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Understanding the process: What we look for

The match between you and MIT

Ask any admissions officer at MIT, and they will tell you that while grades and scores are important, it’s really the match between applicant and the Institute that drives our selection process.

Here are the key components:

Alignment with MIT’s mission

Remember that there are many ways to make the world better—we’re not looking for applicants to have cured all infectious disease in the world by the time they’re 15. Tutoring a single kid in math changes the world. Lobbying a senator to amend bad policy changes the world. There are thousands of examples.

Collaborative and cooperative spirit

The core of the MIT spirit is collaboration and cooperation; you can see it all over the Institute. Many of the problem sets (our affectionate term for homework) at MIT are designed to be worked on in groups, and cross-department labs are very common. MIT is known for its interdisciplinary research—passionate people working across their differences to tackle big questions and challenges together. If you enjoy working alone all the time, that’s completely valid, but you might not be particularly happy at MIT.


Opportunities are abundant at MIT, but they must be seized. Research projects, seed money, and interesting lectures aren’t simply handed to students on silver platters here. For those students who take initiative—who take advantage of what’s around them—MIT’s resources are unparalleled.


MIT wants to admit people who are not only planning to succeed but who are also not afraid to fail. When people take risks in life, they learn resilience—because risk leads to failure as often as it leads to success. The most creative and successful people—and MIT is loaded with them—know that failure is part of life and that if you stay focused and don’t give up, goals are ultimately realized.

Hands-on creativity

MIT is an active, hands-on place. Innovation is risky and messy! Getting your hands dirty and trying something new is often the best way to achieve success. We apply theoretical knowledge to real-world problems here; our Latin motto means “Mind and Hand.” In other words, you shouldn’t just enjoy thinking, you should also enjoy doing.

Intensity, curiosity, and excitement

In a nutshell, you should be invested in the things that really mean something to you (we’re not particularly picky as to what). Explore! Choose quality over quantity—you don’t have to do a million things to get into college. Put your heart into a few things that you truly care about and that will be enough.

The character of the MIT community

Our community is comprised of thoughtful people from a wide variety of backgrounds and worldviews who take care of each other and lift each other up; they inspire each other to work and dream beyond their potential. Students regularly work alongside faculty and staff to shape MIT policies and further our mission to make the world a better place. We’re looking to admit people who feel responsible to their communities and will help sustain the heart of MIT’s.

The ability to prioritize balance

Despite what you may have heard, this place is NOT all about work. To be successful here, you must prioritize some measure of downtime. Therefore, we like to see that you’ve prioritized some downtime in high school as well. Our application’s essay question (Tell us about something you do simply for the pleasure of it.) is not a trick question. Answer it honestly.