I have got so many questions about how MIT is different compared to University of Cambridge. There is, of course, no absolute (Indonesian: saklek) answer. I am going to try to go through different aspects of MIT and Cambridge. Then, you can decide, which school will give you the most, and the experience you want to have!
Disclaimer: I am going to talk from an undergraduate in Mechanical Engineering perspective. Also, I'm a full time student at MIT, and 'just' an exchange student at Cambridge. So, I'm sorry if my opinion is a little bit biased.
|MIT versus Cambridge. Which one is better? PS. Thanks to Bananagrams that I got from Katie and Yee Ling, I could make this!|
Recitation versus Supervision
Both MIT and Cambridge has a way to ensure that the students actually understand what is going on in class, and lecture is never enough. So, MIT has a 'recitation', and Cambridge has a 'supervision'.
Recitation at MIT happens twice a week for most freshman/ sophomore classes, and only once a week for the higher level undergrads. One recitation usually has 10-15 people, again, depends on how popular the class is. We usually go through the sample questions which are similar to our problem sets, and also go over the concepts which are still confusing for most students. Outside the recitation, the teaching assistants and the professors also hold office hours. These usually run for 1-2 hours, in an open slot of time, mostly in the evening. You can go there, ask as many questions as you want, or just do your problem sets there. The problem sets, are due on a set day every week. It's stressful, but it keeps you afloat of your materials.
In contrary, Cambridge has supervision which runs once every two weeks. You are expected to 'attempt' the questions on example papers, which are generally twice as long as the MIT problem sets. You usually do these all by yourself, and during the supervision, your supervisor with 1-3 other students and you will go through these. They don't grade the example papers, so it's entirely up to you how much you want to try/ learn. Be careful, though, the supervisors can get a little bit grumpy if you don't attempt to do the example papers.
Continuous versus Final Assessment
As I told you above, MIT gives you weekly problem sets, and papers/ essays (for HASS classes -Humanities, Arts, and Social Science) or lab reports. You have three midterms per term, and a final exam at the end of the term. You can imagine, how a hell week at MIT feels like: 3 problem sets, 1 essay, 2 midterms, are all on 2-day span. However, this continuous assessment builds up your final grade, so if you 'bomb' one of your exams because you get sick, it's totally fine!
However, most of Cambridge grades only depend on the final exam grades, which all happen at the end of the academic year. Let's say, you take a Thermodynamics class during autumn term (or Michaelmas term in Cambridge lingo), your final exam for this module will still be on April. Crazy, right? For engineering students, we also have coursework, which is basically the labs, engineering area activity, and projects. They don't go towards your specific module grade, though (as far as I know). So, do you understand now why most Cambridge students still study during winter/ Christmas break?
Boston versus Cambridge
Boston, is a typical American vibrant city. It is big, full of skyscrapers, really diverse, and you can find pretty much anything here! Well, MIT is actually located in Cambridge, but it is still part of Greater Boston Area. Cambridge (in England), on the other hand, is a typical little university town, although it's the main city in Cambridgeshire. It is more relaxing, the view is more beautiful, because the university itself has stood for slightly more than 800 years.
|Early spring in Boston, 2013.|
In Boston, the public transportation system is quite good; there are subways, buses, and trams. You can go anywhere with these. In Cambridge, if your department/ classes are far from your college, you have to get a bicycle. The buses (especially UNI4 bus), is unreliable, and don't always come on time because they get stuck in traffic jam. Traffic jam? In Cambridge? Yes, because the streets are really narrow in Cambridge. This is another reason why it's more convenient to cycle. You must remember, though, because the streets are narrow, there are so many one-ways. In addition, you need to have lamps (bright white for the front, red for the back) for your bike, otherwise you will get fined!
|The castle-like background! I can never get over how Cambridge University is really pretty.|
One thing that is really similar in both cities: the tourists. MIT is visited by so many tourists, from east Asia especially. Cambridge tourists, on the other hand, are from Europe, Asia, and America.
College System versus Dorm + Greek Life
Cambridge has a collegiate system, which means, that you actually belong to a college, and it determines your admission to the university. In CME students lingo, college in Cambridge is like a 'super-dorm'. It arranges your supervision, maintains your well-being in general, and also has its own extracurricular activities (Cambridge lingo: societies, MIT lingo: clubs). There are 31 colleges in Cambridge, and of course there are 'more prestigious' colleges, like King's, Trinity, or St. John's. However, you will still take the same lectures, do the same labs, as anyone else no matter which college you are in. So, college doesn't affect your academic experience, but maybe your Cambridge experience.
Note, you should also go to formal halls while you are in Cambridge. Some formal halls are better than the others, because of the old building where they are held (which makes it feel like Hogwarts), or because their food is super delicious. The students also need to wear a gown, which makes it even more unique.
At MIT, in freshman year, everyone should live in a dorm on campus. Because of that, students in higher years tend to stay on campus, either in a dorm or in fraternity/ sorority. I understand that the concept of Greek life (fraternity/ sorority) is really American, and I didn't quite get it either until I came to MIT. You may have seen it in Hollywood movies, and they seem really extreme. I honestly don't know much about this, because I'm not in any sorority.
Diverse versus Specific Subjects
MIT undergraduate is done normally in four years, while Cambridge undergraduate program is done in three years. For the Master's degree, as far as I know, it's two years at MIT, and one year at Cambridge. For the Ph.D. degree, as far as I know, it's four-six years at MIT, and three years at Cambridge. Why is it shorter to study at Cambridge?
Because MIT has many requirements, to make sure that its graduates are well-rounded and well-equipped. For undergraduate, we have to take at least 8 HASS (Humanities, Arts, and Social Science) classes, and 4 of them have to satisfy CI (Communication Intensive) requirement, that consists of essays and oral presentation. That's not enough. We also have swimming requirement. Every MIT student has to be able to swim 100 yards continuously, otherwise they will need to take a swimming class. We also need to take at least 4 quarters of physical education classes. The purpose of these is to ensure the balance between the mental and the body.
If you do engineering at Cambridge, you still have to do 4 years, but you get bachelor's degree after 3 years and M. Eng. degree in your last year. Every engineering student (except Chemical Engineering, they have separate department for this), takes the same classes for the first two years. So, the engineers from Cambridge have deeper understanding in general subjects, than MIT engineers.
United States of America versus United Kingdom
USA as a country is more diverse, dynamics, and fast-paced than United Kingdom, which is more relaxed, beautiful, and historical. USA as a country is also really nice to travel around. Once you're in Boston, for instance, you can hop on to a bus to New York or Washington DC. UK, is even nicer, because it's not as big as USA, and closer to the mainland Europe. You can easily travel to Scotland, Ireland, or Wales while you are in UK. In addition, Europe has a lot to offer, there are just so many countries which are really close by!
Now, back to the question, which one is better, MIT or University of Cambridge? The different ranks online will not help, because it comes back to you and entirely depends on you. You may decide based on which program offers the best learning experience, which research group is more suitable with the field you want to pursue, or which city you want to try living in for the next few years.
I have fallen in love with both of the universities, and I feel really lucky to be able to breathe the air in both places. Alhamdulillah.
Let me know which university you would love to study in, under the comment section below. Have a great end of year holiday, everyone! :)