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MIT student blogger Derrick B. '08

At What Cost by Derrick B. '08

A summary of my fall semester

I haven’t blogged much at all this year. I remember how happy I was when I found out I’d been selected. I thought “Wow, I can share my experiences with untold numbers of people. Maybe I can even give them some advice on how to succeed here.” I still feel that way. But I didn’t blog much at all. I didn’t have enough time.

That’s what this post is about, sort of. Every decision you’ll make here carries with it an associated opportunity cost. Everything you decide to do will keep you from doing something else. You want to go to that fraternity party tonight? That’ll keep you from getting an early start on your project. Wanna stay up late doing homework? It’ll keep you from waking up early to work out and make you fall asleep during class. Everything carries an associated cost, and the key to doing well at MIT is figuring out what costs you can bear.

I had a lot of class this semester. Here’s a snapshot of my registration:

69 units is more than most people take here. Especially on top of being the operations officer for Boston NROTC. So what did it cost me?

1. Academic performance: I had too much on my plate. Because I took so many classes, I didn’t do particularly well in any of them. I ended up with a 3.9/5.0 semester GPA and a D in 10.490. I’ve never gotten a D in my life, and I’m sure many of you are in the same boat. It’s quite a humbling feeling; one I hope you are fortunate enough to avoid. But I can’t change it now. When I apply to grad school, there’ll be a glaring “D” in my Fall 2007 semester. The saddest part is the reason why I got a D. It wasn’t because I couldn’t do the work (any of my team members will tell you I could). I just didn’t have time.

2. Relationships: I didn’t get to enjoy the company of my friends. I spent most of my time studying or doing psets and projects. I didn’t get to spend time with my girlfriend either, which of course caused a bit of tension between us. She’s a wonderfully patient and understanding woman, but even she gets tired of being ignored.

3. Hobbies: I was in training for a triathlon before the semester started. That stopped the 2nd week of school. I love writing and didn’t get to take my writing class seriously. I’ve wanted to get back into music for a long time (I played the trumpet in high school and was in marching band), and yet again I’m forced to delay it until next semester.

4. Sleep: I didn’t get much. ‘Nuf said.

And of course there are other things I missed out on, but I won’t mention those here.

Alright Derrick, so you couldn’t do a lot of the stuff you wanted to do or thought about doing. Suck it up. What did you gain?

Enough units and graduation requirements to finish my second degree on time. A pretty good understanding of E&M and cellular dynamics. That’s about it.

Was it worth it? Do I regret it? Both of those are good questions, and the jury is still out. I’m committed to this second degree in physics because I want to get a PhD in physics after I finish my naval service (which I still haven’t told you about. I promise I’ll do that soon.) I’ll never know how much fun I could have had if I dropped the second degree. And when I apply to grad school, I’ll never know how my second degree affects my chances of admission.

Would I do it again? My answer is a cautious yes. I love physics and I don’t want to give it up. And I have to admit, like some other academic masochists, I get a rush out of competing with MIT. What I did this semester will make my victory in the spring even sweeter.

How does any of this affect you? Learn from my example. Sometimes you want to do too much. You can’t do it all. Every day, take a good hard look at what you’re doing and make sure you’re happy with the choices you’ve made. As Lulu said, do what you love and f**k the rest. There isn’t time here for anything else.

72 responses to “At What Cost”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I did less well in my AIME for the same reason. Sometimes you simply like something and can’t drop it!

  2. ROFL “Do what you love and * the rest.” 21W.759 sounds awesome! How was it? Japanese politics sounds interesting too. Hope you enjoy second semester & happy holidays.

  3. Shauna says:

    wow ur still alive I had wondered what had happened to you. Wow doing a double major at MIT seems insane.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Lulu? I thought it came from Dwayne… Little Miss Sunshine ftw!

  5. Reg says:

    “do what you love and f**k the rest”

    science ftw! this is why i love doing A-levels :3

  6. milena '11 says:

    I didn’t know ICE was split in two sections, I thought it was like a normal 12-unit class. It sucks you didn’t do so well on it, my friends tell me it’s a really fun class and you learn a lot. Well, you get to start fresh next term.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for sharing your academic experience so frankly. Hope you will manage much better next semester. Good luck on your 2nd major (8B) and future grad school application.

  8. Omar '10 says:

    don’t stress about the grades… there’s nothing you can do about it now. it’s good that you learned from the experience and hopefully won’t take as many classes again in the future.

  9. DHowdy says:

    Thank you for the insight into the life of the MIT student smile
    Will you regret it? I think to every path one takes there are both regrets and great rewards. It is impossible to do everything, as you said, at a busy place like MIT. You only live once, so “do what you love.” Great quote btw

  10. Anonymous says:

    “Dwayne: You know what? F*** beauty contests. Life is one f***ing beauty contest after another. School, then college, then work… F*** that. And f*** the Air Force Academy. If I want to fly, I’ll find a way to fly. You do what you love, and f*** the rest.”

  11. Anonymous says:

    How many units is a typical semester?

  12. Julian Yuen says:

    thank you for sharing your experience with us. it’s kind of like the time i took on too many courses, but did average for all of them. i had to give up golf in order to do robotics. sometimes i think about what could have happened if i stayed with golf, or if i did both. but i realize it just takes up a lot of my energy being sad. so i guess in the end, the quicker you move on, the better life will get. keep in touch. i want to find out what happens. your hard work will pay off sooner or later.

  13. Anonymus says:

    Wow, 12 units of Writing Science Fiction. Actually, thanks for writing this, Derrick. I have a tendency to do a bit too much sometimes as well, and I guess it’s something to keep in mind next semester, whereever I may end up.

  14. Hunter '11 says:

    What classes have you taken throughout the years? (Actualy, I’m curious to the unit count each semester, and if you had any standing credit coming in.)

  15. Fred says:

    How many units is a typical semester? 48~60 units (4~5 courses) I would say. However, it realy depends on your capability and how hard you work. I know a physics student who took 7 courses (90-unit) this term and got 4A+/3A. One interesting story here: In fact, he got the worst scores, among 60 students, in his 1st oral and paper of J-lab (18-unit), but he worked really really hard and ended up with an “A”. I also believe this student got the highest scores in QM2(8.05), EM2(8.07) and CM2 (8.09) since he got 6 (tied) highest scores among 7 exams (including 3 finals).
    So, welcome to MIT, you will find all kinds of intelligient stduends and legends here.

  16. lisajobs says:

    40, 000 applicants
    7, 000 fits
    about 2000 chosen
    it’s all about luck, or is it?

    merry christmas
    best of luck!!

  17. Anonymous says:

    40 000 applicants
    >=7000 fits
    ~2000 chosen

    it’s all about luck, or is it?

  18. lisajobs says:

    sorry for the double posts
    Best of Luck and
    merry Christmas to everyone
    PS Hey, that’s a hat trick!

  19. Isshak says:

    Oh wow, time management is pretty crazy at MIT.
    And merry christmas and happy new year to all of you ^^ !

  20. Anonymous says:

    Hey Derek,

    How did u like ur science fiction class? How was Haldeman?

  21. Aditi says:

    merry christmas everybody :D

  22. donaldGuy says:

    This seems likley relevant to me .. I am already playing with the idea of picking up a double in either 18 or an 8B .. its scary .. but I also just don’t want to limit myself to one discipline .. its a shame that the SF is an elective .. I haven’t found many CI-H classes of interest yet.

    Anyway, good job getting through it at all .. have a great Christmas and IAP,
    ~Donald Guy

  23. ____ says:

    hey derrik. were you born in Yokosuka Base? My dad works there.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Thank you very much for sharing your experience. I hope to major in chemical engineering. Do you recommend incoming freshmen placing out of classes that they have AP credit for? If I placed out of certain courses while there would be a financial benefit(!), I do not want to struggle with an upper level course .

  25. EV says:

    With regards to the “long essay”
    Is 766 words (or exactly one page) too much?

  26. Tracy says:

    Unpleasant. I take heed. Thank you.

  27. E Rosser says:

    You get a sheepskin for two degrees, but you really get a third, almost as useful but aheck of a lot less fun: time management. MIT students should get gold metals so big they can’t walk wiht them around their necks for their amazing time management skills. If I get in, (fingers, arms, legs, and DNA strands crossed for RA!) I will live by the awesome maxim you have discovered: “Do what you love and F**k the rest!” Life’s too short for anything else.
    The fact that you’re in ROTC and you have ANY time to devote to school is so reassuring! I’m planning to go AFROTC, but it’s good to know that, first and foremost, every cadet is a student.
    Thanks for the royally kick-butt post!
    The long time in the making was worth it! wink

  28. Muz says:

    @lisajobs: Heh, luck is a good way to put it. I see it kinda like a poker game. Everyone who applied obviously has some good cards in hand or they’d not bet that $65 + all that time. With so many, it takes either a bit of luck or a very good application to succeed :/

    @E Rosser: Hey, time management skills will be fun when you no longer need them. It’s fun for me to finish a job in 3 hours what others take 3 weeks (including procrastination) to do. Work quick, play hard wink

    @EV: I’m just another applicant, but 766 (153%) looks like quite a lot. But 1 page is the size it should be, so I can’t say. The others will have better advice on whether it’s too much. But if you need help to chop it down, from experience, the fastest way is to try to make sure that you use only one sentence to talk about one point. Cut out extra sentences or examples or ‘flavor text’ and see if it’s still understandable. If that still doesn’t work, try to cut out a whole paragraph. I’ve found it very useful to sticking to word limits. It hurts, but not as much as feeling guilty over essay length, I guess. Good luck!

  29. Muz says:

    Hmm… on applications again.. I just finished my Part B, which means that I should be all done, except the tests I’m taking next month. But it still says that the Mid-Year Grade Report is unticked. I’ve finished high school 3 years ago and I’m applying from a country outside the US, so should I worry about it being unticked?

  30. Sara says:

    You are seriously insannnne, or a god.

  31. anion says:

    can we sent a presentation (.ppt file) by email??

  32. Paul says:

    @ EV: A full page is pushing it a little bit, but it’s not that bad. Try to trim it down if you can though.

    @ lvke: In my experience, a typical semester is anywhere from 48 to 60 units, which is roughly four to five classes. (In general, 1 class = 12 units, but there are many variations on this equation and theme.)

    @ anion: I couldn’t find a good link about this, but it seems that, in general, sending attachments is not the best course of action. I’ve heard of sending in files on CDs – but you’ll probably want to call the Admissions Office and ask them what you should do. I am curious though, why do you need to send a PowerPoint? ^_^

    @ Muz:The Mid-Year Grade Report only needs to be sent in my students in US school system. Since you’re international and finished high school earlier, you don’t have to worry about it. wink

  33. lvke says:

    Thank you very much How many units is a typical semester?

  34. tanmay says:

    When the going gets tough, the tough gets going.

  35. Borat says:

    Dear MIT Admissions team (includes the bloggers)

    I’ve got some quite low SATs as well. But I’ve never taken a SAT, or for that matter, timed multiple choice test in my life before. In my country, we do it completely the other way around; more advanced problems (e.g. 6 problems in 3 hrs) and without any multiple choice answers. Do you know this, and do you take this into consideration?

    Should I make a note on my application informing about this (in section 14)?

    Please respond quickly as I would like to submit the application tonight.


  36. The E says:

    OK Geys Im having some serious problems here – I just discovered that when submit part 1 I spelled first name wrong.

    How can this be correctad?

    OMG I so fraked out by my 590 SAT MATH. hopefully mit will understand. since ii hate math i mean.
    safe holidays to ye al.

  37. Nihar says:


    Why are you torturing us by not posting an entry for the 9th day today?
    I get this weird feeling Im missing something if I dont read a new post every day or two….or three(or four! but on a case-by-case basis wink )….but this is 9!

    please…at least write a note that by some co-incidence, youre all busy at the same me we will understand..but please…write something.

    Can we have a vote on this? Everyone who wants a new entry right now..say I DO..

    I DO! ^^

  38. Anamika says:

    Hi nihar..
    have u submitted ur application??
    when do u plan to submit it? btw..when is the exact time of deadline according to IST?do reply soon man..

    and yes I DO!i guess they can’t access their blogging accounts if they are not in MIT..and maybe they aren’t…

  39. Kai says:

    Someone who hates math applying to MIT?!
    Anyway, apparently the SAT scores are only a small part of the application. The type of person who comes through in your application will probably carry as much importance.
    I’m an international student from Canada, and due to some unlucky circumstances, I won’t be able to write my subject test until Jan. 26th and I’ll have to write the ACT on February 9th.
    Does anyone know if the Admissions office will be willing to wait around for these scores before they make a decision on me?

    I think these scores will make my application much more competitive as far as the academics are concerned.

    Any thoughts?

  40. Nihar says:

    Hi there!No, I havent submitted it yet. Its been complete for ages, but I cant help thinking that I wont forgive myself for pressing that SUBMIT button if I remembered something that I wanted to change later. First choice paranoia, hehe…I guess a lot of the applicants will experience/ would have experienced it.

    The deadline,yes. I think since Eastern time is GMT -5:00 and IST is GMT +5:30, your deadline should be 10:30 AM on Jan 2nd, IF Im not mistaken. I would advise a double check.

    Im not sure, but I dont think they need to be on-campus to blog, do they?Secondly, even if that is the case, all of them being off-campus seems unlikely, doesnt it?

  41. Nihar says:

    Hi Paul! Just to make sure, does a school have a “US school system” only if it follows an AP curriculum? What about one that follows IB?

  42. phreaker says:

    @Kai: I’m in the same position. Honestly, i planned to do the whole thing by dec, but i just couldn’t get them by the date. I think the sat can pass, but not sure if act will be in time, which is why i took toefl as well. But if they plan to accept you, i’m sure they’ll wait.

    Heh, btw, i dislike math too. But i love technology :p

  43. Adiri says:

    deadlines :O

    i dont even know if i’m going to be insanely happy or i’m going tp completely lose it once i hit submit.

    and oh

    please blog!



  44. Aditi says:

    hahahaaa this is how freaked out i am! i misspelt my own name!

  45. mit '11 says:

    omg please stop with the “first” comments. It contributes absolutely nothing to the post and I’m sure you don’t get anything extra out of it either. This isn’t a race; it’s a freaking blog.

    sorry for the rant, but after seeing so many people write “first” post after post, it gets to you.

  46. anamika says:

    one sec guys..
    if the deadline is 1st of jan..that means we have to submit BEFORE 1st jan STARTS at MIT or BEFORE 1st jan is OVER?

  47. Nihar says:

    before its over…

  48. Anonymous says:

    umm i was just wondering how you people did on the SAT…i didnt do so well and i’m losing hope now…


  49. anon says:

    ummmm i was just wondering how you guys did on the SAT. i didnt do so well…

  50. EV says:

    Hi Kai, a fellow intl applicant here.

    Although I don’t know this for sure – I’m only an applicant – I’ve lurked around these blogs for around two years and I’ve read up on most of what both McGann and Ben Jones have said with regards to this – and from what I understand, they need the scores as soon as possible. I would assume they begin reading in early January (since there are probably 12000 applications this time) – and they need scores ASAP. The SAT might just go – it’s a case-by-case basis, but you might want to clear it with the Office. (I think they are primarily conserned about not recieving your score in time).

    I’ve got no ACT experience, but I would assume a couple of weeks in processing time, which leads to MiT getting the scores on Feb 25 at the earliest. That might, most probably, be too late.

    Bah, I just pulled my first all-nighter ever wrapping up my application.. Now a few hours of sleep, a final proofreading and then SUBMIT – I’m gonna need a huge party to get this thing of my shoulders now.

    Good luck everyone!
    Eirik, Norway

  51. Sara says:

    I believe that means you have to send it in before jan 1 is over. haha At least that’s what i’ve been doing for all my other applications…

  52. EV says:

    I’m really nervous because of my SATs though… Will a 590 Math on the Reasoning test (I don’t know what happened – must’ve been a bad day since I got a combined score of ~1700) be somewhat forgiven if I have a 650 in Math level 2? (And, although it might not appear as though I have it, I’ve got A+ in calculus in my school) – so I’ll just hope you guys take a look at that as well!

  53. Anon says:

    Hey Anon!…what dyou mean by not so well? If you didnt, dont worry! They’re going to look closely into the other parts of your application for any major reasons or difficulties you might have had while giving the SATs. So if you have a strong enough application otherwise, I dont think the SATs should hurt you unduly.

  54. anamika says:

    hey..what matt or ben will read will be EXACTLY what the pdf preview shows?

  55. laetridelfo says:

    Peeplz I got 800 in chem and math 2 and 770 in math 1 ( weirdly enough i was in the 98 percentile for math 1 but in the 95 percentile for chem and I still don’t understand how i was in a lower percentile in chem because in my country I was the top chem student in my year!well I guess studying 1 week before the chem exam did come at a cost!), I’m an international student and due to some pretty weirdly linked circumstances, i have 2 sit SAT reasoning tests in January. Gah! and I am going nuts trying to write my application essay! I ‘ve finished everything else weeks ago its just this dumb essay! I mean do u know what its like to wear-out half of a ginormous eraser on mediocre attempts at an essay thats supposed to describe an “end of the world” experience?! Maybe some of u can relate to moi!

  56. Anonymous says:

    95 percentile in chem just means that 5% of people who took it got 800/800 – like you smile

  57. Mmm says:

    I agree with the class of ’11 student who understandably said that the “first!” comments are particularly irksome!I mean gee if you’re that exuberant to be the first person to say something for god’s sake say something other “first!”*chest heaves up and down out of sheer irritation and burning desire to clobber at least 1 “first”er!*

  58. Fred says:

    @ EV
    Let’s face the fact: Based on the admissions statistics, only 7 out of 328 applicants whose SATI Math below 600 were accepted to MIT last year. You SATI total socre is only 1700, which means your scores on Reading and Writing are not-too-good either, in addition to Math. Unless you have very strong academic record and receive any awards from intel science fair/international olymiads, I would say that your chance geeting into MIT is very very small. Anyway, still wish you all the luck…

    @ Kai,
    I think you need to explain why you did not take SAT2 by Dec for MIT admission commitee to consider it as a case-by-case basis. You can not just ask the committe to give you another chance getting a better score without any special reason. My wild guess is that you did take it but the score is not that good. All the applicants should have all the required test scores ready by Dec. to be fair.

  59. Muz says:

    @Paul: Many thanks smile

    @others: I’m also in the Jan-SAT subject, Feb-ACT group raspberry. I really wish I wasn’t, I’d be much less stressed out if the words ‘considered on a case-by-case basis’ wasn’t there. I don’t really think I’ll do as well as some of you since I’m mildly dyslexic and won’t likely get full marks on my math I, but I think I read somewhere that your school grades are as/more important than the SAT. The SAT is just a standardized test to compare how you stand under the system, so don’t worry about it too much, guys.

    @laetridelfo: Haha, I can relate to that. I was so frustrated with the other essay (the ‘describe your world… how has it inspired your hopes and dreams’ in 500 words). After 3 weeks, everything I wrote sounded smart but very cynical, so nobody liked it. Then another fellow applicant wrote that she wrote something about her mother.. I tried that and to my surprise, it worked! I only wrote one sentence about my mother, but it led to a whole essay about what shaped me.

    You still have half a day and it’s all online.. so try this if you like. Write about something very simple, but personal. Don’t try to impress, I think MIT is looking for your personality, not impressive vocabulary. For that essay, maybe a break-up, bad grades, parents divorce, losing a scholarship/tournament, death of a family member, getting sick, getting bullied, up to you. Just write, don’t worry about editing it yet. God knows how many times I lost the flow by editing. Good luck smile

  60. Kai says:

    Well, everyone replying to my post seemed to be saying the same thing. I did infact call into MIT international admissions and told them about my situation. I was told that they were accepting a lot of January scores.

    I’m not writing the test in January because I wrote the SAT II before and just did poorly, I’m writing them in January because I haven’t written them at all!

    So, I guess this is the situation I’m in: I know that I can ace these SATs after picking up some study books, and the ACT doesn’t seem difficult at all either. But what good will getting perfect on all these test do if they toss my application before my marks even get there.
    I have very strong extra curriculars and overall I consider myself to be a very competitive candidate, I’m just wondering if anyone could tell me when exactly they start cutting people out of the pool and whether or not you think my extra curriculars are enough to keep me in the pool until my SAT and ACT scores can get there.

  61. Hunter '11 says:

    Kai – I jumped in this late, so I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m under the impression that MIT doesn’t look at incomplete applications. In other words, they won’t throw you out before seeing your SATs. They’ll just look at completed files until your stuff gets there.

  62. Kai says:


    I just e-mailed MIT admissions to double-check my situation, but that is some of the best news I’ve heard for a while.

    I sure hope you’re right =D

  63. Anonymous says:

    i got a 640 on math 2 and a 760 on physics :(

    is that too pitiful for mit?

    i’m an international student but i’ve done the APs for phy B and calculus AB and i got fives on those but my SAT 2 scores suck :(

  64. archimedes says:

    I also find it funny that this blog has turned into an SAT blog. Anyway, I really appreciate your honesty, Derrick. It puts things into perspective for me.
    *don’t clob me!*

  65. Aditi says:

    I submitted it!


    and now i dont know what to do with myself…

  66. anyonomous says:

    my scores can i get in

    Math 2: 620

  67. Aditi says:

    nobodys psychic. least of all me. (and how i wish i was…buts thats something else altogether…)


    thats really all that any of us can do
    and hope for the best


    good luck everyone smile

  68. Masud says:

    I concur with Aditi*gosh, I sounded as though I just remembered that phrase from the spoofy SAT prep book…wait…I did raspberry* that we just have to try…and by late march we will know which of us,despite the bummy essays, the crappy SAT scores and whatever other perceived ‘app-hurters’, fit MITs um…fitty thingy…w/e…I think you all get my point. BONNE ANNEE, FELIZ NAVIDAD!HAPPY NEW YEARS!

  69. K2alpinist says:

    I guess high school is the best time to prepare yourself ‘time-wise’. There CERTAINLY is an opportunity cost for nearly everything. And why? b/c of the one and only factor that limits life– ‘time’.