Hello incoming students!
You’re right — Minerva is complex. Between a whole new set of lingo/jargon/abbreviations, unique (& frequently changing) processes, and dispersed communication channels, starting at Minerva brings a lot of questions.
Just for you, we’ve put together an FAQ list that will hopefully answer your essential questions and help you hit the ground running when you officially start your Minerva journey. Many of these questions were provided by M’20 and M’21 students reflecting on their pre-Minerva experience. Refer back to this article throughout the summer and comment additional questions if you have any!
Disclaimer: This information is based on our student experience. Given Minerva is a new university, details, events, and logistics are subject to change and your experience is likely to differ (not to mention there is a global pandemic right now). You should pay close attention to whatever information you get directly from Minerva Administration before arriving, specifically about logistics, and take it over information provided here.
1. When does the semester start for first year students?
Move-in starts on August 29th, 2020 in San Francisco. Traditionally, the week between move in and the first day of classes is Foundation Week (see #2). During this week there are necessary workshops, informational sessions on academics, student life, and extracurriculars. Foundation Week will most likely look rather different this year with primarily online programming but it is generally a very busy week, so we recommend arriving early (within the scheduled move-in of course) to allow yourself more time to settle in (if possible).
2. So what is Foundation Week anyway?
Think of Foundation Week as your orientation to Minerva, San Francisco, and for some of you, living on your own for the first time. We’ll let you experience most of it for yourself; you’ll learn a lot, meet a lot of people, and there can be some pretty magical moments. You will be very tired and will not have a lot of time to do things like eat or finish summer prep, so plan ahead and budget your energy. Drink water and move in and do your essential shopping as quickly as you can in the first couple of days – there is not much time to do so afterward. It might also be good to find a cheap food place nearby if you don’t have time to cook or shop for yourself. Check out this document made by M’23s for suggestions for cheap places to eat, discount apps, and other money-saving tips for San Francisco.
3. How does Move-In Work?
Minerva will probably have a more specific plan, given the public health situation of the moment but here is some general information:
You may be allowed to send laptops to SF for storage before you arrive, but it is very unlikely that you will be allowed to send anything else. Therefore, you have to move in with all of your stuff at once (Tip: don’t bring a lot of stuff!). There are a few ways to get to the residences depending on how you get into the city.
You will likely be in a residence near the civic center. To get there:
FROM SFO & OAKLAND AIRPORT (We recommend flying to SFO if you can)
- An Uber or Lyft from SFO is usually around $30-$50 and from OAK is around $40-$60 and they seem to still be operating normally in the Bay Area.
- It is also possible to take BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) from the airport to the Powell Street station which is a short walk from the residence. The ride from SFO is around $10 and from OAK is around $5. So far, no COVID-19 clusters or outbreaks have been linked to public transit and BART ridership is currently (start of July) around 15% of normal ridership. Here are two recent articles (late June) about the risk of COVID-19 infection on BART and other Bay Area public transit. (Note: taking public transportation is cheaper, but it does expose you to more people. Of course, you will have been travelling and exposed anyways. In the unfortunate event that you end up needing to pay U.S. medical bills, those will certainly be more expensive than an Uber/Lyft ride)
- You can also book a Supershuttle in advance. It can be around $20 total if you take a shared shuttle (though more expensive than Uber if you want a private, direct ride). Supershuttle has been taking extra precautions to limit the risk of COVID-19 infection.
- However you are getting to the residence, you’ll almost certainly be required to wear a mask.
Driving in you will likely have a hard time finding parking. It is possible, but be aware and move your stuff out of the car quickly.
Note: We suggest asking Minerva directly for their recommendation for transit to the residence as they will likely have the most up to date information.
4. Where is the most important information held?
On The Hub, which is our student information platform. You can sign up when you get your Minerva email. You should familiarize yourself with it before you get started in September as knowing your way around the site will make finding important information drastically easier in the Fall. Good pages to go to are in the San Francisco section under “Cities”, and the Master Calendar page to know all the important dates of the school year.
Important announcements will usually be posted on the Community Portal. You can modify your notification settings so that you get an email whenever something is posted in a group you are in. When you join the Portal, take a few minutes to join all the Groups which you find relevant. In addition to city-based and cohort-based groups, the Portal also has many student initiative groups.
5. What should we pack?
Pack as light as possible. Not only is it a good skill to have, but you will not have a lot of space. At the same time, this is the longest stay you will have at a Minerva city, so you may be more flexible with belongings. Essentials like plates, utensils, clothing basics, and some appliances you can find for very cheap at Goodwill (which you will have to Uber to) so you do not have to bring those. For the most part, you will only need to bring any clothes you want, as other essentials can be easily purchased for cheap at many second-hand stores (cheap for SF, meaning $5-$15 per article of clothing). You should also have a couple of pieces of clothing that are fancier/business ready. You might find yourself in more situations that demand this type of dress than you expected – even in the first week. At least bring one of these outfits, more clothing can be purchased later on or you can share with classmates.
6. What student groups are there?
Minervans usually have the unique experience of starting Foundation Year without upperclassmen present and get to create new student groups. You (M’24) have the unusual opportunity to spend time in San Francisco with upper classes as many students will choose to go to SF over the other rotation cities this fall. We highly recommend reaching out to meet and learn from upperclassmen. Some student groups will continue from previous years and you’ll get to join and build on these as well as create your own. The student experience (SXP) team will provide more information during Foundation Week and SIs will formally launch in January.
Here are some examples of current student groups:
- Minerva Quest (that’s us! yay!) is your student newspaper & all-around student publication platform. Check The Week for more information and an interest form if you want to get involved with us and follow and connect with us on Facebook and Instagram.
- SIs (Student Initiatives) are Minerva’s version of clubs. Student-led and constantly iterating, they provide a structure for Minervans to get administrative support and resources to collaborate and pursue projects and interests outside of academics. They include the cross-class sustainability SI, ProfTalks, Between the Lines, Out of Our Bubbles, Humanizing Headlines, QueerioUs, AmongUs, and more you’ll hear about soon!
- You can also learn more about SIs on The Hub (refer to #4 for more information on The Hub)
7. What is summer prep like?
tl;dr – DO IT. The most important skills to develop are English and Python. Make sure you’re extremely comfortable speaking, reading, and writing in English; it is important and can be key to good grades and performance/comfort, especially in seminar classes with a lot of (often complex) readings. Comfort with basic Python coding is also useful going in, as you’ll have assignments based in it without much in-class prep. There are lots of online courses that can help with this (you don’t necessarily have to use the ones Minerva recommends, although they’re pretty good). Having practice with Python will make your first year 10x better, so please work on this.
Disclaimer: Minerva is iterative! The only constant in this institution is change. Things will evolve and shift with the curriculum (that’s usually a good thing), so our experiences will not be the same. This is written from an M’21 & M’22 perspective. But do know that being over-prepared never hurt anyone. You have to budget your own time (even over the summer). Welcome to Minerva!
We also suggest checking out The Hub (see #4) in the Curriculum section under “Academics” to check out the Cornerstone (name of the classes you’ll be taking) syllabi. Familiarizing yourself with the curriculum, particularly the assignment schedule, might ease up your transition process.
8. What the heck are HCs and how are we graded?
HCs are the building blocks of our curriculum. You can think of them as frameworks and tools for thinking and communicating more effectively. You will catch on very quickly when you start classes, so don’t worry if you don’t understand them right now.
Every grade you receive in your first year is a grade on an HC. You don’t get an overall grade on an assignment, just on your applications of the HCs. This means your application according to their rubrics, not your (or your professor’s) individual interpretation of the HC. We suggest thoroughly going through the rubrics and clarifying any confusions with your professor as you’re applying HCs in your assignments. In addition to grades on assignments, you will receive one HC grade per class.
There’s plenty of time to improve your HC grades even after your first year is over, so don’t worry about it too much. You continue to get HC grades throughout your time at Minerva, even all the way through Capstone and Manifest.
9. What is the breakdown of living expenses in San Francisco for a student on work-study? And any financial tips for living in SF?
Depending on where you are coming from, San Francisco will either be roughly as pricey as you are used to, or much more expensive. It is important to keep track of how much you spend because in a place like SF where a slice of pizza or a loaf of bread can be more than $5, as one M’20 student would say, you can easily find yourself “hemorrhaging” money.
A rough lower bound would look something like this (in USD/week):
|Loans||5 (though you should try to pay more to reduce interest)||—|
|Work Study||—||112.5 (at 15$/hr for up to 7.5 hrs)|
A rough upper bound would look something like this (same units, assuming no loans given bougie price points):
NOTE*** → This does NOT include other costs, such as gym memberships, clothes, laundry, medical emergencies, and leisure activities.
GENERAL MONEY-SAVING TIPS
- Do not eat out often.
- Cooking your own food, and eating vegetarian is a great money saver.
- Go to local, inexpensive markets. There’s a great farmer’s market in Civic Center; small, cheap grocery stores in Chinatown and the Mission; Trader Joe’s, FoodsCo, etc. Safeway is deceptively expensive.
- Avoid Ubers. Try to walk as much as possible, or get a bike, skateboard/kick scooter, or other means of transport. It’s a small city, so this also helps you get to know the space. Take public transport (BART/buses) if you want to go far, although even this can seem fairly expensive compared to cities you may be used to. If you are 18 or under, you can apply for a youth clipper card which will allow you to ride public transit for less per ride.
- Free food is everywhere if you know where to look. Buy tupperware. (Note: many events have free food and depending on city regulations there may be few or no events in San Francisco in the fall or even the whole school year. But still buy tupperware!)
- Create food groups who you cook with. This allows you to buy in bulk and is a great way to make friends and bond with people but can be difficult to coordinate.
- Buy from Goodwill (99 cents or so for a cup or a plate, and a few bucks for clothes). There are also some great, cheap thrift shops in the Mission.
- For a chance to win a chance to see the world-renowned musical “Hamilton” install the Hamilton app and enter the San Francisco lottery every day. If you win you’ll be able to buy two tickets at only $10 each. This will likely be closed for the foreseeable future but might be open again next year in March/April.
- Be smart and talk to your friends. Share tips. Share discount codes. Check out these SF-specific tips from M’23.
10. What things should we set up right away?
- Get your Social Security Number (SSN). Minerva will help in the beginning.
- Bank (You will need an SSN for all banks. As a foreign student, you may be able to get an account and then update it once you get your SSN afterwards, but you will eventually have to provide it.)
- There are maps and lists on The Hub (see #4) with all of this information. We also suggest going out and exploring (safely!) – find your own cafes and nooks and crannies! San Francisco is a beautiful city and some of the best views are on random street corners that happen to be at the top of a hill.
- Establish a connection with your coach right away, it will make reaching out to them later on easier. I also recommend setting up an early meeting with the CAPS (Counseling And Psychological Services) team. During a mental health crisis is the worst time to try to find a therapist or counselor. Even if you think you don’t need it right now, getting familiar with a counselor is a great way to start setting up a support network in a new environment. And if you do end up needing more support later, you already know someone on the CAPS team and this can make it a lot easier to reach out.
- Ask staff members lots and lots of questions – there will be a lot of information flying around and some of it will be confusing or a lot to take in. Don’t be afraid to follow up via email, ask other students, reach out to the classes above you, etc (this is why group chats exist). Also, establish a routine as soon as possible – trust us, it will really help the settling in process.
- Getting set up for academics:
- I HIGHLY recommend using Notion as your note taking and organization app. If you want help getting adjusted to Notion feel free to message me (Erin Paglione). I’m not a Notion wizard like some, but I’ve been using it for my academics, summer applications, daily to-do lists, Quest work, and some other collaborative projects for about a year and am happy to walk you through my organization.
- Being organized from the beginning is super helpful. You won’t lose your readings, assignments, and notes and you won’t have to spend time trying to set something up in the middle of the semester when academics are picking up.
11. Mental health and stress:
- What do I do if I am struggling with mental health problems?
- First, you are not alone and there are people there to help you.
- We have a CAPS team on the ground in every city. You will get more information in Foundation Week on specifically how to get in touch with them to schedule appointments and any other events or workshops they will plan to host. You can find more information about the San Francisco CAPS team on the Hub.
- If you don’t know where to start, your RAs have some training with mental health and can be a great source of peer support. They will have information on how to contact the CAPS team if you need more help and should point you in the right direction.
- Because of local licensing restrictions, Minerva’s counselors may not be able to provide confidential counseling if you are studying remotely. We recommend reaching out to them directly for more information.
- Who do I go to for support if I don’t want to go to an RA / I don’t think my friends can help me / I don’t feel like I can go to CAPS?
- If you have PGH United Healthcare Global Insurance (Minerva’s recommended health insurance in the US), you will be able to use HealthiestYou Virtual Counseling (through BetterHelp) for free.
- There are many mental health professionals in San Francisco and you are of course free to explore different providers. It is important to keep in mind your health insurance and any costs associated with your healthcare.
- The Minerva CAPS team can help guide you on getting outside help (they won’t be offended). You can schedule a consultation with them to help you find external providers. Other advice would be speaking to a trusted staff member or any trusted person.
- If you are having a mental health emergency these resources are available 24/7:
- What are ways that other Minervans in the past have used to center themselves or give themselves the clarity of mind to move forward?
- It is important to sleep, exercise, and eat healthy first. Prioritize this, even when it feels like you can’t, especially sleep. Try to find an easy way to eat good food, maybe it’s by making a routine of going to the Heart of the City Farmers market to get fruits, maybe it’s eating vegetarian, or maybe it’s finding a cheap bulk food option and making food with friends.
- There are local, free yoga lessons (most commonly, Yoga To The People). We also recommend meditation.
- Minerva periodically hosts Oxygen events. These are generally focused on reflection, mental and physical health, community building, and otherwise taking space and time away from stressful academics, internship applications, or whatever else is going on in your life.
12. Is our work-study taxable?
Yes. Minerva will share the necessary links and resources for filing taxes when this comes around. We recommend starting this early because the U.S. tax process is complicated and no one wants to deal with repercussions from late taxes.
13. Will my scholarship be taxed?
Yes. Again, Minerva will help you with this.
14. Are you sure you’ll help me get summer internships? If yes, how?
The short answer is YES. The Coaching and Talent Development (CTD) team is very good. But you cannot simply rely on them without expecting to put in any effort on your part. They have personal and group coaching, job postings, and connections. Be nice to them, as they work hard and are so good at their jobs. This means putting in your half and following through.
You will be assigned a coach at the beginning of the semester and this person will be your point of contact. You’ll fill in a questionnaire about what your career/professional goals are and attend a one-on-one meeting with your coach. After this, you’ll be sorted into a group of like-minded students and attend up to three optional meetings with them throughout the semester to improve your professional skills and think deeper about what you truly want to achieve. Don’t worry, it’s a lot more fun than it seems and you get snacks too!
15. City Immersion:
- What can I do to make meaningful connections in San Francisco?
- There are many ways you can do this. The first is by attending free events and getting to know people there. We suggest meetup.com and eventbrite.com for those of you who want to learn/play/do something else while meeting people, or teawithstrangers.com for those of you who don’t like small talk but want to have good conversations with people.
- Depending on local restrictions, there may be few or no in-person events in San Francisco during your time there. But people still live in the city! A lot of meetups, conferences, etc. are happening online now, so it’s still possible to meet locals and develop connections.
- Just try to be genuine and outgoing (it can be scary and very difficult, but it is a great skill).
- San Francisco is one of the few cities in the global rotation where very nearly everyone will speak English. In San Francisco it’s fairly common to have small talk with a barista at a cafe, a cashier at a store, or even someone sitting next to you at a park. Obviously, this won’t always lead to a long-term connection, but it’s a nice way to get to know the general vibe of the city. And if you think you might see them again (like the barista at your favorite coffee shop), don’t forget to ask their name!
- How can I make a difference in small, reasonable, yet tangible ways?
- There are many volunteering opportunities in the city. Just search type of volunteering you’re interested in + San Francisco and you’ll find something
- Some example places you can volunteer (where other Minervans have previously volunteered) are:
- Glide – Volunteer help with homeless residents of San Francisco.
- Episcopal Community Services – Volunteer at homeless shelters by serving food.
- Girls Who Code – Click the “Facilitate a Club” button to get involved at a local high school teaching young girls how to code. The process of getting involved can be a bit confusing, so it’s best to start early and be persistent. This can also help you practice your Python skills!
- Citizens Climate Lobby – A climate change lobby organization focused on bipartisan effort to reform climate change efforts in the US.
- Curry Without Worry – Help cook and serve free meals. They serve 250 free meals every Tuesday in Civic Center.
16. What is an example day in the life of a Minervan?
There are so many different types of days and so many different ways to answer this. So the example we give is quite simple, so as to reflect the most common experience.
- Class from 9am – 12:30pm. You may wake up early to go take class at a cafe, or roll out of bed at 8:55am and take class in your room. I recommend eating before (or during) class to help energize you and get your brain working.
- Lunch might be something you make, you might go grab a bite with a friend or someone you want to get to know better.
- Then, typically students go to a library, cafe, or the AWS loft (alone or with friends) to work on assignments, readings, work-study, etc. This will be a lot of your life at Minerva. Depending on local restrictions, these study locations may be closed for some or all of your time in San Francisco. It is still important to have your own workspace: somewhere you only do academic or other “productive” work, i.e. don’t watch Netflix in your workspace. Here are some other tips for setting up a study or work space.
- Community programming: You might have a 10:01 (a cultural celebration where a group presents on their region/country and shares food) or a Minerva Talk, where a classmate speaks about their life. (End of basic day)
- You might also have a meeting with your coach, a group project. You might go to an event in the city, meet up with someone you met in the city, go to a concert, make dinner with a group of friends, have a dance party, etc. The possibilities are endless and the final thing is that you create each day at Minerva and in San Francisco so take advantage of it
- Sleep! It’s really helpful to have a regular sleep schedule, even if you break it sometimes.
17. How do I get involved with the Quest?
I’m so glad you asked! You can either reach out to us individually for more information on how to join or just fill out this interest survey.
18. Who are key people to talk to if I have more questions throughout the year?
- For mental health, general health, and residential questions, you can ask your RAs and they will point you in the right direction.
- For any general academic questions you have throughout the year, like uncertainties about course selection, email Reed ([email protected]) (although be aware that he might take some time to reply, he’s a busy guy) and, for course-specific questions, email your professors or set up a time to attend their office hours. Most professors love having students over for office hours to discuss questions they may have about the subject or even just to get to know them. Office hours are almost always underattended so you might just make your professor’s day by showing up.
- For more qualitative questions, try reaching out to someone in the years above you! Most of us would love to talk to you and build up connections across our classes (that’s also what The Quest is here for)
- You can always reach out to me (Erin Paglione) or me (Aspen Pflughoeft). We’re happy to make friends and answer any other questions you have.
- Actually read your emails. Yes, they might get repetitive sometimes but if you don’t read them you can miss important information.
- And as always: Check The Hub!
Here are some other Quest articles that might help you out at the start of your Minerva journey. If you have any more questions, feel free to post them in the comments.
Update: This article was updated to include a link to other Quest articles that might be useful for incoming students.