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75% of '94 seniors were satisfied with their majors, MIT education

Three-quarters of the MIT seniors responding to the 1994 Senior Survey indicated they were satisfied with their major and with their undergraduate education.

In contrast, half said they were satisfied with their freshman year. More than 80 percent of the students indicated satisfaction with their living group experiences.

These are only a few of the findings to emerge from the first report of the 1994 Senior Survey.

The purpose of the survey, the first of its kind that MIT has undertaken, was to learn how students feel about their undergraduate experience-to find out from the student perspective what's going well and what could use improvement. Until now, most information about student assessments of their MIT experience has been anecdotal.

This survey was mailed to all graduating seniors last April. Four hundred and sixty-one seniors responded, representing a 42 percent response rate. The 10-page survey covered a variety of topics including: attitudes toward the major, the freshman year, the living group experience, student activities and work. Questions also covered subjects such as future educational or career plans, pace and pressure, financial aid and loans, and the extent to which students felt their MIT education improved various types of knowledge and abilities.

Under the sponsorship of Arthur C. Smith, dean for undergraduate education and student affairs, the survey was carried out by the Educational Studies Working Group (ESWG) in conjunction with Undergraduate Academic Affairs. The participants in ESWG are administrators from a variety of offices with an interest in educational research, many of whom also conduct their own studies. The questionnaire was developed with input from many people from across the Institute-students, faculty and staff.

With respect to their major, seniors were most satisfied with academic computing resources, intellectual excitement, opportunities for doing research and their major's undergraduate departmental office.

They were least satisfied with the quality of advising, personal contact with instructors, availability of tutoring and other help, and opportunities for class discussion. Approximately two-thirds said that their UROP supervisors or other MIT faculty knew them well enough to write a good letter of recommendation for graduate school or an employer, while only two-fifths indicated the same with regard to their faculty advisor.

Not surprisingly, more than 90 percent of the students rated the pace and pressure at MIT as high. While 30 percent said the pace and pressure were detrimental, almost half said pressure was good for them.

The majority of students reported the greatest sources of pressure were a result of faculty/subject demands, or trying to maintain a high GPA for graduate school/employment, or were self-imposed. Less than 30 percent said that peers and competition were great sources of pressure.

Among the areas of knowledge and abilities that the majority of students felt were improved by their MIT experience were problem-solving skills, intellectual curiosity, ability to work in a team and design skills. Knowledge of social and political issues and proficiency in non-native languages were the least improved, the seniors said.

A version of this article appeared in the October 26, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 39, Number 9).

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