What you need to know

MIT has a number of policies and procedures that are specific to first-year students. Understanding these rules and putting yourself on a well-considered path toward completing your academic requirements will help make your experience — throughout your four years at MIT — a successful one.

Academic requirements


Advanced Standing Examinations are offered in math, physics, chemistry, biology, and electrical engineering and computer science. First-year and transfer students can take the exam at specific junctures during the academic year, beginning with orientation, to earn MIT credit. Learn about how to request transfer credit for subjects taken before you arrived at MIT.


For first-year students, the credit limit in the fall is 54 regular units plus 6 units of First-Year Discovery (FYD) subjects and/or first-year advising seminars. The IAP (Independent Activities Period) credit limit is 12 units. In the spring, the credit limit increases to 60 units plus 6 units of FYD subjects. However, students and advisors should recognize that 60 units is an upper limit and not the norm or expectation; 48 units is an appropriate load for most students.


Students usually focus on the General Institute Requirements — including the subjects in the science core (mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology) and subjects in the humanities, arts, and social sciences — during their first year. You may also choose to take classes that help you explore potential majors and minors. You will begin your departmental program in your sophomore year.

Learn more about the General Institute Requirements in the MIT Bulletin.


We recommend that you pay close attention to the pace and planning of your Communication Requirement. To stay on track, you must take one Communication Intensive (CI) subject in the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences designated as CI-H or CI-HW in your first year. CI-HW subjects are a subset of CI-H subjects focused on writing and revising. The First-year Essay Evaluation (FEE) determines your first CI subject.


MIT’s first-year program prepares you for any departmental program, with most first-year undergraduates declaring their major during the spring term. Consider taking one of these subjects to explore different fields of knowledge, academic departments, and possible future careers. You may postpone your major choice into your sophomore year, but you must declare a major before beginning your junior year.

Visit the Office of the First Year for information on major exploration and declaring a major.

Once you declare a major, a departmental designation is not binding. However, if you change your major, it is important to note that it may take more than four years to finish your degree. Student Financial Services (SFS) can help you consider the financial implications of taking more than four years to graduate.

Grading policies


First-year grading is designed to ease your transition to MIT. Subjects taken in your first semester and during the January Independent Activities Period are graded on a Pass or No Record (P/NR) scale. Instructors still submit standard letter grades to the Registrar’s Office each term. These “hidden” grades are available on WebSIS and used for advising purposes only. In your second term, grades are recorded on an ABC/No Record basis.


First-year students who enter MIT in Fall 2020 and beyond may designate up to 48 units to be graded on a Pass/No Record (P/NR) basis after their first term. Learn more about the Flexible P/NR Option.


By the beginning of the sixth week of the term, your instructor must notify you, and request a meeting, if you are performing at a D or F level and at risk of failing the class. These notices are typically sent by email, with copies to your advisor and the Office of the First Year.