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Preparing for MIT: What to do in high school

MIT receives diverse and interesting applications from students in every type of school: public, private, religious, charter, and home school. We understand that high schools have different offerings and families have different resources. It is our job as admissions officers to sift through that context and admit those students who are the best matched with MIT.


An MIT education combines deeply analytic thinking with creative hands-on problem-solving to prepare students to solve the toughest problems in the world.

Our General Institute Requirements demand that all students must take (or place out of, through our credit policies or an Advanced Standing Examination) the following:

  • Two semesters of calculus
  • Two semesters of calculus-based physics
  • One semester of chemistry
  • One semester of biology

In addition to these subjects, students are also required to take a robust set of humanities, arts, and social science classes, regardless of what course of study they choose to pursue.

A strong academic foundation in high school contributes to your own development, improves your odds of getting into MIT, and helps you make the most of the Institute when you’re here. Because a strong foundation in math is so central, and we find prior familiarity with physics to be important for success, students should have math through calculus and at least one year of physics.

Students who are well matched with MIT take the following classes in high school:

  • Math, through calculus
  • One year or more of physics
  • One year or more of chemistry
  • One year or more of biology
  • Four years of English
  • Two years of a foreign language
  • Two years of history and/or social sciences

In general, what you take should be based on your interests and aptitudes. That is, you should focus on taking the most challenging courses available to you in the areas that most interest you.

We know that not all high schools offer the chance to take all these recommended classes, and we take this into consideration when reviewing your application.

As we’ve said above, having a strong foundation in math—especially calculus, the building block for many of our courses—is essential to a student’s success at MIT. If you don’t have access to a calculus class through your high school, there are many ways to access advanced math curricula and demonstrate your knowledge, including:

Additional academic enrichment

If your high school doesn’t offer courses that challenge you, you may want to explore other options, such as dual-enrollment opportunities at local colleges or enrollment in virtual high school options. You will be able to report any courses that you take outside of your high school on your application.


MIT OpenCourseWare provides users with open access to the syllabi, lecture notes, course calendars, problem sets and solutions, exams, and even a selection of video lectures from courses representing ∼34 departments.

Other resources

  • Khan Academy,01 Khan Academy is now recognized by the College Board as their official test preparation source, fully integrated with their suite of assessments. offers personalized—and free—SAT test prep. Founded by MIT alum, Sal Khan, Khan Academy offers world-class instruction to anyone, anywhere, online. Their personalized practice recommendations will help you build your own practice plan, let you take practice tests, and give you tips for taking the test. They also offer AP prep, should you be considering AP exams.
  • MIT Open Learning publishes materials from OCW, MITx, and other non-degree granting courses and enrichment programs, including hands-on STEM activities.
  • There are more structured online environments that function more like traditional classrooms, with assigned homework, regular chat periods, an instructor, grades, and so forth. You may be able to get high school (and sometimes college) credit through these programs. Some of them include SPCS, CTY, and VHS Learning.
  • Many of our students who are mathematically inclined have found Art of Problem Solving (AoPS) an indispensable resource.

Extracurricular activities

Some students feel so much pressure to get into the “right” college that they want to make sure they do everything right—down to their extracurricular activities. We ask for only four activities on our application because we want to know what you are passionate about, what is most important to you—not what you think we want to see.

Choose your activities because they delight, intrigue, and challenge you, not because you think they’ll look impressive on your application. You should find projects, activities, and experiences that stimulate your creativity and leadership, that connect you with peers and adults who bring out your best, and that please you so much that you don’t mind the work involved. Some students find room for many activities; others prefer to concentrate on just a few. Either way, the test for any extracurricular should be whether it makes you happy—whether it feels right for you.

We also recognize that some students may have family or other obligations that might be what they do outside of classes. And that’s okay, we just want to learn more about you, whatever that might be! There is no “right” answer.

College is not a costume party; you’re not supposed to come dressed as someone else. College is an intense, four-year opportunity to become more yourself than you’ve ever been. What you need to show us is that you’re ready to try.

  1. Khan Academy is now recognized by the College Board as their official test preparation source, fully integrated with their suite of assessments. back to text