Keepin’ It Fresh: Advice for ’15

Posted by at 12:57AM

The Farm beckons.

As a tour guide, spending the summer away from campus has been an experience in many ways akin to that of Arthur Dent in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Full of knowledge of and affection for a planet that has ceased to exist, Arthur is thrust into a cold and uncaring galaxy full of beings tragically uninterested in the extraordinary complexities of the digital watch.  Like a homeless space traveler, I, too, have ventured to unknown lands where my knowledge of Stanford fruit trees, urban legends pertaining to wood-chopping devices, and precise heights of relevant historical buildings has yet to fascinate and amuse.  What a sad state is this.

However, the impending fall quarter presents a glorious opportunity to thrust my oft esoteric knowledge upon the receptive ears of incoming frosh.  Incoming freshmen (and the dozens of anxious parents who will likely also read this), here are the two cents of someone who knows more about Stanford than should probably be legal.  Enjoy!

Recommended Classes for Freshmen:

Whether you’ve known since age six that you wanted to be a biochemist or you’re just checkin’ out some classes for kicks, I’ve got some personal faves and recommendations from friends to get you started.  For your own reference: here‘s the course guide, here‘s the AP credit chart, and here‘s the Office of Undergraduate Academic Life’s website.  From my (and my friends’) experience, I’d recommend  taking 18 or fewer units freshman fall.  You only need to average 15 units a quarter to graduate, and your first quarter is all about adjusting to the pace of college life.  Don’t overwhelm yourself.  Finally, besides the mandated IHUM and PWR tracks, you have complete control of your course sequence.  That said, for individual majors there tend to be a few crucial prerequisites that you’ll need further down the line, so if you know what you want to do already, check out the individual department website for guidelines.

  • Psych 1: this is a great course for any major.  The course is well-established, with a phenomenal teaching staff and very fun, highly-trained TAs.  I’ve never cracked up so much in lecture or had so much fun learning about neurons.
  • Econ 1A / 1B: think you might be headed for law school, poli sci, econ, or business?  Then this series is a great start for you.  While it is rather work-intensive, many of your peers will take it, too, so it’s very much “we’re all in this together.”
  • Physics: if you’re planning on majoring in engineering or something similar, it’s a good idea to start populating that four year plan and see which physics classes are required by your prospective major.
  • Math: it’s a GER, so even if you’re majoring in Ancient Mongolian Poodle Painting, you need to take a math class at some point.  Check out my “track” guidelines below.
  • Chem 31A/B or X: psyched for possibilities in health science?  Then you’ll almost certainly need chem under your belt.  Take the A/B sequence or the X class if you’ve already taken AP.  It’s easiest to take this freshman year since you’ll have tons of study buddies, and it’s a prerequisite for lots of future classes!
  • IntroSems: you would be doing yourself a disservice not to take an introductory seminar during your freshman and sophomore years.  Stanford’s top faculty teach small, capped classes on awesome, intense topics of their choosing, usually featuring lots of field trips, discussion, and frequently building projects in the engineering disciplines.  Check out the catalog and apply here!  Depending on your preferences, you might choose to take all introsems, all the time, four a quarter.  It has been done.  However, based on your intended area of study, it makes sense to keep the big picture in mind.  Check out departmental websites for the best idea of an appropriate balance.
  • IHUM: don’t forget you’ve got 4 units of humanities (8 if you have PWR in the fall, too!) already plugged into your schedule!  Make sure not to overwhelm yourself by taking too many classes your first quarter.  Usually 3 to 4 classes is quite sufficient for a busy courseload.

"Envy Stanford's powerful nerds!!"

A word on tracks….

  • Math:  there are generally three options here.  The Math 50 series is the generic advanced calculus track geared towards most majors.  The CME series (“computational mathematics for engineers” – gesundheit!) is the most appropriate sequence if you’re  pretty positive you want to become an engineer, as it will give you significant exposure to Matlab, a computational programming language / environment.  Finally the Math 50 H series is an extra challenge  for those passionate about theoretical math and the proofs and process that it entails.  “Honors” in this case does not mean “for the smart kids” as it probably did in your high school, but rather that it is intended specifically for math enthusiasts.
  • Physics:  most engineering and sciencey folks tend to take the 40 series, as it covers the building blocks for future engineering courses.  (Note: if you took AP Physics in high school, you may be eligible for lots of AP credit and be able to skip some of these.)  The Physics 60 series is for people who really like physics.  As an electrical engineer, I usually can’t get away with calling people nerds, but….  😉  Anyways.  If you’re not big on physics but need to knock out a natural science requirement, the Physics 20 series is for you.

Resources for Staying Afloat:

Stanford students are sometimes accused of suffering from “Duck Syndrome.”  Calm on the surface, but paddling furiously underneath.  Overachieving and well-rounded student that you likely are, it’s easy to succumb to this tendency without giving yourself the opportunity to seek help and de-stress.  Here are some awesome Stanford resources to help get you started.

  • Hume Writing Center: for IHUM or any class involving a paper, this is a great place to meet with peer tutors or professional tutors to get tips at any stage of the writing process, from brainstorming topics to polishing that conclusion.
  • Stanford Peer Tutors: rockstar students who share their knowledge with fellow Cardinal.  With drop-in hours and appointments available, these folks can help you ace any class – from Italian to Organic Chemistry.
  • Oral Communication Tutoring: for any occasion or course requiring public speaking.
  • Athletic Academic Resource Center: for student-athletes
  • Individual community centers also provide academic advising and counseling, and often have big / little sib programs for new students.
  • Interested in traveling overseas?  The folks at the Bing Overseas Studies Program can help you out.
  • Research resources:  in case you want to get your feet wet.
  • besides these specific centers, each course has professor and TA drop-in office hours, as well as private hours available by appointment.  Just talk to your prof or read the syllabus!

While this isn’t really the focus of this post, there have been enough questions on the Blog to merit another section.  Some of the recommended packing items are silly.  Some are downright bizarre.  Here are the things I don’t think you’ll need.
  • plastic vertical shelves:  Stanford in-room storage space is pretty extensive, so unless you have LOTS of shoes, I don’t think you’ll need ’em.  That said, I really recommend these stacking shelves from the Container Store.  They make it much easier to move shtuff in and out of your room.  I have several.
  • foldable chair:  go big or go home.  If you want a chair in addition to the provided desk chair, get a comfy one that you can actually relax in.  Popular selections are futons, butterfly chairs, and beanbag chairs.
  • iron:  um, seriously?  You’re in college.  If you’re not in pajamas, you’re already a step ahead of the pack.
  • Ethernet network cable:  we have WiFi on the Oval.  That’s right.  You can get your tan on while getting your Pandora / Facebook / Gmail chat / Twitter on.  My Ethernet cable is collecting dust somewhere in a Tupperware box right now.
  • Formal wear:  only bring one or two sets.  The opportunities are few and far between, and unless your sorority/frat or community center hosts a formal, the only real occasion for fancy clothes will be frosh formal.  I do recommend having business-y clothes for on campus career fairs, however.

22 Responses to “Keepin’ It Fresh: Advice for ’15”

  1. leland says:

    Good article, but “someone who knows more about Stanford than should probably be legal” would not call us Trees. We are the Stanford Cardinal. The Tree is a member of the Band. I am not a tree.

  2. Kristi says:

    The reference is an allusion to the tremendously popular “Party with Trees” tank top produced by the Stanford Student Store. ( It is a moniker that has been promoted and adopted by the students themselves.

    On a literary note, I thought that “shar[ing] their knowledge with fellow Trees” more clearly conveyed the concept of interacting with plural, individuated fellow students than “shar[ing] their knowledge with fellow Cardinal.”

  3. Megan says:

    Take Script Analysis (under Film Production in Explore Courses) with Adam Tobin if you are even slightly interested in film! It’s a great, very enjoyable class and my favorite from Fall Quarter of my freshman year. It’s not a hardcore film class but you still learn some interesting things.

  4. Gregor says:

    When is the list of suggested classes coming out?

  5. Kristi says:

    @Gregor: my freshman year, there was no official list of suggested classes. However, in the incoming freshman brochure / book thingy, they had a section on IHUM, PWR, and your options for basic tracks such as physics and math. Unfortunately, that’s really all the info you’ll get unless you seek it independently. You will meet with your pre-major adviser during NSO, and there will be open advising hours at Undergraduate Advising and Research (UAR) in Sweet Hall during the week of which you can take advantage. What I did, and what I recommend, is going directly to those departments you’re most interested in, and talking to the undergraduate TAs for those majors. These current upperclass or graduate Stanford students are well-informed on department-specific policies and can help you chart the best, most flexible course for your freshman year. Hope this helps!

  6. Laurie says:

    Do NOT, I repeat do NOT, get too caught up in the Greek social scene……

  7. @Laurie says:

    Yeah. That’s not going to happen.

  8. H. Hoover says:

    Do not, I repeat, do NOT take Chem 31A/B. It is the WORST set of classes at Stanford by far. This class is so bad, everytime a student enrolls in this class, a flock of doves hurl themselves into oncoming traffic. That bad. Seriously. Don’t take it.

    Also, seriously Laurie? Just because you ended up on the front lawn of Sigma Chi wearing only a MMA championship belt buckle does not mean you have to diss the entire Greek social scene. Greek houses do a lot of good too like Dance Marathon and pancakes for charity.

    Remembered above when I said to not take Chem 31A/B? Yeah, good times. I just want to repeat it again, just to make sure the message went through. Don’t. Take. Chem 31A/B.

    Don’t do it.

    Laurie might tell you otherwise.

    Don’t listen to her. For Halloween, she dressed up as Bella from Twilight. Cried in the corner all night, and tried to make out with anyone with fangs.

    Again. Just to repeat. Moral of the story. Don’t take Chem 31A/B.

  9. Erin says:

    H. Hoover, what if we have to take Chem 31 A/B for a humbio major? I only took honors chem sophomore year in high school with a horrible teacher so I don’t think I can pass the chem placement test into Chem 31X. What is the best way to approach Chem 31 A/B?


  10. Kristi says:

    @ Erin: I didn’t take the Chem 31 A/B series, but my friends who did best in it established strong study groups from the very beginning. (It’s easy to find fellow chem folks by just emailing your dorm list for starters.) That way it was a lot easier for them to work on problem sets together, quiz each other before tests, and even talk about chem over dinner. Yeah, we’re nerds. 😉 But lovable ones.

    @ anyone interested: I regret that I forgot to mention Stanford’s fantastic Bridge Peer Counseling Center in the resources section above. Check it out here:

  11. Victor says:

    @Laurie: Going Greek is probably one of the best experiences I’ve had as an undergraduate. I’d like to know your reasons why it’s particularly bad to consider Greek.

    Chem 31 A/B series could be challenging/annoying. I felt that Chem 31B was much easier than A, but that’s just me. For those classes, I strongly suggest that you go to outreach. Schwartz is awesome and gives you that opportunity to learn the concept, providing you with Q&A, and practice problems which I felt were extremely representative of the midterm questions.

    I say that all the common classes that are suggested are classes that are commonly taken by freshmen. You’ll definitely get a chance to bond with your dormmates because of these classes.

    Math 50 series has something called SUMO: This and office hours will help you with problem sets and understand concepts relevant to the midterms.

    Seriously use office hours. They will more than likely point you in the right direction. This will save you a lot of time and frustration in problem sets.

    Also, enjoy your time in those introductory and basic classes. Most of them are not too difficult so you’ll have plenty of time to immerse yourself in other pursuits and extra curricular activities.

  12. L. Pauling says:

    Hey Erin,

    I think I can shed some light on this whole Chem 31A/B debate. I fully support H. Hoover in his approximation of the Chem 31A/B series. In fact, I have done extensive studies into the effects of students taking these courses. Here are some interesting results from my experiments:

    1) 9 out of 10 students reported that after taking Chemistry 31A/B, their hatred of chemistry was equivalent to “the fire of ten suns”. Furthermore, students frequently found themselves crying, at a loss of words, curled up in the fetal position, or rocking back and forth when not in lecture, the outreaches, office hours, exams, TA office hours, group study sessions, or doing homework. The tenth student was unable for contact since he was” rereading notes for next Wednesday’s midterm”(the third in 8 weeks!).
    2) Students reported that in some lectures, they actually felt parts of their souls decaying in their very seats.
    3) 99.9% of students in our surveys regret taking Chem 31A/B saying that it was the biggest mistake, not only in their Stanford career, but lives in general.
    4) Non-science departments report that one of the largest reasons for students deciding to take the major was because “they liked the sciences in high school. Then they took Chem 31A/B.”

    But don’t worry, Erin! It’s not all bad news! The HumBio department actually DOES NOT REQUIRE Chem 31A/B or Chem 31X. While recommended, you will see that HumBio requires the following:

    1) 30 Units from the Core. Only HumBio 2A requires any sort of Chemistry, and the prerequisite of “college chemistry” is so broad, it could mean anything! Any real chemistry is taught inside the class. Do you know what an atom is? Hoorah! That’s as much most students take away from Chem 31A/B, anyway!
    2) 20-25 Units for the “Foundation”: These courses can come from a range of Physics, Chemistry, Calculus, and Biology. In other words, take Physics, Calculus, and Biology! Yay!

    The rest of the courses required for the major include almost no Chemistry.

    Let me tell you another thing, Erin. You said you had a bad teacher for Honors Chemistry. Would you want to take College Chemistry/Chem 101 with that teacher? Except now you’re paying out the wazoo to do it? No! Then why do it with an even worse teacher in Chem 31A/B?

    Kristi, let me say first of all, great article! Second, I applaud you for not taking Chem 31A/B! Great decision!

    And yes Chem 31B is better than Chem 31A. But that’s like saying lead poisoning is better than having acid repeatedly injected into your veins. Anything is better than Chem 31A. Brussel Sprouts, Army Boot Camp, Big Momma’s House, and, yes, even Nickelback are all examples of things better than Chem 31A.

    In terms of study groups, don’t worry! Just like for Chem 31 A/B, there are study groups in every dorm for Chem 31X and Chem 33 too! And if you’re really worried about the placement exam, don’t fret either! There are approximately 25 days till the latest chance to take the Chem placement exam. Just take any AP Chemistry book and study as much as you can. Then take the exam. Even if you don’t place into Chem 31X, you can e-mail the professor directly. And don’t ever for a second think you can’t do it. You are about to go to Stanford! Of course you can!

    So Erin, I hope you see that Chem 31A/B can be avoided in your future. Good luck on your endeavors!

  13. Alex says:

    I’m an incoming freshman, and I am lost regarding what classes to pick regarding my Disciplinary Breadth and Education for Citizenship sections. Most of the subtopics are completely foreign to me so I have no idea what to expect. Does anyone have any advice on what I should be looking for or which I should look at/avoid?

  14. Kristi says:

    @Alex: there are literally dozens of classes that satisfy the various GERs, so it’s hard to offer specific advice without knowing your personal preferences. Fortunately, the Registrar provides a very thorough listing of those courses which satisfy GERs in any given quarter. They haven’t updated it for this quarter yet, but you can get a very good idea here from past quarters:

    Additionally, at (where the Bulletin is posted online), you can filter results based on whether they’re GERs or satisfy EC requirements (check the boxes on the right). Sometimes you can get lucky and satisfy multiple requirements with a single class. For example, STS 110 is popular with engineers for this reason.

  15. Alex says:

    @ Kristi: Thanks for the help.

    I guess indirectly I’m just wondering if there are some big no-no’s ,e.g. CHEM 31 A/B, or professors(if bad professors even exist at Stanford) that I should try to avoid.

  16. Kristi says:

    @Alex: hmm. I haven’t had a chance to blog about the Internet tips and tricks for Stanford students yet, but here’s a helpful preview! Visit and log in with your Stanford email. This will give you access to lots of student-generated reviews that have saved me from taking tedious classes. CourseRank also lets you construct theoretical schedules and four-year plans, and keeps track of your credits and GERs as you do so. Also, if there’s a Stanford Student Send-Off in your area, you can talk to real, live Stanford students and get their perspectives. :) Hope this helps!

  17. Erin says:

    Thanks for the advice L. Pauling! I think I will do my best to avoid Chem 31 A/B!

    Also if I have taken AP AB Calc in high school would it be best to go into Math 50 or the Math 41/ 42 series?

  18. RE: Trees says:

    Just because it’s on a popular tank top does not mean it’s true. There is only one tree, and that tree is the mascot of the band. As the band frequently represents the school, so does the tree – especially because no one wants to figure out how to embody a color. Stop promoting inaccuracies about your own school.

  19. Kristi says:

    By popular demand: Trees -> Cardinal

  20. Hassan says:

    First off, thank you to everyone for all of the great info! However, while everyone has gone to great lengths to explain Chem 31A/B, what is 31X like? Is it really that better and, if so, why?

  21. T. Almeida says:

    Don’t got a lot of time. Will keep this short.

    Erin – Math 40 series might be better since Math 50 series (other than 51) are continuations of harder calculus topics. Math 51 is not a good indicator since it only uses a little bit of calculus in the latter third of the course; everything else is algebra.

    Hassan – 31X is essentially a rigorous review of AP Chemistry. There are two midterms and a final. Chem 31A/B teaches a lot of useless, almost made-up information that will not help you. Ever. Not in school. Not in a fight. Never. There are also midterms almost every other week, and the teachers are unhelpful and stuck up. They don’t want to be there anymore than you do, and it’s evident. Basically, 31X is the lesser of two evils. Much lesser.

    Gotta go. I think they’re onto

  22. Ray Heigemeir says:

    Add the Libraries and Librarians to your essential resource list! There is an army of trained professionals in the libraries ready to help you find your way around the resources, develop research strategies, and help you develop lifelong research skills.


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