Please help me with my decision between MIT and Harvard - I can't make up my mind!

<p>I know it's almost logically impossible for me to be a "good match" at two vastly different universities, but after attending both visiting weekends and debating the pros and cons of each, I still can't see which school is the right choice for me.</p>

<p>Let me preface this by saying that in terms of academic opportunities and academic 'fit,' Harvard suits me better. I am someone who loves the humanities - I love art and literature and history, and I have to grit my teeth through my calculus/physics/science classes in high school, because I simply have no interest.</p>

<p>But when I visited the MIT campus, it felt like I just <em>clicked</em> with everything, from the hands-on creative culture to the people to the community. I have never met people who I have felt more comfortable with and with whom I felt like I 'fit in' more, in terms of personality. I loved the independence and creativity in terms of ways to have fun, as well as the sense that people judge you based on personality/intellectual merit and not appearance or wealth. In contrast, at Harvard everyone was extremely nice and friendly, just as MIT - I just didn't feel like I clicked with them. I have reservations basing my judgments on only three days worth of time, but the people just didn't interest me as a whole. (This article on which school has a better sense of humor sums up my views on the respective student populations - MIT students just seem more fun! Harvard</a> vs. MIT: Who Has the Better Sense of Humor?)</p>

<p>I just don't know if I should go with logic and attend a school where I will enjoy the material I am learning (and in such a big school, I will inevitably meet people that I enjoy spending time with) or if I should go to the school where I loved the people but not the curriculum (if they make the first year at MIT difficult enough to make future MIT math/physics majors struggle, I can't imagine how much of a headache someone like me will be in for!). Of course, I have a ton of other smaller pros/cons, but these are my biggest concerns. If anyone could offer some insight for me, I would be extremely grateful. Either way, I know I will be looking into taking cross-enrollment classes for sure!</p>

<p>I’d say go with Harvard. Boston/Cambridge is a big place, I think you’ll be able to find people that you <em>click</em> with anywhere.</p>

<p>If you prefer the humanities and have to grit through calculus/science/whatever, MIT may not be what you’re looking for. Not that it’s not a great school, but I think that you will GREATLY enjoy your college experience more if you’re doing something that you enjoy doing (the humanities) and if you’re doing it around other people who enjoy it too.</p>

<p>Just my two cents, congrats on getting accepted to 2 incredibly excellent institutions.</p>


For the record, I don’t think MIT and Harvard are vastly different, and there are lots of people who would fit in both places. :)</p>

<p>Normally I’m all for going where you’re happy and where you fit in with the people. But I find it tough to recommend MIT to someone who dislikes calculus and science classes, unless you have reason to believe that’s going to change. After all, the first year at MIT is going to be heavy on the General Institute Requirements, and if you think the GIRs are going to make you significantly unhappy, that’s going to suck a lot.</p>

<p>Do you know what you want to major in? If you are thinking you want to major in the humanities, will you enjoy being immersed in a science/engineering-obsessed student culture nonstop? I mean, I of course agree that MIT students are everything you said, but sometimes we can be a little one-note. :slight_smile: And a lot of the student culture at MIT does revolve around most people being science or engineering majors, and around working hard academically.</p>

<p>There are actually a lot of majors at MIT that interest me (Urban Planning being my first and foremost passion, but I’m also interested in Architecture, CMS, Sloan School of Management, and Political Science) - more so than the majors that Harvard offers. I’m definitely more of a humanities person, but I don’t think I would want to major in fields like history or literature for 4 years, because I’m definitely looking for a major that will teach me how to make impact and work with real-life problems as opposed to majors that would lead me more towards a future in academia. In the end, none of the majors I’ve listed above are offered at Harvard (closest would be their Visual and Environmental Studies major, but it is basically Harvard’s fine studio art major and if I wanted to do art in college, I would have gone to an art school) so when it comes down to it, I’m not even sure what I could/would want to study there - but that’s my own problem to deal with if I decide on Harvard.</p>

<p>I don’t hate math and science but I am fairly ambivalent about it, which is unusual for an MIT student, I know. I do well in my math and science classes now and I don’t have any trouble with it, but I know the jump is a big one from high school to MIT, and I know I would really have to buckle down and work hard freshman year. But the people I talked with put it this way: if I get past the first year, I can focus on classes that I enjoy more. The school also sent me a brochure about a very interesting program called Concourse that I would love to explore if I go.</p>

<p>I think that the culture of enthusiasm for tech and engineering is what gives MIT students that special brand of interesting that I found lacking at Harvard and the other Ivy Leagues that I visited, and I don’t think I would have liked MIT so much if it had been any other way! I’m an artist (I did a lot of mural painting in high school, and I love that aspect of MIT culture!) and I felt like the creativity and innovation at MIT was so exciting. </p>

<p>On another note, the friends I have in high school right now are big science geeks, so I’m pretty used to it! :P</p>

<p>Oh and to add on a quick note, I do fairly like working with computers and tech, if that counts for anything! I make websites for the internships I’ve worked with and I can program in several languages. But again, not a big fan of math and science. :&lt;/p>

<p>This looks like a Harvard enrollee to me…</p>

<p>Very few people like all the GIR’s. I think for most of us its a necessary evil that is worth putting yourself through to be at MIT. It’s not going to be easy, but you may want to consider an alternative freshman program like Concourse, ESG or the media arts freshman program? They help you get through the first year then you are free to pursue classes in your major.<br>
I think the fact that you like MIT people better, plus the fact that we actually have majors that interest you more than make up for the fact that the GIR’s are going to kind of suck for you. They suck for almost everyone, so you won’t be alone. Add in MIT’s collaborative side and you will be able to get all the help you need to pass those classes.</p>

<p>Not to read too much into what you wrote, but it sounds like you’re really trying to justify MIT because you feel like you “should” be going to Harvard for some reason. I would worry less about what people want you to do and more about what feels like a good fit because it’s going to be <em>your</em> life and home for the next 4(+?) years!</p>

<p>re MIT GIRs: Not as terrible as they’re cracked up to be. You go through them with everyone else so it’s pretty easy to find people to study (and commiserate) with, and the first two semesters are pass/fail and pass/no record respectively. Once you’re through you have a lot of freedom in what you can study, and most people take a few different things “around” an area before they really figure out what they are passionate about. Also we have humanities, and they happen to be awesome! </p>

<p>The people at MIT are really what make it such a great place to be… because everyone has gone through some of the same hardships and has founds something they love. They’re some of the funnest most passionate people I’ve ever met, and I’m constantly finding out that my friends have secret amazing hobbies etc that they do on the side.</p>

<p>bottom line:
harvard seems conventionally good and has a big name! (it’s HARVARD)
mit will teach you that you can work hard enough to take on <em>anything</em>, and you’ll have found something you’re passionate about. plus we have kind of a big name too :)</p>

<p>whatever you choose i’m sure you’ll be fine.</p>

<p>A university, first and foremost, needs to be an academic fit. I guess if the classes for his major appeal to the OP, then it’s ok. It’s concerning when someone says that they have no interest in math or science. If you do come to MIT, try to pass out of some GIRs so you won’t have to spend more than a semester “gritting your teeth” through your classes.</p>

<p>I often agree with collegealum314, but here I absolutely disagree. Yes, arametric expresses ambivalence about science and math, and yes that is normally a very bad thing for MIT, but arametric also displays a solid level of comfort with technology, and says that they do well in their science or math classes. Based on ONLY that, I would agree that Harvard has the edge.</p>

<p>BUT, and it is a huge but, Arametric says that they feel “at home” on the MIT campus, and not on the Harvard campus. I do understand this completely. I spent a lot of time on both campuses, and MIT was much more comfortable to me. Yes, I agree that almost any person can find a community of like-minded souls on the Harvard campus, or on the University of Podunk campus, but there is a huge difference between a community where you can find a small number of students you get along with, and one where you find that you get along with almost everyone. Indeed, the ZUG article that arametric pointed to does depict a non-trivial difference between the two campus cultures.</p>

<p>To my mind, that sense of home is huge. If you feel comfortable in a place, if you feel supported, if you feel comfortable, you can achieve very much more, and you can be very much happier doing it. To my mind, Concourse sounds like an excellent path through the GIRs. I had a roommate in Concourse. And arametric can do great things in DUSP, where given the low number of majors, they will get very individualised attention. To my mind, I would vote for MIT, based on the “home” thing alone.</p>

<p>That being said, this is a nice problem to have.</p>

<p>Only you know what is in your heart but as a parent of a former MIT student I could tell you that MIT is not for everyone but neither is Harvard. My son did not like Harvard and never planned on applying. Your decision should be based on your feeling of fit not anything else. It needs to be an academic fit as well and you might want to realize that many of the kids in your classes will be hard science and math kids.</p>

<p>The average undergraduate experience is simply more challenging at MIT than Harvard. The standard expected of students is higher, the competition more intense. Do you like that? Do you fear that? You know yourself better than any other of us.</p>

<p>In any case, a thought to keep in mind is that MIT and Harvard allow students to cross-register for classes. This can be quite extensive, and you can make it an integral part of your program. In practice MIT students tend to have a significantly easier time with Harvard courses than vice versa [which in part is due to such facts as it being easier to be an engineer an MIT who takes a course in, say, physical anthropology at Harvard, than it is to be a physical anthropologist at Harvard who takes a course in, say, statistical pattern recognition at MIT]. The academic culture shock is not close to symmetrical.</p>


<p>I have degrees from both Harvard and MIT. I think that your claims comparing the two schools are far too general and subjective to be useful.</p>

<p>I don’t see how anyone can say that either school is more challenging than the other, or that the standards are higher at one school vs. the other. It’s better to stick to objective statements. For example, the average GPA at MIT is lower than at Harvard (this is true, assuming of course you use the same scale for both schools as opposed to MIT’s unusual 5 point scale). Or, the average MIT student spends more time studying than the average Harvard student (also very much true).</p>

<p>When you make the jump to subjective statements, the case is far harder to make. For example, the average grade at Harvard is a B+, and at MIT it is a B. Yet you say MIT has higher standards for students? This doesn’t make sense to me. It seems to me that Harvard has the higher standards: the “average” Harvard student is expected to earn a higher grade. Similarly, it’s not clear what you even mean by “more challenging.” If you mean it’s harder to maintain an A average at MIT than Harvard, then sure, that’s true, going by the numbers. But you’re comparing two entirely different student bodies, consisting of different sets of people (with rare exceptions such as myself), so any comparison by the numbers is necessarily incomplete. Moreover, even the academic systems are incomparable: Harvard has honorary degrees (“with honors”, “cum laude”, etc.), which MIT does not have. If you’re trying to graduate from Harvard summa cum laude, believe me, Harvard is plenty challenging.</p>

<p>Subjective statements have value if they are based on personal experience, but it is important to indicate that they are so based. For example, I personally found MIT to be a much more high pressure environment than Harvard. At MIT, one has to work very hard to do well; at Harvard, the system is set up to help you do well. But these are just my personal experiences; your mileage may vary, and I wouldn’t want to over-generalize based on my own experiences.</p>

<p>I definitely don’t agree that MIT students cross-registering at Harvard have an easier time than the other way around. Sure, MIT students do get higher grades in Harvard classes, but much of that effect is due to the general grade inflation at Harvard compared to MIT. And even if such a comparison holds in general, there are so many exceptions to the rule that the general comparison is of little value. For instance, in an earlier post I talked about Math 55 at Harvard – this class is MUCH harder than any class offered in any department at MIT (even including the various physics and bio labs).</p>

<p>I don’t see how anyone can say that either school is more challenging than the other, or that the standards are higher at one school vs. the other. It’s better to stick to objective statements. For example, the average GPA at MIT is lower</p>

<p>Yet you describe a class at Harvard as harder than any at MIT? I bet it is brutal, but having known people who actually did it, I would doubt it is so clear, especially when comparing different depts.</p>


<p>It’s true, the comparison between classes is subjective. But I don’t see any way to argue against IgorSmerdyakov’s over-general comparison of classes, other than by … comparing classes.</p>

<p>Math 55 is tailored towards international olympiad winners. That doesn’t mean that every student in the class is an international olympiad winner, but the class is designed for that clientele, and (as I explained in my earlier post) anyone in the class who is not at the elite level won’t really get the most out of the class; at best they’ll manage to survive. There is no comparable class at MIT in any department. The traditional “hard” classes at MIT (digital lab, junior lab etc.) are classes that most students in the department have to take, e.g. junior lab is a required course for all physics majors, and designed so that an average physics major (not just the top student) will receive maximal benefit from the course. A class that every student in the department has to take can’t really be compared to a class designed for the top ten students in the world.</p>

<p>So, yes, I admit, I shouldn’t have made the comparison, but in my opinion that just highlights all the more why one should not try to make general statements that school X is harder than Y.</p>


I think this is a reflection of different student priorities at MIT and Harvard more than anything else – the average Harvard student doesn’t spend any more time relaxing or sleeping than the average MIT student, he just devotes more of his time to extracurriculars. MIT students challenge themselves by loading up on classes, while Harvard students challenge themselves by loading up on activities.</p>

<p>I also have degrees from MIT and Harvard (or, at least, I will by this time next year), just in case that’s a qualification for commenting. For my part, I’ve found Harvard to be a much more grade-conscious environment than MIT – sure, at MIT the average grades are lower, but everybody realizes it’s sort of meaningless. At Harvard, the students are much more worried about getting an A.</p>

<p>Right, I figured you were using a plausible subjective argument to show how plausible and vague subjective arguments have different sides. Just making sure that was said :)</p>

<p>This has to be the best tough decision one can ever make.</p>

<p>Hi everyone, thank you so much for giving me so much help and advice in this thread! You gave me a lot of points to consider and your comments were definitely a big help. After I made my decision, I decided to stay away from this thread for a few days to keep myself from wandering back into indecision, haha!</p>

<p>In the end, I decided to enroll at Harvard. My final reasoning really came down to the tech school aspect of MIT - objectively, I just felt like Harvard would have better connections and opportunities in fields other than science and math (for example, at MIT, a majority of the funding opportunities, respected guest speakers, research projects, etc. would be amazing cutting-edge work in fields like physics or mathematics, which is fantastic - but just not what I’m interested in). I also got the sense that a large part of the student body at MIT just doesn’t care for the humanities at all - which makes sense, because it’s a tech school! But as was pointed out to me before in this thread, that’s a big discrepancy in interests that I needed to consider.</p>

<p>Along the lines of the whole IHTFP mindset of MIT: I wanted my college experience to be challenging, but I found it curious that a lot of MIT students seem to take pride in how little sleep they get/how hard they have to work, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted that experience. I contemplated the merits of sticking it through freshman year, perhaps enrolling in a program such as Concourse, but in the end I figured that if I’m going to such a prestigious college as MIT (and having my parents pay the price tag!) then I should really be enjoying all four years of my experience to the fullest and at no point have to motivate myself with the thought of just ‘sticking it out’. </p>

<p>To conclude this rambling post, I think I would have been able to be extremely happy at both places, and I feel lucky to have been offered the choice at all. I’m glad that some other amazing and deserving applicant can experience how wonderful the MIT undergraduate experience is in my place. I’m still a little sad at times that I won’t be able to be a part of such an amazing community and be immersed in such a supportive and lively culture, but I have friends at MIT that I will visit all the time and I will definitely take advantage of cross-enrollment, so maybe I’ll be a little part of it anyways. Thanks again for all your help here! :)</p>



<p>Liberal arts school with a science bent. Words of admissions itself, as far as I know.</p>