I’m Melissa (she/her), a Design Engineering student in the Class of 2024. I’ve always been a bit reclusive and I’m living off campus this semester, but my dog Cyrus is a real social butterfly, so if you don’t know me, you might still know him. Right now I’m trying to convince companies that they should hire an engineer to do design work, but back in 2016, I was trying to convince Olin they should admit me so I could learn to be an engineer.
When I got to campus for Candidates’ Weekend (CW), everyone gave me the same advice. Current students, parents of current students, and the admission team all told me to be myself and have fun. I thought that meant “you’re getting judged on your personality, and we want people who enjoy this stuff,” so I pretended to be a happy, sociable person who liked meeting hundreds of new people in a day and spending three days in a row doing endless activities. I saw it as a three-day long interview, where I had to be an enthusiastic Candidate so I wouldn’t end up at a boring school. During my college search, I asked every admission officer I met what made their school different, but their answers about location and rankings didn’t feel new and different the way that Olin’s promises of educational change and track record of listening to students did.
So, I chose my clothes carefully to hide the crude, stressed high school student I really was and ignored how tired I was when I got to campus, taking every possible opportunity to show I would be a Good Fit at Olin by attending every event. I had a migraine at the end that lasted for weeks afterwards, and I had no fun the entire time.
After a gap year, I got to Olin, and when Candidates’ Weekend rolled around I made it my mission to make sure nobody else was spending the whole time miserably pretending to be happy. I made sure the one event I’d enjoyed, Diversity Discussions, happened again. It was lowkey and confidential and real, not overly rosy and positive. I joined the team that made the design challenge and learned from older students that it was designed without a solution, specifically to make most teams fail (more on that later). I talked to the Admission team, asked for more built-in breaks, and found out I was wrong about how mandatory those events were and what their purposes were, and about how often I was being judged.
The holistic admission process doesn’t really mean “you’re judged on your personality,” and “have fun” wasn’t a command, just a recommendation for how to have a better time and get more out of CW. It’s not that they’re looking for people who love interviews and design challenges and touring campus. All the optional events are for your benefit, so you can get to know what your experience at Olin would be like, not so you can prove you belong by attending them all like I did. I was so exhausted from pretending to be energetic and happy for so many events all weekend, I’m sure I wasn’t nearly as sociable by the end as I would have been if I had taken the breaks I wanted.
The mandatory events are purposefully challenging but also light and fun, so when they tell you to “have fun,” they’re just encouraging you to get comfortable and find the fun in the challenge. Learning from failure is an important skill, so the design challenge is never evaluated, and it’s always a task that you have a very real chance of failing. That doesn’t mean you’ll only get in if your idea of a good time is being given a task as close to impossible as we can come up with. Some students find it exciting, and that’s great, but in my opinion if you find it really terrifying and work through that, that’s even better. That sort of resilience will serve you well.
I feel silly now that I thought I had to pretend to be happy and energetic all the time to get in, but If I needed to hear it, some of you probably need to hear it too. It can be deceiving, with all the events happening all the time and the sociable Oliners around you encouraging you to participate. But in reality, all the super social peppy Olin students you see at Candidates’ Weekend don’t normally exist. There are plenty of happy and social students here, but college isn’t a place where we spend all day every day meeting new people and hosting events hyping up Olin like we do during Candidates’ Weekend. Plenty of my friends hide the whole time because it’s too much. If you need to take breaks to enjoy CW, you could be admitted and become one of those students next year.
You don’t have to be peppy or energetic. You don’t have to attend all the events. Maybe you’ll be awkward and nervous. You might feel like an outsider and be pushed out of your comfort zone. You might not enjoy every second. I didn’t enjoy almost any of it. None of that means you don’t belong here. They want you to learn from failure, not fail, and work with ambiguity, not run from it.
Try to keep positive, not because Olin only takes happy people who get along well so you need to pretend to be happy, but because you’ll have a better time if you can let go of your worries and participate authentically and optimistically.
Here’s a bonus tip: I love Olin and the supportive community I have here, but there is more than one good path through life, and I probably would have been happy going to a state school. Trying to force everything to go to a plan doesn’t make your life perfect; it just blocks off all opportunities that don’t fit into the plan. It takes away a lot of stress once you realize that your whole life doesn’t depend on one event.
Melissa is a Design Engineering student who considers learning her favorite hobby.