MIT: Off the Record. College Prowler, 2006. ISBN 978-1427400987 180 pp. $16.95
The concept is a great one: review of an esteemed college for prospective students by current students, evaluating faculty, location, safety, computers, and dining and activities, both on campus and off. General statistics about the Massachusetts Institute of Technology give the basic snapshot you’d see in Petersons; but the book goes above and beyond the numbers to provide a more complete profile of the school by assigning letter grades to specific subjects of concern for incoming students.
Each chapter opens with statistics but no sources are listed, so it is unclear, for example, if it is the author’s opinion that marijuana and alcohol are the most prevalent drugs on campus, or if this fact is a result of an MIT survey, or research by an outside organization. Quotes from current students provide a range of viewpoints on each topic, such as security. The author provides a synopsis of the quotes flavored with her take on the subject, which results in a grade that doesn’t always match the other student’s opinions. For example, most students say the campus is safe, but the college is in an urban location, so common sense is a necessity; safety is assigned a B but the comments reflect an A- attitude.
Conversely, the comments on computers indicate students should bring their own. The labs get crowded and speed can slow at crucial times, but the author assigns an A+ value to campus computers because labs are plentiful (if crowded), the technology is up to date, and the connection is fast (most of the time).
The overall grading scheme is never explained; at the end of each section, the reasoning for the grade is given, but criteria for a higher or lower grade is undefined.
Data collection methods are never revealed. Each section has nine or ten quotes from MIT students, but the opinions are not defined by age, gender, year, or ethnicity. It isn’t clear if contributions come from hundreds of students or only a dozen. Interviews with students who flunked out, transferred or were accepted and declined would provide the most complete picture.
The book succeeds in delivering information that one wouldn’t find in MIT literature or a Peterson’s profile, such as how the courses and buildings are numbered. Some information is readily available on the MIT website with no further information to make the book of more value, such as a listing of campus clubs and their homepages, or driving directions with no information about the challenges of driving in the Boston area. For more information, only 2 Boston websites are given. The Greater Boston Convention and Visitior’s Bureau, the Phantom Gourmet, and craig’s list Boston are surprisingly, missing. Libraries are another gap. They receive top votes for best places to study, but under the facilities section, dining and student services are the focus. The library is the heart of an academic institution, and should have had more focus, especially at a school so focused on research. Coverage on dating and drinking is more complete in scope, and probably of more interest.
Stand out sections include Alumni (famous graduates and the mentoring that happens at MIT, the Inside Scoop (the entire book should read like this section), and off-campus housing (don’t bother). The overall message of the book is that MIT is much more than just it’s stereotypes, and that the college experience is what you make of it.
At best, this title goes into more depth than any other college guide, and may aid a prospective student in coming to a decision about whether or not to attend, but it is in no way a replacement for a campus visit. At worst, information is unattributed and occasionally erroneous, such as one student’s comment that there is no sales tax (MA had a 5% sales tax at the time of this review).