While I agree with the spirit and overall theme of Feras Saad’s article, “The arrogance of freshmen” (i.e. that taking advantage of opportunities at MIT is more important than the fact that you got in here), several sentences had a tone that belied another form of arrogance. The worst was, “ … taking four classes a semester and getting A’s … is not much to brag about, but taking the initiative to research with professors or intern in industry certainly is,” followed closely by, “One can take four classes a semester and cruise through an MIT degree by junior year.”
While it is true that many MIT students have a strong enough high school background to finish a degree in three years, and many also have the ability to get all A’s if taking “only” four classes, this is not true for everyone. Several of the large freshman classes have curves centered at B+, meaning that a full 50 percent of the class will receive a B or worse! I and most of my close friends at MIT struggled in at least one class during our MIT careers. In my case, I was elated when I saw that Prof. Winston had given me B in 6.034, up from the C I would have gotten if not for his willingness to forgive a terrible prior exam grade if I was able to demonstrate knowledge of the material on the final. In fact, my entire Course 6 GPA was only barely high enough to qualify for the M.Eng program, and I never took more than 54 units and only began UROPing my senior year. To make matters worse, the dean of admissions who admitted my class was later shown to be a fraud, causing many of my classmates to wonder if we were simply here by way of an oversight! So I know what it feels like to wonder if you’re up to the MIT challenge.
Of course, I’m not comparing myself to today’s freshmen, who seem to be smarter and more capable every year. But to those who are taking only three or four classes and are still struggling, I just want to say: you are doing fine. Some of your friends may be getting all A’s, holding multiple simultaneous UROP positions, and chastising you for “wasting this opportunity” or some similar baloney, but don’t listen to them. I mean, I agree that you shouldn’t waste this opportunity by focusing on letter grades, but piling on more commitments and higher expectations is not the way to go. Part of maturity, which is guided by humility, is being okay with who you are and what you are capable of, and then doing a few things well rather than overloading on “opportunities” in order to pad your resume.
Yes, push yourself and venture outside your comfort zone. Try something new. Try something you will fail at! But leave behind the resume-building attitude that says you must do everything and seize every possible opportunity in order to get into college. You’re here. You belong here. But you are not the most capable person here. So don’t stress over your GPA, your course load, or how many UROPs or job offers you have. If taking three classes a semester and working hard to overcome testing anxiety to get all B’s leaves you truly understanding subject material you care about, you will have done better for yourself when you graduate in five years than that other guy we all know who is graduating in three years with a 5.0, two majors, three recommendations from UROP professors, and absolutely no idea how to do anything except “succeed” at any metric set up for him by anyone other than himself.
Or at least I hope that’s true, or I’m about one year, one major, .5 average grade points, and two UROPs behind.
Daniel Wendel is a research associate in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning.