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CUP Experiment


Why is exploration important / valuable? And how can students pursue multiple interests while at MIT? Consider these points of reference…

  • A thorough needs analysis conducted by over 50 students in the Designing the First Year at MIT course (Spring ’18) determined that flexibility to explore was one of the top needs expressed by students.
  • 30% of students will change their major and ~ 7% of seniors will say that if they had the opportunity to do it all again, they would have picked a different major.
  • Within five years of graduating, 75% of MIT undergrad alums are working in a field not directly related to the major they studied at MIT.
  • 100% of students complete a HASS concentration. Many HASS concentrations are only 2 classes away from a minor.
  • 16% of students double major. 27% of students complete at least 1 minor, 3%complete 2. 23% of students who double major also earn at least 1 minor.
  • MIT offers composite majors (e.g. 5-7), flexible majors (e.g. 2A), and interdisciplinary HASS majors (e.g. 21E) that allow students to pursue multiple interests without the challenge of completing two full majors.

Won’t this “water down” the GIRs / MIT “hard”?

  • While the experiment gives students more flexibility regarding the GIRs, all students will still need to pass the 6 core SME requirements. The experiment gives students the ability to modify the pacing of the GIRs and to remove some of the grade-related pressure, but it does not make the GIRs easier or less important.
  • Added flexibility in the first-year will also enable students to spend more time exploring fields of interest and could lead to more (or better) UROPs, project classes, and theses later on in their undergraduate experience. These types of experiences truly bring “mens et manus” to life and are often the most rigorous and informative experiences students have. Exploring majors earlier has the potential to lead to more satisfaction and more energy to pursue challenging projects.

What are the potential benefits to students?

  • Far less pressure to take 3-4 GIRs in the first semester: SME GIRs can still be P/NR later, so students could use the time in the fall to explore.
  • GIRs that won’t bring down GPAs: This might lead to more opportunities for students to focus on learning new things instead of stressing about grades.
  • Freedom to challenge themselves: Students will be able to take advanced versions like 18.022 or 8.022 without fear of impact on their GPA.

What can first-year students do with this added flexibility? How can they better imagine what their first-year at MIT might be / could be like?

Students can …

  1. Talk with people. They can start with the Academic Expo. First-year students should reach out to Undergraduate Administrators in each department to ask questions and find out about opportunities in that department.
  2. Participate in an advising seminar.
  3. Do a UROP in a department that interests them.
  4. Do an Internship/Externship.
  5. Try out non-credit activities.
  6. Take exploration classes.

Given the experiment, what is a sensible model for a first-year fall schedule?

  • In the past, the classic model that most MIT first-years have followed for the fall has been: 3 SME GIRs + 1 CI-H. The CUP experiment allows more opportunities for exploration, so one sound approach is for students to take 2 SME GIRs + 1 HASS (not necessarily CI-H) + 12 units of academic exploration.

Are there any risks / advice students should be aware of?

  1. Many majors have GIRs as prerequisites. Students should explore the roadmaps for the majors they are considering and take the necessary GIRs during their first-year.
  2. Take at least two classes on grades in the spring of the first-year. As sophomore coursework may be significantly harder, it is important for students to prepare in their first-year to meet this new challenge in their second year.
  3. Not all major classes are suitable for first-year students. Note, if students choose to go off-list, remember that professors can and will enforce pre-reqs.
  4. To be considered for Early Sophomore Standing, students need to take CI subjects during the Fall semester.

How will this affect pre-health students?

  • For pre-health/pre-med students, keep in mind that medical schools traditionally require all of the SME GIRs and ask to see a student’s grades in those subjects. MIT draws a hard line with fall P/NR and medical schools know that they cannot see those grades.
  • Certain medical schools, however, may look less favorably on students who opt to take the SME GIRs on P/NR instead of grades. With that in mind, the pre-health advising community generally recommends that students not use their three P/NR slots. For more information, contact Career Advising & Professional Development.