as your language isn’t completely obscure, Harvard probably has it.

    (and I do know a couple people cross-reg’ed for Arabic at Harvard).

    @ About the salt –

    So the reason I knew was what Niki mentioned – to protect against evil spirits. The oxcart story is interesting though, lol.

  14. Phil says:

    eh. I thought the salt was for purification? O_o but lol hilarious video. Maa maa maa maa! oh toh toh toh xD.

  15. carmel ('11) says:

    @lala– i’m taking first-year arabic this year at harvard and it’s really fantastic. a LOT of nightly work, and getting there is sometimes more exercise than i’m in the mood for on a cold morning, but it’s worth it so far. next year, hopefully, the harvard and mit calendars will be synced and i won’t have to take my arabic final in the middle of iap like i do this year.

  16. YESSSS Prop 8 the Musical!! Oh, how I love thee, NPH. ;_;

    Chris, you remind me a lot of me? X) I mean, I like math and science too (leaning towards biology), and I was originally hell bent on going to a liberal arts college…that somehow taught engineering, I guess.

    How are things going for you now? What do Course 7 classes entail? Do you like your Course 7 classes more than your HASS classes, or do they vary?

  17. Nicole '10 says:

    yay, all my time hounding the MIT blogs when I should be psetting has finally amounted to something useful – I found out about Latin! That is so awesome! I took a year of Latin in high school, maybe in the fall I’ll take Latin II… it’ll be completely useless to me as a senior (and already done w/ the HASS requirement) but oh so much fun! *squee*

  18. deng says:

    haha, that japanese vid was so funny ^_^
    I want to learn japanese in college (of course… I want to learn korean, latin, and french as well… raspberry)

  19. ρ says:

    I’m kind of upset that MIT doesn’t offer Latin. :+(

  20. Anonymous says:

    FIRST! I still do not think that I could take that many HASS classes!

  21. Wiki Wiki says:


    and I love the last video

  22. altonet says:

    Haha the japanese video is so… ridiculous for lack of better words :p I think the protected species thing made me laugh the hardest.

    The strict emphasis on all kinds of manners is… quite in line with the culture though (however funny it may be) :p Thanks for posting this!

  23. lala says:



    אני גם ישראלי, למה אתה חושבת שאני רוצה ללמוד ערבית?
    ◊ê◊ô◊ü ◊§◊î ◊¢◊®◊ë◊ô◊™ ◊ë◊ê◊®◊î”◊ë

  24. Vaibhav says:

    Rhetoric sounds really interesting!!:D

  25. Vaibhav says:

    So is Rhetoric is the study of people’s way of speaking?
    I’ll be applying to MIT next yr. (RA – as an foreign applicant) What with all the people’s excitement about ’13 apps. I’m feeling quite anxious myself!! Any suggestions on what should I do to improve my MIT chances?

  26. Oasis '11 says:

    @ Ngozi –

    Hard to say, especially since I’ve only taken one biology class outside of GIRs (7.03). We’ll see how I feel about 7.03 after the final in a week and after getting grades XD

    I really love HASS classes and (this sounds bad, but…) the eclectic knowledge it offers. One of my primary goals in life is to be a person that knows a little bit about everything, no matter what the subject of conversation is. Thus, I love acquiring knowledge from all fields (and maybe that’s why my HASS classes are also pretty diverse – lol perhaps with the exception of language. i love foreign languages).

    @ Deng –

    Next, I want to learn French and Korean. I’m fully intending to take French I when I stop having scheduling conflicts!!

    (also I want to take Korean somewhere. It’s so sad that there’s probably going to be conflicts w/ Korean fall term next year *tear)

    @ Vaibhav –

    Aristotle: Rhetoric is the faculty of discovering in any particular case all of the available means of persuasion.

  27. elijahjt '11 says:


    Note that Arabic at Harvard (and some other intense language subjects there) is 15 credits / semester, rather than the typical 12 credits / semester. If you plan to take it freshman year, be sure to be mindful of your credit limit. You may also have to do some advance planning to ensure future semesters don’t conflict with classes you need to/want to take.

    And, yes, as Carmel said it’s tons of work… and the second year is even worse… But still rewarding (but still tons of work).

  28. You dropped 5.12! :( While you have a slight advantage for it in the spring, I’ve heard the profs are harder in the spring and more douchebaggy.