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MIT student blogger Alexa J. '20

How to not love CPW but love MIT by Alexa J. '20

(for the most part at least)

Two years ago (wow time flies), I went to CPW, and I came away feeling disenchanted by a place that had been previously shrouded in a mystical fog of technological magic and innovation. I still decided to come, swayed by other factors important to me, including distance from home, upperclassmen I knew from high school, and of course the academic excellence and intensity.

I wanted to address some of the fears and concerns I struggled with after CPW, having now lived through 3 CPW’s. Hopefully, those who are wondering about this haven’t committed yet –– apologies for procrastinating on this.

Feeling #1: Everyone seemed so comfortable with themselves and confident. Both other prefrosh and students seemed like they were the best at something and everything, while in high school, I felt that I had attempted to be (for lack of a better cliche) jack of all trades and therefore, master of none. I was more of a humanities/social sciences person in high school (thought that I would go on to study some combination of course 9 Brain and Cognitive Sciences or 15 Management or 14 Economics or something ??), so everyone’s strong STEM background intimidated me. I didn’t even know what school I wanted to go to, let alone what I wanted to do in life.

  • After taking GIR’s and classes in my major, I feel less inadequate. Most people here feel some level of imposter syndrome, and I think thats what makes many so humble and open to helping others. I think part of the time spent at MIT is about finding things you love to do (academically or not) and using the opportunities here to grow and develop those passions. You don’t have to keep doing what you were good at in high school, and you definitely don’t need to know what you want to do in the future yet (although props to you if you do, you’ve got it more together than me).

Worry #2: I became less sure I would fit in with the culture and people. I didn’t meet anyone that I immediately meshed great with. Also, some people seemed cliquey even in the first moments of meeting them because they travelled in packs of people that they had met over summer math camps or their hometowns or whatever other cool thing they did together. Even students seemed divided by their living group or club.

  • It’s important to keep in mind that while some anxious prefrosh have a “need to find a best friend/roommate/friend group now or bust” mentality, I don’t think that’s the case at all. Yes, I have great friends that I met at CPW or near the beginning of freshman year, but I also have many close friends that I met later in my MIT journey. And many of the people I met during CPW I have not seen or talked to since, which is sad but also ok. Given only limited time, deep, meaningful friendships with everyone you meet are impossible.
  • Also, students really try to represent and hang out with clubs, teams, and other organizations/groups during this time, but outside of this weekend, it’s not really the case. Sure, clubs and groups facilitate close friendships but they aren’t the only people that students spend time with. Students just really wanted you to join their ____ club.

Issue #3: With over 500 events in a single weekend, the possibilities were endless, and I remember feeling a combination of overwhelmed and FOMO. There was an instinct to do all of the cool things because if I have any skill, it’s definitely overloading myself.

  • MIT is trying to show off everything under the dome (and believe me, there is a firehose-crazy amount of stuff under there) in one weekend, and it just barely scratches the surface. By trying to give prefrosh the option of doing almost anything their hearts desire, it results in some serious choice overload. While there is so much you could do, you have four years to discover it. A good way to maybe think about it is CPW is a taste of what’s in store for you at the institute (out of many other tastes that you might get from asking current students about their experiences, this blog, or other sources), but it’s not necessarily the be-all-end-all of whether or not you would like it here.

Concern #4: Along those lines, I walked a fine line that weekend between not sleeping and feeling bad about sleeping. It seemed to me everyone stayed up late into the night and morning to do things.

  • If I’ve learned anything about my time here, it is that I regularly need around 8 hours to feel functional and not take micronaps (or macronaps) in lecture. I also often sleep 10-12 hours on the weekend to catch up, and my roommate makes fun of me for never being up before she’s done like half a pset and watched an episode of TV. Maybe I’m the anomaly rather than the norm, but I know that I’m not much fun if I’m sleep deprived. It’s awesome to stay up and have those 4 am bonding moments, but it’s also equally great and ok to crawl into bed at 10 pm with a book if that’s what you need.

Vexation #5: At one point on the Friday of my CPW, I attended a small nuclear engineering class, as it was the only class happening at the time. I didn’t have any knowledge and therefore interest in the topic so it felt like listening to a lecture in a different language for 30 whole minutes.

  • I have nothing against the nuclear engineering department, but it’s just not something I would like to major in, so in retrospect, it probably wasn’t the best class to shadow. Some classes are definitely more lively than others, but sometimes the information is just best delivered in lecture style. I don’t think it’s possible to love every single class you take at MIT, but for the most part, I have positive learning experiences from them.

Thought #6: Miscellaneously, the people that I hung out with all ended up at Harvard, so they probably weren’t a very positive influence because they were so sold on the school down the road already. Also, that weekend also played host to a rain storm, and the 29ºF and rain casted the whole weekend in literal gloom. As a result, a lot of cool events kept getting rained out (darn broken CPW weather machine).

  • Being from California, where it was definitely well into spring, I did not realize how much weather affects my mood. I’m not a huge winter person, so I just try to stay cozy during the winter and make sure to get outside during the nice days. There are some upsides too, like well-placed snow days, making snowmen, and living in a place that shovels snow for you.

I’ve learned to love the ups and downs of this journey, just as you do in marriage, for better or worse and in sickness and health (allow me a cheesy simile, I just got my brass rat, and I’m officially “married” to MIT now). Sometimes there are depressing lows, and it takes everything in me to keep going, and sometimes that’s still not enough, but there are also some really incredible highs, like the friends that you meet on accident through an FPOP or a random rooming assignment that are so genuine and industrious, and you know they are just going to kill it in life no matter what they do. It’s moments psetting until 2 am, cooking dinner and chilling out, and ballroom dancing down the infinite that make this place so awesome, not necessarily what happened at CPW. Plus throw in some really awesome classes, professors, labs, and international opportunities, and you have everything that convinced me to put a ring on it.