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Chris Peterson SM '13

Jul 31, 2017

Our 2017-18 Application Essay Questions

Posted in: Miscellaneous

We've gotten some questions about our essay prompts for the forthcoming cycle. There's no reason to start on them now, but some people like to begin thinking and planning ahead of time, which I respect and value (maybe the most underappreciated thing a good college applicant can do is make sure everything is done on time!).

As you may know, we have our own application, with 5 short-answer essay questions (I've blogged about the philosophy behind that here). Sometimes we change the prompts between cycles, but this year, we've kept them the same as last year, to wit: 

  • We know you lead a busy life, full of activities, many of which are required of you. Tell us about something you do simply for the pleasure of it. (100 words or fewer)
  • Although you may not yet know what you want to major in, which department or program at MIT appeals to you and why? (100 words or fewer)
  • At MIT, we bring people together to better the lives of others. MIT students work to improve their communities in different ways, from tackling the world’s biggest challenges to being a good friend. Describe one way in which you have contributed to your community, whether in your family, the classroom, your neighborhood, etc. (200-250 words)
  • Describe the world you come from; for example, your family, clubs, school, community, city, or town. How has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations? (200-250 words)
  • Tell us about the most significant challenge you’ve faced or something important that didn’t go according to plan. How did you manage the situation? (200-250 words)

I want to quote Mikey from his post announcing these prompts last year: 

People often ask me, "How do I stand out in an essay?" or something to that effect. As MIT admissions officers, our primary goal in reading these essays is to get to know you, the applicant. It's not to be wowed, or feel like we need to read the most unique piece of writing we've ever seen. Over my ten years of working in admissions, I've probably read over 100,000 essays; after a certain point, there's just no such thing as a truly *unique* essay. So worry less about coming up with something we've never read before (because we most likely have anyways), and focus more on making sure your essays authentically convey who you are (or some aspect of who you are). If I, the reader, am able to learn something new about you, then you've written a great response and the essay has served its purpose.

Lots of bloggers have posted about their own approach to essays (see, e.g., this post by me, this one by Krystal, and this one by Chris S.). But mostly, as Mikey said, I'd advise you to be strategically nonstrategic in your own essays, and not try to get into our (or anyone else's) headspace for your essays. One tip for checking this: give your essays to a good friend and ask if they can recognize you in the words as written. If so, it's probably a good essay for these purposes; if not, then you might reconsider whether this essay is doing the work it is supposed to do. 

Good luck, and happy writing! 

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