Pick experiences with eue to futureOne thing they do not teach you in 8.01 is that time is a function of perception, and both its first and second derivatives are positive.
In other words, I can't believe four years have gone by. Not only am I no longer a fresh-faced freshman fressing free frat food, but I have become a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I am an ex-student. I am a real-worlder.
This realization, while jarring to my present sense of reality, has somehow also provided a sense of perspective on my time here. Even though I'm still in contact with the Institute through my friends, my work and The Tech, I am not part of the system. Since MIT no longer affects me, I can study it, if not better, then at least differently.
I noticed that most of what freshmen hear these days concerns things that are happening "now" and how to deal with them "now" -- classes, living groups, activities, social life. What the freshmen, and upperclassmen, too, do in terms of "now" is naturally important. "Now" frequently seems to be all there is at MIT. When it does not, a student can be pretty sure that "now" will return soon and stay for a long time to come.
But the student's "now" stops eventually and becomes "back then." The ex-student then realizes how quickly "now" passed. You are at MIT for such a long time that later turns out not to have been as long. You do a lot of things that later turn out not to have been as much.
That's a depressing thought, though you can't regret missed opportunities. You have to realize that there are more good and interesting things to do in your life than you have time to do. Thus, you must choose the ones that seem most worthwhile not only now, but that will still seem the most worthwhile in the future.
It's very difficult to guess what will stand up over time, especially with the exigencies of "now" demanding attention.
I can't give you a laundry list of things to do at MIT that might not seem worthwhile now, but that will later, and vice versa. I can tell you some general principles that worked for me:
O+ Diversity: Especially as an undergraduate, you should seek to study as broad a range of subjects as your major will allow, and even select a major giving consideration to how much diversity it will allow for you. Keep an eye open for different academic programs and opportunities. You can't know what you'll like until you've tried it.
O+ People: You will learn as much or more from the people you meet than from the classes you take. Allow time for a social life. Then work at it. You should consider taking classes at Wellesley or Harvard, going to a summer session at another school, or taking a term or year at another school. You will meet more people, and they will have more diverse interests.
O+ Activities: You cannot do everything at MIT, but finding a fun place where you can work at something other than academics can provide some of the most rewarding college experiences. Look at several potentially interesting activities and pick the one that satisfies you the most.
O+ Experiences: There is no such thing as a bad experience. Those that turn out to be unpleasant are worthwhile if you learn to avoid them. You should only avoid experiences that could limit your ability to experience other things (like jumping off a building), or those that could hurt others (like jumping off a building on to someone).
No matter how interminable MIT may seem, it's really over very quickly. You're going to remember MIT for a much longer time than you will be here. Keep that in mind when you pick your experiences.