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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

The Undecideds and the Order of the Phoenix by Matt McGann '00

Answering the important questions of those still making their decision.

The fifth in a series… With less than a week until the May 1st postmark deadline for your college decision, I figure now is as good a time as any to the students who are still undecided: How can we help you make your decision? What more would you like to know about MIT? What are your lingering concerns? Etc.

Anonymous asked, “How do I go about requesting an extension for May 1? I have not received my financial aid information yet and I wanted to know before I decided.”

Anon, and everyone else in this situation, MIT Admissions is willing to give an extension on the May 1 deadline for financial aid-related reasons. If you would like an extension, you can either email our office at admissions at mit dot edu or call us during business hours at (617) 253-4791. We want to ensure that you make the best, most informed choice you can, especially when it comes to something as important as finances.

Caroline asked, “Can professors teach? Call me naive, but I didn’t even *think* about this at a top university, but when I visited Caltech, they said that about 80% of the profs can’t teach well!! They’re brilliant, of course, in research/academics… but… I like being taught for $45,000 a year. Is the situation the same at MIT?”

I was, on the whole, very happy with my teachers at MIT. (Also, for the record, I don’t believe that 80% of Caltech’s professors can’t teach.) Many of MIT’s teachers are truly excellent, some are good, and, yes, some are bad. The benefit of living in a mixed-year (not freshman) dorm is that there are lots of upperclassmen around to help advise you as to which classes and which professors are great, and which you might want to steer clear of. Also, there are online guides (available only to the MIT community) that evaluate MIT’s professors; for example, Eric Lander rated a 6.7 out of 7 for teaching 7.012: Introductory Biology, and Don Sadoway rated a 6.3 for 3.091 : Intro to Solid-State Chemistry. A quick perusal of the evaluations makes me think that the mean/median is in the mid-5s, with the great teachers getting in the 6s and the, well, worse teachers getting 4s and below. So, you want to only have great professors? Ask around, check the course evaluations, and you’ll do just fine.

Yesterday, Anonymous and Jwal asked about food, especially in regard to GMO, healthy/organic food, and gluten-free food. Yesterday afternoon I talked with Ward Ganger, operations Manager for the Office of Campus Dining.

He told me lots of good stuff, stuff that made even me happier about MIT dining. But first, we talked about the politics of GMO: the US, unlike the EU, has no regulations about GMO. This makes it extremely difficult for us to know what is GMO and what is not. He added that many college dining programs struggle with this.

MIT Dining does its best to seek out organic and other wholesomely-raised food in many instances, doing its best in this regulation-free environment. All fish that are served on campus are wild caught, not farm raised. In addition to regular milk (which, though there’s no way to be sure, probably is GMO), there’s organic milk offered, which is much more likely to be untampered with.

The best news is about the relationships between chefs and students, especially in the residential dining halls. Not only will dorm dining chefs tailor individual dishes to your needs, they are also quite open to suggestions for dishes and ingredients. Ward called this “standard” — meaning, it is routine for these great relationships between chef and student to spring up. And the residences also have a student committee to discuss dining issues and suggest improvements.

Ward says he’s happy to discuss dining issues further with anyone would would like; his phone number is (617) 253-2706.

Anonymous wrote, “Matt, you said that admitted students who send their complete forms accepting the offer will receive a reply. What about international students? Is this reply an e-mail, sent through snail mail or DHL?”

I’m told the Records Office puts an Air Mail stamp on the post card.

Anonymous had two questions: “1. I’m committed to studying over extra-curricular activities (personally I believe academics > all, and as long as there’s studying to be done I don’t let anything distract me). Is there then opportunity for endless study at MIT? Because I’ve always taken the hardest path in High School, doing the toughest courses and reading every required material (and sometimes a bit more), and I’m slightly worried if MIT’s academic work is limited only by myself, I may never keep this up.
2. It’s written in the CalTech website how students studying Biology find themselves doing questions which Physics majors do in other universities. Just how tough is MIT? If I score 800s in all my SAT IIs, will it be easy to acclimatize? Is it normal to require hours upon hours of work to understand a concept / finish an assignment?”

1. I do think that, to some extent, there is “opportunity for endless study at MIT,” and that “MIT’s work is only limited by yourself.” Ack! But, don’t fear. The biggest lesson of freshman year at MIT is time management in all senses of the phrase. The upperclassmen in your dorm will be of great help with this. People who come to MIT pretty quickly learn how to balance academics/research, fun, and, well, sleep. I am very confident that you, too, will learn this, and everything will be fine.

2. MIT is meant to be a challenging place. That’s why people come here — to see what they’re really capable of. I for one think college would be pretty boring if people weren’t really pushed academically. As for acclimatization, we only admit students who we honestly believe can not only get by here but also really thrive. Most everyone comes to MIT like you — a bit afraid of the work — but nearly everyone succeeds in their freshman year and goes on to graduate. You can do it. And how many hours does it take to do a problem set or understand a concept? It depends. Sometimes everything clicks, sometimes it takes much more time. But by working collaboratively with your peers, being very attentive in lecture and recitation, and seeking out help when you need it, you’ll be able to succeed and balance all that you hope to do.

Christine wrote, “Hi, I sent in my letter about two weeks ago but have yet to receive my return postcard. I’m getting kinda worried because May 1 is drawing near…should I call and ask Admissions whether they’ve gotten it?”

Hi Christine, I can’t check on it myself since I don’t know which of the several Christines you are, but you can absolutely feel free to call the Admissions Office to check on things.

Mergen ’10 wrote, “Hello! I sent my admission reply form to MIT about ten days ago by EMS (Express Mail Service). I am wondering if it reached MIT.”

Yes! You are officially a part of the Class of 2010.

Daniel P ’10 wrote, “Just wanted to verify that my response form was received.”

Yes! You, too, are officially a part of the Class of 2010.

Elliot wrote, “I have one week to decide between MIT and Stanford. This will be a very hard decision to make since I do not know everything about both schools. I was fortunate enough to visit MIT’s campus and meet its people. All I need to know from MIT is my financial aid award. Could you please look into this? As for Stanford, I unfortunately cannot visit their campus because my state math competition conflicted with their Admit Weekend and I will not have much luck arranging a trip this week. I am afraid of making a premature decision given that I learned much more about MIT than Stanford. As of now, MIT is my personal favorite for a seemingly unfair reason. Do you have any advice for someone who is deciding between a school that he/she has never visited (and cannot visit in the immediate future) and another school he/she got to know very well?”

Elliot, for financial aid, see the email I sent you. And as for Stanford, well, you’ve got two great choices, and probably can’t go wrong either way. To get to know Stanford better, I’d check out their student blogs (both the ones on the Admit site and maybe some on LiveJournal/Xanga); call the Admissions Office and ask them to have a student with similar interests to you contact you; and ask some of the alumni of your school who have chosen Stanford (and MIT) why they made the choice they did, and what their advice is for you. Good luck with your choice!

Serdar wrote, “I haven’t recieved my financial aid package yet. Can you e-mail it to me? Thank you.”

Yes! The Financial Aid Office is on the case.

akgirl asked, “Is it possible to post receipt of acceptances on individual myMIT sites? Financial aid does this and such notification would reduce the stress level given the inconsistencies of mail service in various parts of the world.”

You’re absolutely right. At your suggestion, we have asked to have this implemented next year. (We may even call it “The Official akgirl Enrollment Form Viewer” ;) )

Anonymous wrote, “Matt, seconding what akgirl said, could it be possible for international students to track the progress of theirs I-20. I know there is a similar option in the International Students Office Website but we have to make a formal request of revision and according to the ISO it may take up to two weeks to receive response. It would be nicer if we could just know. After all, we international are not complete sure if we will be able to attend until we have a visa seal on our passports, aren’t we?”

Anon, the visa process is handled completely by the International Students Office and not by Admissions. You should send any suggestions, ideas, or questions to them at iso-help at mit dot edu.

I also get the sense you are very worried about getting your visa. This is completely understandable, especially in the current political climate, but I assure you that our International Students Office is extremely good at what they do. In each of the past two years, the ISO tells me, there have been exactly 0 visa problems for our incoming freshmen. Every one of them got a visa and came to MIT and the US without a problem. So you can relax a little bit. I hope this is helpful!

Courtney wrote, “As someone who’s not firmly a science/math/tech/engineering/econ major (or, for that matter, not firmly anything at all), it’s been reassuring to hear the affirmation of the humanities programs at MIT. I’m deciding between MIT and Princeton right now, and I think a big factor in my decision will be about cross-registering at MIT. I don’t want to say that MIT’s English departments are subpar or anything, but there’s something to be said about liberal arts colleges’ courses. How easy/common/accepted is it to cross-register at Harvard? I hope this question doesn’t come off the wrong way; I’m mostly leaning towards MIT, but just want to ensure I get the full college exploration experience.”

As a MIT alum who cross registered at Harvard, I can tell you that it was extremely easy to cross register, and is very accepted on campus. The trickiest part of cross-registration is arranging your schedule, since 1) you have to allow time to get to the other school, and 2) the other schools have somewhat different schedules. Beyond that, the process is simple and great. While I love MIT with all my heart, I’m glad I took the opportunity to take a course at Harvard, and wish I had also made the time for myself to do one at Wellesley (or invent a time machine so I could have participated in the Cambridge-MIT exchange).

Evelyn wrote, “I have to ask! HOW ARE THE PARTIES AT MIT and WHAT IS THE SOCIAL SCENE LIKE?! I’m a party animal (if you will…) and I have to know. The thought of locking myself in my room for days on end doesn’t exactly appeal to me. I need to go out and have fun.”

Hi Evelyn, this is quite the common question. I’m going to have some folks help me out with this one — expect a phone call soon from an MIT student familiar with the social scene, and I’ve also pasted in a response from one of my favorite students, Monica ’08.

But first, my quick take: the social scene is varied. There’s everything from Friday night blowout parties to Friday night D&D. The structure of the MIT residence system and the MIT social scene is such that everyone from the introvert to the extrovert, the geek to the party animal, can really enjoy themselves here. Looking back at my freshman year, I didn’t have much interest in big parties, more of an interest in just hanging out with my friends, eating, playing games, doing intramural sports, watching X-Files or Buffy the Vampire Slayer… but yes, even I got to a toga party my freshman year =)

Monica ’08 adds, “You can always find a party at MIT — whether it be a few people in a dorm (or a huge dorm party), a group going out to a club in Boston, or hundreds of people in a fraternity. In fact, other “more social” colleges in Boston (BU, for example) are known to rely on MIT fraternity parties for their weekend fun. The parties themselves are quite diverse — from jello wrestling to 80’s parties to salsa/merengue to hip-hop to a battle of the bands… I can go on forever. The extent of MIT’s social scene is definitely a surprise to newcomers on campus — a very pleasant surprise :)”

I’ll answer more questions tomorrow from undecided students; I’m holding the remainder for the forthcoming Questions Omnibus. In the meantime, go enjoy Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone Day!

39 responses to “The Undecideds and the Order of the Phoenix”

  1. I imagine this would make for a rather dull book, but as always thanks for the answers, Matt!

  2. Sarah Dupuis says:

    Hi Matt,

    How soon do we receive our MIT e-mail addresses? Will this come in the Next Big Mailing? I just want to have an MIT facebook account so I can intimidate my friends from school.

  3. Just got a little MIT propaganda package in the mail (I’m a junior, so nothing to do with acceptance, yet) and lo and behold inside is the handsome mug of Matt McGann! You’ve successfully invaded both my Mac and my home. Time to don my tinfoil hat and keep you out of the one place that’s still safe!

  4. Crystal says:

    Hey Matt,

    I’ve pretty much decided on MIT already, but wanted to inquire a bit about the pre-law track. From what I learned at the pre-law panel during CPW, only 20 or so seniors decide to apply to law schools straight out of undergrad each year. Is it difficult to major in engineering while also taking enough HASS classes to prepare for the written/reading comprehension skills required for LSATs (or perhaps double major in a HASS subject)? Do MIT students generally succeed in top law schools? Thank you so much…I can’t wait to see everyone on campus again in August!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Matt, great title. Go Harry Potter!!!!

  6. Just another person chiming in on the financial aid thing. My application is complete, and a call to the finaid office last week said that they were reviewing it. Would it be possible to find out whether it’s in the mail or not / get an e-mail of my award? My parents are getting anxious.

  7. Dominic says:

    Hi just wondering if the materials for my financial aid package were recieved and if they were currently reviewing it.

  8. Dominic says:

    Just wondering if the financial aid office has recieved all of my materials needed for the package, and if they have started to review it.

  9. Tish says:

    Hey Matt-

    I posted a question a few days ago about the limited size of the bioengineering major. I think maybe you may have missed it! You’ve had such awesome answers to the other questions thus far so I’m really interested in hearing what you have to say. So…. From what I’ve read on your website bioengineering (the new course 20) was limited to 20 students for the class of 2009. Was it difficult to get into the program, because it seems like every other person I talked to at CPW was interested in this field. I just want to be sure that there will be room for me if I come!

    One more concern… while at CPW (which I loved!) I sort of detected this undercurrent of animosity between the typical MIT superbrains and the partiers/jocks (sorry for the cliches!). What is the relationship between these so-called groups? As someone who falls into the latter category I just want to be sure that I would feel comfortable on campus.

    With time running out I’m anxiously awaiting your answers! Sorry for the pressure!


  10. Fernando says:

    Same Fernando wanting to know about Financial Aid. I woudl like to know if it’s been mailed yet or if it was even possible to get an e-mail of it.

    I know I got an e-mail last week saying it was finally complete(after a Noncustodial thing), and that May 1st deadline is drawing nearer(an extension would be pointless as I must decline/accept this other scholarship for this local college by then as well).

    My mom is a little worried we wont be able to afford MIT and then somehow mis-out on this full-ride to this local university. I really want to goto MIT.

  11. Sulinya says:

    Two thumbs up for that title. That’s the best one yet grin

  12. Josh says:

    ahhhh. I just sealed my admission envelope today. MIT 2101 wOOt!

  13. Josh says:

    wait, I meant MIT 2010 wOOt!! Thanks for all your help Matt!!

  14. Stephanie says:

    I haven’t recieved my financial aid packet yet. Is it possible to have it e-mailed or snail mailed before I commit to mit? Thank you!

  15. Hi Matt, is the reply for MIT supposed to be postmarked by May 1st or recieved by May 1st? Like many other people listed, I am kinda of still waiting for my financial aid package to come in the mail. Thanks!!

  16. Stella says:

    I am not sure yet what I want to study. I know it will be something in sciences but I am also very interested in social sciences and humanities. Some people say that MIT people are black and white and that MIT is ideal only for people who are sure they want to study engineering, while other universities offer wider opportunities in studies.

    I am also very interested in dance, classical ballet and modern dance and I have been practising them for many years. I wonder whether there are classes offered on campus or if it is possible to take classes somewhere else.

  17. Hey. This is probably pointless but I e-mailled international admissions wondering if my acceptance had gotten to MIT yet, as international mail always seems a bit unreliable, and I ain’t heard anything back, and since I can’t afford to make too many international calls, thought I’d just ask on here if it had reached MIT. – Kel

  18. Melodie says:

    Hey Matt-

    I sent in my enrollment form a few weeks ago, and I haven’t gotten anything back yet, so I was wondering if you could check for me if you’ve gotten my stuff.


  19. Anonymous says:

    Dear Matt,

    I mailed my acceptance forms to MIT at the beginning of this week. I was discussing my decision with my GC he raised some serious concerns about finances at MIT. I think I’m quite unique as an international student cos I while others will be struggling to meet the $5500 self-help portion of their finaid, I’ll be struggling to meet the $5500 and the $1500 insurance, alongside an extra $1500 to cover my travel expenses as an int’l student. How realistic is this goal or will I have to take significant amount of loans? If the worst comes to the worst, can I rescind my… decision to enroll?

  20. thekeri says:

    As I say the same thing as everyone else…

    I sent in my admissions reply form two weeks ago, and nary a postcard has graced my mailbox. Anything you can tell me? Do I need to panic and wonder where it could possibly be?

    Also, once this has been received, when would I get an MIT e-mail address?

    *shuts up again*

  21. Ana P says:

    Hey! I was just wondering if you received my Admission Reply Form. I sent it a week ago via DHL (I am an international student), but I haven’t received any confirmation postcard yet. Thanks!

  22. Adam says:

    I’ve already accepted the admission, but I have a couple of questions.

    1.) Are there any entrance exams or placement exams required for placement into specific classes? Or do you just suppose that everyone is on a certain par?

    2.) When do we meet with our counselors to set up classes?

    Thanks Matt!

  23. Melodie says:

    Hey again,

    I know this is financial aid stuff, so I should be emailing the financial aid office, but I already emailed Mr. Barkowitz and he hasn’t emailed me back and I’m getting kind of nervous. Essentially, I’ve got both forms that came in the admissions packet filled out, except for this one part in the Outside Awards form that asks for a copy of any instructions from outside scholarship sponsors. I emailed the group that sponsors the scholarship that I won, and they’re sending me the stuff via normal mail, but I don’t know if I’ll receive it in time to make the May 1 deadline. So, I was wondering if it would be ok to send everything that I’ve got right now and then send that one part once I get the scholarship stuff.

    Thank you!!

  24. YeSeul says:

    So, I already sent in my confirmation but I was wondering…does MIT have a homecoming? I know MIT doesn’t have the best football/lacrosse/soccer… yeah so do they have a homecoming?

  25. Zach Rose says:

    same question as a lot of others… I havent received a postcard yet confirming delivery of my admit reply. (hopes to see a “’10” next to his name soon)

  26. Sean says:

    Hi Matt, I wanted to second the question by Tish regarding bioengineering. Although I’m likely going to go EECS at MIT, I’m considering bioengineering as an alternative (yay for bio!). Is space really only limited to 20 students for class of ’09?

  27. Caroline says:

    I’m sending in my acceptance tomorrow. smile

    <3 MIT!

  28. Dominic says:

    Now I see that my all the components necessary for packaging have been recieved, and I am just wondering how long it usually takes to review.

  29. Rosemarie says:

    Hey Matt. I sent in my financial materials very late, so i want to know around when to expect a package, and will I be given an extention, or will I need to decide prior to recieving it.

  30. Rosemarie says:

    Hey Matt. I sent in my financial materials very late, so I want to know around when to expect a package, and will I be given an extention, or will I need to decide prior to recieving it.

  31. Me says:

    I’ve decided that MIT is the place for me! Yey! The agonizing pain of choosing the best school for me is over. Like someone said, “You can’t go wrong with the schools you’re choosing from, but you can go really really right with MIT!” So I went the “right way” and will see you all in the fall.

    Call me a modernist, but is there anyway that can do the intent to enroll thing online, or do I have to do it the old fasioned way and send it through the good old USPS?

  32. Siddharth says:

    Hi Matt. I am an international student in my junior year. I had posted a question a few days ago, but seems like you didn’t notice it. Simply, I wanted to know whether MIT takes the highest SAT score or an average out of two or three SAT Reasoning Tests (obviously for students who have taken it twice or thrice).

    It would be great if you can answer it in one of your upcoming posts. Thanks wink

  33. gm says:

    For those who are waiting for the postcard. I sent in my acceptance card in late March and received my postcard on April 23 I believe. The postcard was postmarked on April 19.

  34. Steven Lynch says:

    Dear Mr. McGann,

    Right now my choices of schools to attend are MIT and Western Washington University. (There were a few other Universities that offered me admissions but had abysmal financial aid offers.) This may seem like a simple decision, but it has not been easy to reach a consensus as a family (personally, I am in favor of the former). My parents are concerned about the money. While MIT has been very helpful in the financial aid department, there is still a large sum remaining that our middle class family must come up with over the next four years. And I have a younger brother that will also be applying to top colleges like MIT in the next two years. My parents don’t want to be paying student loans for the next sixteen years (I’m still trying to convince them that I will repay them once I graduate and get a job).

    I understand that they want and are entitled to a life that a large financial debt could possibly delay or deny them of and the last thing I want to be is a burden.

    My parents want to be assured that I won’t “drown” in the MIT fire hose of knowledge…that I will have some semblance of a life and be able to do something other than study, study, study…like purse my passions in music and fitness. They want to be sure that I have a “well-rounded” education (she never envisioned me at a “tech school”) with access to quality humanities programs and that I won’t be lost in a school that has more graduates than undergraduates – that this doesn’t translate into fewer research opportunities for me.

    They are concerned that she won’t be able to see me more than once a year (airfare costs).

    There is worry that I won’t have any easier time getting a job graduating from MIT than a state school and that I my earnings may not be any higher attending MIT than if I enrolled at Western.

    With so many questions and concerns I don’t know what to think myself anymore…And I don’t know if I’m asking for help in the right place or not, but any guidance in this difficult decision-making process would be much appreciated. I apologize for the lengthy response; I hope some of what I wrote makes a little bit of sense.

    Thank you so much for all of your help.

  35. Brendan says:

    Matt, I’m currently finishing up my first year of college at a public university and I’m intending on applying for transfer this winter. How is the process and timing different for a transfer applicant? I’m referring more specifically to financial packages, acceptance notification, and reply deadlines. Thanks!

  36. Harvey says:

    Hi Steven,

    First of all, you were admitted, so you’re definitely capable of doing the work. During my years at MIT, I’ve never run into someone who wasn’t intellectually capable of handling the workload. I know a handful of people who have had to take time off, or take an extra term to graduate but invariably those cases come down to issues like adjustment, stress, and motivation, not that a person doesn’t “belong” at MIT.

    In terms of getting a good job out of college, MIT’s median salaries are very good, but it may be approaching the college question from the wrong angle. If you’re motivated and apply yourself at Western, you’ll be able to get a well-paying job in four years. On the flip side, if you attend MIT for financial reasons, you may end up disappointed… You’ll probably have to work much harder for that MIT degree than you would somewhere else.

    That being said, there are a lot of reasons to come to a place like MIT, and I think I made the right decision for me. MIT is a very challenging place. Being thrown in with so many smart people is an experience that will enable you to do and learn far more than you might being a big fish in a small pond. At MIT, the science and engineering culture is in the air, and I’ve definitely felt more at home here because of that. MIT treats you like an adult, and gives you a lot of responsibility. You can add and drop classes, switch majors, and choose where you want to live and eat. Whereas I hear stories of people hiding from their RAs at other schools, here our GRTs are people we trust and come to with problems. Being able to choose where you live really distinguishes MIT from other schools (Caltech has a similar system), as it encourages students with similar interests to group together. At East Campus, we’ve wired our bathrooms for sound, and built roller coasters in our courtyard. Alumni hang around their dorms for years afterwards because of the strong ties MIT’s housing system fosters.

    I think that the research opportunities for undergrads here are actually better because of the grad students. This being a research institution, there are interesting projects all over the place, and over 75% of my friends have had a UROP at some point.

    In my experience, I’ve been able to maintain a full courseload and go in-depth with one extracurricular. This has been the experience of several of my friends as well.

    My parents were worried about me not going to a well-rounded school as well, but when we went to CPW and looked around, they understood that while people here might not go to every football game, they definitely are proud of MIT and have their own ways of showing it. In terms of humanities classes, there are a large number of offerings, and in my experience they have been very well-taught. I would especially recommend classes in the Science, Technology, and Society department.

    In summary, I would advise that you go to a school that you feel will be the best for you over the next four years, and the school that will be the best for your growth as a person. If you work hard and enjoy yourself, you’ll be in great shape for the rest of your life no matter where you go. I hope this helps, and good luck making your decision. I know it’s not easy.

  37. Kun says:

    Dear Matt,

    I’m also wondering if the Financial Aid Office has recieved all of my materials, and when I can expect to hear from them.

  38. Carly says:

    I’m sending my reply form tomorrow. The financial aid was great. MIT truly gives 100% need base. Thanks for everything Matt

  39. Steven says:

    Thank you Harvey