Sep 22, 2016
Hi, Applicant to the Class of 2021!
Whew, it’s been a long week! But I was thinking today about this time during my senior year of high school and that was really… (in)tense. I haven’t experienced that much uncertainty in my life before or since. I mean, that semester I'd think that I was heading to MIT one hour and then think that I wasn't getting into my state college the next. And I got lots of work here now, but at least I know the professors will accept it. So I wanted to reach out to you, MIT Applicant for the Class of 2021, and see how you’re doing.
If you haven’t started worrying about the applications yet, that’s cool. I started worrying sophomore year of high school, and definitely wasn’t wiser by senior year. Once I’d gone through the respectable sources about college admissions, I descended into the depths of College Confidential forums. Now, don't go to these, but there are whole threads where people post their stats, activities, and essay summaries, and then say whether they did or did not get in. Trust me, there’s no pattern in those posts nor any clues as to whether you will get accepted. And don’t look at those “50 Best Admissions Essays from Top Colleges” compilations either because, really, they aren’t that great. How many accepted students would actually volunteer their private essays to an outside company? Probably not enough to make the competition for “50 Best” representative of the actual applicant pool. They have one of those “Best Essays” compilations in print now, on display at the front of the Harvard COOP. Gross! I urge you to resist the temptation to compare and contrast.
You might be wondering: do I even have a chance? How do I know if I should apply? The former of those questions is hard because, the thing is, no one knows their chances. Well, at least most people don’t. I had no idea what kind of people actually got into MIT when I applied. I didn’t even fully trust that ordinary people could attend.
Here are some simpler questions: Do you have good grades and test scores? Did you challenge yourself (in or out of school)? Did you do some stuff you thought was cool in high school (even if it was in your parents’ garage)? Did you do stuff that was useful in high school (like holding a job or tutoring or helping at home)? Can you write an essay about yourself? If the answer is yes to four or more of those questions, you’ve just calculated your chances of acceptance as well as anyone else can.
If you feel lost and alone in the whole admissions process, let me tell you what happened my senior fall. I was terrified. I was fine with grades and stuff, but I didn’t know if I’d taken enough challenging classes (lagging way behind my classmates on the number of AP classes). I didn’t go too far out of my way to do stuff, since I couldn't drive. All of my projects were either at my school or the local library that I could get to on foot in 10 minutes. Hell, I couldn’t get into my school’s Honors Society sophomore year! "Should I even attempt to go to the next step?"
Since 1991, I think only two people had gotten into MIT from my high school, so I didn’t have a point of reference. I was an immigrant, too, and so were my parents, so I was majorly confused about the American College Application Process. Most of my visits to college websites started and ended with the Net Price Calculator (a nice tool to remind you that you can’t afford a $60,000 per year education). I went to info sessions and read the admissions blogs. In October, I gave up and had a month-long Kurt Vonnegut binge that was unrelated to college but did inspire me for at least a couple of my essays (which concerned my English teacher, who didn’t want me to turn into a 30-year old cynic at age 18).
Every day, well, even more often than that, I would flip-flop on whether I should even apply to MIT. A middle school dream and promise of financial aid reminded me that I should at least try.
So I did. And I have a ton of people to thank for that. Really, it was a “so we did”: my parents, who read all my essays many many times, as well as all looked over all the other parts of my application and everything college-related, and believed in me through it all; my teachers, who also read my essays and wrote recommendations and gave me different forms of encouragement and ways to look at my credentials with hope; my counselor, who was new to the school and did her best to answer my numerous questions and help me get my stuff together and hope for the best; my mentors outside of school, who had wonderful things to say and also, when I asked them for recommendation letters, write. I hope you have someone to reach out to as well. Because even if they can’t help you with the specifics of the college process, they will offer encouragement that you can never gain yourself.
If you’re lost, I promise you that you’re not alone. If you feel like you don't have enough resources, reach out. There's always someone there.
Looking forward to hearing from you,