Skip to content ↓
MIT student blogger Rachel D. '16

Advice for the Incoming Froshies by Rachel D. '16

You've accepted your offer to MIT! Now what?

Congratulations to the incoming Class of 2018!  Each and every one of you is incredible, and I am so excited to see your happy faces light up the institute once again in the fall!

So now you’ve decided to go to MIT, but you haven’t paid a dime or picked a class yet. The biggest thing on your plate right now is figuring out when to take the Freshman Essay Evaluation (FEE) or which pre-orientation program to take.

Meanwhile, all your other friends are picking out their schedule for the fall. Some of them already know where they are living, and maybe they even entered a randomized lottery to get placed in their basic required classes that everyone else is getting placed in.  MIT is different from other schools.

I want to lay out some basics about what you might want or need to know about your freshmen year.  I’ve learned a lot through my own experiences from my first year at MIT, as well as through being an associate advisor my sophomore year.  Here is my advice! And also some descriptions of what will be required of you as a frosh.

Do a Freshman Pre-Orientation Program (FPOP)

The applications are due June 15th! SIGN UP FOR AN FPOP!! There is an awesome Mark Twain quote on the FPOP website:

“Twenty Years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream.”

– Mark Twain (1835-1910)

I think Mark Twain and MIT admissions painted the right picture for you – FPOPs are a great opportunity for you to do things outside of your comfort zone, and it also is the perfect way for you to start making friends that will last you your four years at MIT and beyond.  The FPOPs range from aerospace to computer science to energy to leadership to exercise to literature to product design and SO MUCH MORE! This year there are twenty-two FPOPs offered in August, and each one gives an amazing introduction to MIT and the beautiful city that surrounds us.

My experience includes doing the Freshman Urban Planning FPOP as a frosh, and working as a mentor for the Discover Materials Science & Engineering FPOP.  Each one introduced me to MIT, Cambridge, Boston, and a new group of awesome friends, and I am so grateful for the opportunities!

Preservation of the Frosh 

Just a few logistics – you are a prefrosh right now, and the 2017s are frosh.  You will not be a frosh and the frosh will not be sophomores until President Reif goes on a giant stage and welcomes you, the Class of 2018, as the freshman class.  President Hockfield never welcomed the Class of 2015 because of bad weather. They are still freshman. This makes sense.

The reason why this is how it is and the way it has always be done is because we want to have prefrosh for as long as possible, and there must always be a freshman class, and while sophomores become juniors and juniors become seniors and seniors become crufty, sophomores don’t need to be conserved. Only you, the prefrosh or frosh of MIT, must be conserved.

Take HASS Classes!

Now into some academics – I’ll briefly explain the HASS system here at MIT.

You are required to take eight HASS – humanities, arts, and social sciences – classes during your time here at MIT.  Of those eight classes, you must take at least one humanities, one arts, and one social sciences class. You must also fulfill a HASS concentration, which involves taking 3-4 classes in a certain subject. For example, I plan on concentrating in writing poetry, which involves me taking a few poetry workshop classes and a reading poetry class.

TAKE A HASS CLASS YOUR FIRST SEMESTER! Take at least one HASS class EACH semester!!  I have made this mistake twice and I cannot emphasize it enough.  Taking four (or five) technical classes is extremely difficult, and might drive you insane.  I understand that you might want to take all your required GIRs first semester since you are on Pass/No Record and don’t want to have to worry about getting a good grade in these really difficult classes.  But this leads me to my next point…

Pass/No Record is NOT an excuse to get a C- in every class

You will hear “A=B=C=P,” and it might be true when it comes down to a transcript, but it is not true when it comes to challenging yourself and figuring out what it takes to get an A in a class at MIT.  Aim high and try the hardest you can in your classes – the semester will be over more quickly than you know, and you will have to take graded classes based on the information you learned in your Pass/No Record classes.  If you didn’t learn any information, then you really are going to be sad in the following semesters.

Use Pass/No Record to your advantage by seeing how much you can handle on your plate in addition to your classes.  Join a club sport or class council or rush a fraternity (and steal all their food and then come to East Campus)  and use this time to become close with the people around you.  Watch how you can allocate your time to still do well in your classes while being involved on campus, and make sure that you are not overcommitting to too much.

Pass/No Record is not an excuse to not try in your classes, but it is an excuse to go outside your comfort zone to figure out what it takes to live a balanced life at MIT.  People say “Social Life, Classes, Sleep – pick two.” But you can have all three, even at a place with incredibly difficult and time-consuming classes like MIT.

Classes to take your Freshman Year

So you have to take a HASS class and you have to do your best in your classes – but what should those classes be?  I’m going to highlight the technical class options you have for your freshman year.

All MIT students must complete a total of 17 General Institute Requirements, or GIRs.  It is possible to get out of some of these GIRs through AP credit or through passing an Advanced Standing Exam (ASE), which is basically like taking the final of the class right at the bat of the semester.  At any other time, the grade you get on an ASE would show up on your transcript. As a freshman on Pass/No Record, if you pass the ASE, you get a P!

  • Biology

They have extended the offered biology classes from my year to include four different types of introductory classes that fulfill the biology requirement: 7.012, 7.013, 7014, and 7.016.  In the fall, you can take either 7.012 or 7.016. 7.013 and 7.014 are offered in the spring.  All of these classes cover the same fundamental principles of biochemistry, genetics, molecular and cell biology.  However, they each focus on a different one of these.

I recommend taking biology in the fall if you feel confident in your chemistry abilities, and in the spring if you do not.  I took biology at the same time as my chemistry class, and it did feel quite overwhelming at times.  Definitely try to split them apart so you can focus on them individually.

  • Calculus

Here at MIT, you are required to take single-variable (18.01) and multi-variable (18.02) calculus.  There are different versions of each that you can take, and my advice is to take the slightly harder version of whatever you feel comfortable with, that way you can drop down to a different version of the class if you decide that it is too difficult.  I would also recommend doing whichever track allows you to take 18.03, or differential equations, in the spring, although this might not be feasible for people who want to take 18.014 and 18.024, which are advanced classes that focus on calculus with theory.  18.03 is not a GIR (contrary to popular belief), but many, if not most, majors have it as a requirement.  It also is an extremely difficult and important class, and it is very necessary to have a strong math background before taking it.

So if you ASE or AP out of 18.01, congratulations! Take 18.02 or 18.014.

If you do not ASE or AP out of 18.01, taking 18.01 is fine, but consider taking 18.01A/18.02A.  This class involves a six-week review of single-variable claculus, and then 18.02 taken at the regular pace, which continues into IAP (Independent Activities Period during January).  Besides, if you start out taking 18.01A, it is perfectly fine and acceptable to drop down to 18.01 if it ends up being too difficult. Challenge yourself! Freshman year is all about discovering what your limits are – if 18.01A extends beyond your limits, that is okay! It does not mean you are any less smart than any of your peers or that you don’t belong at MIT, it just means that maybe you weren’t quite ready for that class.

  • Chemistry

I am biased because I am course 3 (materials science and engineering), but TAKE 3.091!!

Okay now I am going to be honest – you will have the option to take one of the following: 5.111, 5.112, or 3.091.  5.111 (pronounced five-eleven-one) is basic chemistry, with slightly more focus on liquid-state materials.  5.112 (pronounced five-eleven-two) is a bit more advanced version of 5.111, and covers additional materials that might help you if you plan on majoring in chemistry or becoming pre-med.  3.091 (pronounced three-oh-nine-one) focuses on solid-state materials, which I think are extremely interesting and I thought that the class was very well taught.

You might have heard rumors about 3.091 in the fall having no tests and, as a result, being quite disorganized and/or terrible.  However, this fall, 3.091 is going to be taught in the traditional way with tests (and hopefully no attendance grade) and small quizzes and the really great Professor Cima, and it will be an awesome class! Take it! Learn about phase diagrams and chocolate and materials! Yay materials! Yay polymers!

  • Physics

The other day, I got a facebook message from the lovely Kimia Z. ’18 asking about first semester physics, which is mechanics. She told me that her school has a very weak physics program, and she wanted to know if I would recommend she try to take classes over the summer.

I told her that if you don’t feel confident in your physics skills, I highly recommend taking 8.01L in the fall.  The class has the same content as 8.01, but it is taught over a longer period of time and in lecture style instead of in TEAL sessions, where you learn about a concept and immediately do a problem about it on whiteboards around the room in groups.  8.01L consists of the fall semester and IAP, and it was completely worth taking 8.01L for me and I felt a lot more confident about my physics skills moving at the slower pace than I would have in 8.01 TEAL.

If you do feel uncomfortable with your physics background and want to take 8.01 anyway, that is perfectly fine, and again, you can always switch it to 8.01L later. And if you want to review concepts before classes start, MIT opencourseware is an amazing resource!

The other requirement is 8.02, which is about electrical and magnetic properties in physics.  This is also taught in TEAL style, however, if you feel super confident in your physics abilities, you can choose to take 8.012 and 8.022 in the fall and spring respectively, which are advanced versions of each of the classes, taught in lecture style. Many of my friends on Tetazoo did this track, and they really enjoyed the classes and are now planning on double majoring in physics!

Will L. ’16 described the difference – “8.012 and 8.022 are good for showing what course 8 is like at MIT. 8.01 and 8.02 are more engineering classes.”

  • Communication Requirement

I mentioned the HASS requirement earlier, but in addition to taking 8 HASS classes, two of those classes must be communication intensive classes. Depending on if you get out of taking the FEE or if you pass it, you will either have to take a CI-H (communication intensive humanities class) or a CI-HW (communication intensive humanities writing class) your freshman year.  These classes involve writing a couple essays, writing a revision for one of those essays, and writing a big paper at the end. I don’t like papers.  I took Bioethics (24.06) my freshman spring and it was okay. I’m doing anything I can to procrastinate taking another CI-H. Don’t procrastinate!!

The HASS classes are all listed on the internet with the other classes.

That’s all great… but when do I actually pick out my classes?

In the fall! When you get here for your pre-orientation program, you are going to check into your temporary room in your temporary dorm, and you are going to spend many hours of many days at your FPOP having fun. After the final day of your FPOP, you will check in with your orientation leader.  This is the week that you will meet with your advisor and your associate advisor(s), and they will help you sort out your final schedule. It is nice to have some sort of plan on what you want to take, but that is not at all necessary.  You will very likely get the classes you want to take.  This leads me to my next point…

Meet your Advising Team! Free food!

Woo advising teams! I was an associate advisor this past year, and it was my duty, along with a faculty advisor, to help my advisees choose a path that was right for them. My advice to you is to keep in touch with your advising team – we are a great resource for you to reach out to in case of trouble with choosing classes or doing well in classes or life or anything else at all!  Come ask us questions! We will send you care packages and take you to get ice cream and more!

As far as choosing freshman advising, there are many options. You can choose advising that involves credit such as a learning community, or advising that offers no credit like traditional advising.  Freshman advising seminars also grant credit, and are a very different option from these two. My freshman year, I chose Terrascope, and it was a really interesting program, but I could not dedicate the time I wanted to it, although I wish I could have.  If you choose to do a freshman advising seminar that offers additional credit, make sure to consider that it is another class, and it will involve work outside of your core required classes.  If you are tremendously interested in that subject (like with humanities and the Concourse program, or saving the world and the Terrascope program), then go ahead! And, although it is not recommended because the program consists of your freshman advising group, you can drop the class if you absolutely need to.

There is also residence based advising in some dorms, and in the past, if you were in a RBA dorm you were stuck there for a full year, even if you decided that it was not the place for you. However, now RBA dorms are changing their policies and only freshmen assigned to Maseeh, Next House, and participating cultural houses will be able to move dorms during orientation if they are not happy there. However, if you choose McCormick Hall, you will not have the option of moving during orientation or during your freshman year, since it is the location of your advisor community.

I am a big fan of traditional advising, which just makes it so that your advisor is there for you when you need them, if you need them, and same with your associate advisor.  But all in all, your biggest source of information will be the upperclassmen on campus that you live with, work with, eat with, and are friends with. So come talk to us, we don’t bite! And feel free to ask me questions anytime – comment below or come visit me during rush in East Campus! I’ll dye your head a strange color! Or all the colors!

Take Physical Education Classes EARLY. TAKE THE SWIM TEST!

You just got here. It’s day one of orientation, and you’re signed up for the 12pm swim test.  But you’re sleepy. You rather sleep. Sleep sleep sleep.

GET UP! Go take the swim test! There are some people who wait until right before they graduate to take the swim test – don’t do that! If you fail, you don’t get to graduate from MIT. You have to wait another semester. Don’t do that!!

If you don’t feel comfortable swimming, that is okay! Take the swim physical education class right away! Don’t save these required things for your senior year, because you only need to miss a few PE classes to fail one.

Also, people will tell you that you need to complete the physical education requirement by your sophomore year. This is not true. Sometimes, you just cannot fit a PE class into your schedule – that is completely understandable. But try to spread out taking the classes, or at least a couple of the four required PE classes, during your freshman year while you have the time to do so.  And take the swim test! Do it!!

Take advantage of REX!


Orientation – AKA Rush – is another time when we, the denizens of East Campus, as well as all other living groups around campus do everything in our/their power to convince you that our/their dorm is the best dorm and that you should live here/there!  I will post a lot of pictures in the fall of the awesome activities (including roller coaster building!) happening around East Campus, but do your best to visit every single dorm on campus, steal all the free food, and have a great time! Make new friends, build awesome things, eat great food, and have the time of your life before classes start and consume us all.

I hope my little tidbits of advice are helpful!  Feel free to post any additional questions below :)