Campus Life advice

What to expect when you’re expecting… to come to MIT

Auntie Matter on what to do and think about before your first year

If you have questions for Auntie Matter, please submit them at Questions have been edited for length, clarity, and content.

Dear Auntie Matter,

I'm a prefrosh who's been enthusiastically reading your columns to understand some of the grievances of MIT campus life (the more you know!) I love your sense of humor and wanted to thank you for making me laugh and providing quality advice to everyone.

Anyways, I have some questions of my own: do you have any advice for prefrosh like me before setting foot on campus for orientation? Specifically, here are some pressing questions of mine: is studying for the GIRs over the summer worth it? Should I be trying to figure out a potential schedule for freshman year over the summer? How do I actually get my belongings across the country into my dorm in the first place? If there are any other tips you think would be helpful, please share them!

— Pensive Prefrosh

Dear Prefrosh,

On GIRs: You should not study for the GIRs unless you’re planning on ASEing them. If you do want to attempt ASEs, it is helpful to study using material from OCW. And even if you don’t get around to studying, try ASEs you think you might pass. But beware of your confidence levels here: if you are under-confident, you may skip ASEs you could have passed and then be bored in a class whose material you already know. On this note, Auntie has a pet theory that women tend to not take as many ASEs and hard classes as they should because the advice is that everything is going to be difficult. This advice is calibrated for overeager young men and should not necessarily be heeded by the less confident. However, don’t fill up your entire orientation week with taking ASEs. Just take a few ASEs. The vast majority of people end up taking most of the GIRs. You probably will too, and trying to ASE out of everything would most likely be miserable and pointless.

In terms of your potential schedule, choose a couple of HASS (Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences) classes and a couple non-GIR technical classes, but don’t worry about your GIR choices. There are a ton of HASSes you could take and you should try to choose meaningful ones (approximately one-quarter of your classes will be HASSes — you should make them count), but you can’t know which GIRs you will take until you take ASEs and the physics placement exam. Also, there are so few GIR choices that you’ll have plenty of time to think about them when you are here. Furthermore, you can get better advice once you are actually on campus, because (good news!) you will be surrounded by people who have taken the GIRs. Also, look into learning communities! Concourse, ESG, Terrascope, and MAS can all provide structure and community in your first year (and require you to sign up over the summer).

As a last note on scheduling, new this year for the 2023s, a number of approximately three-unit discovery classes will be offered, and you will have built-in space in your schedule to take them. Choose a few discovery classes in fields you are interested in! They will help you learn about these fields.

You ask about how to get your worldly possessions to campus — this depends where in the world you’re coming from. Auntie drove all of her things to MIT with help from her parents, so she was able to bring more stuff. If you need to take a plane to get here, you may not be able to bring as many things. Auntie’s international friend recommends buying bulky items like comforters when you get to campus and only bringing with you what you can fit in a few suitcases. Unfortunately, there isn’t a better answer to this question — you just need to work with your transportation plans and your budget to figure out what would be best for you.

All of this advice aside, Auntie recommends you not to think too much about logistics this summer. Instead, have fun in your last summer before college! There are no consequences for what you do in the coming months — that is, it won’t matter for your resume — so do whatever you want, whether that’s watching Netflix all summer, working on your epic sci-fi novel, walking the dog a lot, hanging out with your high school friends before you all scatter, etc. Also, don’t get too caught up in constantly interacting with your future peers on Facebook or other social media. The Facebook page is not that great of an environment, even though it’s exciting. It’s full of the anxiety of people who, like you, do not know what they are doing, no matter how much they act like they do. You’ll get to talk to your fellow prefrosh soon enough in person. Be present with your life at home while you still can! It, and you, will not be the same again when you return.

Lastly, spend some time reflecting this summer on your educational goals. You are about to leave home, probably for the first time. You will be in charge of yourself, ultimately with only yourself to answer to. Think about what you want out of an education. Think not just in a narrow, technical sense, but also in terms of the power education has to shape your character. (If you do not think education can shape your character, Auntie worries your view of education is impoverished.) What sort of person do you want to be, coming out of college? What might you have to learn and do to become that person? Make your character the priority, not the market: regardless of what you study here, you will almost certainly be able to support yourself later. MIT is one of a few institutions in this country with a name that carries such weight. The opportunity to really follow your passions without too much to lose — that is a tremendous privilege, a freedom that few human beings in history have had. Do not waste it by following along with what everyone else wants just because everyone else wants it. Be deliberate and courageous about getting the most out of your college education.