Why I came to MIT by Mollie B. '06
A few reasons I chose MIT, and I few reasons that would have made me choose MIT, had I known them.
Well, I’m back in Boston, slowly recovering from jet lag, and am (supposed to be) studying for a 9.24 (Diseases of the Nervous System) test tomorrow. I already had a test today, in 7.28 (Molecular Biology), so I’m not really feeling all that enthusiastic about studying. Plus, I had to go back to lab tonight at 7:30 to change the media on my COS cells… and if there’s one thing I don’t want to do after getting home late, it’s study. (Adam says, “Girl! You have to graduate to go to graduate school!” Blah blah.)
Since I know a lot of people will be needing to make a college decision soon, I thought I’d outline some of the reasons I chose MIT for undergrad four years ago. I am also adding in some reasons that I didn’t know, but they would have been reasons to choose MIT if I had known them.
In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I chose MIT over Ohio State’s honors college (+ full tuition/room/board scholarship). I was waitlisted at Harvard, which was the only other place I applied.
Reasons I chose MIT.
1. I knew I wanted to be a biology major of some stripe, and I knew MIT’s programs in biology and brain and cognitive sciences were absolutely outstanding.
2. OSU is a very, very big place. I had been to a National Merit Semifinalist weekend there in the fall, and all the professors had given lip service to the idea that you could get a research job, if you were willing to knock on enough doors and really fight for a position. I had friends who were doing “research” jobs at OSU which basically involved cleaning glassware. Washing dishes is not a job for an undergraduate; washing dishes is a job for a dishwashing machine, okay.
Labs at MIT are likely to be considerably better-funded (and therefore more likely to pay you for your work). More importantly for me, labs at MIT are more likely to have a favorable view of your intelligence as an undergraduate and allow you to pursue interesting research in an essentially independent manner. Furthermore, you don’t have to beat down doors in order to get a research position — as you probably already know, about 80% of us do undergraduate research through UROP. You don’t have to fight for those sorts of opportunities.
3. I felt that it was a good idea to get out of Ohio and experience life on the east coast. A lot of kids from my senior class went to OSU or other state schools and are now planning to work in Columbus after graduation. That’s not really something I ever saw myself doing, so I was glad to go someplace different.
4. When I visited MIT, I absolutely loved the feeling of being around all those smart kids. The concentration of excellence at schools like MIT is really unmatched in the large state school environment. Sure, you can find a group of equally smart people at a big state school, but at a small elite, everybody is smart and motivated and encourages you to work your hardest. My personal suspicion is that more kids from the ultra-elites get into graduate school in biology not because of their inherent intelligence (just as many equally-intelligent kids end up at their local state school), but because the environment at the ultra-elites is more conducive to staying motivated — there aren’t as many not-smart/not-motivated kids acting as a social distraction.
5. I wanted a challenge, but I didn’t want it at the expense of friendship and my faith in humanity. I’ve always been a pretty scrappy kid, and I’d always loved the feeling of working really hard to get awesome rewards, so the whole “MIT is hard” thing sounded exciting to me, not nauseating. (I am sort of lying here. I was scared silly that I’d fail out. But I also knew that there were a few people in my hometown who sort of expected me to fail out, and you can’t let the haters win.) I’d also met lots of really nice, helpful MIT undergrads (especially when my host took me by the ESG program), and I knew there would be a lot more personal support for me at a smaller school like MIT than there would be at OSU.
Things I didn’t know, but would have liked.
1. All the dorms are very different, and you get to choose which one you live in. I now think this is one of the most important MIT institutions — you aren’t stuck in a randomized dorm room and expected to magically acclimate to college life, you’re in a room and in a dorm with people with whom you chose to live. My floor freshman year was one of the most important factors in my continued sanity, as I struggled with being away from home and missing my puppy and figuring out how to draw a free-body diagram involving a monkey, a tree, and a pulley with bananas on the other end.
2. Getting good recommendations is one of the biggest factors for getting into graduate school, and being in a small program is a really easy way to get to know professors. (This is kind of a duh. But I wasn’t thinking of it at the time.)
3. Living just across the bridge from Boston totally rocks.
Straight from the horse’s mouth.
I found this the other night: My actual college pro and con list (really big PDF file!). (It’s hip to be a pack rat.) The cursive is me, the print is my friend Akhil ’05 MEng ’06… we made it sometime in April of our senior year while we were (supposed to be) paying attention in AP English.
My favorite part is what Akhil wrote at the top: “Come on, we’ll take MIT head first, and we’ll win! We’ve been smart for 13 years. There’s no reason to stop.”
And we’re both marching at commencement this year, with three bachelors degrees and a masters degree between the two of us.
1. Anonymous helpfully wrote,
if you ditch the prof tonite, let me pass on 2 places people in their 20s go in downtown PA. Start with drinks on Nola’s, which is on Bryant right off University Ave. Then go dancing at Fannie & Alexander’s (ask people where F&A is, that’s what they call it).
Oh, no worries, the current grad students in the department took us to F&A after dinner on Friday night. (Grad school interviews = free booze.) I got to hang out with my friend Stephen ’05, who’s now a bioengineering grad student at Stanford, which was great because I haven’t seen him since he started grad school, and I got to hear the real scoop on Stanford grad student life.
2. Oakland Mom asked,
Do you really think the area around Cal (Berkeley) is “a little sketchy?” My son and I were in Cambridge 2 summers ago and stayed at the hotel at MIT and I felt that area was more “sketchy” than the area around UCB… I guess my question is more that I was concerned about what the area around MIT is like..and how safe it is.
And Jonathan Foley wrote,
Also, the area around Berkeley is not sketchy. Its urban with its fair share of homeless people and just plain wierdos/crazies but it can’t really be considered dangerous. In fact, parts of Cambridge are sketchier than the area directly around the Berkeley campus.
First, I will say that I totally agree that the area around Berkeley is remniscent of Cambridge’s Central Square (which is about a 10-15 minute walk from campus). And, believe me, I think Central is sketchy too!
I do think MIT’s campus is very safe. If you read through the campus crime reports (which are published in some, but not all, issues of The Tech, sorry), you’ll see that violent crime on campus is basically unheard of. Expensive items occasionally grow feet and walk away, but just in the sense that you don’t leave your laptop computer unattended for three hours in a public building. (I’ve lost my wallet and credit cards twice while I’ve been here, and Adam’s lost his once. All three times, a member of the MIT community has picked up our wallets and emailed us immediately with a location to come retrieve them.)
The Campus Police seem to do a very good job of keeping campus safe; moreover, I think campus is safe to walk at any hour of the night just because a) so much of it is inside, and b) there are always students awake and walking around, no matter what time it is!
3. Congrats to sr, who got into Scripps’ chemical bio program!
4. Jonathan says
Based on my own application and interview experience, there is some but not total overlap in the interviews at the ‘top’ schools. I am applying for Bioengineering or closely related fields (CSB at MIT and Systems Biology at Harvard).
I think maybe there’s so much overlap in the biology programs to which I applied because the programs are perhaps larger — all of the programs to which I applied were big umbrella programs which admitted students interested in cell biology, neurobiology, molecular biology, cancer biology, immunology, and more. It’s very consistent, though — you see the same kids every weekend.