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Matt McGann '00

Nov 20, 2004

What’s the big deal about 40^2?

Posted in: Best of the Blogs, Process & Statistics

Okay, so I'm in the middle (towards the end) of a long day of reading right now, but I thought I'd take a quick break to tell you a little about the last application I read.

People make a big deal about test scores. No one seems to believe me when I tell them that when I'm reading an application, I just glance at the test scores to get a sense of them before moving on to the more important parts of the application -- that is, who you are. But here's an example. So, I'm reading this application of a student, a pretty strong student, who's definitely overcome some challenges recently. I come to the second to last piece in the folder, which is the guidance counselor letter (the last piece is the interview report). The GC makes a big deal of the student's "scoring the magic 1600 on the SAT." Now, when I started the case, I mentally noted to myself, "Okay, this student has scores that are fine, let's move on," but it didn't really make an impact on me that the student had "the magic 1600." Yes, scoring a 1600 is something that you, your school, your parents, and your guidance counselor can be very proud of. But it's not something I'm going to bust out my highlighter for, circle in big red pen, make it the focus of your case. In fact, I don't think I have ever in my summary of a student used high standardized scores as an argument to admit that student.

I wanted to share this with you because this case was one concrete example of just how little we care about the small differences in competitive test scores. A student with "the magic 1600" is not implicitly better to us than a student with "the spellbinding 1400." Scores are one tool we use to help us in admissions. And yes, your grades and test scores (especially your grades) are important. But as I have said in the past, what ultimately really matters to us is who you are, what qualities you bring to the table. We want people who are academically curious and passionate, people who will bring their various talents to MIT and share them with others, people who will be good roommates, good mentors, good friends. We do not admit test scores. We admit people.

Let me tell you one more story that I often relay. I was doing a regional reception in a city a few years back, and afterwards a student -- we'll call her Artemis -- comes up to me and tells me that she has a 760 on the Math SAT. As I was about to tell her that her score was just fine, she keeps talking, to inform me that she was going to take the test again, since "clearly" her score was "too low." I was like, "What?!?!" I "ordered" Artemis to not take the Math SAT again, and instead to have a picnic on that Saturday. Because to us, a 760 math is the same as any higher score she could receive on the retest.

One of the reasons why I chose MIT was it was the first school I visited where my student host didn't ask me what my SAT scores were. At MIT, people care about who you are, what you can do, what kind of stuff gets you excited. People at MIT don't compare GPAs (I didn't know any of my friends' GPAs), don't ask about your IQ, and SAT scores are so high school.

Finally, I'm sorry I've been neglecting your questions lately, but I've been quite busy. I do promise to get around to more of them as soon as I can. I'm sure you won't mind if my focus over the next few weeks is on doing my absolute best to read your application.

What you and I are missing tonight at MIT: Theta Playstation Dance Troupe Concert Gilbert & Sullivan's Iolanthe African Students Association TAMASHA! party Concert Choir Holiday Concert

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