As attendees of CPW, you have all been admitted to MIT. Congratulations! You now have an important decision to make, and hopefully CPW will help you do so.
However, don’t be deceived: CPW is not an accurate portrayal of what MIT is usually like. Rather, it serves as a way for you to meet current students and, through them, hear firsthand what life at MIT is truly like. And it is not a completely rosy picture. MIT is hard; it will challenge you mentally, physically and emotionally. To succeed in such a strenuous, demanding environment, you will be forced to organize your time and balance your commitments, academic and otherwise. Yet you will probably feel pressure to stray from this maxim. Academic work will seem overwhelming, and you’ll feel tempted to push other commitments to the side: friends, extracurriculars, and even just time to relax. But the experience you gain in balancing your time and priorities will prove valuable for your life and success in the future.
We’re certainly not recommending that you consistently give classes a lower priority than the rest of your life, but moderation is important. And MIT has so much to offer outside of the classroom. The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) makes high-level research easily accessible to students, even freshmen. You’ll learn how to communicate with fellow researchers and the professor you are working with, who could be a high-caliber titan of science or engineering. It’s a great example of one of the best things you can do with an MIT experience: apply it. The idea of mens et manus (mind and hand) is uniquely prevalent here, whether through research, internships, or team competitions. Take advantage of the MIT name and go after every opportunity you can.
If you need a break from academics, MIT offers a wide variety of extracurricular clubs, sports and music groups. Through these, you’ll learn valuable communication and planning skills that will go a long way towards preparing you for the real world. You’ll be doing something you enjoy with a group of people who share that interest in a collaborative, supportive environment. Will you like everyone you meet? Of course not. But learning to be respectful of different opinions and attaining the skill set necessary to work with people who you don’t like are musts in life after MIT.
Even taking the time to relax here is a uniquely rejuvenating experience. The conversations you have with your peers will help provide a framework for what you do in the classroom. MIT students, faculty, and staff are passionate people, and with their skills, are remarkably well suited to learning about and solving the problems of the world.
So while you’re at MIT now, do all you can to take a broad sampling of everything you think you could remotely be interested in, and then go further than that. Pay special attention to the varied cultures of dorms and living groups, which will have a tremendous influence during your formative time here. Don’t worry too much about the curriculum or go too much into depth on any one topic: Orientation and first term Pass/No Record grading give you plenty of opportunities for that.
Classes are important; they’re the central component to earning your degree and having a life after graduation. But they do not exist in a vacuum. Focusing entirely on academics will get you your degree, but not the success in real life that comes from balancing scholastic work with extracurricular and personal commitments. The latter two will let you learn how to become a better leader and friend, who can learn from their mistakes and work with others. College is all about education, but not just about academics. At MIT, as in the rest of the world, balance is key.