7 Things I Learned From a Year at M.I.T.

Valuable lessons from one student to others.

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By Jacob Lund/Shutterstock
By Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering mental health, well-being, and redefining success among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.

1. Live by your expectations, not those of the people around you

At times, it didn’t help that there were thousands of other students around, many of whom seemed to have accomplishments that far outstripped mine. The person who lived two doors down from me received the top award in the national Putnam Competition for mathematics while I was struggling to understand linear algebra. One of my roommates received a four-year full ride science scholarship, while I had received enough scholarship money to cover barely a third of my first year. However, the same people who had absurdly good accomplishments would also do equally absurd things with me, like make giant rice krispies or have wall-sitting competitions or talk about the merit of hamburgers. It was very much a sense of unity. Humility replaced any sort of bragging rights as we learned how to get through M.I.T. together.

2. Give away your time to yourself

A friend of mine, also a freshman, had gotten his associate’s degree before graduating high school, something I couldn’t really fathom. He told me his organizational strategy. When doing problem sets with him one time, I glanced over to his computer and saw his schedule. It was meticulously color-coded, with each hour planned out and a breakdown of time distributions per week. Having hardly a more organized method than the Stickies desktop app, I was blown away. Some people had told him, “You’re giving away your freedom.” “Yeah,” he replied, “to me.”

3. Only sacrifice sleep for something that’s really worth it

I don’t mean problem sets and I don’t mean studying for exams. I mean when its your group of 6 friends and you’re hanging out in someone’s dorm. When it’s so late that you’re waxing philosophical and start arguing about whether “absolute litness” of the universe exists. Those are things you can sacrifice sleep for. Not school, though. I tried to stay up either for completing a pset or studying for an exam, and there wasn’t a single time when I didn’t regret it.

4. Look both ways before you cross the street

Exactly what it sounds like. I forgot the kindergarten adage and almost got hit by a car crossing a street near my dorm.

5. Not too many, but take pictures

In high school, I had this idea that I wouldn’t ruin any moments by taking photos and instead needed to fully live out that moment. Which is fair. However, when my friends and I were 3-D printing random things, or someone was taking a bite out of a lime, or another person would be dancing for no reason, I was very glad I have those pictures. 

6. Make time for people

Strong individual bonds and group strength can be hard to maintain. When every week people feel swamped with their four-plus P-sets, deliverables for their research work, and a multitude of club commitments, making time for other people can be incredibly difficult. When everyone has different levels of commitments at different times, it can be even harder. Making sure to have a meeting, even during difficult weeks, can go a long way in keeping you connected to others in the long term.

7. Parties are fun, but there are other things that are worth doing

It’s tempting living each week of grueling work in anticipation of a weekend party. I get it: Dancing and hookups, especially in a world away from home, are fun and exciting. However, this isn’t necessarily good in the long run. If the thing that’s driving you forward won’t bring long-term happiness, it’ll lead to a mentality of anticipation for things that aren’t at all worth anticipating. Read a book or hang out with someone you care about or learn an instrument. Or go to parties, if that’s what you actually want to do. 

More Thrive on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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