[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…