Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is a private research university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. MIT is a land-grant, sea-grant, and space-grant university devoted to the advancement of knowledge and education of students in areas that contribute to or prosper in an environment of science and technology. World-renowned for its research in the physical sciences and engineering, MIT’s endowment and annual research expenditures are among the largest of any American university.

Founded by William Barton Rogers in 1861 in response to the increasing industrialization of the United States, MIT adopted the European university model and emphasized laboratory instruction from an early date. MIT’s School of Architecture, founded in 1865, was the first university architecture program in the world and a leader in progressive building design. MIT has in the past 40 years greatly expanded its programs in other fields including biology and cognitive science. MIT has a total of five schools (Science, Engineering, Architecture and Planning, Management, and Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences) and one college (Whitaker College of Health Sciences and Technology).

MIT students refer to both their majors and classes using numbers, so the course which many colleges would designate as “Physics 101,” at MIT is simply “8.01.” MIT’s major fields of study are numbered in the approximate order of when the department was founded. For example, Civil and Environmental Engineering is Course I, while Nuclear Science & Engineering is Course XXII. Students majoring in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, the most popular department, collectively identify themselves as “Course VI.”

Undergraduates at MIT are required to complete an extensive core curriculum called the General Institute Requirements (GIR). This includes two semesters of physics, two semesters of math, one semester of chemistry, and one semester of biology. Some of the pressure for first-year undergraduates is lessened by the “pass/no-record” grading system. In the first (fall) term, freshmen transcripts only report if a class was passed, while no external record exists if a class was not passed. In the second (spring) term, passing grades appear on the transcript while non-passing grades do not.

Between the Fall and Spring semesters, the Independent Activities Period (IAP) is a four-week long “term” offering hundreds of optional classes, lectures, demonstrations, and other activities throughout the month of January. Students also have the opportunity of pursuing “externships” at companies, many of which were started by MIT alumni. In fact, MIT alumni have founded or co-founded over 85 companies including Intel, McDonnell-Douglas, Texas Instruments, 3Com, Qualcomm, Bose, Raytheon, Koch Industries, Rockwell International, Genentech, and Campbell Soup.

MIT employs about 1,000 faculty members (198 of whom are women), enrolls over 4,000 undergraduates, and has more than 6,000 graduate students. During World War II and the Cold War, MIT students and staff were actively involved in efforts to develop computers, radar, and guidance systems in connection with defense research. MIT’s on-campus nuclear reactor is one of the largest university-based nuclear reactors in the U.S. It is also one of the most visible, since the reactor’s containment building is situated in the middle of a densely populated area. Other notable campus facilities include a pressurized wind tunnel, and a towing tank for testing ship and ocean structure designs.

MIT students and faculty members developed the predecessors to modern computing and networking technologies, wrote some of the earliest computer games like Spacewar and Zork, and created much of modern hacker slang. The GNU project and free software movement originated in the mid-1980’s with Richard Stallman at MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab. The World Wide Web Consortium was founded by Tim Berners-Lee at MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science in 1994. MIT’s OpenCourseWare project has made course materials for over 1,800 MIT classes available online free of charge since 2002.

The MIT Media Lab, founded in 1985 and known for its unconventional research, has been home to constructivist educator and Logo creator Seymour Papert, as well as Lego Mindstorms and Scratch creator Mitchel Resnick. The MIT Toy Lab was founded in 2004 with research funding provided by Hasbro Inc. The initial project of the Toy Lab involved developing new concepts for Nerf™ and Supersoaker® brand products. The Nerf Atom Blaster, a variant of a toy developed in this lab, is now currently on the market.

The MIT student athletics program offers 33 varsity-level sports, one of the largest programs in the U.S. In addition, MIT has over 380 recognized student activity groups including a campus radio station, “The Tech” student newspaper, a model railroad club, an annual entrepreneurship competition, and weekly screenings of popular films. MIT even boasts the “world’s largest open-shelf collection of science fiction.” MIT students traditionally have also engaged in elaborate student pranks and technological tomfoolery, such as reconstructing a Wright Flyer atop the Great Dome of the Engineering Library.

MIT’s 168-acre campus extends over one mile along the north side of the Charles River. Many of its buildings are connected above ground via an “Infinite Corridor” linking the east and west ends of campus, as well as through an underground tunnel system. An extensive labyrinth of side tunnels, utility ducts, and stairwells into sublevels – though technically off-limits – also invite investigation by adventurous students. It’s a tradition that those who secretly gain access to these hidden places mark their accomplishment by “signing in” with their logo and the date, for future explorers to find.

Undergraduates are guaranteed four years of dormitory housing on the MIT campus, with live-in graduate student tutors and faculty housemasters. Students are permitted to select their dorm and floor upon arrival. MIT also has five dormitories for single graduate students, and two apartment buildings on campus for families. The Cambridge neighborhoods surrounding MIT are a mixture of residential housing and high tech companies occupying both modern office and rehabilitated industrial buildings.

MIT’s proximity to Harvard University has led to a substantial number of research collaborations. Students at the two schools can cross-register without any additional fees, for credits toward their own school’s degrees. MIT also offers cross-registration programs with Wellesley College, Boston University, Brandeis University, Tufts University, Massachusetts College of Art, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The MIT admissions rate for freshmen applicants is about 12%; approximately 65% of admitted applicants choose to enroll. Over 95% of the freshman class end the year in good standing and return the next year; 82% graduate within four years, and 94% graduate within six years. Female students account for 45% of undergraduates. MIT is expensive, averaging $50,000 per year for tuition, books, room and board. The majority of undergraduates receive need-based financial aid packages in the form of MIT scholarships amounting to $34,000.

MIT has a long history of admitting homeschooled students, and a liberal homeschool admissions program, so it has earned a reputation for being a very homeschool-friendly college. [Homeschooled students who attended MIT include Reid Barton and Eric Demaine, featured in previous issues of Homeschooling Teen Magazine.] A diploma or GED is not required, although they do require all applicants to submit ACT or SAT results, as well as two SAT Subject Tests (Math and Science).

Matt McGann, Associate Director of Admissions, says “Over the past 5-10 years, we have seen a surge in homeschooled applicants. Homeschooled applicants still make up less than 1% of our applicant pool (and less than 1% of our student body), but these numbers are growing…. At MIT, we do not have separate requirements for homeschooled applicants. Homeschooled applicants, like all of our applicants, are considered within their context, which includes schooling choice, family situation, geographic location, resources, opportunities, and challenges. However, we do have some tips for homeschooled students, based on successful applicants we have admitted in the past.”

MIT looks for students who are self-motivated, enjoy learning, and show entrepreneurial spirit. They also like to see students who are active in their communities, involved in extracurricular activities, and taking advanced classes through a local college or online school. More helpful tips for homeschooled applicants can be seen at:

Many of MIT’s alumni and alumnae have had considerable success in scientific research, public service, education, and business. 27 have won the Nobel Prize, 47 have received the National Medal of Science, 44 have been selected as Rhodes Scholars, and 55 have been selected as Marshall Scholars. Among current faculty and teaching staff, there are 80 Guggenheim Fellows, 6 Fulbright Scholars, and 29 MacArthur Fellows. Many MIT graduates went on to become presidents of other universities.

Famous MIT alumni include: Hugh Lofting (author of Dr. Doolittle), Louis Sullivan (architect), Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11 astronaut), Ray Tomlinson (e-mail innovator who pioneered the use of the @ symbol), James McDonnell (co-founder of McDonnell Douglas), Donald Douglas (co-founder of McDonnell Douglas), John Dorrance (founder of the Campbell Soup Company), William Boeing Jr. (founder of The Boeing Company), Ken Olsen (founder of Digital Equipment Corporation), Cecil H. Green (co-founder of Texas Instruments), William R. Hewlett (co-founder of Hewlett-Packard), Tom and Ray Magliozzi (the Car Talk guys).

Updated: January 21, 2023 — 2:53 pm

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