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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

Schools of dreams by Matt McGann '00

As you know, I’ve been traveling frequently these days, and the trips have given me a good opportunity to catch up on some work-related reading. Recently books include Count Down (about the International Math Olympiad) and School of Dreams (a case study of Whitney High School in Los Angeles), which I’m currently reading. So, I sit here on Amtrak with the book, and I come to a section about a student coming in for a mock college interview with her guidance counselor. Her parents and peers, often without knowing it, put tremendous pressure on her, making her not feel like the great student and person she is.

It occurred to me that we admissions officers sometimes have the same effect. We received ~10,500 applications last year, and could only admit ~1600 students. But most of the students to whom we were unable to offer admission were also really great students and people. Often students or parents of students who were not admitted will call to ask what was wrong, and usually the answer would be that there was nothing wrong, that the applicant was a wonderful person, and it just came down to the fact that we don’t have room for every excellent student who applies. The inability to offer admission can leave you thinking that because MIT or the Ivy League or wherever did not offer you admission, that you are not a good person. But that’s just not the case.

I think part of this attitude is because of one phenomenon, which the author of School of Dreams, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Edward Humes, chronicled during his time at the high school:

"Everyone wants to go to the same few colleges," Luke complains... "Many kids are unaware of the other choices for college, though. We need to hear more about them. And parents need to be open to the, too. A lot of times, they aren't." Behind him, several parents are shaking their heads and making Luke's point for him... If the name of the school doesn't carry a certain weight of familiarity and reputation, it is often discounted.

So, at the end of each of my entries between now and the end of the early action process, I plan to highlight another school, one that isn’t MIT, nor belonging to the Ivy League, nor having the name “Caltech” or “Stanford,” and highlight it. Here goes the first one:

Not the same few colleges: The State University of New York at Stony Brook on Long Island, NY. I chose this to be the first school I’d write about because I refused to apply to it, despite it being the nearest major research university to where I grew up, for some of the same narrow-minded reasons that Luke talked about in the passage above. But last month, I got to visit for the first time since high school, and my opinion of it has drastically changed. I saw physics labs where undergraduates where heavily involved in research. The student body had tremendous diversity. Walking around central campus, I could feel a buzz that I hadn’t expected. It’s a place I’d be proud to send my son or daughter.

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