Harvard Freshman Fall, In Retrospect

General Stuff That I Learned

Operational Advice– For essay classes, discuss your essay ideas with your TAs. Schedule extra Office Hours with them if there is a conflict in schedule. You save time because the best way to think is to talk with someone about it, and you do so whilst boosting your grade—since TAs, after all, can’t give you a B on an essay that they approved.
– For Pset classes, camp in Office Hours. Ask your friend questions. Organize group pset sessions. Don’t be a puritan who wants to solve everything for yourself. I personally only work on pset questions until I’m at the point where my TAs would give me hints, and then stop there until I meet my TAs in OHs.
– Practice using earplugs and eye masks. It’ll save you so much sleep.
– Do intentional breaks. I.e., find high value activities that you are willing to engage in when you’re tired. Examples include: 1. Talking to people. 2. Napping. 3. Exercise. 4. Read some blogposts or get some random wikipedia articles.
Don’t sign up for 9ams for your first semester. The time you spend messing around with friends between 12-2am is where the strongest bonds form.
– Pick a course load such that you would have time to indulge on opportunities that randomly arise (generally an extra 1-2 hour a day is enough). My best times this semester came from working on stupid Math problems that some grad student sets me, or having a 2.5x speed convo at midnight when I’m supposed to work.
– When you go out to meet friends, prepare 1-2 things to talk about to get the conversation rolling. There is an activation energy required to make social stuff good, and you can speed it up if you take some effort beforehand.
– Really try to spend time filling in the roommate form. Your roommate can literally change your life. My roommates have, and I attribute it to my really long and detailed roommate essay that got me my dream mates (who, unfortunately, got me).
General PrinciplesGet rid of commitments ruthlessly. If you feel like you’re not growing/learning from it, then cut it. This includes clubs, socials, quasi-friends, and pset questions. Be nice about it and everyone will understand. If they don’t, it is their problem. Your time, after all, might just be the most valuable thing you have.
– Find ways to pack several goods into 1 activity . E.g. Run to class so you both commute and get exercise; pset with your friends so you both build friendship and get work done;
– Always have a problem that you are thinking about. For my friend Kevin who’s absolutely jacked at Math, it is some math problem. For me, it’s reflecting upon how I can make my day more fun and efficient.
– Try to meet as many people as possible at the beginning of the semester (~first 5 weeks), then pick a few of them to know really really well. An extremely close friend is much more valuable than 5-6 moderately close friends. A good measure is whether you’d be excited to work on a start-up with them even if you’d have to completely reorient your life.
Because of this, socials and 1-on-1s are really good. Goto socials where you’re going to meet a ton of new people, and then arrange meals/hang-outs with them afterwards.
Pick classes based on the social aspect. Ask not “what do I want to learn”, but, “who do I want to be learning with”—it is a much better proxy for the utility of a class.
Nontrivial Stuff That May Or May Not Be TrueAim to be way too ambitious. We generally underestimate what we can do. Understand that the world is actually really short on talent, and we can really make a difference in an area if we actually put some time into it.
Be a tiny bit weird. Not like intentionally annoying or anything. But don’t change yourself so that you are on average more agreeable to people. You’d more want to find a few really good friends that you super enjoy spending time with, which requires being a bit idiosyncratic.
Try everything that you have not done at least once, no matter how scary or taboo it is, as long as it doesn’t kill you. (I will not list out any specifics. Interpret this one as you want.)
Aim for an A- and no higher. Save time to do more important things. Even if you want to goto Grad school research is more important than grades. If not, A- is enough for anything.
Don’t waste your summer (or even your senior spring). People will say that you should just relax after college decisions come out. That’s only half-true. You should relax, but in the right way. That is, rather than focusing on the treadmill of getting a higher and higher GPA, you should exploit the rare 4-5 months between getting accepted and actually going to college to discover things outside of your specific high school niche that you are passionate about and get moderately good at them. Outside of this, it is also just good practice to self-study the pre-reqs during the summer.
Personally, I did 4 hours of Math a day from April to August to see whether I am a good fit for technical work after doing Philosophy in high school. It turns out that I am not too shabby at it, and it opened up opportunities for me to do more mathy stuff in college that I wouldn’t have been able to do.
Don’t rely on texting. Go out and actually talk to people. Ask them out for dinner or to study together. Texting is generally just really inefficient.
Learn to tolerate hunger, possibly by practicing fasting before school, so your schedule is not dictated by eating.
Learn to take naps when you are tired. Wherever you are. On the floor, on some strange sofa, or on a table. You’ll be so productive, and no one will judge you for sleeping.
– Find things to do when you’re in the toilet so the empty space opened up by excretion is not left unfilled. Same with the shower, and also when you’re walking to places.
Case Study Of My Friend’s COW (crush of the week) systemThe biggest thing about doing things that you want is setting up systems that gets things automatically done rather than relying on will power. This is the principle behind advices like find stuff to do on the toilet, always have a problem to work on, and have things to do when you are tired.
A case study of how you can build a system is the COW system that one of my friends made. COW is short for “crush of the week.” It is designed to provide a stream-lined system for finding relationships, but the general principle of creating good systems that COW uses is broadly applicable.
What you do in COW is that you identify one crush every week which you’d go out of your way to hang out more with. If after a week you still like the COW, the COW is promoted to a COM (crush of the month), and after a month, the COSine (crush of the semester), by which you can ask her out.
Notice how the COW system does not require any will-power. Everything is pre-set by a system. You do not need to make any choices but only work within the COW framework. Here, we are basically using Wolfram Alpha rather than pen and paper to calculate. The second is alright and often accurate, but the first, in its deterministic symbolic manipulations, leaves no room for error.

The Post is Getting Too Long. So I’ll Leave the More Narcissistic Personal Reflections for Some Other Day

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