041. Architects

tldr: college?

Dear Past Me,

This is weird. Normally I write letters to my future self about dreams, hopes, and aspirations, so this is a first. After all, there isn’t exactly a way to make a time-capsule that I can open in the Past [unless time-travel exists, but if it did I would have said time-capsule]. Anyways; I have been trying to summarize what I think university is like. A few of my high school friends who just graduated asked me about my experience, and it’s difficult to just say anything other than “good :)”. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that I don’t even know what college is like, yet when I was you (past me), you thought you knew all about university culture. Warning: you do Not.

That thought is a bit discomforting, right? After all, our dream job is to be a Mathematics professor, and there is no way to get there without at least a little bit of college education [cough cough, 4 years of undergrad, and 3-5 years(?!?!?!) of graduate school]. But think about it: what do you actually picture when you picture college? I imagine you’re picturing some mashup of Harry Potter, Glee, and How to Get Away with Murder. It feels like a trivial statement, but I am going to say it anyways: university is not like a school for wizards, theater kids, or lawyers– at least not for you it’s not.

I never fully internalized how much of a disadvantage we are at. Thankfully with MIT there’s less of a worry about how to pay for school, with full-need based financial aid. But finances are still an issue. There were far too many nights where I worried about turning in my tax forms correctly to get the financial aid in the first place, and every email from Student Financial Services is terrifying to open. Not to mention that some kids *grow up* learning about college culture. If we had known about the world of academia growing up, who knows where we would be now. 

Did you know that professors at universities are “25 times more likely to have a parent with a PhD“? It makes me feel small and inconsequential. We didn’t know what we didn’t know, but that’s the path we are on. And I swear, it’s not as terrifying as it may seem. College just sort of *is* (gestures vaguely). It is fun, and exciting, and indescribable. But I will try to describe as best I can anyways.

At MIT, we become an Architect. I think this is true for all students in one way or another (especially those in Course 4). For the first time, there’s not a simple road to our classes. Sure we had choices in high school about what to take, but even then not really. If you’re interested in math in high school, there are maybe 5 classes available for you to take (Calc 1 or 2, Linear Algebra, and Differential Equations, if you’re lucky). In college, the class options are endless, and most paths are completely justifiable. Besides just classes, you have/get to figure out what you want to do over summer, and winter, and in life.

I thought I would hate this about college– I never really saw myself as someone who “goes with the flow”. More so, I saw myself as someone who can follow a sequence of steps. In this way, the steps become much less apparent in university, as everyone is on their own little path. Here’s the thing that I failed to realize until this year: sure making the path can be scary, but once it’s there? You just take the next step. 

This is, of course, easier said than done. You can’t plan out the next four years of your life (as I have often tried to do). Rather, you take things as they come, which is shockingly similar to going with the flow, believe it or not. 

A family friend recently told me that

Airports are designed for people who don’t know English.

If international businessmen who don’t speak English can figure their way through security and onto a flight, so can you. And, it’s terrifying to not know every single detail of your journey (whether it be going on a flight or four years of undergrad), but there are systems in place to help you get on your way. This isn’t to say you should be completely oblivious– of course you need to know that first you check into your flight. But, I have found comfort in knowing that afterwards, I will be told where to go.

The same happens in college– especially your freshman year. Schools, if they are doing things correctly, design events (like orientation and campus move-in) to be accessible for students like us. Students who have no clue what they are doing. At some point, these guard rails disappear, but by then things make more sense. At least, I hope they do.

I could talk to you for ages about what university is like. Truth be told, I am still figuring out how to put the experience into words. For now, take life one step at a time, and if you can’t find the next step, make it yourself. I don’t know what the future holds [what a completely obvious statement, but hey I know more than you do, past me]. But I know that we will make it through to the end. Our kids won’t have to picture Hogwarts when imagining what college is like. Let’s make it through this for them, and for us.

When we make it to the other side, I’ll write you a letter all about it.

Current Paige (2021)

PS: everyone signs off their email with “best, [insert name here]”, get used to it.

Published by Paige Bright

Hi- my name is Paige Alexandria Bright. I am a rising junior at MIT interested in mathematics and philosophy. I have been writing this blog since the beginning of COVID. Lets see where this goes.

2 thoughts on “041. Architects

  1. past selves letters are indeed much weirder

    worried about turning in my tax forms correctly to get the financial aid in the first place » AHHHHHHHH SAME D:

    professors at universities are “25 times more likely to have a parent with a PhD“? » yeah thinking about this is depressing sometimes. privilege asdlfhasgjasfd

    but there are systems in place to help you get on your way » “everyone at MIT wants you to graduate”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. privilege indeed– the number of profs who 1) are famous and 2) have famous profs is astounding. and I know at least one current student in this situation which is weird.


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