At MIT, you can walk a straight sixth of a mile indoors through the Infinite Corridor. You can get a pirate’s license if you take the right classes, take a pirate oath, and sign a waiver. Starting from the beginning of freshman year, you learn that the MIT community is full of interesting facts such as these, and an array of adventures. However, looking back as I prepare to graduate in June, there are several things that stand out as major surprises about my MIT undergraduate experience. They feel so obvious in hindsight, but these five revelations took me by surprise one at a time.
You aren’t guaranteed to learn a lot, or become the best
For two years in a row, MIT has been named the best university in the world by the QS World University Rankings. I assumed that abundant knowledge and becoming one of the world’s brightest minds was a guarantee written into the admittance letter from such a prestigious school. MIT definitely offers students this opportunity, but I’ve discovered that it requires active participation; some of my most useful and exciting classes were not part of the required curriculum.
You can graduate by taking the bare minimum requirements and barely understanding the material. But without seeking classes relevant to your interests or actively engaging with the material, you may not end up growing intellectually as much as hoped.
You don’t always have to be the little fish in a big pond
“MIT is a really good and competitive school, it’s ok if you aren’t at the top” — many of us heard comments like this as freshmen. It’s true, this school is full of brilliant people and most of us won’t always be at the top. But we earned our way here, and while we can’t expect to always be at the top, nor should we expect to always be in the middle or bottom. I have had test scores both in the bottom and top five percent of various classes, and everywhere in between. We may not always be able to be the best, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying to excel or discovering unknown strengths. Sometimes we’ll be the little fish in the big pond of MIT, but sometimes we can also be the big fish in the big pond.
Belonging to MIT also means belonging to Boston
Coming from a tiny town, even Cambridge seemed like a reasonably sized city to me. The bridge was so long that I considered it a formidable obstacle to going into Boston, yet Boston kept creeping into my MIT life and enticing me out. It began with simple excursions to Mike’s Pastries or Pinkberry, both of which quickly became favorite spots. Friends started living across the river and I would visit them. I got drawn into watching Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins games.
Each year, as a school we volunteer for and support the Boston marathon, even during and after the tragic events last year. MIT joins the rest of the Boston community to be BostonStrong and CollierStrong. Being just 364.4 smoots away from Boston has given the city a strong influence over my time here; Boston’s quirks and strengths have added another dimension to my time at MIT, defining many of my memories here.
Some of the biggest lessons come from outside the classroom
Coming into MIT, I believed that the academics offered the best opportunities. While we have incredible academic opportunities, extra-curricular activities are actually where I grew the most. In my sorority, I found role models who inspired me to become a better person on a daily basis. On RingComm, I got to work with a wonderful set of people that I may not have met otherwise, as well as work in a new dynamic where strong disagreements were frequent but could still be used as a foundation for strong friendships.
Each of the many activities I’ve participated in through MIT has taught me important lessons. Through them, I learned to prioritize, understand what motivates me, delegate effectively, plan long-term and large-scale, and build the connections I will take with me moving forward. These activities were truly some of the most striking aspects of my time here.
Sometimes MIT isn’t enough
I came to MIT in love with the school, and I will always remember it with mostly fondness. However, this place is a pressure cooker, full of extreme enthusiasm, caffeinated energy, and lengthy to-do lists. I discovered that as much as I love MIT, I need at least one day a month off campus to keep a reasonable perspective, remember what I love about the school, and move forward. MIT has so much to offer, but in the pursuit of that, sometimes it is easy to forget about everything else.
Time can slip by without us taking the time to call home, keep up with hobbies, or enjoy the beauty of the city we’re in. This school has so much to offer, but without spending time on these other things, my life would feel incomplete. MIT offers unlimited opportunities, but sometimes we need to take time for all the things that it doesn’t give us.
Each of these realizations tailored my MIT experience a little bit differently, to make even more of my four years here. Even though I graduate in a few weeks, I’m waiting to see what other surprises the MIT network will hold for me in the future.