MIT Admissions

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Ben Jones

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.

Comments (Closed after 30 days to reduce spam)

I find that rather appalling too, and it doesn't make any sense. The stereotypical "rich private school kid" isn't going to list daydreaming as an extra-curricular activity. And it's hard to get into good schools no matter what, so a rich private school kid can no more "afford" to do something on a college app than a poor public school kid.



Though, if the other admissions officer came from the sort of school that attracts large numbers of rich private school kids, he may have simply grown cynical. But that's still not good admissions policy on his part.

Posted by: Jessie on July 12, 2005

Great points Jessie. To his credit, I should note that he didn't say it in a mean-spirited way. It was just a very careless generalization - but those are exactly the kind that we can't afford to make in this profession. And, I'm hoping, that applicants won't make when considering MIT.

Posted by: Ben on July 12, 2005

you know, i think, that's why I was accepted at MIT and not at ... and that's why I love MIT! you all rock!

Posted by: Meder on July 12, 2005

Ben,



Please count the number of applications you recieve from students this year that list "daydreaming" as their number one activity...lol. If the number is greater than zero... then I think they missed your point. By the way I attended the same session you're talking about (true story guys).



Take care

Okang McBride

Director of Admissions (As of July 2005)

Posted by: Okang McBride on July 12, 2005

Hi, Mr. Jones! Ashamed I am to hijack this comments thread wink



However, I'm applying to MIT this school year, and working on the essay questions; it's my understanding that they'll be the same as last year's.



My question is, how stringently do you enforce the 500-word limit? I'm really happy with my essay, but because of its nature, I can't seem to get it below 550 words without losing some of its sense. Should I grit my teeth and cut?



Thanks!



Nita

Posted by: Nita on July 13, 2005

Nita: From experience, I can tell you that only Stanford is that anal. Haha. Consider the fact that MIT's online application (at least last year) didn't have any character limits for any of the leetle boxes you write in. Plus my essay was, like, maybe, 640 words long? And it worked for me...



~Kelly

Posted by: Kelly on July 13, 2005

Wow, that's totally a relief; thanks, Kelly (I hadn't looked at the online app)!



(Mention not the name of Stanford. Please.)



Another question: I'm applying a year early. I know there is in fact a question that asks you to expand on the circumstances of that, and I will explain why I'm doing it; should I expect anything else/provide another explanation elsewhere/expect to be treated differently in terms of MIT processing my credentials?

Posted by: Nita on July 13, 2005

Hey Ben,



the "human" factor of MIT is what really makes me want to go there. I mean, yes, there are a lot of smart people in this world and they should all be commended for using their human brains. However, as you said, developing a "person" takes passion and I like how you guys look holistically at the application.



Anyway, just wanted to say that was very admirable of you to stand up for what MIT is and speak up for the daydreaming kid.



its little things I hear like this that make me really want to attend MIT.

Posted by: Merudh on July 13, 2005

Daydreaming? That's awesome. "Maybe it's because we believe so strongly in verifiable data here.." Heehee. Man I love this place already, and I'm not even there yet...



And about not making assumptions about MIT...I gotta tell you, when I was there for CPW, I was totally shocked by how normal everyone was. They could carry normal conversations and were prefectly sociable. Not that I ever thought otherwise.... =D

Posted by: Laura on July 13, 2005

Okang - you're been promoted to director? That's AWESOME! Congrats - that is truly fantastic and I am so happy for you!



Nita - 50 words over the limit isn't a big deal, don't worry about it. grin People who totally ignore the limit and submit 1000 words, however, are telling us something about their ability to write a concise essay... wink

Posted by: Ben on July 13, 2005

"I gotta tell you, when I was there for CPW, I was totally shocked by how normal everyone was."



Not "normal", really. Just not what people expect. ^_^

Posted by: Jessie on July 13, 2005

Cool hobby Daydreaming,

Just for the record people (especially seniors) try to do this (daydreaming i.e.) one of these days it'll really get off the stress.

But well I wont put daydreaming a personal favourite but then this is what MIT is basically aabout you'll get to find every kind of people exixting under the sun.



and also 'the highest suicide rate' hahaha..this is a new one Ben. The rating guys don't fail to shock us do they.

Posted by: Shikhar on July 13, 2005

Daydreaming doesn't always have to happen during the DAY, you know.



wink

Posted by: 0 on July 13, 2005

College admission isn't about your talents or your passions; it's about how well you can sell yourself on paper. That kid who wrote 'daydreaming' as his #1 extracurricular was selling himself. The idea that you can just 'be yourself' on your college application and come through perfectly fine is simply absurd. What's far more important in a stellar college application is your ability to express yourself. Whether or not you actually are passionate and dedicated has nothing to do with your ability to seem that way in an essay or an interview.



That's what bothers me so much about everything that I've read on this page about "We don't admit numbers, we admit people - the people we admit are those who are so talented and passionate that it literally flies off the page - the people who have the confidence to write 'daydreaming' as an extracurricular activity". Sorry, but you don't. It's just not true. You admit the people who are best at creating that image of themselves on paper. Future writers or marketing executives are the real winners in the college admissions process.

Posted by: Daniel on July 13, 2005

Daniel, with all due respect - it's obvious to me that you've never worked in admissions nor do you understand our process in the least. I'll leave it at that. grin

Posted by: Ben on July 13, 2005

Dear Daniel,



We, the class of 2009, should (and can) each only vouch for ourselves. And that, I offer here. Just me, and just my promise that nowhere in my future do I intend to become involved with marketing (though there is nothign wrong with that). Especially self-marketing, as I see myself as something more valuable than should (or can) be sold.



Perhaps it's out of this naive, almost sickeningly so, notion of self-worth that some of us let slip bits of our hearts into the folds of our paper applications. Many, including myself, including the boy who daydreams, have never been trained in the art of "ivy league college applications", and, quite frankly, never aspired to attend the "big name" schools, merely looking for our respective niches. And how better to find where you belong than to show them you and gauge their reactions?



You give us too much credit. As much as some of us would love to be, each and every one of us simply are not geniuses in business and manipulation. In fact, a good amount of us (including myself) are not that great in anything at all - merely terribly secure in, and honest to, ourselves.



Your indignation isn't entirely unfounded, Daniel, and for that, I wish I could hug you. The college admissions process takes a terrible toll on our students (at least from the competitive areas) and it seems to have taken its toll on you. I hope you see, however, that this is what MIT strives to change, to bring forward. From first-hand experience I can assure you that MIT is able to see in its admits qualities that go unnoticed by other top universities. This is not to say admission is purely based on such qualities (because it is certainly not) or that it is a fool-proof process (I'm sure MIT09 has its share of future marketing executives as well), it is simply a step forward. A step forward and one more step than would have been taken.



Changes don't always occur with a splash and a bang. The greatest changes of all occur almost, if not entirely, unnoticed. Or in this case, disbelieved.



I wish you optimism and trust in those who deserve your trust.





Best,



Lulu

Posted by: Lulu on July 13, 2005

Hi again, Mr. Jones!



I'm sure your email address is prominently somewhere, and after posting this I'll find it and feel a fool, but I can't find it; could you tell me what it is?



Thanks!

Posted by: Nita on July 13, 2005

Lulu, I have never met you (except for seeing what you look like in CPW photos), but I just want to thank you for your articulate reply. I couldn't have put it in better words.

Posted by: Alice on July 13, 2005

That's funny Lulu, you were one of the people I had in mind when writing my response to Daniel's post. Thanks for your thoughtful and heartfelt post.



Nita - it's benjones at mit dot edu. grin

Posted by: Ben on July 13, 2005

You make marketable sound as if it's a bad thing. I will say this much, all MIT students are marketable just because we are the way we are, and it is as simple as that.

Posted by: Marketable Girl on July 14, 2005

From what I know of the admissions process and from what I see of it from my vantage point, the other Daniel (not me) is way off in his assertion.



My colleagues on the Admissions side spend TONS of time getting to know you and your app, and not just by what they read in your essay, or how well you present yourself.



We are digging deeper than that.



That would be akin to saying that financial aid is only based on your income (which it isn't).

Posted by: Daniel Barkowitz (Moneyman) on July 14, 2005

Marketable Girl, I think you're saying the same thing that Lulu and I are: it's not the marketing that gets you in, it's *what* you are marketing that gets you in. And if that stuff isn't there to begin with, no amount of marketing will make up for it. Believe me, I've seen attempts at the latter, and they are quite transparent.

Posted by: Ben on July 14, 2005

My son is a member of MIT09. I observed the admissions process as he went through it, and was impressed by the way only two of the eight schools he applied to approached *him* -- not just his application but him: who he was, what his dreams were, how he might contribute to the Class of '09. The mentor for the community service project he'd been involved in for 5 years sent a recommendation letter on his behalf: MIT's admissions staff were the only ones who called him to talk about the group and what my son's commitment to it had meant. I think my son's involvement in this activity is one of the highlights of his life, and only the MIT folks appeared to see that and pursue it. I'm sure that because they did, they were able to look at the past few years of his life in a more complete context. I give them lots of bonus points for that.



I won't deny that expressing yourself well and writing convincingly about your activities and interests are important in an application. But as Lulu and Ben and Moneyman and others have said, the MIT folks are digging deeper. I saw that happen, and was impressed.

Posted by: leftcoast mom on July 14, 2005

Just one thing to say Daniel (whether you like it or not)

MIT - Rocks

Athena - Rocks

Haystack - Rocks

IAP - Rocks



and the blogs also rock.

Posted by: shikhar on July 14, 2005

So I guess I'm a bit late on this, but better late than never right?



Ben, you'll be happy to know that a few days ago a mini-discussion took place about this very topic (things done for college and not for yourself). A prospective mit app walked in and chatted. Cool kid.



Just to expand on Lulu's comments a bit (which were very well articulated, by the way, props):



"Dear Daniel,



We, the class of 2009, should (and can) each only vouch for ourselves. And that, I offer here. Just me, and just my promise that nowhere in my future do I intend to become involved with marketing (though there is nothign wrong with that). Especially self-marketing, as I see myself as something more valuable than should (or can) be sold."



I completely agree. I have never and will never attempt to sell myself at all. At my interview for Morgan Stanley (albeit last year, this year I didn't have one), I was just myself. We talked about music, partying, computer science, business, finance, and her kids. And guess what? I got the job.



Likewise for MIT. One of the main reasons I loved MIT's app so much is that it really did allow me to be myself. I threw in all kinds of stuff, not all necessarily coherent or well bound, but it was just me they were looking at, not some processed version of me. I wrote about my dreams, the things I want from the future, my past and what I hated about junior high school. I also wrote about music and comedy and magic tricks and computer science and Jew Unit (albeit indirectly, but you get the idea).



"Perhaps it's out of this naive, almost sickeningly so, notion of self-worth that some of us let slip bits of our hearts into the folds of our paper applications. Many, including myself, including the boy who daydreams, have never been trained in the art of "ivy league college applications", and, quite frankly, never aspired to attend the "big name" schools, merely looking for our respective niches. And how better to find where you belong than to show them you and gauge their reactions?"



I have never taken this ivy league college admissions course either. And frankly, I wouldn't. If a college doesn't accept me on my own merit and accept me for who I am, then obviously I don't deserve to go there (and they don't deserve for me to go there either).



Every single college I applied to (save my safety) was a college I'd visited and liked. All happened to be big names, but that wasn't the reason I wanted to go there. I wanted to go to each school I applied for different reasons. Cooper Union. Huge name. Wonderful school. Applied. Visited. Withdrew application (before recieving word from any other college, that is, in terms of whether or not I was admitted). I didn't like the atmosphere, I didn't feel like I liked the kids, and so I didn't apply. Plain and simple. I applied to places I thought I could excel in and love. Not once did I think about how to "get in." Instead I just wrote. My essay was more an exercise in (later very much edited) free writing than anything else, if we're being completely honest.



"You give us too much credit. As much as some of us would love to be, each and every one of us simply are not geniuses in business and manipulation. In fact, a good amount of us (including myself) are not that great in anything at all - merely terribly secure in, and honest to, ourselves."



Word. I do not pretend to be good at very many things. There are very few things I hold on to as things I'm good at. Business and manipulation do not fall into that *very* small category.



"Your indignation isn't entirely unfounded, Daniel, and for that, I wish I could hug you. The college admissions process takes a terrible toll on our students (at least from the competitive areas) and it seems to have taken its toll on you. I hope you see, however, that this is what MIT strives to change, to bring forward. From first-hand experience I can assure you that MIT is able to see in its admits qualities that go unnoticed by other top universities. This is not to say admission is purely based on such qualities (because it is certainly not) or that it is a fool-proof process (I'm sure MIT09 has its share of future marketing executives as well), it is simply a step forward. A step forward and one more step than would have been taken."



Again, one of the main things I loved about the app for MIT was the fact that I wasn't worried about cut-throat competition. I was allowed to be myself and that worked. Sure, when it came down to decision day, I cried (both decision days :p), but not because I didn't get in. I cried when I got deferred because I had to wait again and I can't stand suspense. I'm not a patient man :p. If you read through some of my old blog entries, you'll notice me saying certain things about how certain people didn't really deserve it. And then I got to know them. They did. They really did.



You'll also see me write about how certain people who really DID deserve it didn't get in. That happens.



On that note, I'm sure there are also PLENTY of people who knew how to sell themselves and did. But those are minimal numbers, as MIT really does look for those. I read my friend's essay for MIT. It was truly heart-wrenching because I knew every line in it was true and from his heart. He had a low average by any standards. He got in.



"Changes don't always occur with a splash and a bang. The greatest changes of all occur almost, if not entirely, unnoticed. Or in this case, disbelieved."



What she said.



"I wish you optimism and trust in those who deserve your trust."



I further wish you well wherever you go to college. Though your cynicism is a bit disconcerting (for me, at least, but I have a high level of optimism about almost everything), it's relatively understandable. You're a victim of the college competition that abounds in today's society. I wish you weren't. I wish half my friends weren't.



Keep in mind everything I said above speaks for me and me only. I do not pretend to be wise. At all.



I do not pretend to be anything. I'm me, you like it? Great. If not, oh well, sucks for you (and me).



That's my mantra.



Later,

Mike.



P.S. Ben, you should hang in mit09 during your off-hours :p.

Posted by: Michael Borohovski on July 14, 2005

all I can say is wow Michael =)



just from that post, you seem like someone I'd get along with very well. MIT is blessed to have so many "real and laid-back" people attending.



kudos.

Posted by: Merudh on July 16, 2005

Wow, this is a big long discussion. Here's my own question:

I've heard some admissions officers say they don't want the "why do you want to go here?" essay to just say that you feel like you belong or you just love the atmosphere, which to me sounds like a way to hide the fact that their schools stink and people only like them in purely analytical terms. But I also feel like that's most of why I want to go to MIT: I know a lot of students on campus (via big brother and extra-curriculars) and I feel far more comfortable with them then with those stuffy crimsons up the street or even the people at my high school. Does it piss off application-readers if I say that?

Thanks a lot for mentioning the kid who wrote down daydreaming. That really got me thinking about the meaning of extra-curricular, ie, everything you do outside of school. Which includes spending hours on the john/getting to school late/letting the food burn on the stove because a book (perhaps even a textbook!) is just too good to put down. And knitting and rereading all my favorite books from childhood.

Thanks!

Posted by: Clara on July 17, 2005

Though I obviously can't speak from an admissions officer's point of view, I can tell you that a large part of my application consisted of why I wanted to go to MIT. Or rather, why MIT was the perfect place for me. It's true, I've loved this place for a long time. It's also true that I've loved other places too.



Your mileage may vary.



Later,

Mike.

Posted by: Michael Borohovski on July 17, 2005

"That really got me thinking about the meaning of extra-curricular, ie, everything you do outside of school. Which includes spending hours on the john/getting to school late/letting the food burn on the stove because a book (perhaps even a textbook!) is just too good to put down. And knitting and rereading all my favorite books from childhood."



So true. grin

Posted by: Anthony on July 18, 2005

Daniel--

I attended a (public) high school where a disproportionate amount of people actually did take those "Ivy League admission courses." I didn't. I listened quietly while my friends agonized over GPAs and extracurricular activities. And last fall, I quietly applied to MIT because I knew if I got in, I could live my dreams and be my own self at the same time. So guess what? I'm here--one of two acceptees from my high school, although we're sending 12 people to Yale and 5 to Harvard. I agree that college admissions need improvement; maybe some of the other "big-name" schools should adopt the MIT model.

Posted by: Elizabeth on July 19, 2005

You guys seriously all rock my world. And Clara, to answer your question - no, we won't get pissed! You should definitely say what you feel. (And your post made me laugh.)



Oh and I second Merudh, Borohovski rocks. grin

Posted by: Ben on July 19, 2005

Ben,



This is Marisa from FDU...I met you at the summer institute...how are the kids?

Posted by: Marisa on July 20, 2005

Hi everyone:)



All I have to say is...WOW.



If a college can get its students to stand behind it this much, then it says alot about the atmosphere.

I'm a Junior (will be in a few months) I've always wanted to go to MIT. I have also spent almost nine years of my life in Tae Kwon Do and am now expanding into other areas of Martial Arts. On my application I am going to put that down as my number one extra curricular.



From what I've read here I can be fairly sure that the admissions people won't pre-judge me as this off-the-wall, crazy person who loves to be violent. (That is what most people think when I tell them that I was ranked fourth in the country in sparring(Tae Kwon Do fighting)at the age of 14.) It's really anoying because I am not that type of person.



Am I correct in saying that the MIT Admissions staff would find that out?



Nicole Dangelo

Posted by: Nicole on July 24, 2005

Daniel, I am a writer and I didn't get in! wink



Nah, I wanted to address this because one of the things that really got to me when I was rejected was that this kid from my school we'll call "jon" got into Harvard.



Jon was notorious for being involved in so many activities that the time conflicts made it possible for him to skip all of them. It was amazing. He was valedictorian, so he couldn't have been pulling the same thing academically (too much, anyway), but he basically is the guy you're so cynically referring to.



I was so mad, at first. But eventually I realized that him getting accepted to Harvard and me being rejected by MIT had more to do with Harvard's stupidity than mine. So yes, this does happen, but Jon was a PolSci major. At Harvard. And having read these blogs religiously for most of last winter, I can tell you that these guys at MIT are mostly just sad when they come across people like Jon.



Because all the BS in the world won't make a plane fly, or sequence DNA, or debug a program.

Posted by: changelingpiper on July 26, 2005

Nicole, sweet. 4th in the country? Nice.



I did jiu-jitsu, judo, aikido, and nin-jitsu for about 7.5 years, but haven't in a few. I've been doing a little (very little) tai-chi recently. Fun stuff.



Didn't list it on my app because it wasn't that important to me, but I think the point is just write about what it is that you feel is important to you. From the sound of it, the discipline and rigor of martial arts means a lot to you. kudos, that's why I did it too.



changelingpiper, though mistakes like that happen everywhere, and I could be completely wrong on this, I think it happens less at MIT because of the rigor of the admissions officers looking into the application. People will always make it in without deserving it, that's a given, but MIT tries to minimize that, it seems. And I respect that whole-heartedly.



I'm just curious as to how he could skip all his activities due to "time conflicts." For something to conflict, he would've had to have gone somewhere, right? Done something? I don't know, maybe I'm wrong. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt.



Later,

Mike.

Posted by: Michael Borohovski on July 26, 2005

Thanks Mike.

Martial Arts are fun. Even more so when you expand into other things. Tae Kwon Do has become my life. I teach, learn, and get physically challenged in the process. Now I'm doing Hap Ki Do and Kun In Do, which my instructor just founded. It is translated into the way of the warrior and it requires nothing but desire and discipline. Have you tried sword fighting (Ken Do)? That is fun and doesn't have too much practice time. Just a thought.



Nicole

Posted by: Nicole on July 26, 2005

Haha, sorry Ben for hijacking this thread.



Nicole, I haven't tried Ken Do, but I have friends who do it. I always wanted to. Maybe I will sometime in the future.



I actually never liked Tae Kwon Do (said with no offense intended towards you or the art, of course). I don't like any commercial martial arts, and TKD seems to be by far the most commercialized.



It's lost the theory behind it at most dojos. It's lost the discipline and ideas, and instead has become a sport.



Sport is one thing, and admirable. Art is another, and more admirable.



Or, again, maybe I'm wrong, judging from first impressions as I've never taken TKD.



Later,

Mike.

Posted by: Michael Borohovski on July 27, 2005

I agree. Sorry Ben.



Mike, no offense was taken. That is your opnion and I respect that.



You are right about the commercialization of all martial arts. This is why I love my instructor, Master William Norton. He has refused several invitations to hoast tournaments because the sport has lost the five goals of traditional TKD, honesty, respect, perserverence, self-control, and humility. He has already told the group of us that still compete that if we lose those goals or become unsportsman-like that he would "take us out back and beat us" I admit it was a bluff on his part but he would kick us out of the school.

He believes in the traditional ways but doesn't teach strict traditional TKD. He combines Martial Arts to give his students a well-rounded point of view and fighting style. The traditional TKD schools would never teach ground/grappling techniques. But what good will traditional TKD sparring do you if you're on the ground and your attacker is standing above you?



Sorry to get on a soap-box. It just drives me crazy what some instructors will teach their students and how they teach it. Being one I know what works isn't always best.



Have fun,

Nicole

Posted by: Nicole on July 27, 2005

Ha, definitely.



I had a sensei named Robert, and he taught a mix of Judo and Jiu-Jitsu. Both are VERY different styles, but blend very well together.



There's no reason to stick to one specific fighting style. Well-roundedness never hurt anyone.



Later,

Mike.

Posted by: Michael Borohovski on July 28, 2005

Hey M&N - no problem! And what better way to hijack a thread than with martial arts. wink



(Hi Marisa!)

Posted by: Ben on July 29, 2005

Blogs are crazy. Don't really want to get any bit involved in the whole marketing thing, but all I can say is M.bor is a beast!

To future applicants: CollegeConfidential will ruin you!

Posted by: Akash on July 29, 2005

Akash- I was just thinking the same thing about CC.

Posted by: Kathleen on July 30, 2005

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