Welcome [Back] to MIT

Advice for succeeding at the Institute

Editor’s Note: This editorial was originally published on August 31, 2010, at the beginning of the fall semester. We believe much of its advice is still relevant today, for any MIT student.

There are always things you wish someone had told you earlier. This is especially true for a place like MIT, where you’ll likely be facing challenges you’ve never had to face before. But there’s also value in learning to how to deal with these challenges on your own. So without taking some of the mystery (and fun) out of your first year at MIT, here are some things we wished we knew for our upcoming freshmen years.

Some of you may question whether you are prepared for MIT. That question runs counter to the attitude entering MIT students should hold. By virtue of your demonstrated skills, every one of you has the potential to be a successful MIT student. This is not to suggest that you will not find MIT to be difficult — you will be in the vast majority there. You are here because you have the intellect and ability to learn new skills quickly and apply them. MIT will require you to do this, but it will require you to do so consistently and to a greater extent than you did in high school. If you recognize and acknowledge this, you will not run into problems at MIT.

There’s more to MIT than your living group. If, for whatever reason, something about your living situation is less-than-optimal, there are plenty of other places to hang out and people to meet. Get involved in sports teams or clubs, which can provide a social support network similar to that of a living group. In that same vein, learn to be flexible. Not everything at MIT will work out fantastically. If that’s the case, MIT is big enough so you’ll always have other options. Finding a creative outlet will get you out of your room and meeting new and interesting people. And once you find yourself out of the MIT bubble, you’ll realize that social skills are just as important as technical ones, and if you don’t know how to interact with other human beings then you’ll quickly be left behind.

Plan ahead. Pay attention to your advisers, and think about what classes you need to take and when as early as you can. Look online for the various degree requirements and when you know what you’d like to be your major, consider how you’ll fit in those courses along with the General Institute Requirements. Being proactive about planning means you won’t be surprised by a GIR or degree requirement you have yet to complete by senior year. Also, you’ll be able to evenly space out difficult classes across four years, instead of ending up biting off more than you can chew for one or two semesters. Planning ahead means you’ll maintain your academic sanity and never be caught off guard by too tough of a course load.

Planning ahead also means thinking about careers. And as unfair as it may sound, securing internships and jobs, during and after MIT, are much more about who you know than what you know. A friend of a friend who knew your brother’s girlfriend’s aunt is ridiculously more likely to get you a job than an application into a black hole of an internet job posting, so learning to network is key.

Finally, remember that moderation is sometimes good. There’s often a lot of pressure at MIT to do everything you possibly can at once — research, classes, clubs, and more. It’s fine to be busy, but it’s not fine to be unhealthy. If you’re feeling too stressed by everything that’s on your plate, cut something out of your schedule for some much-earned free time. It’s okay to let your brain relax a little bit.

None of this advice should be taken as hard-and-fast rule. Feel free to take advantage of the independence that MIT affords you and forge your own path. Figuring out how to manage your new life here is just as instructive as the courses you’ll be taking.