The first thing I felt upon arriving at MIT was disbelief – disbelief that I had been admitted to the school that produced Nobel laureates and unicorn founders and made some of history’s most groundbreaking scientific discoveries.
MIT had tens of thousands of applicants to choose from to fill their incoming class, and they chose…me?
MIT had been my dream college for years, and I used to practically worship MIT students—and now, somehow, I was one of them.
Following that was the joy of being able to connect with interesting people—in high school, few of my friends cared to have deep technical conversations, but people at MIT loved them.
I never had to search for long to find a group of friends who wanted to hypothesize with me about the possibility of colonizing Mars or try to estimate the number of blades of grass in Massachusetts.
After this initial honeymoon phase, however, I and many other students became deeply intimidated by our classmates. In high school we were all easily at the top of our respective classes in most, if not all, subjects, but now half of us were among the bottom half of the class.
Before MIT, I knew a few people that I considered to be much smarter than me, but it was easy to accept that of all the people in the world, a handful operated on a level higher than I did.
In contrast, these unfathomably intelligent people were suddenly everywhere—suddenly I was the one asking others to slow down their explanations so I could understand, instead of the one giving the explanations.
Multiple times, my friends came out of an exam laughing about how easy it was while I had only managed to get through half of it.
Unsurprisingly, a large number of MIT students are affected by Impostor Syndrome.
I also quickly realized that academics at MIT were not the same as academics in high school—rather than struggling to channel the discipline to finish all the busy work, I now truly struggled to understand the concepts, and no amount of discipline was going to help me.
When I tried to load up on high-level classes and extracurriculars as I saw some of my friends doing, I quickly became overwhelmed and wanted nothing but for it to be over.
During the fall semester of my sophomore year (by far my toughest semester), I was going to bed at around 4am on average, and I pulled multiple all-nighters.
The struggle is perhaps somewhat romanticized before and after the fact, but while it was happening, all I wanted was another hour of sleep.
During this time I grew envious of those who seemed like they could do it all—take twice the standard load of classes, lead multiple extracurricular organizations, and still find the time and energy to go out on Friday and Saturday night.