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Don't Overlook the Personal Side of MIT

Column by Thomas R. Karlo
Contributing Editor

So you've come to MIT. You've found your living group (or you will soon, at least). And you know exactly what classes you're going to take, what gym classes you'll be in, and exactly where you'll work each summer. You've planned your entire life out all the way to where you'll be in line come graduation day. Well, you'd better put away that schedule. You still have yet to meet the greatest part about being at MIT - the people.

When I came to MIT, I could have told you any number of reasons why I thought it was a great school. I would have pointed to how it did in the magazine reports, how high the average SAT scores were, and how many great scientists and engineers came from the school. And I would have been totally wrong.

Unless you spend the next four years with your face glued to a book (an unfortunate disease that inflicts a significant percentage of students here; I called the Medical Center, and they're going to get back to me about it), you find that the true opportunity and value of spending four years at MIT is simply to get to interact with the people of MIT for that time. Never in my life have I met so many intelligent, open, and friendly people, and I can only hope that wherever I end up after school even approaches the community here at MIT. People around campus, despite the occasional egomaniac or control freak, are incredibly honest, inspired, and dynamic. You're about to become part of an incredible chaotic mix of brains, friendship, and ambition. Being part of this mix doesn't just mean going to class with these people.

Being part of MIT should mean more to you than getting a good GPA and receiving your diploma. If you make those your only goals for your time here, you'll miss a crucial part of your education, and it will hurt your ability to succeed in the outside world far worse than missing any class. This doesn't mean that you should sacrifice your academics to be a "people person" - far from it. Some of the most academically successful people I know are also the most friendly, and they derive the energy and spirit they apply to their work from the support and interdependence of their friendships with other students.

The idea is to work toward achieving a balance between keeping up with the often heavy academic workload of MIT and building and maintaining friendship with others. These goals are not mutually exclusive; in reality, they are totally complementary. Having the support of your friends will be critical to helping you survive the toughest times at MIT, and they will also bring you your best moments here. Without friends, does it even matter how successful you are? You'll still be alone.

When I came to MIT, my goal was to leave with my diploma, a great GPA, and achievements in activities and work for my resume. After three years here, I've realized just how tremendously shortsighted that was, and I hope it can be attributed to my inexperience at the time. Now I'm a senior, and I've achieved as many things as I could have hoped for when I came MIT three years ago. But my hope is that's not how people at MIT will remember me when I eventually graduate and move off into the real world. I hope they remember me as a good friend; I think you should examine this goal and see if it's not a better one for you, too.

These days, when I tell someone I go to MIT, and they ask me what the best thing about going to MIT is, I tell them it's the people that make up the community. Yeah, I could probably impress them more by telling them how we ranked in the news magazines, or how much our graduates make. But I know this would be shortchanging MIT. There isn't anything more important to how valuable your time at college is than the people you live and work with. If anyone tells you differently, they must have gone to another university. I hear there's a place like that up the river; but I would never go there myself.