NOTE: I drafted and abandoned this post in the spring of my freshman year. It is now my last chance to share these freshman thoughts with you. Editor’s notes were added in the spring of senior year. For reference, here is my past avatar, a more accurate depiction of me when I wrote this post.
On the week of Pi Day, my friend and I both wondered how a whole year had passed. I remember my Pi Day very clearly, but I do not comprehend my state of mind back then. I want to have a conversation with that person, the high school senior Yuliya who was so much less confused. What was I thinking then that made the world so clear? What was I expecting from my college experience?
For example, I had zero doubts about being a math major. I had a clear life plan to start in the first semester—after all, freshman fall with Pass/No Record had to be the easiest of all semesters, right? The assumption seems so silly now, embarrassing even. I was also terrified in a very literal sense of the Biology GIR. The Biology requirement was, in fact, one of the top reasons I didn’t comMIT till late April. I only stopped being terrified of Biology after I talked to my host about her Bio GIR experience during CPW [editor’s note: your CPW host can be a great resource for quelling such fears!]
Now, Biology isn’t scary. It is fascinating [editor’s note: I’ve even declared a Brain and Cognitive Sciences minor, which is heavy on biology]. I was almost a physics major for almost a semester, and still plan to take more physics courses, even though that dream is gone [editor’s note: that dream was too far gone. i never took more physics courses and even avoided the required 8.02 Physics II until senior year]. I also found that Pass/No Record helps, but even with it, the end of the first semester here felt like walking on a sharp object made of fragile ice. I could never perfectly predict the number of problem sets I could miss and still pass the class. Passing is no miracle, nor is it a science. It’s work. A lot of work (and a touch of procrastination).
What I’m trying to say in a haphazard way is that things will change when you come to MIT. Maybe you won’t be that person who went from “for sure course 18 theoretical” to “eh, maybe 8 also,” to “11?” and is still not sure (that’s me! [editor’s note: still me!]). But you will still discover sensational news about yourself. You may learn that math is not your strongest suite, or that you’ve always wanted to try a capella [editor’s note: something I discovered during CPW – a great time to check out something entirely new!], or that a career in engineering sounds like the bomb [editor’s note: pretty sure “the bomb” was a saying outdated even by 2015 standards]. On a simpler note, you’ll discover pretty quickly how you fare on independence and proficiency at household chores and finance management. Hopefully, you’ll come to terms with the unknown and allow yourself to take baby steps towards a partially obscured goal.
I’m thrilled to meet you all in a week! I’ve had at least ten conversations with friends about how great CPW will be. Actually, make that twenty. I’ve been mulling over topics of conversation for when y’all come to visit in the East Campus courtyard, hoping to discover more about you than place of origin and intended major. But in case you don’t stop by East Campus or Meet the Bloggers, I’d like to say this:
- Be excited. Hold on to that feeling, emotion, attitude. Remember what made you excited most at CPW, or back in high school, and pursue that when you become a frosh. But explore other options too, and be realistic. Both freshman fall and spring semesters, I’ve reorganized my schedule up to three times (make that four, actually). And every time, I had to email my advisor with a long explanation of why I fucked up. And you know what? Next year I’ll probably do the same thing, though with a different advisor [editor’s note: i was right about this. remember that it’s OK to change.].
- Don’t come with pre-set opinions about your capacities. Some of you may be struck with impostor syndrome sometime within the month. You may hear about the myriad of wonderful opportunities your peers have pursued, and feel like you could never do enough. But think of it this way: you’re here for a reason. Find that reason. Embrace it. It’s ok to be below average—don’t forget that half your peers are in the bottom half, and more have been there at some point. Let that realization sink in and work at your own pace. Everyone here, I am sure, has had the thought or the experience of failing. Class averages on tests can be as low as 33%. Whether you think now that you’ll excel or fail, let that thought pass. Learn as best as you can, and evalute your strengths and weaknesses after.
- Allow yourself to change. In fact, brace yourself for the changes before you step on campus, and talk to the upperclassmen, maybe even during CPW, before you become a frosh, about the experiences they’ve had. I’m happy that I got to be Course 8 for a little bit, at least in my mind. It was nice to know that I had been so wrong about myself and what I enjoyed—early practice in avoiding self-misconceptions. Learn to change. It’s essential.
- MIT is a pressure cooker. How you come out of it is a mystery. Ultimately, you’ll choose your own way of coping and path to success, but remember to notice others’ paths too. In 21M.600 Intro to Acting, we were taught to notice our classmates’ “spheres of energy,” and be mindful of our own as well. We were taught to pass others without disturbing their energy spheres. The rule applies in the rest of MIT also. It’s hard sometimes to admit that you need help, but easy to feel alone. But, at MIT, we may all stumble, tumble, and fall, and curse, “IHTFP,” and then get up, rethink the mistakes, and remember we’re human.
- Don’t compare yourself to your peers. Learning from others’ projects, interests, and victories is fascinating if you don’t think of them as competitors or benchmarks. There’s something that you’re great at. I guarantee it. So learn what makes your classmates great, and let that guide you to find your strengths. Let your friends be the experts you ask for help. Most likely, one day you will also be their expert.
If you think of all this before you arrive on campus, hopefully the changes in your life and self-perception will be easier to handle. Make mistakes, change, and start again.
Don’t panic (and always carry a towel)