Congrats, you got into college! (Specifically, Olin College!)
As much as we loved worrying our way through college application season, deciding which college to attend brought a whole new set of challenges to tackle. Suddenly, the hypothetical situations and hopes from when we hit submit had turned into very real possibilities. Hopefully, our reflections on our struggles to decide where to enroll can help you navigate this process, or at least provide you with some entertainment.
What factors did you consider when making your college decision?
Emma: All of the colleges I was looking at were about the same in terms of cost, so the main factors I considered were sense of community, availability of opportunities, and how well I would learn in their classes. Another significant factor was figuring out what I wanted to study/do with my life; Olin was the only engineering school I applied to, so all the other schools I was looking at were either liberal arts institutions with no engineering programs, or engineering schools within larger universities. If I chose one of the larger schools, I could always change my mind, but with Olin, there was no escaping having ‘Engineering’ in my major.
Anusha: When deciding where to go to college, my biggest concern was cost and potential payoff. Directly considering this metric helped me form a useful baseline from which to make a choice - if the school was not going to be a good investment, attending would obviously not be worthwhile. Afterwards, when the total costs of my options were too close to compare, I used an embarrassing number of spreadsheets with a variety of weighted factors that incorporated everything from the availability of interesting classes, to gender ratio, to whether or not the school’s dining hall served eggs on pizza at brunch (Olin’s does!). Populating these tables and considering various scoring schemes was certainly overwhelming, and I’ll be the first to admit that direct quantification of subjective characteristics does not yield the best decision-making framework. But, it helped me form a well-rounded point of view in terms of what I was looking to derive from my college education and how each school would meet those needs.
What appealed to you about Olin, and what were you unsure about?
Emma: Pretty much everything about Olin appealed to me, except for the two things you really can’t avoid: size and location. I live about 20 minutes away from Olin, and have lived in Massachusetts for a while, so I was worried that Olin would feel limiting, being so small and close to home—I had just spent 4 years at a tiny all-girls school in Boston, and was ready for a change in scenery/culture!
Another smaller concern of mine was that I had never taken AP Physics, Engineering classes, or been on a robotics team, so I was concerned about being behind all the people who bonded over FIRST robotics and Elon Musk (“who’s that?” - me, last year) on the Admitted Students Facebook page. When I got to Olin, however, I discovered that there are lots of people who don’t do FIRST robotics or engineery things before Olin. I even found another member of the *Who’s Elon and why does everybody love him* club! The people who had done engineering before actually turned out to be a great resource for me at the beginning of the year, because they were happy to share their knowledge, and quickly caught me up on some important skills like CAD, breadboards, coding, and building blanket forts.
Anusha: When I looked at Olin, I knew I really liked the hands-on approach and the supportive community - there’s something incredible about being able to leave your key in your door, pursue endless engineering projects without significant resource limitations, and have spontaneous adventures with literally any of your classmates. At the same time, I was definitely nervous about the small size of the campus because I am very extroverted. I also feared the potential lack of technical depth compared to offerings at other institutions as I tend to prefer specialized fields over general topics.
What steps did you take to help better inform your decision?
Emma: I revisited Olin’s campus after receiving my admission offer, and that was super helpful. My student host was involved in a lot of different things on campus, so I got to sit in on a NINJA meeting, witness a design review for a class called User-Oriented Collaborative Design, and see the lofts on the fourth floor of West Hall (highly recommend; I was tempted to make my decision right then). All the Oliners I met throughout the day were open to answering questions, and honest in their answers. Visiting was a great way to see Olin as it normally is, because not every day is as hype as Candidates’ Weekend (hard to believe, isn’t it?). Another helpful resource was actually the Olinsider blog that I’m contributing to now(!), because the posts offered some really good insights on what it’s like living inside the Olin bubble.
Anusha: Like most indecisive high school seniors, I did my time talking to peers, older friends, and adults, searching way too far back on online forums, and reading blog posts and articles (some pieces I highly recommend include this blog post by Sam Young (Class of 2020) and this reflection from the assistant director of MIT admissions). However, the most valuable step I took was talking to people at the institutions I was considering. I had a list of questions that represented my priorities, and I constantly asked them to everyone I could. I made sure my sample included a representative cross-section of students, faculty, staff, and alumni (I joke that because Olin is so small, I probably talked to about half of the community when trying to decide whether to enroll). Furthermore, the final two schools I was considering also allowed me to do an admitted student visit where I spent time with a current student and could talk to a multitude of people on each campus in a more casual setting. My Olin admitted student visit was especially telling; because Olin is small and new, it has very little information about student life available on the internet, so talking to Oliners in person proved vital in helping me form an image of the school and where I would fit in.
What made you ultimately decide to come to Olin?
Emma: In the end, I think I chose Olin because I saw myself being really happy here. I loved the lifestyle of learning by doing, being able to say ‘hi’ to everyone in the community, witnessing new and exciting things going on, and having dorky, super smart, shamelessly passionate people to live with.
Another large factor was that the traditional lecture-based teaching method was not working very well for me, so I was eager to take part in Olin’s experiment on project-based engineering education. I was also excited by the fact that one person is .003% of the community—thus, students as individuals have a lot of influence. For example, this past year, Olin did a Candidates’ Weekend for prospective faculty, and students provided input on what kind of teaching styles we thought Olin needed. As a result, 5 new faculty members were hired, and they already have fans!
It has been a year since my college decision, and I still can’t shut up about Olin when I reunite with old friends. I’ve fallen in love with the community, and have gained a lot of confidence in what I’m capable of and what kind of person I want to be. I’m really glad that I’m here, and I hope you choose a place that makes you happy too. It doesn’t necessarily have to be Olin, it just has to feel right to you!
Anusha: At the base level, the reason I came to Olin is because I flipped a coin: a common decision-making paradigm adults recommend is to flip a coin when making a decision because while you are certainly not bound by the coin’s ruling, if you are excited or disappointed by the result, it reveals how you actually feel. Naturally, when I realized I needed to break out of my indecision paralysis, and my decision-matrix laden spreadsheets revealed weighted scores equivalent up to several decimal places, I went ahead and flipped the nearest quarter - Olin was heads, and a well-known traditional technical institute was tails. Following a pretty mediocre toss, the coin landed on heads, and I accepted the result without protest. Afterwards, I went out with my friends and spent the coin at my local frozen yogurt shop, which is a strategy I highly recommend.
Of course, there were a combination of factors that moved me towards considering Olin so highly. One of the categories where Olin fared extremely well was student happiness and motivation - many of the students I spoke to at other institutions mentioned grades and getting through specific requirements when discussing academics, while Oliners explained how they were getting things out of specific classes and were trying to derive value from everything they did, and they were having a great time in the process. Another large component was the potential for growth - the school I was considering along with Olin was actively changing to a project-based model and was making incremental curriculum changes, but Olin had already moved far past them in education reform - in fact, that university took Collaboratory tours to learn from Olin! It made sense to go to the school that was pushing forward instead of one that was following.
What do you wish you had known when making college decisions?
Emma: During decision time, I had no idea that Olin’s first semester was Pass/No Record, or that there was such a low emphasis on grades. If I had known sooner, my decision would have actually been a little easier. During high school, I fell into the trap of unconsciously prioritizing good grades over good learning, and Olin has allowed me to turn that around.
If you are able to visit Olin again, or have an Oliner you’re comfortable talking to, I would recommend asking about things in a way that you’ll get both sides of the matter, because nowhere is perfect (not even Olin!), and it’s good to factor in all the features and bugs before committing to something as big as college. During my revisit, I found someone who lived 5 minutes away from Olin who was able to talk about the pros and cons of going to school so close to home, and I asked a senior (yes, they do exist) about whether they ever get sick of the ‘Olin Bubble’. Knowing what their perspectives were definitely helped me flesh out my decision. Even though there were negatives on my pro-con list, I came to the decision that I was okay with all of them, because the pros were more important to me.
Anusha: I remember college decision season as an incredibly stressful experience - there was a great deal of external pressure to make the “correct’ decision and an optimal college experience to seek out and check off all of the boxes for. At the same time, I was pretty afraid that college would be the biggest decision in my life so far and that I was bound to mess it up, so picking a school with limited name recognition and key differences from a traditional college experience (for context, I’m a huge sports fan who enjoys meeting new people) seemed like a worrisome risk. Reflecting back, I don’t think that I could have made a wrong decision - like all of you, I was blessed with great options, and a different, but equally exciting, future depending on the path I chose to take, it was just a matter of choosing which road. As for the path I’ve taken, I can’t imagine being happier anywhere else - I’ve gotten to work on some awesome projects, enjoyed endless ridiculous shenanigans, and become close friends with amazing people. Of course, Olin is not perfect, and regardless of the outcome I would probably be making this statement, but I’m glad that the coin landed the way it did a little under a year ago, and I wish I could tell my past self that I would find this clarity later on.
The future is up to you! We hope that you enjoyed and learned from our musings.
Wherever you end up in life, we hope you learn a lot and have a great time! If you come to Olin, we can’t wait to get to know you, and if Olin isn’t right for you, we hope you are happy wherever you choose to go! If you still have questions or just want to chat, feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com!