Reflections on Applying to Olin

Anusha Datar '21 & Emma Pan '21

This time last year, both of us were flipping through glossy pamphlets, meticulously sending in transcripts and scores, and carefully crafting essays. As we stressed our way through this process, we also had to find time to reflect on who we were and decide what kind of college experience we wanted to pursue. This, of course, is really difficult for everyone, and the mechanics of this thought process only really become clear after the fact. By sharing some details of our points-of-view during the application process, we hope we can help you make sense of the connections between high school, college, and who you are and help you shape your Olin application.

When you started your college search, what were you looking for? What types of colleges were you seeking?

Emma: To be honest, at the start of my college search, I had no idea what I was looking for. I thought I would major in biology, maybe biomedical engineering, because that was something cool I had heard of. I looked at a lot of Ivies and big name schools, and they sounded great at first, with the concept of a liberal arts education, but after visiting and touring them, they all started to sound the same. I then expanded my list to include some extremely untraditional schools that no one from my school had applied to before, from an entirely free coding bootcamp to an experimental traveling digital school program. I wasn’t sure what I wanted, so I put a variety of very different schools on my list and hoped that future me would choose the best fit.

Anusha: When I was searching for colleges to attend, I was looking for an engineering school that cared about the education of its undergraduate students. College is extremely expensive, and I was uninterested in investing a lot of money into being an afterthought of professors and graduate students at an institution where teaching may not be the top priority. I was also looking for an education that was more than just the sum of its parts: as someone who has enjoyed a lot of content from free online courseware, I knew that I did not want to go to a school where I would be idly consuming the same information I could if I were at home with an internet connection. More broadly, I cared about  having the ability to make an impact on my surroundings through the work I did. Almost every school has outlets through which students can do good in the world, but often times those opportunities are minimal, hard to find, and difficult to engage with productively. At Olin, however, thinking about people and implications is an essential part of the curriculum. Because I had these goals, Olin was naturally a place I wanted to apply. I applied to many traditional engineering schools as well, because I knew that with independent efforts and collaboration with my peers I could augment the general curriculum with work I cared about.

How did you first discover Olin?

Emma: In Needham, MA, there is a tiny sign, no larger than a square foot, that has an arrow and points towards Olin College of Engineering. As a local, I should have heard of Olin before enrolling at Needham Driving School. However, during one of my driving hours, as I was stressing about turning left, that little sign caught my eye. Not long afterwards, I got a shiny package in the mail with a mini book of Olin fun facts with removable/interchangeable pages. I was intrigued.

Anusha: I first heard of Olin through internet research: at this point I don’t remember if it was on a list of rankings, one of those toxic online forums, or just looking at engineering schools in my local area. All I know is that somehow Olin ended up on my Common Application list.

What about Olin piqued your interest or made you want to explore it further as a college option?

Emma: While surfing the Olin website, I didn’t understand what was going on in a lot of the class projects, but I did get that they looked really, really fun. After hearing a lot of schools talk about their comprehensive education separately from their fun extracurriculars, I don’t think I had realized that the learning part of college could be fun, too. This alone was enough to make me want to learn more.

Anusha: The focus on undergraduate education and student agency really pulled me in: I really liked the idea of an experimental, carefully designed education where I could pursue my interests directly with awesome peers in a close community. Furthermore, being part of a small, new college with lots of room for impact in both in technical and community spaces is an amazing and unique feature of Olin.

What made you decide to submit an application to Olin? How did you feel when you were putting together and submitting your Olin application last year?

Emma: I really liked Olin’s essay questions. They were interesting to think about, and I started writing them much sooner than my other application essays because I was curious to see how I’d answer them. The first question just asked us to describe something meaningful that we do. That was easy. The second was “Olin is a community striving to improve the world for everyone or anyone through engineering. What change do you hope to see or be a part of? Why?” Answering this question made me seriously consider becoming an engineer for the first time, and helped me realize that the things I enjoy doing the most in my life (which I had just described in the first essay question) were key parts of engineering and could be applied to making a positive impact on the world. I am beyond glad I decided to start Olin’s application, and I hope that you will all give it a chance and consider whether it fits the values you are looking for, because that might help you decide if Olin is right for you.

Anusha: When I considered how it met many of my criteria for schools, applying to Olin made a lot of sense and felt natural. I actually really enjoyed Olin’s essays (as nerdy as that sounds). Most college essays were pretty dry and just required some quick Google searching about the college’s resources and some copying and pasting of other essays to craft an acceptable response (I even had a template!). Olin, on the other hand, asked compelling questions about my priorities as a person and as an engineer, and this helped me reflect on why I was applying to Olin in the first place, which helped solidify my decision to apply. I remember feeling so comfortable while writing them that I even made fun of one of the questions in my response! At the same time, like every awkward teenager trying to fit their entire life in a scary Common Application PDF, I was pretty nervous.

Based on your experiences in your first semester, why do you think Olin is a good fit for you?

Emma: I truly can’t picture myself being happier anywhere else. I’m not just saying this for an admission article--when I returned to my high school for the first time and talked to my advisor, I literally had nothing about Olin that I could complain about. Here, I am surrounded by people who have a diverse range of talents and interests, and care about everything they do. Our inclusive community of nerds is always looking out for each other, and finding new ways to make each other laugh. In classes, I am a little behind in terms of technical knowledge and experience, but because of the collaborative spirit and boundless support from peers and NINJAs (our equivalent of TAs), I’m confident in my ability to keep up. I love Olin, and my wish to spread the news about this amazing, transformative place can be gleaned from the fact that Anusha and I are writing this article in the middle of finals week. 

Anusha: The people and the culture. I feel constantly blessed to attend a college where learning is a priority for everyone, late-night adventures and building cool projects is the norm, and I’m supported for wearing my amazingly-decorated Crocs™ in the dorms (I have some pretty awesome Jibbitz™). Being in a place with so much enthusiastic energy and potential is extremely refreshing, and the “do something” attitude of students here is an essential factor of why I feel so comfortable at Olin and excited to be here.

At Olin, we work collaboratively and get to know our peers and their strengths pretty well. So, final question, what do you think makes the other person a good fit for the Olin community?

Emma: Although she is far too modest to admit it, Anusha is a gem that the Olin community is lucky to have. Her room is always open when she has the time for guests, and she is great at making people feel comfortable enough to open up, form bonds, and be as weird as they want to be. I have infinite respect for her self-confidence, kindness, and shameless Crocs™-flaunting. Ask her about software, hackathons, or sandwiches, and she could make conversation with you for ages. She is passionate, self-motivated, and great at getting things done. Basically, a great addition to any project team. I can’t wait to see how many amazing changes Anusha will have made for the Olin community and the world around her by the time we graduate.

Anusha: Emma embodies the warm, welcoming spirit that Olin’s entire community is built on. She’s an active member of our student government, is always welcoming people to her room and hallway for social gatherings, and even holds events like Thanksgiving in her home! She is always excited to discuss and take action to improve Olin and our community, and is really deeply invested in trying to make it a better place for everyone. Oftentimes, if people complain about something, she is quick to kindly and supportively suggest productive and constructive solutions that leverage the strength of the network and variety and depth of resources we have here at Olin. Furthermore, her passion for the arts as well as engineering allows her to have a unique and valuable perspective that increases the learning of everyone around her.


We wish you the best of luck with your applications! Of course, we hope that you will take the chance to apply to Olin whether it sounds like absolutely the right place for you, or you are unsure of what you want but have an inkling that it might have something to do with the Olin experience. I know it’s probably hard to believe right now, but the college process does end up putting people where they are a good fit-- Olin was never at the top of both of our lists at the beginning, but that completely changed after we learned more about the school after Candidates' Weekends and revisit days. Now, we are unusually happy for college students, and wouldn’t trade Olin for anywhere else.

Posted in: Anusha '21, Emma '21, Class of 2021