During the school year, I volunteer on Saturday mornings wit Mind Matter helping local underadvantaged high school kids prepare to take the SAT. One of my students will be going to Wellesley college next year. I’m very excited for her and it brought back lots of awkward, but very fond old memories. I felt inspired to pass some wisdom on to her and I wrote down some words of advice.

This post is dedicated to some of the wonderful MIT and Wellesley women I’ve known (by initials): CT, JW, LG, JB, KR, DC, KB, and CO (though I only met you after graduation)

1) College is one of the best times of life for many many people. It’s a time to explore who you are, have some fun, experiment, and enrich your mind in a way you’ve never done before.

2) Academics is the main reason for college, but it’s not the only reason. Do other stuff. Explore the area where you’re going to school, take a ballroom dancing class, participate in athletics (intramurals in particular). Meet people.

3) If you choose to drink, know how much your body can handle. Take notes. X beers == buzzed. Y beers is too much. The only differences between drunk and really drunk are:

a. The hangover you have in the morning

b. You embarrass yourself by being sloppy drunk.

4) I recommend you stay away from other drugs. You have plenty of time in life for that. Most colleges have pot, lsd, and coke available. I know plenty who tried these and were still ok. I also know people who struggled with these. I did without and I don’t regret it.

a. A lot of people pick up smoking in school. It’s a gross habit.

5) Get to know your professors. People don’t become profs if they’re not passionate about their subject. If you take an interest in their field, they will take an interest in you.

a. Go to office hours. I did and it never counted against me. I saw it as free tutoring from top notch teachers.

6) Find study partners. People who approach things differently from you are particularly valuable. Talking through assignments really helped me.

7) Read your assignments they day you get them. This usually only takes five minutes. Read your assignments every day to remind yourself. This enables you to think about the work before you actually do it. With this method, when it came time to actually do the work, I often had to just write down the answer.

8) Set aside times on the weekends to study. College classes require more work than what you’re used to in high school. As an example, I had a study group of three of us. We worked on the homework on Sunday after one of the guys in my group got out of church. We alternated between the three fraternity houses that we were in.

9) College classes should be hard and require a lot of work. If this is not true about the classes you’re taking, you should consider finding something more challenging. Remember this when you’re frustrated. You should not take this as a sign that you’re not smart enough. If you got into the school you’re most likely totally capable of succeeding. A large part of college is persevering when it’s not easy. For example, the math classes I took had homework consisting of no more than 10 questions. Problem 10 was more difficult than 9 and so on down. Sometimes I just had to sit there and stare at that one problem for a while. Try different angles. This is why it’s important to read the assignments early. Gives you a chance to digest the problems. But always remember that “hard” is not the same as “can’t”. Just keep poking at it.

Wellesley specific advice.

  1. I was not a student there, so I am not the final authority, but I’ve known and loved people who were (dating and as friends). Also, I’ve been out of college for just about 18 years now. Of course, generalities often don’t always apply to individuals.
  2. Wellesley encourages you to find your strength. Feminism is very strong there and that’s a wonderful thing. One mistake I saw many women there make is to equate that with giving up your womanliness. It is possible to be a strong professional woman AND still be sexy, feminine, gentle, beautiful, caring, sensitive, passionate, and all those other things.
  3. I encourage you to spend time off campus. The Boston area has so much to offer. Visit both MIT and Harvard.
  4. I encourage you to reach out to the women of MIT. This will be difficult at times. There’s a bit of rivalry between the two groups. I’ve seen Wellesley friends of my fraternity feel like they were competing with our MIT women friends. This doesn’t have to be the case.
  5. MIT women have a lot to offer that is different from what Wellesley women give.
  6. Wellesley women and MIT men come together in some conflicting circumstances. Wellesley students are busy finding their strength and discovering who they are. Many of them come from protective environments and are making their way out from under that. MIT men are often less socially mature and they’re also trying to figure things out. The combination can be awkward and I encourage you to keep this in mind. Be understanding of the insecurities around you. Be aware of your own insecurities. Don’t let these things pull you in a negative direction. Use this to temper your reaction when others are behaving irrationally.
My advice to my student going to Wellesley

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Miles's thoughts