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Enhancing the First Year at MIT

Draft Data (as of October 2018)

This page is meant to provide an overview of initial changes observed in relation to the 2018 CUP experiment. The experiment was intended to provide flexibility for students to move some of their Science Core GIRs out of the first-year, providing more opportunities for students to take classes that enable them to explore majors and minors early in their time at MIT.

Our initial observations suggest that students are in fact taking fewer Science Core GIRs (~0.5 fewer per student). Survey data has also indicated that exploration and learning play a larger role in student subject selection than in past years. We note that this experiment will affect student behavior and performance throughout their time at MIT and beyond, and this initial data should not be treated as a final “result” of the experiment by any means. We will continue to update this page as we collect more data on the effects of the experiment.

The following enrollment data is courtesy of the Registrar’s Office and reflects student registration as of the fifth week of the specified term.

The term “Science Core GIRs” refers to the following general institute requirements: Physics 1 (8.01 and variants), Physics 2 (8.02 and variants), Calculus 1 (18.01 and variants), Calculus 2 (18.02 and variants), Chemistry (3.091, 5.111, and variants), and Biology (7.01x and variants).

“Advanced Credit” refers to credit awarded via an advanced standing exam, transfer credit, or an Advanced Placement test.

Enrollment in science core GIRs has dropped

Chart 1. Fall Enrollment in Science Core GIRs by First-Year Students

Chart 2. Percent of students with X Science Core GIR credits through Advanced Credit

While many first-year students arrive with credit for one or more GIRs or test out of some through Advanced Standing Exams offered during orientation, roughly a quarter of the class each year does not enter with credit for any Science Core GIRs. Nearly half of the first-year students only have credit for one GIR. Most of this credit is for 18.01, which can be satisfied with a score of 5 on the AP Calculus BC exam.


Chart 3. Change in number of Science Core GIRs taken under experimental policy

This chart illustrates the number of Science Core GIRs taken in the fall semester. First-year students are subject to a 54-unit credit limit in the fall semester, which allows them to take up to 4.5 subjects. In past years, students typically took one subject to satisfy the HASS (Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences) requirement, and the remaining 3-3.5 subjects were spent on some combination of Science Core GIRs and exploring/getting started on majors. We have found that almost all students who came in with 0 or 1 advanced credits took 3 Science Core GIRs in their first semester, leaving them with no time to explore majors. We have observed that this fall, under the experimental policy, far more of these students are choosing to take 2 Science Core GIRs, leaving them with an extra subject that can be used to explore majors.

Students are exploring broadly

While students are always free to enroll in Science Core GIRs or to take other classes, provided they have the necessary pre-requisites, they were explicitly encouraged this year to postpone a Science Core GIR subject and use the time to explore. During orientation, they were given a list of classes that the departments deemed suitable for exploring.

75% of the subjects students chose to take instead of a Science Core GIR this semester were among the 190 Academic Exploration Subjects identified by departments.

The number of unique subjects first-years are taking increased by 14% (from 280 to 318). Only six subjects had enrollment increases of 20 or more first-year students, and OVC provided TA funding to support the additional students.

Chart 4. First-year enrollment in classes beyond Science Core GIRs by School

We also collected data on their priorities in the post-orientation survey that is run each year. The survey asks about their orientation and move-in experience as well as their priorities and experiences when they selected their classes. Many of the questions were asked in last year’s survey as well, allowing us to compare the priorities of this class to the priorities of the previous class. Additional questions about exploration were added this year, giving us more detailed insight into how students approach major exploration, although not in a way that can be compared to past years.

Q: “When you chose your classes, how important were the following?” (data from Orientation Survey)

Q: “In what ways are you exploring different academic fields, majors, and minors this first semester? (mark all that apply)” (data from Orientation Survey)