Oct 19, 2006
Thoughts On The MIT Interview
Posted in: Freshman Applicants
First and foremost: I am an EC, and EC's don't make admissions decisions. We are just people who once went to MIT (maybe in a time when it was easier to get into MIT than it is now) and have insights into the Institute (or how it was thirty years ago; in our internet age you might know more about it than we do now).
We don't make admissions decisions, but we do send notes on your behalf to the admissions team so they know a bit about what it is like to meet you. We hope this creates an opportunity for a more personal admissions process, that, after all, shouldn't be summed up on a few sheets of paper.
And I get to meet lots of young and interesting people who want to go to MIT. For me, it's a fun and special thing to do, and I really have enjoyed meeting everyone I have had the privilege to interview.
OK, you are probably scheduled for an interview, and would like to prepare. Here is my advice:
You of course know exactly what it is that we are seeking. Gleaned from countless sources now available, you realize we are seeking gifted students with both breadth and depth. We'd like you to be clearly destined for that next breakthough discovery (assisted of course by the double major you'll finish in three years here), but we also hope that you have side interests in archaeology, music, history and, oh yes, almost forgot... of course you are an excellent athlete (...have we told you how many people at MIT play sports?) Then just sprinkle in charm, humor, and, oh yes, leadership skills. You are a leader, aren't you? Well, AREN'T YOU??
Don't fall for it.
Yes, yes, there is a disappointingly low admit rate. Believe me, meeting all of you, it breaks my heart and I believe also breaks the heart of the admissions readers that we can't take a considerably larger number than we do. But the numbers are the numbers.
What we may realize more than you at this point is that the mythical person described above just does not exist. If they did, they would probably be an insufferable bore. Now maybe some of you think I just described you perfectly. If so, you should consider the fact that when I say insufferable bore, I might be talking about you.
Don't let the low admit rate psyche you into packaging yourself. In my opinion, it will work against you. Remember that should you go to this challenging school and become all that we hope you can, that you will have failures along the way, have lulls in your progression, pauses that slow you down but also get you to think, to introspect, and possibly to learn.
In your life so far, you have of course also found things that don't work for you and things you don't like and things that don't like you. Just like the marks in leather, these flaws make you YOU, give you character, make you unique, and bestow on you your humanity. (BTW, the dirtiest secret is that all of us are ourselves quite flawed, and if you appear perfect it is liable just to piss us off.)
So relax when you prepare to meet us, and when you fill out your essays. Preparing is not for now, you have been preparing for seventeen years. Suggesting that you "be yourself" is not a trick just to lower your guard, uncover your flaws, and deny you admission. But lowering your guard might be a good idea. I've talked to lots of candidates - and the ones who are just themselves, who can laugh at their mistakes and struggles, who seem comfortable in their own skin - inevitably show a bit more maturity, and inevitably make the best impression. Just my two cents.
Just be yourself. It's not a trick.
Let me know what you think...