Load up on life, not classes

As potential MIT students, you’ve seen the admissions booklets: MIT will drown you with opportunities. Want to play Indonesian gamelan? Research polymerizable nanoemulsions with world-class professors? Shoot fellow students with nerf guns on a Friday night — as part of an official student group? You’ve come to the right place!

That’s what Campus Preview Weekend is all about. During CPW you will experience a more vivid, more fun version of MIT. It’s not like quite like this all the time. And that’s a shame.

At MIT, you will feel the temptation to overload yourself with classes, to spend all your time tooling away on problem sets. You will be surprised at how easy it is to allow academics to consume your life. You’ll become, as we like to say at MIT, terribly, horribly hosed. And, as an MIT student, you might decide to embrace this extreme, sleep-deprived state of existence. You might choose to intensify it by taking five, six, even seven classes. You’ll spend your evenings, weekends, and vacations hauled up in your room, emerging only to declare to your fellow housemates or hallmates how very, very busy you’ve been, taking pride in being perceived as “hardcore.” At MIT, a certain culture exists that idealizes this type of lifestyle.

As a prefrosh, it might be hard to imagine yourself slipping into this mindset, but once you’re a student here, free of any incentive to rack up activities for your college application and constantly busy with problem sets, it can be easy to forget the importance of maintaining a life outside of classes. Here is your warning: Beware of the urge to be “hardcore.”

So much learning in college takes place outside of classes. By getting involved in extracurricular like clubs, sports or music groups, you learn to work with and communicate with other people — and initially, they’re usually strangers. You will learn to accomplish goals alongside people you like, but you’ll probably meet other people you don’t like. This is how the real world works, and MIT is a great place to get practice.

Extracurricular research is also a great way to get involved in a huge part of MIT. The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) makes it very easy for students, even freshmen, to work in a lab for pay, credit, or as a volunteer. If you’re one of the many MIT students considering a career in research, UROP is a fantastic way to get a small taste of that lifestyle. Plus, you’ll learn to communicate in an academic setting and further hone your people-skills. UROP’s breadth is also unique to MIT — many other schools simply do not provide undergraduates with such easy access to a wide range of compelling research disciplines.

But everything comes at a price. This means that in order to take advantage of opportunities like UROP, sports and clubs, you will need time away from classes — so don’t take too many of them! While you may try to take seven classes per semester while attempting to juggle everything else you want to do with your life, you’ll likely be unhappy and will probably leave the Institute less prepared for the real world than your peers. So take four or five classes and devote each year, or even better, each term to learning something new, be it a sport, research, music, leadership, volunteering or even your own personal project. Spend time making new friends and having fun. You will still graduate on time.

None of this advice is truly specific to MIT. No matter where you matriculate, do not overload yourself with classes. Extracurricular activities will likely teach you just as much as any class will, but what you’ll learn is of a different nature — teamwork, management and social skills, planning, and taking responsibility for and learning from mistakes. College life is about achieving a balance between everything you want to do. Even here, that balance is possible.