One. It was a lie that made me choose MIT. I was told, and I believed it, that MIT isn’t that academically intense; that it’s only as hard as you want it to be. That most people don’t actually take six classes a semester, that MIT had parties like any other college, and that MIT wasn’t that bad.
That was one of my last reservations about committing to MIT over somewhere else. When people assured me that I wouldn’t be spending all my time working on classes, I believed it.
Two. On registration day of junior fall, I lied to my advisor for the first time. He looked at my registration, saw that I had six classes listed, and said “I know you’ve handled this many classes in the past, so I’m going to approve this, but you’re shopping classes, right?”
“Yes,” I replied. “I’m going to drop a class, don’t worry.”
I did not. I took six classes, and I dropped none of them.
The next semester, this semester, I learned to hedge. I said I would probably drop a class. I did that yesterday. I dropped a class to listener; I am auditing the class now.
Three. Now, it’s not true that I spend all my time on classes. It’s not even true that I spend most my time on classes. And it is true that most people don’t take six classes a semester, and it is true that MIT has parties. None of these are really lies.
When I find MIT academically intense, in some ways, it feels like it’s a decision I made. I chose to take lots of classes, chose to do difficult homework, chose to not go to parties. In these ways, “MIT is only as hard as you want it to be” was true.
In other ways, it feels like something forced onto me. That I happened to be friends with people who took lots of classes, that I happened to not enjoy going to parties, that I happened to find things to study that I enjoyed so much. In these ways, MIT isn’t hard because I chose for it to be hard, it just is hard.
Is MIT hard because I want to be, or is it just hard?
Both are true, and because of that, both are false.
Four. If a person says something false, without meaning to mislead the person listening, I wouldn’t call that a lie.
If a person says something they believe to be true, even if it is actually false, I wouldn’t call that a lie.
These would more accurately be called falsehoods. If in this post I wrote “falsehood” instead of “lie” every time I actually meant “falsehood”, I think this post would be more accurate, but I also think it would dilute the point. Is it lying, then, to call these lies?
Five. In What getting an education from MIT is like, some people had this to say about their experiences in MIT:
[Getting an education from MIT is like] eating the best pizza in the world but then realizing that there’s lots of food just as good as pizza and you sometimes have trouble talking to people about the steak they just had because you barely remember what that’s like and also if you eat too much pizza you’ll eventually probably feel weird and maybe be a little sad. and then someone asks what you want to eat and you say pizza.
[Getting an education from MIT is like] shooting yourself in the foot and complaining loudly to everybody how much it hurts but also telling everybody how much you LOVE shooting yourself in the foot.
[Getting an education from MIT is like] stockholm syndrome; it’s definitely bad for you but you love it anyway.
—Adira B. ’21
This is the duality of IHTFP, which at once means I Hate This Fucking Place and I Have Truly Found Paradise. At once, MIT is a place that is hated and loved, and this is part of what makes it hard to talk about.
If I tell you that I love MIT, I wouldn’t call this a lie, even if it may be false. I don’t want to mislead you into thinking that MIT isn’t hard. I’ve seen the Institute hurt people. I’ve seen the Institute hurt me. The Admissions blogs have a whole category for blog posts discussing the challenges MIT brings.
And if I tell you that I love MIT, it’s only because I believe it to be true. If it’s a lie, then it’s a lie I tell myself so I can keep going. If it’s a lie, it’s not because I’m trying to mislead you; it’s because I’m trying to mislead myself.
Six. The Cab has a song called “These Are The Lies”. In its verses, the singer talks about how they’re moving on from a breakup: “I don’t love you, I don’t need you / I don’t ever want to see you again”. It’s like this for a solid minute, until the chorus, which goes “These are the lies that I tell myself at night / These are the lies that are keeping me alive”.
When I’m working on a problem set that’s much too difficult, I tell myself: I’m having fun. I enjoy working on problem sets. I like writing proofs, or programming, or giving presentations.
When I’m thinking about all the classes I’m taking, choosing which one to drop, I tell myself: I’m not overworked. I’m enjoying all my classes. I don’t want to drop any of them.
When I’m worrying about how I’ll do in industry, and about my life after college, I tell myself: I’m a competent person, hired for a reason. I’m learning things in my classes that’ll be useful. I’ll graduate from MIT, and I’ll do something good with my life.
When I’m lying awake, alone, at night, I tell myself: I’m comfortable being alone, right now. MIT is home, I am home, and I am happy to call MIT my home. I feel like a welcome member of the MIT community.
When I hate this fucking place, I tell myself: I have truly found paradise.
Seven. While training to be an MIT Admissions tour guide, we were told to tell the truth. When asked “What’s something you don’t like about MIT?”, we had the option to answer diplomatically with “Oh, the weather sucks”, or “It’s far away from home.” Although these are true, with no room for doubt, they could be misleading. Some would call these lies by omission.
Yet I tell bigger lies during a tour, like “I feel that I’m a welcome member of the MIT community” or “I’m happy to call MIT my home.” These are true, but only partly so. They’re half-truths. They don’t include the “but”s and the “except”s.
I feel that I’m a welcome member of the MIT community, but sometimes I feel like I’m stuck in places where I don’t belong. I’m happy to call MIT my home, except sometimes I doubt whether it actually is home. I’ve written entire posts to explore my feelings about these, and yet I’m still lying by omission, as I’m not explaining every single detail about what I actually feel.
To speak the truth, the whole truth, would be long and complicated. An MIT tour is only an hour. You cannot tell the truth about everything MIT-related in an hour. You cannot fit it in a day, or a weekend. You cannot fit it in a blog post, or a book. The full truth is nuanced, and often, unknown.
We give tours and write blog posts, knowing that we can never fit the full truth in, hoping that what we say is good enough. Good enough to give you, the listener, the reader, an idea of what it’s like to be in MIT. Good enough to give you, the prospective student, an informed decision about where to apply, or where to go to college.
I’m lying, but by these standards, everyone else is too.