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MIT student blogger Mollie B. '06

Home on the range by Mollie B. '06

Dorm choice timeline and advice.

My life
Yesterday was Adam’s and my two-year anniversary! We celebrated with our friends with a cake and some quality reminiscing. I wanted to get party hats, but I couldn’t find any at the store, alas.

Dorm choice
I get the feeling that a lot of people find MIT’s dorm choice process a little mysterious at best, so I thought I’d clear up the timeline involved. We upperclassmen forget sometimes that it’s not crystal-clear to you.

CPW — Check out dorms, meet residents, eat free food.

Late May/early June — receive a booklet with descriptions of each dorm written by residents, and a CD with resident-made videos. (Last year’s videos can be found here.) Rank each dorm and cultural house, 1 through 15, and send in the form to be run in the housing lottery. The form is usually due around the third week of June.

Late July — Housing lottery runs. Freshmen are assigned a temporary room The room is almost always one of their top two choices, sometimes third choice — last year, 70% of students got their first choice in the summer lottery and 26% got their second choice.

August 26 or 27 — Arrive at MIT and put stuff in temporary room. Don’t unpack. (A good strategy is to pack a suitcase with a week’s worth of stuff in it, and live out of that during orientation.) Run around and check out all the dorms and eat free food, decide if you want to enter the readjustment lottery to switch dorms. You always have the option to stay in your temp dorm if you want, although you shouldn’t succumb to laziness and not explore just because you sorta like your temp dorm.

August, a few days after that — The readjustment lottery is run for people who have decided to switch dorms. Final dorm assignments go out the day after the lottery is run.

August, probably the next day — Each dorm does in-house rush, where students go around and meet people from all the floors/entries/whatever within the dorm and eat free food. Students rank floors and yet another lottery is run.

Now we’re probably into September — Final room assignments go out. Students (with help from upperclassman muscle) move into their final room assignments. Everybody gets psyched.

My two cents
My advice is to look at all the dorms seriously, or at least to use the i3 videos to narrow it down to your top three or four choices, then visit all three or four of those dorms during rush. You can’t get all the information you need from a video — you can get it from talking to a wide variety of current dorm residents.

Second, I’d really encourage everybody not to fixate on one particular dorm. If you like dorm X, there are other dorms that resemble it in some way — you don’t want to not get lotteried into dorm X and set yourself up for being miserable. It’s okay to have a first choice, but make sure you like a few other choices too.

Make sure to take rush seriously. It’s really important that you end up in the best dorm for you and don’t succumb to laziness and inertia and pick/stay based on stupid criteria. The people in your living group will probably be your most important social support system during your freshman year. Plus there’s lots of free food, and who can argue with that?

Also, I’d encourage you to look at what’s important in each dorm: the people. Some of the dorms at MIT are more aesthetically pleasing than others, but who cares? After a few weeks, the physical atmosphere will feel like home if you’re with a group of people you care about. It’s much better to be with great people in an older dorm than to be with people you don’t like in a shiny new one. You can use amenities to guide your choice, but use people as your primary criterion.

I would be particularly wary about choosing a dorm based on its possession or lack of a dining hall. People who don’t live in a dining hall dorm can still eat in dining halls every night, and some people who do live in dining hall dorms never touch dining hall food. You’ll be in college. You’ll get food somehow, I promise.

There are lots of different kinds of people at MIT, as you undoubtably noticed at CPW. Hence, there are lots of different kinds of communities at MIT. I’d be careful trying to value-judge different dorms — it’s not very nice and it hurts feelings. Plus it’s completely ridiculous; there’s no “best” dorm, just one (or a few) that are best for you.

Keep that in mind when you’re visiting dorms during rush. Don’t listen to people who say “Oh, dorm X is lame and the people there are [weird, frat boys, antisocial, evil, scary, popularity whores, smelly, boring, trashy, losers].” Go there and check it out for yourself.

So do a little soul-searching — what kind of person are you, and what do you want in your dorm community? There’s no right answer, and all kinds of people can find a great living group at MIT.

And never, under any circumstances, ask any upperclassman the following question: “I got lotteried into this dorm over the summer. If I choose to stay in this dorm, can I keep the same room?” The answer is no. Don’t let laziness keep you from exploring other dorms. Would you rather be lazy for a week or happy for four years?

(I’m not answering Adam’s questions, because I’m sure he’ll answer them much better than I could. But he’s at lab right now, so answers to his questions will have to wait, I guess.)

1. Anonymous asked, “What is a postdoc?”
A postdoc is either a person who has gotten a PhD or the job the person takes after getting said PhD. In science, since faculty positions are few and far between, most people take postdoctoral positions for three to five years after getting their PhDs. Postdocs are usually really good at bench work… and really stressed out.

2. Dan asked,

In a previous entry, you said if you single major you need 180 units beyond GIRs, but for a double you don’t need the full 180 more – you ‘only’ need 270 total more than the GIRs. Does that mean you get 180 for 1 and 90 for the other, or approximately 135 for each major? On each department’s site, it gives the requirements for a degree in that major, as if you’re getting a degree in just that one. So if one wanted to figure out how much of say “physics” they would need with a double major in math and physics, how would they see how much of each they need to take?

No, you just need 270 units total outside the GIRs — it doesn’t matter where they come from. I mean, if you wanted to do a double in math and physics, and you finished all the requirements for each major and had, say, 48 units left over, you could take them all in math, or all in physics, or all in history. (All of my “extra” units, for example, have been in biology.) You can count a single subject for both majors (18.03, for example, is required for both a math major and a physics major), but it only counts as 12 units outside the GIRs.

If you want to give me your email address (entering it in the “email” field of the comments won’t make it visible to everyone else), I can hash this out with you in more detail — it’s not a terribly clear system! If it helps, also, here’s my class plan.

10 responses to “Home on the range”

  1. Your class plan is amazingly helpful. I want to double in courses 5 and 9, and I’ve been meaning to set up a rough plan of my own – this gives me a general idea of how to do so. Thanks!

  2. Dan says:

    I think I do get it now, but thanks for the e-mail offer. So with a course required for two majors, I would: take it just once, it would count in two places, and count once towards my graduation total which would be 270 beyond the GIRs with a double major. Sweet, it still sounds really hard still when you take a realistic look at it.

  3. Nur says:

    Thank you for posting your plan. I’m considering majoring in Course 18 and possibly course 20, if possible. Should it the course you consider double majoring in be closely related with your first major ?

  4. Hey Mollie, again, excellent entry! I really want to go to MIT already, I’m very excited. smile

    thanks for the entry, it’s great!

  5. Charlotte says:

    Haha…so who’s most stressed out? Poor undergrads, graduate students, postdocs or the professors? Just a curious question. =)

  6. Dan says:

    Oh yeah and happy two-year anniversary!

  7. Leo says:


    My questions are based on what I understood about your class plan.

    1. Did you use some Course 9 requirements to substitute HASS?

    2. What was in the 27 units of AP credit?

    3. Though this be madness, can you tell us any methods in planning classes for a double major? (such as pitfalls to avoid, ways to ease stress).

    It would be much helpful.

    And happy anniversary,


  8. michelle says:

    thanks mollie for your advice! I was wondering which dorms you have stayed in during MIT and what your experience has been.

  9. Anonymous says:


    I am applicant for the class of 2010. I was admitted. I am an international student. I have being reading your blog since year 2004 when I was a junior. I would like to thank you for dedicating some much time to write about your student life at MIT both on your blog and college confidential. Your words are always valuable advice for us.

    Even though I know you will graduate this June I would have liked to meet you to thank you in person. I will surely do it if get to meet you anytime at MIT. You made MIT be not only a dream, but also a reachable goal. Thanks for everything Mollie.

    A sincere and thankful intl admitted.

  10. nehalita says:

    Could you do a separate entry on class plans? I know a lot of us reading are prefrosh but it would be nice to hear your perspective and whatnot. Do we actually meet up with someone to make a class plan or do we do this on our own? Thanks!