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MIT student blogger Mollie B. '06

Class size by Mollie B. '06

A response to a comment brought up on Ben's blog.

Concerned Parent brought up an issue in Ben’s blog (about halfway down the page at this point) about increasing class size at MIT, and how this would merely require more students to live in uncomfortable living situations. I was originally going to post this in Ben’s blog… but it sort of turned into an entry of its own.

I am dismayed that this year and next apparently represent the largest college applicant pool ever nationwide. As I understand the situation this is somewhat a result of more people going to college, a lack of additional colleges having been built, students taking longer than 4 years to graduate, but mostly I hear the problem is due to the baby boom generation’s offspring. This last thing I cited is an anomaly. What I don’t quite understand is the lack of preparedness by the colleges nationwide to accommodate this aberration.

I entitled this post “Where there is a will….there is a way” for a reason. All the wonderful words spoken in these blogs will not help these brilliant young students. I don’t understand why colleges don’t offer up more triples. Yes, it will be cramped. However, offering this up in advance gives people the opportunity to just say “No” if they are not interested. Allot a certain number of rooms as triples. I did read somewhere where someone said triples were awful. The gist of the post was that people need space. I don’t know how horrible that kind of situation really is when you consider perspective on things. A horrible situation is what happened in New Orleans. How is living in Africa these days? or living in Baghdad? Allot a certain number of rooms and allow the individuals to decide for themselves. I also would suggest that you require people who wish to accept under these conditions to actually visually see what these conditions look like.

From a student perspective, I assure you that it’s not just about the living situation — although that’s certainly a factor. There’s already a great deal of crowding in campus housing, since freshmen are required to live on campus (due to the 1997 alcohol-related death of fraternity pledge Scott Krueger). There’s also not a great deal of affordable off-campus housing — this is Boston, after all, and there are literally tens of thousands of graduate students (MIT, Harvard, BU, etc) living in apartments around campus. Many apartment buildings don’t allow undergraduates to live there.

The housing situation is somewhat nonnegotiable, I think, particularly considering that even forcing doubles into triples, triples into quads, and quads into quints wouldn’t create all that much more space. The MIT housing system is a bit unique in that, in most dorms, students (or at least upperclassmen) can have singles if they want them — a high proportion of our dorm rooms are singles. And a single, as you might imagine, is not really a large enough space to accomodate two people. Even if you squeeze them in very tightly.

But the fundamental problem is that MIT is just not a very big school. There are just 4000 undergraduates here, barely twice more than were in my high school. Having 4000 undergrads rather than 10,000 has a very great effect on our student culture — it’s really possible to know the majority of people at the school.

Size is an implicit factor in the sorts of departmental opportunities we’re able to have. The new Bioengineering major, for example, was considering holding a lottery for students to allow entry into the major because they weren’t sure they’d have enough lab space to accomodate everyone. In my own major, biology, a lottery is held every term for 7.02. There’s just not enough space in the department’s lab to teach everyone. MIT has a limited campus area (see the campus map; we’re bounded on one side by the river and on two sides by well-developed parts of Cambridge) — we’re not like rural schools which can expand in all directions. We’re already reaching a point where buildings are starting to take over all the green space.

We are blissfully free of intra-MIT application procedures — there’s no quota, for example, on the number of people who major in EECS at MIT. Once you’re in, you can major in anything you want. I think it would be very unfortunate if MIT had to go the way of large state schools and begin having students apply to a particular major once a student at the school. I believe that’s called bait-and-switch, and it’s not fair. But what else could the departments do, if student numbers exceeded the available teaching space?

Our lecture halls are already the cause of the few lotteries we do have to face — the HASS-D (humanities distribution) lottery being the prime example. Each term, a certain number of students can’t take the courses they wanted to because there aren’t enough seats in the lecture hall for everyone who’s interested in taking 9.00 (intro to psychology), 24.900 (intro to linguistics), and some others. Most classes at MIT aren’t lotteried, but if the number of students were increased, I have no doubt we’d face more. This is obviously a situation students would like to avoid.

Opportunities like UROP are available to every student at MIT. If the number of students were increased, however, participation in these programs wouldn’t be increased proportionally — they’re dependent on the number of spots in faculty laboratories. I, like many of my friends, am paid directly out of my faculty supervisor’s research funds; he wouldn’t pay for three of me.

I hope that gives a good overview of why, as a student, I wouldn’t want MIT to begin admitting a larger class. It’s nothing against all the unbelievably qualified applicants we don’t have space for, and I certainly don’t intend to convey the impression that I’m an elitist who wants to keep out riff-raff or something. But MIT is a small school, and I (and all the other students) love that small-school quality.

7 responses to “Class size”

  1. Hi there!

    Thanks for that answer, I guess everyone needs that type of answer sometimes – simplistic and right to the point. Thanks for the good work~!

  2. Shannon says:

    Hey! I probably just haven’t found this on your blog yet, but do you think you could just give all of us a really quick overview of your UROP? I’d love to major in Biology too, and I was simply wondering what type of opportunities were available. Does Eric Lander do UROPs? (just curious)

    Thanks a bajillion^millionth.

  3. Katie says:

    There’s only 4000 undergrads? Wow…there’ 4000 people at my high school. And I surely don’t know the majority of people. I can see how that can really have an impact on the whole environment.

    Excellent points made…I read that post on Ben’s blog and, though it seemed logical at first, I just couldn’t stomach it. I know I will probably be rejected from some of my top choice colleges because of larger and possibly more qualified applicant pools, but I wouldn’t want to change the college just so I could go…once it changed, it would no longer be the school I wanted to go to in the first place.

    Thanks for the student perspective!

  4. Adnan Esmail says:

    Excellent points made, I wasn’t aware of the lottery system for actual lectures. I guess its more than just living space.

    Thanks for the informative post!

  5. Japanther says:

    There’s 250 people in my high school, and I don’t know most of them. This is probably why I don’t consider MIT to be a small school.

  6. Jess says:

    I was disappointed to read that comment too, so I was definitely cheering for you while reading your post. Some really good points made.

    And you’re a part of UROP? How did you get into it and what is it like? What does your research in particular entail?

  7. zoogies says:

    Yay mollie! One of the things I definitely hate the most about applying to UMich and Cornell and such schools is having to select “School of Engineering.” I mean, I’m interested in engineering now, but what do I know about it? Not enough to sign my entire career path away to it, I don’t see how any college can expect high school seniors to.

    But yeah, your comment about 4000 being small was amusing ^_^ I went from 1500 to 400 and thought “Wow, now I can almost know everyone in the school.” 4000 is really quite big, although true, it’s nothing like 10,000.