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MIT student blogger Yan Z. '12

Questions? Answers. by Yan Z. '12

A valiant attempt at creating an entry that fits as many categories as reasonably possible.

Thanks to the miracles of modern transportation, I’m wringing out this week’s MIT roundup from the wrong side of the Mississippi. (Internal aside: The previous sentence sounds like it was written by a cattle rancher. This distresses me. I own no cattle.) Tucked away in the American prairies and folded under a blanket of metropolitan sprawl, Saint Louis is best known for the transformation of the hyperbolic cosine function into a national symbol of westward expansion, Barack Obama’s favorite pizza, Yan Z., frequent superiority in the World Series, frequent superiority in the cooking of ravioli, frequent superiority in being more dangerous than other cities, Yan Z., frequent superiority in jazz, Yan Z., and frequent superiority in being the hometown of exactly seven early action acceptees to MIT this year. Congratulations!

In order to ready the potential ’13ers for the ceaseless rounds of free food that will be slung at them as soon as they bare their unfed faces on campus, the local alumni association sponsored a luncheon today for the acceptees and their genetic prototypes (a.k.a. parents). I was in attendance to take pictures of food- I mean, answer questions. All in all, the afternoon was filled with nutritious discussion worthy of repost on the blogs, which inspired in me the idea of reposting the discussion on the blogs (marvelous logic!). Thus, I present these following questions of great import, as well as answers of great export:

How accessible is campus dining?

In my realm of discussion, campus dining is a porcupine in a petting zoo of tamer subjects (like the arts at MIT or eating desserts at MIT) : it’s difficult to approach, prickly to handle, and hasn’t evolved significantly in the last 30 million years. Also, I prefer to avoid it completely by (1) grocery shopping on a weekly basis and (2) occasionally reverting to a hunter/gatherer lifestyle (hunting down leftovers from special events and gathering victuals from study breaks and group dinners, that is). Sadly, such glamorous dining habits are not universally feasible on campus. In four of the twelve dorms, residents are required to pay $300 per semester for a 50% discount in any of the four residential dining halls, which are only open during dinner hours. Breaking even with the dining system is about as easy as breaking through a wooden door, which is why I chose to live in one of the non-dining dorms and carry the key to my room door.

Common alternatives to residential dining:
1. Buying groceries and cooking for yourself or in a group. All the dorms have microwaves, stoves, and fridges, as well as at least one member who knows how to prevent the fire alarms from going off.
2. Buying food at the Student Center, home to Subway, Dunkin’ Donuts, Cafe Spice (Indian), Sepal (Middle Eastern), Shinkansen (Japanese), Cambridge Grill, and Anna’s Taqueria. Additionally, the campus is peppered with soup-salad-sandwich cafes and food trucks.
3. Joining a fraternity/sorority/independent living group that provides a full meal plan (dinners and access to breakfast/lunch supplies for a set price per semester).

Convenient details can be found here. Currently, the campus dining system is a breeding ground for complaints and receives quite a bit of coverage in the Tech. Having said this, everyone gets fed one way or another, even when I’m not around to take pictures.

What will AP tests do for me?

AP tests will help you achieve physical and spiritual separation with your money. As for achievements that are slightly less Zen, 5’s on the AP Calc. BC exam and the AP Physics C exam will get you out of corresponding introductory classes at MIT. A 5 on one of the AP English tests will grant you exemption from the Freshman Essay Evaluation (FEE), which is a pain in the collective neck of the freshmen class. Exemption from the FEE gives you the sweet freedom to take any writing class that you want. Other AP scores are like raisins in cookies: nice to have around, but mostly useless.

At the beginning of the year, MIT offers Advanced Standing Exams for students who wish to pass out of introductory biology or chemistry. This year, the biology exam had a 31% passing rate, while chemistry boasted a whopping 7% (figures courtesy of The Tech). I offer this as evidence that MIT freshman subjects require a deeper level of understanding than do most advanced high school classes.

How did you like your classes this semester?

Viewed from the flip side of finals week, my classes look great, like Oprah Winfrey these days. Sure I complained about biology once in a while and was consistently asleep for about 10 minutes of every linguistics lecture, but I’ve learned how to cure cancer (theoretically) and rewrite Dave Barry jokes using the International Phonetic Alphabet, so I’m a better person now.

Academic highlight of the semester?

I say with no hesitation and thus no punctuation even when needed such as right here that Introduction to Solid State Chemistry was the greatest class I have ever beheld in my brief academic career. Professor Sadoway fully deserves his five-star ratings on his YouTube lectures.

(Amusing story: I was feebly attempting to conceal my camera while taking this shot, but it turns out that the video camera in the lecture hall was pointed directly at me. As a result, everyone in 3.091 who watches the online video lectures witnessed my tourist-esque behavior.)

Coming to MIT with a paltry year’s worth of non-AP, non-honors high school chemistry just a shade above the difficulty level of baking-soda-and-vinegar vocanoes, I should have been grossly underprepared for a class that covered everything from Schrodinger’s wave equation to zwitterionic properties to polymer engineering (not to mention the sheer intimidation factor of a class of over 500 students). As it happened, inexperience worked to my advantage. Unjaded by the confidence of prior knowledge, I ended up working harder and studying longer than basically everyone I knew. Never before had I found chemistry to be even vaguely fascinating, so my newfound enjoyment of the material was mildly mind-shattering.

In the end, I got the 3rd highest grade in the class* and landed a paid research project with Professor Sadoway’s research group next semester. Empirical evidence shows that, on occasion, effort pays off even at MIT.

(*Information obtained from TA informally. Generally, MIT doesn’t rank students; in fact, this semester I’ve only received exact, numerical grades in one class so far.)

I mentioned this anecdote for two reasons:
1. To invalidate the assumption that having minimal prior knowledge in a subject will necessarily prevent you from succeeding in it. (In other words, don’t worry if you feel as if your high school classes are like Bambi to MIT’s Godzilla. (In other other words, it’s okay if your high school science classes sucked.))
2. To suggest that MIT introductory classes can be immensely worthwhile and challenging even if you learned the same subjects in high school.

What are your plans for IAP?

IAP, or “Independent Activities Period” in unzipped form, is the temporal broom closet in which you cram all the hopes and dreams and wildly ambitious schemes (hey, that rhymes!) that you never had time for during the regular semester. Want to learn how to speak in Tagalog while spinning a Chinese yo-yo at the same time? Save it for IAP. Planning to visit your friend in Random Hall that you haven’t talked to since Orientation? Make an IAP date. Trying to dip into Java programming, amateur orienteering, or chocolate tasting? Take an IAP class. Need to atone for your past cynicism by helping prefrosh see the bright side of MIT life? Save that one for CPW, actually.

A quick rummage through my junkyard of IAP plans produces the following:

1. Working on a paid research project with Group Sadoway. Along with Ambrose ’12, I’ll be investigating the design of solid-state polymer batteries for performance in high temperatures, which is useful because liquid electrolytes tend to randomly explode.

2. A 6-unit class in Mechanics II, because double the mechanics is double the fun! However, I’ve always been wary of having fun in excess, so I might end up dropping the class if it turns out to be too hefty of a time investment.

3. Hummus taste-off. Enough said. Should I have to describe this in more detail, I may start weeping tears of joy.

4. Mystery hunt, MIT’s epic-scale, campus-wide, interactive puzzle challenge. I’ll probably be a devoted spectator on the Random Hall team, which is usually one of the more formidable contenders.

5. Weekly Dim Sum runs. My personal goal is to introduce at least three new people to the gutteral, gristly gourmet experience on each trip.

6. A pilgrimage to Pour House, an MIT favorite in Boston that serves half-priced burgers on Saturday nights.

7. Taking a Sport Taekwondo class.

8. Helping Katelyn ’12 move into my room (yep, that’s Roommate #3) since my former roommate decided to ditch our hovel and live a monastic life of solitude in a single down the hall. Katelyn, if you are reading this, I propose we celebrate your moving-in (inmoving?) by preparing a homemade dumpling feast with turkey meatloaf and carrots and oyster sauce and vinegar and tamarind chutney. Also, you should grate up some confetti.

9. Helping Abby ’12 decide on a mural to paint on the wall outside my room. So far, I’m gunning for one of M.C. Escher’s scroll-sized prints. Any thoughts from the blogosphere?

10. Collaborating with Aviv ’09 on the Random Hall History Project. Earlier this year, Aviv contacted me about collecting photos and anecdotes for an online database of the long and illustrious history of our beloved dorm, a proposal that immediately went onto my mounting heap of IAP tasks.

11. Starting a website with Donald Guy ’12 in which we empirically prove that everything in existence is the Stata Center (at least from a visual/artistic standpoint). This sweepingly ambitious vision was inspired on a cold December evening as Donald and I were leaving Simmons Hall. My attention was snagged by some object or another that resembled MIT’s famous wonder of Seussical architecture, and I remarked on this aloud, to which Donald responded: “Everything is Stata.” A proverb was born.

12. Blogging, reading, sitting in on the occasional programming class, and generally reacquainting myself with effective methods of chillaxing.

In actuality, I’ll probably end up doing half of the above and sleeping through the rest.

Back to the MIT Prefrosh Luncheon: How was your salad? Was it bigger than your head?

Truly, this is a question of extraordinary relevance. I opted for an unbalanced pot-pourri of spinach leaves, fried shrimp, mango, and strawberry, with emphasis on the spinach. Carrot and onion served as nothing more than charming footnotes of vinegary flavor. The sheer breadth of the bowl dwarfed my cranium, but the salad was underwhelming.

Dang, sorry that salad didn’t work out for you. How was the other food?

Unexpectedly, the bread basket was a tour-de-force of texture and warmth, seamlessly integrated into a soft, crusty lesson in The American Bread Experience.

I was fortunate to have seated myself next to Max 13’s mom, who brimmed with excellent motherly questions and also allowed me to photograph her main course. If memory serves me faithfully, this is grilled salmon with rice and asparagus stalks.

For the dessert course, I rotated myself to another table and chatted with Julia ’13, who stunned my lens with a bright ruby sorbet.

Derailing unabashedly from the track of MIT admissions relevancy, I had a pulled-chicken Banh Mi sub for dinner five hours later and nearly decided to scrap my IAP plans and book a flight to Vietnam.

(New Year’s Resolution: 12.1 megapixels.)

Next time, I’ll try to cover Bizarre Questions That You Wonder About But Rarely Ask, so feel free to vent your curiosities via comment or email. In the meantime, happy calendar reset!

85 responses to “Questions? Answers.”

  1. haha says:


    Characters for the win.

    Wow, St. Louis with 14 EA admits?!

  2. Yan says:

    @ Captcha:

    Um, looks like I’m going to have to call in backup to answer this one.

    @ Steph:

    We don’t speak of Roommate #1.

    (Actually, we only lived together for about a week before the semester started. She moved into a closet single during housing rush.)

    @ Oasis:

    Paul said something similar about the category overload. Someday, I would like to write a post that’s shorter than the list of categories that it’s in.

    @ Haha:

    You just doubled the number that I wrote in the post, which is sort of a neat mind trick.

  3. Reena says:

    First of all, let me say that tamarind chutney sounds amazing.

    So, one thing I’ve been wondering. Does there exist a dorm without coed bathrooms, without cats, that doesn’t require you to buy the dining plan?
    Alternatively, is there any way to fix the problem that my parents (and my best-friend-and-hopefully-future-roommate’s parents) are utterly horrified at the prospect of coed bathrooms?

    Actually two things. Does 3.091 run spring semester?

    Happy New Year! smile

  4. Yan says:

    @ Reena:

    Cats aren’t usually a problem for people with allergies or who hate cats for other reasons, since they have to stay within a closed area (or at least in Random. I assume other dorms also do this.) It’s pretty easy to just avoid the cat-containing regions on the cat-containing floors.

    I’m not sure if there’s a non-coed bathroom dorm other than McCormick (which has a dining plan). Random has four single-gender floors, so some bathrooms are mostly non-coed. If you live in NW35, you get private bathrooms. Otherwise, for dorms like MacGregor, it’s probably possible to choose a suite/entry/whatever you call them that happens to be single-gender (thus, the bathroom for that suite/entry/whatever will informally be non-coed). Hopefully someone else reading this can tell you how often this actually happens.

    3.091 runs during spring semester, but Sadoway only teaches it in the fall. Sadoway is basically everything that makes 3.091 famous, so I’d highly recommend taking it in the fall even if you have to leave it for sophomore year.

  5. Ngozi '13 says:

    Hey, Yan!

    I have a question. At my school, there’s this ongoing, Highly Nerdy feud between the kids who take Calc BC and the kids who take Calc AB. The AB kids think the BC kids are dumb for pointlessly suffering, while the BC kids think the AB kids are just dumb.

    Do situations like that pop up at MIT? Do people “flaunt” the fact that they’re in 8.012 over 8.01? I’d hope that, you know, people wouldn’t be jerks? :/

  6. Mengjie says:

    Congratulations, Yan!
    Happy New Year!

  7. Nice comments on your chemistry class – glad to hear people getting excited about science. I’m a mom to a 7 year old total science nerd who can’t get enough of programmable robots and questions on antimatter…found your blog by googling “where to send student who loves science.” He’s in a DC school with a pathetic science program…just tested 99+ percentile on IQ test (where did THAT come from??? Not me…). Would love to hear from any MIT students who had great science programs in their elementary/high schools.

  8. Yan says:

    @ Ngozi:

    Good question! I get the feeling that a lot of 8.012 people are secretly proud of their suffering (completely understandable, by the way. There’s a reason why it’s nicknamed Mechanics for Masochists). Hence, people tend to “flaunt” by loudly discussing how difficult the previous test was and how they’re sure that they failed with a 13%. However, MIT is one of the most respectful intellectual environments that I’ve ever seen, so rarely do people engage in jerk-like behavior. Which classes you take is a matter of personal choice, and others will understand that they don’t have the right to openly judge you for it.

    Also, I have never heard anyone call another student “dumb.” Calling oneself dumb, however, seems to be a favorite hobby for some people.

    @ Menjie:

    Thanks! Hope you’re having a nice time at MIT!

    @ Mom:

    One of the great things about MIT is that students come from a huge spectrum of backgrounds. I had a generic public-school education with lackluster science and math programs, but I’m sure there’s plenty of readers who come from excellent science-oriented schools.

  9. Reena says:

    @ Mom
    Ah, DC area. My aunt lives there. I bet your son loves the Smithsonian. I could spend days in the Museum of Natural History rocks and minerals exhibit. :D
    If you’re looking for something he can get involved with now, some locations have elementary school Science Olympiad events (go to green “elementary” tab at right). If you’re already thinking of high schools, I know a few kids from the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, which is an amazing public school for science in Alexandria, VA.

    @ Yan
    Thanks smile Isn’t NW-35 a graduate dorm though?

  10. Yan says:

    @ Reena:

    NW35 is primarily graduate, but it has 50 undergrad spots. More at

  11. Katelyn '12 says:

    Katelyn was reading the preceding article. And agrees with your housewarming ideas. However, Katelyn feels that the confetti should be replaced with a pinata, if possible. Why have just confetti when we can have confetti, a large animal, candy, and the fun of waving a big stick around? wink

  12. Katelyn '12 says:

    Oh, and Katelyn says Happy Ano Nuevo, everyone!

  13. Yan says:

    Yan thinks that Katelyn has been Spain-shifted and needs to go back to Cambridge soon in order to maintain her cultural integrity.

    Also, why not just put the dumplings in the pinata? We could also have mini-pinatas for each condiment.

  14. anonymous says:

    Happy New Year!
    New Year’s resolution: new camera, period. :D

  15. Tree says:

    Great post smile
    Happy Oh Nine!

  16. Ben says:

    Thanks for the info on the AP exam. I guess I should go take the AP English Literature after all then.

    Just wondering, is there any exemptions from higher level mathematics like multivariable (18.02) and Differential Equations (18.03) exams? I don’t care about the credits, I just don’t want to retake them. ._.

    7% pass rate for Chem?! O.o I am bound to fail. IF that acceptance letter comes in, I shall study Chemistry with all my might!

    Thanks for the recommendation on solid state chemistry, I will go check it out later.

  17. Ben says:

    Uno mas:

    Happy New Year!

    (backward ! thing) Prospero ano y felicidad!



  18. Yan says:

    @ Ben:

    There’s advanced standing exams for 18.02 and 18.03. Quite a few people pass out of multivariable this way, although 18.03 is uncommon.

    Just to clarify, the 7% pass rate is for the chem. advanced standing exam, not the actual class. Also, I’d recommend taking MIT’s introductory chem classes unless you’re absolutely sure that you’ve mastered all the material (in which case, you should be able to pass the advanced standing exam).

  19. j says:

    Happy new year!

    Quantitatively speaking, how much is “studying longer than basically everyone I knew”? An hour a day? Three hours a day? Inquiring minds want to know!

  20. clare says:

    hey, happy new year!
    i have a question about which math SAT subject test i should put on my application.
    i got a 700 on math 1 (81st percentile) and a 730 on math 2 (74th percentile)
    should i choose the higher score, or the higher percentile?

  21. Yan says:

    @ j:

    Qualitative data is unavailable. I’d say it was just a few extra hours per week. 3.091 is one of the easier classes at MIT, so most people tend to slack off and skip the homework (it’s not graded, but there’s weekly quizzes on the material). Towards the end of the semester, only a handful of people would actually show up to recitation regularly, and a noticeable percentage of the class wouldn’t show up to lecture at all (which is fine, because the lectures are available online and the hall can’t accommodate 500+ people anyway).

  22. Yan says:

    @ Clare:

    It’s probably not a big deal, but I would go with the Math II score. For the record, MIT’s stance on SAT scores is that anything above 700 = 800.

  23. Nicole '10 says:

    @Reena – I live in MacGregor – all-female suites do exist, but they’re rare, and it would definitely restrict your options for choosing an entry to live in… but if you conveyed that it was really important to you they would almost definitely place you in one. Alternatively, if you’re willing to pay the dining fee – Simmons has private bathrooms that you might share with just your roommate or 1-2 people who live nearby, and while Next House does have co-ed bathrooms they’re much less awkward than the MacGregor ones (the sinks are in a common area, but the toilets and showers each are behind a wall w/ a full-length door, not those metal divider thingies you’d find in a public restroom… or MacGregor. But even that you can get used to pretty quickly.)

    @Katelyn – I know what you meant, but it’s important not to drop the tilde there. You just wished everyone a happy new anus. ^_^

  24. Paul says:

    @Bridger: Simmons, the dorm I lived in freshman year, allows painting of rooms. Although in my experience, residents who paint their rooms tend to go for solid-color paint jobs, as opposed to murals. (Some residents have fought for being able to add murals to Simmons’ very very white walls, but so far that battle has not been won. Perhaps you could change that. :D)

  25. Bridger '13 says:

    Is dorm-room modification okay? Is the painting of walls a Random Hall thing? Would it be frowned upon to turn a room into a space ship simulator?

    Also, does concurrent enrollment (classes taken in conjunction with a local university) credit transfer about the same as AP credit (not at all)? I should have my Associates Degree, and would love to use it for classes like English or Ethics and Values, or whatever other classes may be required.

  26. Yan says:

    @ Bridger:

    It depends on the dorm. Painting is fine at Random, East Campus, Bexley, Burton Conner, and Senior Housee, as far as I know. Dorms like New House and Next House don’t have much of a paint-it-yourself-and-build-a-spaceship culture.

    English and Ethics classes probably won’t transfer. I haven’t heard of a way to get around MIT’s humanities and social science class requirements. On the other hand, college math and science courses will definitely transfer if you can prove that the classes are more-or-less equivalent to those at MIT in the amount of material covered.

  27. CAPTCHA says:

    @ Bizarre Questions That You Wonder About But Rarely Ask

    Speaking of domesticated yaks, where are the nearest animal shelters over there? How are they? Both the animal shelters and the animals themselves, I mean.

  28. Narce says:


    The most food I’ve seen in your blogs in a long time! And it all looks delicious!!

    Great entry, ne!

  29. Yan says:

    Nicole brings up good points. Also, I forgot to mention that bathrooms in Random are single-occupancy, even though there’s two sinks and two toilets per bathroom (however, there’s only one stall. Imagine that.) You get the entire bathroom to yourself when you shower.

  30. Jesse says:

    How is the life within the dorm? Is it like a family thing where you sit together for dinner at night and stuff?

    Are there non-double deckked dorms?

  31. haha says:

    7 is definitely more believable. I didn’t think St. Louis was THAT amazing. (Totally kidding!)

  32. Kevin says:

    Hey, happy new year.

    I was just wondering, with classes like “Introduction to Solid State Chemistry ” having +500 students, how accessible are the professors (after class)?

  33. erik says:

    is 660 in math 2 an okay score?

  34. Yan says:

    @ Jesse:

    Again, it all depends on which dorm. Cultures vary widely. I’m fortunate to live in one of the more social dorms, where we have get-together study breaks every week and a lot of dorm-wide dinners. Most people cook for themselves or with a partner on most nights. In dorms that have dining halls, dinner is cafeteria-style. I think fraternities/sororities/cultural houses have more of a family-style dinner setting, simply because the living groups are so much smaller (most dorms have 300+ residents, which means that your closest community will be your floor or suite).

    @ Kevin:

    Good question! Sadoway, who teaches the largest class at MIT, is usually mobbed with fans after class. He’s happy to answer questions if you approach him; in fact, I once saw him explaining the lesson to a student in a hallway for over 10 minutes after class. His office door is always open too. I mainly know this because I had to pseudo-stalk him for a week in order to ask for a research project.

    If you have a general question, you can email your recitation leader (usually a grad student or another professor) at any time, and they’ll respond promptly. Recitations are also a good opportunity to chat about the subject in a small group setting (usually no more than 25 people per class).

    In addition, professors and recitation leaders have weekly office hours for the express purpose of answering individual questions. This is a good way to talk to your professor face-to-face if you need to (the only professors who don’t do this are the ones that teach introductory bio in the fall, and that’s understandable because they’re probably busy curing cancer. The bio grad students and assistant teachers are excellent though, and they also happen to be the people who write the tests.)

  35. Ahana says:

    Oh Nine :D
    Strawberries smile
    Solid State Chem :|

  36. Katelyn '12 says:

    @ Yan:

    I somehow doubt that the dumplings would survive the effects of gravity.

  37. wondering says:

    So why did you take 3.091 instead of 5.111/5.112? Are the general chem classes supposed to be harder/easier more/less material than solid state?

  38. Steph says:

    Happy New Year! Those pictures are making me hungry. :(

    Roommate #3? What happened to the first one? o___o

  39. Oasis '11 says:

    Geez man, I only use one category max ever. Overachieving much? haha jk wink

    Oh yeah I really like your analogy of raisins to misc AP scores. I shall quote you on my responses to eager applicants on college confidential. =p

    xing nien kwai luh!

    (to those pinyin OCDers out there, this is the Standard Su Pinyin System, so stop getting on my back about Wades-Giles or Hanyu…etc.)

  40. Yan says:

    @ Katelyn:

    Oh god. Why don’t we just make the pinata out of dumpling skins instead of paper-mache and fill it with meat?

    @ Wondering:

    I’m not a big fan of biology, organic chem., or organic food. I was pretty set on becoming a mechanical/electrical engineer when I started MIT, so solid state chem. was the natural choice for someone who cared more about why batteries work than why human bodies work.

    MIT recommends 5.112 for people who’ve had at least two years of high school chem., and 5.111/3.091 for people who’ve had one. It’s fair to say that 5.112 was a more difficult class in terms of the depth of the material covered and how understandably it was presented. However, 3.091 is more likely to hit you with material that you’ve never seen in high school (defects in materials, glass formation, diffusion rates, multi-compoent phase diagrams, etc.)

    5.111, I’ve heard, was a pretty easy class. All three chemistry classes cover the same material for the first third of the semester, actually. Later on, 3.091 goes into lessons that are specifically useful for engineering majors while the general chem classes continue with, well, general chemistry. Having said that, 5.112 is more intense than most people expect and covers advanced, Nobel-winning material (not surprising, given that the professor won a Nobel Prize).

  41. Anonymous says:

    So this seems like an everything board… so I have an admittance question. Is the RA deadline really extended? I’m just so afraid that if I wait untill tomorrow to submit because I have something else to add, or that something will pop into my head at the last minute, that it really will be too late.

  42. Yan says:

    @ Anonymous:

    Unlike Wikipedia, this site is pretty reliable and maintained by actual admissions staff. In fact, I’m probably the only person on it who regularly makes stuff up*. You can trust that the deadline is extended, or take a screenshot and sue us later.


  43. deng says:

    “Empirical evidence shows that, on occasion, effort pays off even at MIT. “
    haha, nice to know :-D

    “The author has filed this entry in the “Advanced Placement & International Exams” , “Coursework” , “Faculty At MIT” , “Food / Dining Options” , “General Institute Requirements” , “Miscellaneous” , “Questions And Answers” , “Recommended High School Preparation” , “Student Life & Culture” , “The Month Of January: IAP” , “Undergraduate Research Opportunities” , “Work/Play Balance At MIT” section; check it out for further reading on this topic.”
    lol, you never fail to intimidate me

  44. Yan says:

    @ Michelle:

    The 2nd floor at Random is the cat floor. Also, I’m not sure how the dorm would feel if you brought your own cat (if that’s what you wish to do). The cats that live here now are more like shared pets than personal ones, and some residents are justifiably concerned that a new cat would have trouble getting along with the old ones. Someone on my floor wanted to get another cat earlier this year and had to send out an email asking the entire floor whether they approved of the idea (we ended up scrapping it.)

    @ Monorina:

    I can almost see the hairs splitting.

    Technically, 700-and-above = 800 is what I meant. But, it’s unofficial and not a big deal in any case. I can’t say that MIT will ignore your SAT Physics score (after all, the application asks for two scores), but remember that your application is evaluated as a whole and that it’s fairly easy to compensate for a sort-of-low test score. Also, 700 is laughably far from “abysmally low”- I’d definitely consider it within the ballpark of what qualified students usually score.

    @ Charlie:

    See above, replace “SAT physics score” with “GPA”. Just remember that MIT wants a complete and accurate impression of your interests, abilities, and potential, so either research or a portfolio would be greatly helpful, as long as you’re sincere and passionate about your work. Also, admissions will understand certain circumstances in which a low GPA is justified.

  45. stephanie says:

    I am slightly worried that the arts at MIT is a porcupine in a petting zoo. (especially considering the dining procupine over there.) …could you elaborate?

  46. Shazmil says:

    I would be pleased to know the information relevant to my course which is about “gaming”.

  47. EA Applicant says:

    @ Anonymous
    If I remember right from my EA app, I don’t think that the MyMIT site will allow you to submit your app if you go over the 40 word limit in the activities area. This doesn’t apply in some of the other areas though. I would try to submit it how it is but it may tell you that you can’t until you shorten your descriptions.

  48. Ben says:


    Hahaha, 7% pass rate for the exam. That makes a lot more sense now. Thanks for the clarification. (1)completely out of my curiosity, what is the pass rate for MIT math/science course?*)
    I understand that the number is going to vary greatly between courses, so I guess an average would be suffice(or if the deviation is too large for an average, then for the intro courses works too)

    2) Another question about the standing exams. I heard that they are offered during orientation, how long is orientation (and what if I have more than one. Not in a mood for 2,3 exams on one day)

    *you can make stuff up here.

    Side Note: I don’t know if it’s the suit (or what). But the picture reminds me of the poster for Quantum of Solace. So if mechanical/electrical engineer doesn’t work out, you have a career in movie poster photography (I am sure they have a fancy name for that)

  49. Reena says:

    @ Yan (@ Wondering)
    …Wait, so, if someone’s had more than two years of high school chem, is it reccommended to do 5.112 instead of 3.091? Because 3.091 sounds really interesting, and I kind of just get this *groan* feeling at “yet more general chemistry…”
    And is 3.091 hard in terms of the breadth of material that has to be covered and having to cram it all into your head, or does the difficulty come more from trying to understand concepts?
    Or did you not find it hard?

    @ Anonymous
    …I had that problem, trying to fit my extracurricular explanations in. I’m suspecting the code limits you in terms of characters rather than words, because some of my blurbs fit at 45, some at 42, etc. Just a guess.

    @ Ben
    Ooh, yeah, I’d like to know that too… (about multiple advanced standing exams in a day).
    Though it could be like, early preparation for finals weeks wink

  50. Yan says:

    @ Anonymous:

    10 words is like 1/10th of my average sentence length, so it doesn’t seem like a big deal to me; then again, I have no authority over applications so you should perhaps consider ignoring this, and now I’m just adding unnecessary words to this sentence in order to validate the first half of it.

    If by “favorite course” you mean “favorite class”, I’d say it’s too early to tell (considering that I’ve only taken introductory mechanics so far). I’m more interested in really small things than really big things, so I’m planning to take a lot of quantum classes. Also, astronomy is a sub-branch of the Physics major, so you won’t really have to get a “minor” in it. If I’m not mistaken, you can just do Astronomy as your Physics concentration.

    @ Stephanie:

    I meant to write that the arts is one of the less thorny issues at MIT. Sorry for the confusion. I feel grammatically challenged.

    MIT sets aside a lot of funding for the arts, because the arts are about as controversial as Mother Teresa. Unlike dining.

    @ Ben:

    This article in The Tech basically gives you the run-down of pass rates, with a chart added at no extra cost:

    Orientation lasts a week. Each advanced standing exam is usually only offered on one day at one time during Orientation (and conflicts do occur), and they’re a nuisance to study for when the entire campus is trying its hardest to enjoy the last remnants of summer. I’m not sure how likely it is that you’ll have more than one exam in a day. Also, you can always arrange to take advanced standing exams during IAP if you need to.

    Quantum of Solace was sort of less interesting than quantum of. . . physics, I guess. James Bond has nothing over atomic orbital bonds.

  51. Kuan '12 says:

    Dim sum. Dim sum. Me want.
    Just making sure you don’t forget smile

  52. Yan says:

    @ Reena:

    It’s not so much “we recommend this” as simply, “this might work for you.” Plenty of 3.091 kids have had “unusually strong backgrounds in chemistry”- in fact, I’m pretty sure one kid in my recitation did the US National Chemistry Olympiad (I base this assumption on the fact that he had a USNCO backpack, which I suppose he could have stolen from someone else who did the chem. olympiad. Anyway, backpack thief or not, he was amazing at chemistry.) I suggest just taking whichever class interests you the most. You’ll find that few people actually follow the Institute “recommendations.”

    As for the difficulty, I’d say it was a mixture of both. There’s not a lot of cramming/memorization (you even get to use formula sheets on the exams), but most of the later material is unfamiliar and requires effort if you want to really understand it. Having said that, it’s not a hard class if you’re willing to do all the homework, read extra lecture notes, show up to recitation, and ask questions. A big part of why it’s not a hard class is that Sadoway has the ability to take a huge amount of complicated information and teach it to you in a memorable, entertaining way. You end up learning a lot without realizing it for a while.

  53. Cthulhu says:

    I want to do something for the Random Hall History project! (Yay yay)

  54. donaldGuy says:

    @Reena: I took 3 years of Chem in High School (regular, AP, organic, and analytical), and still took 3.091. Sections of it were review but there were many new things too. If you are interested in 3.091, go for it!

  55. stephanie says:

    ohhh. I understand that now. (Don’t feel bad about your grammar, I think my comprehension was failing on that one.)

    on another note, communal cats, oh goodness me. ohhh. I understand that now. (Don’t feel bad about your grammar, I think my comprehension was failing on that one.)

    on another note, communal cats, oh goodness me. <3 (I want to live there… o____o)

  56. Ben says:

    I guess the link would be back soon. Either ways, Thank you for the site (and the free charts).

    Great point made about quantum physics. (I think the name was a major + for the movie. Lol).

    No more questions for now! Have a great day!

  57. Karen says:


    If you have a strong background in chemistry, you’ll be able to get through 3.091 without studying at all, pretty much. And yes, there are some USNCO kids, and some kids that have had 8 years of chemistry, but you need a 50 on an absolute scale to pass, not on a curved scale, so you’ll be totally fine.

  58. Yan says:

    @ Ben:

    Here’s the link again:

    (It didn’t work the first time because the period at the end of the sentence got snagged in the hyperlink).

    Karen brings up a good point about the 50% pass cutoff.

  59. Wow… a post about everything!

    So here is a question which is only really relevant if I actually manage to get in to M.I.T, but what the hey…

    Out of general curiosity, does Random Hall have any rooms on the 1st floor that allow cats?
    I have a recurring medical issue which sometimes requires the reduction of the amount of stairs between me and any destination, and a cat (which is unrelated to said medical issue, but very cute!).

    I checked out all the residence halls and all those with elevators don’t allow cats… So, using my ultimate skills of compromise I looked at all the halls that do allow cats and Random Hall seems like the coolest (Stargate mural! Sephiroth mural! freakin’ Harry Potter clock!), so I really wanna know how difficult it would be for me to potentially, gods willing, live there.

  60. Janet says:

    How do most MIT students get around? Is public transportation convenient, or do you walk/drive your own car/use the teleportation device you invented?

    Thanks, Yan. =) Your blogs are always very clever, witty, and informative!

  61. Monorina says:

    QUOTE from Yan:

    It’s probably not a big deal, but I would go with the Math II score. For the record, MIT’s stance on SAT scores is that anything above 700 = 800. “

    Umm, does this mean that my 700 on Physics is not equal to 800? Bo Hoo Hoo!!
    If I have an absymmially(spelling wrong, I know, but you didnt include spell check and I don’t have a dictionary right now) low SAT 2 Physics and an okay SAT 2 Chem score and MIT wants only one science score, will they, like Nelson, turn a blind eye to my SAT Physics score??

  62. Monorina says:

    The above post I wrote makes it look like Nelson turned a blind eye to my SAT Physics score. Let me assure everyone that he did not. I mean, he didn’t even look. What I mean is that,obviously, being merely 17 years, 349 days, 4 hours and fifty six minutes old, I did not have the privilege of having met Admiral Horatio Nelson( yep, the British war hero person from Napolean’s time) and therefore, he was unable to subject my SAT scores to an intense scrutiny. I mean, I was only referring to his legendary blind eye. Also, I may not have the OED, but I do have WordWeb installed on my computer. Therefore, I clarify that the word was abysmal.

    The above rants are the effect, not of New Year celebratory drinks, but of an over-dose of Bengali poetry and the study of the properties of aromatic aldehydes.
    [Bengali== ” rel=”nofollow”]]

  63. Charlie says:

    If I send in research will it counteract my gross GPA? Would a portfolio for architecture?

  64. Dmitriy Vi says:

    @Monorina: Firefox comes with built-in spellcheck wink

  65. Anonymous says:

    Haha thank you so much. How I hate Wiki, (this problem possibly stemming from those feelings.) Two more questions:
    1. If you go over the 40 word limit (describing clubs, activities etc.) say you have 50ish words… is that a really big deal?
    2. I also noticed that you are a possible 8 major and if i’m not mistaken that’s physics. I am also interested in majoring in physics witha minor in Astronomy. What is currently your favorite course in that field?

  66. Yan says:

    @ Janet:

    Walking/riding a bike or scooter/running frantically pretty much covers campus transportation. If it’s freezing outside and you’re trekking to the other side of campus (or across the river to a fraternity), MIT runs free saferide shuttles until the wee hours of the morning (this is also helpful if it’s late at night and you have safety concerns). Cars are basically nonexistent.

    Beyond campus, the most common mode of transportation is the subway, by far. For $1.70 (free transfers to other lines or buses), you can go practically anywhere in Boston or Cambridge. It’s clean, convenient, and generally reliable. There’s two red line stations near MIT (one at Kendall by East Campus and one at Central north of Random).

    We’re still working on some technical issues in teleportation, but you can invent your own motorcycle-segway hybrid in the meantime. Oh wait, Ben ’12 already did (

  67. Reena says:

    Yay! Sounds good. Takes care of the chem requirement, is interesting, and might even leave me time to focus on the harder classes.

  68. joy antony says:

    Happy New Year.

    nice snaps.

  69. Cam says:

    I cannot keep up with the comments on this post.

  70. Ben Z says:

    @ Yan & Karen

    The link worked this time! (woot!! *robot dance?*)
    (once again, thanks for the input. Great help!)

    8 years of chemistry? O.O Now that’s a lot of chemistry. But at least I am glad to know it’s not curved
    (I am on a personal crusade against curves, they simply doesn’t work. And I think I will spare you of my “electrifying” arguments. Lol)

    4-5% NP rates, wow! That’s really low (relative to my assumed value).

  71. Sara D. says:

    I love how Donald is and always will be the only one with a last name.

    12.1 megapixels? Are you by any chance looking at the Canon Rebel XSi? I just got the XS for the holidays and it is AMAZING! From one photography-obsessed MITer to another, I highly recommend it. :D

  72. Anonymous says:

    If you graduated from high school as a junior, did you still have to take four years of English? Did you take two classes in one year?

    Just curious.

  73. Yan says:

    @ Sara:

    Nope, I was just referring to the point-and-shoot with ridiculously high resolution that I’ve been using all year. Congrats on the XSi!! The Canon Digital Rebel series is awesome. What lens are you using? Anyway, I’ll be looking forward to seeing your pictures.

    @ Anonymous:

    I never actually graduated from high school (dropping out is the vernacular term). I had three years of English plus a semester of English standardized test prep., which my school required for some absurd reason.

  74. anonymous says:

    About that dropping out thing. Didn’t you have to send in midyear/final reports to MIT?

  75. @Yan

    Oh. I kinda thought that the ‘cats permitted’ thing meant that you’re allowed to bring your own cat and keep it in your room (my cat is not allowed outdoors because of her breed). I guess that, should I actually get in, I’ll have to re-check my options…

    Thanks anyway!

  76. Monorina says:

    I was only trying to be sarcastic.

  77. Photon says:


    @Michelle: Senior Haus allows cats and has an elevator. EC allows cats on 1E, which doesn’t require an elevator. Some FSILGs have cats and ramps/elevators.

  78. Yan says:

    @ Orims:

    The situation you just described is completely foreign to me (pun intended). International students are pretty common here (unlike Waldo), and I’ve definitely never seen them singled out from other students. Generally, people don’t make a big deal out of nationality.

  79. Yan says:

    @ anonymous:

    True, and I finished Junior year.

    @ Monorina:


  80. Orims says:

    Thanks Yan, with that answer I now want to go more to MIT :D .

  81. Orims says:

    Hey Yan, I have a question (like everyone around here). Are international students at MIT a rare sight,like Bigfoot or Waldo, and are they treated like a trophy? On the trophy question here is how I came to know about that:
    Me: “So I’m applying to MIT for the class of 2014
    Friends: “MIT!? You know, you, being an international student, will be treated like a trophy!”
    Me: “How come”
    Friend: Well people will be with you and say stuff like: “Hi, this is Julio, HES ACTUALLY A MEXICAN FROM MEXICO!”
    Me: “…”

    Thanks for you answer and Happy New Year MIT peep!

    – An international 2014 aspirant.

  82. Yan says:

    @ Yix:

    I sent in a music portfolio and a recommendation from a music teacher. In addition, about half of the items on my awards and achievement list were music-related, and my “tell us about something you’ve created” essay was about a system of mathematically-determined musical composition that I invented. If you’re passionate about music, definitely try to express that on your application. It’ll help MIT get a better view of your interests, even if they’re not science-and-tech related (plus, we have a huge music-loving community here).

    As for which of the items you listed is more important, I’d say that SAT scores and class rank are probably the least significant indicators of whether you’re a qualified applicant (I didn’t even send in a class rank). GPA, since it’s calculated over a longer range of time, is more indicative of your academic potential. Nonetheless, what really matters is how you appear as a whole. A lower GPA is easily compensated if you show that you’re doing a lot of interesting things outside of school.

    As for schedule, definitely try to challenge yourself and get the most out of your high school years. That’s all I can say.

  83. yix says:

    Do they consider music at all for admission? and which do they look at first: SAT scores, class rank, GPA or schedule? (I know I spelled something wrong in here…) And is the schedule all that important in the consideration? And happy chinese new year’s eve’s eve!

  84. Rahul says:


    I’m an undergraduate student of Saint Mary’s Dubai just completing my O’Levels with an expected grade of 9 A stars in the following subjects… : English, English Lit, Maths, Hinduism, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, ICT and French.

    I’ve gone through the site and i’ve not been able to figure out the requrements for applying .. are additional courses necessary, or A-levels in which subjects….which programs are offered? i really don’t know where to look…. Could someone please help me?