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MIT student blogger Jess K. '10

e) Other by Jess K. '10

Some pretty important stuff, and then just some pretty stuff.

About a month ago, a parent asked me: “What do all these majors switching/undeciding mean (My child is just as undecided.):
a) There is no sustainingly intriguing enough major at MIT or elsewhere.
b) If there is such a major, you haven’t found it.
c) College education adds to your confusion, rather than clarifies it.
d) College becomes just a motion, something you have to go through.
e) Other (please specify).”

It took me a while to respond to this question – it’s taken me a while to answer a lot of questions, but I’m trying to catch up now that I’m home, so please bear with me if I haven’t written back to you in the past few weeks.

This particular question, however, stuck with me because all of the options seem to portray a certain pessimism that I’ve been encountering a lot lately being away from school, especially at dinners with family friends that inevitably, after “YOU USED TO BE SO CUTE! WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR FACE??”, roll around to this topic. I’m loath to write about it because I feel choosing a major is more of a personal journey, and these blogs are supposed to apply to the general college applicant. At the same time, though, we aim to elucidate the lives of MIT students, and this subject has definitely been on my mind lately. (And by subject I mean aw-maaann-what-the-heck-am-I-doing.)

MIT, as opposed to some universities both in the United States and internationally, does not insist that you declare a major when you apply. This is a luxury I’m very grateful for, because while your college major doesn’t necessarily have to be pre-professional, it’s basically one of your first few decisions that can be instrumental in the steps to what you’re doing with your life. This is one of the reasons it’s such a difficult choice, but I think it’s often overlooked how easy it is to graduate high school without having developed the ability to make this kind of judgment. I know I certainly worked hard back then, but I was never forced to engage in the decision making process of where I was going to the degree that I am today.

I’m certainly not trying to pawn off my indecision entirely on our education system – in many ways I was very lucky, because I got to take and experience a diverse selection of classes that covered a lot of academic bases. It was very easy to take all the challenging classes in math, science, English, history, without thinking about it, because the only thing I knew was that I wanted to be challenged. And while I liked some classes more than others it wasn’t as if I was about to vote one off of the island that was my senior schedule, or Simon Cowell was in my brain going “That was terrible, I mean, just awful. I never want to take that class again. I cannot stand it. I’m allergic to it.”

The problem was that I never really engaged in my education during high school. Yet you get to college and you are presented with this wonderfully elusive thing, choice, and it’s a little tricky to know what to do with it. Especially since for all the rest of your education, you have suppressed your inner Simon Cowell; you have learned to learn and love everything, and it is absolutely possible to have too many choices.

So what do you do with that? At the end of my freshman year, I went with chemistry because I’d discovered I was secretly thrilled with organic reactions, and working through especially tough retrosynthetic analyses. Two weeks into my strictly-course-5 schedule, I yearned for academic diversity once again and readjusted my schedule to include biology and neuroscience. By the end of this semester, after many a battle and inner struggle, including one particularly tough week involving the stomach flu and drop date, neuroscience won out on top.

In three succinct sentences, the last three months sound so simple. And this is where I run into problems expressing myself – at these dinners with family friends and in writing the blog entry. It seems like such a simple path from A to B, from course 5 to course 9, but I don’t think I can explain to you how much it was not. I could tell you that I enjoyed my neuroscience class more than organic chemistry II, and I did, but “do what you love” is never the only consideration, as much as your teachers and parents may tell you. There is never only one thing to consider, and this is where my advice to you, or my answer to this question, runs short – the only one who can really “specify” answer choice e) is the person making the choice, and it’s different for everyone.

What can you take away from this, then? I urge you to ask the questions, to actively participate in your education – because it’s yours, and while your teachers teach the same things over and over again from year to year, you are the one who ultimately decides what to do with it. Ask yourself what it is about certain subjects that fascinate you. Ask questions – of your teachers, of people you know in universities you aspire to go to, of people in majors that you’re considering. Ask those family friends with professions you could never see yourself doing how they got where they got today. Like I said, it’s different for everyone.

But I can say with certainty that all this major switching and indecision does not indicate something negative about you, or in this case your child. Find me an 18 or 19 year old who knows exactly how to get what they want in life and I’ll convert, but to finish off a long answer to a short question, my answer is most certainly e).

Switching gears completely- I owe you some pictures. It’s the holiday season, which means it’s time to celebrate! Burton 1 celebrated with a floor formal, aka “Floormal”, on the last day of classes, for which we all became exceedingly attractive and went out to dinner, and then danced the night away in our floor lounge. Of course this means we took lots of prom-esque photos:

And speaking of dancing, the weekend before our prom was MIT Dance Troupe’s fall dance show, “Against the Music”, which featured a variety of different dance styles from hip hop to jazz:

These lovely photos came from my talented friend Ben ’11’s camera, of which you can see more (and by more I mean 1000+) here (see if you can find me!). Here’s just a sample:


The Angela Monster keeps writing me to say “I read your blog when I miss you!”, so since I won’t be back in Boston until tomorrow morning, I’m writing in hopes that we won’t miss each other so much. :) But also, for you. I’ve missed you. How’ve you been? How’re the kids doing? Glad to hear it. Hope you had an excellent new year’s! My new year’s resolution was to try and blog every week – we’ll see how long that one lasts. (Also, to beat Expert on Guitar Hero over IAP.)

35 responses to “e) Other”

  1. Piper '11 says:

    I really, really love this entry. Thank you, JKim.

  2. Cody Dean says:

    Awesome post, Jess! …and thanks so much for the email response. Hope IAP is awesome! It seems that sometimes I get so caught up in trying to be the “perfect MIT candidate” that I forget to enjoy and embrace high school (which ironically enough, is most likely what WOULD make me a “perfect MIT candidate”) This post really reminded me that I should live in the present. Great! :D

  3. Omar '10 says:

    I love you JKim.
    I wish I could ever decide on a major…

  4. milena '11 says:

    Uh, Omar, I thought you had decided. Course 10, hello?!?

    And Jess, that was a really good post. I’m still kinda undecided as to what I wanna do (yet I’ll be taking 5.60 and/or 5.12 next term), and it scares me to death. If it were up to me, I’d drop out and bum around. Oh wait, it IS up to me!

  5. Jess says:

    Uh, thanks Sam.

  6. Tannie says:

    I really need your advice! I just received my SAT II subject scores, and they are not as well as I had hoped. I had the worst stroke of luck while taking the test (just one of those bad test dates: sick and tired), and I received a 560 on the Math Level II even though I took Calculus BC as a junior. Now, I am a bit wary of these results as Collegeboard lost my tests and these scores were “recalled” so I am not sure what my next action should be. My record shows that I am strong in math, so should I call MIT so I can be one of those “cases” that takes the tests again in January, or should I send a letter telling them the situation? Thank you so much for your help! I have lost years of my life in these past few hours!

  7. Piper '11 says:

    Don’t panic, Tannie! This isn’t the worst thing in the world that could ever happen to you, I promise. First, you might want to consider having the test regraded by hand. I’m suspicious of the “lost test/recalled score” thing. Second, if you took BC as a junior and did well, MIT will see that and know your testing score is an oddity. A year’s worth of grades and work plus a final exam says much more than one hour.

    Talk to an admissions person, of course. But take a deep breath. You’ll be fine.

  8. Tannie says:

    Thank you so much, Piper ’11! You are my hero! I will be calling MIT tomorrow. Too bad they’re closed today!


  9. Muz says:

    LOL @ “YOU USED TO BE SO CUTE! WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR FACE??”. I thought it was just my relatives who said that. Heheh, and my sis just got Guitar Hero last month, and after playing it every time I was stressed out with applications and exams, I’ve gotten good enough to play a few songs on Hard on a laggy computer keyboard raspberry

    But I think in a way, I’d also have the same problem with majors. There’s a part of me that tells me that I just want to hang around all day, write sci-fi books and invent things and there’s another part which tells me that I still need money, so I’d better start like a business empire or something to sell the things I invent. And there’s even another part of me that tells me that I could govern my country or some other guy’s business empire better.

    So.. yeah, it’s a hard choice. So many things to do, not sure what I would do best. I guess I’m just going with destiny for now and try to see where’d people need me the most.

  10. Hyun Jin says:

    Heh… I think most of us suppress our inner Simon Cowell.
    Though maybe not all of us.
    Ok, fine. There are probably more people who don’t than do. (In the sense that we don’t suppress rather than to suppress)

    … did that make sense?

  11. MIT'12 says:

    Thanks for the post! I really enjoyed the pictures!

  12. Leko says:

    Dragonforce on expert is just wiggling of fingers in hopes of hitting some right notes… it is insane

  13. Brett says:

    Man, I wish I could have the problem of deciding which course to major in at MIT. Getting deferred is driving me crazy.

    In the mean time, you want to help me get a free Xbox 360? Just click my name. I need 9 referrals. Be warned, though, you have to sign up for an offer ( is the easiest because it’s only a trial). I’d really appreciate it!

  14. Rahul Jain says:

    I really need your advice as well! I took my SAT and did not do too well on the math section as I hoped (680) I was sure I did better, and because I live in Nigeria I cannot get it checked by hand!:( I did admath as a sophomore, got all A’s on my math (except Calculus) which is graded very tough. Will this SAT score throw me off the list as possibly being admitted?

  15. Cam says:

    Hey, I have a math-related question as well. I live in a country where calculus is just not part of the curriculum, and honors, AP, or any advanced courses don’t exist. Can I still apply to MIT (or rather, is it still a feasible idea) if I know I won’t have all the math preparation required?

  16. Piper '11 says:

    Rahul Jain, don’t worry, you still did better than I did on the MATH SAT II’s =P And I didn’t even have my AP Calc grade at the time to show. I have no idea how they thought I was decent in math when I had little to show for it.

    Of course, I still wonder how I got in…

  17. Paul says:

    Cam – absolutely! Although having calculus in high school is recommended, MIT would understand if that option simply isn’t available in your country. That being said, one of the defining characteristics of an MIT student is the willingness to create their own opportunities – so if you’re really passionate about your education, you may want to think about other avenues by which you could pursue a study of calculus, perhaps independently.

  18. Rahul Jain says:

    Thanks alot for the advice and encouragement! Piper’11! I really appreciate it! I hope I am as lucky as you are!:)

  19. aditi says:

    great entry!
    and thank you SoooOO much for it (because i often feel like i’m committing a crime by not making decisions quickly enough.I literally killed myself trying to decide between bio and econ as my elective for high school (yeah ISC is weird…) eco won ^^ )
    oh and have a great IAP!

    also is taking courses 22 and 8 for a double major competely unheard of? would someone/anyone survive it?
    (i know its rather presumptous on my part to even wonder seeing as how i haven’t/am not too likely to gotten/get in….but well… !!! )

  20. Karen says:

    Guitar Hero on Expert is pretty intense – I have yet to master Medium, so good luck with that.

    I really respect your ability to admit that you’re engaged in too many things to pick a major – even when applying to colleges it seems like all of my friends have decided that they want to be either doctors or lawyers, and it’s scary to come out and say that you honestly have no clue what you want to be when you grow up. I know that I love biology, but I also love a lot of other things, and one of the things that attracted me to MIT was that I didn’t have to declare a major when I applied. I’m really glad for you that you’ve found your niche – it sounds like this victory was hard-won! I’m excited to hear more about course 9 and how your schedule progresses – good luck smile

  21. Piper '11 says:

    Don’t worry, Karen, you’re ahead of the game =P I didn’t play GH until I got here. Now I’m on the cusp between hard and expert (can play some expert, can’t play some hard). I can’t play Dragonforce on anything above medium, though.

  22. Sam says:

    You and 5.03 go together like ice cream and an onion.

  23. Cam says:

    Thanks for the advice, Piper ’11 and Paul, a realistic yet encouraging perspective is appreciated smile

  24. anon says:

    I can play dragonforce on expert smile

  25. Piper '11 says:

    @Cam – You’re required to take calculus at MIT anyway. It’s just easier when you have a little background. (I had a year of calculus and still struggled in that class.) I’d go with Paul on this. Study calculus on your own. Maybe OpenCourseWare will help?

  26. phreaker says:

    I certainly hope math is easier to learn at MIT. Math is like language, you’re either fluent, struggling, or clueless, lol. Most of my math teachers were geniuses, but assumed we were as good.

    @anon: You need like, 6 fingers to do that. I dare ya to show it on youtube :p

  27. “You used to be so cute, what happened to your face?”

    Somebody you know actually asked you that?

    I hope your resonse was “same thing the happened to yours” as you hit them with the nearest heavy object!

  28. Cathy says:, is it true? you only write this blog for the angela monster??

    now that you can see her everyday, can you write a blog for me…i miss you too! and i’m definitely reading your blog to get my daily dose of jk. hahah.

    okay, mucho love. i miss you!!

  29. Cathy says:

    p.s. the Queen of Suburbia T-Shirts had a very good suggestion if that case ever arises again. smile


  31. Muz says:

    @Queen of Suburbia T-Shirts:
    Oh, no, they say “You used to be so cuute“, then say the “What happened to your face?” way in such a sad, sympathetic tone that I also feel sorry and confused for not being cute anymore. 10 minutes later, I start thinking about what they just said raspberry

  32. E. Rosser says:

    A post every week would be the ultimate New Year’s gift, even though by New Year’s everyone’s pretty much gifted out… But really, your blogs are a treat to read–always insightful and poignant, and unfailingly witty.
    Your advice on decisions or lack thereof is very true, and the beauty in places like MIT is that they WANT you to explore absolutely everything before you nail yourself to a course. I can’t say my high school was the same–we had to KNOW what “pathway” to choose by 8th grade, for Merlin’s sake!–but MIT, and college in general, will be a welcome change. If and only if! WHEN will MARCH be here!!?!?!

  33. lizzzzz says:

    jess, I miss you too! i totally read your blog whenever i miss you and also feel super-famous when you mention me directly/indirectly/as “not allin’s mom”. also i will see you saturday! yay! jess, I miss you too! i totally read your blog whenever i miss you and also feel super-famous when you mention me directly/indirectly/as “not allin’s mom”. also i will see you saturday! yay! <3

    oh yeah and B1 ROCKS!

  34. Anonymous says:

    This is a great post! I love course six classes, but live in fear of doing CS for the rest of my life and struggle with my choice of major all the time!

    @aditi- course 22 only has about 10-20 undergrads in each class, so they will literally change your personal curriculum around to accommodate things like double majors. One of the seniors doubling in 22 and 8 lives on B1.