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Arriving at MIT, One Solution at a Time

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Sixteen-year-old freshman Ahaan Rungta participated in MITEI's 2015 Energy Freshman Pre-Orientiation Program (FPOP)

“For 11 years, I’ve wanted to go to MIT,” says Ahaan Rungta, now a 16-year-old freshman, who did math puzzles at age 3, calculus at 7, quantum mechanics at 13.

Homeschooled, he has worked on problems since he was five through MIT’s OpenCourseWare (OCW) and later, edX, online courses open to the world for free. He has taken 55 courses and passed them all. “OCW is more than a school. It’s a paradise.”

He loves it all—the lectures, problem sets, exams. He studied math, chemistry, physics. At 10, he wrote MIT: “I’ve progressed immensely from getting a 10% in solving problems to 60%. I look at problems differently now and solve them with a more detailed conceptual approach. I solve OCW problems everywhere, even when I go out to eat at my dad’s restaurant.”

Born in Calcutta, at two he moved to Fort Lauderdale, where growing up he longed for “like-minded people,” so when he was 13, the family packed up and moved to Cambridge.

On his 13th birthday, he first visited MIT. “That was the day my life changed.”

Every day since, he has visited MIT, often stopping at Café Spice, the Indian restaurant inside MIT’s Student Center that his dad manages, where he loves to sit solving problems. Every hour or so his dad stops by to say hello.

“In school, you’re given homework and one week later you find out how you did,” he says. “The benefit of learning to solve online is you get instant feedback; you learn right away and then the next problem is all of a sudden easier.”

He’ll likely major in math and computer science, he says, but has no plans beyond, adding that he thinks of today, not tomorrow. “I’m very much in the present moment. Maybe that’s why I work effectively. I’m not worried about what I’m going to be, or what I’m going to do. I just relax and focus.”

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