Welcome, Class of 2024!
With National College Decision Day come and gone, The Polytechnic extends a warm welcome to the Class of 2024 and the 2025 architects.
Come fall, the campus you’ll call home will be fundamentally different than the one we’ve enjoyed over the years. When you get to campus, desks might be spaced six feet apart, there may be a mix of online and in-person courses, or the semester might start later than usual—no one is certain yet.
What we do know is that these past few weeks have been full of collegiate choices that will shape your life for the next four (or five) years. While Facebook groups and the RPI subreddit may offer answers to some of your many questions, we at The Poly would like to give you some tips and information as you prepare to join our community.
No doubt that this has been stressed to you before, but the RPI experience is synonymous with a heavy workload. Coursework is rigorous, and intro classes can sometimes feel anything but introductory, but the challenges that come with a Rensselaer education are what make our alumni successful and our students competitive when applying to internships and jobs. The sheer amount of material you’ll be learning—and the breakneck pace at which you’ll be taking it all in—will make you academically better off than your peers at nearly any other college.
Having a quiet place to work, managing your time well, and asking for help will be crucial to your success here. Empty classrooms after hours, dorm study spaces, Evelyn’s Cafe in EMPAC, the Union, the Dean’s Lounge in Sage, or even outside (when the weather’s nice) are all productive spaces in which you can buckle down and get some work done. You can also reserve a study room in the Folsom Library if you want an especially quiet environment for group work or for individual study time.
College makes you feel increasingly responsible for your own success, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t resources for you to take advantage of. Office hours allow you to get personalized help from professors and TA’s, which will help you develop deeper relationships with your professors. The Academic and Learning Assistance Center also provides tutoring for most introductory science and engineering courses, which is an invaluable resource we suggest you utilize early on.
We stress the importance of these resources because even if you could do everything you wanted to in high school, there will never be enough time in the day to do everything you would like to in college. You will have to learn to be realistic with yourself, and we know firsthand that it is no easy task. At the end of the day, we find that keeping a balance between what makes you happy and what you need to succeed is the best way to achieve this—and this looks different for different people!
If you’re interested in exploring your academic options, there are many ways to pursue interdisciplinary education at RPI through dual or double majors, as well as minors. Although templates exist online for a myriad of major combinations, they aren’t always entirely accurate, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with graduation requirements early on if this is something you’re interested in. Incoming and prospective students should know of RPI’s maximum transfer credit policies and that the AP/IB transfer credit policies have changed for the class of 2024.
Since the Fall of 2019, incoming students have to focus their Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences requirements in an “Integrative Pathway,” which is RPI’s solution to more intentional elective choices. Not only is this a way to explore non-STEM topics, but it may lay the foundation for a potential minor or dual major of your choosing.
DegreeWorks, a tool you can access from the Self-Service Information System, can help you plan out these requirements, but the most reliable sources of academic advice are your faculty advisor(s) and your specific school's advising hub, (or hubs, if you dual-major). If you ever find yourself academically off-track, don’t panic, and don’t be afraid to change your major even after your freshman year.
In terms of networking and career success, the Center for Career and Professional Development is yet another indispensable resource for students. The CCPD provides resume critiques, workshops, and mock interviews to guide you throughout the process of applying to internships and jobs. Two professional student groups—the National Society of Black Engineers and Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers—run a career fair in the fall, and the CCPD hosts their own in the Spring. We recommend attending at least one during your freshman year so you are prepared to take full advantage of them when you really need to. Plus, you never know if you might impress a recruiter.
In the world of student life, both Commons Dining Hall and Russell Sage Dining Hall underwent significant renovations last summer, which expands your options as freshmen. The late-night dining program, which allows you to use a meal swipe to purchase food at the Union after 9 pm every night, fills the bottom floor of the Union every night without fail. With meal plans as expensive as they are, and knowing that a meal plan is required for your first five semesters, The Poly recommends making the most of on-campus dining. Sage to Go is an ever-popular option for a quick meal between classes, and you can also prepare your own food at the UCook kitchen—Commons’ DIY meal station.
Housing is required for your first five semesters at RPI, and you may be tempted to seek alternative housing through Greek life. This is absolutely a more affordable option, and Greek life can be a substantial part of your student experience if you so choose. For freshmen who want to go Greek, note that fraternities and sororities have been grappling with newly implemented policies that affect many aspects of their organizations, including recruitment. At RPI, rush is deferred, so freshmen have to wait for Spring Rush.
This is one of a few non-academic issues at Rensselaer you may encounter, and it is a source of strain on the student-admin relationship. This relationship has frayed especially due to the Arch, of which the general sentiment is negative. Additionally, the revised alcohol and drug policies are not harm-reduction policies and as such, do not put student health and safety first.
Regardless, the Union is a hub for student life and offers a wide variety of clubs and activities. There are plenty of ways for you to join groups that you share interests with, and you can always start a new club if you don’t find what you’re looking for. In addition to the Union building, the Union also runs the Mueller Center, where students can take fitness classes and participate in intramural teams.
For those interested in student government, there are many ways to get involved, from the policy-minded Senate to the budgetary Executive Board, as well as the Judicial Board and your Class Council. The Undergraduate Activity Fee that you pay as part of your tuition is used by the Executive Board to fund Union activities, including clubs. Together, these three bodies support the large variety of clubs and activities on campus, from the Curling Club to the Embedded Hardware Club.
There are plenty of other ways to spend your free time on campus. Hockey games are always exciting. Our Editor in Chief John Stotz recommends going to see the student improv group, Sheer Idiocy. Additionally, there are many artistic, musical, and theatrical events at EMPAC throughout the course of the year. UPAC Cinema, a student group, regularly shows movies in the DCC—tickets are quite cheap!
And if you walk down the Approach, Downtown Troy boasts many great restaurants and activities that are worth checking out, especially the Saturday Farmer’s Market and the monthly Troy Night Out event. We recommend trying anything and everything if you can find the time, because you never know what you’ll end up loving—or what you will miss in times like these.
During your first week at RPI, you’ll participate in Navigating Rensselaer and Beyond, a program which aims to connect you with your class as you begin to navigate the campus and the city of Troy. During the NRB activity you’ll select this summer, you’ll get to immerse yourself in a club or explore another interest. The Poly has its own NRB activity—Poly Press Pass—that we hope some of you will consider! Last year, we worked with our NRB group to publish an article about what the Class of 2023 wanted to know. Later in the week, upperclassmen populate the campus and there is a large Activities Fair during which you can see all the various clubs and activities available at RPI.
We hope you are excited to join the Engineers this fall, and want to congratulate you again on all you have achieved so far. Be sure to not only take advantage of what RPI has to offer academically, but also take the time to also enjoy your precious college years!