A future engineer shares his impressions of a recent tour of top schools and offers advice on making the most of the time-honored tradition of the college road trip.
A campus visit to MIT debunked the perception that students spend all their time in the library, as this famous MIT hack illustrates.
The dreaded junior year of high school has finally coming to a close. What do you do to celebrate? Go on a road trip!
Just kidding. College visits are more than just an excuse to go on an exciting excursion. In fact, these visits will be your first glimpse into your "future home." I say "home" because you may be spending four years of your life there, which is a very long time.
It is essential during a campus visit to get all of your questions answered and clear up any doubts you may have, because you're not likely to visit that school again until you show up for fall semester.
But that doesn't mean that you should overlook the pleasant features of the campus. For instance, at Cornell University I noticed its striking resemblance to Hogwarts, a point to be noted for a Harry Potter buff. On the other hand, the campus was in the middle of Timbuktu, which seriously limits recreational activities.
Both MIT and Georgia Tech are in the middle of large cities with tons of eateries, movie theatres, and even sailing opportunities. In addition, both schools have their own unique campus community, which strikingly differs from that of the bustling city. I like the fact that this dual reality provides a wide range of lifestyle options for students.
Both campuses also have a modern vibe as compared to the antiquity of Cornell. For instance, the sinusoidal dorm buildings of MIT maximize the number of student rooms that feature a river view. At Georgia Tech I was amazed when our tour guide said the WiFi on campus is the second fastest in the country, right behind the Pentagon's network.
The colleges that I saw in the Midwest are located in suburban areas, striking a balance between the fast-paced city and the laid-back rural lifestyle. Having grown up mostly in a suburban area, I found the city of Ann Arbor to be very homey. In addition, the University of Michigan also has some great research facilities for students.
At the Nanoparticle Research Lab, for example, the windows are tinted yellow so that even the smallest speck of light, which could destroy the nanoparticles, won't get in. Can you imagine being shattered to pieces by a ray of sunlight? Those nanoparticles really have a harsh existence.
Purdue is interesting in that it is basically an inverted version of Georgia Tech and MIT. When you enter the campus it feels like a city, even though the school is located in a suburban area. Although it would be insane to liken the Purdue campus to Georgia Tech or MIT, there is no shortage of restaurants or recreational activities available on campus.
Seeing a pizza place on campus was a bit of a shock to me. Until I saw them in person, I had imagined most college campuses would evoke more of a traditional feeling with more greenery and clock towers.
Prepare to expect the unexpected on these college visits as your perceptions about college life and certain colleges will not always be "on the dot." I found the hacking culture of MIT quite surprising. AT MIT, hacking means carrying out an outrageous prank. During one of the most famous pranks, students put a model police car on top of the MIT dome.
My entire life I thought that MIT was full of classic nerds who hung out in libraries all the time, but after visiting the campus I realized that's not the case. Not only does MIT have its own pranking culture, but students also take part in "pranking wars" with the school's rival, CalTech.
I've always been keen on going to a great college and getting an even greater education. But sometimes I've wondered whether these high-profile colleges would even want me. I'm pretty sure many of you have also experienced that "I'm not good enough" feeling, but I can assure you that as long as you are eager to get an education and show your passion for your work, these colleges will want you.
I had a conversation with a student at Purdue that solidified my thinking. He told me colleges are looking for students who express passion for what they are doing. This doesn't mean that SAT scores and GPAs don't matter, but a couple B's really won't make a difference.
Do you really think college admission staff will assess you solely on the basis of a bunch of letters and numbers? Of course not. They also want to see your personality. This is why they want recommendation letters and many even set up an interview with you. Just don't forget to express your love for your work and have confidence in yourself.
Are you a student or alumni of any of the schools mentioned in this article? What would you say about the culture of these schools, or other notable engineering institutions? What advice would you give to students considering a degree in engineering? Please leave your comments below.
— Rishabh N. Mahajani will be a senior in high school this year and plans to study engineering.