Written by: Gianmarco Merino
Looking back, there are some things I would have liked to know before coming to MIT. This is just my personal experience and does not reflect advice or anything similar. You will see some things that might seem too obvious or unnecessary; however, even the silliest thing might be helpful for an international student at some point. They can save seconds, weeks, or sometimes opportunities.
I came to MIT as a master’s student for the class of 2023, starting in September 2022. I was in the Supply Chain Management Program at the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics. This is an engineering degree, so it involves a lot of math but also management. Since it is a one-year program, it is quite intensive academically. Apart from the two academic semesters (fall and spring), we also take courses in off-months like August, January, and February. Additionally, as part of the engineering degree, we also do a capstone or thesis.
Now, let me share some quick facts. An academic year at MIT consists of two semesters: fall and spring. Fall runs from September to December, and spring from February to May. Each semester has two half-terms (Hx): H1 and H2 for fall, and H3 and H4 for spring. Typically, there is a one-week break in between. The courses are designed to follow this schedule. For example, there are half-term courses for H1 and others for H2, as well as full-term courses that last both H3 and H4.
Let’s talk about grading. At MIT, they use a 100-point scale and assign letter grades from A to F, with A being the highest. A (and its nuances A+, A, and A-) represents scores between 90 and 100, while F is below 65. These grades are then converted to a Grade Point Average (GPA) on a 5.0 scale. Additionally, there are Pass/Fail courses available.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of academics, let’s dive into some major things I believe might be useful. I’ve categorized them into 5 key areas:
- MIT courses: As an MIT student, you can take courses from any department within MIT. There may be some restrictions on credits and requirements, but with persistence, you can explore various disciplines.
- Harvard courses: You can also take courses at Harvard through cross-registration. Start early and research the courses that interest you.
- Sloan courses: MIT Sloan offers excellent management courses that are highly sought after. Be prepared to bid for these courses, which begins in July. Research, seek opinions, and bid wisely. There are also Sloan certificates you can pursue.
- Nobel classes: MIT boasts well-recognized professors, including Nobel Prize winners, who offer classes, such as Ester Duflo, Abhijit Banerjee in the Economics department, and Robert C. Merton in Sloan. Distinguished professors and lecturers such as Bill Aulet in the Entrepreneurship Center, and Chris Caplice in CTL. Explore the offerings both at MIT and Harvard.
- MIT Clubs: Joining clubs is a great way to meet people with similar interests, make friends, and build connections.
- Sloan clubs: MIT Sloan has a variety of clubs covering diverse topics, such as the Latin American Club, Asia Business Club, Christian Fellowship, AI&ML, Design, Entrepreneurship, Blockchain, Wine, Beer, and so on. Explore the options and find clubs that align with your interests.
- Other MIT clubs: MIT offers clubs for music, sports, movies, travel, and more. Check out the sailing and flight clubs for some unique experiences.
- Conferences and Competitions: Take part in conferences and competitions throughout the year. These events feature talks by professors, CEOs, authors, and celebrities. Keep an eye out for opportunities to participate.
- Job Hunting
- Understand the unique aspects of the US job-hunting process. Being well-prepared will increase your chances of success.
- Behavioral interviews: Practice storytelling and answering behavioral interview questions using the STAR framework. Examples of questions could be like: “Tell me a time when you have managed a team, what went well, what went bad, how did you react, how it ended, and the results.”
- Case Interviews: some jobs, such as consulting, require candidates to tackle business cases as part of the interview process. These cases can be either qualitative, focusing on idea generation, or quantitative where calculators are not allowed. While opinions may vary on the efficacy of testing quantitative abilities in this manner, the truth is that excelling in these cases is crucial. Even if you’re not specifically aiming for a consulting role, preparing for business cases can serve as preparation.
- Shuttles: I wish I would have known this the first week. Download the MIT Mobile App and utilize the shuttles for convenient transportation.
- Blue Bike: Consider a subsidized membership for the cycle renting system, Blue Bike, which costs around $40 per year.
- MIT Rec: Take advantage of the two centers for indoor and outdoor sports, the Z-center and Alumni Center, which offer a range of facilities (pool, gym, courts, etc.)
- MIT residences: I highly recommend living in one MIT residence. Living in an MIT residence provides a comprehensive experience. The facilities are quite good, offering comfortable living for students.
- Banana Lounge: free bananas for everyone. Only opens in fall and spring.
- Free food events: MIT frequently hosts events with free food. Keep an eye out for these opportunities and share the information with friends.
- MIT Resources: MIT offers numerous resources for free, including zip car access, flights, Xfinity, newspapers, online libraries, and more.
- MIT Libraries: Explore the beautiful libraries at MIT, where the world of books is limitless. There is one exactly in the Great Dome.
- English, English, English: Prioritize developing strong English language skills, as it is crucial for fully enjoying the MIT experience. Speaking fluently is particularly valuable. Practice as much as you can and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
- Practice, practice, practice: Here probably you will notice the necessity of learning or improving a particular skill. Remember that mastering any skill requires consistent effort and practice. Don’t be discouraged if you feel unsure at first—keep practicing, and you will improve over time.
- Delta V & Entrepreneurship Center: For those interested in entrepreneurship, MIT’s Trust Center for Entrepreneurship and Delta V student venture accelerator provide valuable resources for pursuing your entrepreneurial ambitions. They also have some classes (and free coffee).
- Leverage the MIT brand: MIT is consistently ranked as the best university in the world. Use this prestigious brand to your advantage. Start a new club, invite influential speakers, and make a positive impact within your region. I had a friend who founded the MIT Jujitsu Club, and Lex Friedman went to train. How about the former president, minister of your country, CEO of a big company, or celebrity give a talk in your class or at a conference?
While MIT offers many incredible opportunities, there may be even more that I haven’t mentioned. Harvard also has their own things. Likewise, Boston is beautiful (especially in summer) and has a rich history. Enjoy it!
Finally, MIT is often described as “drinking from a firehose,” but the institution strives to strike a balance between academics and social activities. If I had to describe the MIT experience in one word, would be FANTASTIC. I hope these insights help you fully enjoy your time at MIT!
Pd. An MIT saying, “Study hard and enjoy smart.”