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MIT student blogger Jess K. '10

Residence-Based Advising by Jess K. '10

Residence-Based Advising WILL NOT allow you to change dorms during your freshman year.

Wow, that last post was short. I didn’t even tell you what I’m doing at Pixar, which would be formatting and finding information for the artwork of Pixar’s 20th Anniversary book – happy 20th anniversary, Pixar!.. (three years ago! ahem..) Working at Pixar is kind of like working at a microcosm of a college campus, even if I’m basing it off of a “small” campus like MIT. We have a gym, a pool, a kitchen with free breakfast (including espresso, a million different types of cereal, and peanut butter and jelly-making supplies, which I am a HUGE fan of), a soccer field (and team!), a very good cafe, a lot of random activities i.e. fly fishing, and a beach volleyball court upon which shirtless boys will magically appear during lunch time.

Also, every now and then, somebody will whizz by on a scooter. It’s a really cool place to work.

But, back to what you came here for – it’s my previously promised, very important post about housing.

Jessie recently wrote in her last post as an undergrad, “Take your living group selection seriously. I cannot stress this enough. Try to pick a place that fits you in the summer in case you get stuck there, but consider Dorm Rush (REX), not the summer, to be the time when you’re truly making your living group decision. Don’t settle for a satisfactory living group when you could have a great one.”

First off, Jessie, you’re brilliant, and we’ll miss you. Secondly, OH MAN IS THIS IMPORTANT. So important that I’ll give you the short and long version of this post, and you can choose! It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure book (I was a big fan of those). Except you don’t die on every page. Well, maybe somebody dies.. we’ll see.




Whooo.. now that that’s out of my system, let me explain. Long version: residence-based advising groups you in the same house with people who have the same advisor. You also have a residence associate advisor who live in your dorm, and are available to answer questions you may have about classes, advising, what have you. (I may or may not have written this entire post just to use the phrase “what have you”. It’s a great phrase, isn’t it? So rarely do we have an opportunity to use it in a sentence.) You can either have a traditional advisor, who simply signs your forms on Registration Day and is around to answer your questions as well, or a seminar, in which your advisor meets with you around twice a week to teach your seminar – just like regular, non-residence-based advising.

The one thing that isn’t really emphasized enough about RBA, though, is that if you are in RBA, you stay in RBA for the year and thus in the same dorm for the year, because the program is based upon living in the same dorm as people who have the same advisor as you. You aren’t allowed to participate in Residence Exploration (REX) like all the other freshmen can – that is, the week after you get to school, when everyone is looking around at the different dorms and trying to figure out which culture they belong to, unfortunately, you will not get to do that.

I say “unfortunately” because REX is what makes MIT’s housing system so unique – most freshmen at other colleges get placed in dorms randomly, with random roommates that may or may not steal your clothes and eat your food. Here, as most of you probably already know, you get temped in a dorm, but if you don’t like it, you can opt to switch out. This is particularly important because each of MIT’s dorms have their own individual culture that you need to experience for yourself, so that week gives you a good opportunity to look around and explore that. REX is a very good thing for people like Keri, who for a brief moment in time thought she would like to live in Baker. We laugh about this little awkward chapter in history nowadays. (Nothing against Baker; Keri and I both have good friends who live there – Keri is just sort of.. the anti-Baker.) But you can’t do that if you’re in an RBA dorm.

Another thing you should know about RBA is that if you place an RBA dorm anywhere near your top choices (the top four, ish) you will likely be placed in an RBA dorm, regardless of whether you apply for RBA or not. Even if you don’t apply for the RBA program at the time, you can still be placed in the dorm, and then, by default, are placed in RBA. (Ask me how I know.) And even though RBA offers seminars, there are fewer choices available than for those in regular advising – so that really interesting seminar on Japanese/Italy relations that you were excited about is no longer an option.

We keep telling you that people find their niche here at MIT in their living group – because you cook together, paint your rooms together, complain about the lack of hot showers together – and if you don’t feel comfortable in your living group, it’s a million times harder to feel comfortable adjusting to MIT. I’m not saying that RBA won’t make you feel comfortable – for the most part, I really enjoyed the RBA activities (can you say “free food”? I can), and I met my family away from my family at Next House. But I didn’t actually apply for RBA, so it didn’t make a lot of sense that I would be stuck in it, especially since I didn’t get to go to my CPW and really wanted to be a part of REX.

Ruth Miller, our UA vice president (who can also rap Outkast’s “Bombs over Baghdad” like nobody’s business), wrote an article in The Tech about RBA that you should definitely read if you’re considering joining the program. You can also read more about the RBA program on their website.

And as always, if you want to hear more about my personal experience with RBA, you can always email me – iamjkim at mit dot edu.

40 responses to “Residence-Based Advising”

  1. Wings '11 says:

    Thanks for the post =) I didn’t apply for RBA, so I’m really excited for REX!!

  2. anon '11 says:

    is it possible to be temped somewhere during REX, than switch to an RBA dorm after REX?

  3. Mitch'11 says:

    Does REX really give you a good sense of the dorms?
    I went to CPW’s dorm shows and I am still confused.
    My first week at MIT will be so unreal I cannot imagine being able to make a sound decision.

  4. deb says:

    yea i already did my housing lottery stuff (click click rank rank click click some more) and i did put next as my first choice – because when i visited CPW i really liked the vibe i got from next house. but i also like the idea of RBA, so i just hope that none of my pre-thoughts(?) about applying for next house first backfires on me. but still, your entry is still kind of intimidating. =)

  5. Mitch'11 says:

    Does REX really give you a good sense of the dorms?
    I went to CPW’s dorm shows and I am still confused.
    My first week at MIT will be so unreal I cannot imagine being able to make a sound decision.

  6. Zaira '11 says:

    Hi, Jess, I have a problem. My top 2 choices are McCormick and Spanish House. They both have RBA. What should I do? Thanks!

  7. milena '11 says:

    I ranked Next pretty low… well, last.

    Do you know anybody that did traditional advising? Because I was flipping through the advising seminar, and nothing really caught my eye (I want to do something fun, not something that I’ll have to drag myself to) so I need to look into traditional advising. Soooo if you have any useful piece of info/advice email me!!!!

  8. Jess says:

    Anonymous – in my experience, the other benefits you listed are not exclusive to Next House (except for the service program and Next Act, which were very cool). Other dorms (i.e. Baker and Simmons) have dining halls, without being RBA, and other dorms have “plenty of lounges, a diverse population, likeable housemaster, and bathrooms that ensure a relatively large amount of privacy”. The most important part of a dorm, I think, is finding a living group of people that you feel comfortable around, and that’s not something that’s guaranteed anywhere.

    I didn’t meet my roommate any time before we picked our final assignments; a lot of the freshmen I knew stayed with their temp roommates. My roommate just happened to walk by the day we had to pick assignments, and I asked her to live with me. I couldn’t’ve asked for more – I love Neha to death, so it worked out really well – but there are still so many people in Next that in my experience, it was impossible to meet and get to know others even though we knew we were all staying there. This is another problem with RBA, because while it places emphasis on the fact that you’re in the same advising group as people in your dorm, I never really saw anyone in my advising group, except for the people I already knew. Next has five floors, each with two different wings, and that’s a huge space for people to be spread out over. (This is, however, just my experience. What I’m trying to say is because it’s binding, you should talk to more people who were in RBA to get a better sense of the program before you commit to it.)

    And yes, I did move out of Next House, but it took A LOT of work. It took me over a semester’s worth of talking to different people, most of which said to talk to the same person who kept telling me “no”. I finally made the switch, and not because I hated Next – it was largely due to the fact that I knew it would be difficult to get out at the end of the year, when almost every freshmen I knew attempted to relottery for various reasons and only about 10 actually got out. (Most who did were guys that moved into their fraternities.)

    So the reason why I kept saying that RBA will not allow you to switch dorms your freshman year is because on paper, that’s what their policy is. And so if you try to switch out, that’s just what they’ll tell you.

    In my opinion, I don’t think it’s a fair trade to have to give up your choices in housing, especially if you get stuck there for more than a year. That’s why it’s really important to be sure of your choice, and why it makes little sense for people to be kept in the program when they didn’t apply for it.

    Mitch ’11 – it can, if you actively participate! There are a lot more activities/dorm tours during REX, so you should definitely try it out.

  9. guy'11 says:

    hey jess! i have a li’l question. when do we select our classes? and when should we start THInkINg about selecting them? Thanks a lot..

  10. Zaira '11 says:

    Hi, Jess!
    If I rank Spanish House and McCormick as my top 2 choices, which one will I be sorted in?

  11. Wings '11 says:

    Guys, I don’t think she’s saying RBA is bad – just be sure you want to do it =)

  12. Colin says:

    Thanks for the comment, Kelly!!!!1

    Kamber, I’ve been waiting for you to make your impassioned RBA post for months now. TERRIFIC JOB.

  13. Jess says:

    anon – yes, it’s possible. It’s a lot easier to switch in than it is to switch out.

    Zaira – if they’re your top two choices, and you’re sure, then go for it. Just be sure!

  14. Colin says:

    Milena: I did traditional advising and it was fine. Honestly, your advisor in freshman year doesn’t have to be super-important unless you want it that way. I think some people really enjoy the seminars and the small advising groups, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I met with my advisor a few times over the year for important registration stuff and the like. She was very nice and very helpful, but freshman year will be a lot of GIRs for most people, so it’s really easy to schedule for the most part — you won’t have as huge a selection of classes as when you’re an upperclassman, and it’s pretty straightforward.

    The advisor you get when you declare a major is more important, because you’ll be working with him/her for as long as you’re in that major (or until you are uncomfortable with him/her and request a different advisor), which could be three full years, and that person should be able to give you — if you want it — help with scheduling and mapping out a general framework for what you want to do course-wise.

  15. Evan '10 says:

    Mitch – If you take the time to visit all of the different dorms, it’s not very hard to get a feel for the character and types of people that usually live at any given dorm.

    The harder part is figuring out which of these you fit in with best. The best thing you can do is try to talk to a lot of upperclassmen and see who you enjoy spending time with.

    Two other quick notes:

    Lots of people will think that they want to choose their dorm based on how nice the dorm itself is, but the nicer dorms tend to not have as much character, which may not be a bad thing, but you should be aware of it.

    Also, some of the larger dorms, East Campus and Burton-Conner in particular, have vastly different personalities on different floors, so you should try to get a sense for all of them.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I posted this on another Keri’s blog, but I think it better belongs here. I also added a few helpful (?) details in the second paragraph.

    As a parent of a student who lives in Next House, I would like to give it a plug. When my child chose Next, he decided he would trade the flexibility of moving during REX for the opportunity to get to know more thoroughly a smaller number of freshman before choosing a roommate. Since Next freshman knew they are staying in Next, they were able to get to know more potential roommates who would definately be living in their dorm.

    Another benefits of Next is a dining hall where most freshmen eat most evenings, so that my son was assured a social dinner hour rather than scrambling for something to eat and possibly someone to eat with. Other benefits include plenty of lounges, a diverse population, likeable housemaster, and bathrooms that ensure a relatively large amount of privacy. Finally, Next House offers some special and possible unique activities: Next Service — a dorm community service program, and Next Act — a play put on by people living in Next.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Whoops! I also forgot to add that some people did move out of Next during their freshman year; those include Jess K. and two other freshman my son knew.

  18. kelly says:

    19th post. This is so much fun.

  19. José P. says:

    Hey, Jess, can you ask someone at Pixar about Toy Story 3? :D

  20. Keri says:

    A student –

    The number of students choosing to stay in the dorm they were temped in is closer to 82% than 92%. Also, 15-25% of students enter the Adjustment Lottery from year to year. (Most, but not all, of them end up moving after the lottery.)

    Also, participation in REX may not guarantee your first choice, but in many cases you’ll end up far closer to it than you were while in your temp dorm.

  21. Bob says:

    “Another thing you should know about RBA is that if you place an RBA dorm anywhere near your top choices (the top four, ish) you will likely be placed in an RBA dorm, regardless of whether you apply for RBA or not.”

    Why is that? Is it because nobody wants to do RBA or what? I’m really interested because Baker is by far my number one choice right now, but out of the other dorms Next is my number 2. Thanks!

  22. Hi,

    I am the coordinator of the RBA program. I just wanted to chime in and let everyone know that picking an RBA residence in your top 4 choices does not mean that you will get placed in an RBA residence. It is lottery system that gives every student the same chances. Thats why MIT uses a lottery system. Its fair and un-baised!

    There is no special way of getting certain dorm choices to go to certain students.

    Its too bad that this rumor is keeping students from picking RBA dorms.

    Jess has some really cool information that she is giving out about RBA and her expieriences at MIT. Just remember that those were her expirences. Everyone needs to make their own choices, RBA or not.

    We say in about 5 different places(the Guide to Residences, the firstyear web site, the rba site, the early admit site, and the advising booklet that has the seminar descritpions in it) that RBA is a program that lasts your entire first year and that students in RBA may not particpate in the orientation adjustment lottery.

    Another thing that is very different this year is that there is no application for RBA. If the lottery places you in an RBA dorm then the program comes with the placement. All frosh that live in an RBA residence are automatically in the RBA program.

    I do appreciate that Jess enjoyed the RBA program. She even mentioned the abundance of free food at the numerous RBA programs that students can attend.

    In no way do we want to confuse students or not have them know about what RBA entails. We worked very hard this year to make the information very clear about RBA in all of the publications that students received and on all of the sites that you may access.

    Please feel free to ask me anything you would like about RBA.

    my direct phone number is 617-253-9764

  23. Jess says:

    a student –
    1. The overwhelming majority of freshmen that decided not to move, also got their first choice dorms – that is, if they didn’t put RBA dorms anywhere in their top list. Housing prides its ability to give most of its students their top choices, but RBA appears to override that, especially if your top choice is very popular. Why is this (to also answer your question, Bob)? Ruth attempts to tackle this issue in her article, which I linked to above:

    “That’s what is asked of Next and McCormick residents. Being RBA dorms, their freshmen are assigned RBA advisors and not allowed to enter the Housing Readjustment Lottery.

    Unfortunately, doe-eyed freshman you got put into one of these dorms. While your friends in other dorms experience all that Orientation has to offer, the parties and tours seem moot and pointless — they’re not for you.

    This isn’t the message we want to send anyone, least of all first-week freshmen.

    Given this, our pre-frosh are pretty quick, and they rank RBA dorms a little lower than the others. Inevitably, a higher number of third-choices go into RBA housing (62 of 75 last year, to be precise).”

    So I’m not just saying that you’ll probably get it if you rank an RBA dorm in your top four – a LOT of freshmen last year ranked Next as their third choice, got it, and were stuck with it. This is a completely different circumstance for someone who ranks BC as their top choice, gets it, and decides not to move.

    2. I’m not entirely sure what this point has to do with your argument; nobody is guaranteed their first choice in dorm. That’s the definition of a lottery. Other schools just randomly put people wherever they have room, so we’re very lucky to have the system that we do. But to give some students the option to relottery and keep others in their dorm (especially if they didn’t sign up for it in the first place) is unfair, and defeats the purpose of having a lottery in the first place.

    Just because there’s no guarantee of getting your first choice, doesn’t mean you should do away with the lottery entirely!

    3. Again, “cool and unique community” is not something that is exclusive to the RBA dorms. There’s very defined, unique culture coming from each of the dorms regardless of their implemented programs and atmospheres, and that depends on the people that live there, not the surroundings.

    (P.S. A “cool and unique community” will not save your butt when it’s -9 degrees and you’re trying to walk the mile home from campus to Next House!)

  24. Hi there,

    Robin here, from the Undergraduate Housing Office! Thank you Jess for posting some great information about the housing process, RBA, REX, etc!

    I do want to comment on a few things and hopefully clarify some information regarding RBA buildings, REX, and how the Housing Lottery works.

    First, I really appreciate that information is being circulated on the one year commitment students make to residing in a RBA building. Although we cite this information in the Guide to Residences, on the Lottery website, on the RBA website, and many more places, every year there are a handful of students who miss this information and who are upset when placed in Next House or McCormick Hall and cannot enter the Adjustment Lottery during orientation. We want all students to make the best decisions regarding their housing choices, and that cannot happen unless students are well informed! Thanks Again!

    Next, I want to comment a bit about students who live in Next House and McCormick Hall (both RBA) not being able to participate in REX. I want to clarify, that although students who are assigned to these buildings are not able to enter the Adjustment Lottery, DOES NOT mean that they cannot visit the other buildings and participate in their events! No, no, no…all REX events are open to all freshmen, regardless of which building they are assigned to in the Freshmen Summer Lottery. Some may even argue that these students have the best of both worlds- they get to participate in other building’s activities, AND get a jump start on building relationships and community in their halls a week before all the other buildings. For some, that is very comforting, and is a reason that some students choose to live in these buildings.

    Finally, writing as one of the three staff members who run this process- please allow me to explain how students will be assigned to Next and McCormick Halls this year–(which by the way, has been modified from previous years, including 2006). While it is true that we want to assign only those students who rank Next and McCormick in their top 4 choices to these buildings—this does not mean an automatic assignment if you do. Students will be placed in Next and McCormick in the same manner as every other building–using the lottery algorithm. Students will be assigned solely through the algorithm and applications are no longer required.

    This algorithm was developed to maximize “happiness”- aka placing students in their top choices. Next House and McCormick are no exception. Bottom line: if Next House is ranked 4th, the algorithm will try it’s best to still place students in their top 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choice before 4th and so on, as it would for any other building. What cannot be predicted (in any given year) is how students rank their selections, so there is always, and has always been, a chance students will end up with their 4th choice and so on.

    Thanks for reading, and apologies for the long post! Feel free to contact us with any questions via the Housing Lottery website.


  25. Daniel says:

    I really like the lively debate, and thought that I would offer my opinion.

    Next House has events during REX just like all the other dorms, and the house government works really hard to put on some really fun activities. In my opinion, it is definitely worth the hike to check out the Barbecue and maybe take a tour, even for people who don’t live at Next.

    Even though freshmen at Next and McCormick can’t enter the re-lotto, it’s still lots of fun to go to the events and explore the other dorms and meet other members of your class.

    I was skeptical when I first moved into Next House, but it really grew on me. Still, some people don’t like living there. The system ain’t perfect, but in the end, I’d say they do a pretty good job of “maximizing happiness.”

    If you know you don’t want to live at Next or McCormick, just rank them at the bottom and you should be pretty safe.

  26. Foo says:

    Robin Smedick: the fact that the algorithm seeks to maximise happiness is EXACTLY why people that put RBA dorms in their top-four usually end up in them. We can divide students into two sets — those that rank RBA dorms in the top 4, and those that don’t. The latter set is big enough to fill most of the non-RBA dorms, so the system maximises “happiness” by putting the former group of students into RBA dorms. Net result: as Ruth Miller wrote, 83% of students that received their third-choice dorm got stuck in RBA.

    The statistics are pretty unambiguous: a student in the RBA fly-trap has typically received a lower dorm preference than average. By Smedick’s “happiness” algorithm, RBA students students are measurably less happy.

  27. Andrew says:


    Thank you all for providing so much information about this unique program MIT offers. Based on what Robin and Daniel wrote, I’m just wondering, if we get placed in a non-RBA dorm for Orientation, and we want to participate in the Adjustment Lottery, will we be able to choose a RBA dorm, like Next?


  28. Andrew says:


    Thank you all for providing so much information about this unique program MIT offers. Based on what Robin and Daniel wrote, I’m just wondering, if we get placed in a non-RBA dorm for Orientation, and we want to participate in the Adjustment Lottery, will we be able to choose a RBA dorm, like Next?


  29. Anonymous says:

    Andrew, I’m not sure if you can use the freshmen readjustment lottery to get into Next, but there are other lotteries during the year that you can use to definitely switch into Next House, if you like. You won’t technically be in RBA but you will still be assigned an RBA advisor and will still get to participate in all of the RBA activities.

    It is much easier to get into Next House than it is to get out of Next House.

  30. a student says:

    A few things:

    1. The overwhelming majority of freshman, about 92%, choose to live in the dorm where they are originally temped in.

    2. Participating in REX does not guarantee that you will get your first choice in terms of dorm, or floor/hall/wing of that dorm. I know several people who did not end up getting their top choices.

    3. Many people I know have had really positive experiences with RBA and the RBA dorms. All of the RBA dorms are really cool and unique communities!

  31. Sandy2012? says:

    This whole blog makes me really uncomfortable. It seems really different in tone and content from the other blogs; it’s the first blog (other than the stuff about someone who no longer works at MIT) that seems negative and as though both sides (pro and anti Next and RBA) are insinuating that the other is dishonest. It leaves a really bad taste in my mouth about MIT and its housing policy.

  32. Laura says:

    Just thought I’d chime in with a little note on MIT culture: the Housing department here is basically awesome. If you were to poll as many undergraduates as you could get your hands on, I guarantee you that the majority of them would rank the choice of living space as one of their top favorite things about MIT. Which is exactly why people get into such heated (and yeah, sometimes uncomfortable) debates about it. There are lots of students here who think that students in RBA dorms should be allowed to participate in the readjustment lottery- why can’t their year-long commitment just start a week later? Even I feel pretty strongly about this, and I never even remotely considered living in an RBA dorm as a prefrosh.

    The point I’m trying to make is that MIT is kinda like this- there are certain things that we hold near and dear to our hearts, so we get pretty heated when defending them or when there’s some policy that we think is messing them up.

    I’m sorry that it makes you uncomfortable, but maybe understanding where it comes from makes it seem a little less “off.”

  33. deb says:

    the housing lottery is simply trying to maximize utility? based on the idea of scarcity, anyhoo.

    haha sorry just had to drop in that econ pun.

  34. Jess says:

    Sandy –
    I’m sorry that you feel that way. I wrote this entry in the interest of giving prefrosh and new freshmen the information they need to make an informed decision about their housing choices; however, I apologize if my entry or comments came off as negative, as I definitely didn’t intend for that to happen.

    The admissions blogs are mostly here to provide you with a better look at MIT, positive or negative. We try to keep things as open as possible, and the truth isn’t always ideal. In actuality, though, the MIT housing policy is significantly more lenient than that of other schools; as I mentioned earlier, most universities will simply place you wherever they have room. MIT goes so far as to encourage your participation in selecting your living group, by sending all freshmen a booklet and a DVD with individual videos made by each of the dorms. They also give you at least two weeks to get a feel for the different houses, which is very useful when there’s so much else to get adjusted to.

    I only meant to let the new freshmen know that they should take full advantage of this opportunity, and that there are options that might possibly interfere with it. I apologize if the debate made you feel uncomfortable, but the blogs aren’t here to paint a contrived, flawless picture of college; they’re here to inform you of all aspects of MIT.

  35. elso says:

    This blog post has been extremely helpful and interesting, in my humble opinion. Oftentimes when one is a freshman it is easiest to simply go with whatever sounds good off the bat, especially when, even if when the prefrosh might read the fine (or not so fine) print, they might not understand what that means practically– because they simply have not been in college yet. So good work, Jess, on providing a personal caution, and to Foo for pointing out that “random” is not so random as it might seem. And thank you to the administrators for chiming in! This sort of conversation and interesting debate is what makes a better experience possible for students. It is wonderful to know that you are listening.

    Finding housing that suits you is always a difficult process, but it is certainly more than worth it if you can find a situation that works for you. It seems so basic- what more than we need than a bathroom and a bed?- but it will make a huge difference in your baseline happiness and how you see MIT!

  36. Ronny CHEN says:

    Jess, can you tell us what the accommodations are gonna look like. Do we need to buy furniture and cooks ourselves?

  37. KantoKid says:

    thanks for the advice, Jessie! smile