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MIT student blogger Melis A. '08

Spreading yourself too thin by Melis A. '08

At MIT, the saying goes that you can work, sleep, or play, but you have to pick two.

The beginning of a new term is always accompanied by a mix of anxiety and excitement. New classes, professors, deadlines, and activities…it can get pretty overwhelming. I’ve found myself having less and less free time because I’ve become involved in a lot of activities that are a huge commitment, but ultimately bring me a lot of joy or pride. So the question becomes, when are you involved with too many activities? At what point do you begin to spread yourself too thin?

As a prospective MIT student, you have probably realized that there is an “Activities” portion to the MIT application and consequently, you may become involved with different extracurricular activities in an effort to fill this section. NOTE: the application only has space for 5 activities! This is not a coincidence… I’ve known so many people (and I, too, was once guilty of this crime) who went to one or two meetings of a club and declared themselves to be members. Guess what? Going to two meetings of the National Honors Society or the Physics Club doesn’t impress MIT at all. They want to see commitment, dedication, and passion. So, choose your activities wisely and try to maintain some sort of leadership position. (Another note: Medical schools have space for up to 15 activities. I get really miffed when I tell an admissions officer about all the stuff that I do, and then they proceed to ask me if I play a varsity sport. *sigh* Sometimes they expect you to have it all…and these expectations can drive you insane!)

The same principle applies in college. But, I’ve found it much more difficult to limit the number of activities I’m involved with. There’s just so much stuff that sounds so cool; I just can’t turn down a good opportunity to learn (and have fun!) So, recently I’ve felt like I’ve been approaching the point where I’ve had to make some sacrifices. This has meant making tough decisions and deciding what’s *really* important to me. For example, I was invited to join the national engineering honors society, Tau Beta Pi, and the mechanical engineering honors society, Pi Tau Sigma. But, I did not end up joining either society because they had meetings and mandatory activities that conflicted with my other commitments. Did it feel bad to have to turn down these great opportunities? Yes. Ultimately, did I make a mistake? Um, maybe, we’ll see (my secret hope is that they’ll invite me to join again in my Senior year…)

This brings me back to the old adage: At MIT, you have to pick two: work, sleep, or a social life. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it is true to a certain degree. Life is full of opportunity costs, especially at a place as intense and stimulating at MIT. I try to strike some sort of balance between the three areas and I’m lucky that I have friends and employers who make it easier. But, if you want to work, sleep, and have a social life, you definitely have to be organized, and that’s something you’ll learn very quickly.

One final comment… sometimes I feel like MIT is an all-you-can-eat dessert buffet. In my freshman and sophomore years of college, I would go to these buffets (true story! Ask anyone who has been to a ZBT soiree with me) and try to eat a whole piece of cheesecake, flan, and German chocolate cake, along with the cream puffs, truffles, and chocolate-covered strawberries. While delightful at the time, I would just end up with the worst stomach ache known to man. I am slowly (but surely) learning that maybe if I get a bite of cake from my neighbors, and focus on only the fruit tart and molten chocolate lava cake, then I can avoid the stomach ache and actually enjoy what I’ve eaten. Maybe the same thing applies to the rest of life…or, maybe stuffing my face with the best desserts in town for one night is worth the couple hours of stomach cramps that can be cured with a couple of antacids =)?

28 responses to “Spreading yourself too thin”

  1. Lyddie says:

    I’m a High School freshman, and already I’m beginning to have that problem. It’s nice to know that it won’t be anywhere near gone in college. :D
    But I think I’ll stick with stuffing my face. wink

  2. Abass C. says:

    Sounds like my senior year, No more football but Track season is about to start(Love running), plus job and all the homework teachers try to bury me under. I wont be home from 7:00am – 10:00pm will be spent out working/practice then home and try to do hw, bed around 2:00am. But i have decided Who needs 8 hours of sleep anyway, 4 work out just fine?

  3. milena says:

    Sounds like me too… I have a million things to do and I was beginning to think I was spreading myself too thin after my dad pointed it out to me… I’m not busy with school stuff, but I have tons of extracurricular stuff to do, competitions and stuff, and sometimes I worry that I won’t be able to do everything amazingly because I don’t have the time…. So I guess I had to choose work and sleep, because I need to get everything done, and I haven’t gone out for the past three weeks. It sucks. :( But it’s all over in april :D when the last competition is over, yay!

    I think you made a good choice, Melis. Probably if you had accepted those invitations you wouldn’t have enough time for other stuff.

    About the dessert thing? Usually I’ll try to just focus on mine and take a little bite out of others’ plates, but stuffing my face every once in a while sure feels good.

  4. Alyssa says:

    I am an avid band member at my high school, and I choose to spend the majority of my extracurricular time playing my instrument and involving myself in as many band activities as possible. I don’t regret my decision, but I have friends that are constantly pressuring me to join other activities. One of my friends has told me I need to join at least another few academic activities to have a chance at some colleges. As much as I’d love to be involved in everything, it’s just too much!

  5. Elizabeth says:

    This is the story of my life. I play three instruments, two sports, and pretty much love everything I do, including my many AP classes. Pretty much what most MIT applicants find. Today I had a piano lesson, then right afterward a harp lesson. My piano teacher is quite difficult and demanding, but she was really on me today, giving subtle to not-so-subtle comments, such as “did anyone ever tell you you try to do to many things?” about how I should drop everything and devote my life to piano. I already practice an hour a day, plus about an hour of theory a week on top of that. I also practice on my lesson day. But at the end of my lesson she said “Isn’t it a problem that you have harp right after piano? I mean, it means you can’t go and practice an hour as soon as the piano lesson is done” and she was dead serious. She often tells me that I have to get 9-10 hours of sleep a night if I want to succeed at piano. What kind of a world does she live in? She clearly has not been a high school senior in a very long time. She also wanted me to just kind of skip lacrosse. As if it was perfectly ok to just decide not to go to lacrosse practice, or in the fall volleyball games, so that I can have a lesson rescheduled because she had to change it. It’s so funny how some people are just totally not clued in to what our lives are like. So yeah, I’m really not complaining, I’m very amused by this, just completely bewildered. 10 hours of sleep a night? I’m not HOME for 10 hours a night during a sports season. And then when I get home I have to do homework!

  6. Elizabeth says:

    oh, I totally didn’t mean that what I wrote was the story of my life. I meant that what Melis wrote was the story of my life. just to clarify!

  7. Mitra says:

    Melis, I agree with most of your entry, but the chocolate-covered strawberries are hands-down the best item in the dessert buffet. Duh.

  8. Josh V says:

    I know what you mean! Freshman year, I committed myself to the XC, swim, and Track teams, and I have participated in those sports year round every year since then (shot put is coming up soon. i’m so excited). However, last year, I got to know many of the students involved in the drama program at our school, and I took drama to fill my arts requirement. I learned that acting is actually really really fun. The rush of being in front of an audience is amazing. Unfortunately, since I’ve committed myself to three sports which I love, I was not able to audition for any play during high school. =(

    On the one hand, I feel good that I stuck to the same sports for 4 years, but i also do feel like an opportunity was lost to explore another interest.

  9. Solomon says:

    In my school extracurriculars were not encouraged much but studying sure was. All my teachers were surely like Elizabeth’s piano teacher. They wished you would study their subjects only and piled you with a years home work to be completed in a night.Boy, It was stressful.
    If I get into MIT, it would all have been worth the trouble wouldn’t it.

  10. I agree Solomon, the teachers of my school only focus on a syllabus, which you are supposed to finish in a given amount of time. If you pay attention to extracurriculars, they would either yell, or laugh at you. Only guys maintaining their specified amount of study, not a line more or less, polishing their recalling skills, by practicing writing the specified lessons, even during 0000 hours and getting good scores are considered smartest.

    Even if you ask anything outta the syllabus, they would yell “DON’T ASK STUPID QUESTIONS” .

    Sometimes they are engaged in some kind of work, which they call extracurricular : perhaps holding a meeting on global warming, or global water crisis and back home again just forget those, and again dip deep in the given syllabus.

    Liza please don’t call me wandering, it doesn’t convey the sense I use it. Either call wandering albatross, or albatross.

  11. Hopeful says:

    My case is exactly like the madman above. I guess that’s the case in most of the Asian countries or underdeveloped countries. You gotta lift yourself up through your academic knowledge, anything else is not worth the time.

  12. Susan Virgem says:

    Well, I am from Brazil, and here the educational system is way different from the American one or from countries with english educational system. Here, unfortunately, extracurricular activities are not prized.
    educators think that scicence projects and homework are already extracurriculars activities. some time ago, they would laugh at me if i said that sports and other things are as important as studying.
    holpefully things are changing. After students’ complain our school started to stimulate talents shows like singing, dancing, playing an instrument… and also sports competitions.
    I agree with Meliss that the key to do the activities we want is organization and balance. but study comes first.

  13. Because you have specifically asked Liza not to call you ‘Wandering’
    I will call you ‘Wandering’.
    Don’t you dare retort back at your role model.

  14. Perfect, but “Solomon”, don’t call me Wandering….

    Tintin may call me Wandering, But 2 things worth noting:
    1. Tintin is smart enough not to call me Wandering,
    2. Tintin doesn’t use an alias

  15. Hopeful amigo, I am from India, where are you from?

  16. Katherine says:

    Who does not have this probem? I spend ten hours at school some days with extracirriculars. Then it is home to eat, work and sleep. Even then I am not part of several clubs I really want to join. It’s not just clubs though- there are a lot of fun classes and one cannot take all of them. (I had to choose between physics and orchestra this year:( ) Eventually you just have to pick activities you cannot live without and let the rest go. Then you have to deal with peers who choose differently. Did I summarize everything yet?
    Now back to looking for the definition of a ‘social life’…

  17. Kiran says:

    Wait, wandering madman person (yeah, i really had to do that. only because you said not to), are you in cbse? That sounds exactly like it. I’ve got my board exams next month, and all the teachers talk about is how you should drop everything and memorize/regurgigate the ncert books.
    One thing you’ve got to understand, crazy bird guy, is that you don’t have to. Take up something else on the side, be it swimming, or tennis, or even some science project. Forget the boards, they aren’t really that important. Start a club.
    In Tamil Nadu (yes, the uber-conservative south), I’ve tried to start a prom, a student government, a newspaper, and a yearbook. Even though the yearbook is the only thing that made it off the ground, i’m telling you, it’s definitely worth the effort.
    Stop complaining that there’s no emphasis on ec’s. Get out there and MAKE an emphasis. You’ll be able to get atleast someone to agree with you, and have fun in the process.
    (Darn, my english has deteriorated. I miss the good old Bay Area, if only for the climate…)

  18. Kiran says:

    Ok, now I feel dumb. Bird-man has started something. And isn’t it worth it?
    Hey, no offense meant about your nickname-thingy. I’m just doing it because I enjoy being obnoxious. Nothing personal. :D

  19. Hi Melis please — no censoring….keep a free cyberspace…. or does the censoring apply to me only??

    If yes why?

    I am positively a supporter of free cyberspace. Support Us… the free cyberspace activists .

  20. Melis says:

    To The madman who makes people fly: I don’t know what censoring you are referring to. I haven’t censored anything. I leave the comments uncensored, as long as they are relevant and appropriate!

    Thank you all for sharing your own experiences. It is definitely enlightening to hear the vast array of extracurricular activities that you are all involved with (or conversely, the lack of opportunities, for some of you.)

  21. Melis Che Muches Gracias para responder tan pronto….. er.. I mean thank you for responding so soon. I posted a reply for kiran, and it said thank you for responding, awaiting owners approval etc….

    Anyway thank you very much.

  22. Hi kiran I am from West Bengal, and what I said is not complaining, just fact’s for perspective visitors to WB ….You are a real cool guy/gal, (Kiran is yielding both sense to me) May I have your URL please?

    And I have a friend in Pandichery, name is V Anbarasan. Where are you from in tamilnadu?

  23. Hi I discovered it. it’s holding when I am going to post 4 urls

    It says

    MIT Admissions
    Thank you for commenting.

    Your comment has been received and held for approval by the blog owner.

  24. Kiran says:

    Hey, I’m not really about to disclose a whole bunch of random facts about my life on the web. I’m from Tamil Nadu, I have a pretty cool name that can go either way, and I used to live somewhere in the Bay Area. That’s about how far I go.

    Yeah, I have less opportunities in India than in Cali, but there’s still enough to stuff my face.

    Who says you can’t do it all? Work, sleep, AND have a social life? Is it really THAT hectic at MIT, compared to, say, UC Berkeley?

  25. Q says:

    Speaking of medical school (grad school in general), is it similar to applying as a freshman undergrad? You say the app had space for 15 extracurriculars; so that means that even graduate schools expect students to continue the ever elusive search for well-roundedness? I had hoped of an undergrad experience that didn’t make me feel obliged to do extracurriculars JUST TO BE ACCEPTED to an institution… o_0

  26. Melis says:

    Hi Q,

    Yes, the medical school application is similar to the college application. For example, there are 2 steps in the application process. The first one is similar to the “Common App,” which has one general essay (+2 more if you want to do MD/PhD). Schools who think you’re qualified will send you a secondary application (which has more detailed, school-specific essays.) After that, they can choose to invite you to an interview. Then, they make their decision!

  27. John says:

    Being organized is really the key to balancing a whole fruit basket of activities. It’s the same anywhere, as many people of high school age can testify to, and it’s even worse after college.

    I used to have piles of papers to sort through until this year. Then I started getting bills, tax forms and medical documents this year, and I needed to file it all, so I started getting files and folders. I also write stuff down on my calendar now, not because I love my calendar, but because I have to keep everything in mind. I never thought I’d evolve into an organized person, but here I am! (My apartment is still somewhat messy, but that’s a different story…)