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Application advice by Laura N. '09

Read this. Now. It's important. Promise.

[Productivity! This is my second entry of the day. Be sure to check out the first one for some Q&A.]

Last Thursday night, Ruth emailed the floor, asking for people to celebrate her last night as a humanities major. (As of last Friday, Ruth switched from Course 17 to Course 11, which is actually part of the School of Architecture and Planning and not the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.) We went to the South Street Diner, which, according to both Ruth and the How to GAMIT is the only 24-hour establishment in Boston- so it must be true! According to the GAMIT’s review (and now I can proudly say, personal experience) the South Street Diner has some “angsty” waitstaff (Ruth’s word, I believe, not mine), and a pretty awesome atmosphere. They were also awarded the title of “best milkshakes in Boston” at one point, I’m pretty sure.

As Zach, Ruth, Matt and I were waiting for the T, Ruth told everyone that they had to be especially witty and entertaining so that it would become a blog-worthy experience. (Seriously, Conner 2 people are going to become so famous due to the sheer concentration of bloggers on the floor.) We only went in the wrong direction for about a block and a half, which is no big deal in my book, and we enjoyed our milkshakes without major incident. But by the time we were done, it was past 1 AM, so we had officially missed the last T run of the night and decided to take a taxi back to campus. We passed a long line of taxis until Zach approached the first car in the line. As the driver rolled down the window, Zach leaned in and said, in the most innocent voice,

“Hi, yeah…we want to go to MIT?”

OK, so maybe you had to be there, but Ruth and Matt and I thought it was hilarious. I found it a little like that “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” joke, and we kept giggling about it in the back of the taxi. “We want to go to MIT?” “So do lots of people!”

On that topic, I feel like the time has officially come for Laura’s Entry on Unsolicitied College Application Advice.

The first thing I’d probably advise you to do would be to finish your applications way early to avoid all of the stress. But I’m sure you’ve all already heard that and won’t actually accomplish it anyway even if you really intend to (not to burst anyone’s bubble), so I’m going to skip right along to my next piece of advice.

1) Examples are good. Be specific. Make sure to choose teachers who actually know you to write your letters of recommendation. You may even want to give them a list of cool things you did- and by that I don’t mean a resume! I actually learned this from my history teacher- when he was writing a letter of rec for me for a political science summer camp, he kept asking me questions about specific things I had done in his class. The program I was applying to was looking for people who were passionate about public policy, so instead of just writing “Laura writes good essays,” my teacher told them about the topics of my essays. That way he could tell them about how I gave presentations on campaign finance reform, instead of just saying that I had good presentation skills. See the difference? Now take that concept and apply it to MIT! (But don’t go nuts about it- your teachers can handle the job. Don’t give them a huge list of everything you ever did in their class, and don’t worry if you can’t think of anything particularly interesting. But if you can remember a couple of specific examples of things you think an MIT admissions officer might appreciate, remind your teacher about it, and let them take it from there.)

2) When you’re writing your essays, you don’t want to be generic. You have to keep in mind the sheer size of the applicant pool. If you think you have a great idea for an essay topic, you probably do. You just have to remember that there were probably lots of people who had similar experiences, so boiling your own story down to vague concepts isn’t going to do you any good. For my essay, I decided to write about problems I had to overcome on my high school field hockey team. I thought I had a great, original story to tell. So I wrote my essay about overcoming obstacles and not giving up and gave it to a friend to proofread, and he told me it was horrible. I got pretty upset with him, as you can imagine. Here I was, totally convinced that I had this edgy, original story to tell, and he went and shot me down by telling me just how unoriginal it was.

It turns out we were both right. I did have a pretty cool and original story- after all, it was a true life story. No one else has had the same experiences as me. But while writing the essay, I tried to cram 3 years of experience into 500 words, so all that came across was “I didn’t give up even though I came across obstacles.” Well guess what- that has happened to everybody! So I sat down and completely started over. Only this time, I chose a very specific obstacle that I was faced with- one incident that happened on one particular day- and wrote a very detailed description about that experience. I showed this new essay to my mother, who told me it made me look like I was just whining about challenges! The actual story had been lost in all my details about that one specific incident.

By now I was really frustrated with everyone who kept telling me my essays sucked, and I was determined to prove that I actually did have a good essay in there somewhere! So I sat down with the 2 completely different essays and pieced together a hybrid with the most important parts of each. By the time I was done I thought I had a pretty cool college application essay. The key is to find the right balance between giving detailed descriptions that are about you, and showing the admissions people the big picture (how your story shows something about who you are, and how it relates back to the question they actually asked you in the first place!)

And now, here it is…

LAURA’S NUMBER ONE RULE FOR THE ADMISSIONS PROCESS:
I already talked about this in my first entry ever. If you are reading this now and thinking “yeah yeah okay but what about the 770 I got on the math section of the SAT? That’s THIRTY WHOLE POINTS BELOW PERFECT,” then you need to stop. Right now. I’m totally serious. I really think that kind of thing is nothing short of unhealthy, and Marliee Jones agrees with me. First of all, I only got a 700 on the math section of the SAT I (gasp!), and I don’t want to listen to other people worry that a 770 means they’re not smart enough for MIT. That makes me part sad, part angry. (Mostly angry. =P) Second of all, perfection is useless. Of course MIT only admits students who are qualified, but once you hit a certain level of scores and grades and activities, the applicant pool is so large that a difference in 10 points on your SATs simply does not matter. At this point, you’ve done all you can do. You can’t worry about that one research paper you handed in late freshman year that lost you .01 points on your history GPA. All you can do is try to show MIT who you are through your interviews and essays, and the more relaxed you are, the easier that will be.

Good luck!

16 responses to “Application advice”

  1. Chris Dancy says:

    Thx for the advice

    If i get in Ill find you and thank you……if not……I SHALL SMITE YOU

    lol j/k thx for the post smile

  2. Sam says:

    Thanks for the application advice. I just wanted to know how MIT handles research with freshman. Do they get to use the same facilities as graduate students? Have you or any of your friends started researching for any of the despartments?

  3. mia says:

    hey, thanks for the post smile

  4. nina toleva says:

    I would like to know whether I can take TOEFL in January 2006. I had great difficulties with finding money to pay for it, but when I get the required sum, they said that there are no free dates till early january. what should I do??? please, help!

  5. nehalita says:

    Loved the essay story — see you used specific examples in your post!

    On a serious note, the advice always helps but examples are better because we see where you are coming from. So thanks =)

  6. Emi says:

    Hello!

    Thanks for the advice Laura, because I was kind of freaking out because of the application (I sent everything in, but my SAT I and SAT II scores are WEIRD, seriously…). I’m the first in my school to apply to MIT and they all think I’m crazy and keep asking me if I’ve gotten an answer yet, which really only makes me more nervous about the whole thing. Especially about my SAT scores.

    Haha.

    Thanks though…really.

  7. Dave says:

    Thanks for the entry, even though I already sent in all my stuff it was helpful. Compared to everyone else around my SAT’s rocked, but I figured that it would be a lot different when held up to MIT. Hey, I may still not get in, but that’s the breaks. Thanks again.

  8. Ruth says:

    I think the most important thing the admissions people want to see is that you’re crazy-motivated. Not sane-motivated. That won’t do. But CRAZY-motivated.

    No one should worry about their SAT score. I, personally, scored a 1370, and was in like the 19% percentile on my Physics SAT II. I don’t remember the number it was so bad. But I’m here! To note: 1370 was the highest in the county, and my high school didn’t teach calculus-based physics, so I took 7 college classes during senior year. I wrote an awesome essay about that. We didn’t have science fair either, so I entered regional as my own high school. Ruth Miller High School did lots of crazy stuff, but that is neither here nor there.

    So in summary, chill.

    And the thing Zach said is only funny when you know his tone of voice, which can be extrapolated with this picture:

    http://web.mit.edu/ruthm07/Public/pictures!/college2/dance/nooooo.JPG

  9. Timur Sahin says:

    By the time I was done, I had 100+ essay revisions for MIT, and my essays were read over by at least twenty people (at various phases, all at once would have brought overwhelming contractions).

    My best advice is to let the people who REALLY know you look over your essays. They’ll make sure the core of who you are stands through.

  10. Wow, Timur, that’s way overwhelmingly large no. of revisions and readers man… Chill, I’ve only had three people revise my essays – my teacher, and one of my friends.

    I think it’s also good to get one or two others who don’t know you *that* well to ensure that the message you’re trying to send through the essays gets sent out. Wording bias can occur when you have only close friends and family review your essays.

  11. Matt says:

    yeah im a little crazy… i had it reviewed by over 10 people.

  12. bleh says:

    Jersey diners beat out Boston diners any day.

  13. Wow, it seems like you’d spent lots of time on your essays too. Just like Ann.

    So far, I haven’t had to re-write any of my essays yet, even though I can see, in my essays, some problems that you mentioned. All I’ve re-written was one paragraph, when my English teacher told me that it wasn’t helping to contribute to the central theme of my essay, and so I had to delete it and include a different example.

  14. Kaitlyn says:

    Hey,

    Thank you so much for the advice!! It’s really helpful, and the sarcasm really helps too! =)

  15. Steven says:

    I’m told i am exelent in math and reading, and above standard in science, but my english and writing skills… Lets just say they are not up to par. Will I still be considered or must i be dissillusioned?

    P.S. exelent story, i almost choked on my breakfast.

  16. Desmond Uzor says:

    Thanks for the advice.Im good in both maths and english but i get nervous when im writing a really important exam