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MIT student blogger Melis A. '08

Physical Education: because your body needs problem sets, too by Melis A. '08

My adventures in completing the MIT Physical Education requirements

You can get a perfect GPA and lead every extracurricular activity on campus, but if you don’t pass a swim test and complete 8 Physical Education (P.E.) “points,” then you won’t receive an MIT diploma. Harsh, eh? That’s right, MIT requires you to graduate with a strong mind and body, while ensuring that you will not drown if your get knocked into the ocean while taking measurements of toxic algae concentrations while you’re on a boat in the Pacific (for example…)

The 8 P.E. point requirement can be fulfilled by taking 4 gym classes, or by participating in 2 seasons of a varsity sport. The range of gym classes is really outstanding, some of them include: pistol, rock climbing, skiing (during IAP), swimming, ice skating, kickboxing, yoga, basketball, badminton, and tennis. Initially I thought this requirement was a drag, but my classes have ended up being a lot of fun.

You sign up for these classes on the P.E. website through a lottery that lasts for a week. Of course, I always end up signing up at the last minute, and so I randomly rank classes that happen to fit in with the rest of my class schedule. My current gym class is Advanced Beginners Swimming. I signed up on a whim, not bothering to read the course description, since it seemed pretty self-explanatory and I just wanted to work on my form. I know how to swim, just not with any style or grace. So I showed up on the first day of class, ready to get some tips on how to improve my strokes, but it turned out that the class was designed to teach people how to swim well enough to pass the swim test. The swim test involves doing four laps in our Olympic-sized pool. You can take your sweet time and do whatever stroke you want; all you have to do is complete the required distance. Though I had already completed the swim test at the beginning of my freshman year… I took the class anyway.

So, twice a week from 1-2 pm, I take a break between Organic Chemistry and Neuroscience to learn the intricacies of bobbing, breathing, “the crawl”, elementary backstroke, sidestroke, and more. The class is tiny; one teacher to about two or three students, depending on if it’s a bad week and people decide not to show up. Last Monday, I was the only one for a while. It’s actually pretty fun, except for today, when I learned that I completely lack the coordination required to do the sidestroke. Seriously =(. The teacher was pretty encouraging, maybe someday the right neurons will fire and I’ll learn this ever-important survival stroke.

In the past, I’ve taken:
Boot-camp/Conditioning: Taught by the same ridiculously hard-core, awesome teacher, these classes will surely get you into shape. I left the first few classes completely sore and hardly able to walk down the stairs. But by the end of the semester, our endurance had increased and we were doing sit-ups, push-ups, squats, and sprints like the pros. It was definitely the most intense of the classes I’ve taken, one guy threw-up because he pushed himself too hard during our relay race!
Golf: I was technically on the women’s “Varsity” golf team in high school and this gym class provided a nice opportunity to brush-up on my shots. We met on the athletics field and used a different club each class, while learning the rules and some strategies.
-Ice skating: I don’t consider myself to be a terrible ice skater, but I was pretty bad in the class. They teach you awesome stuff like doing a “hockey stop” and cross-overs and backwards skating. Unfortunately, on the 3rd day of class, I had just gotten my ears pierced and when I took of my helmet it snagged on the earring and ripped it out! After that…I never showed up again.
Yoga: The quality of this class definitely varies based on the teacher. My teacher was very focused on the meditation aspect of yoga, which was great for me since we mostly stretched and then laid on mats for 10 minutes for quiet reflection. Picture this: the lights were off, the ceiling fans were on, it was 5:30 pm so the room was dimly lit by the setting sun, and we were curled up and laying on our sides. Obviously, we would all just sleep, and to this day I fondly remember those 10 minutes as the best naps of my life.

I actually haven’t completed my P.E. points yet, since if you miss more than 1 class out of 13 you lose credit, and somehow I’m really great at missing 2 classes. But, even when I’ve fulfilled the requirement, I’ll keep taking them because they’re fun! Also, they also force you to go to our beautiful gym and pool, and get your mind off of problem sets.

18 responses to “Physical Education: because your body needs problem sets, too”

  1. Adam says:

    I would like to take sailing, rowing, pistol, fencing, and ropes… grin

    Sailing, in particular, is awesome! While I was visiting MIT, I learned that if you complete the sailing course, you can take an MIT sailboat out on the beautiful Charles River (which happened to have toxic algae in it while I was visiting..) whenever you like, for the rest of your life, for free!

  2. Anjanie says:

    I think it is a reaslly smart idea for MIT to require that. I was wondering what really etreme types of sports they have there….

  3. Indonesian says:

    Well, I think it’s a great idea! I wonder if I can swim that well, since swimming isn’t in the standard Indonesian curriculum (a swimming pool in every school? no way)

    That boot camp/conditioning sounds pretty intense…

  4. Sarab says:

    Interesting. I’d probably take all of them except for yoga and ice skating. I was wondering about how to stay in shape.
    What about the gym’s? I’ve heard ther’s one in every house?

  5. Sh1fty says:

    of all sports i’ve ever tried capoeira was the best. for all of you who don’t know, capoeira is a brasillian martial art smile i seriously doubt that there’s a capoeira class :D i’ve heard of a capoeira group in boston, but i doubt that i’ll have time to train with them :(

  6. Anonymous says:

    Is there any way to get out of the swim test? I can swim, but I don’t for personal reasons. I haven’t for five years.

  7. Melissa Hunt says:

    It didn’t even occur to me that one can fulfill P.E. by taking fun stuff – I thought it was just the normal stretching, running, and occasional playing a game of something. I want to take swimming! Is there fencing, archery, or a martial art?

  8. Hey.. it’s so cool to have such stuffs… body and mind eh? nice idea…

  9. Monika says:

    I really like the idea of coming out from a laboratory course and walk into a gym…
    seems pretty familiar as you have do take PE courses for Abitur in Germany.
    I’d like to do ice-skating…I do it now and its fun!

  10. Nikhil says:

    Hmm, physical ed requirement, eh?
    Now there’s a bright idea wink

  11. Manuel says:

    I think that’s a great idea to make sport a requirement. I’m currently in the International Baccalaureate and we have to complete 60 hours of Action which includes sports or PE classes. Especially if you’re doing a varsity that’s really easy.

  12. John says:

    Oh, I took the same ‘advanced beginners swimming’ class my freshman year at Caltech (the other/only institute of technology wink and I had to learn the sidestroke. It’s fun when you get to learn it, but it seems like a lot of different motions – one hand one way, one the other, scissor kick sideways – that I’ve already forgotten it now. But my swim teacher would always talk about Reynolds numbers, turbulent and streamlined flow, and minimizing cross-sectional drag areas. I loved the whole thing.

    Boot camp?! I can imagine that’d be an INTENSE PE. I’m taking Tang Soo Do next term, but we have some cool options too like Rock Climbing, Ultimate Frisbee, Table Tennis (taught by a Chinese Olympian, don’t dare call it ping pong), and a student-designed option (for those who exercise via DDR or marathon training. Yeah, Caltech doesn’t have as many options, but what we lack in quantity we make up in … um … i’ll think of it. =] they’re actually very well-taught.

    Oh, Melis, I wish my blog could be as popular as yours. Maybe if I write as inspiringly about Caltech as you do about MIT… one day. You have a great picture up on the bar – it looks like you’re like an enormous X-men Cyclops, about to open your eyes and blast the Boston/Cambridge skyline to smithereens. While smiling. =D

  13. Illai says:

    Do you know if there’s a Capoeira team at MIT?

  14. Stephanie says:

    Hi Melis,

    I’m an 08 student here at MIT! I actually was interested in blogging as well for the admissions office, where can I get more information on it? I totally think this is a great idea, and would love to help share the awesome-ness of MIT.


  15. Melis says:

    Sarab: I think there’s a gym in almost every dorm (with the exception of Bexley, I think…don’t quote me on that.)

    Melissa: There’s a fencing team, but I don’t know if we have a PE class for it. There are some martial arts, though!

    Anonymous: I’m not sure how you can get out of the swim test, but if you have a compelling reason then you can talk to someone in the PE department about it.

    John: It’s been a while! Thanks for dropping by and sharing your west coast insights =) Unfortunately, our swim classes are devoid of fluid mechanics, perhaps I’ll suggest it in the course evaluation. I’m having trouble with the sidestroke too…it just doesn’t make any sense. Hope you’re doing well!

    Stephanie: You can talk to Ben Jones ( or Matt McGann ( about becoming a blogger. As far I know, there’s an application process at the beginning of the year. Good luck!

  16. Serena Smith says:

    I like what u wrote, and i’m planning on making my own blog. u gave me pretty good ideas!