MIT Admissions

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Ben Jones

Mar 16, 2005

The Burning Question

Posted in: Miscellaneous

The burning question in my in-box is "Can you tell me why I didn't get in? Will you look at my app and tell me what I did wrong? Why was I not good enough?"

Certainly an honest and worthy question, and you have every right to be asking it. I certainly would be.

I wish I could get this question from someone with a 2.0 GPA, or some similar blatant app-destroyer, so I could just say "you have C's and D's, what more can I tell you?"

But I'm only getting it from intelligent, accomplished, creative, passionate people. Go figure - I just described the vast majority of the applicant pool.

So the simple answer is - you didn't do anything wrong, and most likely, you are absolutely qualified to be here. Can I look at your app and tell you individually why you didn't get in? Unfortunately, no. With ~10,500 apps, it is likely that I never personally crossed paths with your app in committee, and I can't recreate or try to determine the how/why decisions of other admissions officers - it would be impossible.

Some of you seem determined to make this personal. I don't know how to help you with that. We've made it clear that this was the most competitive applicant pool in the history of MIT, which is arguably the hardest school in the world to get into to begin with. I can use that fact to try to "proove" to you that it's not a reflection on you, rather it's an issue of class size versus # of applicants - but in the end you have to come to that conclusion on your own.

As you know from some of my previous posts, I was heartbroken at some of the people we couldn't take. All of us in admissions were. But at the end of the day, we have x number of spots for roughly 8x qualified people, and decisions are made. We do the best we can. There's really not much else to say.

:-/

Comments (Closed after 30 days to reduce spam)

There, now I took the bloddy first post so no other imature geeks will do it in this post smile)

Anyway, I understand the issue completely Ben, but it's also hard on students, I know I'd give my left arm to be admitted to MIT, and recieveing a Reject letter came to me as quite a shock. I know there's nothing you can do, and I know there's no point in asking why I didn't get. I was simply unlucky.

Posted by: Kresimir Spes on March 16, 2005

Hi!.. I have not yet recieved any mail from MIT .. so i guess i am rejected ....or hopefully waitlisted!!!!! ... anyways.. if i am rejected... thanks for this gr8 blog... u've been VERY helpful!!... Thanx

Posted by: eager indian on March 16, 2005

i got that adress because i'm going to try to get MIT. and that way i have some questions, one of the MIT's students told me to write to you,may you help me?
1.what's the most important to me if i want to make application? to be honest my english isn't so good.how much points should i get in TOEFL?
2.i'm interesting(yeah, better-i love!) in physics,maths and chemistry, but i've heard that i should do something more in social life- what sort of behaviour is requared?
3.could you give me any advices or practical rules?i'm afraid my passion will not be enough to try to get there.

hope to hear from you,
Tomek from Poland

Posted by: Tomek on March 16, 2005

Hi Ben!!
Thank you for your post and help. I'm an int' student who have not been offered admission. I know all the people that have been accepted deserve it, and I'm so happy for them. They can be very proud. You've made this experience amazing and I have to tell you how thankful I am. I'll never forget you! When I applied to the US my goal was not to be accepted into MIT but to pursue what i'm passionate about, so I smile because I'll have that opportunity somewhere else. I've always been in love with MIT so I'll leave saying what I've discovered:
MIT and its people are the best!!
love always,
a

Posted by: ana on March 16, 2005

Dear Ben and MIT admissions officers

".. I can't recreate or try to determine the how/why decisions of other admissions officers - it would be impossible."

" .. Some of you seem determined to make this personal. I don't know how to help you with that."

This is one of the most puzzling responses from the MIT admissions officers. If you cannot recreate how/why decisions of other admissions officers, then how can you adjudicate, oversee, review, and evaluate their decisions subsequently in your own admisions process? Clearly, when you admit someone over another, there has to be reasons that must have been documented someplace or else there is no way to review any decisions at all in your selection process. If you indeed have this situation, rather than a policy of not opening a can of worms by informing people why they weren't admitted and because of which you provide this "non" response, then something is broken in your process for it has no review built-in, even for you.

As for the applicant's desire to know why they did not get admitted - that isn't personal. It has more to do with performing a proper post-mortem on one's project upon its completion in order to understand what worked and what did'nt work for next time around. From the parent's point of view, getting prepared for the next kid in the pipeline.

This is a standard practice in industry - most groups, from design to manufacturing to marketing to sales, perform post-mortems at the end of their projects; and it is also standard in competitive sports - after meets and tournaments to look at what is working for the athlete and what isn't in order to improve. There is no improvement without assessment of performance and feedback.

The desire to know why a very competitive athelete did not win the match is part of their training - indeed, it is taught from the very begining to conduct a post-mortem after every major tournament or game. In swim teams for instance, from the very age of 6, the swimmer is required to check in with the swim coach right after each swim to get his feedback - and that continues on to the Olympic swimmer as a purposefully cultivated habit!

The competition for academic slots isn't any different. When two are competing for one seat, and one is selected, there is always a reason. When you - the judges, tell the kids I don't know why you failed to win that slot and what were some of the weaknesses in your application, steller as it was, then there is no way for the "academethlete" to know how to improve. They have already done what they thought was important - studied hard, got straight As, high SAT scores, took the most challenging classes, followed their passion in pursuing ECs, etc. Now what? Now what are they supposed to do if they still want to play and win in that very tournament - the MIT admissions game? The answer given by Ben above, as is every answer by MIT admissions officers betrays a lack of understanding of how the kids and parents feel - and is the major cause of stress among applicants, and their parents.

Not knowing how to prepare, for in the end it all comes down to the throw of dice, and wondering why someone is admited over another - are even made taboo questions of inquiry. Those trying to understand it from the perspectivee of "how to improve" are made to look like cry-babies or unable to handle loosing a game, or told that they will succeed in life no matter what, and other well intentioned consolatory but completely besides the point things.

It is not that the kids are looking for consolation, for there isn't any. All those stories in elementary school about it does not matter whether you win or loose, its how you play the game, etc. do not turn out to be true in real life. Winning and not winning are very important in competition, any competition, and it is all about how to continue to improve to prepare better after a loss! Thus to tell the kids, go compete in another tournament if you don't win in this one - while certainly good advice, does little to prepare them for the other tournament where the same ambiguous rules of the game apply and they are now at the mercy of only a different throw of the dice!

And this is also what fuels the "college counselling" industry - just check out the ads on college confidential website - and it favours the more affluent who can afford to pay $600 - $25000 (the advertised prices I have seen lately) for getting this very feedback. Funny how the dice is loaded in favor of the affluent once again who can afford fancy coaching. For some applicants, especially the ones with steller academic record who do not get in for one reason or another, such coaching and mentoring in how to present oneself to the admissions committee, contrary to all such denials by admissions officers employed in colleges everywhere, seems to work in many cases. Even high school principals acknoweldge it. The only ones who don't are the ones at college it seems, and the moment they leave their spots, they become consultants and join this industry. I threw away the business card of one such "college coach" and ex college admissions officer who charges $2000 for a package deal, when a parent gave it to me strongly urging me to not be so naive.

Seems to me that there is something entirely broken in this entire admissions process everywhere. The Dean of MIT admissions has talked about the rising stress being experienced by high schoolers in college admissions and what can be done about it. Making the admissions process a bit more deterministic, a bit more quanitfiable and measureable, a bit more accountable, with a bit more feedback to the applicants both before and after, so that they may continue to improve their game so to speak, will markedly reduce stress - I think.

It is already obvious to everyone that none of the academic preparations etc necessarily define adequate preparation for fair competition in this space. There is a great deal of subjectivity involved in the process - especially in the evaluation of the applicant within their own context. I think this is in general a good thing, not just in a society with its inequities and all, but also for the exceptional individual cases - like I am sure that Einstien, Edison, and Ramanujan might have failed a very objective admissions test but might have well succeeded securing a spot at MIT, and obviously deservedly so. It is however bad for those kids who with a better academic preparation are co-opted by those with comparatively lesser performance record (but still steller and certainly adequate to perform well at MIT). This is the real reason for the stress - for at the time of applying, the applicant does not know who will co-opt them on what grounds.

I don't necessarily have a solution to offer here because the problem is created by trying to solve another problem of inequitious distribution of access to education in this society and the identification of the exceptional genius performing beyond the traditional norms - and the law of unintended consequences makes the "subjective" evaluation a source of another problem.

While I sense that providing feedback might mitigate this to some extent, and certainly make the situation better in that it might enable some to compete more effectively a priori, it may not necessarily entirely solve the problem. However, the reason not to give this feedback really comes down to logistics from the point of view of the admissions officers - how to formulate and quantify it to make it meaningful, and how to do that for 10,500 kids! The college counselling industry seems to be doing this quite effectively if you have the money to spend! So it must be doable.

If you - the admissions people everywhere, not just at MIT - treat this matter as another problem to resolve, rather than deny that it is an issue by saying to the kids that you aren't taking it well or are taking it too personally, or if you were really lousy I could tell you but you are so good that I can't tell you why you weren't good enough for us at this time, or that the competition was very tough and seats limited, etc. you can actually come up with a solution.

Please recognize that in competition, everything you put forth in response is always true. However if sports people have figured out how to deal with it, if corporations have figured out how to deal with it, if there is already a word for it in the dictionary, then so can you.

Begin by recognizing that it is a problem that the kids do not know how to prepare for the competition properly beyond what they have already done academically. And continue by acknoweldging that the "college counselling" industry is making money because they are being successful at addressing it to some degree!

Having said all that, overall, I feel that MIT, more than any other college, is doing an outstanding job of supporting its applicants, and indeed is the best process so far that I have seen. Please keep it up and make it even better.

Thank you.

Posted by: concerned parent on March 16, 2005

Gosh! that's allot of text!

Posted by: Kresimir Spes on March 16, 2005

Concerned Parent - wow, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts in such a well-written and thorough post. You raise a lot of issues that we struggle with every day.

Your acknowledgement of the subjective nature of the process is key. When we say that "we admit people, not numbers" we automatically trade a wholly quantifiable process for a very human one; neither extreme is perfect, so we shoot for the best balance we can. Generations of incredible MIT students have shown us that we're doing the right thing.

But it certainly leaves the problem of having to explain ourselves to a rejected applicant whose application is exceptional - often we cannot do that in personal terms. Why did we pick one of two (seemingly) identical applicants and not the other? That's the part I can't recreate for you, nor could we offer any worthwhile advice to the rejected applicant. How do you tell an ideal candidate to change? Why would you?

I choose instead to say "it's not you, it's us." Because that's the truth - we simply have too many exceptional applicants for too few spots.

This process is not some kind of game, so I'm afraid I can't relate to all of your comparisons thereto. But I do respect what you are saying and the questions you have asked. I will ponder this further in the coming days, and share it with colleagues as well. Perhaps others will chime in here with their thoughts.

Thanks again for your post - it was truly great.

Posted by: Ben on March 16, 2005

Thank you Dear Ben for reading it. The "game" is a metaphor as I am sure you understood - I gave examples of competition and post-mortem from industry to sports - and it is also a common shared experience among all of us from our own daily lives of wondering why we didn't succeed in our venture the last time, and how to fix it! If MIT presents college admissions as beyond the ken of such comprehension, therein lies the first problem.

I wonder if the MIT Dean of Admissions will ever have the time to read it as well?

Cheers.

Posted by: concerned parent on March 16, 2005

No problem, I love posts that make me think. grin I did understand the metaphor; we just react adversely to the word "game" around here, for exactly the reasons you posted earlier (the "college counseling industry," for example). So many think of this as a game that they need to win - that's why you have people applying to schools that they have no intention of attending just to rack up admit letters. Alas.

I am sure that the Dean will read your post with enthusiasm. One of her true passions is the consistent reevalutation of the process, and the ongoing dream of making it better.

Posted by: Ben on March 16, 2005

Tomek - I am glad you are interested in MIT! Check out the admissions.mit.edu site (click on undergrad) and surf around - a lot of the testing, etc questions are addressed. Outside of school, follow your passions and success will follow. Music, robotics, community service, thousands of others - there are just so many things. Just do things for yourself and not just to get into college - then your passion will really show naturally.

Ana - thank you so much for your post. grin All the best to you!

Posted by: Ben on March 16, 2005

Concerned Parent-

As an MIT student who went through the anxiety and stress associated with university admissions several years ago, I believe I can understand where you

Posted by: MIT Student on March 16, 2005

Hey Ben,

Could you tell me how graduate admissions are at MIT? Like, are they as competitive? I hope they aren't. I don't think I will be able to stand having my dreams crushed for a second time in my life.

Posted by: Nick on March 16, 2005

Hey Nick,

To be honest I'm not involved at all in grad admissions, but I believe that each department is different as you are applying to a specific department instead of a general program (like undergrad). I'd contact the department you're interested in and see if you can talk to a current student - he/she might have better insight.

Posted by: Ben on March 16, 2005

Still Waiting...I'll be out of town for the next 2 days, so expect a call from me on Friday!

Posted by: Sean on March 16, 2005

To Concerned Parent,
Sometimes being too concerned may also being too involved. Perhaps the assistance of parents for the "kid in the pipeline" is just what MIT has the 6th sense of detecting ... and rejecting. The "too-professional package" of perfect scores, essays, letters, activities by college counselors just don't seem to ring true. I think the MIT admissions team has a knack for sensing the genuine in people with independence and drive. And, in the end, if your student has the genuine passion, ability, and determination, they will be fluorish wherever they matriculate. Trust them, and let go. It's not a game. It's their lives to begin on their own.

Posted by: DoctorMom on March 16, 2005

didnot recieve the decisions yet!
boring to wait
ben u said we can call up MIT if it doesnot reach us by 18th.
is it in indian time or us's? can u make it indian time.?

Posted by: indian on March 16, 2005

MIT, in its admissions, seems to seek individuals with the potential to be valuable members of its learning community (not a collection of test scores, a transcript or any other "statistic"). This is an admittedly nebulous definition, but nevertheless begs the question: how does one ascertain an individual's potential to act in this faculty? Certainly such unquantifiable attributes, which are difficult to measure even with intimate first-hand knowledge of the person in question, cannot be encapsulated in a few pages of application material. However, this assertion also precludes the employment of an algorithmic system -- "unquantifiable" variables are anathema to formulae. This, I feel, is quite an interesting predicament, placing the admissions committee in an utterly unenviable position.

Having put forth a rational assessment of the admissions process, I'd like to drop for a moment the desiccated prosopopeia I have heretofore used to impart some semblance of rationality and academic thought into this post.

The application process is fundamentally unfair. I have worked for 3.5 years with unparalleled zeal to amass my credentials, credentials in large part targeted at getting me into MIT (I remember in Freshman Rhetoric class we were asked to present a biography of ourselves as we planned to be in 10 years; I am not entirely sure why I chose to be an MIT alumnus, but I did and have since pursued this goal with a rather irrational fanaticism). Anyways, I worked hard and eschewed the alcohol, drugs, et cetera so prevalent at my school (hooray for suburbia). And through sheer force of will was able to put together what I deemed an undeniably exceptional record (even by MIT standards). My interview was somewhat awkward (I am exceedingly shy), but my interviewer closed with the frank appraisal, "You seem to have as good a chance as anyone I've ever seen; but, you know, sometimes they reject really good candidates and take, uh . . . kind of, you know, dorks." This was immediately seared into my memory (colloquialisms and all). Sensing the imminent advent of my dreams, of all my hardwork coming to fruition, I pretty much disregarded the caveat of the latter clause and clung to the former with superhuman tenacity (incidentally, the variable appraisals of my interviewer and the admissions committee indicate the difficulty of determining the quality of an applicant through a few pieces of paper [again, not an indictment of the committee itself, but the system which does its best to address the exigencies of the logistical problems posed by the applicant field endemic to college admissions]). When completing my application, I crafted competent and unique essays, utilizing my, in my opinion, peculiar brand of diction and syntactical style choices as well as carefully balanced arguments a la Cicero and Aristotle. However, (and this I'll admit freely) the pieces did somewhat lack in the department of vitality, devoid of the incisive, emotional humanity that would be most likely to leave an indellible mark on the psyche of an adcom. But again, this was not through lack of effort, but merely my loathesome reserve and reticence (another foible of the admissions process).

Though several independent sources had given me additional favorable opinions of my chances, I remained solicitous. Having expected the letter of Pi day, I remained nauseous all of 3/14 but ultimately in vain (though most of my friends received their rejection letters that day). The next day, the wait was exacerbated by the necessity of staying for an hour after school to help tutor; but upon arriving at home, I tore through the house like a hurricane to the frontdoor and then on to the mailbox. And there it was, a tiny, insignificant scrap of paper, the harbinger of my doom (or at least the lamentable death of my aspirations). After moping around for a few hours with the letter unopened, I reckoned that the time had come to accept my fate. I found some solace in the fact that I was waitlisted instead of outright rejected (the card is already sent to ensure my place on the list), but today was hell -- the looks of shock and disappointment on the faces of even passing acquaintances as they learned that every single applicant from our school had been rejected (I alone was waitlisted). But life goes on. . .

However, I would one raise one additional issue with the selection process: the application provides the admissions committee with but an instantaneous image of the applicant. That conception may be ephemeral (as in my case) -- I was recruited last minute to do the programming for the school robotics team (which occupied 14 hrs/week), I have taken on several independent study projects and have started writing for the school newspaper. I have no doubt that even a thorough interrogation of my application would so much as hint that this vicissitude lay within the realm of possibility (again pointing to the inability of any application to effectively elucidate someone's true character). Moreover, these activities are neither the result of a metanoia, nor perfunctory (the emphasis on ECs as of late obscured their purpose, now they are wielded merely as tools for admission).

Well, it was at the very least cathartic to unleash some of the inner carnage which lately racks my soul to its very core. But I would like to reiterate that I still believe the admissions committee did the best it could in the face of the multitude of applicants and the restraints of time and space. Furthermore, as I was unable to overcome my vices when writing my essays and, even now, have no panacea or even partial remedy for the afflictions of candidate selection, I have no basis for complaint. In addition, I'd like to thank the adcom for all its hardwork, even though it didn't rule favorably in my case. Finally, I'd admonish everyone to not take anyone else's opinion in this matter too seriously ('It's all foma' -- Bokonon) because those who say that the system is flawed (though undoubtedly correct in so doing) are unable to offer solutions and those who aver that unquantifiable aspects are the deciding factors are over-looking the glaringly obvious fact that these "unquantifiable" aspects cannot be expressed in a brief application (these individuals also seem to fail to realize that their comments can be caustic to those such as me who were obviously forestalled in their aspirations by these "unquantifiable" factors; it rings almost as a personal indictment of me as a person).

Posted by: Devil's Advocate on March 16, 2005

Hey Ben,

Your blog has helped me see and get to know MIT better. I just want to let you know how thankful I am. But your(and Matt's) blogs have made my rejection sting(that is the only word I can think of to describe it)a little more. Because now I know for sure what I am and will be missing. GREAT staff, GREAT students/peers...I don't know if I can list them all, it will just make me even more sad. It was really hard today(my tiny, upside down, little letter came yesterday)plus I had finals. Im not sure, but I think I would have felt better if I couldn't handle it, if I failed them all, if I couldn't focus. But, no. Still sick to my stomach, I aced all 3(AP Calc, AP Econ, and AP Gov). It made me feel surprisingly empty. It told me that despite not getting into my dream school, I could still "preform" the same, and let me know that I would not FEEL like me for a while, that with time I could even fool myself into to thinking that I am over it. But how will I ever know if I really am? Someone else had a post a few days ago saying that it's not really the fact that MIT is not the right place for us right now, that hurts so bad, it's the fact that we(intelligent people)have been dreaming of the wrong place for so long. That's what makes it hurt. Not only will we never have THAT life that we dreamt of, we don't even know ourselves as well as we thought we did. Sorry for being so down, but today was a pretty bad day. Ben what about transfer admissions(like next year)? Do you still deal with those? What are they like? And does MIT have an appeal process? Thank you sooo much Ben, I wish I could be there with you guys this fall, but hey maybe next year...eh? wink

Megan

Posted by: Megan on March 16, 2005

ben,

i am a new fan of your blog and i have a burning question. i actually posted the same question in another blog (matt's) but i would like your opinion...

Question (i'm not sure if this was asked before) -- How familiar is MIT with robotics competitions? We have a small robotics club but we go to competitions regionally and nationally (april 23 is our first national comption for US FIRST!), do they realize how big these competitions are or are they just seen as line on the paper?

Going along with this, how much weight does our "outer life" hold? I've seen so many people fill their apps of empty achievements while others have one or two awards that took all of their high school years to achieve. How are these two types of applications seen for what they truly are? I am aware that no one can interpret an application perfectly but as an admission's officer, I know you have a good feel for seeing through the "space-fillers" and the people who really mean what they write. Could you shed some light on this? Thanks so much =)

Posted by: nehalita on March 16, 2005

In response to concerned parent's statement that admissions is stacked in favor of the affluent and wealthy, this is simply not true. My family, quite honestly, is poor. At my mother's current salary it would require almost six years for her to finance my education at MIT. I was not fortunate enough to be able to attend robotics or mathematics camps during my summers, and the high schools I have attended can hardly be considered exemplary, yet I was still able to gain admission to MIT. Why? I guess I will never really know, but I truly believe that it was the enthusiasm and dedication that I portrayed in my application.

The harsh reality is that there are too few spots for too many students. Also, I truly believe that happiness is a state of mind, not a place or an institution. As long as a student takes advantage of the opportunities provided for them, they are able to flourish and grow at any institution. This may sound like lip-service since I have already been admitted, but I have had to employ such tactics in order to make my secondary-school career a success. I know that this will not, in ANY way, soothe the pain of not being admitted to MIT, but with this knowledge I hope that your son/daughter will be able to get past this obviously difficult time.

Posted by: J. McGee on March 16, 2005

Hey Ben,
Is there an appeals process? If so, could you post information on that? Thanks

Posted by: Reject on March 16, 2005

Unfortunately, MIT does not have an admissions appeal process.

Posted by: Fabrice on March 16, 2005

Hey Ben,

I could not agree more with concerned parent's post. If you cannot replicate what led to your decision, then all accountability is off. I am surprised that so many say one cannot objectively evaluate subjective/personal factors. After all, MIT Admissions, of all places, should maintain a uniform policy regarding all sorts of subjective/personal situations and should at least always remain capble of commenting whether such a situation adversely or beneficially affected an application, and approximately to what extent. I am one of those rejects that was probably hit hardest by this personal/subjective side. I have a list of 4-5 concrete, yet subjective factors that may have doomed my application. I can only use sheer guesswork to determine which of them MIT frowned at, and which it found irrelevant. I strongly feel that, for example, if the adcom felt the interview exposed an inherent incompatibility with MIT (as opposed to...say...an essay) the applicant has a right to know.

Further, I feel the comments left by readers in each folder should elucidate even a year later the reasons for a decision for, at least, intraoffice transparency. This should be a top priority, otherwise the complaints about the inherent unfairness of the admissions process will keep a-flowing.

Posted by: sleet on March 16, 2005

Sleet-

Although what you're saying makes logical sense, I dont think you can set a uniform selection criteria.

Do you think its fair to compare someone who attended a top notch private high school in the northeast with someone who lives in a remote area of the mountains in say Nepal? Are the opportunities presented to both students the same?
Do you think you can compare someone whose parents are both well-educated and have PHD's with someone who is a first generation college student?
Is getting an award in the International Math Olympiads better than an award in the International Physics Olympiads?

Obviously, the list of questions that I may ask can go on and on. And that proves one thing: there are way too many variables to take into consideration. Thus, how do you propose to create such a uniform selection criteria?

With regards to your comment about interviews, I dont think a bad interview alone will get you rejected. I think they look at your application as a whole to get a feel for what type of person you are. It's very difficult to determine who is genuinely interested and has passions and dreams they want to accomplish versus someone who is just saying what they think the admissions officers would like to read. So, inevitably there will be a human error associated with such decisions but one that cannot be overcome given the circumstances.

Another potential fault in creating a uniform selection criteria would be that all the students in the class would possess very similar talents and goals. One important factor you neglect to mention is the dynamics and diversity of the class. MIT has one of the most diverse student bodies in the world and the only way they can continue to ensure this is by looking at applicants on a case by case basis which makes this such a subjective process.

I wish Ben or Matt were around when I was applying becuase they provide so much help and information to all prospective applicants and help make the process much smoother. So, you can say anything you want about the admissions officers as a whole but you can't convince me that they don't care or they dont appreciate what applicants go through.

I don't mean to come off too strong, especially becuase I was in your place a couple of years ago and I can appreciate the desire to find out why you were not accepted. However, I do think its fitting that one of the application questions was to talk about a failure you have encountered. To many of you, not being accepted to MIT is a faliure in itself, but what you need to understand is what shapes your character and personality is how you recover from such a faliure and use it as motivation to continue striving to acheive your goals. Why you were not accepted to MIT is a secondary issue in my opinion.

-MIT Student

Posted by: MIT Student on March 17, 2005

Ooh wow, what fabulous posts. And I think most of it so far has been valuable and wholly necessary discussion--certainly well worth reading, at any rate. Devil's Advocate, Concerned Parent, MIT Student, and Mr. McGee each have their own fantastic points to make.

So do indulge my inserting a brief pause into this debate to collect our thoughts. What lessons can we conclude from this? Or better, on what can we agree about this process?

1) It's about determining a fit between you and the school--that's what we trust the adcoms to do

2) There is something holistic--even ephemeral, as DA put--about admissions; some give and take, if you will, that saves the process from completely dehumanizing the applicant.

3) It's also about creating a balanced, dynamic, vibrant class (which is why *passion* is valued so highly). Some institutions dedicated to academic excellence (like MIT, obviously) believe that they can create a statistically identical class out of everyone they waitlisted and rejected--stats only go so far. See point number two.

4) It's not a game; it's not a competition to rack up admit letters. Having said that, just to address Devi's lament: perhaps the MIT admissions office could lead the charge in providing, uh, slightly more information to waitlists and rejects? The fact that you had to post an FAQ to the waitlist people (in which you answered all my questions, Ben--thanks so much!) means that the waitlist letter was a little...slender? skimpy? Can't think of the word right now, sorry. But it may be nice to get a packet of "ok waitlist ppl, here's what you do--don't forget, we really do think you're awesome"; perhaps a brochure or a few pages, rather than just a few paragraphs. Spend some time on it, as much time as you put into the admit packs.

Right. Glad we collected our thoughts. Please, let the discussion continue.... grin

---

A quick response to DoctorMom: perfect scores aren't necessarily indicative of a "too-professional" and pre-packaged applicant, you know... grin

Posted by: someone on March 17, 2005

Ben
i still dunno if I have made it or not...can u track the DHL number and find out if the pacakages have reached india.and can you also check if the posts are been delivered...(to india)

Posted by: sreraman on March 17, 2005

First I would like to say that MIT has one of the best Office of Admissions of any University in the United States, but that doesn't mean it couldn't be better, and I think the rejection letter is something MIT could improve on. Let me explain.

While it is not required, it would be very nice if MIT did give a reason for why a student was rejected with the rejection letter. I know you and Matt have said you can't do that since all the students that apply are great etc..., but there has to be something that makes someone an admitee and someone a rejectee.

It could just be something like, "you were a great applicant, but nothing stuck out about you," or, "you had great grades and all, but we didn't see any passion come though your application," or just a sentence or two explaining what happened during committee meeting when the case was discussed. The people that voted against accepting the person, why did they do it? Their has to be a reason behind their decision.

I know the Dean of Admission at MIT really wants to lessen the stress in applying for colleges, and I think giving students a reason why they were rejected goes a long way to doing that, and here is why:

_Getting a rejection letter suddenly doesn't become all bad news_. Most MIT applicants will probably go on to apply to Graduate School and will again go though the stress of the Admissions process. It would be amazingly helpful to know what worked and what didn't work the first time around so you don't make the same mistake again.

Imagine taking an exam and 80% getting an F on it while 20% gets an A. Then imagine the professor telling those 80%, "oh you all did great, but you still get an F, and I can't tell you what you did wrong."

I know I would be furious with the professor, how are we supposed to learn (and not make the same mistake again) if we don't even know what we did wrong? We need feedback to learn!

I know you guys love connecting with applicants though this blog, do the same for students, let them connect with MIT for just a brief second so they can get a feel for why they were not admitted. With all the effort MIT applicants put in, I think throwing this bone at them isn't too unreasonable of a request.

Lastly, notice this is not crazy ranting, I am not making this "personal," this is calm levelheaded argument here, I am just trying to give MIT constructive criticism to improve the admission process. If I offended you Ben, or anyone else from MIT by saying what I did, I apologize. Thanks for your time.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 17, 2005

Ben, I got the survey today and I thought it was extremely nice that MIT writes a letter to a teacher of our choice who made us the people we are today.

Posted by: Katharine Chu on March 17, 2005

What parents need to understand is that not everyone has a guiding force in applying to college. I am a first-generation college student from a very broken home- while I was in the process of applying to colleges my dad was checked into a rehab clinic for cocaine and my mother kicked me out of the house, presumably because the job I work was keeping me out too late (a by-product of promotion to management). Neither of my parents nor my 2 stepparents knew anything about college apps; beyond that, in Arizona, we do not have the best emphasis on education. I wrote all my essays myself, motivated myself to wake up at 7:30AM to take my SATs; I have even had to pay for SATs and AP testing out of my own pocket.

I appreciate MIT's system of evaluation. If they had one standard look at all applications, I would obviously be at a huge disadvantage than somebody with concerned parents, older siblings who have gone through the app process, and a stable home environment. My academic accomplishments are few- some Academic Decathlon medals and a top score on the AMC-12. But I also work 40-50 hours a week so I can afford food, shelter, clothes, and my car.

How unfair would it be for these top colleges to have a set criteria? Then everyone would be complaining to the elite high schools when their kid got denied in the 8th grade, thus losing them their only chance into MIT or Harvard. Plus, using my case as an example, MIT does not cater to the wealthy. I don't earn million-dollar assets at my $8.50 /hour job.

I could not go out and visit all the colleges I was interested in, so I read websites and blogs to see where and whom I might fit in with. I applied at a wide range of colleges across the country. I think the key is to make the most of what you get. If I had ended up going to my in-state school, U of Arizona, I would have strived to achieve 110% of my potential. I would still have gotten a good education, and by trying my hardest, there is no reason why I should not be offered a good job. You get what you give in. If you go into your college thinking not, "yay college" but "I am a reject," your college experience will inherantly be a bad one.

My last little soundbyte is for parents. I am in awe of you guys, that you are on this site, looking out for your child's future. It is commendable in many ways and I wish that I could have had more of that in my life. But on the other side of the coin, your kids are nearing 18 years old; you cannot write their application for them. I think that the writing of an 18 year old is markedly different than that of a 40 year old's, no matter how mature the student. Listen to your kid, and let them apply where they want to. Read the essays they wrote and offer constructive critism but don't force them to write something that's not true to themselves. That's the problem I noticed when reading some of my friends' essays: the words I read did not match the person I thought I knew. Take a step back. Provide love, comfort, support, a high-five, and a shoulder to cry on. But if your son is smart enough to go to MIT, if your daughter really has what it takes, let him or her show it on the application- the ultimate reflection of them.

Posted by: AZ student on March 17, 2005

"I wrote all my essays myself, motivated myself to wake up at 7:30AM to take my SATs; I have even had to pay for SATs and AP testing out of my own pocket."

I know that it is harder for you. But EVERYONE should write the essays for himself. I cannot believe that someone do not do it, and is accepted. I really appreciate that you try to go to college! Really, I am happy because such people has greatest motivation, and will likely change the world. But look, your SAT, AP, and essays are YOUR matter. No one should rely on parents in such a situation. It is not the definition of broken house. You will always be responsible for your matters, and no one else.

Posted by: jpsi on March 17, 2005

All in all, I am happy that I will meet you smile.
We should found a club of extreme workers.
Everyone can become a member who works more than 100 hours a week wink.

Posted by: jpsi on March 17, 2005

has anyone's MYMIT portal changed?

Posted by: applicant on March 17, 2005

Benn,
Has anyone got selected or placed in wait list from chennai(india)

Posted by: prin on March 17, 2005

Well, i got the rejection letter (finally!)

Thanks Ben, and Matt, for all you've done. Its been a pleasure. Maybe ill haunt these blogs for a few weeks and months to come, but i guess the journey ends here, atleast for me.

And yet, somehow, life goes on...

Can you (or anyone) please let me know if there is anyway i can still associate with MIT? Perhaps on another plane, perhaps some online forum, anything.

Posted by: shashank on March 17, 2005

But Ben, I need to say this.

Its not fair for you to say that the applicants should not take this personally. And its not fair for the rejection letter to say that you didnt get in just because of class size. I recognize that class size is an important factor, but i think MIT is leaning too much on that. At the end of the day, the fact remains that over 8000 students have had their hopes shattered and saying that class size is the only factor is downright bad. The fact remains that someone was picked over me - meaning that someone was better than me. Class size doesnt matter here - that chap is in because he is better than me. If you donot agree to that, then you have to seriously look into your admissions procedure. How do you pick one applicant over an equally competent one? The only way i can imagine is by tossing a coin. And by doing so the hopes and dreams of one of them are utterly shattered. So please dont say 'You're qualified but we're too small'. That leaves too many 'What if's in my mind and i wont be able to get on with my life - no matter what Calvin's Dad says.

Posted by: Shashank on March 17, 2005

How many Indians got in?

And i wanted to ask this, but i was afraid of the answer. Now that i got my rejection, i can as all i want.

Do the admissions officers think twice about acceptin Indian applicants because of low yield from India or something like that? I was reading some article where the IITs were compared to MIT in some US TV show. Do you wonder if that student would rather go to the IIT than MIT, ie, that hes using MIT as a safety? Ive been trying my best but for some reason i am not able to explain why there are so few Indians at MIT. Do you actively limit the number of indian acceptees to 5?

I'm sorry if this post sounds rude, and i mean no offence to anyone - i just want to figure out what americans think of indian students.

Posted by: Shashank on March 17, 2005

shashank,I guess 4 indians got in

Posted by: applicant on March 17, 2005

I would also like to tell u that , MIT admission process is random to a large extent

Posted by: applicant on March 17, 2005

I guess admission officers at MIT know that half the applicants from India put in whatever crap they can think of as extracurricular, because there is no such thing as "pursuing your passion through your ECs" here in India. Good student = better grades. Period.

So maybe they don't believe there *are* "normal" truthful students and thus prefer to select the total bombastic candidates with super academic qualifications from India (you know... newspaper headlines), rather than the poor sod who *thought* s/he is passionate about learning and creating new things, but didn't make it to a national TV. And come on, 4 nerds from India will fill in the gap that selecting 100 passionate, sparkly people from the other parts of the world would create.

But that does leave the other half (who are honest in their application) in dead waters. Sad but true.

Posted by: Prashant on March 17, 2005

And as for knowing why one was rejected - I think it will be cool for rejected students to get feedback on their applications but that would only create more problems than solving the one at hand. For one, it will lead to back-and-forth arguments, and MIT doesn't want do keep discussing an application over again. I think it's only practical not to give any feedback...

Posted by: Prashant on March 17, 2005

prashant,
I agree with u ..but not all indians r like that.

Posted by: sreraman on March 17, 2005

sreraman - that's exactly my point. Not all indians are like that.

Posted by: Prashant on March 17, 2005

Though I haven't got my decision as yet, I agree 100% with prashant.

Even our interviewers in India have said the same thing : "If you're not an academic superstar (ie no RSI, IOI, IMO, IChO, IPhO medals) then applying to MIT, is more or less a waste of time".

This isn't our opinion, but what we gather from our EC's.

There are many students who aren't even aware of these competitions, for eg I know some EXTREMELY BRILLIANT people who would have made it to the country's IOI, IMO IChO & IPhO teams. Also there are many bright citizens who live in other parts of the world and hence are unable to compete in the qualifying rounds.

And to add to Prashant's 'honest' part. It is very true, you will be suprised at how many accepted applicants lied on their applications.
My suggestion is that in the future please do verify all Extra Curricular Activities & even teacher rec's for all intl students. (The best thing would be to talk to the Principal of the school, although this may be expensive, its completely worth it)

As you see there is much work to be done in the intl admissions 'area'. Sorry to litter your blog with these comments, and I know you weren't involved with intl admissions but this is probably the only place where intl applicants like myself can express our views.

btw you looked better with your beard :D

Posted by: Just trying to Help :-) on March 17, 2005

Wow, what an interesting discussion.

First and foremost, let me commend all of you who are discussing this as this is, by far, one of the most intelligent and objective discussions about admissions I've ever seen (and I've seen a few, thanks to the advent of the Internet).

Anonymous Coward says "I know I would be furious with the professor, how are we supposed to learn (and not make the same mistake again) if we don't even know what we did wrong? We need feedback to learn!"

But you see, Anonymous Coward, it is exactly this viewpoint that these blogs have tried so hard to fix. You did not do anything wrong.

Nobody who got rejected or waitlisted did anything wrong. There is no mistake to fix. It's not as if anything you did was inherently a bad thing or something MIT frowned upon.

Put frankly, MIT admissions is not about getting a leg up on someone else by doing something "right" or "better" than them, because MIT evaluates the person, not the achievements or grades or numbers.

I was admitted, but I did nothing but present myself on the application. I come from a poor/low middle class family and am a first-generation college student. I also happen to go to one of the most prestigious high schools in the nation. This, in turn, obviously gives me more opportunities than some others, and I'm sure this was taken into account.

I didn't try to do anything right or wrong on my app. My essays were about me and what I like to do. They were not about trying to please the AdCom by doing something "right." If you are you and they think you are a good match and would fit in well with the class they are trying to create, then you are good. Other than that, there isn't anything you did "wrong" to not get in.

At this point I'm just repeating myself.

Shashank says, "The fact remains that someone was picked over me - meaning that someone was better than me. Class size doesnt matter here - that chap is in because he is better than me."

No. Someone was picked over you not because they are better than you. They were picked over you because they'd fit better with the social and cultural atmosphere at MIT. Period.

AZ Student wrote, "My last little soundbyte is for parents. I am in awe of you guys, that you are on this site, looking out for your child's future. It is commendable in many ways and I wish that I could have had more of that in my life. But on the other side of the coin, your kids are nearing 18 years old; you cannot write their application for them. I think that the writing of an 18 year old is markedly different than that of a 40 year old's, no matter how mature the student. Listen to your kid, and let them apply where they want to. Read the essays they wrote and offer constructive critism but don't force them to write something that's not true to themselves. That's the problem I noticed when reading some of my friends' essays: the words I read did not match the person I thought I knew. Take a step back. Provide love, comfort, support, a high-five, and a shoulder to cry on. But if your son is smart enough to go to MIT, if your daughter really has what it takes, let him or her show it on the application- the ultimate reflection of them."

I could not agree more. Everything AZ Student said there is what I would say as well. This is what my parents did, or rather, didn't do (sorry, trying to be cute, heh).

Ben, please feel free to correct me on any of this if I'm wrong, which I very well might be.

Later,
Mike.

Posted by: Michael Borohovski on March 17, 2005

I have n't recieved my letter or courier yet...
tommorow i will call up MIT..but i guess a loads of other s will also do so. so ben,canu email me at [email protected] and inform me of it

Posted by: sreraman on March 17, 2005

AZ Student and Mike B,

Your comments about are so insightful. My sentiments exactly, except you say it all SOOoo much better than I ever could. But then again, no wonder ... you're (to be) MIT students!! Congratulations on your amazing lives, drive, and maturity. It is truly a privelege to meet you through this blog. And, thank you Ben, for your inspiration in being the great "communicator" and enabling us to connect via your blog.

Posted by: DoctorMom on March 17, 2005

Michael Borohovski - Its way easier to say all that AFTER you are admitted.

If you hadn't been accepted, although you might not agree, you wouldn't have said this "No. Someone was picked over you not because they are better than you. They were picked over you because they'd fit better with the social and cultural atmosphere at MIT. Period"

btw,
Congrats on your achievement and have a great time at MIT grin

Posted by: admittied dude on March 17, 2005

About that part where you (michael) say that they fit in better - well, i was discussing that with someone today : -

xxx : and passion? HAH
yyy : Calm down xxx...
xxx : what more passion there is to learn %%%% all by yourself without even having a book to begin with
xxx : what calm down.... i am calm.
xxx : very
xxx : if they reject ppl like you and me
yyy : You sound as though you just got your rejection letter.. if you are getting one
xxx : and take a guy who built rocket out of school's pocket
xxx : well good for them
xxx : i applied to mit knowing it was hard
xxx : but i knew i fit the profile
yyy : Well, in their defense, they claim to look for people who fit in. Therefore, since they have really deep pockets, the guys who will fit in are the guys who have experience tapping the pockets
xxx : but sadly, no

I know its a little too harsh - we're all rather emotional now. But read between the lines.Is that what you mean?

"then again, no wonder ... you're (to be) MIT students" That makes us rejected chaps bouyant with jubiliation, does'nt it.

Posted by: Shashank on March 17, 2005

Oh yes, thats a real conversation, copied (cut&paste;) from Yahoo messenger and the names changed to xxx and yyy.

Posted by: Shashank on March 17, 2005

And Ben, Sorry for that outburst as well - you can delete that post if you want, but please try to do so after michael has had a chance to read it.

Posted by: Shashank on March 17, 2005



Michael said: "MIT evaluates the person, not the achievements or grades or numbers."

This is one statement that MIT has been harping on for far too long. This was what caught my eye during the initial phases of the applyication process. Everything that MIT said seemed so right, it almost felt like the utopia of college admissions. However, my worst fears have come true after these decisions; seeing many of the otherwise "perfect matches" for MIT being denied admission in favour of others who have a high number/stature of personal distinctions.

Please note: I am speaking from the point of view of an Indian, rather than the entire applicant pool.

My good friend, jpsi, got accepted from Poland. All the people who knew him believed that if he didn't get in, no one else will. This was because all of us were quite aware of his capabilities, and his intense desire to learn and innovate. He himself, however, was very apprehensive about his chances of being admitted; owing to his lack of international or national distinctions (hey, he had only a 15th rank in his district for Biology olympiad). In his case, MIT made a perfect decision by admitting him. This was further compounded by the fact that Poland typically sees about 10 applicants every year.

However, all of this takes a U turn when it comes to high-volume applicant pools like India (hundreds of applicants). I am specifically targetting my arguments to India because that is where I come from and that is the place I am most familiar with.

One of my friends' EC, during the interview, acted "like [he] had committed a crime by applying to MIT and that [he] should rather stay in India and try for IIT or other engineering colleges."

This is the general viewpoint shared by most people here. Those who went to the US to study did so after completing their undergrad studies in India, often from one of the IITs. It probably irks them that students of the present generation can go to the US without having the money and without the inhuman effort needed to get into the IITs. This is one reason almost all alumni interviewers (note the "almost") of major schools tend to discourage Indian students from applying altogether.

As you might know, admission to Indian colleges is based totally on academic grounds, often on merely an "entrance test." This has caused a lot of emphasis to be placed on academic excellence. We have a saying in Hindi, which translates into "If you play, you'll become a bad person. If you study, you'll become a wealthy one."

There is no stimulus at school. Students study for the exams which will follow. In these conditions, the "MIT" kind of student will undoubtedly seek to satiate his/her quest for knowledge by exploring other avenues than concentrating on getting great results. Don't misunderstand me - good grades in US schools is vastly different from good grades in Indian schools. The only grades that matter are the 10th and 12th year external exams. Students are made to believe that these two exams are the bastion of their whole existence as a student. So basically, we go to school, study, return home, go to school, study return home... at the end of the year, we sit for the exams and then that's it.

In these conditions, does it not show passion that a student decides to go against it, and explores things on his/her own initiative? Is it necessary for such a student to prove his worth by a certificate? Isn't MIT placing far too much emphasis on tangible proof (in terms of awards, grades)? All awards, distinctions and achievements are so circumstantial.

Achievements are circumstantial, however the hype it generates causes people to do weird things. Look up this: http://www.rediff.com/news/2005/feb/26nasa.htm

Applicants are tempted to make up a lot of stuff for the Extra-curricular activies section, simply because there aren't any real ones to write about. I, for one, put things like 'Computer programming', 'MIDI sequencing' and 'Self-taught musician' because our school has no Math club or Robotics fest (or ANY clubs for that matter). In the 5 years I have studied at my school, there was but one cultural fest, the "Annual day", where us seniors were barred participation because our final exams were coming up. That is the state of extra-curricular involvement here.

MIT and other schools tend to assume that the best students to admit are those who have some significant distinction. Definitely, MIT needs to shed this assumption. There are real live people who MAKE opportunities, rather than being given one. There are several people who get "left out", several who do not have access to the excellent counseling services, several who are not able to participate in "Robotics competitions" or Science fairs because none were held, several who are not able to learn glass-blowing because there's no one to teach, several who have not read Feynman's Lectures on Physics because it's not available where they live.

When it comes to selecting students from India and similar 3rd world countries, MIT must really look through the awards, achievements and grades, and try to understand the person behind them. I know they claim to do so, but there seems to be a total discord between people who are admitted through this process, and people who *should* be admitted..

Let me ask a question - who will benefit from attending MIT the most: one who already has a lot of excellency awards, achievements and research experience; or one who *could* have had? I applied to MIT for precisely this reason. I believed I might flourish, given the resources, at a place which encourages learning rather than earning.

You might wonder why an applicant would try to "teach" an admission officer what to look for. Let me ask one last question - In a game of boxing, who feels the punches: the boxer or the referee?

Posted by: Prashant on March 17, 2005

Oh, by the way, please don't assume I wrote all that in anger of being rejected... hehehe. I haven't yet received a decision wink

Posted by: Prashant on March 17, 2005

"I would also like to tell u that , MIT admission process is random to a large extent"

WHAT?!?!? This is my LIFE we're talking about her, and yours, and Prashant's, and Devil's Advocate's, and so many others. We are not playing games of chance here - we're applying to college.

And for all you you say MIT isnt the only place in the world - I agree totally. But (yes, there is a but here as well)

'When you don't know where you want to go, any road will take you there'

I know exactly where I want to go, and being at MIT could have helped me along the way. Now that i've got the rejection letter, i need to consider the fact that the destination may have been just placed out of my reach.

Posted by: Shashank on March 17, 2005

I completely agree with prashant. I guess you guys over at MIT can let us send in stuff to prove our ECs. I know you have the optional essay but that's just a thousand words - one of my programs i wrote for fun (a Single player version of TicTacToe)has code that runs into 6 or 7 pages, not including any references to the interface design

Posted by: Shashank on March 17, 2005

Since prashant's link doesnt seem to be working, ill give you the basics on what happened. A kid from somwhere in Northern India, UP i believe, claimed that he topped an exam conducted by NASA for school student - got the 1st rank in the world. He also claimed that Abdul Kalam, the President of India and also a Missile Scientist, got the 7th rank when he participated many years ago. There was a lot of media attention and the district administration and state government even congratulated the guy publicly.

It turned out that NASA never even conducted such an exam - and ths came out when NASA announced it themselves.

Oh, and btw, not all INdians are like that.

Posted by: Shashank on March 17, 2005

Wow. Master of public relations...
But such masters are also in schools.
People who mastered the techniques of cheating on final exams and tests. Right?

Posted by: jpsi on March 17, 2005

Hey Shashank and Just trying to help... i totally diasagree with you.. I am a National topper in CBSE Sience and i have still got rejected from MIT.. listen... even in India.. if you want to apply to IIT you have to take th admission test.. (which is way tougher than filling out an application form) and out of the lakhs of students that appear for the screning.. only about 10-20 thousand are selected for the mains and out of that only 2-3000 students are selected nationwide for atending the 7 institutes.. they too see that they have limited number of seats.. that is why after the screening.. they have the mains.. otherwise.. they would select students directly after the screening test. For BITS youi have to give the GATE in which you have to be among the top somethins... .. Why dont they admit other people??? just because of a limited number of seats.. and about the holding a national award thing.. as i said.. i have recieved a national award from CBSE still i got rejected... Shashank... Your grades dont count as much as.. the image of yourself that you portray to the admissions officer.. oh yeah.. by the way.. how do you know the indians who got in are nerds>???

Posted by: Rejected Indian on March 17, 2005

"I am a National topper in CBSE Sience"

haha thats meaningless - many ppl get the highest in Science (I got it too), and you dont even know shashank's credentials - he qualified for the Physics, Chem & informatics National Olympiad.

Posted by: yo on March 17, 2005

"i have recieved a national award from CBSE still i got rejected"

Well most of the applicants have multiple national awards. I have 2-3 and one international. Does it matter? That's exactly what I'm trying to say - awards don't matter, even though they might be in your favor.

Posted by: Prashant on March 17, 2005

admittied dude, wrong.

I was rejected from Olin before I was accepted at MIT. My views have not changed at all.

Olin and MIT had equal priority in my college list, and though getting rejected was obviously hurtful, it wasn't the end of the world. I understood it did not demean the value of any of my achievements or me as a person. I guess I've developed a hard outer shell for failure and instead of brooding, choose to move on and hopefully learn something from the experience.

Shashank, no. That is not what I mean. It's not about "tapping the pockets." You may think you fit in at MIT, and you very well might. I mean, I certainly thought/think I did. I know of one person who got Waitlisted and is one of my closest friends who would fit in PERFECTLY and has higher numbers than me. It's about where you fit in in the class they try to create. It's about IF you fit in the class they try to create.

Prashant, I disagree with you here as well. Distinctions are just as important as passion. If one cannot manage the time enough to both do well in school and work on their passions and take the opportunities presented to them (however few or many there may be), then they would not be able to handle the rigorous coursework at MIT and contribute to the campus culture at the same time.

Shashank again, it's not random. Nothing has been placed out of your reach. Nothing is EVER out of your reach if you work hard and place it within your reach. My sister dropped out of high school in 10th grade. My parents have both worked hard their entire lives to make the meager amount we make now. Sure, they struggle, but they're happy.

Later,
Mike.

Posted by: Michael Borohovski on March 17, 2005

Michael, I understand that you were rejected at Olin, deferred at MIT and subseqeuently accepted. Thus you obviously know what you're talking about.

However, when you say one must be able to strike a balance between school work and other activities, you are speaking from your (or shall I say, the place where you come from) perspective. I am speaking from my perspective (which happens to apply to most Indian students as well). Over here, one does not need to balance school work and other activities, because one is not SUPPOSED to indulge in any other activities. Get me? We are supposed to keep studying all the time, and it's hard to convince others to let us spare a moment or two to sit on the computer and write a program, or pick up my guitar and start to play.

I sent to MIT a short list of some of my major software projects. Why did I create all of that? Not for a competition, not to sell them, not for anything in fact. I just created them because I like to, and that was what I was 'passionate' about. One of those projects involved audio compression, and I spent long hours at my computer trying to learn about current compression technologies. Every 2 minutes, mom would scold me and ask me to go study chemistry.

I hope I was clear enough?

Posted by: Prashant on March 17, 2005

So, when you talk about handling the course work at MIT, I will find it more stimulating, exciting and encouraging. I will know that this is what I had wanted to study all my life, and that this is what I'm supposed to do. So I won't have a problem "balancing".

At MIT, I won't be spoon-fed anything - I'll have to learn it. That is what is lacking in schools here.

Posted by: Prashant on March 17, 2005

I agree with others, interesting discussion. The arguments seem to support the "just world" phenomenon; the more priveleged (accepted) claim justice, while the less (rejected) claim otherwise. The reality of the situation is just in numbers - of the 10,000, 8,000 have to be rejected. I personally am glad I applied, and I'm upset that my goal since the age of nine has ended, but that's just how it goes. Anyway, shouldn't an engineer know how to adapt to new circumstances?

Posted by: Stevo on March 17, 2005

Things will really take a turn if I find out tomorrow or day after that I have gotten in =) That will be a funny situation to be in smile

Posted by: Prashant on March 17, 2005

This is the most amazing thread to hit my blog yet. Thank you all - truly - for your input here. Though we may never have a solution that will satisfy everyone, a rational debate such as this can only help push us closer.

To be honest, much of what I would have said in response to today's posts has been said by others. This community is doing an amazing job of looking at all sides, and keeping it friendly. I really appreciate that.

I'll say just a couple of things to steer the conversation...

First, no one has presented an analogy that mirrors the *huge* number of factors - both subjective and objective - that enter into any given admissions decision. I'm not sure it's even possible. That doesn't make your related arguments any less valid; I'm just pointing it out.

Second: those of you who want to further quantify the process - how would you do it without sacrificing the human element?

Third: to clarify, if you put two identical candidates side by side and asked me why one got in while one did not, yes I could tell you, no matter which members of the committee made the decision. But the point I was trying to make (when I said this wasn't possible) is that it's never simply a matter of A versus B. It's choosing 1000 people out of 10,500 applicants. It's also not you versus the 1000 people who got in - can you imagine how long it would take if we compared apps that way? That would be something like 10500 factorial, right? (Sorry, I'm no good with math.)

Let the wonderful thread continue... (I'll comment in a sec to the unrelated questions that have been posed throughout.)

Posted by: Ben on March 17, 2005

I think it's pretty clear that there lies an inherent flaw in the admissions system - especially in international admissions. In our attempts to "humanize" the process, we sacrifice clear-cut logic and expediency. Those seeking a "reason" for their rejection try too hard to map "elite" college admissions onto a formula... that there exist variables X and Y and Z and if you have 2 more of X then it'll compensate for 3 less of Z...

For those 1500 or so beaming in pride each year, there will be 8500 burdened with disappointment. At a college as competitive as this, there will always be more rejections than acceptances and unless MIT decides one day to implement an entrance exam for admission, there will always be those rejected wondering "why not me?" and those accepted measuring themselves up against the others and wondering "why me?".

Ben says that those accepted were accepted for a reason, but not necessarily those rejected. Believe him. When committee members pick up your application, they try their best to look past the pieces of paper at you. Not only will they imagine you acing the 8.03 final and receiving the Nobel prize, but they'll imagine you as someone's roomate and someone's friend. Not every contribution a students makes to MIT is measurable through academia. Because, as it has been pointed out before, it's not just a school, not just a stepping stone on your way to fame and fortune, but a community and a home.

I'm not the best at analogies but I like to think of it as building a mosaic with tiles. Sure, we'd all like to use the strongest, most brilliant, most vibrant tiles to create our art, but we would never want each piece to be identical. Past a certain standard of quality, one more scratch simply does not make any sort of a difference. Each individual piece becomes a part of the big picture, collaborating with and complementing those around it. They would need blue for the sky and green for the grass and white for the clouds. Maybe for this year's mosaic, they only needed a single silver tile for the star in the sky. What about the other 12 silver tiles? Should they lament in self-pity and brand themselves as failures doomed to a tragic ceramic life? Should they take it personally and examine themselves over and over again magnifying every single crack and blemish on their surface?

No! Because each of those little tiles will find its place sooner or later. MIT didn't need them. So what? They'll find their niche and be something great without it. You're 18 years old, you have a whole life opening before your eyes. Getting into a "dream" college may seem to be the most important thing in your life now, but in 20 years, after you have failed and succeeded, after you have road-tripped and sky-dove, after you have loved and been loved, trust me, you won't even remember the skinny little letter you received this week.

I don't wish you to get into Harvard, or Caltech, or another big name school to validate your existence, I simply wish you peace. Peace, confidence, and trust. May we all find our places in the biggest picture of them all smile

Posted by: lulu on March 17, 2005

Yeah tongue laugh Number of ways to compare two applicants from a pool of 10,500 is 10500(C)2 = (10500!)/(2!*(10498!))

By the way, how about creating another post now.... this page takes helluva lot of time to load.

Posted by: Prashant on March 17, 2005

Responses to off-topic questions:

Indian - I believe it's 9AM EST, although I just found out that they are going to change MyMIT tomorrow (instead of next week) for admitted students. If your MyMIT account doesn't include an admitted students portlet by the end of the day on Friday, your application has likely been waitlisted or rejected.

Megan - thanks for your post. I don't have any involvement with transfer admission; I only know that it's very competitive (we take only a few each year). As Fabrice says, we don't have an appeals process unfortunately; all decisions are final. I wish I had some better news for you - I am sorry. hmmm

Nehalita - we are familiar with most competitions (definitely FIRST of course!) and know the time it takes to participate. It's still a good idea to tell us in your words what your role is in the club. And yes, we're pretty good at determining what is just a "space filler." grin

Sreraman - due to the "dhl fiasco," DHL has pulled MIT tracking (which means even for us). :-(

Prin - I am not sure - haven't seen any stats yet and I didn't have any involvement with India this year either as a reader or at committee.

Shashank - I am sorry to hear your news. Please do keep in touch - you are always welcome on my blog & you have my email too. I'd love to hear of your future adventures.

Applicant - I don't think I would call it random. Subjective in some ways, certainly, but not random.

Sreraman - I'm not allowed to email decisions, but your MyMIT portal should change tomorrow if you have been accepted.

Posted by: Ben on March 17, 2005

Prashant - will do when I get back from this mtg I am late for...

Posted by: Ben on March 17, 2005

10500(C)2 - The only possibility is to use genetic computers. hahaha

1) Convert application to nucleotide sequence.
2) PCR every sequence [Look, it is 10500 sequences! Normal machine have several tens of wells. Let's say 96, because I've seen DASH for 96 tubes smile.].
3) Make a huge soup with all the fragments...
4) Now you have every possible combination [if only in the PCR reaction was enough enzymes and nucleotides]. Not only pairs to compare, but also whole classes! All process of analysis took prboably several minutes [I will count it later, if you do not mind], if provided properly.
5) Hehe. Now, you should isolate all fragments [separately] and check which one you like most:).

I have one method of separating such a soup, where there is no length, sequence and not enough fluorescent dyes to do it in a normal way.
But description will be long, and performing would take muuuch longer.
[not serious]
-------------------------------------------------
Ok: an easy method...

Dynamic admission specific hybridization [see DASH dynamic in google]:
-----------------
1) You project ideal class, and turn it to the sequence code.
2) PCR all sequences of ideal members of class.
3) Make DASH with all converted applications. Each different ideal member sequence should be added to each individual set of applicants. Hence, it is reasonable to use chip-dna.
4) Check which aplicant's sequence gives the highest intensity of light. Highest from each reaction with an ideal member.
5) End of committee.
--------------------------------------------------

And hey, it is half-serious. Computer will be doing such operations as comparing 10500(C)1700 to obtain classes... ouch. It could take more time than preparing all of it!
(170 ! = 7.25741562

Posted by: jpsi on March 17, 2005

I got my rejection letter today.

I had lots of fun coming to this blog and reading all your posts Ben. Thanks for all the work you've done for us.

Bye bye MIT.

Posted by: Dongyon Kang on March 17, 2005

jpsi and your silly NP ways of calculating things! smile

Ben when should I send in the response form? Can I do it right now, or not before a certain date?

Posted by: amrik on March 17, 2005

Lulu - wonderful analogy - thank you.

Dongyon, I am sad with you today my friend. Thank you so much for your compassion and good spirit in these communities over the past few months. Please keep in touch.

Amrik - whenever you'd like! grin

Posted by: Ben on March 17, 2005

By request, this thread has been continued in the next post due to size.

Posted by: Ben on March 17, 2005

Comments have been closed.

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