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MIT student blogger Melis A. '08

Schedules and expectations by Melis A. '08

The do's and dont's of freshman scheduling, and what to brace yourself for.

Class of ’10: getting super ready and excited for school? I hope you are, because first semester freshman year is a ball. My awesome pre-frosh had asked about class schedules (don’t worry, Minh, I haven’t forgotten!) so here it goes.

IТƒфd like to preface this all with the statement of the obvious fact that MIT is a tough place- the reputation exists for a reason. First semester is on pass/no record (P/NR) in order to give everyone an equal footing, regardless of prior education. It will also probably take you a while to get used to college life and on P/NR you’ll hopefully have the time and energy to do so.

Pre-orientation (I did Freshman Leaders Program (FLP)) and orientation were heavenly. I spent my days running errands and hanging out with friends and my nights at parties or the LSC (MIT’s student-run ‘movie theater’ in one of the big lecture halls.) They were some of my most exciting and carefree days at MIT. Once classes started and the endless supply of free food waned, it began to hit me that I was here for good. I loved every second of it, but I was also homesick at times and also confused about where ‘home’ really was. Was home where my computer, psets, and clothes were, or my family? I counted down the days until Parent’s Weekend and Thanksgiving, and when they came I was just so happy to be ‘home.’ On a side note: Eventually this resolves itself, when you realize that you have no home (just kidding, just that you have two.) At a certain point it seems weirder to walk into your family’s home than your own.

The point of this diatribe is that I would not try to use Freshman P/NR to take the absolute hardest classes and get them out of the way without your ‘bad’ grades showing up on your transcript. It’s part of the freshman experience to take the same classes together with all of your friends, do your problem sets as a group, and most of all, complain endlessly about 8.02 (Electricity and Magnetism). I had the choice of testing out of 18.02 (Multivariable calculus) and going straight into 18.03 (Differential Equations), but I chose just to ‘re-take’ it (and 18.03, too, actually, during 2nd semester), because I had taken both classes in my senior year of high school and let’s just say that my brain was really in Cambridge, even then. I don’t regret my decisions at all; I learned the subjects much better and 18.03 is so super, super, super important in engineering! (On a side note, I passed out of 8.01 (Physics- Mechanics) and 7.012 (Intro biology), and don’t really regret placing out of those.)

Here was my 1st semester schedule, then I’ll tell you things I DID regret:
– 18.02: Multivariable calculus
– 8.02T: Electricity and Magnetism (do they still have Teal classes?)
– 5.111: General chemistry
– 24.04: Justice

24.04 was my HASS elective; I took it for two reasons. Reason #1 (a.k.a. the ‘good’ one): I was a debater in high school and all of us would throw around terms like ‘value criterion,’ ‘utilitarianism,’ and ‘natural rights,’ but I’m pretty sure very few of us really knew what they meant, and I wasn’t one of them. This class seemed like a good way to learn all the stuff about justice that I should have known before. Reason #2: one of my upperclassman friends said it was an easy A! Keep in mind that classes may be easy As, but they can also be painfully boring As ґand therefore As not worth having! The professor read her set of 2 or 3 page typed lecture notes every day, in a monotone, it’s the first and only time that happened to me at MIT. I wish I had taken 9.00 (Intro to Psychology) instead.

5.111: Coming into MIT, chemistry was my weakest subject. I had taken it for one semester in 9th grade and when I saw the list of subjects we were already supposed to know for 5.111, I nearly had a panic attack. I tried to study the first few pages of the textbook like crazy and thought that I could never catch up with the rest of the class, who seemed to have all taken AP Chemistry. If you find yourself in this situation, don’t fear! You will catch up, and maybe even do better than people who have much more experience in the subject. And that leads me to my next point:

MY BIGGEST TIP FOR SUCCESS in your freshman year, and the rest of your career at MIT: Use your resources!!!!!!!!

You know how President Bush instituted the ‘No Child Left Behind Act’ as the cornerstone of his education reform policy? Well, I don’t think the program is going to work, but I DO genuinely believe that MIT has a similar, unwritten, ‘No Student Left Behind’ belief. If you hit bumps along the road, talk to somebody! There are a million and one people around you who are more than willing to help you. Here’s a brief list: your TAs, your professors, your classmates, your advisor, your roommate, your hall mate, your coach, the bloggers, a random older-looking person in the Infinite, the sandwich guys at La Verdes, the people who hand out Vitamin Water on 77 Mass Ave: Look at that, so many options! I pester my TAs constantly, and in the end I think they like me more for it. It’s better for them to have a class that’s doing really well than one that sits quietly but is failing. Also, your professors are there to help you. If something is bugging you and your TA can’t explain it, take it to the next level and ask your professor. It may seem scary and that you’re wasting their time, but they appreciate inquisitiveness and curiosity. This way, you also get to know your professors and build relationships that might help you a lot in the future.

Ok, that’s all for now, I have to go continue studying! So, I’ll post more about my feelings about freshman year, if you guys want me to. I’ll let your comments guide me.

9 responses to “Schedules and expectations”

  1. Aziz '10 says:

    VERRY informative post, Melis…really one of the most useful entries you’ve written! Thanks a lot it really helped wink

  2. Colin says:

    Great entry! I think yours and Mollie’s have really helped me relax a bit when thinking (as I do basically every waking minute) about my first semester. smile

  3. Sylvia says:

    I agree with Aziz wholeheartedly :D Thanks for the info!

  4. JKim says:

    Hey, this really helps. I only took Honors Physics, but I took it last year so it’s still relatively fresh in my mind. I wasn’t planning on trying to place out of anything, but maybe I’ll try for physics now… we’ll see!

  5. Sarab says:

    Very interesting. Would you be able to disaclose the topics for the General Chem and the Electricity and Magnetism, or would MIT lock you up in solitary confinement for that? (Weak joke I know, but the best I got right now)

    Also, could you throw around a few less course numbers or atleast provide a glossary,as some of us outsiders may not know what in God’s name 8.01 or 7.012 are?

    Sarcasm regretted. Unfortunatley, each time I try to rewrite those lines, it appears again, so my apologies!

    PPS how many courses can you take, what duration are they, how deep do they go etc. etc.

    As i am terribly unfamiliar with the US college system bear with me!


  6. m says:

    i agree with colin!

  7. Phil says:

    wow, i appreciate u writing this post, with only a week left till MCATs! Good luck again!

    I’m doing FLP too! so excited.

  8. laura says:

    this is the best entry ever! and great timing too:) tell us everything about freshman year. what was your typical day like that year? and what are the most popular HASS classes (because of the easy A or because the topic is interesting?)? and where can you get inexpensive, used textbooks? one of my friends said she spent $700 on books already…we can find used books around here can’t we?

  9. Minh says:

    Hey Melis, good luck with MCATs. They’re coming up soon, right? Well go and ace them so you can chill in the nice sun on a beach somewhere in the Carribean whilst we head up for pre-orientation/orientation. =P

    But anyway thanks for writing about this! And oh, do tell about your feelings so us little freshies can read all about it! =)