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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

The Undecideds, Part 3 by Matt McGann '00

Helping the Class of 2010 with their decisions.

The third in a series… With fewer than 10 days to go 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. I’ll answer as many as I can this morning before I have to run…

Ariadne wrote, “The only thing holding me back from MIT is the music. Classical guitar has been a part of my life for almost ten years and I’ve participated in national competitions and festivals. I’m having a hard time finding an adequate teacher so far in the Boston area, but I’ll keep looking. The other alternative is Yale, which has a great guitar teacher but a mediocre engineering program :].”

Ariadne, I’ve arranged for you to be contacted this weekend by Nicki ’07, another national level classical guitarist and engineer. I hope this will be helpful!

Tianren, Daphne, Carly, Afsah, Fernando, and another anon all wrote in inquiring about financial aid. I have contacted my usual financial aid contact to inquire further, but may not hear back until Monday. Also, another anon, the email address doesn’t seem to be the one in our database, so I can’t identify you — can you try again?

I should also note that if your financial aid award comes late (near or after May 1) — from MIT or your other choice university — or you need to appeal your award, you may request an extension of the May 1 deadline until your financial aid is resolved. We want you to be able to make the best decision you can, with all the information in.

Dominic ’10 and Kathleen ’10 both asked about their status… and as you can see by the ’10s after their names, we have received both replies and you are both official members of the Class of 2010 =) The confirmation postcards seem to be a bit slow this year!

Syed wrote, “I’ve sent my Admissions Reply form to MIT with a ‘yes’ :)…could you tell me if there’s any way I can email/fax the form to MIT as well, as a backup to the courier messing up???”

We do require the Reply Form itself, but you can also doubly confirm with an email to admissions at mit dot edu or a fax to 617-258-8304 (don’t forget the country code, too, Syed!). Look forward to seeing you in the fall!

Confused wrote, “I love MIT, but I do have 2 questions. [1] How accessible are the professors? Especially for big lecture classes, if you need more personal attention, what can you turn to? [2] Also, do MIT students tend to be pretty involved in extracurricular activities? In other words, is there enough time to handle the workload while still pursuing other passions?”

First, [1] I definitely found my professors accessible, when I wanted to access them. I was tutored in physics by a future Nobel Prize winner, had long conversations about museums with my Literature professor, and helped change and shape MIT policies with a Chemistry professor. MIT’s student-to-faculty ratio is 7:1, and I never felt like just a statistic at MIT. Don’t expect to have famous faculty members checking on you daily in your dorm room, but if you seek out the faculty, you will be rewarded. I didn’t always seek out professors at MIT, but when I did, I was always welcomed.

In lecture (and other) classes, there are many places to turn for help, and the professor isn’t always the right first place to turn. Lectures are broken down into smaller recitation sections where questions are answered in greater depth; professors and teaching assistants have office hours; and there’s always the Tutorial Services Room (TSR), available to all students at MIT.

But perhaps the best academic (and social) support I received from the upperclassmen in my dorm. I really appreciated that MIT had dorms for all four years worth of students instead of freshman dorms; the mentoring that I received from upperclassmen, and the friends I made, was perhaps the best part of my transition to college.

Second, [2] my colleague Mikey ’05 wrote in response:

I thought I’d post about this ever-common question regarding “If I go to MIT, will I be able to do extracurriculars AND have a social life AND do well in all my classes?”

I had the exact same question 5 years ago when I was making the same decision. Actually, it wasn’t so much a question but rather, I KNEW (or thought I knew) that if I went to MIT, I would have to study virtually 24/7 and would not have a life whatsoever.


In my 4 years here, I was incredibly involved in an a cappella group (the Logs), spending 15-20 hours a week doing stuff for the group. I also participated in the Asian Christian Fellowship for a decent amount (a few hours a week), and still led a healthy social life (yes, I had friends, and we hung out quite a bit, if not too much at times…conversations about life til 6am w00t), and still graduated, passed my classes, and with a pretty darn good GPA if I don’t say so myself (let’s just say it’s very close to 5.0).

I had an absolute blast here participating in student life, making lifelong friendships with some very amazing people, and simply being part of an Institute and a culture that – literally – changes history every single day. Were there times that the work was really stressful? Of course. But in the end was it all worth it? Most definitely. What’s great about MIT is that they realize that a college education isn’t just about the classes – it’s about educating the entire mind and body. Research, extracurriculars, leadership, service, the arts, athletics, fitness, a social life, community…all integral to being a student at MIT.

Sorry this post is so long…it’s just that I had the EXACT same concern 5 years ago, and am so incredibly glad I still decided to come, because it wasn’t at ALL what I thought it would be. Best 4 years of my life. I wouldn’t go back and change a thing. : )

I hope that is helpful!

It’s Saturday morning, and I have a day trip to New Hampshire and Maine planned with some friends for today, so unfortunately I must go now. I will address the two food questions (Anonymous and another mom) tomorrow, as well as Ploy‘s question and Zi Wen‘s question. I’ll answer those questions and more tomorrow, assuming the Maine lobster doesn’t leap off the plate and kill me!

34 responses to “The Undecideds, Part 3”

  1. Om says:

    Hi Matt,

    First of all, kudos for the blog. It’s nice.

    Now, time for bussiness:

    I was getting crazy trying to get to know about the apllication process, before I visited this site.

    It was really foolish of me to rely on third-party sources for the real information that I wanted.

    But, I still have some doubts:

    1> What tests do I have to sit for bearing in

    mind the fact that I’m an international

    student, as you put it?

    2> How much financial aid does the MIT provide?

    3> How can I get to know the nearest EC?

  2. Om says:

    Sorry, I forgot to ask you to reply on my e-mail id: [email protected]

  3. Question says:

    Hi Matt,

    I have a question. MIT admits about 1500 students, of which about 1000 enroll. But I don’t understand this. Obviously, MIT has the capacity to get all 1500 students on its campus, and if the yield rate is about the same every year, why don’t you admit 1800-2000 people and get around 1400 students to enroll?


  4. Anonymous says:

    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?

  5. another anon says:

    oops i forgot to send you my other email address:) I called the financial aid office and they said that they’re mailing out my stuff tuesday or thursday this coming week so i should be getting it soon. thanks for checking on the situation! i also have another question about premed at mit. 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?

  6. Josh says:

    Hi Matt! 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?

  7. Josh says:

    Hi oops, I’m the guy who posted above about the HASS, but I forgot to drop you my email, so I’m doing it now.

    Thanks a bunch Matt!

  8. Dan says:

    “I had the exact same question 5 years ago when I was making the same decision.”

    I thought you graduated from MIT in 2000 like it says near your name? If so, wouldn’t it be 10 years ago that you were making that decision?

  9. Shannon says:

    That whole entry is Mikey ’05’s. Matt, maybe you should put it in tags if you can alter the html. It would make it a little easier for everyone to understand.

  10. Shannon says:

    Oops! It should read “blockquote tags” but I accidentally put them in brackets.

    And by whole entry I mean from “I thought I’d post” to “change a thing. : ).”

  11. Nur says:

    Just got back from Princeton today.

    And unlike after I got back from CPW the choice was perfectly clear.

    MIT Class of 2010 here I come! ^_^

  12. 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.

  13. AnotherMom says:

    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.

  14. reg says:

    Om, as an international student, you either have to take the SAT I and 3 SAT subject tests or the TOEFL and 2 SAT subject tests smile [at least that’s what i remember] i think you know about ECs from MyMIT, but i’m not too sure, since i don’t have an account.

  15. Drew says:

    I’m waiting on the financial aid papers too. They told me by phone on April 14, because I needed to tell National Merit Scholarship Corp. if I was going to a different school by then, and from what they said, I’ll definitely be going to MIT. But I still need an official copy of the financial aid statement, by email or snail mail, before I can accept.

  16. Dan says:

    Oh woops…

  17. Kathleen says:

    I haven’t sent in my reply form yet, but yesterday in the mail I received a post card saying MIT received my reply form. What?!! I will mail it tomorrow.

  18. Jenny says:

    Sorry if this was expressed previously, but 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…

  19. Siddharth says:

    Hi Matt. Hope your daytrip was fun!


    Say you take the SAT & SAT Subject tests twice or thrice, does MIT take the highest score out of the two/three for each one or it takes their average?

    Also, does it matter to MIT if one scores significantly lower on two tests out of three (below MIT freshman stats) of the same kind?

  20. Amy says:

    Hi Matt,

    Adding on to the food questions-I saw people carrying boxes of Chinese food during CPW. Is there a place on campus to get this food and where?

  21. Justin says:

    Well, I found these on the college board, and even though I have already relied positively, I would like to ask these.

    If you don’t wish to bother, that’s cool too. =)

    1. Is the office of residential life accessible to students? Can students switch if they get a terrible roommate, and how long does that process take?

    2. Does the school provide student escorts to accompany students walking home late at night?

    3. What is the average increase in tuition, and when are tuition increases next expected?

    4. What are the hours at the student health clinic? What about 24-hour emergency care? What does the collegeТƒфs health insurance cover, and are pre-existing conditions included in the coverage?

    5. How does the college handle leaves of absence?

    7. Does the school offer storage facilities? How much does it cost?

    8. What is the crime rate on campus?

    9. What is a schoolТƒфs policy on dorm room wear and tear? Are you responsible for compensating the school?

    10. What kind of food does the cafeteria offer? What are the options when the cafeteria is closed?

  22. Caroline says:

    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?

  23. Nick says:

    Hey Matt,

    This is my first time posting; I’ve been reading your blogs since before I was accepted EA. Right now, I’m trying to decide between MIT and Stanford, leaning toward Stanford. I’d like to echo what Jenny said. I’ve been attached to MIT since I was a kid, and it’s been my dream school. But 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.

    Basically the attitude described in this article ( bothers me. I am sure that there are normal people at MIT but I am worried that I’ll have to search them out.

    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?

  24. Jwal says:

    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.

    Also: does MIT have a ballroom-dancing outlet? A class or club of some sort?

    Many thanks. I’m pretty much 98% decided on coming, but this last bit would cinch the deal immediatelly.

  25. dave glasser says:

    Procrastinating a problem set, so I decided to answer some random


    Question: why do you assume MIT has the capacity for all 1500

    students? Housing in Boston and Cambridge is not cheap; especially

    since MIT made the questionable decision to ban freshmen from living

    in non-dorm housing options, class size expansion is difficult.

    Josh: I don’t want to be negative, but if you’re not a well-rounded

    enough person to be interested in taking 8 HASS subjects, you might

    not be interested in a well-rounded school like MIT. I’m sure there

    are some pure tech schools out there that do not have excellent

    humanities departments like MIT’s and that don’t encourage you to

    leave the lab a bit. If you think you won’t enjoy 8 HASS subjects,

    MIT might not be the right place for you. (I am certainly frustrated

    of being in small humanities classes with people who are clearly only

    there to fulfill the requirements who might be happier elsewhere.)

    shar: You can usually get transfer credit, though it depends what

    classes they are (like, are they equivalents of 18.02? 18.03?)

    Jenny: It’s true, there are many people at MIT who are very focused

    and not excited about literature or the arts (if Josh chooses to come

    here, I guess that’s one more). 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.

    Anonymous: You’ve hit one of the biggest issues with MIT right on the

    head with your first question. Many things here are limited only by

    your own ambitions. You’ll have an academic advisor, but generally

    they can’t stop you from burning yourself out. I’ve certainly had

    many friends who had a term or two of far too many classes, leadership

    positions in student groups, athletics, etc etc, and burnt themselves

    out and even ended up taking a term or two off. On the other hand,

    they usually come back and are much better on track. So yeah — you

    will need to learn how to control yourself and keep yourself healthy.

    But that’s good for life in general. And how tough is MIT? Well, on

    the one hand, there are certainly classes that are very very hard, and

    even for the easier ones people do have to spend a lot of time

    studying. SAT IIs really have very little to do with actual hard

    projects and work. On the other hand, if you were admitted to MIT, you

    are capable of graduating. Professors are here to teach you, not to

    fail you. Mostly.

    Amy: Cambridge is a city. Cities have restaurants. Lots of them. And

    as a college city, it has tons of affordable quick places to eat food

    from a great variety of cultures. (It’s possible one of the dining

    halls has a chinese stand too; I’ve only been to the dining halls

    maybe twice in my four years here, so I couldn’t tell you.)

    Justin: Ooh, that’s a lot. 1: MIT’s dorms give their students a fair

    amount of responsibility. For example, rooming is assigned by the

    student Room Assignment Chair for the dorm, not by a faceless admin.

    While this sometimes causes problems, 99% of the time everything works

    smoothly. (In fact, in some dorms, rooms are done at the level of the

    individual hall. Living in East Campus taught me more about the

    concept of federalism than any American History class ever did.) And

    of course FSILGs are entirely student-run. 2: There’s a SafeRide van

    system that goes to all of the dorms and FSILGs at night; I believe

    the police can also escort you if you are especially concerned. 4:

    There is 24-hour emergency care. I’m not sure about other details. 5:

    As I mentioned above, taking some time off for personal, medical, and

    academic reasons is not uncommon. I haven’t done so myself, but my

    general impression is that the school is pretty good about it. 9: This

    varies strongly from dorm to dorm, and even from hall to hall

    (federalism again!) Some dorms were designed a few years ago by

    big-money architects and the students are not permitted to move their

    furniture. In some dorms, you can do everything from paint your walls

    (and the hall walls) to building crazy loft structures. Generally

    there is not Big Brother admins crawling around your home searching

    for ways to get you in trouble. (Also, unlike at other schools, the

    RAs (FSILGs) and Grad Resident Tutors (dorms) are explicitly not

    policemen — they’re actually there to help you and understand you,

    unlike at other schools where I hear that their major role is to make

    sure that dangerous activities occur behind closed doors where they’re

    the most harmful.) 10: Did I mention that everything varies by your

    living situation? There are a few central dining halls with bizarre

    hours, plus a few other campus-dining-run cafes. Some dorms also have

    dining halls (open to all students). However, there’s no mandatory

    meal plan. If you want to cook all of your food in your hall kitchen

    (many, but not all, dorms have at least one nice kitchen per floor)

    with your friends, you can. If you want to eat at dining halls, you

    can. If you want to eat at restaurants in Cambridge or Boston, you

    can. If you want to join an FSILG meal plan, you can. I eat most of

    my meals at my house (pika, a co-ed co-op) or at Cambridge

    restaurants; the only Campus-Dining-sponsored venue I eat at with any

    regularity is the local burrito chain, Anna’s. When I lived in a dorm

    (EC), I cooked with friends, went out to restaurants, and ate on

    pika’s meal plan. There really is no “the cafeteria”, and I’m happy

    for that. (Exception: more and more dorms are starting to force their

    residents, or at least their freshmen, to pay a fee (like $250 or

    something) which gives them half price on their meals there. This is

    in my opinion a bad trend that should be stopped; I’m certainly

    biased, though, because my main exposure to this fee is having friends

    who are frosh who want to be on my house’s meal plan but are already

    forced to pay this fee for food they aren’t interested ing.)

    Caroline: I find the quality of professors varies a lot. There are

    many many many amazing teachers here. There are also a lot of folks

    who only care about their research. I have found that in general the

    HASS (humanities, arts, social sciences) professors are almost all

    excellent teachers. (As a point of comparison, the absolute worst

    class I’ve taken as an undergrad was a humanities class at Harvard

    (intro Russian).) In the science and engineering schools, it’s a

    little trickier. I’m a math major (and EECS), and math has very few

    specific requirements, which allowed me to pick most of my courses

    based on the quality of the professor; this made me very happy with my

    department, but other folks who haven’t done the same tend to be less

    happy. And in courses with more specific requirements, you don’t have

    that option. So, like so many things at MIT, it’s what you make of it

    — you can choose to have awesome profs or not.

    Nick: 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. smile

    Jwal: I have at least one friend with a gluten allergy. He is still

    alive. And while I’m not an expert myself, apparently our ballroom

    dancing team is one of the best around. I’m pretty sure we have

    classes, clubs, and competing teams. In fact, most of the gym got

    taken over this weekend by an enormous ballroom competition. And you

    always see a few people with a stereo in random elevator lobbies

    around campus dancing.

    OK, maybe it’s time for dinner smile

  26. Anonymous says:

    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?

  27. Bashir says:

    I filled in my acceptance form today and I’m so looking forward to putting it in the mail on Monday. As an international student that will be taking MIT loans, how do we go about the whole cosigner thing? Considering I have no ties in the US, that is.

  28. shar says:

    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?

  29. Tuan Ngo says:

    Hi, I’m a sophomore in high school. I live in the urban areas in California. Over here, everyone is talking about going to a UC (Universtiy of California) but I want to break away from this state to explore possibilities. Everyone says “go to Harvard” since it’s pretty popular even with the parents down here. I think MIT is a great school to pursue my interests in technology. Nanotechnology seems to be the “new” thing out there and I would love to major in that field. California’s UCs have been building up there programs for nanotechnology but I was wonder how MIT’s Nanotechnology programs are. For me, if not nanotechnology, I would for computer related major. I’m also interested in going further than a BS degree, either a Masters or even a Ph.D. If you can recommend me some majors that are in high demand that would be great also.

  30. Tish says:

    Hi Matt! Thank you so much for blogging on this topic as it is exactly what I need. I’m interested in biological engineering (the new course 20) and from what I have read on your website the major was limited to 20 students for the class of 2009. It seems like quite a few of the kids I met at CPW were also interested in this major and I’m worried that I might not be able to get into the program, but I wouldn’t know that until my sophomore year. Any thoughts or advice?



  31. julia says:

    GO MIT!! How can we possibly say no to the greatest school in the whole world??? c’mon guys, stop wavering and send in your “yes” form.

  32. MIT 2010!!! says:

    to Tuan NGO:

    I hope you realize how the “go to Harvard” notion is very shallow. When you look at colleges, follow where YOUR unique heart and passion leads you…DO NOT get caught up in US World Rankings, Parents nagging, prestige, what others say… because this is YOUR life, and where you will spend the next four years. just a side note smile

  33. Tuan Ngo says:

    yea that’s what i’m thinking man screw harvard MIT seems to be a better environment for me since i headed towards technology.