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Chris S. '11

Dec 23, 2009

Show, Don’t Tell! (the College Essay, Pt. 2)

Posted in: Best of the Blogs, Freshman Applicants

QUOTE:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

 

-excerpt from George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language", 1946.

-----

So once upon a time, I wrote a blog comparing the college essay to froyo. Since then, the application has been revised, and although I still believe in the merits of the first blog in regards to a long college admissions essay (500-1000 words), it definitely doesn't apply completely to the new short-answer system that MIT adopted.

A few months ago, I created a bogus account on my.mit.edu so I can actually catch a glimpse at what the new application looks like (it really doesn't look that different, ha) and I've been thinking about how I would approach these essays. Although nothing here is the product of intense cognition, I thought I'd share some of my views on these small essays.

Essentially, you have 5 "mini-essays" - What You Do For Pleasure ("pleasure" - 100 words), Department at MIT ("department" - 100 words), What You Do That's Creative ("creativity" - 250 words), World You Come From ("world" - 250 words), Significant Challenge ("challenge" - 250 words), and that's it! Less than 1000 words total.

The easy things first - the "Pleasure" and the "Department" prompts are not really "essays," but short answers, so they can be easily answered. My advice is just to go ahead and be honest with them (well, you should be honest in your entire application ;P), especially with the "Pleasure" essay. The admission officers ("adcoms") are not looking for "standard" answers, and you won't get brownie points by putting down "programming," "building robots," or other "MIT-y" answers (although they also definitely won't penalize you if they do happen to be things that you do for fun). Just be honest!

Many people stress out about the "Department" essay, but I can tell you that MIT DOES NOT admit on a quota, and you WILL NOT be penalized by which department you put down on that blank (I don't know how many emails I've gotten on this subject already - seriously, the adcoms are not lying at you, and no - there is no conspiracy either). Therefore, you will not seem more impressive if you put down Philosophy, over, say, Mechanical Engineering. When I applied, I put down Chemical Engineering (oh, such were the days of my innocent youth, when I believed that Chemistry was trivial), but now I'm happily a Biology (and pending History) major. Your interests may shift after you enroll at MIT (and realize how brutal some of the courses here can be), and that's perfectly fine! So don't worry too much.

For the "Creativity" essay, I would encourage you to look at the connotation of "creativity" from a new angle (in a sense, be creative about exploring creativity :P). You can go broader than physical things like creative projects or creative inventions. I would investigate writing about creative ideas, creative ways of looking at things, creative ways of solving problems, for example. I wrote about a concrete research project I did when I applied, but I thought that was quite boring in comparison to the other things that could have written about, so I encourage you to explore this topic a bit further. :)

Ah - ok, now we come to the challenging 250-word essays.

So back in the day, we had a choice between these two essays to write a long essay on, but I guess now they're requiring you write on both of them, but as shorter essays.

Actually, I really enjoyed the "world" essay - and I thought it was the one of the best prompts out of the prompts for the 15 colleges that I applied to (number one was still Stanford's "photograph" prompt - I loved it. Sorry MIT :P). The challenge now, however, is how to condense all the things you want to convey into mere 250 words.

In order for me to see what a 250 word word limit is really like, I wrote a 250 word essay. Not on MIT's prompts, though.

He held up the sheet of wrinkled paper, his eyes in silent protest.

The tattered bill requested 13,800 dollars for a three-day hospital stay.

"Why call the ambulance? Just leave me alone!" the frail old man muttered. Just a week ago, Mr. Vu suffered a stroke that required hospitalization. Because he could not understand English, Mr. Vu had not applied for health insurance, resulting in the exorbitant bill.

An internship at an Asian clinic opened my eyes to the untold story of limited-English proficiency patients, who often struggle to obtain health care in a maze of foreign forms and convoluted policies.

Suffering from a worsening stomachache, Mrs. Wong was neglected in the county hospital for over two hours, unable to flag down a passing nurse for assistance because of the language barrier. Clutching a X-Ray order, Mr. Park searched in vain for Radiology in a blinding flurry of English letters.

Over the summer, these stories became too common - accounts of immigrants fighting for their right to care in a shockingly monolingual health system. After the internship, I participated in a medical interpretation training program and was licensed as a Mandarin health interpreter in November. I wanted to change the status quo.

My experiences this summer solidified my conviction of entering into public health, especially immigrant health, as my future course of study. America has long prided itself as a "melting pot" of cultures. Isn't it only fitting that there exists equitable access to health care, regardless of the language spoken?

 

The word limit is kinda short.

Now, a disclaimer: I want to stay that this is not intended to be a "model essay" (I think the ending can use some more work, among other things), but I thought this would be easier in illustrating a point.

If you look at the essay, I like going narrative -> point -> how it connects to me. In fact, this is what I use for most of my essays :3

Here's the same essay, deliberately made worse (but to illustrate a very common problem in college application essays):

Last summer, I worked in an Asian clinic in Oakland, California. Over the course of the summer, I realized the plight of immigrants when it comes to obtaining equitable health care. In the modern health industry, immigrants and other residents who possess limited English proficiency are often overlooked because of their inability to communicate their symptoms to the doctor and complete paperwork in English. This problem is exacerbated when they cannot apply for health insurance, resulting in exorbitant health bills. In a country that claims to be the "melting pot" of cultures, this kind of neglect is no longer acceptable.

Many patients suffer extended waits in the hospital, unable to obtain assistance. It is possible that a worsening stomachache is the initial sign for appendicitis, which needs to be treated expeditiously. Often, hospital signs are also not translated into other languages, making navigation difficult for elderly patients. These scenes are played across hospitals in the nation everyday.

After my experiences this summer, I realized that I wanted to channel my energy into the revitalization of this system. It is no longer sufficient for us to stand on the sidelines and watch. To this end, I participated in a medical interpretation training program and was licensed as a Mandarin health interpreter. I hope I will be able to contribute my efforts to the field of public health, especially immigrant health, in the future. These patients cannot afford to passively wait for language-accessible care and continue to sacrifice their right to treatment.

 

Also 250 words, but this essay is riddled with problems, many of which Orwell pointed out in the blurb above.

1. The essay is filled with extraneous and needlessly difficult words. ("I wanted to channel my energy into the revitalization of this system")

2. The essay lacks a personal voice - it's very passive ("These scenes are played," "immigrants are often overlooked," "the problem is exacerbated")

3. The essay never "shows" - it only "tells."

-----

Show, don't tell!

I can't emphasize this enough. This essay points out many problems of the health care system, but doesn't offer any examples of the problems. At the end of the day, which essay will readers remember better? An essay that speaks in general terms or Mr. Vu with his bill?

Personally, I think after MIT made the switch from the long essay to short essays, this point is even more pertinent. You just can't afford to waste words speaking in vague terms that doesn't convey much in terms of meaning.

When adcoms read thousands of essays on end, you need to stand out. Ideally, your essay should pack enough punch (that's a cliche :P) so that your readers have a "take-home message" (another cliche :P). Simply put, you need something memorable about your essay. If you feel bored writing your essay, chances are that the person reading your essay will be bored too. Make it vivid - let your story shine.

Finally, the other point I want to convey:

Trim the extra fat!

I narrowed down the first essay from over 400 words to just 250. Chances are, you can do the same too. The second essay is plagued with extraneous words, and actually it can be narrowed down to just this without loss of meaning:

Last summer, I worked in an Asian clinic, where I realized the struggle of immigrants in obtaining equitable health care because of the language barrier. They often cannot apply for health insurance, resulting in exorbitant bills. This is not acceptable in America, which claims to be a "melting pot" of cultures.

Many patients suffer long waits in the hospital, unable to get help. A worsening stomachache can lead to appendicitis that requires rapid treatment. Often, signs are only written in English, making navigation difficult for elderly patients.

It is no longer sufficient for me stand on the sidelines - I want to make a difference. To this end, I participated in a medical interpretation training program and was licensed in Mandarin. Eventually, I hope I can work in the field of public health, especially immigrant health. These patients cannot afford to passively wait for language-accessible care and continue to sacrifice their right to treatment.

 

This new essay is only 154 words. Although it definitely sounds stilted and shouldn't be submitted as a complete essay, it still goes to show how much excess fat one can usually trim from a typical essay.

Not to reiterate myself too much from the previous blog that I wrote, but the effective essay, IMO, is the essay that really shows who you are, where you're coming from, and what your loves are - in your own voice. Both the "world" and the "challenges" essay are structured so that it's focused on you and your stories. Use these opportunities to tell a story - to convey who you are. There's no need to repackage your tale in fancy rhetoric or educated vocabulary.

Just as we see in world literature: often the best stories are, really, the simplest stories.

Comments (Closed after 30 days to reduce spam)

Wow, Chris - awesome - way to go educating the prefrosh! Working late on projects I'm surfing the blogs after a friend just got deferred - so I'm going to do what I never did as a prefrosh

FIRST, FIRST, FIRST!!!

See you at school - have a great IAP!

-k

Posted by: Kevin R '11 on December 23, 2009

2nd second:::: Chris You are amazing ::I am applying this time as a fresh for the class of 2014::::Pray for me so that I can get to see you next year on campus... :::

Posted by: The Con?fused kid on December 23, 2009

You should've posted this for those applying early, Chris!
(I knew there was an advantage of being an international applicant :3)

Thanks for the advice! (:

Posted by: Bianca ('14?) on December 23, 2009

You're a Biology major and a pending History major. Have you ever thought of adding English to that list? raspberry
Wow! Thanks a ton for the tips!!

Oh and btw, about the creativity prompt, you said you wrote about a concrete research project. Is it okay if I write about a water harvesting project I lead in my apartment building here in India, or should I talk about an idea. coz personally, I feel that the water harvesting project essay is informative and displays my environmental concern. I also have a creative "idea" essay written. That one is more interesting and inquisitive.
which one should i go for?

Posted by: Sreyan Chowdhury on December 23, 2009

I think that this would help tons of prospective MIT applicants out there. I read a lot of essays given to me by my classmates, senior ones, and sometimes teachers, and I've noticed a similar problem that runs through them the same way. Some of them memorize catch-phrases: nice, often over-complicated phrases which they try so desperately to insert them into essays. I asked them, they said the teacher told them to!

Great post, Chris. =) Fun fact: I'm in Taiwan right now, on vacation, and I'm using a computer at the Flying Cow Ranch. You've definitely heard of it, I think. =) The food is great over here!

Posted by: Justin on December 23, 2009

Hey,great post!I'm now feeling better I couldn't submit my part 2 before!

Posted by: Zeki '14? on December 23, 2009

It's no wonder why you were admitted to MIT Chris. You're amazing.

Thanks! Your posts on this blog and on CC help a lot :D

Posted by: KJ on December 23, 2009

Arrgh! Someone please delete this post. The advice is TOO good for others to see!

Posted by: I_now_fully_support_censorship on December 23, 2009

My essay topics:
Free time - I wrote a rap about math
Department - How beautiful math/physics are
Creativity - My UV tattoo of e^(i pi/2)
World - how I spend all day at the local university
Misfortune - breaking my hand from doing something dumb/breaking nose from BMX backflip

Posted by: Nic on December 23, 2009

ALSO:
i filled all my essays with math/physics jargon

Posted by: Nic on December 23, 2009

Chris,
If I put something that MIT does not offer in the "Department" essay. Will I still NOT be penalized? :D

Posted by: 0 on December 23, 2009

Chris, this is so amazing! I didnt see youre link to the wiki on "The Little Prince".... Its one of my favorite books, and yes, the essence is that it's so simple! And the most amazing thing about it is that every time you read it the interpretation changes. I read it as an immature little 9 year old first and then again when i was 14 and then again two months back. Each time ive read it, its meant something completely different to me!


* damn I keep failing these captchas *

Posted by: Sreyan Chowdhury on December 23, 2009

hi, I have read your post and WOW. Cheers mate, its great advice.

Do you know anyone who turned their SAT score late?
And do you know the lowest SAT scores of people who attend MIT? (I don't trust the polls)

Thanks namu

Posted by: Namujin on December 23, 2009

@ Sreyan -

Go for whichever one you feel more comfortable submitting and whichever one you like better. smile

@ Justin -

Hahaha flying cow ranch...yes indeed I know where it is raspberry

@ Anonymous -

Well, you never know how much you can get away with if you have a sense of humor smile

@ Namujin -

Lowest of the people I know? 1700's.

Posted by: Oasis '11 on December 23, 2009

hi just one question does MIT take the SAT score more seriously or the SAT Subject Test scores? please reply soon.. thanks

Posted by: 0 on December 23, 2009

beautiful post :D

Posted by: kimd on December 23, 2009

Wow Chris this is amazing thanks xD

Now I need to change my essays a slight bit !

Posted by: Alan ('14?) on December 23, 2009

I just "favorited" this on chrome.
Thanks for the useful info!
Now I want to go to froyo...

My French class is reading the Little Prince-reading it in a different language is confusing haha

Posted by: makesense on December 23, 2009

Thanks for the help ...I really needed this one!!:)

Posted by: Ira on December 23, 2009

I already sent my app O_O Now I feel like my essays are all wrong! AAAHHH!!

Posted by: Nicholas on December 23, 2009

Thanks Chris! This really helps for seniors who haven't finished their applications yet and for juniors who are applying next year (like me!).
My problem is that I think that college admissions officers look for too much creativity.=/ They want "interesting" stories in the active voice like your first one up there. The problem is that most people's "personal voices" are actually the passive. I feel more comfortable talking in the passive than talking in the active. Active essays seem more like a creative writing piece AP English teachers look for. Even in everyday speech, very few people talk like in the active when they recount stories/events. Anyways, thanks for the post! It helps so much and now I know how to approach essays!

Posted by: ZuZu ('15?) on December 23, 2009

I love to write, but as the day I will send my application in nears, I begin to tremble in fear. These essays basically determine my future! Thanks so much for the essay advice...I definately need it!!!!

Posted by: JoAnna on December 23, 2009

Nice stuff. I wish I'd read this before putting in my EA app. Oh well, just proof you can't have everything in life, like a tube for starters.

Posted by: Southpaw 14? on December 23, 2009

@ Anonymous -

The best answer is that test scores, even taken together, are not as significant as most applicants believe.

@ Nicolas, Zuzu -

I sometimes hesitate at posting these blogs because it inevitably leads applicants to change their essays - however, I feel like at times it is necessary to still write these kinds of blogs because I've seen some essays that are even more boring than my monthly bank statements (which is very sad). Regardless of everything I wrote above, no "magical" essay formula exists for the college essay. There are many effective writers out there who write naturally and expressively without any kind of guidance. I'm not advocating that everyone change their essays to include narratives per se, but I'm just trying to point out that I think this is one effective way to make your work stand out in a pile of thousands and thousands of essays. However, I must stress that the most important factor is still finding your own voice. If this blog leads you to lose your own, natural "writing voice," then I rather you disregard everything I've written than to lose that voice, which should also be the thread that draws the different pieces of your application together. That is the ultimate key, IMO, to a successful and memorable application.

Posted by: Oasis '11 on December 23, 2009

@ Oasis'11

I got a 690 for the math section, 610 for CR and 640 for Writng on the SAT.. and 680 for math I and 660 for physics.. i'm thinkng of giving either the SAT or the subject tests again but can't decide which one to give.. any advice? thanks a lot for your help smile.. N do reply now if possible.. registration deadline will be over in 25 min.. thanks once again..

Posted by: 0 on December 24, 2009

@ Oasis'11
I'm also an itnl applicant n my grades are not acc to my potential..

from Anonymous

Posted by: 0 on December 24, 2009

This is incredible and so much help! Thank you so much Chris! (and wow I just realized that this is really recent, not just some old blog entry I found. Then in that case, this is amazingly timely!)
Thanks again for amazing advice that I really needed!

-Hopeful '14er

Posted by: Sushi on December 24, 2009

I can't believe you are a tech student, Chris. My God you can never imagine how helpful this article could be to me!

Posted by: Chloe King on December 24, 2009

Really helpful! Thanks!

I have about the same structure in most of my essays. Anecdote-> the main point -> ending with the point being proved by the lesson learned through the anecdote mentioned in the beginning. ( similar to yours)

Do you think this will make my essays look monotonous? Will changing the structure of a few of the essays help?

Thanks again!

Posted by: Aksha on December 24, 2009

I was just about to submit my essays but the flash I had stored them on (I was working on a flash) fell and probably broke. It looks fine but the computer cannot detect it. Now I have to start all over again and I'm glad I've read your blog. Thanks a lot Chris.

PS.I think I have a crush on you.

Posted by: bd on December 24, 2009

I want to apply as a transfer student from my 2nd year.I gave SAT MATH Level 1 and 2 and I got 770 and 780 in them,respectively.Do I have a good chance of getting it or need I give these 2 tests again in Jan'10.
Please reply soon!
(Oh,I got 800 in Physics.)

Posted by: ak on December 24, 2009

Bookmark this page everyone!

Posted by: Psharma1707 on December 24, 2009

hey, do you know how I can get an application waver at MIT?
Do i sent it to MIT by mail or email?
I tried contacting NIT itself, but their on holiday

thanks namu
and god bless you hehe

Posted by: Namujin on December 24, 2009

Thanks for sharing!
This is an amazing post that is gonna help hundreds of students out there, including me:DDDDD

Posted by: dodosdream on December 24, 2009

@ aksha -

If it's the way that you're most comfortable writing in, then you're fine. That is most important rather than what form of structure to adopt.

@ namujin -

Fee waiver
If the application fee presents a hardship for you and your family, you may qualify for a fee waiver. To request a fee waiver, ask your high school guidance counselor, principal, or other school official to fill out the SAT Request for Waiver of College Application Fee form or to submit an official letter on your behalf. The form, or official letter, should be mailed to: MIT Office of Admissions, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Rm. 3-108, Cambridge, MA 02139-4307 by the application deadline.

@ everyone asking about scores -

Scores aren't everything. Stop being Asian (jk).

Seriously, I don't know about SAT scores, and I don't have any opinion on what score will get you into MIT. Like I said, I don't think scores are that important.

@ everyone else -

merry christmas! smile

Posted by: Oasis '11 on December 24, 2009

Ahhh not again! I thought I was finally done with the essay and now Chris's made me revise one more time. raspberry Thankx anyway Chris, it's somewhat helpful.
@ Oasis: what did u get for ur SAT? wink)
I don't wanna be Asian but still, the higher score, the better chance to get in, right?
@everyone: merry Xmas. Enjoy the holiday instead of wandering around asking questions about the SAT. What's done is done and now just wish for the best of all. Gud Luck

Posted by: QA (14'?) on December 24, 2009

Hey Chris and everyone there: Merry Xmas to u all.
Any Idea how many Indian Undergradutes are applying for admission (class of 2014)? Also How many Indian undergrad intakes are generally there on an average?

Posted by: SJ on December 24, 2009

@SJ From what I've heard around 20-25...not sure though!
Merry Christmas all of you! smile

Posted by: SC on December 24, 2009

Wow! Wish I'd read this before I hit the "submit" button! This is a really good blog entry~

Posted by: Lin on December 24, 2009

I just realized the "goals for the future" essay I have been submitting everywhere is in the exact format as your bad essay. Different topic, but almost the same wording... oh joy...

Posted by: musirid on December 24, 2009

I prefer "Never use a short word when a diminutive one will suffice."

Posted by: Keri on December 25, 2009

That was a brilliant post, really useful for one of my essays in particular. But I must say,after reading through it a couple of times, I still prefer your 'bad' essay!

I've always thought that a college essay should follow a loose exposition to reflection format, with a focus on the second part, but there's far more reflection in the 'bad' one, the 'good' doesn't say much about what you gained or did. Mr. Vu and Mrs. Wong may be more memorable, but for all we know (acting as an admissions coordinator here)they could be fictional, and their stories don't reveal much about the student. That seems to take backseat in the 'good' essay.

I'm not undermining the advice, there's no doubt the 'good' essay is better written, and it's so true for writing style, but style can't take the place of substance, substance focused on the student. Ideally the advice needs to be followed in an essay that focuses more on the student.

Just my two cents, maybe I'm just trying to justify my bad essays? haha

Posted by: Ben on December 25, 2009

@ Chris,
Always enjoy your posts about essays...cuz you are great with them. I think I avoided some of the mistakes you talked about. =) Yay for me!
oh and Merry Christmas!=)
While you are back in Taiwan will you visit Taipei?? There is a foryo store I think you should REALLY try out. =P

Posted by: Val'14? on December 25, 2009

The Little Prince is win. Enough said.

Posted by: Andrew H ('14?) on December 25, 2009

hello
i have a question regarding one of the questions
the one that u can write some more info about yourself
i am a poet and i wrote a poem for it
is this a good idea
please respond to my email at
[email protected]
thank you

Posted by: ahmed on December 25, 2009

@Val:
What's with the question mark?
Merry Christmas to all!

Posted by: FuLanKe on December 25, 2009

I always love the advice you give regarding the entire college admissions process! They're all so helpful, thank you so much! I definitely wish I had seen this before submitting my MIT essays, but this will nevertheless help me with the others I have yet to finish.

Posted by: Belle '14? on December 25, 2009

MIT..a heaven of smart kids.i really want to go to MIT because i can also think outside the box.lol.is it really very difficult to get to MIT?...my SAT results do not show a true reflection of my accademic work.i am very good at inventions,but not gud in writing esseys.could you please help me?.my mail. [email protected]

Posted by: azupwah on December 25, 2009

@ Val -

Where is the froyo store?! D:

Posted by: Oasis '11 on December 26, 2009

thanks for the advice chris, by the way , i am struggling with the creativity section, can i write about soccer: in other word how did i contribute to my team and also the section the world you came from: you can talk about your native country

i al have question regarding the SAT score, if you were to write the best essay for the short question, and your parent did not attend college or have any education, and you don't the qualification for MIT, because of SAT , or do the SAT reall affect your admit to MIT.

Posted by: j on December 26, 2009

@FuLanKe,
Cuz...you know why. haha
@Chris,
It's right across NTU on 新生南路, next to a Kentucky. They have flavors like cheesecake and (I guess)brownies. Haha but kinda expensive too. I think it's 100 NTD (around 3USD?)for every 100 gram. But it's GOOOOD.=)

Just had the weirdest recaptcha: rabbit department??

Posted by: Val'14? on December 26, 2009

@FuLanKe,
Oh you've mistaken me with the other VAL. I have to leave my ? on, haha.

Posted by: Val'14? on December 26, 2009

@Chris,
Oops, it's 100NTD for every 52 gram

Posted by: Val'14? on December 26, 2009

@Chris:
Great writing advice and awesome Orwell quote.

- - -

Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very;" your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.
~Mark Twain

Easy reading is damn hard writing.
~Nathaniel Hawthorne

Posted by: AlumWhoMissesMIT on December 26, 2009

Sounds like there're pretty much changes with essays you have made, chris! It's a amazingly helpful entry. Now I have to forget all about your "narrative -> point -> how it connects" theory so that I can find my own voice in me.^o^

Anyway, you're definitely my favorite blogger!

Posted by: Yina ('14?) on December 26, 2009

Nice post although it doesn't help me that much since I applied early. But it does show that my essays were on the right track! :D

BTW, love the ReCaptchas!

Posted by: Mehmet '14? on December 26, 2009

@ alumwhomissesmit -

That quote from Mark Twain was damn good advice. Muchas gracias.


@ Val -

Yay I'm excited :D I don't know when I'll have time to go up to Taipei though =/ but thanks!

About SAT scores -

I feel like I've never really addressed this, and I get emails and CC messages about SAT scores for MIT (which I never answer, btw). So I'm not an adcom, and I don't read your applications, but here's how I feel, after observing college admissions for quite awhile now.

Bottom line: Scores are just scores. And they're one part of your application.

What if I have x score? Can I still get into MIT?

MIT does rely on the SAT score to determine, first of all, whether your English and basic math ability are up to par. After all, if you can't read the SAT Verbal passages very well, you're going to have a problem here reading textbooks or even understanding lectures (which ARE delivered in spoken English, and no - there's no real-time closed captioning, as you see on the OCW lectures). Whether you like it or not, you'll still have to take humanities classes here even if you happen to be the best inventor on the planet. This safety mechanism exists for your own benefit.

That said, do you need a perfect score or even 700+ scores? Definitely not.

But can you get in with sub 500 scores? Of course, I don't want to suggest a blanket cutoff, but it's unlikely.

I have a feeling that a lot of international students are the ones that are asking this question, so if you are international and don't know about this yet, consider taking the option of taking the TOEFL rather than the SAT. Based on my own observations, you may be able to achieve a higher percentile on the TOEFL than on SAT I Verbal. MIT does accept the TOEFL and two SAT Subject Tests in the sciences for students who are not native in English. (see http://www.mitadmissions.org/topics/apply/standardized_test_requirements/index.shtml)

How many times do I need to retake?

The bottom line is that once you are "in the zone" (meaning, you are in a range that is considered competent by the adcoms), there is little advantage to retaking the test over and over again to achieve 10-20 point increases on each section. Again, I feel like a lot of international students ask this question. US Admission policies are different from many Asian testing systems, where you can miss your #1 college by just one point on the national exam. You need to make this distinction clear in your mind.

The SAT and the Subject Tests have a +/- 30 point error margin, which means that a 670 on one of the SAT sections or the Subject Test is equivalent to anywhere from 640-700 on a different administration. Therefore, if you don't think you can improve past 700 if you were to retake the test, just don't retake it! It's as simple as that.

The MIT Admissions Office isn't trying to be ambiguous on their scores policy. The fact that there's so little concrete answers on "what scores do I need to get into MIT" is basically because there's no accurate answer to the question! MIT looks at your application holistically, meaning - as a complete package. Single factors like SAT scores are unlikely to disqualify an applicant outright (see http://www.mitadmissions.org/topics/qanda/questions_and_answers/paper_planes_1.shtml ). MIT does have scoring ranges here: http://www.mitadmissions.org/topics/apply/admissions_statistics/index.shtml , and I actually MIT is already being a lot clearer than many colleges, who don't even post such a detailed breakdown of SAT ranges for admitted students.

Again, to reiterate, you shouldn't look at SAT scores as a barrier to your college admissions, and they really are truthfully not weighted that much in comparison to everything else (your extracurricular activities and your motives for doing those activities, for example, wink wink*). But at the same time, you still need to be competent enough in English and basic math to be able to survive in MIT.

As for "well the SAT doesn't reflect my 'real' math and English abilities?"

We all have hurdles in our lives. Sometimes you just gotta rev up, bite the bullet, and jump through them. Good luck!

Posted by: Oasis '11 on December 27, 2009

Wow, great post. Thank you Chris.
I was already writing a more narrative essay. It really sounds better, at least for me.

Posted by: André(14?) on December 27, 2009

Great post! Your college essay posts have helped me get through the college essay process. I just wish that this came out before I submitted my MIT app!

Posted by: Melissa Donahue on December 27, 2009

Wow Chris, this makes me wish I was two years younger so I could apply to college with your advice. (haha, just kidding, but great entry)

Posted by: Jess L. '12 on December 27, 2009

thanks oasis a lot, i feel good now, for the creativity essay, can i write about my intern in Bronx civil court and for the world you came from i decided to talk about my native country Nigeria , can i have more the words they ask for, i don't think that i can cut it down to 250 words

Posted by: j on December 27, 2009

great post! i liked the way you finished your essay with a question...

Posted by: sarwar on December 27, 2009

Too many good comments, I can't think of a better one, Thanks a lot!!!!!

Posted by: 0 on December 29, 2009

I must credit MIT for forcing me to write personally with the short answers. #2 was shortened to become m CommonApp Short Answer, #3 was modified into my CommonApp Essay, and I'm changing #5 right now for use in supplements. Starting the MIT app early was truly a benefit in the long run.

Posted by: John on December 30, 2009

Scratch that. Make that #3, 4, and 5 respectively smile

Basically all the 200-250 word short answers were made into important essays for other college apps.

Posted by: John on December 30, 2009

Chris you helped out a lot. =D
I just pressed the submit button, and I felt more confident because of your blog.

Thanks again! I hope to see you in the future.

Posted by: Steven Jens on December 31, 2009

Great Content, Chris!
I'm going to use this style for Applications!

Posted by: 0 on December 31, 2009

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