It feels a bit strange to write that September 8 will mark the third annual Wednesday that I walk down the Infinite to the requisite “first day of classes” buzz at MIT. Time flies when you’re having fun. Or, in our case: psetting, socializing, studying, exploring campus and city life, and discovering every possible iteration of “IHTFP.” Either way, I am officially an upperclassman, and as such, I’m going to give you ’14ers a bit of practical advice that I’ve accumulated from two, very busy years at the Institvte.
Although your freshman year at MIT is somewhat different from that of other universities, MIT shares one important trait with every other college in the country: The undergraduate experience is very different for each student. I know this might seem completely obvious to you now, but keep in mind that college life is — above all, perhaps — a time to experiment, learn, and develop your perspectives. Don’t feel frustrated if you have difficulty in a class or if you feel that you aren’t prepared for your subjects. This is a new and challenging environment, and I guarantee that you will be presented with obstacles and situations that you may not have encountered before.
But never fear! The key to a successful and, more importantly, fulfilling first year at MIT is to find what works best for you. In a new setting, your friends and classmates will have widely diverse styles of adapting and learning; don’t feel pressured to act or work a certain way based on what you see. To be prepared in your classes, try to keep pace and to make use of advice offered by professors, teaching assistants, graduate resident tutors (GRTs), and upperclassmen.
This brings me to a second crucial point about life at MIT: making use of your resources. I’m not talking about desperately trying to Google a p-set problem at 4 a.m. the morning that it’s due (although I’m sure that many of us have been in that particular situation!). A critical and unavoidable fact about your undergraduate experience is that, at times, you will need help. Whether it’s having a person to vent to after a frustrating day, getting sick and needing to postpone an exam, feeling lost in a class, or being confused about which major to choose, MIT has many, many resources that can help you to feel confident, healthy, and self-assured in your decisions.
These methods begin next week with the dorm you choose to call home and the GRTs and housemasters who adopt you. They continue with TAs and upperclassmen, and extend to S^3 (Student Support Services) and the wide variety of guidance counselors and professionals that can give you academic, medical, or personal advice.
These support structures are here to help you. Don’t prolong or try to fix a difficult situation by yourself. I guarantee that you will find your MIT experience much more rewarding if you communicate your needs, ask others for ideas and advice, and be sure to take advantage of all your resources. Don’t try to go it alone.
Finally, keep your ambitions in mind if you like, but don’t hold too tightly to them right now. Your ideas and goals may very well change during your first two semesters, and this is something that you should embrace. Regardless of which high school you have come from, what your interests are, or where you call home, freshman year is not a time to compare yourself with your classmates. Work hard and learn, but take care that you don’t take yourself too seriously. MIT can feel daunting, but try to focus on adjusting to life here and don’t be afraid to branch out, try new classes, and enjoy yourselves. Pass/No Record is a perfect time to experiment with new subjects, UROPs, sports, or activities — and to enjoy college life with the friends that you meet. Take full advantage of it!
Now that I’ve told you these few things, I know that you will come to find that MIT is an incredible place, filled with exciting courses, diverse classmates and professors, and outstanding research. It is an extremely unique place to learn, live, and work, and you will be exposed to countless choices and opportunities during your time here. Enjoy, explore, and take advantage of them, and your four years at MIT will undoubtedly be exciting, fulfilling, and enlightening.
Take a deep breath. Love your Beaver. And good luck!