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MIT blogger Alex M. '21

how to change majors by Alex M. '21

in just five easy steps!

1) Start a major

Somebody once warned me joining the military would break you down and slowly build you back up again. MIT is not the military, but MIT will break you down and force you to rebuild yourself, slowly, painfully, inch by inch. You will lose yourself. You will become someone new.

Everybody01 or almost everybody, anyway. breaks at some point. For many, it comes first semester. This is why MIT provides P/NR.02 P/NR = Pass/No Record. Essentially, all your first semester grades are recorded as a pass (meaning A, B, or C) or not recorded at all (if you got a D or F). For some, it comes second semester. This is why MIT provides ABC/NR. 03 ABC/NR = ABC/No Record. Second semester, D's and F's do not show up on your transcript, but A's, B's, and C's do. For me, it came in the fall of my sophomore year, shortly after I declared a major in computer science.04 also known as course 6-3

There is a difference between being unhappy with and uninterested in your classes and just being tired. It took me all of sophomore fall to learn that difference. I was tired, so tired, and I mistook unhappiness for exhaustion. I was overwhelmed, yes, but I was also unhappy.

I learned a lot that semester. I learned about searching and sorting algorithms,05 This was in 6.006, which is Intro to Algorithms and supervised machine learning06 This was in 6.036, which is Intro to Machine Learning algorithms, and the minutiae of Python,07 6.009, Fundamentals of Programming and what happens inside the processor of a computer.08 6.004, Computation Structures I learned that I did not want to be a computer scientist, that I did not particularly like writing code, that I do not and will not drop classes and so should legally not be allowed to register for more than I can handle.

2) Decide to change majors

This came to a head during finals week. I had three finals, all scheduled within a period barely longer than twenty-four hours. I did not enjoy studying for them. I did not find the material interesting. I was, in fact, much more interested in my friends’ shouting about 2.00109 Mechanics and Materials I in the mechanical engineering department and 2.00310 Dynamics and Controls I, also in the mechanical engineering department and Unified11 The aerospace engineering sophomore core. Unified covers 2 classes in the fall (Signals & Systems and Materials & Structures) and 2 in the spring (Thermodynamics and Fluid Dynamics). I have taken the spring ones and am currently in the fall ones. than anything I was doing.

I recognized that course 6 had broken me. I came to terms with the fact that I wasn’t preordained to be a computer scientist, that I didn’t have to struggle and strive for a job coding 9-to-5,  that there were other jobs and other majors, that I was the only person forcing myself through a major I didn’t want. I realized that it didn’t have to be like this.12 *car seat headrest voice* it doesn't have to be like this! it doesn't have to be like this! it doesn't have to be like this!</p> <p>feelingsposting song lyrics is deeply embarrassing yet here we are!

I was allowed to change my major. I was allowed to change my mind, so I did.

3) Choose a new major

I had no idea what I wanted to do after graduating. I was interested in circuits and robots and airplanes and satellites and self-driving cars and politics and the societal implications of technology. I wanted to learn about everything. I was greedy.

I wanted to build. I wanted to build circuits and program robots and chart election data and construct RC aircraft and design satellites and drop everything to think and write about politics and ethics and society and only take humanities classes.

I wanted to rest. I wanted to drink from the firehose, but I didn’t want to drown. I wanted time to breathe and read and sip coffee and go for long bike rides and watch the sun set at night and rise again in the morning.

I could not have everything I wanted. I had to make concessions. I made lists and Courseroads and vague allusions of trying something new to my friends and family. I thought about pros and cons and graduating on time and optimizing my needs or maybe just settling for something good enough. Eventually, buoyed by dreams of airplanes and satellites and robots, I settled on course 16.13 also known as aerospace engineering

4) File a change of major form

I spent my IAP 14 IAP = Independent Activities Period. In January, MIT has a brief J-term where you can take a class, do a short internship, travel, go home, or just bum around Boston shivering and staring at the frozen surface of the Charles river. I was back for rowing and to UROP but I spent most of my time in coffee shops studying for the 18.03 ASE 15 18.03=Differential Equations, ASE=Advanced Standing Exam. I needed to test out of 18.03 in order to change majors. and spending too much money. At the end of IAP, I took the exam, and blissfully, miraculously, I passed.

I filed a change of major form. I charted out my graduation plan. I met with the course 16 course administrator. I refiled the change of major form. I declared a minor in computer science to put my previous credits to use.

5) You are now in your new major

Last spring, my change of major form cleared. I built an RC aircraft and made friends in my cohort and passed spring Unified and finished my computer science minor. It was a whirlwind. It was another tough semester. I studied for a tricky fluids final and an incredibly confusing thermo final and enjoyed the whole sticky mess. Just before taking the fluids final, I thanked the professor for making the material so interesting and the class so fun, and I meant it. It was a fun and difficult class, and it was a fun and difficult semester.

I am now in the unenviable position of being a junior in sophomore classes. Worse, I am also, simultaneously, a junior in junior classes.16 16.06, 16.07 AND fall unified, baby! you truly can have it all! more on this suffering to come. I am building myself back up, piece by piece, pset by pset. I am slogging through the thick, muddy middle of MIT. The enthusiasm of freshman fall has long since waned. The sweet taste of senior spring is still too far away.

The worst part of MIT is the classes. The best part of MIT is the classes. My stomach sinks when I see I have 4 psets due at the end of this week, and almost every week. I smile when I start them and see the problems are all ultimately about aerospace.

I am learning about signals and systems and materials and structures and orbital dynamics and feedback control systems and I am working through problems and staying up late17 on wednesday & thursday I was up working until 10:30 pm, which is very late for me but very early for most MIT students. there is also more on <em>this</em> to come. and going to office hours and coming down with a cold and I am still so, so tired but now at least I am interested in the problem sets I spend 28 hours a week18 firehose says so, so it must be true! working on, and maybe next semester I will have more time, or maybe the one after that, or maybe the one after that.

MIT is hard. MIT will beat you down if you let it. At the end of each semester, I am exhausted and homesick, and more than ready to go home.

MIT is thrilling. MIT will let you build yourself back up again. At the start of each semester, I am excited and energized and homesick for MIT, and more than ready to go back.

  1. or almost everybody, anyway. back to text
  2. P/NR = Pass/No Record. Essentially, all your first semester grades are recorded as a pass (meaning A, B, or C) or not recorded at all (if you got a D or F). back to text
  3. ABC/NR = ABC/No Record. Second semester, D's and F's do not show up on your transcript, but A's, B's, and C's do. back to text
  4. also known as course 6-3 back to text
  5. This was in 6.006, which is Intro to Algorithms back to text
  6. This was in 6.036, which is Intro to Machine Learning back to text
  7. 6.009, Fundamentals of Programming back to text
  8. 6.004, Computation Structures back to text
  9. Mechanics and Materials I in the mechanical engineering department back to text
  10. Dynamics and Controls I, also in the mechanical engineering department back to text
  11. The aerospace engineering sophomore core. Unified covers 2 classes in the fall (Signals & Systems and Materials & Structures) and 2 in the spring (Thermodynamics and Fluid Dynamics). I have taken the spring ones and am currently in the fall ones. back to text
  12. *car seat headrest voice* it doesn't have to be like this! it doesn't have to be like this! it doesn't have to be like this! back to text
  13. also known as aerospace engineering back to text
  14. IAP = Independent Activities Period. In January, MIT has a brief J-term where you can take a class, do a short internship, travel, go home, or just bum around Boston back to text
  15. 18.03=Differential Equations, ASE=Advanced Standing Exam. I needed to test out of 18.03 in order to change majors. back to text
  16. 16.06, 16.07 AND fall unified, baby! you truly can have it all! more on this suffering to come. back to text
  17. on wednesday & thursday I was up working until 10:30 pm, which is very late for me but very early for most MIT students. there is also more on this to come. back to text
  18. firehose says so, so it must be true! back to text