A good student is someone

Un bon étudiant est quelqu'un

gets the balance right, enjoys their time, makes the most of it
is learning
studies, doesn't cheat
studies, works hard, is knowledgeable
who always shows up to class and contributes, loves to learn, makes an effeort to understand everyhting he is taught
who does his or her work on time, who comes to class.
who does their work meticulously
who gets his work done, who studies on Friday nights.
who is able to work just as hard as in necessary and no more.
who is naturally smart, indipendant, happy and positive
who knows why he is a student
who studies frequently and diligently, who works hard to understand the material, who asks questions.
who studies hard, listens well, asks questions, learns instead of memorizing.
who studies regularly
who studies, doesn't cheat
who studies, who works hard, who is not overcommitted
who tries his hardest and is satisfied.
who works hard
who works hard, listens in class, enjoys his studies
who works hard, maintains intellectual honesty and respects the value of truth.

qui sait travailler tout en s'amusant
de studieux
qui a une bonne note scolaire, et qui est toujours prêt à aider les autres.
qui est curieux et intéressé, ouvert d'esprit , et qui fait la fête
qui est interesse dans ses etudes et se donne les moyens d'y réussir en travaillant suffisamment.
qui est ouvert à tout, qui travaille bien
qui étudie bien
qui fait ses devoirs, qui va en cours, qui a des bonnes notes
qui s'intéresse, qui apprend des choses tout en profitant de la vie.
qui s'épanouit, travaille tout en profitant de sa jeunesse
qui sait profiter un maximum de son temps libre tout en accordant le temps suffisant à ses études
qui sait s'adapter au rythme de travail, qui se donne les moyens d'obtenir ce qu'il veut
qui sait s'amuser en travaillant
qui sait travailler et faire la fête
qui sait utiliser son savoir
qui travaille, qui rêve d'un monde meilleur
qui travaille, qui sait ce qu'il veut et se prepare au mieux à sa vie professionnelle.
qui va en cours et apprend ses leçons
travail en restant ouvert sur les autres et le monde
travaille et est épanoui
trouve le bon équilibre entre l'importance des études et la nécessité d'une vie sociale


la majorité des étudiants de MIT considèrent qu’un bon étudiant est une
personne qui travaille dure, de façon consciencieuse et méticuleuse.
Par contre, les polytechniciens pensent qu’un bon étudiant doit
s’ouvrir au monde, savoir s’amuser et profiter de la vie autant que
travailler. Je pense que les américains considèrent qu’il faut
travailler beaucoup pendant ses études car elles coûtent chères et
qu’il faut les rentabiliser. Par contre, en France, et encore plus à
l’école Polytechnique, nous considérons que l’épanouissement personnel
dans des activités extrascolaires est très important dans notre
formation d’étudiants. Qu’en pensez-vous ? Vous arrive-t-il de faire la
fête ou des activités qui sortent un peu du cursus scolaire (sport,
musique...) ?

is right to some extent in that a university education in very
expensive in America, and that we work hard because we don't want to
waste money and we want to earn a lot of money once we graduate. But,
our responses to not accurately represent the importance of
extracirricular activities. I think that we consider sports, parties,
music, etc. part of life in general, and not part of 'being a good
student.' MIT has the most varisty sports teams of any college in its
division, a huge variety of student-run clubs, a vibrant Greek system,
and various other social/extracirricular activities. One of our mottos
is "work hard, play hard." This being said, I think that we consider
"playing" as a reward for being a good student, rather than a part of
being a good student.

Also, I have heard that there is no such thing as required
homework assignments (due on a weekly basis, for instance) at L'Ecole
Polytechnique. Is this true? Do you think this arrangment allows you
more time for extracirricular activities?

agree with Gwen. But I have to admit that here in the U.S. one should
always work. Sometimes, even having fun becomes a responsibility. I
don't complain about it though... I think work is good.

like to point out one thing that might be important in the above
observations: the word "good" in english is an extremely bland and
meaningless word that one would only use in the contexts of these
phrases if one were describing a bland and meaningless person. So in
terms of a "good student" the english speaker is not obliged to list
hundreds of good deeds and activities, but rather to concentrate on
what this bland hypothetical student does all day: studying. I'd say
that the responses would have been absolutely different (and filled
with more variety of activity) if the question had been "extraordinary
student" or "perfect student" or "ultimate student" or any other
adjective which describes accurately what "good" is supposed to be
describing here.

Does the french word "bon" have a sense of blandness and meaninglessness as well?

it true that everyone at Polytechnique must participate in some sort of
sport? Anyway, I just have to say that we maybe should have mentioned
outside activities more; however, when people were talking about
balance they were refering to being able to preform well at school and
get good grades and learn what they need to while still being able to
have a normal life with outside activities and having fun.

It is true though that when we think of a student we think of
work, studying and grades; not even really learning material as much as
we should.

For me, I have found that when I have a sport, that I am more
organized and more efficient at doing school work because I need to be
more structured and balance my time. Plus it is a great reliever of
stress and something I look forward to after a long day of classes.

seems like the sentence completions on both sides stress hard work,
although the students from MIT definitely focus on studying a lot as
the measure of a good student. I think this may be more a part of MIT's
culture than anything else. As was mentioned in our Institute newspaper
The Tech last week, students at MIT sometimes take pride in how much
work they have to do and how long they spent doing it. Hence, we think
that a good student is one who always studies. I think if we gave this
survey elsewhere in the United States, there might be some different

My question for all of you at L'Ecole Polytechnique: Do you ever feel the need to study/do homework on a Friday night?

would like to add a little more to Gwen's response. When I go home from
university, my parents ask me if I am being a "good student." They want
to know that I am putting their money to the best use possible. They
would rather me work too hard and get amazing grades but little social
development than to play too hard and have an amazing college
experience but crummy grades. This has obvious roots in their desire
for me to succeed and their knowledge that companies do not hire people
who have low grades.

For this reason, "good student" for me is associated with
working hard. A phrase like "balanced student" might be the phrase that
I would associate with the responses of the French students. I think at
MIT, we are pushed to be good students more than balanced students.
That being said, we still play mighty hard. I am involved in many
extracurricular activities. Many times, I have forgone to go to a movie
or a party and then come home and worked the rest of the night on
homework. I think most of my MIT counterparts would say similar things.

me the better grades you get the better student you are. If you can get
As and still be involved in a whole bunch of extracurricular activities
that doesn't make you a better student then one who gets As by putting
all his time into school work. Does being a good student necessarily
mean you have to be social as well?

Je constate qu'il y a beaucoup de messages très intéressants sur ce sujet et je souhaite répondre à plusieurs d'entre eux.

Pour cela, je ne vais pas suivre l'ordre chronologique car je voudrais d'abord répondre à


Pour moi, et il me semble que c'est le cas de
la plupart de mes camarades de l'école, un bon étudiant est quelqu'un
d'épanouit dans sa vie sociale à l'intérieur et à l'extérieur de son
établissement d'étude.

Je justifierais cela de deux manières. Tout d'abord, il me
parait évident que les études ne sont pas une fin en soit et que par
conséquent on qualifie de "bon étudiant" un élèves qui par ses études
se prépare à sa vie professionnelle. Or, je ne sait pas si vous serez
d'accord au MIT mais il me semble que les études que nous faisons ne
reflètent pas exactement ce que nos employeurs nous demanderont, et je
pense que les activités extrascolaires nous préparent à nos emplois
futurs en comblant certains manquent des activités scolaires. Qu'on le
veuille ou non, nous travailleront en équipe, en société, et donc
autant s'y préparer pendant nos études.

De plus, et ce deuxième point est peut-être plus discutable,
il me semble que ces activités extrascolaires apportent une plus
grandes stabilité. En effet, elles nous aident à être organisés, à
varier nos activités et à nous changer les idées de temps en temps ce
qui me semble nécessaire. Encore une fois, c'est discutable, mais
personnellement c’est très important.

Pour répondre à


Il est vrai que chaque polytechnicien doit
choisir un sport qu'il est censé pratiquer au minimum 6 heures par
semaine. En réalité il existe des sports plus ou moins exigeants et
certains sports permettent aux élèves d’en faire moins. Pour ma part,
j'ai la chance de faire partie de l'équipe d'aviron de Polytechnique
(Rowing team) et de ramer sur le huit (eight oar) qui nous représente
lors des compétitions. Les élèves qui font partie de ce huit, moi
compris, nous entraînons au moins une fois par jour (week-end compris)
et à chaque fois cela nous prend au moins deux heures. Nous n'avons pas
le niveau du huit du MIT (loin de la malheureusement...) ni les mêmes
moyens, mais tous les élèves qui font partie de l’équipage effectuent
les même travaux scolaires que les autres tandis qu'il me semble que
chez vous les meilleurs rameurs se consacrent plus exclusivement à leur

Est-il possible pour quelqu'un qui suit un cursus normal et
qui souhaite obtenir de bons résultats de faire partie d'un groupe tel
que le huit 1 du MIT ?

Enfin, en réponse à


il est bien évident que tous les
polytechniciens ont été amenés à travailler des nuits entières, même en
week-end, durant leur cursus (et c'est sans parler de la classe
préparatoire précédant l'école durant laquelle nous passions pour la
plupart toutes nos nuits à travailler...). Mais cette questions m'amène
à une autre :

Avez vous déjà dû raté des cours pendant près un mois ou deux
parce que vous prépariez un événement extrascolaire ou une compétition
sportive ?

Car c'est le cas de la plupart d'entre nous.

feel that I'm more inclined to agree with Charles and disagree with
Gwendolyn and Silvia. I feel that getting good grades means you are
good at studying class material, it doesn't mean that you are a good
student. Being a student is more than what goes on in classrooms, I
feel that it includes social interactions and sports and such;
environments where one learns lessons not taught in the classroom.
Therefore, I don't feel like non-academic activities are rewards for
being a good student, I think that they are an essential aspect of
being a good student.

I was wondering how much time a week the students at Polytechnique devote to doing things they feel are "fun" and not academic?

answer your question Gildas, I have had to sacrifice my work on a few
rare occasions to plan events, but never for months at a time or
anything like that. For most of us at MIT, academics come first, and
extracurricular activities next. And while there are times that an
activity takes precedence over a class, this is hardly ever the case
for extended periods of time.

would like to dispute one point that Gildas made. Gildas, you argued
that one of the reasons why French students (and employers) place a
high importance on extracurricular activities is because they believe
that these activities help them to work on teams, etc. in their
professional life. In the jobs that I have interviewed for and gotten
(which, granted haven't been that many), the interviewers want to know
how I can add to their company. They look at three parts of my resume:
my grade point average, the classes I have taken, and the skills that I
have. Even though I am in leadership positions on the track team and in
my dormitory, they skim over these activities, and never once have I
had a question about them, even though my leadership capabilities would
probably benefit the company more in the long run than, say, Newtonian
Mechanics. Therefore, from my experience, I would say that American
employers do not generally care about extracurricular activities.
Unfortunately, if one were to drop all of his extracurricular
activities in order to add more classes or spend more time on his
classes so that one could get better grades, the company would probably
look more highly on that person than on a person who worked really hard
to balance their activities and school. I do not agree with this
attitude because I think that a job should develop your whole person.
The only way for a job to do this is to be interested in the start
about your other hobbies and activities. However, I do believe that a
lot of companies in America place their work first and do not value a
balanced employee. Do my MIT comrades agree? Do French companies really
look at your participation in extracurricular activities as a plus
because they want to hire balanced employees (possibly over ones that
have a better understanding of the job but a less-balanced life)?

I don't think anyone has anwered your question about the rowing eight,
but as someone who has been on the crew (rowing) team, I can tell you
that it is VERY difficult to get good grades and still be competetive.
Freshman year, I was in lightweight crew and we had to practice more
than 2 hours a day; it definitely took a toll on my grades. Honestly,
it's really difficult to dedicate yourself to a demanding sport like
rowing, and still manage to do well in your classes. I just couldn't do
it, and I wasn't even in the 1st Eight. I was on the Junior Varsity
team, but the Varsity guys were something else. Crew was their life,
and because they spent so much time out on the water, they had to
sacrifice everything else. I'm not saying it can't be done, it's just
REALLY difficult, especially at a place like MIT. I only know of one
guy who managed to excel in both rowing and school, but he was really
dedicated. He was just one of those special people that can do whatever
they set their minds to.

réponse à Rachel, certes,les employeurs français recherchent aussi des
personnes travailleuses mais je crois que la manière de travailler en
entreprise et dans une école est très différente. On ne travaille pas
seul, on aura peut être avoir une équipe à gérer,... donc pas seulement
résoudre des équations, c'est pourquoi avoir monté avant des projets
montre qu'on peut s'adapter à des problèmes différents de ceux que l'on
rencontre régulièrement en cours, ce qu'on aura à fire en entreprise.
C'est donc un plus pour l'employeur mais ce n'est surement pas
sufisant, il faut quand même avoir un diplôme. Je pense aussi que si
les étudiants français accordent autant d'importance à l'épanouïssement
personnel, c'est parce qu'avant de rentrer à l'école polytechnique, on
a passé deux ans, voire trois à travailler très dur, tout le temps.
Pour moi, ca a été difficile de sacrifier autant et j'ai bien pris
conscience qu'en travaillant tout le temps, on finit par ne plus bien
travailler. Avoir des acticités extrascolaires aident à travailler plus
efficacement. Avez vous eu aussi des années à travailler très dur et
après, un peu moins ou travaillez vous de plus en plus tous les ans?

en réponse à la question de Matthew, je ne pense pas qu'il existe un
étudiant à l'Ecole qui travaille un vendredi soir! Sauf cas
exceptionnel comme un examen ou un projet important à rendre mais c'est
assez rare. Je sais que pour ma part, en période normale je travaille
le dimanche après-midi pour faire les devoirs hebdomadaires. Et lors
des révisions pour les gros exams ou les projets, je vais réviser tout
le week end. Je change de sujet mais avez-vous beaucoup de soirées
organisées pour faire la fête? Comment se passent ces soirées?

quand on organise quelques choses , c'est parce que l'on s'intéresse à
ces genres de choses. A l'école nous pouvons trouver notre intérêt qui
s'est bien caché avant. Ou on a envie de montrer notre capacité
d'organisation, qui pourrait avoir un poids important à l'embauche.
Quand les polytechniciens passent l'entretien, les recruteurs demandent
rarement la note scolaire sachant que intégrer à cette école a déjà
signifie beaucoup de chose. Donc c'est la vie extraprofessionnel qui
fait la différence quelquefois.

Merci à Matthew, Rachel pour leurs réponses.

En réponse à Rachel, Je suis assez d'accord avec l'avis de Yang
même si bien évidemment on ne peut généraliser car les différents
secteurs d'activités mettent en place des politiques d'embauche

Merci aussi à Gerardo Trejo à propos de l'aviron. J'ai une
nouvelle question à te poser, Regrettes-tu d'avoir fait ce sacrifice
sur tes cours pour le sport ?

Je peux étendre cette question à chacun, est-ce que vous
regrettez vos activités extrascolaires si elles ont eu un préjudice sur
vos résultats scolaires ? (même si on peut déjà se poser la question de
savoir si elles ont réellement un résultat négatif...)

I’ve found this discussion of a good student extremely unnerving. I’ll
attempt to explain why. The question “What is a good student?” is much
more easily answered than the question “What is a student?” But, in
some sense, the questions are the same, since the most sensible moral
perspective (in my opinion) is simply to decree that a good student is
actually a student and that a bad student is something else (not a

So we come to the question of what a student is. Well, in this
forum the answers seem to have something to do with “studying,”
“learning,” “extracurricular activities,” “partying,” “playing sports,”
“good grades,” “getting a good job,” “having leadership skills,”
“teamwork,” “Friday nights,” or some magical formula of these magical
things, whatever they are. To try to pinpoint what exactly these things
have to do with being a student, I’ll consider an example.

The other day I told someone that I had started taking voice
lessons. His response was “So you’re going to become a musician?” I
responded, of course, “no,” since I’m horrible, but this is an
interesting situation in which to ask: “Am I a student of voice?” I
think that clearly my friend thought I was and therefore used the
“getting a job” aspect of the magic formula to formulate his question.
Now, personally, the only aspect of the magic formula that I consider
when I think of my voice lessons is the part about “learning.” I don’t
think about “partying” or “teamwork” or even “extracurricular
activities” (in my opinion, this is a term made up by the awful, awful
college acceptance process; it doesn’t mean anything to me). And
really, I don’t even care about learning, I care about being able to
make better music; my reasoning is solely teleological. In conclusion,
according to our magic formula, I’m not a student of voice.

But this conclusion is absurd! Of course I’m a student of
voice (at least I better be, considering how much I pay). The
contradiction arises from the gigantic difference between being a
“student” and being a “student of something.” While one might
hypothesize that the definition of a “student” is actually just someone
who is a “student of something,” the definition has become much more
convoluted. A student today necessarily implies the gigantic
institution: the


, the


, the


, the


, the



What is most amazing, in my opinion, is that in the responses to
“my greatest fears” there was not one mention of the university: that
institution which is the most powerful force in the lives of both the
american and french students. Perhaps this is a product of the
confidence both groups of students feel in terms of the quality of
their respective schools, or perhaps this is an indication of the
extent to which college has become fundamentally sewn into the fabric
of both our societies. In either case, all of us have intimately tied
our own identities (as we call ourselves “students”) to a magnificently
gigantic institution over which we have no control. Considering the
incredibly negative response towards “religion” in the word
associations and the utter similarity of the current “religion of
rationalism” with the old institution of spiritualism, it is absolutely
frightening how cool and confident we all are with the modern religion
of science and mathematics and how haughty and supercilious we are
towards the “unenlightened” religions of the past.

After making these observations, I end with a question. How
outrageous does everyone consider the perspective that science is the
modern day religion? Personally I am many times baffled by our modern
godless society and am perplexed by what I should be striving for in my
life. For my greatest fears, I wrote that they were of the “gigantic
institution which outlives the purpose for which it was created,” but
in some sense this shows that truly I fear the lack of this
institution, the lack of the certainty it brings, the lack of purpose
in our lives.

réponse au long message de Scott. Je ne sais pas si j'ai tout compris
et je me demande vraiment en quoi ce post se retrouve ici mais en
lisant ce que tu écris. J'ai juste l'impression que tu détestes notre
mode de vie et je tiens à dire que pour moi l'université/école est un
lieu de vie, d'épanouissement personnel qui demande à certains moments
des gros sacrifices mais qui participe intégralement à nous construire
et nous guider. Pour revenir sur ta question finale, j'admet être
choqué par ta question. Je suis pour ma part, baptisé mais non croyant
et je construis ma vie tous les jours sans dieu ni religion et cela ne
m'empeche pas de vivre et d'être heureux. J'ai seulement des valeurs
différentes et une autre conception de la vie : l'amitié, l'amour, la
famille et l'envie d'être un homme bon me construisent tous les jours
,et les repères de la société que tu dénonces sont pour moi ceux qui me
guident sur ce chemin. Je tiens à ajouter que je respecte ta façon de
penser et que j'essaye juste de rétablir un certain équilibre dans la

Gilles qui aime bien son mode de vie!

To Gilles:

I don't want to give the impression by my earlier remarks that I
in any way hate or am spiteful of any way of life. In fact, I, like
everyone else here, is a part of this institution of education and of
society, etc... What I am trying to point out is certain assumptions
that I think we have taken for granted. In fact, I am pointing out the
fundamental fact that we are


making assumptions in our
way of life, even if we claim to follow such things as rationality,
love, truth, and happiness. And by "religion" all I mean is
assumptions; by science being the "modern day religion" all I mean is
that we assume the world is rational and that, moreover, that
rationality will lead us to the greatest good.

My goal in this reasoning is not to say that one assumption is
right and another wrong, but rather to more fully understand the
assumptions we ourselves make each day and to recognize that we can
never do anything without first establishing our assumptions. It's just
like mathematics: we can't prove that 1+1=2 until we first establish
what we mean by these symbols and what we assume about how they act and
what we assume about what equality means, etc.

In this context, is the question slightly more reasonable?

Gilles. In response to your question, there's a saying at MIT that you
can pick any two of the following three: sleep, work, or play. I think
a lot of people spend long nights doing homework and studying for
exams, but there is also a balance with having fun and going out with
friends. I would say that for many people, sleep is something that is
lacking. In general, I spend weeknights doing homework and studying,
and weekends hanging out with friends. However, many times I ahve to
work during the weekends if I have an exam or homework due on Monday.

response to Lisa, our French teacher has told us about the years that
you guys spend in between taking the bac and starting school at les
Grandes Ecoles. From what she has said, I understand why you seem to
place such an importance on a balanced life now (because you worked so
hard to get where you are now). In the US, it is quite different. In
high school, we have statewide tests, but they are really just meant to
hold back those that should not graduate from high school yet. To get
into universities, we take a test called the SAT during our junior year
of high school (the year before we graduate). It tests one's math,
reading, and writing skills. It is somewhat competitive, and some
people study for it, though I don't know off-hand anyone who has.
During your last year of high school, you apply for universities,
whichever ones your heart desires. The admissions office at each
university looks at some combination of your SAT score, your grade
point average (GPA), your extracurricular activities, your leadership
experience, and your essays (that usually give them an idea about what
you want to do in the future). If you are an interesting candidate,
they accept you. You start university the following fall. This same
process applies to all universities in the US, even the most

I think the difference in school systems puts us in different
positions. You guys have worked very hard to get where you are, and now
it's time to put balance back in your lives. Although some of us worked
hard in high school (how hard you had to work in high school to get a
good GPA depends on what high school you went to), our big challenge is
college. University is where we study our heads off because most of us
either want to go to graduate/medical school or want to get a job. (In
both cases, GPA matters).

found Rachel's post utterly disjoint from the way I interacted with the
college process, so I think it might be instructive to give this other
perspective which might have arisen from differences in region, school,

(disclaimer: the following is simply what I encountered while
growing up. It in no way makes any claim to being "true" except in the
sense that I did live in a culture where this was generally accepted.
All the blatant cynicism is very much a part of this view.)

The description Rachel gave is more or less how my parents
describe going to college (not in details but in the sentiment). Today,
simply put, the incredible competition which permeates the college
process destroys not only one's senior year, but also one's entire high
school experience, one's college experience, and one's life in general.
American culture has become more and more a culture obsessed with
ranking (just go to the tv listings and count the number of TOP 50
product, perhaps, of the spurious relation that "ranking" has with
"science" and "mathematics:" the obsession with quantization. This
fervor is in no place more evident (and more destructive) than in the
current college process where one can see (real-time someday
maybe?!'?) where MY college ranks (you even get a numerical score in
case you need to graph your college). Now you might be skeptical as to
how the US news and world report comes up with these numbers, but they
clearly explain it on their website, which includes such gems as:

"Graduation and retention is given a higher weight (compared
with the national universities and liberal arts colleges categories)
because the ranking formula for the other categories includes an
additional indicator related to it: graduation rate performance. When
this indicator was introduced, it was given a weight of 5 percent,
resulting in a corresponding reduction in the weight given to
graduation and retention"

Inevitably, each student tries to go as far up on these dang
rankings as they possibly can. The problem is that the competition
becomes so fierce that it isn't enough to simply get a perfect on the
SAT and have a perfect grade point average (it's too easy to do that);
essays and interviews don't matter either: if you have to read 20
thousand essays in a month, how do you pick out the next William
Faulkner? Well, the short answer is you don't. You pick the guy who is
captain of the bowling team, has thirty zillion hours of community
service, and whose great uncle Pete also went to this here institution
(it's easy to enter those things into a computer).

The problems relating to this situation are innumerable:
Advanced placement tests ruin the curricula of high schools because
students feel they must take these in order to get into college, but
the tests demand that the high school classes fit into a very specific
mold which inhibits experimentation and freedom; the SAT (and don't
forget the SAT 2, ACT,...) is still very important, and the study guide
market has accordingly become a gigantic industry; students are
pressured into choosing colleges that rank highly and not those that
they'd really enjoy attending.

It is very easy to forget all these things when we personally
were not screwed over by this process. I know that the only reason I
got into MIT (not being captain of the cheerleading squad) was because
of one freak recommendation, and in my experience those who do not play
the game almost invariably end up being crushed.