Sometimes people ask me for advice and sometimes I reply lol. This document is in progress. Here's one thing I wrote to a high schooler in response to their questions about MIT:
insert "it's free Institute advertising" free real estate meme
This letter from our student newspaper is a good answer to the general question of “What is MIT like?”
There’s a page on MIT’s admissions site that lists some of the community's values, and though it may seem like a typical fluff page, I think it’s genuinely accurate. It resonated with me when I read it as an applicant, still does, and I do see these values—like collaboration, hands-on creativity, balance—play out in real life.
I think humility is encouraged, which isn’t necessarily good or bad, but it’s not something one can say about every school. Some schools boost students’ confidence through grade inflation and other aspects of their culture. On the other hand, MIT, in a way, breaks down students before (aiming to) build them back up. Impostor syndrome is more prevalent here than, for example, duck syndrome.
Another thing about MIT is that it’s hard to BS. Although some people joke that business and humanities majors are “easier," there’s really no way to coast through MIT. Legitimate work is more valued than empty credentials, though as with any elite institution, there will still be people driven by and in pursuit of clout.
A few things that MIT has that are somewhat unique:
- You can take almost any class in the university. You’re not restricted to your major or college (e.g. School of Engineering), and you don’t have to apply to a major. Undergrads can take grad classes (even in first-year fall) and vice versa. You can take as many classes as you want at a time with no increase in tuition (first-years have credit limits though), though for most people it’s not advisable to take more than 4-5.
- Undergraduate research is accessible, encouraged, and normalized — not merely “possible.” 90% of students do a UROP by the time they graduate, and they're usually paid!
- Overall, everything is well-funded and “you can ask for funding stupid easy” (in the words of one of my friends, who bought $600 worth of lightsabers through a club): MIT can cover travel and living expenses for internships abroad, and the internships are usually paid on top of that. If you’re into the arts, there’s a grant program, dozens of classes and performance groups, and subsidized tickets to museums and galleries. If you want to make a side project, there’s money for that too. If you live in a dorm, there’s literally money allocated for your living group to spend on food, bonding activities, a new bean bag chair, or whatever you decide.
- Everyone is expected to be/become proficient in a broad range of areas. To graduate, you have to take calculus, physics, biology, chemistry, several communication-focused classes, 8 classes across the humanities, arts, and social sciences, and more.
- Most dorms (and independent living groups) have a lot of personality and culture — lots of content about this on the blogs!