Hi Readers, it's Miranda! In the following blog my friend Grace shares her experience so far at MIT. Though technical school isn't on the table for everyone, I think its valuable for all those deciding to listen to an inside perspective when a school may have strong stereotypes on the outside. Enjoy!
In some senses, MIT is exactly what you would expect.
People are nerdy. Like, really nerdy, in all senses and flavors of the word. In various pockets around campus, you can find overwhelming enthusiasm for anything from Dungeons and Dragons to 3D printing, Star Wars to drones, welding to science fiction.
Also, the entire campus is soaked in and defined by numbers. Every building and room has a number, even broom closets and boiler rooms. I had two different lectures in 26-100, and my most-instructive recitation happened in 2-147. The classes are defined by numbers: my schedule last semester was 7.012, 8.01, 18.02, and 21L.009. The majors, or courses, are defined by numbers too. There’s even a rumor that every tree on campus has a number.
All of this seems to fit neatly into the stereotypes associated with technical schools. I expected the nerdiness, and although the widespread use of numbers was unexpected, it hardly came as a surprise.
However, other aspects of MIT came as a surprise.
As I found out, MIT students aren’t infinitely-working machines who run on coffee and ramen and spit out Java and organic chemistry. They don’t speak exclusively in physics formulas, and they haven’t lost the skill of emotional intelligence.
I half-feared that I’d be part of a tiny minority on campus who had any appreciation for art, literature, theatre, and music; as it turns out, almost everyone at MIT is passionate about some sort of humanities subject. My peers aren’t harsh and unfriendly; they’re often kind, hilarious, and silly.
One of my favorite memories of the year was sitting in a kitchen in my dorm, eating slightly-charred homemade pizza, forgetting about my physics homework, and giggling through a ridiculous game of Scrabble until late into the night.
Technical school life is definitely not for everyone. The work is intense: it’s easy to spend over an hour working on a single problem only to get it wrong. The amount of information presented in one lecture often feels overwhelming. There’s no getting around the fact that a lot of the work required is concrete problem-solving, which is not everyone’s cup of tea.
However, don’t be afraid that a technical school will squash your “softness.” It is absolutely the norm for students to train technically, and also let their imaginative sides thrive. Rest assured, your creativity, artistic sense, and ability to empathize will not die sad, cold deaths at the hands of an institute of technology.
I know! It's intense. Final admissions decisions are rolling out regularly now, and on a daily basis you and your peers are experiencing multiple emotions all at once. It's a tumble of a time.
Before I arrived to college I had a lot of fantasies about the dream world that was about to become my life. No parents around, no looming college admission process, and new & perfect friends. The thing is: transitioning to college is difficult for everyone. Everyone. Even the beer bros, even the people on your newsfeed who look like they’re having a smashing time.
Something I never thought about before I got to college was how you are starting off with virtually no close relationships at your new home. I was really blindsided by the fact that living amongst, what starts as, strangers can feel really uncomfortable and lonely. Your peers in high school, whether you loved or despised them, were very familiar by the end of four years if not your whole life. College drops you off with nobody to love or hate and it’s really hard to remember how you even obtain friends in the first place.
When the first week hit, everybody sprinted to groups and clung onto them like those sweet college lanyards they hand out. For me, this rapid formation put me in a state of panic. Everybody seemed to have figured out everything in a matter of a week and I seemed to be losing my key card while the sorting hat organized everyone into their respective groups. This delusion I created for myself ignored the fact that change is inevitable and I really can’t judge how other friendships seem from the outside. Some people really do find those they connect with right away, don’t we all have our coveted *first friend in college* who may turn out to be a total wacko or a lifelong friend (or both.) But the truth is, there’s no telling right at the start. Chances are, a lot of people were feeling just as lost and mixed around as I was. It makes sense not to have close friends right outta the gate, because close friendships are like slow-cooked pork: they need time to get juicy!
Being able to walk away from first semester with even one or two friends who actually support you and want to get to know better is a feat and all we can really ask for. Although it’s not lovely to admit, starting college is a time of judgement and insecurity (the two are friends after all.) I still have to remind myself not to write people off right away, or panic that I haven’t met the entire student body (“my best friend could be walking around out there and I’m just sitting here with these chums!”). Try to reach out to all kinds of people: you’ve got a whole new playground to find people different from yourself and learn from them. Feel free to distance yourself from people who don’t make you feel welcome or valid: although friendships seem life or death when you seem to be only wrangling a few, don’t hide yourself away with a friend that doesn’t make you feel good and yourself.
And so with that, first semester was a really tricky balance of telling myself YOU HAVE NO FRIENDS and then THAT’S REALLY ACTUALLY OKAY. And no matter where you are, I hope you can pull up a chair in that sentiment, if only for a moment. Starting college can be a hot mess. Being able to accept the difficulty, with friends and so many other things, was my first step to gaining comfort and happiness. Somehow we arise out of the rubble, taking our loses and grasping onto a couple wins: and keep making it work. And when you’re feeling particularly disheartened, just remember there’s always another fallen soldier out there doing desperate laps around the dining hall trying to find where to sit (re: WHERE ARE YOU?)
Felicia Fahey PhD
Felicia is a comprehensive educational consultant. She works with college bound students of all ages close to home, across the country and around the globe.