Jul 12, 2005
As The Saying About Assumptions Goes…
Posted in: Process & Statistics
Assume = Ass + U + Me.
Assumptions, generalizations, stereotypes: they have no business in the admissions process - in either direction.
First, an applicant should never assume something to be true about a school unless he or she has verified it with a primary source.
Serving as said primary source, I can tell you that no, MIT doesn't have the highest suicide rate. No, MIT students don't work all the time. No, MIT doesn't offer only math and science. No, MIT isn't male-dominated ('09 is 47% women).
Second, and equally important, admissions personnel should never make assumptions about applicants.
At the Harvard Admissions Institute (for which I still owe you the summary, I know) we had a group discussion on the topic of extra-curricular activities. We collectively lamented the fact that today's society pressures applicants into doing things "just to get into college" instead of encouraging them to follow their hearts and true passions. I mentioned to the group that at MIT we look for (and reward) the latter when we read, and that one of my favorite admits listed "daydreaming" as his first extra-curricular activity (they're listed in order of priority).
(We'll pause here to clarify for the record that every component of his application was exemplary, including significant accomplishments at a full-time job that he balanced with his high school curriculum. Obviously this person wasn't admitted to MIT for being good at daydreaming. But the fact that he possessed the self-confidence to tell us that he prioritized daydreaming over his other phenomenal accomplishments said a lot about balance - which was my point in bringing it up at Harvard.)
Anyway, a senior admissions officer from a very prestigious university (which shall remain nameless) responded with a flippant comment in which it was quite clear that he'd assumed my admit to be some rich private school kid who could "afford" (his word) to list daydreaming as his favorite activity.
Do you think I'm overreacting to have found this a bit appalling?
I can't figure out which side of it annoys me more - the implication that lower/middle-class kids can't or shouldn't make time to daydream, or the implication that kids from more affluent backgrounds can afford to be lazy or unmotivated. Ridiculous generalizations in both cases.
I'll tell you this - I was never more proud to work for MIT than I was at that moment. Because we do not make assumptions. Maybe it's because we believe so strongly in verifiable data here - maybe it's simply because we're human beings - but you would never hear someone in our office generalize an applicant in response to hearing a tiny fraction of his or her story.
In the spirit of the two-way street, I ask the same of you guys. Don't believe everything you hear about MIT if it's been filtered through the grapevine (or even the media for that matter). Come and ask us directly. Verify your data with reliable sources.
We promise to do the same.