This year, 25.9 percent of freshmen were offered early sophomore standing, down slightly from last year’s 26.9 percent. Of the 296 eligible, 134 freshmen have accepted so far. Offers were sent out in late November by the Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education Julie B. Norman. Although freshmen have until Add Date, March 8, to accept, Norman does not expect the number to rise significantly.
To be eligible for early sophomore standing, freshmen must have completed 96 units of credit by the end of first semester, including a Communication Intensive (CI) subject and the majority of the General Institutional Requirements (GIRs). Ninety-six units of credit translates to approximately eight classes, or a quarter of the undergraduate degree. Students can obtain credit through either prior transfer credit (including AP/IB credit), or by passing Advanced Standing Exams (ASEs).
Freshmen who accept early sophomore standing are assigned to a departmental advisor earlier than their peers and are not bound the spring semester freshman credit limit of 57 units. In addition, early sophomores can begin designating one subject as “Sophomore Exploratory” a semester earlier — meaning that the student can see the final grade in the class before deciding to change the class to listener status, effectively dropping a poor grade. This is an option available to sophomores in both semesters — those with early standing simply have the option shifted a semester earlier than usual.
Furthermore, early sophomores are no longer graded on the second-semester freshman A/B/C/no record scale.
“I believe the desire to ‘connect’ with their major is the driving force for most students to declare early sophomore standing,” said Norman. “While declaring sophomore standing means the students give up the safely net of the freshman grading scheme, I do not think this is a disadvantage. It is just a fact.”
Holly B. Sweet, associate director of the freshman learning community Experimental Study Group (ESG), agrees.
“Most students I know who take early sophomore standing do not exceed the credit limit,” said Sweet, who also advises freshmen in ESG. “They’re doing it to get more connected to their department.”
Clare M. Zhang ’16, who declared Course 3, qualified for early sophomore standing by taking many AP exams in high school. She did not take any ASEs, but instead “took a lot of the HASS-related exams, which are luckily the ones that MIT counts for credit.”
“Being able to take five classes with 5.12 (Organic Chemistry) on the exploratory option definitely removes a lot of stress for me — especially because it’s not a required class for Course 3,” said Zhang. “Having an advisor in the department is actually really handy because they’re specialized and know what classes are good to take and which ones aren’t absolutely necessary.”
Melody G. Liu ’16 was offered early sophomore standing, but is still considering whether to accept it.
“I’d really like to do a double major in Course 2 and 12, and I feel like I need a lot of advice on how to arrange my schedule to do this,” explained Liu. “There are a lot of requirements in Course 2 and 12 that don’t mesh well together.”
On the other hand, Ethan N. DiNinno ’16 chose not to take early sophomore standing.
“I’m at the freshman credit limit, so there’s no point,” said DiNinno. “I knew what I wanted to take [spring semester], and it ended up being exactly at the limit, so I had no reason to take [sophomore standing].” Unlike Zhang and Liu, he did not feel that having a departmental advisor would be significantly helpful.
Rashed A. Al-Rashed ’15, an associate advisor, pointed out that early sophomores will also be able to exercise the junior-senior P/D/F option earlier. With junior-senior P/D/F, students can choose to register for a class and receive a P/D/F instead of the standard grades. However, he also warned freshmen against overloading themselves.
“Without the credit limit, it becomes very easy to sign up for too many classes and overload. What can sometimes happen is that a student will take five or six classes not because they need or want to, but only because sophomore standing gives them the ability to,” cautioned Al-Rashed.
According to MIT’s early sophomore standing web page, petitions to qualify for early sophomore standing are not allowed.
“Petitions are not allowed simply because one either meets all the criteria and is a sophomore or not,” stated Norman. “Sophomore standing is an academic classification. There is no intention of the faculty to change the criteria.”
According to Dean Norman, early sophomores as a whole perform well academically. In the past, early sophomores have averaged about 58.5 units — only a little more than the spring freshman credit limit of 57 units.
“I’d only recommend a freshman to take early sophomore standing if they know they want to take more classes than the credit limit allows and are sure that they can handle it. The credit limit is slightly higher during the spring semester for a reason — it allows you to take four standard classes alongside another 9 unit class,” Rashed said. “This is an excellent way to test out a potential major — classes like 16.00 (Introduction to Aerospace and Design) and 3.094 (Materials in Human Experience) can be very helpful in deciding whether or not you want to stick with a certain major.”