If you want your professor to know your name, all you have to do is approach them after class and introduce yourself. Freshman year is different because everyone is taking general requirements, so the class sizes are large, but as you go through MIT and get into the specific majors, the class sizes decrease. My favorite class is American Literature because it is based mostly on discussion. It is interactive and interesting and the least stressful of all my classes. My least favorite class is definitely physics. The lectures are two hours long and the homework assignments (problem sets-aka psets) are very difficult. Students here study often. Rather, we do work almost every night of the week. Some people, like me, like to set time off to simply not do work and do something fun. For me, this is usually Friday night. I will not lie though, there is a lot of work to do and it is challenging. Class participation depends on the class. Physics, you have to answer questions every once in a while, so it's a little more interactive than calculus class where you sit in a lecture hall and listen for an hour. MIT students most definitely have intellectual conversations outside of class. It can be very common to hear people discussing classes, technology, or random intellectual things in general. Students at MIT are not as competitive as you might think. Students are much more collaborative than in high school where it was all about competing against everyone else to get into college. Here, it is all about working together to make it to graduation, and you will have to work together to make it. My major is chemical-biological engineering which is has one of the heaviest course loads at MIT. I haven't taken any classes in my major yet, but it will be an interesting four years. The fact that my major includes a large portion of biology classes while teaching me chemical engineering attracted me to the major because I love biology, and wanted to major in something related to it that was more hands-on. I don't spend time with professors outside of class unless I am going to office hours. I do interact with a few administrators though. I feel MIT's academic requirements to be challenging, but they prepare you well for what's ahead, especially if you're interested in grad school or a career in the sciences and engineering. The education at MIT is geared towards learning for its own sake, but more than amply prepares you for a job.
Some professors know your name. A lot of introductory classes are large; my biology class last semester was probably like 350 students, so no, my professor didn't know my name, but smaller classes they certainly get to know you. I really don't think the large classes are a problem because you also have recitation in which your TA gets to know your name, and the TAs are very knowledgeable and helpful as well. The classes are all good, I can't name a favorite or least favorite. Students study a lot, they have quite a bit of fun, but I imagine they study more than a lot of colleges; they have to in order to learn the amount of material expected of them. Students here are competitive, especially the ones who are pre-med, but we all sort of commiserate on tests that didn't go so well, and there's a lot of camaraderie among peers. We're competitive with the unnamed student who scores 100% on that really difficult test, but not so much with our friends who do better than us. I suppose the class I've taken which is the most unique in my experience is a computation and logic seminar I'm in this semester; it's a very different way to see math from a logical standpoint. I've taken math classes, and logic classes before, but I'd never really thought of combining the two. There are opportunities to spend time with professors outside of class; there are often dinners sponsored by different groups where they get professors in and eat with the students. There are also advisers who you can go to, and you get to interact with in a one-on-one setting. The requirements at MIT are all good, everyone here needs a basic knowledge of calculus, physics, chemistry, and biology just to understand how to relate at all to their peers. The humanities requirements are also essential, I believe, in helping us learn how to communicate our knowledge with the outside world. This is a big problem at MIT, at least potentially, because the stereotype would be that we're too intellectual to be able to actually communicate our massively complicated thoughts. The education at MIT is geared towards getting a job, but also learning for its own sake; for the sake of learning we gain knowledge of how to get a job? It's both and the same.
Academics are what MIT is known for around the world, and for the most part we deserve it. The first year is full of GIRS (MIT speak for "General Institute Requirements") Many of these classes are large, too large for my comfort. I am in a lecture class of over 600 students. However we have amazing Tas who lead our small recitation sections who know all our names and are willing to help. If you absolutely hate these big classes, there are alternatives. A few freshmen programs allow you to take these requirements in a small setting, one even has classes of 5 students! It's up to you what size class you would like. And after freshmen year, the classes become much more specialized and shrink rapidly. Students study a lot. During the week most students can be guaranteed to be working on something. But that isn't all we do. Many organizations hold study breaks to help us distress and we take breaks. After all, studying is why we're here. But all that work doesn't prevent us from being involved. I have friends in varsity sports, theatre, debate team, and all sorts of activities. We talk about intellectual things outside of class a lot. We do talk about other things, but it is not uncommon at all to discuss the implications of what we learned in class or the newest technology. It's one of the things I love about the people here. We can go from small talk to discussing the launch of the new shuttle in no time at all.
Some professors know my name, mostly those in the learning community that I am in, ESG. However, most of the personal interaction that students get is based off of the student's own initiative. Also, there is a lot of undergraduate research and students get to know professors that way instead of through classes. Students study all the time. If you are not studying, you are not taking hard enough classes. Class participation is very common in the smaller classes that you take because they are a class that you want to take. It is not uncommon to just skip classes that you don't particularly enjoy and just study it on your own. There are definitely intellectual conversations outside of class. Sometimes they will range from philosophy to math to economics to religion back to math to string theory to politics and so forth for hours on end until someone realizes that he just spent four hours talking and that means four hours less of his ever valuable sleep. Students are definitely competitive. Not so much in the "I am better than you" kind of way, but all of the classes are graded on a curve (pretty much) and it is difficult to keep up. An MIT education is geared toward whatever the student decides to gear it toward. If a student does not intend to go to grad school, then she will concentrate on the business end of her major, otherwise she will concentrate on the more academic parts ect.
Freshman classes tend to be largest since everyone's required to take certain intro classes, and from there classes shrink. The nice thing is that the professors are only an email away. They're all required to have office hours, so you can see them in person. They're usually willing to talk before or after class, too. If you put in a tiny bit of effort, you'll be fine communicating with profs. Students are always having intelligent conversations, though not necessarily about a class because people read stuff about all sorts of topics and have tons to share. The nice thing is that since we don't have any class rank or graduation honors, competitive people are only competing against themselves, seeing how much they can push themselves. I haven't experienced any backstabbing nature like at other schools - everyone collaborates because that's what you have to do to survive. It's tough here because any given class will make you go more in-depth than you ever thought, so you'll learn tons just for the sake of learning, more than you'd probably need in a job. But in turn, you end up prepared for anything in the future.
Some professors know my name. Those are the professors that I actually made an effort to know. My favorite class was Artificial Intelligence because I enjoyed the material and the workload was bearable. My least favorite was computer engineering systems because it was a lot of writing and not very interesting. Class participation depends a lot on the class. It is not very common in a lot of my classes because of the lecture style. However, I have definitely had several classes where it was encouraged. MIT students definitely have intellectual conversations outside of class, sometimes to a fault. Students work together a lot which makes the environment less competitive. The most unique class I took was Hip Hop. My major is Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and my department is one of the largest in the school. My department is very supportive and I love my major. MIT's academic requirements are not too bad and are for the most part necessary for one's major. The education is definitely geared more toward learning than just getting a job.
Everyone talks about academics at MIT being a "sink or swim" sort of atmosphere. That DOESN'T mean that if you're clueless about physics you're going to drown (I didn't get to take physics in high school, so I feared that would be me!). The key to academic success at MIT is wanting to succeed. There is a huge support structure in place for every department and every class, so all you have to do is ask for help and you will get it. From free tutoring, to extra study sessions, and more open office hours with Professors and Teaching Assistants than you can count, the only way to consistently fail your classes is to not care. Nobody is going to watch over your shoulder 24/7 to make sure you're doing your work. You are the engineer of your own success, and you will do just as well as you want to. In my major, I can count four professors who remember my name. One of them however, is internationally famous and has written highly acclaimed textbooks in his field. Just about all professor host open office hours for questions, but I never went to them.
There is no better place than MIT for math and science. I love most all of my engineering classes. Most of the professors are friendly and accessible. Everyone here wants to see you succeed so you can always find someone to help you out if you're having some trouble in a class (which is bound to happen more than once). What I really like is that most students here foster an environment of collaboration rather than competition. Classes are insanely hard, so most students work together to get through them. We have group study sessions and our teaching assistants will bring juice and donuts for long office hours. I also feel comfortable talking about classes outside of class. People here are genuinely interested in what other classes are studying. It's normal to overhear conversations about a student's lab project building a robot or extracting an important biological molecule. You can talk about things here that your friends back home would never understand.
As a freshman, many of your technical classes will be large lectures with small recitations. This may worry you, but don't let it. There is no need to have a small class for multi-variable calculus, and your TA will help you along the way. Some introductory class professors are available in office hours etc, but most students get help from TAs. As you get older, you start having smaller classes, and can get to know your professors. That is up to you though. You need to put in the effort to build the relationships that will serve you while you are still in school, and once you leave. MIT has a very collaborative atmosphere. In my department (civil engineering), for example, students are required to work together on problem sets, projects etc. to imitate what the work environment will be like. Studying is everyone's main activity. You can make time for other things if you are organized, but this is not a place to skate by.
Your academic experience at MIT depends a lot on your major. I started out as a Course 1 (Civil and Environmental Engineering) major, and the classes were extremely small, though they were sometimes frustratingly disorganized. When I switched to Course 5 (Chemistry), the classes became much larger, but the lesson plans were well thought out, and I knew more of my classmates. MIT is too large, in general, for your professors to know you if you're not going to make an effort. You can definitely slip by unnoticed, or you can choose to be extremely involved in your department - organizing events, doing undergraduate research, and spending a lot of time asking questions and becoming familiar with your professors. Like many other aspects of MIT, its mostly left up to you; there is a lot of independence and responsibility - no one is going to look after you, which is usually a good thing.