Skip to content ↓

COVID-19

Learn more about how MIT Admissions is responding to COVID-19 in this blog post from our Dean and new dedicated FAQs.

MIT student blogger Nisha D. '21

Applying to College vs. Applying to Jobs by Nisha D. '21

yes you heard me, the application process NEVER ENDS

Most of the readers of this blog post are, in all likelihood, applying to college. This college may even be MIT.

But, readers, if you thought the process of applying to semi-elite institutions ended after college apps, you would be sadly mistaken.

Once you get to college, you might want to apply for an internship. Just like applying to college consumes your life during your senior fall of high school, applying to internships during the school year is quite nearly a full-time job. And just like applying to colleges, you have to apply to a whole bunch of jobs because the application process can be somewhat of a crapshoot.

I’ll add a disclaimer here to say that I’ll mostly be talking about internships in the field of software engineering, which are the predominant type of internships that are available, and also the ones that are most relevant to me as a computer science major.  I’ll add another disclaimer here to say that I’m not very good at Course 6, and as a result, not very good at technical interviews, a prime component of getting a technical internship. Other MIT students who are more capable than me likely have a much easier time acquiring employment. So this blog post is about my personal experiences applying to jobs, and does not necessarily reflect every MIT student’s experience.

The Recruiting Timeline

Unlike college apps, a lot of people apply to jobs every year that they are at MIT. Yes, you heard me – that’s four years of job applications. However, it is generally understood that upperclassmen are preferred for most internship positions.01 some big companies have freshman and sophomore programs though Since seniors are mostly applying to full-time jobs, juniors are the most coveted group for internships. As a junior applying to internships: it’s nice to be wanted, because applying to jobs as a freshman and a sophomore kind of sucked.

A lot of you probably started about thinking applying to colleges way before senior fall. For a lot of juniors, applying to jobs starts way before junior fall. I was furiously applying to 2020 summer internships at the big tech companies02 like microsoft, apple, google while I was still interning at PlayStation this summer, and I was even contacted by a company to have a coffee chat about 2020 internships in April, before my internship for 2019 had even started.

a picture of my jobs spreadsheet

here’s a glimpse at my jobs spreadsheet. i had shortlisted and applied to most of these companies by early september.

The weekend that the MIT Career Fair03 a massive and extremely stressful affair in which ~400 companies fill up two gymnasiums and a track field with booths and you have to walk around and talk to reps from the companies in a desperate attempt to get hired comes around brings a flurry of desperate applications to all the companies that you talked to at Career Fair. For some people, this can be upwards of 30 companies. For me, talking to company reps is a mentally taxing experience, so I only managed to talk to about 15 companies this year. If you’ve ever been to one of those big college expos in which college reps from different places stand around and talk to you, Career Fair is sort of like that.

a picture from my jobs spreadsheet

lotta red on there

The Application Process

Most applications for software jobs are pretty standard. They ask you to fill out a bunch of information, and to attach a resume and a cover letter.

This sounds pretty simple, but unsurprisingly, it’s not very – nothing compared to writing college essays, though. Updating your resume is time-consuming. You have to make sure that literally every word makes you look as good to an employer as possible. You guys can probably relate to this because I remember when I was writing my college essays, literally every single word out of the 250 allowed in each essay counted. For me, updating my resume involves going to resume workshops hosted by various student groups and companies that have come around to recruit, and having my senior friends read it over and tell me what to change. This year, I made the excellent choice of LaTeXing04 LaTeX is a cool formatting program language that's usually used for math textbooks my resume, and it looks hella spiffy.

Writing cover letters is also annoying, but definitely less so. I’ve been reusing the same template for two years now, and just switching around some paragraphs and sentences depending on what type of company I’m applying to. I bet that you guys are doing this with the “Why do you want to apply to [insert college here]” essays, because that’s definitely what I did.

Once you get your resume down, the rest is completed on autopilot. You fill out all the info, reshuffle your cover letter, and hit submit.

Interviews

Job interviews are a lot less fun than college interviews. Most companies have behavioral and technical interviews. Behavioral interviews are definitely my strong suit – they ask questions like “Tell me about a time that you changed a teammate’s mind regarding a key decision on a project” or “Tell me about a project that you’ve worked on”, etc. The interviewers basically just want to see if you’re a good fit for their company.

Technical interviews are my worst nightmare. I’m not very good at thinking through coding problems very quickly, and they usually involve recursive solutions, which I’m especially terrible at coming up with. Imagine if your MIT interviewer started quizzing you on math concepts during your interviewer, and all the math is hard. That’s what technical interviews feel like to me.

Tech companies also sometimes send coding challenges as an initial screen. A coding challenge is basically a quiz on how fast you can come up with good solutions to a few problems – usually, they give you around 90 minutes for two Leetcode-easy/medium05 Leetcode is a website used to practice coding challenge questions, and they are a standard way of describing how hard a coding challenge question is questions. I’m also really terrible at coding challenges – I either come up with sub-optimal solutions to the questions, or simply don’t finish at all, so my success with passing coding challenges has been somewhat limited.

Final round interviews for the big tech companies are usually on-site interviews, which means that they fly you out to wherever their company headquarters are to have a day of interviews with a bunch of their teams. Generally, people with on-sites tend to miss about two or three days of school, and depending what your courseload looks like, this can really suck. You usually get an offer (or don’t) soon after your on-site. I can’t speak too much to the distress usually caused by on-site interviews because I’ve only ever had them at companies close by,06 theoretically, i have a final round on-site interview at a company in seattle, but they haven't told me when it is yet :( but I’ve been told that flying all over the country during the semester for the simple purpose of getting a job is not fun, and can cause you to get pretty behind on classwork. I know that most of you seniors have probably given up on high school by now and are just pouring your soul into your college apps, but sadly, being a student at MIT doesn’t work like that.

Here’s an approximate breakdown of the jobs I’ve applied to and interviews I’ve actually received.

Applied to: ~ 1207 i'd like to emphasize that this is very few companies compared to what most people apply to. i just am very picky in terms of what companies i'm willing to work for, and also have been too hosed to apply to more. companies, probably about 20 positions08 you can apply to multiple positions in a company

First round interviews/coding challenges received: 7

Second/final round interviews received: 5 (waiting to hear back from all of them)

Jobs acquired: currently, none :(

I still have a few companies left to apply to,09 weirdly enough, the job app season is sort of split up into early decision and regular decision so my final count of companies applied to will be higher. And honestly, I have a fairly high success rate in terms of the amount of second round/final round interviews I currently have, but again, I only applied to companies that I am genuinely interested in working for and have the relevant experience for. A lot of people shoot their shot at literally every company they have the bare minimum of qualifications for. I recently read a similar breakdown on Facebook of a girl who applied to 70+ companies and wound up with 2 final offers at the end of it all.

I actually applied to colleges in a very similar way – I only applied to places that I would actually consider going to.10 along with one safety school that I didn't really want to go to, lol Here’s a similar breakdown, but for the colleges I applied to.

Colleges applied to: 5

Colleges that accepted me: 2

To be frank, I’m a little stressed at my lack of job offers, but honestly, most people around me are in the same position – waiting to complete their final round interviews or waiting to hear back on an offer. However, it is stressful to go on LinkedIn and see people updating their job statuses to “Incoming Intern at [insert company here]”. It makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong, even though I don’t think I am.

My goal is to have at *least* one job offer by the end of November, and have decided where I’m going for next summer by the end of the semester. Last year, I had my offer from PlayStation by the middle of November,11 which i was super psyched about because freshman year, i didn't have a UROP for the summer until April lol and I was intending to have an offer even earlier this year, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. Applying to jobs is hard.

To Job or Not To Job

For a lot of MIT students12 mostly the course 6 ones , job app stress permeates their entire fall semester. But, and I would like to emphasize this, this is not everybody’s experience. Some people apply to research programs or UROP over the summer. Some people participate in the MISTI program and work or research abroad over the summer. Some people work on personal projects or startups. And some, perhaps the wisest of us all, go home13 granted, this is unfortunately not super common. most people want to get job experience over the summer because when senior year swings around, having prior work experience is crucial to getting a full-time position. it sucks that things are this way, because a lot of people just have no time to relax the entire year. and recharge for the summer. All of these are valid options. There are probably even more options that I’m not thinking of. Your summers are for you, and you can do whatever you want with them.

To those of you who are applying to MIT and imagining your life here: I don’t want to stress you out. A lot of you won’t be interested in interning at companies over the summer, and won’t have to go through this whole rigamarole. To those of you who do want to intern somewhere: fear not, because you will have more support than you know what to do with. Your upperclassmen will be there to help you, and the CAPD will walk you through every step of the job application process. You will not be applying to jobs blind.

And to those of you who are currently going through the college app or job app processes: Godspeed, comrades.

 

 

  1. some big companies have freshman and sophomore programs though back to text
  2. like microsoft, apple, google back to text
  3. a massive and extremely stressful affair in which ~400 companies fill up two gymnasiums and a track field with booths and you have to walk around and talk to reps from the companies in a desperate attempt to get hired back to text
  4. LaTeX is a cool formatting program language that's usually used for math textbooks back to text
  5. Leetcode is a website used to practice coding challenge questions, and they are a standard way of describing how hard a coding challenge question is back to text
  6. theoretically, i have a final round on-site interview at a company in seattle, but they haven't told me when it is yet :( back to text
  7. i'd like to emphasize that this is very few companies compared to what most people apply to. i just am very picky in terms of what companies i'm willing to work for, and also have been too hosed to apply to more. back to text
  8. you can apply to multiple positions in a company back to text
  9. weirdly enough, the job app season is sort of split up into early decision and regular decision back to text
  10. along with one safety school that I didn't really want to go to, lol back to text
  11. which i was super psyched about because freshman year, i didn't have a UROP for the summer until April lol back to text
  12. mostly the course 6 ones back to text
  13. granted, this is unfortunately not super common. most people want to get job experience over the summer because when senior year swings around, having prior work experience is crucial to getting a full-time position. it sucks that things are this way, because a lot of people just have no time to relax the entire year. back to text