The Undecideds, Episode 4: A New Hope by Matt McGann '00
Addressing the concerns of undecided students.
The fourth in a series… With 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.
Look out… this one’s going to be lengthy, and I’m not even going to get to every question today.
Amy wrote, “I saw people carrying boxes of Chinese food during CPW. Is there a place on campus to get this food and where?”
The boxes you saw came from one of the campus food trucks. I get the plurality of my campus lunches from the Chinese food truck in front of Lobby 7; it’s cheap and convenient, and really hits the spot. There’s another Asian food truck near the Biology Building (68) called Goosebeary’s; it’s also quite popular. Within a short walk from MIT are Chinese restaurants Mary Chung’s, Royal East, and Pu Pu Hot Pot, and 3 subway stops away you’ll find Chinatown, including my personal favorite, Taiwan Cafe.
Anonymous wrote, “On food: I’m impressed on the variety of meal options, and especially by the fact that it’s possible to cook by myself sometimes. I’m just curious about the fact — is it possible to find food, that is healthy, not genetically modified? I’m from another country, and have a kind of stereotype about such products in US. So that’s what I worry about.” On the same note, Jwal (“98% decided on coming”) writes: “I would like to second the food question by Anonymous. I have a slight gluten alergy and cannot eat wheat-containing food all the time or I’ll crash. Also, I’ve recently been horrified by the GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) problem with the food in our country and would like to be able to keep finding non-GMO diets while at MIT.”
I’ve got a call into the campus dining manager, and when I hear back from him, I’ll post more information.
In the meantime, my buddy Dave ’06 writes, “As far as healthy food goes — if you shop for yourself, Cambridge is full of high quality (if sometimes pricey) markets, as well as your more ordinary supermarkets. I eat most of my meals at my ILG (pika) which also tries for healthy and tasty. As far as eating official Campus Dining food that is healthy… well, I very rarely eat at the dining halls or whatever, but the Steam Cafe and Building 4 serve pretty natural food, and I think some of the Lobdell vendors (like the middle eastern one) might be good for that, though I’ve only eaten at Lobdell once or twice in the four years I’ve been here. I have at least one friend with a gluten allergy. He is still alive.”
another mom writes, “Can you explain the meal allowance charge? Don’t parents need to put money in an account for food or join the dining service for a fee and then receive a 50% dicount on food purchases? I’m confused.”
The official explanation is here, and let me try to help too. MIT dining works on a declining balance (or debit) system — the parent and/or student puts money onto their meal card, and the charge for each meal is deducted from the card at the time of purchase. The meal card activity and balance can be managed entirely online, too.
To answer the second part of your question, there is a program called preferred dining. For $250, the student gets 50% off all purchases at 6 residential dining locations. The plan is mandatory for residents of certain dorms, and optional for residents of others. Whether or not this program makes sense for your son or daughter depends on their dining habits and preferences. You don’t have to make this decision now; in fact, this might be a decision best made during Orientation, after housing assignments.
I might also add that MIT’s debit meal card system isn’t a “use it or lose it” type system like at many other schools, where you pay for meals and if they’re not eaten (or eaten off campus), then *poof* the money is gone. AT MIT, if meal money goes unused for whatever reason, it goes back to the student/parent. I really appreciate the flexibility of this system.
Moving off of the topic of food, Jenny wrote, I’m concerned that everyone is going to be so engrossed in engineering and science they won’t care as much about literature or the arts. I recently got back from Yale, where I think I could get more of a literature-based, “Dead Poets’ Society” type experience, but at the expense of an extremely solid grounding in the sciences and engineering. Also, the people at Yale seem less stressed out and a lot more laid-back that the MIT folks. Don’t get me wrong, I love MIT, but I’m still concerned about these points…”
I think it is entirely reasonable to be concerned about these points. I had many of these same concerns 10 years ago as I was looking at MIT.
I should start by acknowledging that if the most important thing to you is a “literature-based, ‘Dead Poets’ Society’ type experience,” then MIT probably isn’t the right choice. Our rockin’ Dean of Admissions Marilee Jones truly believes that schools should be up front about their pluses and their minuses (instead of trying to appear to be all things to all people just to entice more students to attend), and in that spirit, I must say that MIT is not a place based in the idea of reading and discussing great works of literature (though there are other great colleges that do, like Chicago and St. John’s).
All that being said, you will absolutely find people at MIT who truly love the humanities and arts. I like to say (because I believe it to be true) that the typical MIT student is one who has a passion in science/technology, but also a very strong interest in some aspect of the humanities, arts, and social sciences. Every student must take at least a course a term in these areas, and most will take more. Also, you should definitely check out all of the opportunities listed on some of these web sites:
- The Arts at MIT
- Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences
- Freshman Arts
- Student Arts Scholars
- Literature at MIT
- Music & Theater Arts
- Writing & Humanistic Studies
Also, while I would imagine this is lower than the number at Yale (I don’t need to use Google to know that Yale is an amazing school), MIT does have 3 Pulitzer Prize winners on staff, and 3 of our 13 MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellows are humanities, arts & social science faculty. The message is: the humanities are here, and world class. You’ll still have amazing faculty and brilliant peers in classes. What remains now is how you want to balance the culture and opportunities at these two schools. You can’t go wrong with your choice!
To help, I’ve asked one of my favorite humanities professors to be in touch with you. Hopefully you’ll hear from him in the next few days.
Dave ’06 adds: “It’s true, there are many people at MIT who are very focused and not excited about literature or the arts. But there are many many many people who are just the other way… music is very popular here, and it is very easy to get caught up in all sorts of performing and visual arts groups. I did a cool freshman advising program called FASAP and its upperclassmen ‘sister program’ Arts Scholars, where essentially the MIT Office of the Arts pays for you to go to all sorts of awesome arts events in the Boston area and on campus and discuss over dinner at great restaurants… totally amazing. So yeah — MIT is a very diverse place, so while you might find a fair amount of one-track mind scientists, you can also find some of the most creative and exciting people I know.”
Jenny also had a second part of her question about “stress” and being “laid back;” at this time I’m also going to add Nick’s questions (similar to Jenny’s), edited for length: “Right now, I’m trying to decide between MIT and Stanford, leaning toward Stanford. I’m concerned that people at MIT don’t know how to relax and take things into perspective. I’m afraid that I’ll be in an environment where I’ll be pressured into spending obscene amounts of time competing against other kids with 800 SATs studying just to earn an A. Since I’m almost positive that I want to study Computer Science, I am worried because course 6 especially attracts these sorts of people. With close to a quarter of undergrads in course 6, I’m also worrried that I’ll have to push and shove to get an interesting UROP. Also, I feel that the MIT culture looks down upon people who are unable or unwilling to dedicate most of their time to study. If you’re not in EECS, ChemE, or Physics, you’re looked down upon. I also enjoy the humanities, and it seems that the MIT culture frowns upon them because they are not hardcore enough. I really like MIT, but its the rather lopsided and closed-minded hard engineering culture that is bothering me. Does this mean that it’s just not the right place for me, or am I missing something?”
So to answer Jenny and Nick about stress, being laid back, and studying a lot: the MIT culture respects hard work and real accomplishments. My take on the MIT culture is that students seem stressed because they genuinely want to work hard and do their best, not because they’re forced into stress. Something I really appreciate about MIT is that people who come here are serious about academics and research.
Also, despite my fears from the rumor mill, I found that MIT’s culture really does emphasize cooperation over competition. People work together, help each other, and learn from each other. I know you were both here for CPW, and I hope that you experienced these aspects of MIT’s culture: cooperative, collaborative, doing serious work… while still having balance, and having a good time.
Again, Nick, like Jenny, a choice between Stanford and MIT is a no-lose proposition. I understand MIT has been your “dream school,” so I appreciate that you’re being diligent about researching your final choice.
Dave ’06 adds: “I’ve written too long already, but I don’t particularly agree with that impression. One thing I like about this place is that there is a high emphasis on collaboration against competition. I’ve never thought of myself as “competing” against my fellow students (hell, even when I was in a robot competition we spent a lot of time swapping tips with other teams). And as I said enough, while there are certainly lame people here who don’t care about humanities, you can avoid them pretty easily. :)”
On the other end of the spectrum from Jenny & Nick, Josh writes, “I am going to do EE, and I was thinking, 8 HASS subjects seems a lot. Do most take about 1 a term? That would mean taking HASS even in the upper level years, and if one squezes it in the early years, that wouldn’t leave much room for classes in your major (math and science classes, is the the reason why I really like MIT, afterall)? HASS doesnt seem very fun to me; I would like to take some humanity classes, but 8 just seems a bit much, when I could be taking more classes in the science that I find really interesting, from the plethora of awesome science classes that MIT offers. How do people not majoring in the Humanities or Arts feel about this? How do you guys who are Engineers/Electrical Engineers feel about this?”
Frankly, Josh, the HASS requirement is a really good thing about MIT. Having balance in your life is really important, as is having very strong communications skills. Tens of thousands of students have completed MIT without HASS classes causing problems with taking classes in their major. Also remember that after freshman year, MIT does not limit the number of classes you can take, so feel free to be one of those MIT students (and they do exist) who take 8+ classes a term, so as to allow you to derive the maximum scientific learning from MIT. But I assure you that the HASS requirement makes for a better education, and is something that you will come to appreciate. It’s for this reason that I took more than the required number of HASS classes at MIT — they were really great.
Drew asked about Financial Aid; I’m looking into it.
shar asked, “i’ve taken two math classes at a local college this year. will my credits transfer over next fall or will these classes only be used for placement purposes?”
Transfer credit at MIT is handled by the individual departments. What you’ll do is send the course syllabi (or syllabuses, if you prefer) and transcript to the Academic Resource Center (the first year office at MIT), and they will forward it on to the appropriate department, whose faculty will decide which courses get what credit and placement.
Ploy wrote, “My concern about MIT was that I didn’t enjoy the CPW…and other people definitely did. I guess it was because it’s my first overnight college visit away from home and seeing so many people was sort of overwhelming. I was nervous and anxious the entire time, but still I could tell what a great place MIT was. It’s weird that MIT is the only college that I miss after the visit, though, and I visited many schools since. I wish I could turn back and start it all over again. Does that mean MIT is the school for me? Or does it mean I shouldn’t go?”
Hmm… tough to know. I can understand how MIT and CPW can be overwhelming. I, too, had a hard time adapting to MIT when I first got here. But it can be hard to know whether that anxiety is temporary (like mine was) or more than that. I don’t know what the right answer is, but I’ll have a thoughtful student be in touch with you to help think about things.
Also, two parents also chimed in with some thoughts and advice.
Someone’s Mother wrote, “As a parent, I wanted to respond to Ploy’s comment from “The Undecideds, Part 2.” Ploy said he/she did not enjoy CPW. Ploy, I know that you are not the only one who did not enjoy CPW, and I hope that does not factor into your decision about whether to go to MIT. On each of the seven dorm tours I took, I saw at least one prefrosh, touring by himself or herself, who appeared uncomfortable. Sympathetic to them, I chatted with each and found that most just don’t like big parties or the intensely social and superficial atmostphere of events like CPW. Most assumed that everyone else had made friends and was having a great time. I ended up wishing my child had met these prefrosh because she had a lot of common interests with them and might well become friends with them next year. Ploy, I suspect that most of life at MIT is not like CPW. Instead of attending many big parties and social events, you will spend most of your time in class, studying and socializing with a smaller group of students you meet in your dorm, in your classes, and in extra-curricular activities. You will have something particular in common with these students and connect with them. In fact, I would guess that the type of housing MIT offers(students choose rather than are randomly placed) makes MIT less like a big party of strangers and more like a small social gathering of friends. In short, decide whether or not you liked MIT — the academics, the activities, the housing, the life style rather than whether or not you liked CPW.”
AnotherMom wrote, “Ploy – Allow me to comment as well with a parental perspective. Your questions are valid and demonstrate that you taking your decision making process very seriously. To be sure, as Someone’s Mother mentioned above, you were not the only one who did not enjoy CPW. My daughter attended CPW alone. It was her first time away from home for more than a day and it was the first time she had been on a plane. Lots of adjustment for her. Having apprehension initially is to be expected. You are leaving your comfort zone for something new. It is exciting and frightening at the same time. For years, you have been at top of your class and so on. The fact that you have visited other schools since MIT’s CPW and MIT is the only one you miss speaks volumes to me. How did you feel about the academic enviroment, the campus, and housing? at MIT? What was the overall feel to you? If necessary, make a chart and jot down pro’s and con’s for each of the schools. Be honest with yourself. I think that will help you tremendously. All the best in your decision making.”
Ploy also wrote, “btw, does MIT have a pre-orientation program?”
Yes! We have some very cool pre-orientation programs, and a well-run orientation as well.
Jwal wrote, “Does MIT have a ballroom-dancing outlet? A class or club of some sort?”
Zi Wen wrote, “What concerns me most is MIT’s low acceptance rate to medical school. While other top schools, such as Brown, have med school acceptance rates of 90 percent, MIT’s is only about 73 percent. Can you offer some insight as to why the percentage is so low? Are the grades at MIT grade-deflated or the courses so challenging that most students are unable to maintain a high gpa for medical school?” And another anon wrote, “Melis did an entry on being premed at mit and the non-grade-inflated gpa system. Do med schools take into consideration that an applicant is from mit? Mollie said elite grad schools take students w/ lower gpas from mit than those w/ perfect 4.0’s from state schools because MIT students have such a strong research background. Is that the same for competitive med schools?”
Ah, the med school question. Well, maybe I just had super-smart friends, but I didn’t know a single person at MIT who didn’t get into a very good medical school. My friends are/were at Harvard, Harvard/MIT HST, Duke, Mount Sinai, Chicago, Pitt, Tufts, NYU, BU, Baylor, and Stanford for medical school. Some are doing MD/PhD, most doing straight MD. Remember that MIT allows anyone to be premed and apply for medical school (it’s not a school that only presents statistics of their “pre-screened” candidates; also, the statistics include grad school students and alums as well as undergrads). Also remember that while grades are very important, medical school admissions committees *DO* know what classes/schools are rigorous. Just like undergraduate admissions, medical school transcript evaluations aren’t done in a vacuum.
I’ve found MIT to be a pretty supportive place of premed students as well. I’m told our premed advising is actually one of the best around, and the student premed group, AMSA, is active and produces a very helpful MIT Premed Guide.
Anyway, as evidenced by this entry, yesterday’s day trip went well, and the lobster did not kill me. I may post some photos in a future entry. Anyway, I will get to the questions I didn’t answer today in tomorrow’s entry, in addition to the new questions that you all have.