Skip to content ↓

A Cautionary Tale of Two Students by Bryan G. Nance

You may be surprised by how many first year students at MIT believe that they can go it alone and be successful here.

Indulge me for a moment. How many times have we seen the movie in which the hero goes it alone to kill the bad guys, and avenge those who dishonored him by stepping on his sneakers in a crowded auditorium. Why do I mention that now? You may be surprised by how many first year students at MIT believe that they can go it alone and be successful here. Even more surprisingly is the number of students applying to MIT that cling to that Hollywood fantasy.

NEWSFLASH… NO ONE MAKES IT AT MIT/COLLEGE (OR IN LIFE FOR THAT MATTER) ALONE! (Except for Justice Clarence Thomas who claims to have gotten into Yale law school solely based on his own efforts without the help of another living mammal in 1966… less I digress.)

In my humble opinion, the world is comprised of two types of students. Student type 1 – we’ll call her Stephanie – is the type of student who defines the world in which she lives. Student type 2 – we’ll call him Mills – is the type of student who is defined by the world in which he lives.

Lets examine Mills first. Mills is a student who is defined by the world in which he lives, thus he is reactionary in his approach to education. Mills looks to his or her peers for validation or rebuttal. He is overly cautious about the learning process and tends to be obsessed with issues such as GPA, class rank. He is quick to shy away from any action that he believes will negatively affect his chances of getting into a “good school.” Worst of all, Mills is the type of student who tends to overvalue or undervalue himself based on the value system of those around him. A good example of undervaluation is how Mills interprets his SAT scores. He evaluates his scores based on comparisons of his scores as related to the scores his “peers.” We know that if he scores higher than the majority of his or her peers then he may tend to think of himself as superior. However, when he finds others against whom he does not measure as highly… From Mills’ perspective his scores don’t quite measure-up.

Nevertheless, despite his reservations, Mills applies to MIT anyway. Much to his surprise, he is admitted to the Class of 2011.

Let’s back up for a moment and also look at a different example. Mills performed well in high school with little effort. Performing well in the classroom and getting good grades seemed to just came naturally to him. In fact, he was more likely to provide help to his peers than to ever ask for help. In this way, he became overconfident in his academic ability, which of course leads to an overvaluation of his skill set.

The real tragedy for Mills is what comes next. Fast-forward a bit and we see Mills walking the Infinite with the rest of his peers. Except Mills is truly struggling. He is frustrated by his classroom performance. How can this be? Complicating the situation is his feeling that he is the only one “not getting it.” “That’s fine” he thinks. He believes that he only has to work harder and everything will be ok. He must work harder because he fears failure most of all. Those thoughts that he’s kept buried deep are beginning to surface. He remembers the harsh stinging comments of his high school classmates who intimated that he was only admitted to MIT because of affirmative action. Maybe his SAT scores are an indication of his ability. (Nevermind the fact that his scores were well within the MIT’s middle 50% of scores). From here as you can imagine Mills is in quite a pickle.

Where did Mills go wrong?

  1. By working harder not smarter.
  2. By not self-advocating. He was reluctant to ask for help.
  3. By buying into misconceptions on the part of some of his peers that he was admitted b/c of his racial/ethnic identity.
  4. Afraid of failure to the point that his actions became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  5. Afraid to fail, therefore afraid to try.

Now lets take a peek at Stephanie. Stephanie is a student who knows herself. As such, she is more inclined to be proactive than reactive. Stephanie is a bit adventurous as a learner. She is led by her intellectual curiosity rather than by the group-think. She’s the student who will take an advanced course at the local community college because that’s where the intellectual challenge is, not because it will look good on her transcript. Even though she ended the semester with a grade of “B” in the college course instead of the “A” that many of her peers received in the AP class, she still relished her decision. Self advocation is second nature to her. She did not let foolish pride keep her from applying for a fee waiver. She tends to “lean forward” into challenges and when she fails (oh yeah, she will see her share of failure!) she immediately looks for ways to get back on the horse. She tends to learn as much from failure as she does from success. This keeps her humble, honest and in touch with who and what she really is.

The real success is what happens next. Fast forward a bit and we see Stephanie walking the Infinite with the rest of her peers. Stephanie is struggling a bit as well. Here lies the difference. Stephanie is a shameless self-advocater. She is making great use of the support systems available to her. In doing so she has come to realize that everyone at MIT struggles with something at MIT. She is too busy moving forward to actually worry about failure in the way that Mills does. She realizes that this opportunity at MIT should not be taken for granted and taken lightly. She too has fear of failure but is smart enough to use that fear to find ways of working smarter, not harder.

Where did Stephanie go right?

  1. By working smarter.
  2. By being a fearless learner.
  3. By being a shameless self advocator.
  4. Owning and making her own future.
  5. By being willing to change in order to be successful.

Never will you actually see anyone as one-dimensional as Mills or Stephanie, of course. The truth is, if we look deeply we will find a little bit of both of them in all of us. I will end this with just a few conclusions:

  1. Everyone falls down; it’s the winners in life who get up really fast and learn from the experience.
  2. The person who never stops being an adventurous learner is the one who ultimately wins in life.
  3. Make sure that you take the time to find, refine and trust in your voice.
  4. Only after that is done can you make sure your voice is always heard by those around you.

Thoughts?

52 responses to “A Cautionary Tale of Two Students”

  1. Daniel says:

    When I started reading your description of Mills I thought, “This describes me,” but as I read further I also realized that I have some of Stephanie’s idealized temperament.

    I always strive for perfection. Unfortunately, this disposition is a duality; it hinders me by making me overly critical of myself, but allows me to recognize the imperfection of being like Mills. I suppose I will always be a little bit of a mix between Mills and Stephanie.

    Thanks for reminding me to be a little bit more like Stephanie. In the midst of college applications, it is certainly a necessary reminder.

    Have a good Thanksgiving!

  2. This was a very creative allegory. It is so easy, in America anyway, to have a maverick attitude towards your academic and career success. I’m actually reading a great book that addresses that issue right now. It’s call ‘Never Eat Alone’. Highly recommended to anyone struggling with the Mills mindset.

  3. Nimtz says:

    Thank you. This entry reminds me quite a lot of myself and people I know.

  4. Chris Yaluma says:

    This is indeed a great cautionary tale. It has opened my mind and I now know where I stand, in this time of Uni applications. To all applicants out there I say, keep going and return to the baseline everytime you fall, to restart anew.

  5. Mario says:

    Nance, the above post really helped confirm my past thoughts on my classmates and myself. I think the story is a great teacher and aide to those who want to do well in anything. I have failed/fallen down a lot in high school (sometimes I think too much raspberry) but I’ve always managed to get back up. I’ve also had to open myself up to help and outside aid and realize that this is not a sign of weakness but of my desire to learn and improve. Anyways I’m just sharing my thoughts b/c I wanted to show that there are people that fall in the “Mills Trap” (I know I nearly did!) Where do you get such awesome stuff for posts?

  6. theresa says:

    falling into the “mills trap” can be a very common thing sometimes..

    on the other hand though, I had a stephanie moment the other day:
    I needed help in physics, and so did my best friend. However, my friend is in a different period, and I have no classes with her –
    I haven’t seen her for a VERY long time
    luckily, the other day, we both went to the physics room for extra help, and we helped each other out with the problems.
    at the end of two hours (and many ping- pong games later – yes, there is ping-pong in the physics room), both of us had the assignment done with all the right answers (or close to the right answers), not to mention it was a fun memory, too (there were other people there with us playing ping pong, who were throwing a mini soccer ball at us, and we were throwing it back to them)
    hooray for stephanie moments! smile

  7. theresa says:

    falling into the “mills trap” can be a very common thing sometimes..

    on the other hand though, I had a stephanie moment the other day:
    I needed help in physics, and so did my best friend. However, my friend is in a different period, and I have no classes with her –
    I haven’t seen her for a VERY long time
    luckily, the other day, we both went to the physics room for extra help, and we helped each other out with the problems.
    at the end of two hours (and many ping- pong games later – yes, there is ping-pong in the physics room), both of us had the assignment done with all the right answers (or close to the right answers), not to mention it was a fun memory, too (there were other people there with us who were playing ping pong, and were throwing a mini soccer ball at us, – we were throwing it back at them)
    hooray for stephanie moments! smile

  8. theresa says:

    stephanie moment continued:
    my friend (who is also applying to MIT) and I both completely understand physics now – and the timing is great, too: we’ve got a quiz on tuesday and a test on friday.. smile
    sorry for the long post guys, but you get the point– smile
    happy thanksgiving!!!!

  9. Brandy says:

    That was a very nice post. I think you are right, we see a little bit of both in each of us.

    This may come as a shock (as an EA applicant to MIT) but I’m not competitive in the traditional manner. (shhhhh)

    I don’t often use the word “winner” because in my mind to do so would mean there must be a “loser” and to me no one is a “loser” ever, in competitions or in life.

    In a competition, “loser” is the label we give those who don’t come in first. And if these are the labels we use still today, by far, I much rather be called a “loser” than a “spectator”. We let life’s spectators walk away unscathed, while those who attempt and fail feel personal humility.

    In life, those who fall down and never get up, are not losers, they are just people who never achieved, because no one showed them the way. When some of us fall down, we can’t get up unless someone extends to us a helping hand and pulls us up.

    At this point in my life, preparing for college, I am at a place where I am just beginning and though I haven’t fallen (I’m just standing there), I look towards education and people to pull me up, to guide me and show me the way on being a physicist. Without the extending arm of education and people, I will fail in this endeavor and never achieve my goal. Doesn’t make me a loser, just someone who fell down and no one was there to help me up, if I couldn’t find my way. What you say is true Bryan, we can’t do it alone.

    You know to all of those who applied to MIT for fall of 2007, don’t stress it. Why? Because if you get in or not, if you’re a “winner” or a “loser”, you should feel very proud, because in this event, no one can call you a “spectator”.

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

  10. theresa says:

    yeah, who needs spectators anyway? raspberry

    just like in chemistry, the spectator ions get canceled out anyway — (i know, i know, such a geek — raspberry haha smile )

  11. tim says:

    1. poorly written.

    2. way too long.

    3. the point you are making is not clear. (see 1 and 2, above.

    4. a classic example of the “story telling = reasoning” trap. people nonetheless vote for it. you could ask ronald reagan if he were still with us.

    5. my advice is to say what you mean in 15 seconds or less, because you rarely get more than that from a reader.

    yes, i know i dont know how to capitalize or punctuate. and nobody ever takes my advice.

  12. ganas says:

    I don’t know how I got to this post but reading it really meant a lot at this momment. This past week I’ve been really stressed about life after college and how I just don’t measure up to the amazing things other people have done. It almost seems like instead of wasting my team worrying about the person who is in front of me, I need to figure out how I can be in their position.

    Brandy’s analogy reminds me of an ad during the ’96 olympics where this little boy is on the track and then you watch him grow up as he runs around the track and in the end the older him looks back at the starting line at the younger him.

  13. Reg says:

    Mills sounded a lot like me, especially now A Levels are killing my brain and everything seems to hard to manage. But then I see traces of myself with Stephanie as well.

    No wonder this isn’t a one-dimension world! XD

  14. Brandy says:

    Tim, you talking to me…or Bryan? : p

    Poorly written? Too Long? Not clear?

    That is why I’m studying science I like objectivity.

    Subjectivity is neither true nor false merely an illusion our minds concocted. Tell me, is chocolate better than vanilla? Is Vermeer better than Monet? Darn right he is and that is a fact. Is my post really too long? All subjective you see.

    I did get a kick out of your 15 seconds remark and for that may I add to a very famous qoute, I hope Andy doesn’t mind.

    “Everyone will be famous for 15 minutes” unless you’re a blogger that would be 15 seconds!

    3, 2, 1 times up. (actually that was 22 seconds, oopss)

    : )

  15. Bianca says:

    Very, very interesting. After thinking about it for a while, my school is made up entirely of “Mills” with very few “Stephanies.” I don’t know exactly where I lie. Maybe I’m an “Amelia.” Not quite a Mills, but not quite a Stephanie. I tend to worry about grades (with so many students constantly comparing them in front of me), but in the end I can feel proud of myself no matter what I do.

    Great food for thought Bryan.

  16. Thank you all for your (generally) positive comments.

    Tim, Tim, Tim. I am sorry that you are disappointed by this parable. Since you think that this piece was too long or poorly written, may I suggest that you take a peek at Descartes’s theory of knowledge. I believe that you may enjoy his ideas on skepticism. In fact he believed in skepticism as a method of doubting, for lack of a better word, everything.

    Brandy , you too may find his writings interesting as he was also know for debating rationalism versus empiricism.

    I feel myself being long winded again. As for the 15 seconds, I would not suggest that tactic with your college applications… less I digress.

  17. Student Groups Guy,

    Who wrote Never Eat Alone?

  18. Victor says:

    I really admire Stephanie. She does remind me of me. To be honest, one bad grade, “a failure,” isn’t really bad. Why? Because it keeps us in check. I know that when I do get one, it’s a wake up call to take action or a reminder that I’m starting to slack off a little. It just makes me want to find a solution to this “problem,” like taking a new approach. Plus we’re human, so it’s okay to not be perfect, right?

  19. Victor says:

    I really admire Stephanie. She does remind me of me. To be honest, one bad grade, “a failure,” isn’t really bad. Why? Because it keeps us in check. I know that when I do get one, it’s a wake up call to take action or a reminder that I’m starting to slack off a little. It just makes me want to find a solution to this “problem,” like taking a new approach. Plus we’re human, so it’s okay to not be perfect, right?

  20. Prasanna says:

    Hey, your blog was really interesting. I generally fall into the Stephani categorie but getting those Mills feelings are unavoidable. I really like the comments too… perhaps more than the blogs themselves. Fifteen seconds seems to be all that today’s internet age is all about. Blogs are the expressions of this new day and age!!!
    I have been rather obsessed with learning.. it is easy to get lost in the mundane texts and forget the worth of the knowledge itself… we have quantified our judgment in mere numbers. Perhaps it’s a necessity of the system.

  21. Sam Jackson says:

    Networking is, of course, a separate but related game.

    This is a really good advice set-up, and most fascinating is the fact that it can be applied to my current boarding school life. Midway between the usual high school and the full college independence the problems presented with Mills can rear up just as they could at a school like MIT. This environment can sometimes make people realize earlier on what they need to do to take control of their own educational experience, though, so I think some people reach that understanding and come out with a big head start. Some slip through the cracks.

    Always something to remember, even for the most Stephanie’d of people.

  22. Grafton D. says:

    Nice post! It took me a while to get the Stephanie Mills reference.

  23. Brandy says:

    See what you did Tim, now we have homework! And we are only bloggers! : )

    So out of curiousity, I did a search, and found myself at Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and I see that they are asking for donations to keep the encyclopedia free, and in the spirit of MIT giving, I think I’ll donate $25.00 to them. I think you should do the same Tim. : )

    http://plato.stanford.edu/fundraising/

    Debating rationalism vs. empiricism seems that empiricism with “absolute certainty” will lose to rationalism (on the surface) but when you dig deeper it’s clear that experience (empiricism) from infancy drives rationalism throughout maturity. So I believe. : )

    (p.s. Stephanie Mills? That’s cute. Could’ve used Hillary Clinton too : )

  24. Sarab says:

    Nice Post!
    Thankfully I am a “Stephanie type” much to the astonishment of my peers who follow the Mills System which is considered to be the right way to study here in India. The fact that I like to read and do things unrelated to Medicine (the stream I have chosen) and learn Immunology and Relativity even though they are unrelated to my course syllabus strikes them as absurd! So MIT lemme in cause I want to learn!!!!!
    Sarab

  25. Sarab says:

    To continue, Brandy (or Scotch or Chivas Regal) I agree with you. Hell I personally follow the following.
    1. To have loved and lost is better than to never have loved at all
    2. Those who hide die a thousand deaths, the brave die but once! (A bad Paraphrasing Julius Ceasear, I know!)
    And what the heck, I regret nothing in my life. Even if MIT rejects me, I’ll be cool with it (After 5 minutes)
    And though the Mills effect would come into play, once I get acceptance letters from the rest, I’ll be fine. A rejection would hurt, but only ’cause I really want to go to MIT.
    And emphasised above is my personal philosophy, prepare for the worst, expect nothing and hope and dream of the best. And believe me, no college or univ, no Nobel Prize or Genius Award will change my views of myself!

  26. theresa says:

    tim, stop being mean — bryan’s post was really nice, and you should take the time to read it and appreciate it, instead of saying “this is too long and I don’t have the patience”.

  27. AnotherMom says:

    As always, your words hit the mark. A very eloquent post indeed. I am sending it to others to read. Having a love of learning and being willing to take risks (taking a course and not being assured an “A”) is so important because when the going gets tough (and it will wherever you go!) that love, that drive is what keeps you going. Applicants – there is a reason that MIT asks the questions that they do on the application. If they intended to fill the class with 2400’s, 36’s, and 800’s on the SAT II’s those would be the only questions asked on the application. Looking from the outside a year later after watching my child go through this application process, I see how wise those questions are. Hope it was a good Thanksgiving.

  28. Thu says:

    Nice post! But I doubt whether there is someone 100% Stephanie. Anyone, not just 17, 18-year-old kids, would at least once or twice share the same feelings as Mills’. I have a few questions: what do you think of the time you worked on the college application? Were you more of Stephanie or Mills? Just curious smile.
    A prospective student from Vietnam

  29. Ana says:

    This reminds me of my sociology class (especially the symbolic interaction theory). It’s really nice.

  30. Momo says:

    As a High School senior in the midst of applying for college, I have to say that was an inspiring read. I see a lot of Mills in myself but I also see Stephanie. You’re absolutely right that this isn’t a one-dimensional world. Thank you for writing that.

  31. Sean says:

    Unfortunatley, I have a lot in common with Mills. I have been told that I have this overbearing pride that gets in the way. I never ask for help and in the end it ends up hurting me. For some reason, I dont feel right when I ask for help, even though I know that there is nothing wrong with it. I feel as though if I ask for help, that I wont be able to do anything on my own.

    Thanks for this topic, I see it helping me in the future.

  32. vivir says:

    What an awesome post! Thanks so much for the advicee Bryan! The talk about how to approach learning is a nice change of perspective from all the applications I’ve been filling out.

    This Thanksgiving has been a rough one because I have had to write app essays the whole time (I’m going on vacation in December and won’t have time then). I was just stressing about college and my life; how much time and effort goes into learning, and how it’s all expressed on an app with a couple numbers and a decimal point–a GPA. How has the activity of my life to this age been summarized in 4 pages of lists and numbers? But your article helps me put things in perspective, that learning and living is important, and the scores are just signs of it. I can’t thank you enough for that.

    In my school, the competition is terrible; everyone is all secretive and suspicious, strategically trying to find out all that others have done, where they are applying, how awesome they rate on some scale or another… It makes me sick. The adventure of learning gets lost in this jungle of predators, SAT scores and achievements like sharp teeth and claws.

    It’s good to remember the importance of failing, and the significance of how one deals with it. I guess mainly it’s good to remember I’m a person, and not a collection of scores and awards too.

  33. Melissa says:

    Vivir, I understand where you’re coming from. The secretiveness and cut-throat attitude of most of the people in my school are really irritating. Few people really help each other out because everyone’s out to be the best. I always do, but having my stregnths and weaknesses, I can’t tutor everyone (history, for example, you’re on your own – calculus, physics or spanish, I can help you). That’s one of the many reasons I want to go to MIT – I want be able to learn for the sake of learning without people trying to drag me down for the sake of numbers.

  34. Melissa says:

    Oops, sorry, posted twice =)

  35. Bharath says:

    Is it really that wrong to have a bit of Mills in us? A little worry about grades or stuggling can be positive, reminding us that we have to make sure that we have to keep trying. I think I’m split between the two, but I think that’s a better position than pure Stephanie since positive peer pressure and the desire to work harder, even if it is for grades, help me improve myself. On an unrelated side note, who’s Stephanie Mills?

  36. Andy says:

    Though Stephanie’s conduct may be more well suited for a tertiary education, I still believe there would always be a place for Mills. Some people are just more introvert and reluctant to ask help than others, or the other way around. Mills’ inclination to solve problems by himself might just make him a better person on the long run.
    After all, nobody is completely a Stephanie or a Mills (they are just characters =P)

  37. Peter says:

    This was a really nice post Bryan. Though it might of fell into what Tim called a “story telling = reasoning” fallacy, I honestly think it was worth reading. The post was thought provoking, and, alas, comforting.
    Who doesn’t have slips and falls in life? If we were defined only by how far we walked in life instead of what the slips and falls taught us and what brilliant scenery we saw along the way, we’d be really depressed creatures.

  38. Fan says:

    I try not to read these blogs, but I’m always lured to your posts. I enjoy them immensely.

  39. indivisible says:

    A few people have commented on the world not being one dimensional.

    Step back, take a single step back. Invent your life. Test grades are great, I am not a terrible test taker. But test grades are meerly a matter of potential. “Genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration.” If I sat home and ate potatoe chips and aced my SATs, what good does that do for the world and a potential legacy? Everything with a grain of salt, thats what I love about MIT, you can only get by so far with reading a textbook. At one point in your life, you are alone, and it will make all the difference to hold onto an emotion more than a number.

    PS I will write a proof that the universe has infinite dimensions and thereby intelligence by the time I leave college. Whether or not I get into MIT.

  40. Bryan Nance says:

    Hello Everyone!

    I am flattered by your responses. It is interesting that this particuar post resonates with so many readers.

    Yes this story-telling plain and simple. To present this to you in any other form would be condescending. The beauty of the story is that you can draw from it what pertains to you, making it unique to each reader. Please do not get caught in the details of the story and miss the overall point. There are few in the world who can be described as purely Stephanie or purely Mills. I know that each of are all some degree of a mixture of the two.

    What is not said is that Mills has a great work ethic. Sometimes in life you just have to “gut” it out. On the other hand, what if Stephanie had gotten a failing grade on that college course. Then we are having a discussion about her decision making skills. As my grandmother used to say, “It’s all fun and games until someone looses an eye”.

    Here is the part that I REALLY wanted to come through in this piece:
    Make sure that you take the time to find, refine and trust in your voice.<b>
    <b>Only after that is done can you make sure your voice is always heard by those around you.<b>

    So who is Stephanie Mills? She is an R&B singer who started her career at age 9 when she won Amateur Night at the world-famous Apollo Theater a record 6 times. A few years later she starred as Dorothy in the Wiz, an (African-American adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) Broadway. When I was a kid my mother made me go to the theatre to see the Wiz and I immediately developed a crush on her. Why did I use her name? I don’t know…it seemed witty at the time.

    Bottom line: Neither is better. Here’s the rub, how do you personally strike the right balance?</b></b></b>

  41. Olga says:

    Here’s the thing–ideally, Stephanie is the better student, right? She cares about learning, et cetera, lovey dovey, whatever. I’m fairly bitter here because I love learning for the sake thereof and plenty of my close companions harass me for that, preferring the “heh heh I did not study and I still got a better score than you” attitude to the “well, I learned alot and in the grand scheme of life I ‘win'” outlook.

    Anyway, so Stephanie is the better student. But with the gigantic hordes of students, some of which pretend to be what they are not sadly, applying to college–isn’t it really Mills who wins?

    Hopefully not, otherwise I don’t think I’ll be attending an institution this fall. Oh well, I always wanted to go Peace Corps anyway.

  42. Alex says:

    Thank you for this entry, it really gave me a lot to think about how I should view my studies, I guess i’ll call myself St-ill

  43. Natalie says:

    Thank you very much for your story. It has given me much insight as to how I should look at myself and my studies.

  44. Robertson says:

    I was wondering what exactly the policy is for standardized testing from January.

    I ask because of some poor planning on my part (a good excuse, I know). I had not planned on applying to MIT until Thanksgiving break due to my opting for a senior year with three foreign languages in place of a senior year with chemistry. I regret not taking chemistry now, but as an applicant to mostly UK schools (where one specializes immediately), I wanted to branch out in a subjec I’m interested in before focusing entirely on my chosen subject, economics.

    As a result, I have no SAT 2 Science tests. After finding out I needed on last friday I immediately bought the Princeton Review’s study book and read about 120 pages, before realizing that in no way will I achieve an adequate score (I have not taken physics since 10th grade…last year I took robotics and electronics). And a bad score would be seen by all my other schools (which might admit me, as compared to the likelihood of MIT admitting me given my school’s admission statistics at your institution and my lack of chemistry).

    I am very interested in your institution, but there is no way I can take the test this month (poor choices on my part, I know). Is there anyway that I can take it in January?

    Thanks,
    Robertson

  45. choi jin-hee says:

    question: why does mit want bold, passionate, gross undergraduates? it’s important to have the interest and power to enjoy hard study/research/suffering, but the main concept you put seems very romantic and even alienating to me. i’m still in high school, but i plan to apply to mit as a senior. but i don’t understand what makes a typical “extrovert” type (i’m not sure what to make of the ideal) better than others. i know most places want this kind of applicant who is expressive and confident. but i am afraid that applicants who have the interest to pull them through are just cast aside because they don’t try to look bouncy all the time.

    right now, i remain unaffected. but i hope future ideals will be based on merit only, not personality or style. it’s important to be strong in a very difficult and competitive environment, but being confident and “proactive” isn’t necessarily an indicator of a potential brilliant scientist who will succeed at mit and society at large. actually, many people whether superiors or subordinates actually dislike that kind. they tend to be greedy and even worse, wrong. but they are confident enough to believe they are right. especially if you’re dealing with theories or something, this is a good way to be unsuccessful.
    (btw this doesn’t apply to every confident, expressive person. don’t take it personally!)

    but since stephanie is in mit, she must be very smart. so, i am more convinced to think her ideas are good, right, not wrong and stupid…

    but this looks like something everyone buys into. even at state colleges, special programs, etc. everyone wants stephanie-applicants.

    well i’m starting to drift. i just want to say that i hope that you, as the head of mit college admissions, will recognize that someone who is serious about their goals is better than someone who is confident and has no goals or goals that are not as strong as the serious student. and also, i hope applicants are evaluated by merit more than their personal goals or how passionate they are to be an mit student.

  46. choi jin-hee says:

    oh. i actually meant “head of minorites admissions.”

  47. Janice says:

    In response to choi, I think if you maintain confidence in your ability to go incredibly far in life, despite the lack of exceptional academic evidence to back it up, you will be more likely to take your “knocks” positively and persevere toward achieving your goal, anyway.

    If you enter college expecting to achieve fantastic grades and end up falling short of your high academic goals, your confidence may be damaged on many levels, provided you define your success by academic standards. This would, perhaps, prevent you from moving on and achieving that ultimate goal of success in all areas of life.

  48. al-pear says:

    Robertson; I’m just an applicant, but I’m pretty sure you can take the test in January. I guess it would work if you just wrote 01/2006 for the date and left the score box blank and they would put your score for you as soon as they receive your scores. Or you could also put in your Dec scores and ask MIT to consider your January scores through an email. MIT admissions guys are very flexible and understanding in most situations. By the way, many other crazily selective schools accept January scores as well.

  49. maia says:

    back to the mills/stephanie story…

    i think sometimes the mills-types are almost afraid to just let go and be average. to be average at a place like MIT is still to be amazing! going from the big fish in a small pond to a tiny fish in the ocean can be an opportunity to relax and bond with the people around you, to cooperate and not begrudge them their successes, rather than working to always be on top and smacking yourself when someone overtakes you.

    at least, this is what i tell myself so that i won’t end up like mills and be unhappy. losing first place is almost a relief–it takes the pressure off and lets you just do what you enjoy because you enjoy it.

    good luck to everyone deferred, sorry to those rejected, and congratulations, party like it’s 1999! to everyone admitted!

  50. MIT alum says:

    I was Mills when I entered MIT in the sense of failing, yet feeling too ashamed to ask for help. I learned the hard way that not asking for help ruins the fun one can have at MIT. Thanks for this post: it rings true to experience. Plus, being more like Stephanie will help incoming MIT students when they realize that professors grade on curves, with a B-/C+ as average…at any one time, roughly 1/3 of the students in a given class is “failing”. Remember: you’re there to learn, not necessarily to get an ‘A’.

  51. Danielle says:

    I’m still in high school but I had the feeling that if I were to be accepted to MIT, the same thing might happen to me. I have never been scared to ask for help and I know to work smarter not harder. I know a few people that think the same as I do but, said that college was a huge change from high school. They said that something had all of a sudden changed and that they had similar experiences as those of Mills and Stephanie.
    I know I won’t make it on my own and I am mentally ready for this college experience but, I just don’t want to get there, feel intimidated, and then fall apart. I know if I do get there that I will have help along the way so I’m not too worried… grin

  52. Ajay says:

    woot! Man do I love MIT? yup I DO! But I have loads of problems
    I am Ajay Chahar, a 16 year old student from India. I hail from a middle class family. My father is an Army Officer in the Indian Army. I want to pursue my higer education at MIT(aerospace engg.). The only hinderance is my financial status. My parents cant afford the costs. They have an annual income of $7000. I am listing a few of my achievements:

    1. Secured 2nd Rank in 7th International Level Science Talent Examination conducted by The Bangalore Science Forum.
    2. Represented Delhi Public School Rajkot at ‘LISTEN- The Worlds First Conference on Childs Concerns’.
    3.Secured 3rd Rank in National Cyber Olympiad.
    4. Secured 7th position in Assesment of Scholastic Skills thorugh Education Testing
    5. Appointed School Captain recently.
    6. Awarded ‘A’ Certificate by National Cadet Corps
    7. Special appreciation by ‘Leprosy Mission’ for social work.
    8. Represented K V at the State Science Fair at IIT Kharagpur.
    9. Represented region at State for Volleyball and Ball Badminton.
    10. Won state level debate organised by Hindi Samaj
    11. Appointed school basketball and volleyball team Captain.
    12. Appointed School Captain at DPS, Rajkot.
    13. Choosen as a member of the Indian Ubuntu Linux Team.

    I am in dire need of financial aid. I will be finishing my high school in 2008.