MIT Admissions

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Follow

Snively '11

Head over to /r/confession and you'll find this post lurking near the top.  Since Reddit tends to cycle through content pretty routinely, I'll reproduce the post here:

I'm a senior in high school this year, and will be graduating come June. I have had all A's throughout high school except for last year when I got my first B. If it weren't for that B, I would have been valedictorian.
 
I like to think that I deserved to be valedictorian; that I am truly the smartest in my class. However, this past year has shown me that I'm really not that intelligent, and that there are many others who are much smarter than I.

Also, I'm kind of an asshole about how smart I am, at least to myself. I'm always telling myself that I was cheated out of an A, but deep down I know I deserved that B. Not only that, but I should have gotten B's in several other classes as well, but I somehow managed not to get them.
 
Recently I took the SATs as well, which I got a 1900 on. I figured I was just being lazy, and could have gotten a much better score if I tried. So after taking them a second time, I thought I did much better, but I only got roughly 40 more points than last time.
 
When I was younger I always believed I could get into MIT, but it has become painfully clear that I stand next to no chance of getting in. I now realize that I am probably going to go a lame local college and stick with my family. Ugh.

Oh, and to top it all off, the only hobbies I have are videogames and Reddit. No extracurriculars at all. Hell, I don't even have my license yet. But none of this has to do with my intelligence; I'm just rambling.
 
What follows is one of the most insightful and resonant replies not just on Reddit (over 2,000 upvotes) but rivals almost any entry ever posted on these blogs.  I know I'm retired but Inri137's Reddit comment needs to be published here, so here it is, reproduced below and available in its original form here.  I won't attempt to dilute his/her message with any advice of my own but I will say that you should take this to heart, it's some of the best advice concerning MIT you'll find.  
 

Alright, sorry about the delay. I was too busy celebrating the New Year. ;) I hope you're still checking in on this account.

Anyway, I think I have a bit of a unique perspective. I've seen MIT admissions from the perspective of the applicant, a student, a teacher, and now as an alumnus conducting interviews of prospective students. The fact that you mentioned MIT specifically really made me feel like I should take the time to produce a good response!

I wanted to start by writing out standard admissions advice (e.g. no one thing like SAT scores will keep you from being admitted, etc.). While all that is true, the problem you're dealing with is so much bigger than that. The problem you're coming up against is one I've seen so many of my fellow students encounter. If I could set up a wavy-fade flashback, I'd show you my freshman year.

I moved into one of the dorms at MIT thinking I was hot shit. I had, after all, just gotten into MIT. And beyond that, I had tested out of the freshman calculus and physics classes, meaning that I was able to start math "a year" ahead in differential equations and start with the advanced version of the physics 2 class we have. Registration went by easy enough and I was pleased with my decisions.

Term rolled in and I was getting crushed. I wasn't the greatest student in high school, and whenever I got poor grades I would explain them away by saying I just didn't care or I was too busy or too unmotivated or (more often than not) just cared about something else. It didn't help that I had good test performance which fed my ego and let me think I was smarter than everyone else, just relatively unmotivated. I had grossly underestimated MIT, and was left feeling so dumb.  

I had the fortune of living next to a bright guy, R. R. was an advanced student, to say the least. He was a sophomore, but was already taking the most advanced graduate math classes. He came into MIT and tested out of calculus, multivariable calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, real analysis (notoriously the most difficult math class at MIT), and a slew of other math courses. And to top it all off, he was attractive, engaging, sociable, and generally had no faults that would make him mortal.

I suffered through half a semester of differential equations before my pride let me go to R. for help. And sure enough, he took my textbook for a night to review the material (he couldn't remember it all from third grade), and then he walked me through my difficulties and coached me. I ended up pulling a B+ at the end of a semester and avoiding that train wreck. The thing is, nothing he taught me involved raw brainpower. The more I learned the more I realized that the bulk of his intelligence and his performance just came from study and practice, and that the had amassed a large artillery of intellectual and mathematical tools that he had learned and trained to call upon. He showed me some of those tools, but what I really ended up learning was how to go about finding, building, and refining my own set of cognitive tools. I admired R., and I looked up to him, and while I doubt I will ever compete with his genius, I recognize that it's because of a relative lack of my conviction and an excess of his, not some accident of genetics.

It's easy to trick ourselves into thinking that "being smart" is what determines our performance. In so many ways, it's the easiest possible explanation because it demands so little of us and immediately explains away our failings. You are facing this tension without recognizing it. You are blaming your intelligence in the first two paragraphs but you undermine yourself by saying you received good grades you didn't deserve. You recognize your lack of motivation as a factor in your lack of extracurricular activities but not in your SAT scores (fun fact: the variable that correlates most strongly to SAT performance is hours of studying for the SATs). Your very last statement could just as well apply to your entire post:
But none of this has to do with my intelligence; I'm just rambling.

You got A's because you studied or because the classes were easy. You got a B probably because you were so used to understanding things that you didn't know how to deal with something that didn't come so easily. I'm guessing that early on you built the cognitive and intellectual tools to rapidly acquire and process new information, but that you've relied on those tools so much you never really developed a good set of tools for what to do when those failed. This is what happened to me, but I didn't figure it out until after I got crushed by my first semester of college. I need to ask you, has anyone ever taken the time to teach you how to study? And separately, have you learned how to study on your own in the absence of a teacher or curriculum? These are the most valuable tools you can acquire because they are the tools you will use to develop more powerful and more insightful tools. It only snowballs from there until you become like R.

MIT has an almost 97% graduation rate. That means that most of the people who get in, get through. Do you know what separates the 3% that didn't from the rest that do? I do. I've seen it so many times, and it almost happened to me. Very few people get through four years of MIT with such piss-poor performance that they don't graduate. In fact, I can't think of a single one off the top of my head. People fail to graduate from MIT because they come in, encounter problems that are harder than anything they've had to do before, and not knowing how to look for help or how to go about wrestling those problems, burn out. The students that are successful look at that challenge, wrestle with feelings of inadequacy and stupidity, and begin to take steps hiking that mountain, knowing that bruised pride is a small price to pay for getting to see the view from the top. They ask for help, they acknowledge their inadequacies. They don't blame their lack of intelligence, they blame their lack of motivation. I was lucky that I had someone to show me how to look for that motivation, and I'm hoping that I can be that person for you in some small capacity over the Internet. I was able to recover from my freshman year and go on to be very successful in my studies, even serving as a TA for my fellow students. When I was a senior, I would sit down with the freshmen in my dorm and show them the same things that had been shown to me, and I would watch them struggle with the same feelings, and overcome them. By the time I graduated MIT, I had become the person I looked up to when I first got in.

You're so young, way too young to be worried about not being smart enough. Until you're so old you start going senile, you have the opportunity to make yourself "smarter." And I put that in quotes because "smart" is really just a way of saying "has invested so much time and sweat that you make it look effortless." You feel like you are burnt out or that you are on the verge of burning out, but in reality you are on the verge of deciding whether or not you will burn out. It's scary to acknowledge that it's a decision because it puts the onus on you to to do something about it, but it's empowering because it means there is something you can do about it.

So do it.

Comments (Closed after 30 days to reduce spam)

if i could upvote this i would

Posted by: Chris Peterson on January 5, 2012

note to self: add upvoting to posts

Posted by: Chris Peterson on January 5, 2012

whoa.

I'm pasting that entire post/comment into a .rtf, emailing it to myself and nerve deleting it.

Posted by: Justin on January 5, 2012

never*

Posted by: Justin on January 5, 2012

I'd endorse this on a social network if I could but I don't have facebook/g+.

Great post.

Posted by: DanielG on January 5, 2012

@Chris

I upvote your upvote.

Posted by: Kathleen on January 5, 2012

This is extremely inspiring; I often find myself in the same position as the rambler there, and have realized that the only way to get things done is to do them (rather than just thinking about doing it). I really appreciate your dedication to helping people.

Posted by: Susan on January 5, 2012

This is beyond amazing. Thanks SO much for sharing this with us.

Posted by: Ambar on January 5, 2012

Super, super, super win. I can identify with the sentiment here, and just wow. What an awesome post. Well-written insight and inspiration such as this really helps make the internet such an amazing and constructive community-based forum. ftw, just ftw. Greater parts of the internet right here.
Upvote for sure.

@Chris
That'd be pretty awesome xD.

Posted by: Suyash on January 5, 2012

Thank you so much for this. I have been struggling a lot with some of these issues lately and it was my mom who basically woke me up and said "you decide what you will make of yourself, no one else can or will do it for you." Sometimes a harsh dose of reality is exactly what we need and this post just put the figurative icing on the cake of what my mom was saying. Thanks for the motivation and the great post =)

Posted by: Ariel on January 5, 2012

That's so much good advice wrapped in a single comment!
*Like, Upvote, Share, Intergalatic Broadcast, everything *
and Snively, please don't say that you have retired from mit blogs. Seeeing you around here is like soup for the soul. smile

Posted by: phoenix on January 6, 2012

wow UPVOTE

Posted by: rfong'12 on January 6, 2012

I feel like I'm seeing this a little differently than most people (I'm kinda surprised by that too...)

Anyway, his main point seems to be that if you feel inadequate academically, there's a good chance it's not because you're stupid, but because you haven't put forth the effort other, "smarter" people have.

This reminded me of a post, I believe it was here on the admissions blogs, where someone said that there were two kinds of excellent students: The talented and the dedicated. This seems to assume that most people fall in the latter category, and that might be true, but not everyone does. He said that the strongest correlation to SAT scores is amount of time studying, but there are always the people that don't study at all and get 2300+. Though you don't become like R. R. without trying. (What's this about Calculus, or at least high level Algebra, in third grade? That's crazy early.)

Not that it's a bad post, at all. Even though he focuses on the amount of dedication, the talented people can learn from that too. Can't get through everything on pure talent. (At least not grades, from personal experience)

I guess my main point is that there ARE smart people and not-so-smart people, and people are smart in different ways. Hard work serves to make up the difference - and it can.

Again, I'm really surprised that no one seems to be taking this with a grain of salt...

Posted by: Brandon J. on January 6, 2012

Joined reddit today 'cause of this. Thanks~ <3

Posted by: Christi on January 6, 2012

Thank you so much for posting this, Snively.

I was in a similar situation as the reddit OP was, except my story happened last year (I applied, but was declined). Over my first semester at the university I'm attending, I learned most of what Inri137 describes in the post the hard way -- first-hand experience.

Tonight, I believe I have finally gathered all the information needed to mend my bad habits and "emerge", similar to what Inri137 experienced. Now, all that's left for me to do is to apply the knowledge I've garnered over the past semester and winter break. Hopefully everything goes well and I'll finally make use of the "astounding potential" everyone tells me they think I have.

Thank you, Snively. Thank you, reddit OP. Thank you, Inri137. Thank you, everyone.

When I started college, I didn't think I'd try transferring anywhere. I thought I'd stick at my current university for the full four years and not look to try doing things anywhere else.
Now, I'm not so sure. Maybe I'll be a successful transfer student at some schools? Maybe other schools will fit me better? Maybe I'll fit them better? Maybe I'll meet someone whose ideas counter mine, yet when mixed, finally provide a solution to a perplexing problem? I don't know. But what I *do* know now is that I *must* try.

And I will.

(Also, Snively, I want to thank you for doing the review for the digital pen -- I'm seriously considering buying one, now that I've seen it working and realizing what it could do.) smile

Posted by: M.SB. on January 6, 2012

Snively! You have no idea - I'm so glad you posted this. Like, everyone I know and their mom (including myself) have been on this 'not smart enough' kick lately, and this is exactly the thing that we need to read to get back in the game before next semester starts. Awesome, man - seriously.

Posted by: Affi on January 6, 2012

Wow, inspiring post.

Ahhh we've missed you so much Snively. Wish you could come back and blog regularly :(

Posted by: Anonymous on January 6, 2012

I used to have the same problem the rambler up there is talking about. I dont anymore. That answer was truly inspiring. Thank you MIT for keeping the blogs alive. They dont just serve as a guide to application and so on. They contain enough life lessons to make a book out of. BEAUTIFUL. Keep it up bloggers!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Mohammed Amr on January 6, 2012

Thank you for posting this smile

btw, I upvote kathleen's upvote of Chris's upvote.

Posted by: Anonymous - 2 on January 6, 2012

Reminds me of a quote I read somewhere. "The only genius that is worth having is the genius of hard work." As they say, it takes years to become an overnight sensation - I guess R.R. did put in those years, packed his snowball early, and let it roll - acting exemplary and empathetic in the process.

Great post. The world is so not ending in 2012.

Posted by: Rishabh on January 6, 2012

Sometimes, you barely figure out an idea, a concept, expecting unconsciously that one day someone would be able to write it and clarify it. This day has come.

Posted by: Fwa2 on January 6, 2012

Here's the permalink:

http://www.reddit.com/r/confession/comments/nxdzz/im_not_as_smart_as_i_thought_i_was/c3d91jl

(Look! Edits!)

Posted by: Anish Tondwalkar on January 6, 2012

Excellent post Snively! This is a great example of the kind of students MIT admits-- those who care and grow and then share themselves with others when they do.

Posted by: kris on January 6, 2012

Upvote Affi!

Posted by: Tracy on January 6, 2012

@Brandon J.

"I guess my main point is that there ARE smart people and not-so-smart people, and people are smart in different ways. Hard work serves to make up the difference - and it can."

Even for those who you are calling the smart people, nothing comes without effort. For some people it may take less effort (These are the ones that I presume you are calling the smart people), but they still need to make that effort. Often, these people slack off because it is easy for them to keep up, but, what is more important, the final outcome or the loving effort put into it?

I'd say that anything worth having MUST be worked hard for. And that means that I judge my intelligence and knowledge not based on those around me, but on how hard I worked to obtain it.

Posted by: Supertraced on January 6, 2012

+1

Posted by: Anton Älgmyr on January 6, 2012

@Supertraced:

That last statement... according to that, I haven't been anywhere near as smart as I possibly could have been throughout all of high school, and even my first semester of college.

...Thank you.

Posted by: M.SB. on January 6, 2012

Wow. I've also been worried about this problem. But what you said is totally true! Plus, what I've found that there's a joy and satisfaction that comes when you finally apply yourself to understanding something after years of having everything just come to you. I just took a physics final in a class where I was on the verge of getting my first B, because the material wasn't making it to my brain. But I got my friends together and we studied the material until we all felt like we understood it. And when I took the test, knowing that I'd actually worked to do as well as I did, it was much greater joy than acing a test just by virtue of automatic recall. I think a lot of us "smart people" miss out on the joy of working for something, the joy of knowing that you deserve what you got. And then, when the kid who you know studied for hours and still got a worse grade than you finds out how well you did, you don't feel the guilt of "I didn't even read the chapter", but the accomplishment of "I WORKED for this!"

Posted by: David on January 8, 2012

Thanks for the great post!

This extensively relates to me.

Posted by: Tejas on January 8, 2012

Hmm, this post has inspired me to put more effort into my work. Time to get off admission blogs and get working on my programming. :D Love this post by the way.

Posted by: Bohr Hew on January 8, 2012

So so true... I am speechless...

Posted by: CP on January 12, 2012

WOOSH that was one of the best cold showers I`ve ever had ...
and one of the best MIT Blog posts as well.

First please excuse my clumsy English. I am no native speaker. raspberry

Well I always thought i am a smart guy. That`s why i got good grades. And of course I always blamed other circumstances (such as no motivation, too busy, ...) if I got a bad mark. And just as the person above, I only had a few hobbies, and no real "passion".

Then, I decided to take a year off. I noticed something was wrong. Now I am sitting in Ireland for one year, as part of an exchange programme. I have a lot of time thinking about myself, and what went wrong before.

Two sources helped me in doing so: a book called "the seven habbits of highly effective teens" by Sean Covey (an irish teacher recommended it) and this blog (which I found all on my own:) ).

I recognised, that I never had a real challenge, that I never really faced any difficulties. So how can I say I am able to overcome problems? how can I say, I am able to cope on in my life?
I simply cannot!

And thats what my life is about now. I live for the next big challenge (In particular, starting a few new sports, particapating in our students conusil, learn a lot more about physics (Walter Lewin (!) ), maths, computer science, irish language and everything else that interests me).

And I think that is also what they are looking for at MIT, isn't it? You are looking for guys who can develope the tools to study on their own, to overcome real difficulties on their own.

At the end of these definetly very confusing words (I can berely understand it myself raspberry), I have to thank you. MIT helped me getting a purpose.
Andeven when in two years time, my application lands in front of the admission officers, they have done more for me than they will know.

Thank you MIT
Max

Posted by: Max on January 12, 2012

Wow. Inspiring and energizing... excuse me, I have to go do stuff.

Posted by: Ben on January 13, 2012

You got JUST a 1900 on your SAT? Even the above average Indian over here manages that.

Posted by: Ram on January 13, 2012

The intelligent ones in India get 2350+. Some even get 2400.
Get any student from the Indian Institute of Technology to take SAT and he/she's sure to get more than 2200.

Posted by: Ram on January 13, 2012

@Ram I beg to differ. IITians are good at Maths physics and chemistry. Not necessarily in English. In fact I know at least 4 extremely likely IIT JEE toppers who got in the range of 1700-2100. As a matter of fact Anshuman Panda from the class of 2012 didn't get a high score (his exact score is not in the public domain) in the SAT reasoning test. But he got a perfect score in the subject test.

Source : http://mitadmissions.org/blogs/entry/meet_the_class_of_2012

Posted by: Tejas on January 13, 2012

This is inspiring. I am attending university but I am thinking of changing my major from electrical and computer engineering to ocean engineering.

Posted by: nalini_8 on January 21, 2012

"Hardwork beats talent ONLY when talent fails to WORK HARD" grin
Very lovely and Inspiring blog. I <3 it.. Now I better go prepare for my math exam so I feel fulfilled & know I got a good grade because I put in some effort.

Posted by: Ife O- Young on January 22, 2012

I'm reading this book about the StrengthsFinder and what it said reminded me of the responder's main message: near perfect performance is a combination of talent, knowledge and skill. Talent is something you're born with. The latter two must be acquired and sharpened.

Posted by: Joey Chen on January 22, 2012

@Tejas
Most IITians are good at English. I am a student of IIT Madras and I can tell from my personal interactions with my friends that their English is pretty good. And implying that students of IITs are only good at Physics, Chemistry and Math is very wrong. I admit that the 'English' part of the SAT is a bit tough in the sense that it requires a good deal of preparation but the Subject Tests are very simple. I mean, most high school students in India who are doing decently well and who get about 85 to 90% in the CBSE Board Exams score highly in SAT.

Posted by: Rajesh on January 28, 2012

Comments have been closed.

Top