Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was never my dream school. I believed the basic stereotypes about it – suicide inducing, too difficult, STEM oriented, lifeless – but that didn’t stop me from being pumped when I found out I had been admitted. After all, MIT is a top-tier university. Even though I always believed I would choose University of Texas’ Business Honors Program (UT BHP), I still got caught up in the MIT hype.
The Facebook group was lit and everyone seemed so excited. I was excited too. MIT’s famous Campus Preview Weekend became something I counted down the days to. Four days of freedom to explore a campus that was renown without supervision was a dream come true. Free swag and a blank slate to do whatever I wanted with was a blessing. I played around with the idea of actually committing to the school I used to despise. I imagined telling people I was going to MIT, exploring Boston on my weekends, and moving away from Austin – a city I was quite frankly tired of. On top of that, a corner of my heart still doubted whether or not I would truly fit in at UT. The place was too big, I’d be stuck with a majority of my old classmates and my parents would always question my decision. Would I regret choosing UT? Thoughts like these crossed my head 12 hours every day.
I had unconsciously fallen in love with MIT.
Then, about a week before CPW, MIT released the weekend’s schedule and I threw up a little. Pages and pages of rainbow events all stacked and occurring at the same time, all offering free food, and all equally intimating flashed out from the MIT CPW 2016 app. I proceeded to spend a week ranting. This was not an event I wanted to attend anymore. No, I did not want to “hot tub and chill with our boys” or “become lit at the hottest party in town” and I certainly wasn’t ready to be thrown into a huge pool of prefrosh and forced to make awkward small talk.
Perhaps my change in attitude was also influenced by Discover BHP, which I attended the weekend before CPW. I fell in love with UT there simply because I could see myself attending it. Sure, it isn’t as prestigious as MIT and its dorms aren’t the nicest places, but the feeling was right. I became extremely excited to choose UT.
Regardless, I boarded a plane for Cambridge with an open mind. I am so, so thankful I did, because only after CPW did I know for sure I will not regret declining MIT’s offer for UT.
Before I explain why, I’d like to offer some positive thoughts about CPW. The people at MIT, especially the upperclassmen, are genuinely interesting, passionate, talented and intense. They have so much energy, are dying to talk to you and have you come to MIT and all want to keep you fed and happy. For some people this event might be perfect and cause them to automatically commit. They might fall in love with the dorms, the professors and the huge variety of courses – I certainly did. CPW serves its purpose well depending on the type of person you are and the type of college experience you are looking for.
On the other hand, CPW made me realize MIT isn’t for me:
1. Even though everyone is having fun, you can tell that CPW is just a cover for the stress that students are under, their break from going crazy.
2. MIT is research-centric and focuses largely on theoretical rather than pragmatic work. The intensity of math and science classes is not only intimidating, but also seemingly meaningless for those interested in the humanities. For example, the philosophy department focuses 99% of their energy on analytical philosophy rather than other branches in order to accommodate the MIT fervor.
3. You can automatically tell what type of people MIT attracts by the silence at all the booths promoting literature-related activities.
4. The prefrosh are largely divisible into two categories: the party animals and those trying very hard to fit in, “MIT has always been my dream school” ISEF finalists. Both look at those who don’t attend CPW’s frat parties until 4AM with raised eyebrows. The few uncommitted fit into neither category.
5. Everyone looks at you a little differently when you admit you haven’t committed yet and are considering schools not in America’s top ten. The obvious choice is MIT. Duh. That’s what the majority of your conversations will sound like unless you bring up the fact that it may be a financial issue. If you do say it’s about the money, the conversation will likely sound more like: it’s worth it, go talk to the financial aid center.
6. Pretending to be interested is very, very tiring. Pretending that everyone around you isn’t also pretending is even more tiring.
When I came home from CPW, I faced my beaming parents as they begged me to choose MIT. I shook my head. MIT was beautiful, but it was not me.
The point of this article isn’t to bash on MIT, though. Rather, it’s to make a very important point about choosing colleges. In the end, do not choose your school based on how high it ranks on US News’ list. Do not choose between colleges based on your parents’ opinion or even based on which campus perceptually offers you more opportunity. Opportunity is everywhere if you are willing to look and fight for it. What’s more important is the culture of a campus. Choose a place you can see yourself living in for four years, choose a place where you will be happy with your community, and choose a place that you will love. Yes, professors, resources, and the like are very important, but if you don’t belong in a place, you don’t belong. Don’t force yourself into a bubble. It’ll pop and leave you gasping for oxygen.
Visit the “college of your dreams” before you hit the commit button, for it may not really be the college of your dreams.
Lead Image Credit: Niklas Tenhaef // Flickr Creative Commons