Apr 21, 2011
Finding Your Match
Posted in: Process & Statistics
As April ends, and admitted students everywhere decide where to enroll, I wanted to take a few moments to speak directly to the Class of 2015 about something you should be thinking about over the next few days.
That something is match.
We talk a lot about match here at MIT Admissions. But what we mean by match - and what match means to you - isn't always obvious.
Other important factors in your college decisions process are much more straightforward. Cost. Prestige. Distance. These are things that are easily grasped. You're already thinking about them. But match is also an important factor that isn't as commonly discussed, or easily understood, as these others.
Let me tell you about what match means to me:
When I was searching for and applying to schools six years ago, match wasn't foremost in my mind. Or in my mind at all. In fact, it wasn't really part of my college search vocabulary or conceptual framework. I can't recall once sitting down with my guidance counselor, or parents, or friends and asking "where would be a good match for me?"
I was a good student at a rural but well-resourced public high school in New Hampshire. I was the eldest child, so I was making things up as I went along. I knew I was stronger in the humanities and social sciences than in STEM, so I went on to Princeton Review, searched for liberal arts colleges, rank-ordered them by fanciness, and visited maybe sixteen. Some I liked. Some I didn't. Most I felt ambivalent about. I applied to 10, more or less because they were in New England, had good names, I hadn't hated them, and they used the Common App.
I picked my first college because it was the most prestigious to which I had been accepted (and because Jon Stewart went there and he was my idol). It was, and still is, a terrific school. I still keep in touch with a few friends from there. They did well then and are doing well now. But it wasn't for me. I didn't feel like I fit in. For the first time in my life I didn't enjoy school anymore. And I figured I was paying too much money to be unhappy.
So I transferred back home to the same local state school my parents had attended, reasoning that I might as well go to the cheapest college I could. It was indeed less expensive, but I wasn't really a better fit there either. As a teetotaling academic at a school where, during my first semester, the National Guard was called in to put down drunken riots, I felt far outside the cultural mainstream. So I moved way offcampus with a few friends and rented a mold-infested ranch house that would soon be condemned. I took as few classes as I could, spent the remainder of my time working as a teaching and research assistant for a few professors in my area of interest, and basically counted the days to graduation.
Whereupon, in May 2009, I immediately graduated into the most devastating economic crisis since the Great Depression. I was applying to any and every job listing I could find. The only callback I got was for a position running web communications at MIT's Admissions Office.
The first time I stepped foot on MIT's campus was for my job interview. I had gotten lost on my way in and called the admissions office for directions, arriving 15 minutes late and wondering why the hell they couldn't just name the buildings like normal people. I spent the next six hours interviewing with Matt, Chris S, Chris M, and half a dozen others. I drove home. A few days later - just a week before I graduated - I got the call that I'd got the gig.
My first thought was: hooray! against all odds, I'm employed!
My second thought was: oh my god, what am I doing
(Incidentally, I've been told that if you substitute "admitted" for "employed", this is essentially what went through many of your minds on Pi Day)
I'd knew nothing about MIT other than that they built robots and had long hallways I'd already spent an inordinate amount of time being lost in. But within a month or two of working here, I knew I'd made the right choice. Because working at MIT has given me something I never had in my own undergraduate experience: a match.
Ok, but what does match mean?
The best way I can describe it is like this: finding your match means feeling like you're home. A profound sense of belonging. The feeling that wherever you are is the place you are meant to be.
If you don't know what I'm talking about, then you haven't felt it yet. I know I never looked for this during my own college search, or felt this way in my own undergraduate experience. Sure, there are a half-dozen people at each of the schools I attended with whom I will be friends for life. But it wasn't until I came to MIT that I felt that way about an entire community. The people, the culture, the ethos just make sense to me.
I picked my first college on the basis of its prestige, and the second on its cost. For the third...well, it was MIT or law school, and MIT seemed like something I would enjoy more. So I guess, even though I didn't then know what I was doing, I was picking on the basis of match. And I've never been happier.
Of course, match isn't the only thing that exists in the world. Cost, prestige, distance: all of those factors I mentioned at the beginning are real. It's important - unavoiadable, really - that you include them in your decision making process. And even though I wasn't a terrific match at my first two schools, I still did fine, and I would have been fine had I stayed at either.
But I wanted to highlight the importance of match because when I was in your shoes it wasn't part of my decision making process at all. It really should have been. It's a bit ironic, actually, that I'm an admissions officer now when I bungled my own college search so bad. But through my own misadventures I also feel like I've learned a lot. And if I could precipitate what I've learned into one little nugget of wisdom, it would be the meaningfulness of finding your match.
Maybe MIT is a match for you. In case it isn't abundantly, redundantly clear by now, it is for me. Many of y'all whom I spoke with at CPW had the same sensemaking experience I described above. Or, maybe MIT isn't a match. Either way, it's OK! My only bit of advice is that, when you're figuring things out over the next few days before you have to put a deposit down, keep match in mind. That's it.
Good luck, Class of 2015. No matter where you go, you are all awesome. It's been a pleasure, and a privilege, working with you. Stay cool. You're going to make the world a better place. And there's no honor, or decision, greater than that.