In preparation for your arrival (sorry it's so last-minute), I surveyed the upperclassmen, asking for general advice on stuff that you might want to know beforehand. The results are below, plus some commentary.
Packing (also check out the lists of stuff to bring/not bring, below)
- Pack light. "Don't bring tons and tons of stuff--it's easier to buy things up here than it is to buy things at home and then haul them to Olin." Near Olin, there is a Target, BJ's Wholesale Club, Bed Bath and Beyond, largish mall, Barnes and Noble, Container Store, many grocery stores (including a Super Stop 'N' Shop, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods), REI, Home Depot, and more. You should be able to satisfy all of your shopping needs nearby.
- Pack smart. "A really good idea I heard once was this: For a week or two before you leave, keep track of everything you use. One way to do this is to get a big box, and anytime you use something, it goes in the box. Then take only the box to school."
- Shop online with your roommate. Then you can agree on decorations, who's buying the lamp and who's buying the bath mat, etc.
- Rest up. "Absolutely do not pull an all nighter the night before you show up. No way in hell." Also, "Orientation is exhausting."
- Call Olin if you have questions. (Make sure your cell phone is charged.)
- Be yourself. "Be aware of the power of first impressions--have fun, but don't do anything stupid." Also, "Relax. It's not as scary as you think it's going to be... Above all, don't panic about it."
Working vs. Playing
- ASK FOR HELP WHEN YOU NEED IT. Remember: if you're struggling with your classes, you aren't alone. "We were all the best in high school. You won't be the best at Olin. Don't sweat it." Similarly, "Don't compare yourself to your classmates--everyone here is smart. Ultimately your work ethic and attitude will matter more than smarts." And again, "Ask for help on assignments sooner, rather than later. Everyone else is probably just as confused as you are." One more time: "There are tutors for pretty much everything - they're all paid to help you, so don't be shy about asking for help." Got it yet? No? "Explore. Sleep. Play. ASK FOR HELP WHEN YOU NEED IT!"
- Pass/No Record and Time Management: "Appreciate pass/no record (but, please, pass!)--you'll wish you had taken advantage of it more second semester." (Your entire first semester will be graded as Pass/No Record. You might get a letter grade for each class, but they won't go on your transcript--just a "P," unless of course your letter grade was not a passing one.) At the same time, as long as you take time off to relax and enjoy yourself (especially weekend nights), you should be able to get most of your work done at other times, and the practice in time management (and experiencing the Law of Diminishing Returns) is also helpful--one upperclassmen advises you to "try to get into good habits." I found that planning time for myself to relax, have fun, exercise, and/or get off campus helped me be more effective the rest of the time. Also, make time for sleep--it helps A LOT.
- Enjoy yourself. "Work hard, but not too hard." Also, "Do something outside of class." Similarly, "Don't worry! Take at least some time first semester to learn about yourself, not just try to master MATLAB and SolidWorks. I wish I had. I think you will be happier in the end." Basically, we work and play pretty hard at Olin. Rest up, and tell somebody if you're struggling. Take deep breaths. Relax. Remember that you don't have to be the best to still have an awesome experience and be an amazing person.
- On making friends: "Focus on making friends but don't worry if it takes a while to connect with people." Also, "If you want your room to be a hangout place, start leaving your door propped open. Your room will attract lots of visitors if the door is open." Additionally, "It's never too late to come out of your room and start making friends. Even though it may seem like everyone has already found a BFF, I promise that someone at Olin would love to include you."
- On meeting upperclassmen (this is great advice!): "Hang out in East Hall, talk to upperclassmen. They're excited to meet you."
- On Olincest: "Remember that if you choose to date anyone at Olin (and do), there are only 300 other students here. Tread softly and leave on good terms."
- On clubs and student organizations: "Don't join every club you see, but keep in mind that most clubs have almost zero commitment and let you in on some optional fun activities once in a while (Japanese club, Tea club, Cheese club, as examples)."
Living at Olin
- Live lightly. "In the next four years, you will have to move every few months. You will know exactly how many Rubbermaid bins of stuff you own. You will routinely hit the baggage limit if you go by plane, you will try to cram just one more box into your car. My advice is to live lightly. Buy cheap pillows you can throw away at the end of the school year, think about how many books you will seriously read during the year and leave the rest at home with your parents, be wary of picking up every t-shirt that's offered "just because it's free," tell your mom that care packages are nice, but you DO have food here, and that an envelope of cash is infinitely more useful (and cheaper to send) than 12 boxes of EZ-Mac and a few PEZ dispensers she picked up in the checkout line (or maybe that's just my mom?)."
- Have fun and be safe. "Live it up, but don't be stupid. It's easy to go too far, so watch out." "Don't take yourself too seriously." "Be flexible, be persistent, live in the moment, get outside, and find a way to de-stress."
Disclaimer: Please read these lists with a very discriminating eye. You don't really need any of it (except perhaps pants). They're meant to be suggestions--things to consider bringing, or buying after you get up here. Remember, you can always buy more stuff later on. You'll just probably have more time now.
Stuff you should bring to Olin, or buy when you get here (see above for a list of nearby stores; I highly recommend packing as little as possible and shopping upon your arrival)
... For utility and/or necessity
- A computer mouse. Just get a little USB one; http://www.newegg.com (my favorite technology website) and Best Buy have many options. Your laptop will not come with a mouse, and working with Solidworks (a design program that you will have to use in your first semester) is much more difficult with just the laptop touch pad.
- An ethernet cable. Target has them for cheap. The wired internet connection is much faster than the wireless (though the wireless is quite fast, too).
- A floor lamp. (See the packet Olin sent you for details on which ones aren't allowed first.) The lighting in West Hall often isn't as bright as you would like it to be.
- A desk lamp. See 3.
- A nice mattress pad. I cannot stress this enough. The beds are NOT comfortable on their own, and four years of better sleep is worth whatever it costs. Consider memory foam, even.
- Binders, notebooks, pens, pencils. The usual. Don't overdo it, though; you can always buy more stuff when you get here.
- Duct tape.
- Pushpins. Or thumbtacks. Whatever.
- 2 power strips. Or squids.
... For convenience (these are the things that are also very useful, but slightly less necessary than the things in the "utility" category)
- An extension cord. This is maybe less relevant if your power strips/squids have a very long cord themselves, but may still be useful.
- A small toolkit. It will probably come in handy.
- A digital camera with a decent video mode. This is key for Design Nature (our IT department has video cameras that you can check out if you need to, but it gets a little hectic when all the first year students need them all at once).
- A doorstop. Sometimes the R2s (these are like RAs, only cooler, nicer, and with more tea) get a bunch and sell them for $2 or so, but Target probably has them, and they'll come in handy. West Hall--your new home--is much more enjoyable and social when you prop your door open. (Caveat: don't leave your door propped when you aren't in the room. It's a fire hazard, or something.)
- A mirror. Full-length will come in handy (Target sells them for $6 or so), and a handheld one is nice, too.
- Something to store your bathroom stuff in (especially if you are like me and own a small drugstore).
- Extra shelves or other means of organization. Hangers and the like.
- Silverware. Just a personal set--one or two of each should do. The more unique, the better: everybody has silverware, and if you get a standard Target set, everybody will have your silverware.
- Microwave-safe dishes. Crucial for late-night snacking. Be careful; the ones at Target often are not microwave-safe.
- A mug. Again, unique is better.
- A keyboard. "Nobody likes to type numbers on a laptop keyboard." Similarly, a spare monitor and laptop dock were mentioned.
- An external hard drive. Always useful. Olin students tend to recommend Western Digital above other brands. (Again: try newegg.com.)
- A Citizen's Bank account OR Bank of America account. There are two ATM's at Babson; both are for Citizen's Bank. Bank of America has ATM's in nearby Wellesley and Needham.
- A trash can. Every West Hall room gets one trash can and one recycling bin. It's nice to have spares, because they're small, and you have to share with your roommate.
- Mini umbrella. Very handy.
... For personalizing your space
- Stuff to make your room feel like home. A rug, extra pillows, posters, pictures, wall coverings (like sarongs), curtains, holiday decorations, etc. The room will look very bare and hospital-like when you first arrive; you'll want to personalize it a fair amount to make it feel more welcoming and happy.
- Large pillows, cushions, or bean bags. For lounging. Similarly, an extra chair is nice.
- Video game systems and video games. You will make lots of friends. :)
- Equipment relevant to your interests, possibly including a sleeping bag, hiking backpack, unicycle, bicycle (good for getting to Wellesley/Needham in pleasant weather), musical instrument, etc.
- Whiteboard markers. Every room in the dorms has a small whiteboard outside of it; leave markers and your friends will leave messages.
- Your favorite book. Upperclassmen recommend only bringing one, if any. For comfort/amusement.
- Photos of home. "Small, easy, effective."
- Decent speakers for listening to music. The ones in your laptop will be somewhat less than ideal.
... For life in general
- A car, if you have one. Quoting directly from the survey responses, "Sure there are alternatives, but having your own car gives you unmatched freedom." Olin is about a mile from the nearest grocery store, and everything else is farther away than that (except Babson). The nearest T stop (that's the "subway" that goes into Boston; it's above-ground for the first part of the journey) is about a 10 minute drive away from Olin.
- Lots of blankets and sweaters. Boston gets cold.
- A nice winter coat. Buy it in the summer; it will be much cheaper than waiting until winter. I recommend a fully lined one, and the longer the better. I'm also told that Olin recommends having your winter clothes shipped to you later on rather than bringing them now; this is probably a good idea (space is somewhat limited).
- Nice party clothes (a dress was mentioned in particular, but I imagine that dresses are less relevant for some).
- Dressy clothes for presentations and design reviews. 2 outfits was recommended; you could probably survive with one.
- Pants. Good advice.
- Similarly, "an equal number of tshirts and pairs of underwear, with an appropriately scaled quantity of pants." Also good advice. It's annoying to have to do laundry every __ days/weeks just because you ran out of underwear.
- Snacks. I recommend chex mix, crackers, and dried fruit. Instant noodles are another popular choice.
Stuff you should definitely NOT bring to Olin
- Too many clothes. Olin isn't going to change the fact that those pants are too short for you or you don't really like that T-shirt. Also, you will tend to accumulate new T-shirts over time, anyway.
- Clothes you don't wear at home. This is essentially the same as the previous point, but it was repeated multiple times over many responses (more than 30% of the responses, in fact), so I thought I'd include it more than once, just in case.
- Stuff you think you only "might" need. You can always buy more stuff later.
- "Girlfriends." And boyfriends. It's generally difficult to maintain serious relationships with people who are not at/near Olin, and this is especially true in your first year. It's just something to keep in mind.
- A bike, unless you use it a lot or really love biking. Evidently the bike storage room is getting rather full.
- Lots of books ("who has time for that?" Also, "The Olin library is pretty good").
- High school yearbooks and/or sweatshirts.
- Desk toys (also mentioned multiple times). "Desk space runs out REALLY QUICKLY."
- A robe ("Whoo private bathrooms"). However, I have a robe and I love it.
- Extra computers. "You probably don't need that extra desktop computer. Unless you like to use it as a dedicated machine for something (like a gaming PC or a server), it's just going to be a gather dust. The same goes for printers - there are laser printers all over campus." Similarly, "A desktop computer seems like a great idea, and in certain cases it can be very valuable, but it also ties you to your dorm room." Other responses mentioned not needing an extra laptop, either.
- Cleaning supplies. Olin supplies spray cleaners (mild, medium, and strong, I think), toilet paper (and paper towels in the public bathrooms--there's one on each floor in the dorms), garbage bags, and vacuum cleaners.
- Furniture. Olin supplies everybody with a desk, a desk chair, a bed, a set of shelves (or a small set of drawers for East Hall), and a set of drawers. There's also a new policy about bringing in used furniture (see below).
A Note on Used Furniture
The used furniture policy is as follows: "In an effort to avoid the health and financial issues associated with a bedbug or other pest infestation, the College prohibits upholstered furniture from unaccountable places such as craigslist, town dumps and second-hand shops. New furniture and furniture of confirmed quality (e.g., from family or close friends) is acceptable. Students are expected to comply with this ban under the College's core values and Honor Code. In addition, the often significant costs associated with addressing any such infestation will be billed to the student(s) responsible for bringing that piece of furniture into the residence halls." [Student Handbook 2008-09, page 90.] Note, also, that bean bags count as upholstered furniture.
I hope this was at least moderately helpful. Good luck with everything, and I'll see you in a few weeks!