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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

Decisions, Decisions by Matt McGann '00

In yesterday’s entry, I wrote, “With 5 days [now 4 days] until the May 2 postmark deadline, is anyone still making a decision? If so, what are your remaining questions? What factors are you considering?”

I got a couple responses, including from “estelphoenix,” who wrote:

I have five questions:

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest and 1 being the lowest…

  1. How happy are students?
  2. How stressed out do students feel?
  3. How well do students cope with stress?
  4. What is the general mental health of students?

In addition, does MIT’s tough grading system hurt students when they apply to med school or law school? Thank you very much!

Also, a comment from “struggling,” who wrote:

yes i am still undecided. i am leaning towards MIT but am also choosing from brown, harvard and stanford. I want to do engineering, so MIT seems obvious. however, i don’t want only a hardcore engineering education and want to be able to have a little fun and explore some other courses. Also, i am worried about the MIT workload. I’m sure I could get it done, but would it be at the expense of my social life/sanity? Also, how much do students tend to go out in boston? A lot of things about MIT seem really cool but also a bit intimidating.

oh yeah i forgot to add…no offense intended but I am from california, go to a public school, and generally hang out with a wide variety of people – many of which aren’t really serious about
academics like I am. thus, i don’t really think I will fit in to a ‘nerd’ culture (again no offense, that is just not how I am). what are people’s opinions on the types of people at MIT – I know there are a lot of different things going on but it would be cool to hear people’s thoughts about the personalities of the students. thanks for any help anyone can give.

estelphoenix and struggling have basically enumerated concerns (stereotypes?) voiced by generations of students trying to decide whether or not to attend MIT. These, interestingly, were also my concerns. I’ll summarize the concerns, at least as I saw them back in the spring of 1996: Will I have a good college social experience? Is MIT so difficult that I will be constantly stressed out, perhaps to the point of depression? Will I like the people at MIT, or will they be the antisocial nerd stereotype?

I had these same fears, until I finally visited the campus (more on that in a few paragraphs). I think that visiting the schools you’re considering is a crucial step. For many students, CPW is the first time they experienced campus. Of course, CPW isn’t completely representative of the MIT experience, but I believe that it does give you a drink-from-the-firehose look at MIT life. After CPW, I asked what students thought of it, and got some potentially helpful responses.

Jim Elephunk wrote, “MIT was way better than I expected. I have a lot of options for college (harvard, brown, stanford, tufts, etc) but CPW definitely put MIT up on top of my list. I always knew MIT had the best academics, but after CPW I can see that the social scene is awesome too. Everyone was really nice and only about 10% of the people I met fit the classic MIT nerd stereotype. Most people were amazingly fun and outgoing, just way smarter than the average person haha.”

And Pia wrote, “I really feel much better about MIT now because before the ambiguity was kind of making me eh-ish about it. I was actually considering staying in CA and going to berkeley or something (silly, misguided Pia)…I also really loved the people at the place I stayed (Random) so it made it even better for me because I never actually stopped having fun. I also felt better because I realized that MIT was really a very good fit for has a lot of opportunities that I very much wanted in a college.”

Also, in my most recent entry’s comments, “Anonymous” wrote, “I’m someone who was also worried about the social environment at MIT, but after attending CPW and checking out the parties and people there, I realized that there wasn’t anything to worry about. There were tons of social people who love to party, etc. They were all really nice and i’m sure that they have more than enough fun to compensate for having to do rigorous psets. yep. so i just sent in my reply form to mit and i hope to see you guys there.”

In the same comments section, Fiona wrote: “‘Struggling’ – I don’t know if you attended CPW, but there I discovered that there are all kinds of people at MIT, even those that you would never expect to find there. For example, while hanging out with some random people I heard one say “I HATE math and science. I am just terrible at them, I am so glad I finished the core, etc.” Also, I went into Boston twice (well, one of the times I just walked across the bridge and looked around, it doesn’t really count) in the three days I was there. Since the Harvard Bridge is so close, and many people actually live in Boston (ie frats, independent living groups, people in apartments), people visit frequently.

“This is just my theory, I don’t really have much experience at MIT, but it seems to me that you can find pretty much every type of person there. You have jocks, musicians, cheerleaders, nerds, political activists, lazy people, quiet people, whatever you can think of. But, they are some of the smartest people in whatever category they happen to fall into (or if they refuse to be categorized). Of course, these are just my impressions…and luckily you are choosing between 4 awesome schools. Anyways, good luck!”

For some more really good perspectives on MIT student life, I highly recommend Mitra’s blog. Her posts very well represent the MIT I experienced (I sometimes get a little verklempt reading it…). If you want a wider range of MIT perspectives, maybe you could also check out the Xanga MIT blogring.

As for me, when I was deciding where to go to college, I figured I was likely to choose one of the Ivy League schools, as I considered myself a “social, well-rounded person.” I spent most of the month of April thinking about these Ivy League schools. But ultimately, I realized that I hadn’t found the right fit for me.

Enter MIT. I recognized that I had to visit MIT, to see whether or not all those preconceived notions I had about the place were true. So with only a few days remaining until May 1 (perhaps 9 years ago today?), my parents and I got in the car to check out MIT. The first thing I remember doing was checking out the dormitories. I first stopped at McCormick Hall, though I quickly left as I was informed that it was an all-female dorm. Next was Baker House, which several months later would become my home of 4 years. Finally, I made it to Burton-Conner (Mitra’s dorm), another place I really liked.

Along the way, I chatted with the students. People really seemed to care about who I was as a person, not about my IQ, or the clothes I wore, or my country club status, or whatever other silly and irrelevant stuff. I remember being impressed that it was the first place where no one asked my SAT score. I took a serious look at the course catalog and realized that there were more great non-science/engineering courses than I could ever hope to take. I loved the quirky, unique culture, which was very different than the “standard” culture I experienced at other colleges. And ultimately, I liked the energy and enthusiasm I sensed from MIT, that it seemed like something exciting was happening, that the campus was always abuzz with activity, and that the students were really passionate.

I had a great four years at MIT. I made many great friends, and had some amazing and inspirational professors (Lander, Rota, Ketterle, Billey, Krugman, Hubbard, Prelec, Wernerfelt, Rogers, Dussart, Tapscott…). I ultimately received a very liberal education from MIT, in the sense that I took — by choice — courses in many different areas, including architecture, engineering, social sciences, science, math, management and humanities. And when I needed help with those difficult problem sets, I found my professors, TAs, and especially the upperclassmen and my classmates very willing to lend a hand (or a brain?).

Ultimately, you’ll have to make the decision for yourself as to whether MIT or some other school is the right match for you. I’m very glad that in MIT I found my right match.

Another admitted/undecided student, “Just Curious,” wrote, “Where can I find MIT alum’s average starting salaries by major? I was just wondering how many years it would take to pay my parents back the $200,000 that I’ll owe them after I graduate! I’d really like to compare the return with Harvard and Stanford’s.”

Before I directly answer the question, some brief discussion/advice. I would not recommend basing your choice of major on potential starting salary. You should choose a major that you will enjoy and that will fulfill you intellectually. Also, you may want to talk to your parents about a “pay it forward” strategy, which is what I have with my parents, and many of my friends have the same. That is, my parents paid the EFC for me, and in turn the expectation is that I will pay for my children’s education when that time comes.

To answer your question about salary: MIT provides this information at the Careers Office website. Specifically, you probably want to look at the 2004 graduating student survey [pdf]. For those of you who don’t want to open a PDF, here’s a quick summary of what you’d read: the survey, taken during graduation week, received a 74% response rate. At that time, future plans of the 2004 graduates were: 52% would attend grad school immediately after MIT, 43% would work, and 5% were undecided. Of those 43% who were entering the workforce, $62,862 was the average starting salary. Remember that this number is just an average (I don’t know the distribution, though you can get a sense of it from the survey), and includes everyone from teachers (who, in my opinion, are underpaid in this country) to those ridiculously well-paid software engineers.

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