The process and criteria by which new members are invited into the community play key roles in defining what MIT is as an academic institution, and setting the direction in which the Institute will move. The quality and range of applicants increases with each incoming class. In order to maintain the MIT level of excellence, standards and policies must be refined. With average test scores and GPAs rising throughout the country, MIT may wish to place more emphasis on personal attributes and tangible accomplishments in order to identify truly exceptional students. Based on test scores alone, the quality of the MIT student body has been steadily improving over the past several years; however, it is evident in the classroom that some students are not well prepared for the level of academic rigor that is expected. MIT has historically searched for the hardworking techie, but many students perceive a recent shift to select more well-rounded students, perhaps to create a more diverse and balanced student body. Although there is no one model of an MIT student, it is clear that while considering the various personal strengths that applicants may portray, MIT must not lower its overall admissions standards. An unqualified student, no matter how well-rounded, should not gain admittance simply for the diversity that he/she may bring to the student body.
The decentralized nature of the graduate admissions process and the lack of a central graduate school have both positive and negative ramifications. Locally, within departments, the additional flexibility allows for more aggressive and successful recruitment. On an Institute-wide level, this same flexibility makes it difficult to meet diversity goals, to contain the size of the graduate student body, and to regulate the effect of various policies on graduate student community life. Decisions are often determined on the basis of departmental finances rather than long-term strategy. As a result, smaller departments in which TA positions are scarce, or those departments that cannot easily get government or corporate sponsorship, often find themselves unable to grow in a manner that is in line with their long-term objectives.
Internal fellowships, such as the MIT’s one-year Presidential Fellowship, offer tremendous support to incoming students and junior faculty. The Institute must maintain and augment these fellowship programs both in order to attract high caliber students and to assist junior faculty in building strong research programs that will garner future funding.
Under Presidents Gray and Vest’s tenures, MIT has embraced initiatives to increase diversity among all levels of our population. On the whole, these efforts have been much applauded, though they have also resulted in a great deal of confusion. In particular, many do not understand MIT’s policy regarding affirmative action. To alleviate the misconceptions and emotions associated with this topic, MIT must more effectively communicate its diversity goals to its student population. An assessment of where we are, where we want to go, and how we plan to get there is one way to start.
Many students believe the Institute has not yet reached a desired level of diversity, particularly at the graduate and faculty levels. In addition, it is unclear what diversity truly means from a practical standpoint. Recent decreases in international student applications and admissions-limits are considered by many to be detrimental to student life and learning. MIT may therefore want to consider a more holistic definition of institutional diversity that goes beyond the traditional considerations of race and gender.
While diversity is commonly accepted as an appropriate goal, MIT students also believe very strongly in the meritocratic ideal. New programs and policies must not come at the expense of diluting the meritocracy that currently exists at the Institute.
At both graduate and undergraduate levels, the role of currently enrolled students in the admissions process could be broadened and strengthened. Students are positioned to provide unique feedback on individual application packages, including distinguishing between points of embellishment and true character in an application, and also the success of previous years' admissions processes. In order to truly engage students in the admissions process, the chance to review applications must be accompanied by an ability to influence the final decision to accept or deny.
Visiting programs which connect current graduate students with accepted applicants would be a valuable recruitment tool if extended broadly across all of the Institute's departments and programs. Too often accepted students are provided with an unbalanced understanding of an MIT graduate education. If visiting programs in the Spring as coherent and cross-cutting as Fall Orientation were initiated and nurtured at the Institute-level, MIT's competitiveness relative to its peer institutions would greatly increase.
There is a vital community-building element to student involvement in the admissions and post-admissions process. Many students want the opportunity to shape their communities, and are willing to accept the associated responsibilities. Within graduate departments where student input concerning admissions is actively solicited, one can observe a much tighter knit graduate community. In addition, the strength of pre-existing communities can play a significant role in the admissions process, as demonstrated by the positive impact that both Campus Preview Weekend and successful lab visit days have on recruitment.