MIT Institutional Research


Institutional Research Updates

2018 Survey of New Students


 College can be an intimidating experience, especially as an incoming first-year student. The nervousness of finding a group where you feel like you belong, choosing classes and balancing everything can seem overwhelming and make students feel alone. In 2018, we surveyed new first-year students before they arrived on campus with our biennial survey on a range of topics, from high school experiences and college expectations to their life values and career goals for the future, shedding some light on common anxieties and concerns that incoming students share but also depicting who the incoming class currently is and hopes to become at MIT:

  • A greater proportion of student respondents felt unprepared to place current problems in a historical/cultural/philosophical perspective, read or speak a foreign language while at MIT, and conduct scholarly research (bottom three tasks respondents felt prepared to do) than the proportion who felt unprepared to think analytically and logically, understand the process of science and experimentation, and function effectively as a member of a team (top three tasks respondents felt prepared to do). Respondents also reported feeling least prepared to write clearly and effectively and communicate well orally.

  • Out of the given statements asking respondents how well prepared they feel during their first year at MIT to do certain tasks such as living away from home, asking for help when they need it, or finding a group they feel part of, the largest proportion of respondents indicated that they felt unprepared to select the courses they will take.

  • Fewer female respondents felt well prepared (very well + quite well prepared) to select their first-year classes, compared to male respondents.

  • The most likely major that incoming students anticipate declaring is Course 6 (15% in computer science and engineering, and 10% in electrical engineering and computer science), though a good number of students overall (8%) were also not sure which area they are most likely to major in at the time of the survey.

  • Besides engineering and the physical sciences and mathematics, students are most interested in taking classes in economics and political science, business, and life sciences.

  • There is a notable difference in the proportion of female and male students interested in business classes, with a greater proportion of male students responding that they are very interested + interested. This pattern is reversed for the life sciences, with a greater proportion of female respondents expressing interest than male respondents.

  • The top three activities that incoming students are interested in pursuing during their undergraduate years at MIT are having an internship, working with a professor on a research project, and joining a student club.

  • 61% of student respondents reported receiving financial aid from MIT, and 27% of respondents remain concerned (a great deal + quite a bit) about their family’s ability to pay for their college education at the time of survey administration.

  • 60% of respondents plan to pursue graduate or professional degrees in the form of a master’s degree in an academic field and 57% plan to pursue a PhD in the future.

  • As incoming students think about their life and future, the top three things that are most important to them are contributing to science and innovation, being a leader in their field, and being well-off financially.

  • While students were in high school, the most common activities that respondents reported doing were writing a working computer program, performing community service as part of a class or graduation requirement, and writing a long research paper that combined information from many sources.

  • Female respondents were notably less likely to have written a working computer program than male respondents, and Asian respondents were also more likely to have done so than fellow respondents of other races.

  • Overall, 55% of respondents reported working 1-5 hours and 28% reported working 6-10 hours in a typical school week during high school.

  • With regards to choosing a major, 42% of student respondents responded that they disagree (somewhat to strongly disagree) with the statement, “I feel prepared to choose my major.” However, 85% of respondents would want to take classes in interesting areas with which they are not familiar if given the opportunity.

Overall, incoming students generally agree that college is a place to develop new ideas and change as a person while being open to having their mind change about their future plans, and it is great that they have chosen to do so at MIT. These data also help paint a picture of the ways in which they would like to grow, and how MIT can continue to better serve our incoming students of future classes.

Check out the full results of the 2018 Survey of New Students here.

MIT IR is presently administering the 2019 Survey of New Students—results will be posted to the IR Survey Website early this fall.