Originally published in the 1° INITIATIVE BLOG on 13 Oct 2011
This weekend, I was on Fall Break, i.e. I got Monday and Tuesday off in addition to Saturday and Sunday. I used this time to steal a trip to Boston, something I’ve wanted to do for a while. I was there for one and a half days, and during that time, I visited 4 campuses – Brandeis, MIT, Harvard, BU.
The two names that stand out the most are of course Harvard and MIT. They also happened to be the two campuses of which I got the most thorough tours, partly because my guide (I mean my friend) was an MIT student who also takes Harvard classes.
Without doubt, these are two of the top schools in the country. I don’t know if anyone applying to these colleges read my blog posts, but this article not about advice on how to get in to those places. I wouldn’t know any ways because I never applied. But I just wanted to write about my impressions of the two places. Don’t take my word for whatever I say because my opinions are based mostly on the information given to me by one single person.
Academic structures are very different
I can safely say that MIT is a hell of a lot more stressful than Harvard. Harvard sees grade inflation which means professors give out good grades to whoever tries even a little bit, but in MIT students struggle to pass. Harvard also has the same classes for different disciplines – as in Engineering students and Humanities students take different versions of Calculus. In MIT everyone takes the same general requirement courses, which includes differential calculus. This makes sense in a way because you can’t even get into MIT unless you have had a certain amount of Math in high school. Harvard takes in students without very Mathy or Sciencey backgrounds.
Funky MIT building
When MIT doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger
I think the one college with the highest suicide rate related to stress might be MIT (I don’t know this for sure). However I do know that it is considered very common for MIT students to suffer bouts of clinical depression because they are so stressed out. Students reporting at health clinics with symptoms of depression are given the “oh, but that’s normal” treatment. Every couple of weeks, students are given Mondays off so that they can decompress. It’s also normal for people to take a year or two off in the middle of their undergraduate years because they can’t take it anymore. I hear that MIT graduates find the real world a very easy place to be because nothing can be as stressful as MIT. An MIT education is so intense that an MIT graduate, whatever their GPA is highly thought of – there is no Latin honor system for the graduating class. This means that Marvel had not done their research when they claimed Tony Stark was a summa cum laude graduate from MIT. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, read this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_honors.
Cross registration is possible
Apparently MIT students can take upto half their classes in Harvard per semester, and vice versa. So anyone who got into one of the colleges and not the other can still take classes in both places. Apparently most MIT students try to take as many classes in Harvard as possible to take advantage of the grade inflation.
If you’re in, you’re in
Both schools have completely need-blind selection from applicants, so whoever gets in will be able to attend – the school will pay for them. My friend thinks MIT’s system is better than Harvard’s because Harvard lets in students based on legacy (as in if your parents went to Harvard, you have significantly higher chances of getting in). I think that the only reason there is need-blind admission is not because they are such honorable schools – they’re rich schools that get plenty of endowments from very successful alumni and the government.
The trademark MIT building
The campuses are very different
Harvard’s campus actually reminded me of Dhaka University’s layout. There is a gated compound with lots of buildings arranged neatly. Both have very pretty campuses, MIT’s being located right next to a river. Harvard Square has lots of places to eat and lots of entertainment opportunities, which MIT students also enjoy given how close the campuses are. I especially liked MIT’s “infinite corridor” system – all the buildings are connected, which makes getting to class very easy. When I walked through MIT’s campus I got a general feeling of tension and stress, while Harvard seemed to have a very academic feel it – an environment very conducive to learning.
Why is there so much drug use?
There is open drug usage in many of the dorms in both campuses, because there is very little regulation. Students in an MIT dorm actually grow weed. My friend and had an argument about this. She thinks students are grown up and there should be no regulation. They should be allowed to make mistakes and learn from them. I agree that no one should monitor what time they get back to the dorm or whether they come back at all, or stuff like that. But why won’t there be regulations on stuff that are illegal; and they are illegal because this stuff is harmful. I hear recently in Harvard there has been a drug related shooting. A Shooting! Yes, I live in West Philadelphia, a relatively dangerous area where you can get mugged or shot or raped – and because we have such heightened security – it’s rare that these incidents happen. But we live in danger of the unsafe neighborhood – not of other students who do drugs because the dorm regulations are so lax.
I haven’t been to Harvard dorms, but some of the MIT dorms have a vibrant culture of murals and wall paintings and creativity. But then again, floors invite each other to parties with signs like “Come masturbate our giant penises.” Yes, at Penn we get lots of invites to frat parties slipped under our doors, but at least we’re invited with more class. We have vibrant cultures of murals and wall paintings and creativity too, but we don’t have pictures of – Pokemon orgies?
Vibrant Dorm Culture
As you can tell, I was quite disappointed with the quality of student life that I saw. Given what we hear about these places, I kind of expected to find inspiration; but I ended up leaving being glad that I never applied to these places; and most of all – how much I love being at Penn.
Once again, my opinions are probably biased because a) all my information is from one person and b) I tend to disagree with this one person a lot . It’s not like Penn students are saints. We have our share of douches and scandalous sex stories, only I never come across them (I read about them in the school newspaper). Maybe if I went to these places, I wouldn’t come across them either? I don’t know from what my friend said, it seemed to be quite a ubiquitous thing. Anyways, before I start ranting again, I’ll end this piece.