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MIT student blogger Melis A. '08

“Who Needs Harvard?” by Melis A. '08

Generating your college list based on which schools fit your personality, not your ideas of prestige.

Posted on August 13 on
Who Needs Harvard?
“Competition for the Ivies is as fierce as ever, but kids who look beyond the famous schools may be the smartest applicants of all”,9171,1226150-1,00.html

Yet another article de-emphasizing the importance of attending the “famous schools.” This one features our Dean of Admissions:

In a kind of virtuous circle, the “second tier” schools got better as applications rose and they could become choosier in assembling a class–which in turn raised the quality of the whole experience on campus and made the school more attractive to both topflight professors and the next wave of applicants. “Just because you haven’t heard of a college doesn’t mean it’s no good,” argues Marilee Jones, the admissions dean at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an outspoken advocate of the idea that parents need to lighten up. “Just as you’ve changed and grown since college, colleges are changing and growing.”

So, current MIT students, when you made up your college list, did you apply to the most prestigious schools you thought you had a chance of getting into, or ones that better suited your personality? To be honest, during my interview for MIT, my interviewer was pretty surprised at the range of colleges that I was applying to. They didn’t really have anything in common except for being prestigious and having either a good pre-med program or engineering curriculum… In hindsight, my decision-making process was flawed, though I know I ended up right where I belonged. I’ll never forget peopleТƒфs surprise when I told them I was applying to Wellesley and Yale. “But I thought you wanted to study engineering???,” they would ask. “Well, maybe biology or neuroscience!” I would respond (I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to study at that point.)

When you’re going on college campus tours, keep your eyes open. I went on very few tours, though I did tour MIT, and I think I was focused on the wrong things. Being the daughter of two architects, I looked at the buildings, the location, and the strength of the engineering and biology programs. What I should have also paid attention to was the school newspaper, the postings on the bulletin boards, and even the general expression on the studentsТƒф faces. Did they seem happy? What sort of activities happened on campus? Were there more fliers for poetry readings, physics conferences, or keg parties? The best is to chat with random students and hear about what they study, do for fun, and love (or hate) about their schools. Or, sit in the cafeteria and listen to peopleТƒфs conversations. Yes, itТƒфs a little creepy, but you may learn a lot. There was a great poster in the Infinite corridor last year called ТƒъThings overheard in the Infinite,Тƒщ where people would write down random clips of conversations. It was amazing to see the range of topics that people talk about.

YouТƒфre going to spend four very challenging years no matter what school you go to, make sure youТƒфre committing yourself to the right one. Every school has its own personality, especially MIT, where youТƒфre more likely to see someone wearing a cape than a popped collar.

10 responses to ““Who Needs Harvard?””

  1. Kelly says:

    Thanks for the great entry! smile

  2. Aziz '10 says:

    Hmm well to answer your question I guess I was pretty focused on schools with good engineering programs…and another great feature in them would have been that they would have good business programs as well, but mainly engineering….I think it has a lot to do with whether you’ve decided what you want to major in or not…

    Props on the entry Melis, another great one wink

  3. Adad says:

    Thanks again Melis, another good post. Do you bloggers have any idea of how much this stuff is appreciated? I hope so.

  4. Minh says:

    I’m an incoming freshman so I suppose that makes me a “current student” but I think I did a combination of both. Honestly I had no idea what my first choice was… I liked all the schools I applied to and I thought I could fit in at all of them. Flexibility is key, as you mentioned with the bio/neurosci/eng thing. smile

    Good luck with MCATs this weekend!! =)

  5. BiancaF says:

    I’m a senior in high school and it wasn’t until my junior year that I began to actually open my eyes to schools that aren’t considered “big-name” universities. So now I’m looking at a wide variety of colleges that would suit me (even though MIT is still my top dream school ^_^).

  6. Sarab says:

    Very Nice Entry.

    Sounds like what is smart and right, and it is basic common snese so maybe 1 in a million will do it.

  7. Sarab says:

    Correction sense not snese.

    Sheesh! Gotta improve my typing skills

  8. Abhinav says:

    I’m a high school senior in India and I agree totally. I always reckoned that college admissions are a two-way process, where you have to connect and relate to the institution and vice versa, irrespective of the name and/or status of the university. Although I’ve never been to MIT, by reading about the recent capture of the CalTech Cannon and numerous other “hacks” (Yeah i know about those), it does really sound like a fun place, and not the stereotypical ‘nerd’ school that everyone thinks it is… thats actually what sparked my interst in MIT in the first place, where people actually enjoy at the expense of all the freshmen at “Hahvahd, the little liberal arts school up Chuck River”! Thats the atmosphere I want, not really the big name that MIT carries, because frankly you can’t survive in a university if you cant relate to its customs or adjust to the life there. Its never just about academics and rankings. (Hopefully, the dream of MIT will materialize)

  9. ram says:

    yep.. i too agree with ur p’nt but the parents too need to understand that its not juct the status of the college or its name will make the persons come up high in their life or in academics, Eventhough i dont know the history of ANY big Engg. Institutions in US but it was people basically during the start of that school worked hard and made the school popular so we should not go in search for high ranking schools just for the sake of the name they have earned we should prove our own legacy with sense … hope iam right. from miles away its ram ( under graduate engg.)

  10. karthik says:

    Another thing that students should look at – how does the school have such a big name? Some schools have their reputations built up as research powerhouses (notably UC Berkeley, LA, and San Diego), but are lacking in undergraduate experience. Other schools focus on the undergraduate experience, but skimp on the research side of things (maybe leading to less opportunities on campus).

    Schools such as MIT, Stanford, and Caltech have a bit of both – they manage some of the strongest and most productive research groups in the world while at the same time spending great amounts of time and energy on the undergraduate experience. While these three universities are not the only examples of such schools, they are the most visible.