Bartleby: Are you a resident? I am a professor in a highly ranked medical school. As I said before, I have no relationship with all three schools you mentioned. However, I do have collaborators in HMS and MIT, and know their science quite well. I am quite puzzled that your MIT friend needed to go to Wellesley for the humanity core, because many humanity and social science departments in MIT are highly regarded, including music, political science, linguistics, management and economics. It should be easier to cross-register in Harvard for a MIT student if Harvard also provides similar classes (and obviously not). To my knowledge, MIT requires eight humanity classes to graduate. The HASS programs are excellent. I don't think that they lag in educating their students for humanity.
Those people taking gap years in residency to pursue other interest seldom come back, and we rarely readmit them.
@underarchiever: No, I'm not a resident. I'm basing all of my comments on personal conversations I've had with members of the medical community (physicians, residents with whom I've worked, med school classmates, college classmates).
If you read my previous post carefully, you'll see that I make no mention of taking gap years during residency. However, I did refer to gap years between med school and residency. As you know, once a med school graduate begins a residency program, there is a commitment to finish the program on-time. If a resident drops out, decelerates, or takes time off, rotation schedules would likely get thrown off, resulting in an increase in workload for the house staff (possibly) and other residents in the program (almost certainly).
Having PI-level collaborators at an institution gives one very little insight at all into the undergraduate curricula at that particular institution. I suppose that's why I find the tone of certainty in your posts so surprising.
MIT students are not forced to cross-register at Wellesley or Harvard to fulfill core humanities requirements. They can choose to take the offered on-campus courses to fulfill the humanities requirement. In fact, that's probably the "path of least resistance" for MIT undergrads. It should be mentioned that the cross-registration process is not always so easy. Students affiliated with other institutions are not typically given priority for course registration. This means that if the class is popular, the cross-registering student will probably not be lucky enough to get into it. Moreover, the academic schedules for the institutions involved may not be perfectly aligned. This can make it difficult logistically, from the cross-registering student's perspective.
Although MIT may have some specific strengths in a handful of areas within the humanities, that does not translate into strong liberal arts course offerings across the board.
You pointed out that MIT requires 8 humanities classes to graduate. If that's the case (and it very well could be), that stands as a minimum requirement. I would assert that most college students interested in obtaining a liberal arts education would want to take more than 8 humanities courses during college. If you have the time, I encourage you to peruse the course catalogs for the schools in question. Among them, you'll notice an incredible difference in the depth and breadth of course offerings in the humanities.
I don't mean to disparage MIT at all. It's a fine school -- very strong in the sciences. The UROP program is fantastic. The student body has a playful attitude toward science that surely resonates with anyone having geeky/nerdy inclinations (myself included). Their hacks are pretty damn funny. Their frat parties are something to behold. Graduates get to wear a cool ring, uniquely designed by the ring committee for their class. Regardless of which school the original poster chooses, I'm sure he'll have a great college experience.
Underachiever, I know of several member of my residency program at the Brigham who took extended time to do bench research and one who spent a year doing medical missionary work in New Guinea. Every single one came back and unlike whatever department you come from, our department was encouraging before they left and welcomed them back with open arms. (BTW-- I have kept up with all of them, all of them are now prominent academic physicians in either clinical/basic research or public health-- I myself did a long research fellowship at the Kennedy School which resulted in winning a major fellowship after I finished my residency.)
Did it cause problems in the program? No, not really, because there was a tradition of people doing such things so their places were taken up by those residents from previous years who were returning back to clinical practice. And as far as I could tell, none of them missed more than a slight step at the outset getting back in the clinical swing of things.
I have since switched fields and a good amount of my time is working with students who are dealing with these sorts of questions. Most frequently I encourage them to explore-- I had one student who took 3 years off to get her law degree and now back finishing up her psychiatry residency--that the program will always be here.
Thankfully, medical education no longer has the "macho" aspect that a resident has to "gut it through." That style of education produced too many horribly warped people who felt as if they were "owed" for having given up everything and making it through what was like a multi-year Butan Death March. Read the "House of God" (about Beth Israel at Harvard in the late 1970s). At first the reader is laughing but by the end it isn't funny at all--it has become clear how psychotic and sick residency education is. I rejoice that such practices are on the wane.
@etondad: Thanks for sharing your experience. It's good to know that some residency programs are supportive of their residents, even if their plans diverge from the one initially laid out by the program.
I'll stand up as the MIT alum who was very happy with the humanities/social sciences offerings at MIT. It's certainly not true that most (or many) students feel the need to go to Wellesley for liberal arts courses -- actually, I can't think of anyone I knew who did that. A few people I knew took courses at Harvard, but mostly during the summer, when MIT does not offer classes.
I was mostly interested in the social sciences, so I took courses primarily in anthropology, psychology, and linguistics to fulfill my HASS (humanities/arts/social sciences) requirement, although I also took courses in literature and foreign language. It's true that the eight-course requirement is a floor, not a ceiling, so students who are interested in taking a wide variety of courses in the humanities, or in adding a second major or minor in a humanities field, can certainly take more courses. Most students at MIT are primarily interested in science and engineering, but many people have a strong avocational interest in the humanities and social sciences.
For the OP's interests in particular, the MIT political science department is outstanding and is typically highly-ranked. The biology department is, of course, top-notch. I was an undergraduate at MIT in biology, and am now a biology PhD student at Harvard, so I'm in an excellent place to comment on both programs -- they are both world-class programs, and a student certainly doesn't need to sacrifice academic quality or research opportunities by attending either. The MIT EECS department is, of course, the best in the world.
@molliebatmit: So if you were in the OP's shoes, which would you choose: MIT this fall or Harvard after a gap year?
Was MIT your first choice school for undergrad? If so, why?
Having spent time on both campuses, have you noticed any difference in the personalities of the students?
My impression from talking with MIT students is that, on the whole, they were not very interested in taking humanities classes. Such classes were seen mainly as requirements for graduation. I didn't find this too surprising given the focus of the school and the type of student that the school attracts.
When I was applying to college, I was accepted to MIT and waitlisted at Harvard. I visited MIT after being accepted, and immediately felt at home -- I loved the atmosphere, was thrilled by the classes, and everyone I met was so welcoming and smart. I had an absolutely fantastic four years, and I would go to MIT all over again if I had the choice. If I were the OP, I would absolutely go to MIT now, rather than waiting a year to go to Harvard, unless there were cultural fit issues that made the OP think he/she wouldn't like it at MIT.
My contact with Harvard undergrads has been limited to those who work in my lab or take the course I TFed for two years -- all biology majors (MCB, SCRB, Neurobio, etc.). In general, I think there's a lot of overlap between the types of people who major in biology at Harvard and at MIT, although Harvard has more pre-meds, and therefore the Harvard students with whom I have contact are considerably more concerned about their grades. MIT students tend to work themselves crazy by double-majoring, or taking a zillion classes, or spending hours at their research jobs; Harvard students tend to work themselves just as crazy in their extracurriculars.
My impression from talking with MIT students is that, on the whole, they were not very interested in taking humanities classes. Such classes were seen mainly as requirements for graduation.
Sure, but the option to take large numbers of humanities classes is still there. For those students who are interested, there are a huge variety of courses offered, and the vast majority of them are small seminar-style courses where students get direct attention from professors (since the humanities departments have very few majors). I should point you toward posts by oasis, who used to be very active on the MIT board until he went to medical school -- he was a double major in biology and history, and has some great posts on being a science/humanities double major at MIT.
Good luck with your Ph.D. program.
Thanks! I'm finishing up -- I'll be defending my thesis this fall.
Take a gap year if it means doing something meaningful or if you think it's worth it. It comes down to which school you see yourself fitting in better. I will say though that MIT is a school you must love and have a very deep passion for, because otherwise it will make you very depressed very quickly.
You've probably made your decision already, but...
I would go to MIT barring any anticipated problems with fit. It would be very hard to spend a gap year while all of your peers are off learning and having fun at college. In fact, it would be agonizing, unless you found a truly fulfilling activity that would serve as enough of a distraction -- which is unlikely given the small window of time in which you could have procured such an option. There is undoubtedly a threshold that a school should meet if one is to give up the chance of going to Harvard, even if their enrollment at Harvard is delayed. But MIT is certainly above this threshold, and is arguably one of the top 5 schools in the country.