ITA, MIT and UC Berkeley: comparing three universities of engineering excellence

 It is common for people to consider foreign universities better than those in Brazil. However, what, in fact, are the differences between them? In practice, what differentiates a Brazilian institution of higher education from some of the universities of engineering excellence in the rest of the world?

To find out, we spoke with two fellows from the Studying Leaders Program . They are: Gustavo Cellet Marques, graduated in civil engineering from the Technological Institute of Aeronautics (ITA), who studied at the University of California (UC) Berkeley and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) , six months each; and Pedro Verdini, a former ITA student who is currently undergraduate at MIT.

The program selects young Brazilians with high potential and commitment to the country to receive a scholarship to attend a university of excellence, and the enrollment is open .

According to the two, the difference between universities here and abroad are less related to content, and more related to other issues. Factors such as the relationship between teachers and students, the structure of the course and the way students are charged are what make the most difference. Check out:

The environment of each

Upon arriving at UC Berkeley, Gustavo says he came across a very different academic style. “The classes there are much more participatory. The student knows what the content of the classes will be, and is encouraged to prepare for that class and actively participate in it. That even makes up his grade, ”he says. In this regard, he found a very different environment from ITA classes, in which, in his words, the “student is more passive”.

In Gustavo's view, this more participatory characteristic of the classes “creates an academically demanding routine” for those studying at UC Berkeley. As he knows that he will be charged constantly, he ends up studying more constantly as well. “At ITA, people end up studying more on the eve of the race”, he says.

Another difference that he noticed from MIT to UC Berkeley was in relation to people. “I think people at Berkeley are more relaxed and cool, and then you had a more active life outside of the classroom. At MIT, the staff was more reserved, and the atmosphere was very focused and academic, ”he recalls.

Pedro Verdini, on the other hand, says that he felt something in this regard in the relationship between teachers and students at his educational institution. "Teachers care a lot about students". In his words, if the student starts missing classes without giving reasons or performing below average, it is common for teachers to approach these students to see if they are doing well.

Organization of courses

Pedro also says that the MIT course is much more connected to the job market than ITA, where he also studied before starting the exchange. “The curriculum [at ITA] doesn't change that much, it doesn't adapt that much. At MIT, every year you take a story, it is a different story, ”he says.

Other than that, there is also the question of the flexibility of the curriculum, much greater in foreign universities than in ITA, in the view of both Pedro and Gustavo. “MIT students can choose subjects from any area, they can explore at will,” says Pedro. The first year of studies there is free, and it is only at the end of it that students need to choose their  major , the area in which they want to specialize.

But according to him, it is still possible to change your major in the second or third year. “This is very good, because people can explore what they like. And even afterwards, you can still do a music subject, for example, even studying electrical engineering, ”he says. And at MIT it is still possible to “skip” materials: just take a test to make sure you have mastered that content.

At UC Berkeley, according to Gustavo, this flexibility also exists. But in practice, it turns out not to be so real. This is because the number of places for each course is limited, and some of the courses are very disputed. This way, the student may not be able to do all the subjects he / she wants. This was one of the factors that led him to request a transfer to MIT in the following semester of his exchange.

"There [at MIT] I could take any subject I wanted, including some from the MBA, even though I am still in graduation", he says. At the time he studied at MIT, Gustavo was 21 years old, and ended up taking classes with older people and with a lot of work experience. “It was good because I was able to interact with people who were already more advanced in their career”, he considers.

Timelines and notes

Comparing foreign universities with Brazilian universities, another difference that he notes is in relation to how they treat their schedules. “The timetable is more rigid and respected there. The teacher on the first day of class says what will happen, the dates of the exams and assignments, because the faculty is very large and there are people from many different courses doing each subject ”, he comments.

In this sense, the ITA, being a comparatively smaller and more targeted faculty, allowed for more flexibility. “If the class needed to reschedule the test for any reason, for example, it would be possible to reschedule”, points out Gustavo. And as many people lived together at ITA, sharing the accommodation, “everyone was very integrated and helped each other, there was not much competition”.

In Gustavo's view, students in the USA tend to be more competitive. "There when you go after a job they look at your GPA (weighted average of grades), so there I felt it was more 'each one for themselves'", he says.

In terms of requirements, according to Pedro, “it is easier for you to get a maximum grade at MIT than at ITA. Because at MIT they already expect that part of the class will get top marks. At ITA, if you take everyone who has graduated with a maximum average, there are very few people ”, he says.

As for absences, Pedro says that at MIT this question varies a lot. There are teachers who require presence in all classes, and there are teachers who do not care so much if students do not attend classes. In general, however, his perception is that a student is never expected to miss class.

Other differences

Another point of difference that Pedro points out is that the diversity among MIT students was much greater than at ITA. After all, just as there are many Brazilians wanting to study in the USA, there are students from all over the world with that in mind as well.

“At ITA, cultural diversity is already huge, you have people from the Northeast, the North, the South (…). But at MIT it's kind of like that, only for the whole world ”. This meant that he had contact with people from different countries in his classes at the institution.

The fact that the university admission process there is more holistic (and not just a test, as in Brazil) also contributes to this, according to Pedro. “As at MIT, the selection process takes into account not only one grade, but its entire history and context, it is much more relative than absolute, and so it is much easier for you to have a more diverse faculty”, considers.

This is reflected in several aspects. In Pedro's perception, the composition of MIT students is close to 50% men and 50% women. At ITA, he considers that this proportion is more to 90% men and 10% women, "maybe even less". With regard to socioeconomic profiles, he considers that "it is still much more difficult to enter MIT having a worse socioeconomic condition".

On the other hand, this does not prevent people with less money from entering. MIT offers financial assistance based on the applicants' needs, and the admission process does not take into account whether the applicant is able to afford college. If any of the selected students cannot afford to pay for their studies, the institution may offer scholarships, including full scholarships.

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