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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.


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. We recommend (please note that these are not requirements) that your high school years include the following:

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

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 interest you.

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.


MIT’s 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. If you need to narrow your options, you can check out OCW’s Highlights for High School, featuring courses selected specifically to help high school students.


In 2012, MIT and Harvard partnered to create edX, a massive open online course provider and online learning platform. Today edX has dozens of top universities across the globe providing courses in topics like business, electronics, music, and physics, including classes specifically for high school students.

Other resources
  • Khan Academy, founded by MIT alumnus Salman Khan, is also a useful online resource for introductions to different subjects.
  • 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 EPGYCTYOnline, and Virtual High School.
  • 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. Fortunately, the only right answer is to do what’s right for you—not what you think is right for us.

Choose your activities because they delight, intrigue, and challenge you, not because you think they’ll look impressive on your application. Go out of your way to 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.

College is not a costume party; you’re not supposed to come dressed as someone else. College is an intense, irreplaceable 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.