Oct 9, 2016
2021 Applicants: Answers to Your Emails
Hi 2021 Applicants!
It’s been two weeks since my first post addressed to you. It’s a long weekend and thus an excuse to pretend that I don’t have to do work yet (although this is work; also, according to my Writing Advisor, “thus” is a very math major word and shouldn’t be used in essays). This post is addressed to all the Applicants who have emailed me, and it contains all the answers to your questions that I could know, some generalized for the public. If you’re not an applicant this year, but emailed me already, I’ll get to your questions later. And if you’re wondering why I didn’t send out any personal email responses, well, I got 46 emails just from Applicants plus at least 30 more from hopefuls in grades 8-11, and I don't want to keep any of you waiting longer than others (also the reason why this post is so long). Thank you all for your emails and kind words and for sharing your experiences! I appreciate y’all!
Number 1 tip that I can give you to answer all your questions: visit the MIT Admissions website. Read through all the tabs and pages. You will very soon find answers to an overwhelming majority of your questions, including those on the three most common themes: AP and other advanced classes, extracurriculars, tests, and international applications. Next, read the MIT Blogs. This is where you can find advice on the application and its various components (including a variety of different posts on writing essays and dealing with anxiety), words of encouragement and consolation, and FAQs on logistical stuff, both from students and admissions officers. There are helpful tags on the Blogs that will help you find the subject you’re looking for. The most relevant tags for all of you are Freshman Applicants, International Applicants, Process and Statistics, and Prepare for MIT. For those who asked me about life at MIT, Life & Culture is a great tag. And Best of the Blogs is where you will find the most helpful/inspirational/beautiful/touching posts about life, admissions, and everything.
MITAdmissions.org is, in my experience, the best college admissions website. It’s well-organized, friendly-looking, and provides a thorough overview of life at MIT and the admissions process. You don’t need to look for information anywhere else. The website tells you what MIT is looking for and how to get here, in as concrete terms as possible. And the Blogs reflect the true experience of domestic and international students with a variety of interests, backgrounds, and experiences. Look through them and you will likely find something to relate to. I did this even before applying to MIT and it was extremely reassuring and helpful for all of my college applications. Some posts I found particularly inspirational are, in no particular order: “Applying Sideways”, “Diversity or Merit”, “In Praise of Holistic Admissions”, “The Difficulty with Data” (by Chris Peterson); “Bleary-Eyed” (by Mikey Yang ‘05); “It’s More Than a Job”, “Many Ways to Define ‘the Best’” (by Ben Jones); “Putting Diversity into Context”, and “It’s Not Fair!” (by David duKor-Jackson), all by current or former Admissions officers. Some relevant entries from student bloggers: “An Open Letter to MIT Applicants” by Ceri R. ‘16, “So Chance Me Maybe?” by Joel G. ‘18, “Being ‘qualified’ for MIT” by Anna H. ‘14, “My ‘Normal’ High School” by Ben O. ‘19, “to the 2019s in anticipation of pi day” by Yuliya K. ‘18, and “Dear Prospective 2020s” by Ceri R. ‘16. This is an extremely short list of everything you could (and should) read. Seriously, read the website, and go through the pages of Freshman Applicants-tagged blog posts. You will likely find everything you want and need.
I just created a new MyMIT account to check out the current online application (if you don’t have an account yet, create one!), and I can now relate much better to your anxiety. This “field study” of mine was quite an anxious throwback. Had to tell myself multiple times that I don't have to fill it out again. And, honestly, I don’t know if I would get in this year. Every year, the applicant pool is different and thus the final composition of the incoming class is different (this also means, you can always try and re-apply; that was my thought of consolation senior year). Every year, MIT selects a team. More on this here.
I also unearthed a PDF of my old application and was quite embarrassed. I was dramatic, used fancy words and metaphors, and sounded so "exalted." For some of you, this answers your question: yes, metaphors are ok; be you even if you is someone you’ll look back on junior year of college and blush (for reference, my third ever blog post is a slightly less fancy version of my college essays).
Anyway, back to your specific questions. This post is long because I didn’t want to make some of you wait longer for answers than others, so look at the section headers below (and the underlined titles within the sections).
- See above
- What you don't need to get into MIT: #1 ranking in your school/class/state/country, maximum GPA and 2400 on the SAT, medals and awards (including from various Olympiads), AP or IB classes on your transcript, experience in curing cancer (had a couple people asking about this one), child prodigy classification, a certain number of activities, or “most impressive” or “outstanding” anything. These are all examples from your emails; I’m sure there’s a lot more you don’t need as well. Also, don't compare yourself to people in your school or town. You don’t have to be "the best" of them to be accepted. Rather, you have to be a good fit, and that’s not something you can quantify. Also, MIT has no quotas nor admission officers assigned to specific regions (which happens in some schools).
- I cannot give you any advice on whether to apply or not. Please read the information on the Admissions website carefully for help. Trust me, there are 19,000 or so of you worried about the same thing right now. Good luck in this extremely difficult decision process!
- Deadlines and requirements: See here (international pretty much the same, check here). I recommend registering for a MyMIT account (super simple!) now, if you haven’t yet (you can do this even before senior year). Set up your interview and look through the application. Part 1 is all biographical info that you can fill out quickly and then feel good about yourself because there are only two parts so you’ve technically done half the work. Helps to get started to curb your anxiety.
- International students: everything you need to know is here. Remember that you don’t have to be a genius to be accepted. Be hard-working and curious instead. Also, not every international student is an Olympiad winner.
- Special circumstances: some of you have described experiences that either affected your grades or your opportunities. This is understandable, and I thank you for sharing them. Luckily, Section 9 in Part 2 of the application is there for you! In it, you can explain any personal circumstances that may have significantly affected your high school experience. I hope that if you were one of the people worried about falling grades or grades that improved only later in high school, you will get this message. Also, admissions officers do look at trends, so if you got B’s and C’s freshman year and then improved, that’s a good thing. More on supplemental materials here.
- Extra-Special Circumstances: If you are unable to submit one or more of the required materials (e.g. transcript, test scores, letters of rec), or if you faced significant challenges during high school that significantly affected your performance, please contact Admissions before submitting the application (you can find their email address on the website). And have a Plan B: remember that you can re-apply or not apply at all senior year and enroll in a local community college/summer school to get some extra academic experience or work/do research. You can also read about transferring to MIT from another college here (if you want to start your college education and then reapply).
There is at least one post every year by the Admissions bloggers with essay advice. I’ve included all those I found and/or remembered, organized in no particular order. Note that they represent only a fraction of what you can find on the Blogs under the Freshman Applicants tag:
- “A Protocol for MIT Admissions Essays” by Lydia K. '14, MEng '16
- “The College Essay: Yogurt Edition!” by Chris S. ‘11
- “Our favoirte applicaiton spellnig errers” by Mikey Yang ‘05
- “On Essay Writing” by Kristal L. ‘17
- “What My College Essays Were [Not]” by Phoebe C. ‘18
- “I Wrote an MIT Application Essay on Getting a B in Calculus” by Chelsea R. ‘15
- “Dear Applicants: The College Essay” by Yuliya K. ‘18
- “Show, Don’t Tell! (the College Essay, Pt. 2)” by Chris S. ‘11
To prep for the interview, take the time to think about your interests and how you could describe them. The MIT interview is not like a regular job interview. It's much more informal. It's basically an MIT student listening to you as a fellow MIT student. So be excited, be authentic, and don't be too formal. Oh, and prepare some questions you have about MIT. You can ask about the application, the interviewer's time at MIT, or anything MIT-related (do your own research on the MIT Admissions website before you ask though!). I asked my interviewer about her favorite class, and that was super cool to hear. Sources from people more knowledgeable than me below:
- “Interview Tips from an MIT Educational Counselor” by Kim Hunter ‘86
- “Notes on the Interview (the EC edition!)” by Chris S. ‘11
- “Scheduling Your Interview” by Kim Hunter ‘86
- “College Interviews” by Connie H. ‘14
Other Application Components
- Extracurriculars: see this page for the best description. Your activities don’t have to be traditional “extracurriculars” (and I know from my experience in Ukraine that, as an international applicant, you might not have had the same opportunities in a different culture). You can do calisthenics, build/program stuff at home, write fiction/play a musical instrument, babysit, or so much more. And what you note on your application doesn’t have to reflect a high level of accomplishment or be “officially verified.” Additionally, you have the opportunity to highlight your creative, maker, athletic, or many other projects in your Portfolio (more on that here, here, and here). More on supplemental materials here.
- AP and other advanced classes: read here, international aplicants here. Main takeaway: challenge yourself, and MIT knows not everyone has the same educational opportunities.
- Teacher recommendations: read this page and this blog post. Sometimes your greatest strengths are highlighted by your recommenders. Unfortunately, you can read neither their letters nor their minds, but you can make sure they know you and are enthusiastic or at least immediately willing to write the letter. Ask in advance. Also, check in with Admissions on whether you can submit an official translation of your letters of recommendation if your teachers don’t speak English.
- Tests (SAT I and II, TOEFL): read this page on the requirements (international applicants here) and this blog post on preparation. Note the options for international students and also minimum required TOEFL scores for both international and domestic students who don't speak English as a first language. While I’ve already said that a 2400 on the SAT is not necessary, you will probably try to find scores that are necessary on the internet, but remember: you will only find averages and ranges, not predictions. To stay calm on Test Day (the most important thing you can do!), bring music, practice mindfulness, meditate, or ask a friend to sit with you before you are called to the test room. I brought a fun book with me to read before the test, rather than an SAT Prep book (those made me nervous even in the hands of other test takers). Oh, and the SAT II Subject Tests are much easier to relax during, in my experience, because you’re not required to change sections as quickly—you'll have an hour for everything rather than 25-minute segments for different sections.
Stress and Anxiety Management (before and after you press “Submit”)
Breathe… And read the posts below.
- “Coping with Anxiety” by Rachel D. ‘16
- “How to look over your application and advice about breathing.” by Shannon M. ‘12
- “You’re stressed.” by Anna H. ‘14
- "I Scrapbook Sometimes" by Rachel D. '16
- “Dear Applicants: Parts 1 and 2” by Yuliya K. ‘18
- “Second Semester Senior” by Selam G. ‘18
- “This Day, the Year I Applied” by Yuliya K. ‘18
- "Sleep Is for the Strong" by Erick P. '17
- “Why I Took a Gap Year” by Vincent A. ‘17 (an international student from Nigeria)
- “But What Are They Really Looking for?” by Kim Hunter ‘86
- "When MIT Gets Tough, CAAAATTTT" by Rachel D. '16
- "50 Things" by Ben Jones (perhaps not as relevant right now, but keep this post in mind—you will need it next year)
- "An MIT Underwear Exposé (and Sorting Hat)" by Lydia K. '14, MEng '16 (technically not a stress management post, but still beautiful)
- The only external source I will mention in this post is College Board’s BigFuture resource. You’ll find a bunch of useful stuff there, including “building a support network” and “knowing yourself” (plus great info about different colleges’ location, demographics, financial aid, etc).
Lastly, here are the most reassuring words I found as a high school senior looking through the blogs (from Ben Jones’ “50 Reflections”):
7. I have a list of all the applicants whose stories really changed my life. Every so often I google them to see what they're up to. I have yet to be disappointed.
8. Some of them didn't get admitted to MIT.
A huge thank you to Evan, Rohan, Megumi, Enerett, Agnes, Vatsala, Sonia, Vriti, Wilson, Valeriu, Jalal, Andrew T., Rick, Lukas, Jaime, Mrugank, Rahul, Rodrigo, Azu, Antara, Victoria, Camila, Soumya, Deepraj, Oliver, Nitesh, Zack, Andrew M., Teboho, Breanna, Mark, Abhay, Mayank, Janelle, Seneme, Brian, Shrikant, Rituraj, Kenneth, Grace, and Yared! Of the 46 of you, 10 were from India, 2 from South Africa, and 1 from each of Pakistan, Moldova, Malaysia, Mongolia, Spain, Argentina, Bangladesh, Colombia, Algeria, China, England (plus 5 unspecified international). That includes almost all continents (Australia, waiting to hear from you). Your emails made my day. I look forward to hearing from you and the other Applicants in the comments below!
GOOD LUCK Y’ALL!