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Misconceptions by Jessica Z. '27

initial thoughts from a first-gen college student

I first stepped onto MIT’s campus in the summer of my junior year, and it was my first impression of what college life could truly look like. I didn’t visit many colleges outside of my local area in high school, and my parents also didn’t go to college, so I couldn’t ask them about their personal experiences. When I entered high school and became more serious about college, I tried searching for answers on my own. My impression of college was from scrolling on college websites, watching media, or asking others, all of which naturally gave me different ideas of what to expect. While the information I learned was useful, it couldn’t quite supplement the feeling of actually being on campus. 

That being said, I went into MIT without a concrete idea of what exactly I was getting into. I had a few ideas about how I thought college would go—in some ways, I was right, but in a lot, lot, lot more ways, I was wrong about college life, particularly here at MIT. I’ve only been on campus for a a little over a month and attended classes for three weeks, but here are a few of my misconceptions (and some truths!) that I’ve learned so far.


One of my biggest misconception about MIT was classes: I was nervous that I would feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of STEM in comparison to the humanities, but I’ve quickly learned that this just isn’t true. In fact, as part of MIT’s GIRs,01 General Institute Requirements all undergraduate students are required to take eight HASS02 Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences class subjects. One of my favorite classes this semester is my HASS class STS.011.03 Engineering Life: Biotechnology and Society Granted, this class is still related to STEM, but it takes a much more social, philosophical, and ethical look at the future of biotechnology. Despite it being my earliest class of the day, the professor makes the in-class discussions and coursework really engaging. 

One part I did get right, though, is that college is hard. Everyone says it, and I always believed it, but it really started to click when classes began. In addition to STS.011, I’m taking three GIRs this semester: 18.01, 8.01, and 5.111.04 Calculus I, Physics I, and Principles of Chemical Science. Between balancing my 20.A06 advising seminar05 Hands-on Making in Biological Engineering, which I love and deserves a post of its own. and 15.000 discovery course,06 Explorations in Management it’s a lot to keep up with. 

I was also originally taking 6.100A.07 Introduction to CS and Programming using Python I’ve never coded more than ten lines of python before coming to MIT, so I knew the learning curve would be pretty significant, but I quickly learned I wouldn’t be able to handle the class along with my other responsibilities. I understand why people get satisfaction from coding—there’s something about seeing code run smoothly, sans errors and red squiggly lines, that makes a part of my brain click. But beyond those rare moments for me, I find coding to be really frustrating. After a long internal debate, I decided to drop it. I was nervous to email my advisor letting him know I wanted to drop a class, but he was really understanding! In fact, he was glad I chose to drop it early in the semester so I didn’t stress too much. 

Earlier last week, I also got sick. I fell asleep for what was meant to be an hour-long nap before 8.01, but I woke up feeling even worse. In 8.01, they take attendance by answering in-class content questions as part of our grade, but I truly felt too bad to go to class. Luckily, I dropped in last-minute to talk to S308 Student Support Services and got excused. I used the time when I felt better to catch up on the content I missed with the help of friends. So while yes, classes are hard to balance with life, it’s really nice to know that there’s resources and people who are more than willing to help.09 Side note: Shoutout to my friends, advisor, and S3 for validating my concerns about handling classes and encouraging me to get rest when I was sick :’)


I’ve heard horror stories from graduating seniors at my high school that the social aspect of college was so overwhelming that it ruined their first year for them. My high school was small with a graduating class of twenty-four students, so it was easy for me to feel comfortable exploring an environment where I was always familiar with the people around me. I was convinced I would spend most of my time anxious meeting so many new people on campus at once, but I couldn’t have been more wrong—all the people I’ve met so far, whether it be from my dorm floor or advising seminar or other clubs, have been really nice. 

Another misconception: I never thought I would ever participate in recruitment,10 Recruitment is the week-long process you go through to meet all the sororities and decide which sororities you fit with. let alone actually join a sorority. When some of my friends started talking about recruitment week, I almost immediately casted it out of my mind because it didn’t seem like something I would enjoy. College sororities are often portrayed as exclusive and not academically-focused in media, and I hate to admit that it’s hard to shake some of those stigmas. But, I figured I would try recruitment just in case.

Recruitment week is a lot of talking to different sorority members and admittedly a bit exhausting, but I found myself enjoying my conversations with the upperclassman. I also realized throughout the week that the conversations we had focused on our core values, aspirations, academics, and service, and I slowly became more open to the idea of joining a sorority. I joined Alpha Chi Omega at the end of the week, and I’m really excited to be part of it!


My biggest misconception, however, was that college is just academics. When I committed to MIT in late April, I feared being sucked into a world of constant studying. But college is much more than just classes—it’s given me such a wide breadth of experiences and opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I scroll through my camera roll at night and remember all the first-year traditions that I will always look fondly back on, like Orientation, REX,11 Residence Exploration and FPOP.12 Freshman Pre-Orientation Program It’s the late-night walking by the Charles River, overspending at Muji and Teado, sunset-watching by Kendall Square, running through pouring rain to pset, and almost crying from laughing with friends that makes college feel so much more human than just a place to study. 

Almost everyday, I find myself having a jarring moment where I think to myself that I am here. Not for a day, not for a week, not even for a month. I am here for the next four years of my undergraduate education. I get this feeling when I realize that, no, I’m not shipping a package to Pennsylvania, but to my dorm in Boston. I feel it when I realize that if I want to just go shopping or visit a cool place nearby or visit a lab, I simply can. As a first-generation college student, I always wondered “what is college going to be like?”, and it’s crazy to now think to myself, “this is what college is.”

I’ve only been here for three weeks of classes, so it’s safe to say I have a lot more misconceptions that I’m not quite aware of yet. Despite all the uncertainty that I’m feeling, college finally feels real, and I look forward to documenting the next four years :)

  1. General Institute Requirements back to text
  2. Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences back to text
  3. Engineering Life: Biotechnology and Society back to text
  4. Calculus I, Physics I, and Principles of Chemical Science. back to text
  5. Hands-on Making in Biological Engineering, which I love and deserves a post of its own. back to text
  6. Explorations in Management back to text
  7. Introduction to CS and Programming using Python back to text
  8. Student Support Services back to text
  9. Side note: Shoutout to my friends, advisor, and S3 for validating my concerns about handling classes and encouraging me to get rest when I was sick :’) back to text
  10. Recruitment is the week-long process you go through to meet all the sororities and decide which sororities you fit with. back to text
  11. Residence Exploration back to text
  12. Freshman Pre-Orientation Program back to text