MIT Admissions

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Paul B. '11

Nov 19, 2007

Paul’s Top Ten Common-Sense College Application Tips

Posted in: Freshman Applicants

Some point back in April, after all the decisions had come in, my mom suggested that I should write a book on college applications. Although I'm pretty sure she was joking, for some reason the idea stuck with me. Over the summer, I had ample opportunity to compile what may (someday) be the first drafts of just such a book. Now that the admissions season is fully upon us, I'm proud to present you with - drum roll please - my very first post of completely unsolicited application advice!

Before I dive into the list, though, I do have a few quick things to say. For starters, I truly believe that college admissions should be as uncomplicated, honest, and open as possible. That's why I tend to believe that most of the so-called "secrets" behind a good application are simply common sense. But back when I was applying, I realized that talking to another person - whether it's a parent, a counselor, or even just some random blogger like me - really can help you get a new perspective on the application process. I don't expect my advice to be earth-shattering, I'm just hoping that my own experiences applying to college will enable you to see your own experiences this year from a slightly different angle.

However, keep in mind that you are not me, nor should you be! What I found worked for me may not be ideal for you. Always balance other people's advice with your own instincts. Remember, at the end of the day, you're still the one actually writing the application.

On a more personal note, throughout the admissions process last year, I was lucky enough to always have my own personal fountain of amazing advice and assistance: my parents. From August until December, my mom was the one who proofread my essays, reminded me to meet my deadlines, boosted my spirits and my confidence when I felt overwhelmed. She knew my writing style, she knew my passions - she knew me, basically. My dad, for his part, was always willing to just sit down and talk when I needed suggestions or direction. I didn't always make it easy for them, but I'm so grateful they never gave up on me.

And with no further ado, here's what you've all been waiting for.

Use at your own risk. Your mileage may vary. Patent pending.

  1. Always be honest. This one's first for a reason. Simply put, be yourself...not who you think some admissions committee wants you to be. Admittedly, students at MIT share a lot of common traits - resourcefulness, ingenuity, creativity, an off-beat sense of humor, to name a few - but if you're at all drawn to MIT, odds are you probably already have a bunch of these qualities already. Basiclly, write about the things in your life that are cool and unique. Don't be afraid to be different!
  2. Show a little passion. I'm always hesitant about using the word passion, simply because it comes up so often when talking about college apps. Just the same, having passion for something - excitement, fervor, a fire in the belly, whatever you want to call it - is still really important. Personally, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to pursue two years of research in high school, and I loved it. I loved it so much that I wrote about it at length for every single college application I submitted. Yes, every single one. (I know I'm a nerd, okay? You don't have to rub it in.) The bottom line is, don't be afraid to reveal what truly gets you excited.
  3. Keep it consistent. Think of your application as a fine meal. I know that's a strange comparison, but play along with me here. In any good meal, all the courses are different - but at the same time, the different dishes complement and reinforce one another to create a truly extravagant banquet. Similarly, each part of your application - essays, short answers, extracurriculars, grades, scores, recommendations, and all the rest - should work and flow together to create one coherent image of you. You should certainly include everything you believe is relevant on your application, but take extra care to emphasize the aspects of your life that are most important to you.
  4. Embrace your mistakes. I can't make too many specific statements about this, simply because every applicant is different, but the general message is this: you really don't have to be valedictorian, have a perfect GPA with all-honors courses, and have done a gazillion APs to get into MIT. Most people who apply to schools like MIT have taken very demanding classes, and it's okay to struggle. Sometimes, simply refusing to give up or showing consistent improvement can speak volumes.
  5. Be confident, not arrogant. A college application is, by its very nature, an invitation for you to highlight your accomplishments without being haughty about them. Admittedly, walking the line between self-confidence and arrogance is hard - my personal opinion is that, on college applications, you're supposed to brag about yourself without it sounding too much like bragging - if that makes any sense. If you're truly worried that you come across as arrogant, just run your application by a parent or a guidance counselor and see what they think. One last note: no matter how good you feel about your high school career, don't rest on your laurels! Colleges like MIT are looking for students who are excited about the opportunities ahead of them, not just what they've accomplished so far.
  6. Buy some white-out. Trust me, you will make mistakes. Thanks to computers, it's not so hard to correct things these days, so perhaps the white-out I'm referring to is metaphorical. Just the same, don't be afraid to scrap a draft (or even a complete essay!) and start over if it's just not working for you. Although I'd recommend saving the original draft just in case you change your mind later. :)
  7. Leave it short and sweet. Remember, no matter how awesome you are, you're just one application among many. Short answers are meant to be short, and there's a good reason MIT's application only has space for five extra-curriculars. Strong language is key here - powerful verbs, that perfect adjective, maybe a profound metaphor. You want to give someone who reads your application a good, solid impression of the real you without any extraneous material. If you're bad at knowing when to stop talking, like I am, your parents or teachers can probably help you figure out what's truly important and what's just verbal baggage. However, don't get me wrong - you should by all means fill out every question you feel like, including the optional ones if you can give a strong response to them.
  8. Immerse yourself. Every school has its own culture, and MIT is no different. Although you don't have to know the whole history of each school you apply to, I think it helps to at least know a little about the institutions you're applying to besides their name and reputation. Interestingly, as the world gets more digital, so does the process of immersion. These blogs are living proof of that fact. Even so, I am still 100% in favor of the traditional information-session/campus-tour combination...especially because my own first visit to MIT was the final, crucial factor that caused me to fall shamelessly in love with the 'Tute. Take it from me: for any school, simply being on campus is a great way to figure out whether or not you might want to spend the next four years of your life there.
  9. Beat the deadlines. I know I wouldn't have wanted to hear this it when I was applying, which is why I saved it for the end. Fact is, most applications aren't due until December 31, and I know exactly how tempting it is to put things off...but look at this way: do you really want to still be working on applications after Christmas? Deadlines are especially important for your teacher and guidance counselor recommendations, since you basically have no control over when they'll be completed. I'd suggest talking to your teachers about recommendations as soon as you've finalized your list of schools - the earlier the better.
  10. Stay classy. Between college applications, classes, extra-curriculars, and everything else, senior year is very stressful. I understand, because I've been there. Ultimately, even though sometimes you may want to tear your hair out over this, that, and the other - I can promise you that, by the end of this year, most of those small dramas won't seem to matter much at all. Even when the going gets tough, refuse to give up on what matters most to you. Cherish your friends. Don't forget to tell your parents you appreciate them - and maybe even say the L-word every now and then. And once you've finally hit that "Submit" button, do yourself a favor and treat yourself to something special. You deserve it. Just don't forget to finish all your other applications as well. ;)

That's all I've got, folks. Thanks for reading!

Comments (Closed after 30 days to reduce spam)

BWAHA. I totally saw this post when finishing Karen's. Amused. Caught you as you were posting ^.^ Good tips (except I didn't use white-out.. computers for the win!)

Posted by: Hunter '11 on November 20, 2007

Great tips, Paul :D My dad says I should open a college consulting business. Pfft!

Posted by: Shamarah on November 20, 2007

Thanks for the tips!

As an applicant, I'm definitely drowning a little in applications, extracurriculars, schoolwork, and life in general. This was very encouraging.

And I really liked the tip about getting things in before the deadlines. I'm notorious for being late with everything, so beating deadlines is officially my new goal! Thanks!

Posted by: KelseyK on November 20, 2007

Good tips...I hope others will like these tips..

Posted by: pacific on November 20, 2007

I agree with those tips, nicely spoken paul.

Out of curiosity, do you know when the early decision applicants will be notified? I'm one of them and the waiting is killing me!

-scrambles to go do homework

Posted by: MFerrar on November 20, 2007

I just wish that I too end up writing something like this the next year at the dorms of MIT for others!
Empires are build on foundation called Aspirations!

Posted by: Libin Daniel on November 20, 2007

Glad to know I followed most of your advices when sending my app ! Especially number 9 (it's already sent but I'm RA ^^').

Posted by: Isshak on November 20, 2007

hey thank you so much..but there's a typo...
'enior"-->"senior"

Posted by: chenyu on November 20, 2007

Brilliant entry, Paul. You demonstrate wisdom and insight far beyond your years. Congratulations, and thanks for appreciating parents. smile

Posted by: '09 mom on November 20, 2007

Thanks for the awesome tips! I'll be sure to keep them in mind as I try to navigate through senior year.

Posted by: Ginger on November 20, 2007

u have a spelling mistake in 10th point 2nd lane 'S'enior years

Posted by: girish on November 20, 2007

but anyways i felt it as ur honest expression.keep rocking dude.

Posted by: girish on November 20, 2007

the "L-word"?

Posted by: anion on November 20, 2007

L for Love

Posted by: EV on November 20, 2007

That's so cool that you're drafting a college app book! It sounds like it'll be way cooler that the gazillion ones already out there. It's a bit late for me (EA), but I think that your tips were right on the spot. Although I've always had a little trouble figuring out whether my excitement comes through or not in a genuine way. When I was rereading some of my essays, they sounded a bit, well, fake.

Posted by: MW on November 20, 2007

the article was great. the "immerse urself" n embrace ur mistakes points were great. hope i can follow these points in my application

Posted by: Rohit Mishra on November 20, 2007

Paul -

You are wiser than your years. Very sage advice. I'm sending a link to this entry to some students who are going through this process now.
It's very apparent why MIT offered you admissions. I agree with '09 Mom. Thanks for appreciating the parents.

Posted by: AnotherMom on November 20, 2007

hi,paul
please could you tell me the importance of SAT scores.eg does the student with a SAT score of 2200 has a greater chance of acceptance than a student with a a score of 2000 just with the virtue of just his SAT scores

Posted by: 0 on November 20, 2007

Thanks for the general advice, especially #10, since I've had days when I desperately wanted to tear my hair out. Good thing I didn't.
And I agree, nothing can really beat the campus tour. I visited MIT just last week, and though I didn't have enough time for anything other than the info session and the tour, it still revealed to me a side of MIT I hadn't really seen. (The main buildings are a maze... it took me over half an hour to find the admissions office.. and it didn't help that I'd gone through a back door by accident.)
Er... I've gone off topic.
Anyhow, my main objective was to ... offer to read that upcoming book of yours?
Oh yeah, great post.

Posted by: Hyun Jin on November 20, 2007

the tips are really very helpful and i think i have alost all of them in my app .......... any way this could be a help to many others who wish to apply to reg act

Posted by: nishanth on November 20, 2007

Awesomely written there Paul. I completely agree with the common sense ideas especially the one about passion because it really is about who you really are. I'm only a Junior but I will definitely keep all these ideas in mind, thanks!

Posted by: Kevin X on November 20, 2007

Paul, you deleted the stalker comment! That was SOOOOO funny, you have no idea! I was waiting outside of 10-250 when I read it and was laughing so hard that everybody around me started staring at me. I didn't write it, I promise. I'm not skilled enough, but honestly, you have to see the humour in Edna's profession of undying love!

Posted by: Snively on November 20, 2007

Looks like MiT's blog turned into a dating service for a couple of hours there. I still laugh when I think about it (the comment is still viewable on Snively's excellent blog - snively.blogspot.com)

Posted by: EV on November 20, 2007

Thank you! Your advice is very well received by this stressed out senior.

And, it is the precisely the off-beat sense of humor that attracts me to MIT. I love you guys!

Posted by: Gigi on November 20, 2007

Aw, Paul. Don't get flustered by the inordinate number of women that pine after you wink.

We need to meet sometime outside of random UA meetings. Stat.

Posted by: Lulu on November 20, 2007

In the interest of full disclosure regarding Edna, a few parties did object to her comments, so I felt it would be best to just take them down. I'm quite content for the "legend of Edna" to live on elsewhere, however. wink By the way, this actually isn't the first time the idea of the blogs as a dating service has been tossed around.

Thanks to all those who pointed out my typo, you have sharp eyes. smile

@ MFerrar: No final date has yet been announced for the release of the EA decisions. I'm sure Matt and the other admissions officers will update everyone as we draw closer to December.

@ Anon: Regarding SATs, both 2000 and 2200 are very respectable scores. 2000 is easily within the competitive range MIT is looking for. But as I've said many times, scores are just a number - they do not define an applicant, and scores alone can not get you into MIT. Don't stress so much on the numbers, focus instead on what makes you unique. It'll work out much better, both for you and your application.

Posted by: Paul on November 20, 2007

great post man

Posted by: aky on November 20, 2007

Awesome post, and even though the tips were a bit late for us EA's ^_^ they're still great. I've had a couple of juniors at my school ask about MIT [only about 5-6 people at my school even knew what it was when I started talking about it] and after first telling them about the website, I try to tell them about all the tips ya'll give/have given here. I don't know why they ask me though, I don't even know if I'm getting in ^_^ lol. Either way, I'll make sure to tell them about this post, and the information in it. Thanks again.

Posted by: De Petagma Saru on November 20, 2007

No. 10 is the best item on your list. =D

Posted by: 0 on November 20, 2007

Paul,If a student takes the SAT once and gets a score of 2000 and then gives the test again and gets a 2200,have'nt his chances of gettin admitted improved?
(in accordance with a previous query)

Posted by: Henry on November 20, 2007

If we are accepted EA but our midyear report shows not-so-good scores for the first half of our senior year, does MIT withdraw acceptances? Is there any info on how often this happens, if at all? Thanks.

Posted by: Anon. on November 20, 2007

@ DPS: Sorry! Then again, you read my old blog, so you should have gotten plenty of advice on there. wink

@ Henry: That's actually one of those questions that has no answer, because there's no such thing as "chances" in MIT admissions. Objectively, however, I will agree that a 2200 generally appears stronger than a 2000 - and the simple fact that the score improved can also speak volumes about an applicant's determination. But, as I stated before, both scores are competitive.

@ Anon: MIT rarely withdraws offers of admission, as far as I know. Even in the extremely unlikely event that an early admit got, say, a bunch of C's on their midyear, MIT would probably first try to find out why the grades slipped before actually revoking admission. That being said, keeping up your grades (and avoiding senioritis) is still very important, even after you're (hopefully) admitted! I can't think of any way to get concrete stats on this phenomenon, not only because it's so rare but also because that's not really the sort of information anyone would want published (especially not the students affected).

Posted by: Paul on November 20, 2007

Thanks paul for answering

Posted by: Henry on November 20, 2007

Having turned in my MIT app already for early admission has been as near as I can tell something akin to a religious experience. It's now completely out of my hands, and all I can do is wait. It's sort of like turning in a test and waiting to find out your score, only if you completely mess up it's a bit harder to shake off wink

Unfortunately, after I turned in my application I had the opportunity to change my Comp-Sci class for next semester to an upper division AI class at the college I'm taking classes at. How cool would that have been to have on there?

With every blog I read, every person I talk to, my opinion of MIT increases. While I'm sure I could get the scholastic intensity at a decent state college by loading up on classes, that wouldn't come close to replacing the environment. I don't think I've seen any comment from a blogger or MIT student that seemed empty, devoid of some form of humor, reason, or both. Most of them remind me of things I might think of or say, or something a good friend of mine would say.

I try to convince myself that MIT isn't the end-all of end-alls; if I don't get in, it will be easier to rationalize, and I won't be overly depressed. With each new thing I hear, it becomes harder, as I think about all the cool things I would miss out on.

I guess this turned into more of a rant, or maybe more of an organization of thoughts.

However, if I do completely screw up taking an AI class 4 years above my grade level, at least I'll have a kickass explanation for anyone who asks :D

Posted by: Bunny on November 21, 2007

@Bunny

*applauds use of semi-colon"

Posted by: Snively on November 21, 2007

Insightful tips! And i was wondering if a simile i made in my application about me being attached to something as are nitrogen atoms are to each other in the N2 molecule was nerd-overdose!yes and solutions to the Schrödinger's differential equation and electron orbitals on a whole get me really hyped!Anywhos, let me continue my essays...

Posted by: Masud on November 21, 2007

I think it's a bit strange that tip #1 is mentioned so many times. I mean, it's hard to be anyone other than yourself, but strangely enough, panic makes it happens all the time.

@Bunny
Actually, you've said a lot of what I've been thinking. I find that applying to MIT was something I just have to do, otherwise I'd regret it. I've wanted to get into MIT as long as I remember, but the application forms scared me the first time, the very high prices of SAT/ACT/TOEFL the second time, but somehow I just keep glancing back at MIT. I think getting the physical paper forms at my doorstep did the trick - it's nice to know that someone over there will be reading my forms after I send them.

I know what it's like to study in a 'decent national college', I did so for 3 years. But there's a strange lack of satisfaction, I think it's when I look around and see everyone studying just for the sake of getting a good job. A person gains knowledge, but not education, if you know what I mean.

I guess this turned into a rant as well raspberry

Posted by: Anonymus on November 21, 2007

Anonymous, I completely comply with you.

I also sense that that "strange lack of satisfaction" when I go to school everyday. In many of my classes, I am often disappointed to find that those around me aren't truly interested in the subject matter; they merely take AP and higher level classes purely for their GPA or to be part of some hierarchy. Everyone is merely concerned about the amount of points they accumulate; they hold no fervor or interest for the information being presented to them.

Many top students at my school only seek to gain higher levels of education for the mere output of a high-paying career. At times I am even disgusted at how some students can take a class and bluntly state that they hate what they are learning, when in the first place they chose to take that class.

Even teachers hold similar sentiments. I feel that they are just teaching for the AP test, not for the actual subject. A certain exitement or enthusiasm is lacking. Something incredibly crucial is missing...

Posted by: Anonymous01 on November 21, 2007

Nice post! Althought I mostly read it as a break on working on college apps...pretty sad, I know, but that's life.
Good luck all of you who applied early! I'm in the club of waiting until regular decision comes out...
-back to working on apps-

Posted by: TofuD2 on November 21, 2007

If I've received additional awards since I submitted my application, may I mail an updated resume? Or is that not a good idea?

Posted by: Katelyn on November 21, 2007

Do we have to write our name on EVERY page of the recommendations and the school report? Do we have to write "class of 2012" and get the schools stamp on every page too?

Posted by: anion on November 22, 2007

@ Bunny + Anon x 2: Fantastic discussion. You've hit a lot of great points, and I completely agree with everything you mentioned - particularly the phenomenon where some students take AP courses solely to boost their transcript, rather than to actually challenge themselves academically. I observed some of that even in my own high school, and it's pretty sad.

@ Katelyn: You are more than welcome to send MIT updates on any awards or recognitions you have received since you submitted your application - an updated resume would be fine as well. At this stage, I would actually suggest that you fax your update (617-258-8304) rather than mail it. Just keep in mind that MIT doesn't actually expect any such updates, and you'll never be "penalized" for not sending in anything extra.

@ Anion: Yes, putting your name on each page of the recommendation would be ideal, to ensure nothing gets lost. (Having your teachers/counselor type, for example, "Re: Paul Baranay" somewhere near the top of the letter is more than enough.) But you definitely do not need to put your school's stamp or "Class of 2011" on each page. wink

Posted by: Paul on November 22, 2007

I already turned in my application for the early deadline, but I still like reading these blogs.

The best piece of advice on the essay I got was "Make the admissions board wish you had another 500 words." That helped a lot!


Good luck to all of you, and happy Thanksgiving.

Posted by: Patrick D. on November 22, 2007

brilliant suggestion! thanks a lot! i hohe i can meet you in MIT:D

Posted by: eagleinsky on November 22, 2007

Thank you Paul for a excellent Post !
MIT does have the best website for educating
the applying senior of all the schools I reviewed last summer...

I am a researcher so it came naturally to check out many colleges for my very busy son.. To give him insight of where he might like to spend the next 4 years of his life..

I was already familiar with what a fun place MIT is while pursuing Knowledge from my line of work that has taken me to your campus over the years..

It was a perk while taking the tour, my son was able to get a whole different impression then many adults were giving him ( he too has had to live down other kids calling him a nerd so in highschool he became a winning lacrosse goalie and the #1 sacker #2 interceptor in his undefeated league champion football team and almost division champions) ( am I bragging ?!)

To Me MIT is the most cutting edge school for our future.. It has already moved out of the bonds that holds us to the pass making way for the brave new world which I am very proud your generation will lead !

This all said... I am excited to share with my son, Griffin, your post, Paul as he works on his applications this Thanksgiving Break... Your Book is the fuel he needed for a new perspective.
Thank you again !! Cassandra

Posted by: Rose on November 23, 2007

I have a few questions that you probably don't recieve every day on the 'Show us something you created' optional essay:

First, it's a computer game engine which um.. 'calculates damage'. I'm both very proud of it (because nobody ever attempted something of the complexity) and embarrassed of it (because someone pointed out that it would inspire a lot of violent video games). Should I put it in or would it reflect poorly on my character?

Also, my initial drafts of the engine took up 25 pages! And that's the uncommented version. Should I go all out and comment on every formula in there and how I got them? That could add 50-200% more pages :/.

Or should I just try to get a small piece, about 5 pages? But that wouldn't really show much. It's like saying that I have a beautiful daughter, but only show a lock of her hair as proof.

Finally, would it reflect on me poorly if, after all this hype, the thing doesn't work? Something with that much flexibility has a lot of stability problems. It's been two years since I stopped looking at it and I know that there are some very embarrassing division by zero possibilities lurking there :/

Thanks for any help! smile

Posted by: Anonymus on November 23, 2007

Paul, I am a faithful reader of MIT Bloggs.

I am sure some of the applicants here probably applied for both MIT and Caltech and will probably be accepted by both. Even though it is too early to think about making choice at the present time, please provide some advices/ your opinion/ your thoughts to the applicants, assuming such hypothetical scenario.

An applicant is accepted into both MIT and Caltech, and he does not qualify for any need-based financial aid. Attending MIT would literally cause his parents quarter million dollars for four years. His parents are fully capable and willing to pay for whatever his choice, but he knew they are just highly skilled working people and have worked really hard to make good income. His parents are certainly doing well, but not in the sense of the type of rich people making easy money. Caltech has awarded him Axline scholarship (a merit scholarship, which covers tuition, room and boards). Both schools are good matches for him. However, his mind has been with MIT for years. What would you tell him?

Susan

Posted by: Susan on November 23, 2007

@ Anon: It sounds like you have a lot to talk about for your "something you have created" essay, and that's great. Just make sure you organize everything well, and I'm sure you'll be able to write a great essay.

I feel obligated to point out that - and this applies to everyone - even if you submit a "something you have created" essay, you really don't have to actually send in the thing you created! There are several reasons for this, but I'd say the most important one is that it's often burdensome for the applicants to send in extra materials.

Basically, I'm somewhat skeptical that your application would be enhanced if you actually sent in a copy of your engine's code. However impressive that code is, most people in the admissions office aren't trained in Course 6 (computer science), so they probably would have no idea what the code meant anyway. wink

That being said, you should definitely at least mention how long the engine's code is (and perhaps how many hours you've spent on it). Focus on making the essay as good as you can; that's the most important part.

You mentioned you had some concerns about the engine being used to promote "violence" - well, why not talk about that as well? It's actually a very interesting conundrum. Not to sound too philosophical, but science and engineering are, ultimately, just a means to an end; it is up to us to determine how we use our gifts. The fact that your engine could be used in violent video games does not make it any less impressive intellectually.

Finally, if the engine turns out not to work...fix it! wink More seriously, even the most thought-out experiments will sometimes fail. As much as we can learn from success, sometimes we can learn even more from failure.

Posted by: Paul on November 23, 2007

Well done on an awesome post! You aleiviated a major fear of mine since I bombed the SAT II Chemistry test pretty badly. I know it certainly doesn't help my app (probably the opposite if anything) but you're definately right: numbers don't tell everything. Now I just need to hope I've got a personality. wink
So thanks for the stress reduction, as well as for the future ulcers you've freed me from, and keep up the fantastic blogging! We exhaustively zealous HS seniors are in your service!

Posted by: E Rosser on November 23, 2007

@ Susan: Your hypothetical situation sounds a little like my own actual college decision. Money and scholarships are certainly incredibly important factors when it comes to choosing a college - but I personally believe the most important factor is that of the "match" between college and applicant. Determining whether a school is a "match" is a notoriously difficult process, but one helpful way to gauge it is by asking yourself this simple question: Will I be happy studying, living, and working here for four years?

Then again, sometimes the answer to that question is "yes" to several schools; it certainly was for me. Of the schools to which I was accepted - I won't list the others, since they're no longer relevant - I ultimately found that, while I would be academically satisfied at most of those schools, including Caltech, I nonetheless felt myself being fundamentally drawn to MIT. Basically, I had fallen in love with MIT's entire culture - its ingenuity, its irreverence, its occasional disregard for the rules, its determination to attempt what was once thought "the impossible," and (most of all) with its students, who shared those very same qualities I so admired. After all, they were the ones responsible for making those qualities part of the campus culture in the first place.

I apologize if I'm rambling. But choosing between Caltech and MIT is always a very difficult decision - I still consider myself extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to make that choice - and, ultimately, the reasons I chose MIT over Caltech may not be good enough reasons for someone else to choose MIT over Caltech, considering that all students are different. The decision gets even more complicated when money is involved. Indeed, both schools are extraordinary and they share many admirable qualities - even as an MIT student, I can't argue that MIT is objectively "better" than Caltech.

But they are nonetheless very different from one another, and determining which is better for you (or your child) remains a choice each student and family need to answer individually. Most notable among these differences are their sizes, their locations, the available majors and academic departments, the living options, and the student culture. Weigh the different factors I mentioned, including money. Keep an open mind. Visit both schools, if possible. And don't be afraid to let yourself fall in love with a school, even if it's one you didn't expect to like. That's what happened with me and MIT, after all. wink

Posted by: Paul on November 23, 2007

does the MY MIT acoount also show if the TOEFL scores have been received??

mine isn't showing so..and it's a year past since i sent 'em.

Posted by: anion on November 23, 2007

About APs: I'd go further than sigh at the trend of people burning themselves out to take APs because they think it'll improve their chances of admissions, and sigh at the fact that "challenging yourself academically" is often just as shallow, usually empty rhetoric. Life isn't about learning, is it? I always thought it was about being a good person.

My advice: don't take a bunch of APs to challenge yourself and give up on charity work, volunteering, political activism, etc. That would be just as tragic as taking them just to boost your GPA!

Posted by: Steve on November 23, 2007

I am a HS senior and was really stressed out with my applications..Paul your post has truly helped me a lot to build my confidence...
i would like to know wat kinda SAT subject scores does MIT look for or wat do most ppl get on these..and does it look bad if u take Math level 1 exam instead of level 2?
and can i please know which students need to give the toefl exam..??

Posted by: moni on November 24, 2007

@ Anion: I'm sorry to say I don't actually know, but I've passed your question along, and hopefully I'll have an answer for you soon.

@ Moni: Quoting from this page, MIT "does not have a preference as to which science you take or which level math you take." Take whichever level is more suited for your math preparation and background. Your math teacher or guidance counselor can probably tell you more about which level is appropriate. Last year, the middle 50% range for the Math Subject test was 730-800 (more stats here) - but that's a very rough estimate, and SATs are just one part of the admissions puzzle.

If you are a native English speaker, you do not have to take the TOEFL. You can find more about testing requirements here.

Posted by: Paul on November 24, 2007

I have (yet another) SAT question.

When the admissions staff are looking at your SAT subject test scores, do they take into consideration the gap between taking the class and taking the test? I took AP biology as a sophomore (and got a very good score on the AP test, thank you), but didn't take the SAT II until the beginning of this year (and consequently got a score just barely under the 25th percentile), so you can understand my question. Thanks ahead of time.

Posted by: anony on November 24, 2007

What if i missed the November SAT deadline (by just half an hour) and I'm applying thru Regular Action. Can I just take it in January and hope that i won't be completely rejected? And what do they look for on a "case by case basis"?

Posted by: Rajat on November 24, 2007

@ Anony: Yes, I would assume so.

@ Rajat: Some SAT testing sites allow standby testing, so you may be able to take the December SAT. Apart from that, I would suggest talking to your guidance counselor and/or directly contacting the admissions office regarding January testing.

Posted by: Paul on November 24, 2007

@Anony - Just to add on, I took AP Biology junior year. I took the SAT II sophomore year and junior year (after regular bio and AP bio), and though my score improved about 90 points, neither score was very good. But my AP grade was very good.

Remember, MIT looks at scores to prove capability. If you show yourself capable in one way, that's enough.

Posted by: Hunter '11 on November 24, 2007

thank u very much paul u r too gud =]

Posted by: moni on November 24, 2007

Oh, I assumed that when it said 'Tell us about something you have created', it meant to show it. It doesn't seem half as impressive to just mention it raspberry. Thank you very much, Paul. I think it saved me a week of trouble and quite a bit on shipment bills smile

As for getting it to work, I'd rather see it destroyed. That thing was like a cursed ring. I think part of the reason it was so jumbled up was that I didn't want myself to look at it but I couldn't bear to destroy it either. Haha, but that's a story I'll try to fit under 500 words wink

Posted by: Anonymus on November 25, 2007

Thanks for the great advice Paul!

Posted by: Lauren on November 25, 2007

Thanks for posting the list. It has really helped me in my application process. Keep up the good work.

Posted by: Nargish on November 25, 2007

Nice entry Paul. I nailed most of what you said in my essay's and responses. Now there's just the subject of scores and grades. xP

Quick question though.I applied for EA but my transcript, recommendation letters and mid year grade report have not been processed. Would I be deferred to regular applications, have to re-apply all over, or have my application denied?

One more thing; Do you know how much of the interview process is weighed in determining admissions? I'm hoping a lot. :D

Much thanks.

Posted by: cHaotix on November 25, 2007

I'm blind. The answer to my early action question is to my right. xP

Posted by: cHaotix on November 26, 2007

Thanks for the tips!

Posted by: Kavit on November 26, 2007

Hey paul,
got an answer to the TOEFL question?

Posted by: anion on November 27, 2007

Hey Anion - not yet, unfortunately. I do know Matt and Ben are both looking into it though, so hopefully you'll have your answer soon. smile

@ cHaotix: The interview is weighed roughly as much as any other part of your application, and the interview's importance can vary from applicant to applicant. If you actually check the Common Data Set, MIT considers the interview an "important" factor in the admissions process. So it certainly does matter. smile

Posted by: Paul on November 27, 2007

@ Anion: Good news, I finally have your answer. TOEFL scores should be recorded on the Application Tracking page (in the Details section). If you believe MIT should have received your scores, but they are still not listed, don't worry - just send an email to admissions [at] mit [dot] edu listing the name under which you applied, the full name under which you took the TOEFL, and when you took the TOEFL.

Hope this helps!

Posted by: Paul on November 27, 2007

Thank you Paul for the tips! I truly hope that you go on to publish a book on college admissions. Your knowledge would benefit several HS students in the future.

Posted by: 0 on November 29, 2007

I am a sophomore at a US base in Okinawa, hoping to get into MIT. Do you have any suggestions on classes I should take, GPA, money-saving plans, anything like that? Please email me any of this info.

[email protected]

PS: If you know Sarah Brubaker from Kubasaki High School who just arrived within a year, tell them we miss them! I know her brother, Erich.

Thanks.

Posted by: taran on November 29, 2007

so neat entry dude. please please please write some more. and that book writing sounds cool. get cracking on it.

Posted by: mb on November 30, 2007

Thanks for the write up. I'm an international student from Nigeria and I'm going to take the SAT reasoning test in January 2008. Do you have any advice for me?

Posted by: Ogaga on November 30, 2007

Just catching up on some blog reading... Nice post! Very sound advice indeed - as always. I've also noticed that of all the bloggers you're the best at answering commenter questions quickly. You have had a lot of practice though. =P

Posted by: Hawkins on December 2, 2007

@ Hawkins: Why thank you. wink

@ Ogaga: The best advice I can give you is to take a few practice test or two beforehand if you can, just so you get a "feel" for what the test is like. Apart from that, just try and stay level-headed throughout the entire test. And bring a (healthy) snack! The test is rather long, so being able to eat something in between sections is really helpful.

Posted by: Paul on December 2, 2007

hmm...very sound advice...: ) although I must admit, it would have been of a greater help if I had seen it before I finished my application...but I haven't submitted it....yet...I'm just too scared. Also, I'd partially forgotten the brutal nights I had to suffer to finish the application...I'll take in the advice as I make my final round looking over my application. Thank you!!

Posted by: Evan on December 2, 2007

Hey! My Alumni Interviewer (Mr. Vikram Kirloskar) hasn't replied to me, and it is more than ten days since I wrote to him. Moreover, I'm afraid that I might have to miss my interview because of the same! I have written to the interview section at MIT ([email protected] something something). I am not able to contact him by phone either!

Help!

Posted by: Sid on December 3, 2007

I heard from the MIT admissions office. I've got a new EC! Thank you so much!

Posted by: Sid on December 3, 2007

SUSAN- my advice is to go to CALTECH! if they are offering a full scholarship, take advantage of it!! i am a student at mit and if i had the chance to do it over, i would go to a school with better weather like caltech!! also, i believe it is a better school than mit but the culture is so different that it is overlooked as wierd.

Posted by: anonymous on December 5, 2007

@anonymous, what do you mean “but the culture is so different that it is overlooked as weird”? Are you a current MIT student?

The applicant is my daughter. I have confidence that she will be accepted by both MIT and Caltech. Her profile would fit into both schools very well. I believe she has good chance for merit scholarship at Caltech (Caltech provides merit scholarship to 25% of the freshman class). If she decides to go to MIT, we will have to pay the tag price. She was in Boston twice (for HMMT) loved that place. She has never been to Pasadena, CA.

The major difference of these two schools is really the size.

Posted by: Susan on December 8, 2007

I wish I read this sooner....thanks Paul grin

Posted by: cfroe on December 11, 2007

@Paul:
About #1. In my personal statement I mentioned that I believed that success is measured by your impact on society. I honestly believe this, but I want your opinion as to whether it might sound like I am trying to make myself out to be "the perfect applicant." Oh I hope they believe me...

Posted by: Jermaine on December 12, 2007

Excellent post! I wish I'd had these available when I applied.

I encourage everyone to get their applications done early. It really does make a difference.

A bunch of bad stuff happened to me when I was doing applications - for example, one night my computer monitor CAUGHT FIRE (no I'm not kidding) - and I still made it in. Mostly, I suspect, because I had two weeks before the deadline when that little incident happened, so I had time to recover, get a new monitor, and finish all the essays.

Posted by: Susan '11 on December 13, 2007

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