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MIT student blogger Paul B. '11

Got Questions? by Paul B. '11

I have answers.

Hey guys – sorry for not blogging in so long! I’ve been up to all sorts of things in the past month that have distracted me from blogging. Specifically:

  • finding a UROP for the summer (I’ll be working in the Lang Lab!)
  • checking out the Boston Marathon
  • hanging out with prefrosh at my fraternity during CPW
  • writing a live-action roleplaying game for the Assassins’ Guild
  • attending Burchard Scholars dinners
  • editing the upcoming issue of the MIT Undergraduate Research Journal
  • preparing for MIT’s upcoming Spring Weekend Concert (I’m working security :D)
  • playing with robots in 6.01 and writing about riboswitches in 20.111

…and probably a few other things I’m forgetting right now. Although my classes are heating up as we race towards finals, I’ll do my best to blog about all these things over the coming weeks!

While I’m busy with things here at MIT, I know that many of you are currently in the midst of choosing where to spend the next four years of your life. It’s a huge decision, and I hope the admissions blogs and events like Campus Preview Weekend have helped you learn more about MIT. That said, having questions or doubts at this stage is totally natural. Is there anything I can do to help clarify the admissions process? Any questions you want to have an actual MIT student answer? Just post them in the comments!

54 responses to “Got Questions?”

  1. Hopeful '14 says:

    I know that the the Web site says that one can take the SAT or the ACT plus writing, but is it better if we actually take both (I’ve seen a lot of people take both), or does it really make no difference?
    Can’t wait til next year!

  2. JB '13 says:

    Hey Paul, can you shed some light on the Assassin’s Guild? I liked the game for PS3, but I doubt this is the same.

  3. Nervous '13 says:

    You always hear about how tough MIT is. Is the class/homework load really as difficult as people make it out to be? I’m scared that I’m, going to flunk out next year.

  4. Paul says:

    @Hopeful ’14: It really doesn’t matter from MIT’s perspective. I have heard that some types of students may do better on the ACT than the SAT, so it might be useful to try taking both, but MIT considers them equally. (For reference, I only took the SAT.)

    @JB: The Assassins’ Guild is the nation’s largest, most prestigious, and most well-known college live-action roleplaying society. The Guild puts on several student-written games each semester, where the players become characters in a real-time, real-space contest of wits. Players lie, cheat, steal, murder, and embezzle to get whatever it is they want, and game settings have ranged from ancient Greece to post-apocalyptic New York to the far-flung future. It’s a great way to take a break from MIT and enjoy the crazy scenarios your fellow students can come up with.

    You can check out a blog entry about the Guild here, or the Guild’s website.

    (Note the position of the apostrophe. We are a legion of assassins, not just one rogue gamer. :D)

  5. Chris says:

    What requirements are needed to get into MIT? I.e. SAT or ACT scores, certain classes that can be transferred from another school for a Computer Science Degree, somewhere in that area.

  6. Anonymous says:

    One of the requirements is to be able to determine that information for yourself by looking around this very website.

  7. Hey Paul, what’s it like being on zephyr all the time??

  8. Paul says:

    @Nervous ’13: Yes, the courseload is intense, but it’s definitely manageable. One big reason MIT students are so perpetually “hosed” is because we get so involved in the other activities and opportunities MIT has to offer – from research to student groups, from athletics to the arts. And at the end of the four years, you leave with a degree from MIT, which is recognized all around the world.

    Also, when it comes to your workload, you’re never actually alone at MIT. The entire Institute is incredibly supportive and has a culture of collaboration. Especially during the freshman year, when most students are taking the same core curriculum, it’s simple to find people to study with. Help on your problem sets is never too far away, whether it’s professor’s office hours, talking to your TAs (teaching assistants), or simply asking the upperclassmen in your dorm or fraternity.

    I hope that helps!

  9. Piper '12 says:

    Zephyr is an addiction. I tried punting it for a while and didn’t last two days wink.

  10. Sara says:

    You’re in 6.01? That’s the intro class for computer science, right? How is it? I’m interested in majoring in computer science – is 6.01 a hard class (this is the main thing; I’m worried it might be too hard for me…)? What types of stuff do you do, besides playing with robots?

  11. padawan says:


    I just wanted to know how many AP classes I should
    take. I’m a sophomore taking pre-cal and AP chem both of which come naturally to me. I’m looking into taking AP physics, AP cal, AP Enviro, AP Lan,
    and others. Should I keep it at two or go all out.
    Please and thank you.

  12. Transfer_S says:

    Hi Paul,
    Do you know anything about the transfer process. That is to say, I currently a transfer applicant and was wondering about when the committee is planning to announce the decision. Thanks.

  13. Sanjay Varma says:

    I am from India and i want to know the procedure and required exams to be written

  14. Nicole '10 says:

    @Sara… uh, actually, playing with robots is pretty much all you do in 6.01. jk, but sometimes it felt that way. Ok, so 6.01 is actually a combination of an introduction to EE and CS, there’s a brief introduction to python, you learn some circuitry stuff, some weird math, and of course, everything is applied to the robots somehow in lab. You can check out the course website here: If you click on ‘reference material’ on that page there are links to some python tutorials at the bottom that it might be useful to take a look at before starting the class.

  15. Susana '13 says:

    Hey, can you tell me a bit about the undergrad research journal? How does one go about getting an entry in? How does one get on the editing staff?

  16. Piper '12 says:

    @padawan – Take what interests you, you’ll end up someplace you should be, end of story.

    @Nervous ’13 – To add on to what [email protected]:38pm said, don’t let OCW scare you off if you find you can’t solve anything. The point of coming to MIT is to learn. Admissions turns away many super qualified applicants each year – accepting you meant they felt you were just as qualified, not that you were the scrapings left over. You can do it :D

  17. Rogan says:

    I’m doing a research project onthis college, and I was wondering what a reccomended GPA in high school would be for getting into this college?

  18. Anonymous says:

    How hard is it to double major?

  19. Anonymous says:

    Will MIT be participating in the MATE ROV competition this year? If so I look forward to seeing you all there.

  20. Paul says:

    @padawan: I agree with what others have said already. Follow your passions, talk to your high school counselor, and I’m sure you’ll be fine.

    @Sara: As Nicole said, the class teaches a number of fundamentals about electrical engineering and computer science – circuits, systems, state machines, abstraction, object-oriented programming…and more. At some point I’ll probably write a blog entry about 6.01 specifically, so keep an eye out for that. smile I’ve had some frustrating moments with the class, but on the whole it’s been a challenging yet fun and educational experience.

    @Anon (10:43): Depends on the two fields you choose on double-majoring in, and how much time you dedicate to academics in general. People majoring in one field tend to tke 4 classes for most terms and sometimes 5, whereas double majors take 5 classes practically every semester – sometimes 6. This may not sound like a lot, but that one extra class really makes a huge extra impact on your courseload.

    That said, double-majoring in related fields (such as 7 and 9, or 6 and 18) can help ease the courseload somewhat.

  21. Paul says:

    @Anon(10:50): Looks like MIT will be there, although I don’t personally know anyone who’s going. Cool stuff!

  22. Anonymous says:

    =( Too bad I couldn’t convince my team coordinator to compete in the same division as you guys….

  23. Paul says:

    @Susana: MURJ solicits submissions from the student body each semester. We publicize extensively (postering, email, word-of-mouth) in order to get the announcement out there.

    As for joining the editing staff, that’s basically as simple as asking one of the editors-in-chief to add you to the MURJ mailing list. Like most other student groups, MURJ participates in the Student Activities Fair during Orientation in the fall, which is the first opportunity for freshmen to get to know the various student groups on campus. We usually get about 30 or more freshmen to sign up for our mailing list at the Fair (although not all of them will actually become active members).

    I hope that makes sense! You can always email me if anything’s unclear. smile

  24. Claire '13 says:


    Look in the orange tab at the top of this website, and click “International Applicants – Helpful Tips”

  25. im an international student planning to apply for the academic year beginning in 2K10. i just wanted to find out whether i should give my math level 1 or 2, and considering i want to do mechanical engineering, which science would be most wise to do? also what are the required scores in the above mentioned subject tests(math and science). thanks paul.

  26. Karen says:

    I think 100% of our classes are taught by full professors…and most of your recitations will be taught by either postdocs or professors as well. Paul, confirm/deny?

  27. Paul says:

    @ Claire ’13: The Admissions Office hires a number of tour guides each semester. I believe that students also help staff the information booths in Lobby 7 and near Lobby 10.

    @ Anon (7:34 AM): MIT actually offers a very well-rounded education, mainly thanks to its core curriculum (the General Institute Requirements, known as the GIRs), which incorporates courses in the humanities as well as a core science curriculum. In addition to that, MIT’s focus on engineering and technology means that you’re going to leave MIT an expert in your chosen major, with an emphasis on practical knowledge.

    My two cents. wink

    @ Rogan: MIT has no required or minimum GPA. That said, the vast majority of admitted students are in the top 5% of their high school class (for high schools that rank students). You can see more statistics here.

    @ goal for 2010: As mentioned above, MIT has no minimum GPA. or minimum score requirements Additionally, math level 1 and level 2 are considered equally. There is no magic formula for getting into MIT. Best of luck.

    @ Karen: It’s not quite 100%, since some course instructors are very experienced researchers or practitioners in a given field (e.g. mechanical engineering). But it’s true that the vast majority of classes are taught by professors. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any actual statistics on this, despite looking for 20 minutes.

  28. Anonymous says:

    @ whoever asked about professors
    I think it also depends a lot on your major. The more popular the major is, the less individual attention you’ll get from professors. I’ve seen some MIT classes with less than ten students taught by two professors in the small majors. I can’t speak for EECS though.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Also, it seems like lectures are always given by professors, but in the large departments, recitations are run by TA’s.

  30. Anna says:

    I’ll be a senior next year and as a part of a scholarship program run by my archdiocese, I was accepted to take two courses a semester at a local college during my senior year. In exchange, I drop two majors at the high school I’m in and devote the periods for those majors and take the classes on the college campus. The one I was accepted to was Villanova. I’m not sure if they give actual applicable college credits for this program but if they do, would MIT be willing to consider these or maybe even accept them? Thanks.

  31. Claire '13 says:

    Is it possible to get a student work-study job (besides blogger) in the admissions office?

  32. Alex '13 says:

    I’ve been looking forward to being part of some extra curics at MIT, but i was just wondering what would be considered “over doing it”.

    By this i mean…should i completely focus on work during my first semester….or should i immerse myself in extra curics right off the bat?

  33. Paul says:

    @Anna: You can definitely try to get transfer credit. Even if your request for transfer credit is not approved, however, you will probably be well-prepared to take MIT’s Advanced Standing Exams. Follow the link to learn more.

  34. anonymous says:

    Hey! Thanks a lot for these helpful posts. At the moment I am contemplating between MIT and Harvard. My real passion has been eingeering/ CS and related fields and I know for a fact that there is no comparison on these bases (MIT clearly wins), but a lot of my friends say that the undergraduate life at Harvard is much better, in terms of a more broad approach. Can you help me on this. Also how many classes at MIT are taken up by actual professors and not TA’s?

    Thanks a ton for your help!

  35. Anonymous says:

    Hey! Thanks a lot for these helpful posts. At the moment I am contemplating between MIT and Harvard. My real passion has been engineering/ CS and related fields and I know for a fact that there is no comparison on these bases (MIT clearly wins), but a lot of my friends say that the undergraduate life at Harvard is much better, in terms of a more broad approach. Can you help me on this. Also how many classes at MIT are taken up by actual professors and not TA’s?

    Thanks a ton for your help!

  36. Anonymous says:

    @ Nervous ’13
    Another thing you can do is pick a class you’re familiar with some material in (maybe introductory calculus, 18.01), and look at a few psets on OpenCourseWare to judge the difficulty of the homework for yourself. (If you’re really nervous, I assume you’ll try and take the least challenging classes first term before seeing if you can jump into the harder ones). Most likely, you’ll find a problem you can solve somewhere, and that’ll convince you that it’s all okay raspberry

    I’ve heard so many things from so many people, I think only you can really make this decision (you may be much smarter than the people you ask… or vice versa… without knowing it!). Also, you were admitted , meaning admissions thinks you demonstrated clearly that you can handle the MIT courseload.

    There will probably be all nighters and there will probably be a few low test scores, if you’re anything like the majority of students. But you’ll live.

  37. Anonymous says:

    @ padawan
    I think that’s also something only you can judge, but from experience, I’d keep it under 5.
    AP enviro is easy.
    AP Physics should probably be taken *after* AP Calculus if it’s C level. If it’s B, it’s fine to take it as a junior, and probably won’t challenge you much.
    Basically, take the most challenging courseload you can handle while still having a comfortable, non-miserable life.

  38. Anonymous says:

    A guess: varsity sports are funded by the Institute. Club sports fund themselves.

  39. Paul says:

    @MIT’11 Parent: Varsity sports are funded as part of the budget of DAPER (Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation). On the other hand, the Club Sports Council, which officially recognizes club sports and distributes funds to them, is funded by the student life fee. The student life fee is a relatively small sum paid by each undergraduate and graduate student as part of their tuition (it’s currently $236). The money goes to a variety of different sources, including DAPER itself and the Club Sports Council. If pistol is recognized as a club sport and gets funding from the Club Sports Council, their ability to participate in national competitions won’t be affected, but they will no longer be in DAPER’s budget.

    As far as I can tell, it’s basically cost-shifting, not actually cost-cutting…

  40. DK says:

    Oh perfect! I have a question; I am currently attending a community college and am considering MIT for transfer. I know that MIT likes to see a year of calculus-based physics from its transfer applicants, and I do want to take a year of physics, however, my school only offers algebra-based physics. Should I go ahead and take it, or should I wait?

  41. Paul – I don’t understand the difference between a varsity sport and a club sport. Today’s Tech states “Pistol, with the support and interest from both coach Hart and the current team, will look to become a club sport and continue competing against the country’s best in national competitions. Currently all but one of the teams pistol competes against, including all of the military academies, are club sports.” (Good news for Snively.) If both varsity sports and club sports compete against other teams, what’s the difference? How would changing from a varsity sport to a club sport save MIT money?

  42. About who teaching our classes:
    In EECS (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science), or Course VI, our classes are definitely taught by faculty, even recitation sections. In the larger departments like EECS, MIT puts more of its resources, so that you get more personal attention. There’s a reason why MIT Course VI has just been
    named once again as the top university in EE, CS,
    and Computer Engineering by the US New & World Report surveys.

    My sister works at Harvard, where they use a lot of
    “Teaching Fellows” (i.e. grad student TAs) to teach.

  43. I just wondering how strong your Mathematics department is? I realise that it is one of the best in the USA but how does it compare to somewhere like Cambridge? And would a BSc from MIT stand me in good stead for a masters program?

  44. Reena '13 says:

    @ Amy
    I applied to Cambridge for physics. I ended up withdrawing the app after getting in to MIT (long story) so I never got a decision back, but, well, yeah :D Did you get in?

    Anyway, from what I gleaned, Cambridge is also INCREDIBLE at math but their Tripos system is really different from how MIT works. So I think you’ll have a hard time comparing them to one another. But did you know about the Cambridge-MIT exchange? It’s really popular among math majors, and if you click the link there’s even a blog about math.
    (The blogger seems to have learned more math at Cambridge than in his MIT years, but says they have a smaller emphasis on research there, so it’s a tradeoff).

    Of course an MIT BSc would give you a huge edge for grad school too! =o It’s MIT! Cambridge only seems like a bigger deal because it’s so old.

  45. Arfa '13 says:

    Does the bioengineering department participate in the Cambridge-MIT Exchange?

    Also what’s the difference between double major and double degree?

  46. Ali says:

    Hello Paul, hope things are going well.I Have just finished my high school with good grades.i studied science(math,physics and chemistry) in high school. do u think there is any chance for getting the MIT admission in Math or Physics?
    can give me some tips for getting the admission.what are the requirements and also is it too hard to get the admission.
    also i would like to be in touch with u through ur email if it is possible.
    thank you so much! smile

  47. Paul, how does MIT feel about students who take a gap year after high school to intern at an engineering firm while taking community college courses? I am a junior and I really want to get some life experience before taking on college. What do you think

  48. Reena says:

    @ Arfa
    You can go to Cambridge for any subject that they offer over there, I think smile I’d be surprised if they didn’t have bioengineering. You can check

  49. Paul says:

    @DK: I don’t know too much about transfer admissions, unfortunately. You are probably best off talking to the Admissions Office – you can reach them by email.

    @Amy: Reena’s response is great; I would also like to plug the Cambridge-MIT Exchange, which is a fantastic program. That said, MIT’s math department is well-known for its research, for its strong showings in the Putnam competition, and for the flexibility of its undergraduate math program. I think one of the things that sets MIT apart from other schools, in general, is its focus on undergraduate research, and students in the math department are certainly no exception.

  50. Thanks Renena and Paul. One more question on my letter of acceptance it said my place was conditional on flying colours what does that mean please?

  51. Anon says:

    How easy is it to cross-register at Harvard or Wellesley for a foreign language?

  52. Paul says:

    @Amy: “Flying colors” means keeping approximately the same grades you earned over the past years in high school. Don’t worry about it too much.

    @Anon: Pretty simple. You can read more about cross-registering on this blog entry.

  53. vicky says:

    hi, i’m vicky frm india; wanted to know the admission procedure for pursuing a graduation prog. in electronics & comp. sci. at MIT. could u please help me, cosidering other tests i’ve to take as a foreigner; and of course any financial aid i can get by scoring good in any entrance test(how good?)

  54. Paul says:

    @ Vicky: Here’s the site for graduate admissions. Best of luck.