Friday, June 15, 2012

I Came. I Saw. I Ate.

Today we got to sleep in for the first time this trip, and I personally relished the chance to catch up on the few lost hours of sleep I had over the hectic three days we’ve just been through.  I just wish we had more hours in the day to spend more time at all of these wonderful colleges while keeping up with our sleep. Sadly, today our touring came to an end, when we went to M.I.T.

Team Kaa (snake from The Jungle Book, sorry I’m getting obscure with the references) must have hypnotized ourselves to sleep, since all of use slept in to 9 or 10. We also were able to beat the girls down to the lobby, which ended our losing streak as quickly as it had begun, even though the girls woke up a few hours earlier than us to eat breakfast.  We headed off to Cambridge and after an hour and a half in terrible Boston traffic (in my opinion the only negative thing about Boston) we ate lunch at an Indian place in the food hall across the street from the main building. The food was surprisingly okay for food on a college campus, and then at 2:00 it was time for the info session.
Heading into the info session, I had a few concerns about MIT thanks to the Dartmouth lunch, which made me start to think that I might not want to be an engineer.  I was afraid that MIT would be solely focused on engineering and sciences, as the name and its reputation  suggests. After the Dartmouth lunch, when I learned how often college students change their minds about what they want to study, I was worried I'd be trapped in an engineering college if I ever decided to change my major.  I was also afraid that student life would be focused heavily on academics, with no social aspects

Even with those concerns that were soon to be directly addressed, I still considered MIT my dream school. Not only is it great at engineering, which I do plan to at least start off in, but it was a bridge away from Boston, my favorite place on Earth. Once the info session started, all those fears were washed away, and MIT is hands-down the college I want to go to, if only they would accept me.  Almost immediately, MIT admissions officer running the session explained the difference between high school courses and MIT courses, since he went to MIT before becoming a part of their admissions team. He said that MIT is definitely difficult, but difficult in that there are only a few homework problems, but they involve complex analysis to solve. He said that the problems so challenged his way of thinking, he actually started to enjoy homework (here I was pleasantly surprised that contrary to popular belief, MIT student don’t enjoy doing homework before they get to MIT) since he had to think in a different way and solve these intricate puzzles. This absolutely spoke to me personally, since while I have been unable to find a subject that actually excites me to answer questions about, I love solving intricate problems by trying to pick them apart, and feel immensely satisfied when I do end up solving them. He quickly quelled my fear of being trapped in an engineering only college when he announced that MIT does have a very good liberal arts program, and that when you apply to MIT, you apply to the school as a whole, not an individual college within the university as many other schools have you do. Then, as if that didn’t convince me enough that MIT was very open to students figuring out what they wanted to do, I learned that first semester freshman year all classes are given as pass/fail, so students can deal with the stress of being away from home as well as get a feel for MIT. On top of that, MIT will not allow students to declare majors until the end of their freshman year, and even then MIT will let students remain undeclared as long as they like, although the school strongly recommends declaring at the end of freshman year. Just as I think I would be interested in engineering because I have always been good at math and science; our info session leader had assumed he would want to be a math major, since he had always been good at math. Just as I’m afraid will happen to me, he became uninterested in math, but he easily began to major in a social science thanks to the openness of MIT, which is exactly what I want available at a college for me. Immediately, my fears of being trapped studying something I didn’t want to study were tossed aside, and I learned that MIT is actually a very lenient university when it comes to switching majors, which has been one of my main criteria for a college. Then there was still my worry that MIT would just be a boring place where no one could ever do anything but study.
The Green Building, formerly home to Tetris
This fear was addressed at our 3:00 tour, with a rising sophomore Phoebe, who is majoring in civil engineering. Phoebe talked about hacks, or pranks MIT students pulled. When I first heard that MIT students pulled pranks, I figured the most creative joke they would come up with would be to find a friend’s window, slam a test paper against it, and yell, “I got an A. How do you like them apples?” I realized that I had once again prejudged the MIT populous when I learned that pretty much everything you could imagine had been done to the dome MIT is famous for, shown above. Students had put a Harry Potter scar on it, dressed it up as R2-D2, and most famously put a model of a police car, complete with officer and donuts, on top of the dome. I was however surprised that no one had ever put a Boston Red Sox hat on the dome (or at least our tour guide didn’t mention it, so it couldn’t have been that well done). This gives me even more incentive to try as hard as possible to attend MIT, since that wrong must be righted. With all my fears addressed and the Brown dinner quickly approaching, I was reluctant (that word doesn’t even begin to cover how sad I was to leave this dream school) to leave MIT, but I was looking forward to another interesting dinner.

At the Capital Grille, I wasn’t able to come close to talking with the 10 Brown alums and staff at the dinner, but loved talking to Irene Rojas-Carroll, a rising junior who graduated from my own El Cerrito High School, Maddie, Po (both rising juniors as well), and Ida, a 2010 alum. It was really nice getting to know them all, and once again I learned so much about the admissions process, as well as what Brown specifically has to offer, as well as getting a feel for the type of people that go to Brown, which made me think that I could definitely fit in there, and really excited me for the Macroeconomics course that starts in 3 days!

After being given this wonderful opportunity to see all these great East Coast schools, it made me realize just how lucky we are, and how unfortunate it is that a lot of WCCUSD kids never even consider East Coast schools as a future college, mainly because they don’t know what kind of questions to ask in narrowing down their potential colleges. I didn’t really know what I was looking for in a college, and it took 2 ILC trips to even begin to figure it out.  Knowing this, my cohort and I decided that each of us should come up with specific questions about certain aspects of the college experience that we found most important over these 3 days. My topic was the different admissions processes, and while they aren’t too different from school to school, students should definitely start to research these main questions about their prospective schools:
Are they on the common app? Surprisingly to me, MIT had its own application, which involved a mandatory interview, and which I would have had no idea if the leader of the info session didn’t address that right away.
What type of supplements do they require? Dartmouth had the most interesting supplement in my opinion, where they require a peer recommendation for you.

What kind of financial aid do they give? A lot of these prestigious schools are great with financial aid, and most have an easy calculator on their website to figure out just how much one would have to pay if they chose to attend that school

What type of tests/how many teacher recommendations do they require? This is pretty straightforward and most of these schools expect an ACT or SAT with two SAT subject tests and two teacher recommendations as well as one from a guidance counselor, but there are slight differences with every college, so it is helpful to look up what exactly you will need to apply.

These tours were an amazing opportunity and I am so grateful for this chance, and I can’t wait to actually get to work and start at Brown on Sunday.
A small fraction of Boston as we pass over
the bridge connecting Cambridge and Boston
As always, whenever I'm in Boston, I have to take a picture of
the CITGO sign that shows just how close I am to Fenway

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