Dec 8, 2016
Checking in with EA Applicants
Hey there, Early Action Applicant,
I just saw Chris’ post about EA decisions being released next week. And I wanted to check in.
If you don’t read past this paragraph, just remember one thing: your admissions decision does not in any way reflect your worth. A negative decision does not negate your abilities, accomplishments, and dreams. It doesn't mean you weren’t “good enough” for MIT. Like, for real, it’s not about that at all. A positive decision doesn’t guarantee you success, or even lead you to success—you do. MIT’s nuclear reactor will not give you special powers. Sometimes, students here live for weeks on a deadline-to-deadline schedule, so it’s hard to take advantage of all the opportunities. It’s hard anywhere to achieve your dreams.
It’s going to be a tough week. Don’t feel embarrassed about being anxious, or worry that you’re worrying too much. As I’ve written before, no one knows if they’re going to get in (relevant fun fact: MIT doesn’t do legacy admissions). So if it helps, think about all the other EA applicants, thousands of them, anticipating the decision with you. A special kind of anxiety is reserved for college decisions (I still remember it well). Good news: next week, at Tau time, you will get instantaneous relief from it. Finally!
I'll give you a preliminary reading list of helpful blog posts below, but before that, here are two things that I found most compelling to show you why MIT is not the goal. From The New York Times, “Why College Rankings Are a Joke," the external proof that you can do awesome things anywhere. And from a “50 Reflections” post from Ben Jones, the Blogfather:
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.
Here’s what you should read this week (arranged by admission officer → class year). Some of these posts are kind of tear-jerkers (they were for me at least), but they will hopefully show you that we care, “we” meaning both the students and the admissions officers. We care, and we think you’re great. Here are 10 people confirming that an admissions decision does not define your worth. I included excerpts from some of the posts, but you should read the full pieces. Also, you should really go through the blog archives to the posts from mid-December. There's a post every year for EA Applicants like you.
- “It’s More Than a Job” by Ben Jones
I come home each night and tell my wife over dinner how lucky I am, because I never seem to pick boring applications out of the pile. In fact, I tell her, I'm inspired enough by the stories I read to think that the world might actually turn out to be okay after all.
In March I go into committee with my colleagues, having narrowed down my top picks to a few hundred people. My colleagues have all done the same. Then the numbers come in: this year's admit rate will be 13%. For every student you admit, you need to let go of seven others.
Of my many favorites this year, there were a few who really got to me, and when they didn't get in, the tears came. Some would call me foolish for getting this wrapped up in the job, but honestly, I couldn't do this job if I disconnected myself from the human component of it. It's my job to present you to the committee; if your dream of being at MIT didn't become my dream on some small level, then really, why am I doing this at all? Others would disagree, but then, others aren't me.
- “Bleary-Eyed” by Mike Yang ‘05
The tears then turned to sadness - sadness that many of my favorites would not get admitted, and for all the work and effort that was put into the admissions process, we'd be able to say "yes" to so few. Sleep was no relief - I tossed and turned all night, as vivid dreams of applicants and admissions decisions continued to flow through my head as my subconscious recounted the days passed and worried about the days to come. "Did we admit that kid? What happened to that other person? Did he make it through committee? I hope there's room for her..."
So many of you have poured so much of yourselves, your time, and your energy into the application and the process, and I want you to know that regardless of the outcome, none of that goes to waste. We are all better for having read and heard your stories. So again, I thank you and applaud you all.
- “In Praise of Holistic Admissions” by Chris Peterson
As Booker T. Washington wrote:
"Success is to be measured not so much by the positions that one has reached in life, as by the obstacles one has overcome trying to succeed."
The idea is best understood with a metaphor drawn from my favorite sport of football:
MIT isn't the end zone.
It's where you get the ball when you start the next drive.
- “I Challenge You” by Anna H. ‘14
The process of making what you can from a situation doesn’t require a specific setting.
I would never suggest that it's easy to recreate "an MIT experience" (whatever that even means) because I know that you'd never believe me. But I will venture to challenge every one of you - those who are admitted, and those who are not - to concentrate on what you wanted out of an MIT experience when you applied. Hopefully, it was more than the chance to physically walk down a specific hallway, or take a specific class taught by a specific person. I trust that there were clubs you wanted to join, fields you wanted to explore, dreams you wanted to realize.
I challenge you to bring your plans and dreams with you, wherever you end up: to resist abandoning them because you’ve been accepted and your life is complete, or because you’ve been rejected and your life is over. To make them happen, wherever you go.
You are guaranteed to meet hurdles and obstacles on the way to getting what you want out of college. Not because of where you are, but because of who you are, I challenge you to climb over them, dig through them, beat them down, and not allow yourself to be defined by the school you attend.
- “Reference Frames” by Emad T. ‘14
Now, set one here, at this moment in time. Do you know how hard you've worked up until now? Do you know what you've seen, what you did, how far you've come, and how much you've grown as a result? If you were admitted, you might be thinking, "Yes, and it paid off." If you weren't, you might respond, "Well, what good was it for?" If you're on the waitlist, you might not even know.
Being accepted, rejected, or waitlisted isn't the end of anything but a phase, which will ultimately pale in comparison to what awaits. …
Just remember: every one of you worked hard, and you were all exceptional at what you loved to do. That's why you applied here, why you were seriously considered. You've touched the hearts and souls of more than one admissions officer here at MIT. If you can do that to just a handful of people, imagine what you can do for the world.
You'd know this much better than what I would. Your lives embody persistence, resilience, curiosity, boldness, and hard work. You've faced moments of uncertainty, and yet you've found great opportunities in them. You've met challenges, setbacks, and resistance, and in spite of that, you've still achieved in many ways.
I was a bit fixated on MIT by this point, and—
No, hold up. That's a lie. I was kind of a lot fixated. And I was able to keep it under the surface, until I got that email the week before decisions. I remember my stomach threatening to drop characteristically as I read it. And oddly, I don't really remember much else of that week, other than a general sense of terror-excitement.
If you're sitting there, reading this with something between butterflies and hornets, I encourage you to stand up, shut off your communication devices, make a playlist, and go out for a long walk. Your air may not be as crisp, and your decisions are released earlier than ours were, but I'm willing to bet that some fresh air and a fresh perspective would do you some good.
- “Dear Prospective 2020s” by Ceri R. ‘16
You're going to be okay.
It may not feel like it right now, if you're a bundle of nerves and it feels like your future is riding on this EA decision. It may not feel like it if you get in, and you're not 100% sure this is the right school for you but you have external pressures to comMIT. It may not feel like it if you get deferred or rejected, and your confidence is shattered and your heart is bruised and you need to pick yourself up and redraw your life's trajectory for the next couple of months. But it's true; you will be okay.
Take some time today (and every day) to breathe, to talk to someone you care about about their day or yours. Remember there is life outside a college decision, or a career decision, or any one email. Try to be present in your current life, and try to remember to take care of yourself because you can't keep pushing that into the future. I've tried, and it's not pretty.
Promise me you won’t worry about other applicants or what other people say about how impossible your dreams are or application stereotypes. Don’t allow MIT to become an all-consuming dream because people can have just as enriching college experiences elsewhere. Some of my very fondest college memories have been drinking tea and talking with my friend at Brown, believe it or not, since the MIT bubble can become stifling after a while. You will find your community of people, as long as you have the courage to go looking for them.
Life works in crazy ways so, please, don’t panic. <3
Don’t Worry. Really, Don’t. In the end, you don’t pick a college, but the college picks you, and the selection often has little to do with your merits as a learner and a person. I discovered this from rejections. It became clear in those sombre moments that what I had assumed about myself and the rejecting college was wrong. We were not, in fact, meant to be. I’m at MIT now, and I’ve met more kindred spirits than ever before. Here, I am certain to receive support and resources for collaboration. When you are choosing, dear Applicant, do it not because of the excellent programs, but because of the people who will help you reach your full potential. Eventually, you will find the perfect fit. If not, try again.
- “Dear High School Senior” by Fiona M. ‘20
(Chalk masterpiece from the Harvard Square MayFair)