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.
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!
- 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.