Today at 8am registration opened for next Term. That is, for next Fall! I still find it hard to believe that almost a full year has already passed! I was a bit worried about registering for classes today for a few reasons. The way registration works is that at 8am on a certain day, the system opens and you can start selecting your classes online. Along with the course, you select the recitation section (or "rec" for short) of the course that you want to attend. "Recs" are made up of smaller groups of students and meet up to twice a week at a specified time to go over lecture material. The sessions are led by T.A.'s and these are good opportunities to ask specific personal questions. Rec sessions are very useful and if you want to make sure you attend something, most of the time this would be Recitations. However, since there may be several sections per class meeting at different times and in different places, this means that you have to carefully plan out your schedule so that you have no time overlaps. When I planned my schedule out a few nights ago, I saw that there was only one section that I could possible join for one of my required classes. Therefore, this morning I made sure to be the logged into the registration system a little before 8am. I was also worried because Ditch Day is coming up and I really hoped it wouldn't be today. If it were today, there would be issues with registration.Thankfully, Ditch Day is still tomorrow.
If you're still not sure what I'm talking about when I say "Ditch Day," don't worry. I don't know exactly what it is either but I know that it's a day when everyone is expected to only have fun, all classes are canceled and we get automatic extensions on our work. I can tell you that long ago, Ditch Day was a day when all the Seniors would ditch campus and classes. This made the underclassmen sour so with time, they would prank the Seniors' rooms as a comeback. (One year, a Senior room was emptied out, the floor was covered with sand and the room was furnished with a beach chair and other beachy decorations such as a palm tree, towel, beach ball, ... . As a final touch, someone wrote "Aloha" in the sand. I'm sure other pranks weren't as friendly.) With more time, the Seniors caught on and before leaving they'd stack their rooms by creating obstacles that the underclassmen had to overcome if they wanted to enter Senior rooms. This eventually evolved into modern Caltech Ditch Day. I'm sure that since it's not today, it will happen on one of the next few days. Our House has been extremely fragmented lately. Everyone living upstairs has to go downstairs to go to the bathroom. Unfortunately some people even have to walk outdoors to get to the bathrooms from where their rooms are! Anyways, I promise to write about Ditch Day whenever it happens. In the meantime, I'm a bit stressed about making sure Ditch Day doesn't set me behind in work. The Term will soon come to a close so there is absolutely no reason to slack off right now.
Speaking of which, there is no reason for you High School seniors to slack off either, and I'm not just being a bitter Techer who can't see the light at the end of the tunnel yet (like Senior Techers can). Although AP's and IB's and SAT's and ACT's are all over for you, you now have college (Caltech!). As a heads up, you will have to take a series of placement exams over the summer that you send in by mail. You will already be taking them under the Honor Code, and take these exams seriously. They will determine what footing you'll be on when you get here. For example, the Physics exam is mandatory. It will not qualify you to test out of Physics but it will determine what kind of Physics Section you will be placed into (at least that was the case last year and in the years before). Physics 1A sections are unusual because they are divided into three groups: a helper section for those who didn't have as good a Physics program in their High School, many normal sections and one or two supersections. Those who get into the supersections get the opportunity to test out of one or more terms of Frosh Physics when they get to campus. I got placed in one of these sections but I didn't try to test out. Very few people tried and even few actually passed. However, if you think you've got a good chance, do it!
Don't feel bad if you don't do as well on the placement exams as you would have liked to. The exams are fair so if you are recommended to a helper section or course, don't be upset. Don't be embarrassed either. People here are understanding and only happy to help you out so take advantage of this attitude. In the end, you will only benefit form extra work and help!
Probably you will also have to take a writing exam that will determine whether or not you should take a supplemental writing course. The Math exam will determine whether or not you should take a supplemental helper math class. Besides mandatory exams, you are also welcome to try to test out of various courses. If you feel confident in a certain subject, certainly try! However, keep in mind that the subject you'll be testing out of is probably a core course and is therefore probably rather important to other courses you'll be taking. Therefore, if you test out, you should be sure that you're solid in the subject. For example, I tested out of the first two terms of Frosh Math. There are 5 core terms of Math so I took the 4th and 5th terms of it last fall and winter. However, I am now taking the 3rd term of core Math but I realized over Spring Break that 3rd Term would probably rely on 2nd Term math so I had to brush up on 2nd Term over Spring Break just in case. If you're not sure whether or not you can solidly test out, you should probably think twice (however, no one is keeping you from still taking the exam).
Don't worry about buying books yet. Just bring cash with you when you come to campus. I promise you that once you arrive there will be hoards of upperclassmen trying to sell you their books (I'll have some books to sell!).
I hope I didn't frighten you too much because there is no reason to be frightened. You'll have plenty of support from everyone around you. Just have good summer, don't get too lazy and do some things you've never done before but have always wanted to! We're all waiting to see you in a few months!