I hear Early Action decisions went out. Congrats to those of you who got in. If you got deferred, don’t take it too hard, plenty of people whom I know here got deferred EA and then got in.
Eventually, those of you who get in will get to come to CPW. And some of you might have already visited overnight. You’ll get to stay with a student, or a house (during CPW, if you stay in a fraternity, sorority, or independent living group, your host is the house, rather than a particular person). You’ll get to experience a small slice of life at MIT to help make your decision about where to go to school.
But will the slice be what you’re looking for?
I remember reading a comment last year on one of the blogs (Matt’s? Ben’s?) that took me aback. It was shortly after CPW, and one of the prefrosh who read the blog was complaining that the social atmosphere of MIT had been a letdown. He had expected, he explained, weirder, nerdier kids, like himself, and the kids he met were mostly disappointingly normal.
And then every year there are the prefrosh who come from the opposite perspective – they’re worried about going to a tech school because they want a more social life, and they are drawn to MIT’s academics but wish the students weren’t so weird and nerdy.
Both ends of this spectrum are running into the same problem. They’re missing a crucial point – MIT might have some central values, and even some common cultural aspects (“having lots of work to do”, “sympathy for peers who can’t go to some fun thing because they have a pset or project due tomorrow”, and “willingness to help out your friends” are pretty universal, for instance), but there isn’t really any such thing as a campus-wide social culture. As an undergrad, your social culture, in my observation, depends largely on two factors:
1. Your living group
2. Your extracurricular activities
Conveniently, these are both your choice.
A recent session of 9.75 (Psychology of Gender and Race) illustrated this point pretty well for me. The professor put up a transparency with a “script” for a college-age heterosexual first date – a list of things that the male is supposed to do, and a list of things that the female is supposed to do – that was written by researchers who surveyed college students and were trying to figure out what sort of behavior was typical.
Now, I’m a little sheltered in this regard, because before college, I had no idea what was going on around me in terms of dating and relationships, nor did I care. If you’d asked me what a typical date between students at my high school or middle school was like, I would have been clueless. And I don’t generally trust pop culture representations of teen life. So my concept of what a first date between two young, heterosexual, monogamous people is like was framed mostly by my observations of such people in my social group at MIT.
So my first reaction, when I read what was on the transparency, was “Is this study from the ’50s?” I wasn’t joking either. When I was told that no, it was from a few years ago, I was amazed. So were a few others. Quite a few of my classmates, however, were amazed that I was amazed. They said that, yes, this was pretty much what they’d expect from a first date. It was an interesting reminder that we take classes together and are bound together by intelligence and intensity and dedication, but socially we might as well be on different planets. Kind of cool, really. You can go to a different living group and find both a completely different culture and a powerful common bond.
Anyway, back to the prefrosh that I talked about at the beginning. Admissions tries to match prefrosh and hosts well, but there’s only so much you can do with limited information, especially during CPW when there’s tons of prefrosh needing hosts and the hosts aren’t evenly distributed around campus. I remember when I was a prefrosh at CPW. I was temped at a sorority, Alpha Phi. The women of Alpha Phi are very nice people. They are not, however, the sort of living group I would tend to click with in terms of personality (I told Matt about this a couple of years later, and he couldn’t imagine what they were thinking when they put me there).
But there was a very nice sophomore there who helped me carry my bag to the house, a cheery Alpha Phi sister who lived in Baker House. We talked quite a bit during the walk, and she suggested that I go visit Senior Haus. I did, and I related much more to the culture there than I did to Alpha Phi, though I was still intimidated by the in-your-face quality of the urban punk atmosphere. When I got there, three or four residents were sitting around eating the food that was marked for prefrosh because no prefrosh were in the lobby, and they were so excited when I showed up and said that I’d heard that they were the “cool” dorm, that they gave me a private tour. They also suggested that I check out East Campus, Random Hall, and Bexley Hall. As you might be aware, I now live in one of those dorms (East Campus). And I love it, and my wonderful hall 5th East, to death.
My point is that there’s probably something for you here no matter what kind of social climate you want. If you want outgoing people, wild parties, and varsity athletes, you can have that. If you want quiet, mild, studious people who are conservative in their behavior, you can have that. If you want hackers, or builders, or classic D&D playing nerds, or arty indie kids and punks, or hippie engineers, or many other things, you can have that too.
If you’re on campus, and you’re not finding the people you’re looking for…well, you probably just need to ask around. I’d be rather surprised if they aren’t there somewhere.