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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

Admitted Students Parties Followup by Matt McGann '00

Thanks, everyone, for your feedback on the admitted students parties.

We had some reports from the New York City party. Michael wrote,

The NYC admitted students meeting was nothing short of amazing. A lot of it was unscheduled, but that made it all the more better. For example, Les Cline made the alumni of Stuyvesant currently attending MIT (Stuyvesant being the majority of the room) speak, as well as Alums from other high schools like Bx Science and Madison. Since none of them prepared speeches, it came off a lot better and a lot more truthful. Although a lot of it was nothing we hadn’t heard before, it was still interesting to hear it from current students. The Resonance shindig at the end was nothing short of amazing as well. First thing in the Fall, I’m trying out for both Resonance and the Logs, heh. I <3 acappella, especially at MIT. Score one for MIT.


Asli took pictures of the Resonance performance. Thanks Asli!

Alex reported on the Austin meeting:

It was a lot of fun. There were 8 admitted students in the central Texas area, plus an admitted student from Houston who was visiting his brother in Austin who I happened to know from Mathcamp. There was also parents, alums, etc. People talked about random stuff in small open groups. MIT stuff like “Are you pretty sure that you’re going to MIT?”, “What are you going to major in?”, “Will you be at CPW?” but also other things; for instance, the organizer wanted to talk to me as a homeschooler. At some point, the organizer got everyone’s attention and had us briefly introduce ourselves, and then talked, along with the other alums, about several topics. The organizer, who had a degree in astro/aero, lastly told a story about opening a highly successful pretzel franchise in Alaska, despite everyone thinking he was crazy. His friends later forced him to go to law school. And there were a couple of MIT stories too. It was great.


And Victoria and Lupe on the Bay Area meeting:

UBER AWESOME!!! I was able to meet some really cool people that I hope to start businesses with, develop cures with, or just chill and go to groovy concerts with! When you were a prospective frosh, were there MIT parties Matt?
oohhh I also had the chance to meet Mitra and a cool dude named Sam.

I spent time talking with the other SF Bay Area parents asking about our kids heading to the opposite coast. Generally, we were a little anxious, but cleary cognizant that the opportunity presented to our children is truly special and not easily overlooked. The home was beautiful and the hosts were very gracious. The admitted students mixed very well and all seemed excited to meet each other. They were asking a lot of questions of the alums and the current MIT students who attended. It was very exciting for both my daughter Victoria and I. I felt like I knew some of them because of the MyMIT guestbook, Matt’s blogs, and the other college discussion board. It was great to them in real life. I look forward to meeting more people at CPW!!


However, we also heard about two negative experiences:

The Tucson admitted students party was far from what I expected. Out of the admitted students attending, five were girls and one was a guy, yet none of the MIT alumni present were women. Also, all of the almuni graduated before 1970, except for one memeber of the class of 2003. However, the 2003 grad, seemed to have done nothing with his MIT education and had moved back in with his parents. Overall, it was dissapointing and actually has detered me from wanting to accept my spot at MIT.


I attended the admit party with my child and instead of being relieved or our concerns, we only had more. I was completely shocked to see the complete range of people admitted, from a child who made perfect scores on both his SATs and ACTs to another child who had a serious learning disability. How is MIT able to provide an education that is right for these students? The reputation of the academic quality of your institution has been completely shattered. My child was so extremely distressed leaving the admit party that my child didn’t even want to attend CPW anymore! And just like Sarah, my child is ready to give the spot to another child to find a better fit school!

[” A Concerned Parent”]

There were a few thoughtful responses to these concerns. I’ll reprint the comments from “Some crazy sophomore” and the bulk of the longer post from “alum parent”:

Concerned Parent, MIT provides a diverse range of educations. It’s a big school with students in many different fields. It also has students who are learning-disabled – as the sibling of an autistic teen, I know that a learning disability, whether by itself or as a consequence of another disorder, doesn’t mean that a child can’t do brillant work. This doesn’t preclude any student from receiving a quality education. There are several classes that all MIT students must take, but it is not a “one size fits all” school. As a current student, I would encourage your child to attend CPW, to see if MIT is actually a good fit for him/her, because it’s the best possible opportunity to do so. Good luck!

To Sarah: Come to CPW before you make a judgment. It’s a lot more relevant to life at MIT in 2005 than talking to pre-1970 alums. And if you’re worried about gender imbalance, the current undergrad popuation is over 40% women.
[“Some crazy sophomore”]

Based on your description, it appears that your own child is on the gifted side – since you clearly expected MIT to be a tough school and admit only the brightest, and were surprised to see a broad range of kids instead – “from a child who made perfect scores on both his SATs and ACTs to another child who had a serious learning disability.”

Firstly: As an alum parent whose child was not admitted despite having a steller (perfect) academic record and two alum parents, I would suggest that the admission committee saw ‘something’ in your child because of which they offered him/her a slot – that is nothing to scoff at. It is a great honor to be admitted to world’s top school.

Secondly, your concern does not seem to be “will my child make it at MIT or how hard will it be or how will he/she adjust socially or grow as a better politically astute and socially engaged human being etc.” that most parents tend to have when evaluating schools. However if these are indeed also your concerns, my own experience is that MIT is not only an incredibly challenging school that can make anyone “reach” to their fullest potential provided they take that opportunity (one could graduate from MIT with a bare minimum of 32 classes in some easy discipline, no UROP and still come out ahead, let alone someone who pushes themselves – and MIT tries to select such people in the first place), it is also an incredibly people friendly place – administratively speaking. The “institute” recognizes that kids are under pressure and go out of their way to help in everyway possible. So on this account, with a brilliant kid, you may rest assured that your child will receive an outstanding education if they put ‘themselves’ into it, and a good education even if they showed no initiative and did minimum work.

However your expressed concern is not about this or your own child, but about others – “The reputation of the academic quality of your institution has been completely shattered.” due to diversity in academic talent admitted. This comment is in the same vein as Sarahs earlier: “However, the 2003 grad, seemed to have done nothing with his MIT education and had moved back in with his parents. Overall, it was dissapointing and actually has detered me from wanting to accept my spot at MIT.”

I think it is important to express reservations of all kinds, including these, openly and I am glad you have, and I am glad MIT admissions has offered this forum to help address such concerns. Indeed, I would also try to evaluate a school by what type of kids go there, of what academic abilities and interests, how much if at all the teacher would have to dumb down the class, etc. etc. In fact, this is the problem my own child faced in high school in some subjects – he found them too boring and unchallenging and had to force himself to keep interested in topics that he got in 5 minutes that some others seem to be taking few lectures and still not getting it. So he went through high school in 3 years – the only one in his school to do so.

But funny thing – some of the same kids struggling in math for instance in his high school – were incredibly brilliant in literature (although some clearly were not good in studies at all – one of them is a ranked hockey player in the US). And my son discovered that while he was sometimes struggling to get some medieval poem in arcane english, some of the other kids who struggled in math got it effortlessly.

Therein lies the point – MIT has seen a completed application on each person they admitted – and are privy to their strengths and weaknesses much more than you might be in meeting someone in a two hour party. And MIT clearly only admits those they see something remarkable in – whether or not this remarkable thing is captured by test scores or not (often not). And they can only see this remarkable thing in them if the child has done a good job in writing their essays and presenting themselves in a way that demonstrates something remarkable about them. Your child, as much as the kids who may have turned you off at the party, have done that rather well – or else my son would have been admitted too! Clearly he is not short of any objective metric – but somehow fell short on the subjective metric that MIT uses (whatever that might be – I never could get a handle on that since they admitted both me and my wife over our much more talented son!).

Whereas your kid, as well as Sarah, as well as those whom both of you did not like at the respective parties, were found to be very attractive by MIT on this subjective yardstick. To me that says something about them – perhaps unfairly so, but perhaps not. MIT can always make a mistake and admit a total dud – a designer kid of the college counselling industry – but I think on the whole they tend to admit solid gold from amongst a pretty impressive collection of gold! Only you may not be privy to that as easily in cases where the talent is not also manifested in test scores and grades and other objective things.

As to the accomplishments of MIT graduates […] Real life poses many challenges and hardships – you never know what stresses and strains this person is going through – and not all accomplishements in life may be measured by the size of one’s stock market portfolio. Indeed, some of my closest and dearest friends are rather poor financially, yet they take care of their ageing parents, and do a whole bunch of things that they will never talk about in a party to a stranger, but those who know them intimately would know what terrific and accomplished human beings they are.

And finally the concern stemming from diversity – and the implied but unstated question being: would MIT waterdown its education to cater to the needs of such a diverse group when some clearly appear to be math/science geniuses and others duds – and mind you this data is from at least the late 70s early 80s – is no. MIT will not waterdown any class or any requirement, be it an institute requirement such as 8.01 or 18.01, or be it in an engineering class, or be it language or literature or economics class. So naturally the question arises, then how do people of such diverse abilities and strengths do well in all of them?

The answer is that the kids do not all do well in all the classes at MIT – some struggle, some struggle even more, and some positively flunk. Others certainly fly untethered by any limitations of intellect.

This is a reality and if someone says it aint so is clearly hiding the truth. However – and this is the key that I found, MIT takes special care in admitting very special and passionate people – and while some may struggle in 18.01, they may also shine in some other class. Not every one graduates from MIT with perfect GPA – indeed I only know of one person – my wife who maintained 5.0 both in undergrad/grad school. Most people struggle in some class – indeed if one did not reach their limit in some form at MIT – they failed to learn a lot about themselves. Please also see another post of mine under the “admitted students” for more elaboration in this context.

As a parent whose child aspires to be at MIT more than any place else (he got accepted at Caltech and is going to their open house to see how it will measure up to MIT in many different contexts), I feel your concern in this regards is a bit off – nay, way off. I am glad you expressed them though, so that people like myself with first hand experince of MIT can help allay your fears.

If you have serious doubts that your brilliant ward would not be challenged enough, all the more reason to go to CPW and look at it more closely – your concerns will soon melt to other more mundane concerns that most parents have – ‘how will my kid survive there’ rather than ‘will he get enough education’.

I hope you don’t give up your seat at MIT on the grounds you expressed (although my son would certainly benefit as he is actually waitlisted) – but rather if you did decide to not send your child there or not attend there yourself, that it be on more suitable grounds like: “is this school a good match for my child’s talents and interests” and “will this school develop my child as a well balanced human being”.

[“alum parent”]

Thank you all for your feedback and discussion — which you may continue in the comments thread here — as they have been helpful to us.

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