Human After All by Emad T. '14
Unlike customer service nowadays, MIT (and its admissions office) is 100% human. Give or take a few beavers.
If you had a rabid enough interest in MIT and resided in the Chesapeake area, you were given a bit of a treat on Monday night. Several people affiliated with MIT put on a live webcast from 77 Massachusetts Avenue, including this guy, who took to answering tons of probing questions.
I know, I know, you’re probably going crazy right now – real live people! From MIT! Talking to other people! With cameras! And chat rooms! It’s almost like we’re not crippled by our social awkwardness!
I may be being a little bold with this whole idea, but there’s a whole lot of our reputation that gets thrown around about people affiliated with MIT. Most of it is flattering, sure – though depending on who you are, that Sheldon Cooper-esque level of social awkwardness isn’t – but even some of that praise verges on being hyperbole. So let me clear up a few misconceptions. And a totally exaggerated position, just to start.
Regarding the myth that, as soon as some student sets foot here, he or she can suddenly manipulate atoms and stuff to make things explode using only sheer power of will, I need to set the record straight: that hasn’t happened. And it wasn’t a requirement to get here in the first place.
But what about those other qualities that aren’t that mythical? What about the other measurable criteria that supposedly raise one’s chances of admission, those benchmarks of so-called genius, of academic demigod-ness?
What about SAT scores? AP/IB scores? Grades? Class rank? Number of baskets woven underwater? Extracurriculars? Sports? Number of non-profit organizations founded and established? Types of classes taken? And the 6.02 x 10^23 papers that had to have been published for any prospective student to stand even a ghost of a chance of getting in? Dear God, that’s even Avogadro’s number! What if that final published papers count isn’t Avogadro’s number? Will it mean some applicant isn’t geeky enough?!
I mean, with a place like this, there’s got to be some cutoff, right?!
Okay. Inhale. Exhale. Let me lay down some true facts here.
People at MIT may make a lot of robots here, and there may be a bunch of people into electrical engineering and computer science, but that doesn’t spill over into admissions; there’s a patently human process behind selecting a freshman class.
Getting into college isn’t just an optimization problem, where you as an applicant maximize your chances of success by adhering to a set of guidelines as a passionless means to an end – nor is it, for that matter, a question of finding how low the bar is set and simply limping over it to gain admission. The biggest implication this has: there isn’t really such thing as a “cutoff score,” as the webcast hosts for Chesapeake said last night.
That’s why people look at everything. Which brings me back to, you know, that human element. It’s something that I see even in the very walls of MIT.
I know more people here who wrestle a bit with p-sets and seek help than people who soak up knowledge like a sponge and know the answers to everything. I’ve met musicians, dancers, screenwriters, community service activists, student advocates, athletes, and even Facebook stalkers in the student body; all of these people had multidimensional personalities that transcended just academics.
I know that one of my TAs gets a kick out of seeing me mix QED with some excited exclamations. I know that my physics professor has an unhealthy obsession with pizza, and that my math professor is quite skilled at drawing goats and triangles with ears.
And of the people who go to MIT right now, I know I’m in the same boat, because I didn’t become a super-genius overnight, let alone at all. In honor of my 19th birthday (today!), I’ve been holding a p-set party for myself that’s lasted about 3 to 4 days. Sounds like fun, right?
But yeah, at the moment, I’ve been the only one invited to this very exclusive party. It’s interrupted by classes and a few study breaks, but other than that, it’s been a lot of me slogging through assignments, not getting every question that comes my way, and making a note of things that I’d have to discuss with other people – which I then do. Often. In everything from physics to philosophical issues in brain science – it’s all getting done, in short but furious bursts of work.
If you took academic measurements of each person involved with MIT, you’d probably see a bunch of intelligent people. But what about the quirks? No formula, no algorithm is sensitive to that.
No formulas could predict what motivates you, what constitutes your passions. No formula could say with 100% certainty what you’d do in the face of serious academic challenges, which you’ll most likely encounter over here. Heck, through just a few snapshots of the students and people here, you’d find way more than statistics.
I know senior year, laden down and unduly burdened by the college applications process, is just one red-hot pressure cooker made worse by one’s anxieties and pressure from others. But before you let it get to you, remember: you’re just human, and though it seems like every other alumni from here isn’t, so are the people here – including the admissions staff. People who go here just happen to be dedicated and driven, but if you’re very interested in MIT, odds are that applies to you, too.
So the best thing you can do is breathe deeply and concentrate on your passions. Let your inner genius and passion shine through in this process; let the curious, childlike persona that you keep inside – the one who explores what motivates you, the one who sees nothing but opportunity – take control.
(Just don’t let said persona write any letters backwards on your essays.)
And above all, good luck!