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MIT staff blogger Mikey Yang '05

Am I Smart Enough for MIT? by Mikey Yang '05

On second thought...don't answer that.

Okay, okay, so I’ve totally been slacking off on updates on my travels this Fall. With the Early Action season starting in full swing, things have been crazy busy. (Perhaps at some point, I’ll eventually get to post about the rest of my trips.)

But with several blog posts in the past few weeks about how terribly hosed people are, I thought I’d bring some balance to the conversation. I remembered a guest post I wrote a couple years ago (back when Ben was still here – BEN WE MISS YOU!) – this was actually in response to an admitted student who was deciding whether to enroll at MIT, but I think it also applies to people thinking about applying to MIT. I thought I’d post it again (recycling is good for the environment!).

(Btw, I find it funny that in Ben’s original post, he wrote about missing me while I was off at grad school, and now, I’m reposting this as we all miss Ben while he’s off working at a different school. COME VISIT US BENNO!)

You can just check out the link above, or read below, where I’ve copied the basic gist of the entry:

So, some context: Mikey received an email from a student who had been admitted to MIT and was concerned that everyone else would be much better prepared than she. Recognizing her concern as a very common one, Mikey asked her if we could publish their correspondence. Here it is:

So, mainly at this point I am very excited for MIT, but I am having some second thoughts. Concerning my peers. When I applied, I was well aware of the fact that MIT attracts the best and brightest… and I’m a bit worried that I’m not as bright and shiny as the others. For example, almost all the people I’ve talked to have been to the IMO or at least the USAMO or have won some science competition or another (Westinghouse, YES, Intel, take your pick) or have patented something, or have taken their school’s science club to nationals. And I’ve never done any of that… I’m basically a kid who likes math, cats, plants and some plumbing and thought MIT seemed like a cool place because everyone was always building one thing or another, all the time.

But now I’m worried that I won’t be able to catch up to these kids and as a result, coming in with no research experience or major math competition experience or etc. will pull me far behind my classmates and I’ll struggle to get good grades (I know grades aren’t everything, but I’d like to get decent enough grades to apply for graduate school) or find research opportunities or basically show professors that I have something to offer… when in fact I’m not sure I have anything to offer in comparison to the rest of the class of 2011.

I was really psyched to go despite the notoriously huge workload because I was pretty sure that I’d love doing the work, no matter how much there was (I really enjoyed, for example, doing stoichiometry problems and math problems… they’re fun for me, but I don’t have any true talent for them… I’m a “peasant” of a student, not a “poet” if that makes any sense at all), but now I’m more worried than anything. Please feel free to be honest… if you think that my sort of person can still do well at MIT, that’s great… but if not, be as brutally honest as necessary!

So how was your experience at MIT? If you don’t mind, can you tell me a bit about yourself? Like, were you one of those USAMO kids?

Thanks again for your time, and I hope I don’t sound too hysterical :)


And here’s Mikey’s response, which I love:

Don’t worry.

I had never heard of “Intel”, “Westinghouse”, or “IMO” before coming to MIT. I did not know a USABO, USNCO, or USPhO existed. I didn’t even know science fairs and research competitions existed. No joke. I took the “pre-AMC” (back then it was called the AJHSME, and the AMC was called the AHSME – American (Junior) High School Math Exam), did okay on it, and never went any farther (I had heard of the AIME but wasn’t even close to being considered for that test). And I felt exactly like you even before I applied to MIT. “MIT students are way smarter than me… I must’ve gotten in by accident… I’ll be like the dumbest one there” is what I seriously told myself. And I totally get your “poet” vs “peasant” analogy… people would talk about how “elegant” a math proof was, or how “neat and interesting” the solution was to that physics problem, while I would just sit there and say “heck, did I at least get the units right?” or use brute force to solve the problem in a way that took 20x longer than it should have and said “hey, I still got it right in the end, who cares if it took 2 hours instead of 2 minutes?” Haha.

But anyways, back to the original point. I came to MIT, and seriously, I probably had way more fun than I was supposed to. (Hanging out with friends in my living group, going on road trips, having spontaneous parties, watching TV shows and movies, playing video games… Not all the time, but most of the time. Don’t tell my parents.) Over my four years, I sang with an a cappella group, helped record and produce 2 CDs, sang in a classical group, was part of a religious club, did a UROP, and made many lifelong friends and memories.

But wait… what about the academics?? I graduated with a 4.8 GPA (out of 5.0) – and I honestly had a blast. (I hope that didn’t come off as arrogant – I just wanted to let you know that you can have a lot of fun and still get good grades in your classes!)

Believe me, there was definitely hard work involved (it was not ALL fun and games) but really, you wouldn’t have been admitted if you we didn’t think you could not only survive but THRIVE here academically, socially, emotionally, physically, mentally (and every other “lly” way). MIT is about educating the entire student, not *just* the academics, and the college experience is not *just* the classes – it’s EVERYTHING. You literally passed through *at LEAST* 5 different rounds of screening before you were definitively admitted to MIT; we said “not only can she do the work, but she’s going to have fun, she’ll add to the campus community, she’ll be able to make great friends, and above all, she’s a great match for MIT.” Or something to that extent.

Yes, there are geniuses at MIT, even for MIT standards. I met plenty of them throughout my four years. But you know what? I couldn’t even tell for most of them – I had plenty of friends where I didn’t learn about their special and unique talents until after having known them for 2-3 years (examples: I didn’t learn until junior or senior year that some of my friends consisted of: California State Nintendo Champion… a child TV show star… placed in the Putnam for more than one year… went to Africa to help vision-impaired children… worked on the Human Genome project… owned his own design company… etc… etc… etc…). But when people get here, everyone pretty much leaves a lot of that at the door (unless it comes up specifically). They’re all students just like anyone, eager to meet new people… and it was incredibly exciting to have friends like them.

So don’t worry. I know exactly what you’re going through, and as someone who’s been through it all and is on the other side now, I know you’ll be juuuuust fine. :)


I know many of you out there probably have similar concerns, and I hope that helps address some of them. Point is, MIT is hard work, but it’s also a lot of fun! Then again, I’m sure Snively would point out that I should have a disclaimer that I studied biology while I was here…haha.

Edit: I just read Cristen’s most recent post, which I recommend reading as well – I agree wholeheartedly!

So this post’s title obviously isn’t from a song lyric, but I must credit “hcs” for getting the last one correct! Guster is another one of my favorite bands…

44 responses to “Am I Smart Enough for MIT?”

  1. Ann U. says:

    This is a great post, Mikey! smile

  2. Anon says:

    I needed this post.

  3. Derek M. says:

    Well that certainly settles some of my worries about MIT. And I’m glad that the admissions committee is not just admitting the geniuses that enter USAMO (A.K.A. not me), but also people who are authentic, people who, well, like “math, cats, and plants.” I have a feeling that MIT would be boring without the normal people.

  4. Shreya says:

    Well, thanks a ton for this! Your post is exactly what I need for I’ve been thinking about mit long time , but have been wondering if I’ll be able to make through and if I do would I be classified into something like lesser mortals or so.

    Don’t tell me ! I know i sound hysterical!

    PS : I’m right now schooling in India so could you please connect me to an Indian who might be able to help regarding how I should go about, considering the facilities available here.

  5. Colton says:

    As I have learned numerous times throughout life, intelligence is now what you know but how you apply what you know.

  6. Patt says:

    Did you mean thank Ben!? ^_^

  7. Anonymous says:

    I am part of MIT’12. Just wanted drop by to say thank you for writing that last year (or thank Ben for posting it). It really cleared up some of the worries in my mind. I am having a blast at MIT now.

  8. Mikey says:

    ^ You’re welcome! smile

  9. Tiffany says:

    I’d actually like to read more posts about how much fun(?) you guys are having while reading our EA applications.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Yeah…my math competition career ended when I got a 58.5 on the AMC 12 in 10th grade (lower than if I had left all the questions blank) and never looked back.

  11. Colton says:

    Tiffany: That would be quite enjoyable. A look behind the curtain, essentially. We would discover strange stress relief methods from the posts, but it would still be quite informative.

  12. Mikey says:

    @Tiffany and Colton:
    Haha, no worries – soon to come! (Hopefully I’ll be able to find a little time to post about it!) smile

  13. Colton says:

    Mikey: If I can manage to find even a sliver of time to post on my own blog, you probably can, too. smile

  14. Monorina says:

    I think that this came as an answer to the many times I have said on this site that I haven’t got any IMO or whatever experience(both in Ahmed and Matt McGran’s blogs).Wow! So I’m inspiring blog topics now.
    @Shreya: I was in the same boat as you.
    My MIT app part 2 in printing.I’ll check it once and then submit. I have my board exams towering over me, so I’m pretty early, even though I’m not( as an int’l student) allowed EA.

  15. Hey Mikey,

    I’m applying to MIT for the ’13 class. I’m from Egypt, and we don’t have much access to scientific extracurriculars, and I heard that it’s very important to be involved in such extracurriculars. Although I have a truly avid interest in science (I love Stephen Hawking’s and Richard Feynman’s books) I really am not able to show as much passion as people coming from other countries that which have such extracurriculars. I know you probably heard this question tens, if not literally hundreds, of times, but will MIT take into consideration the fact that I don’t really have much access to such extracurriculars or do you define the lack of access equally amongst international applicants. For example, obviously the US has more access than Egypt, but would you take into consideration the fact that lets say in Japan or India there is more access than here in Egypt and is there a way I could show my interest in my application, without bluntly saying, “I love Science.”

    Thank You

  16. anon says:

    haha, wasn’t this also posted a few weeks ago?

    i like how the date magically changed smile

  17. Thank u very much! Now I’m much more confident.

    Are there any similar posts about international students?

  18. hamsi says:

    yay! this just makes MIT even better =]
    i think there are about 15 people applying to MIT from my school alone this year, and a couple are genuine geniuses…I applied EA, but until this post, I was sure I wouldn’t get in. Thanks for writing this blog entry!

  19. wendi says:

    *grins* I love this post!
    Impressive picture (from Ben’s post) – definitely reminds me of Matrix smile.

    I wonder how many “supergeniuses” actually comprise MIT in relation to the people who aren’t, well, “supergeniuses.”

  20. ming says:

    nice, give me more confident now.

    and first post( I hope)

  21. Akshay says:

    You just made me realize what I was lacking in terms of understanding of this institute when I was completing my application last year.

    Thank you

  22. ming says:

    read too slow,, sad.

  23. Shreya says:

    @Monorina : hhmmm…. boards
    where r you from?

  24. Jenny says:

    Thank you for posting this! I definitely feel better about apply to MIT now! ‘Tis good to know a brute-forcer can survive here…

  25. Dhvanit says:

    @Mikey : This post really helped ! It feels a lot better to apply now..because literally, quite a large percentage of applicants are yet to prove themselves before the college, so it’s great that MIT does admit such students based on other facts too..

    @Wendi : I like to think that too !

    @Anonymous ’12(Nov2:9.30) : Really cool that you got admitted to MIT ! Would love to hear about your application if you would like to share..

    @Shreya : Hi.. Where’re you from.. Am too from India (Gujarat)..

  26. Kaizad says:

    MIT sounds so wicked. Not that it didn’t sound wicked before but this post surely amplified it!

  27. Y says:

    @ Abdel-karim
    this probably wouldn’t help you any, but i have the same worries. I do reside in the US and my school has TONS of extracurriculars, but NONE are science/math related. Their excuse is that science/math teachers have to coach sports or don’t have any time. I understand they’re busy so that was the end of that.

  28. Dhvanit says:

    @Shreya : Thanks ! All the best for your application..

  29. Shreya says:

    @dhvanit : I’m from Delhi. Cool name!

  30. Monorina says:

    @Shreya: I’m from a town pretty near Kolkata.
    I’m appearing for the ISC.

  31. Shreya says:

    Firstly, this post was a HUGE relief. That is exactly what I was worried about. Problem is, a lot of “normal people” like me are applying… that’s why so many of the “geniuses” get in.

    @all the people from India: Hi, I’m Shreya too. Not the same one (I live in America). I’m totally not used to seeing the name, so you guys all kinda screwed with my mind while I tried to figure out why you were responding to a comment that I didn’t remember posting.

  32. Tom says:

    I know I’m not smart enough for MIT.

    But I also /know/ that I’m indeed proactive, daring and hands-on enough for MIT!

    Not meaning to gloat, but MIT needs me to bring about change as much as I need MIT to bring it about.

  33. Apoorv says:

    Hey Mikey,
    I guess it’s more than evident that your post was a relief to many (I add in mine to that pool of relief).
    Great Job!!

    @Wendi…haha! that is a rather interesting consideration.

    @dhvanit, Shreya….Here’s another guy from India.

  34. Monorina says:

    @Shreya from US: Hello!!!

  35. Shreya says:

    @Monorina : kolkata is a cool place

    @Dhvanit : well there is quite some time before i fill up my application. I’m in 10th right now.

    @Apoorv : hey

    @Shreya : hey….. well something of d same sort happened to me just a minute ago!

  36. Saaliha says:

    Thanks from LA too =)

  37. Mayur says:

    Thanks for the post, Mikey. I really needed it.
    @All u ppl from India: Hey

  38. Alayibo says:

    I really like your post.It was very encouraging. I was wondering though if you could give some direction about my school forms. You see Im an international student and Im not sure exactly what address to mail the forms to. I know this has nothing to do with your blog but i neeeeeeed some help! THNX!!!

  39. SRV says:

    is a maths 730 and physics 640 good enough for MIT ?????

  40. @ Abdel karim – Don’t know if this will help any but I’m from Nigeria and I had that whole “WHAT ACTIVITIES???” deal at first. I ended up just writing the normal stuff we do at school although they dont take activities that serious here either.

  41. Ben says:

    I miss you too big boy. I miss you too big boy. <3