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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

Summer days, driftin’ away by Matt McGann '00

A parent posted a great comment on my last entry, with too much to talk about for one entry (especially since I have a hockey game to play in quite soon), but I’ll do what I can for now and try to cover other issues in the future. The parent wrote:

Why is it so important to have gone to a camp like RSI for admission purposes – other than for its own sake as a summer camp that one might go to for fun and learning? Does the MIT admissions process look at this as a factor? Why?

It seems to me that more and more kids – no matter how talented and intelligent they might be, are spending more and more of their precious childhood/teenage/youngadulthood years preparing for getting into a competitive Ivy League college.

Let me begin, in the interest of honesty and full disclosure, by telling you the two reasons I wrote my last entry. The first is, to be quite truthful, that I work at MIT, and the deadlines for our summer programs are fast approaching. MIT would like talented students to apply to these programs.

The second reason, though, is personal. The summer program I went to changed my life. It wasn’t any of the fancy (really cool) summer programs I blogged about. It was the Johns Hopkins University Pre-College Summer Program, basically a program where you pay a lot of money to live on a college campus with other motivated high school students and take classes. The program probably cost more than should have made it reasonable for my family & I (especially when you consider the opportunity costs of my not working while I was away), but I really wanted to go, and this was the only program I had heard of (remember, the Internet was in its infancy at the time). And, like I said, I had never lived away from home before and had spent very little time in big cities like Baltimore. So I begged local organizations for some scholarship help and off I went.

For the first time, I was in the company of a great number of real academic peers who were excited about learning. My three suitemates were the kinds of people I had never met before: an atheist raised Jewish (Jason), a guy from Japan (Satoshi), and an Indian-American (Ravi). I remember being confused about Ravi being Indian, as I had only encountered Native Americans (“Indians”) to that point. Who would have thought that many years later I’d be anxiously awaiting the release of, or even having heard of, Swades (but I digress…). I met Mormons, and African Americans, and Wally. I took my first sociology class, which opened my mind beyond the issues of my rather provincial hometown (which I still love). I took Calculus and realized that it is not the end but rather the beginning of mathematics.

I have mentioned before that I graduated from my high school one year early, having exhausted my high school and community’s academic opprtunities. My original plan was to begin attending a local college after that. But after coming back from the summer program (between my second and third years of high school), I was inspired to instead join a university community that had all the wonderful things I experienced at the summer program. I needed more. Eventually, this lead me to MIT.

In all these ways, that summer program opened my mind and changed my life. And my hope is that for those who could benefit from such an experience learn about them and take a shot at it. Who knows, it might just change more lives. I ended my last post with a request for folks to encourage some juniors to consider a summer program. I honestly hope that some of you went into school today and, playing the role of mentor, actually encouraged a friend to consider it.

I do not recommend these summer programs as a thing to do “to look good on a college application.” This should be for personal development. We do not expect that students do these programs. Like I said in my earlier entry, a summer of working and spending time with friends & family is a great option, one I chose for the majority of my summers in high school. Reading, doing sports, rebuilding a car, traveling to Europe or Quebec or New York, or whatever else are great ways to spend your summers. Again, I just hope you’ll take advantage of the large block of free time to do something meaningful for yourself. As Random Rickoid said in the comments, “Summer was the one time in high school where I actually got to fully dictate my life.”

There were lots of other issues raised that I’d like to talk about, but I have to get ready for MIT Alumni (“Old Skool Hockey”) vs. Aero/Astro (“Flying Squirrels”) at MIT’s Johnson Ice Rink. I hope to continue talking about the other points raised by this parent, as well as many other questions, in the near future.

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