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As We Approach Decision Day by Lydia K. '14, MEng '16

On getting in and on not getting in

When I hit puberty my inability to assess risk thank goodness manifested itself academically. I had a close relationship with my parents, and I didn’t have a rebellious streak beyond my accidental goth-hipster phase. I loved setting up ridiculous goals and then reaching them, just to prove that I could, even if it meant sacrificing my physical and mental health in the process. The ultimate goal was MIT, I decided sometime in seventh grade. I didn’t imagine life past college admissions. All I knew was that I was working to get into MIT. If I got into MIT, I’d be happy.

And then I did.

MIT is wonderful, but as Folkers Rojas, former MIT undergradate and current MIT graduate student, wrote in the Tech last month, the magic didn’t happen. MIT is not a magic wonderland. There are grades. There’s a lot of work. There are times when you are happy, and then there are times when your preexisting uncertainties are magnified and your self-esteem drops to unprecedented lows.

I applied early action, and on decision date I finally got deferred. I remember very clearly what it felt like. I cried. I ate an entire box of mandarin oranges. I arranged the College Confidential results threads from the past n years into an Excel document, and I tried for several hours to determine which variables could best predict my chances for March. I’m going to tell you now what I wish someone had told me then.

You applied because you’re passionate about something, probably science or technology, maybe writing or music or theater. You’ve found something you love. You’ve nerded out on it. You want to keep doing it for the next four years. In fact, you want to keep doing it forever. You know that it’s awesome, and you know that together, it and you can make the world a better place.

  

An inspirational image from the Internet.

Applying to MIT has a parallel in science: not all projects turn out, and not all grants get accepted. In order to succeed you need to invest yourself in something that probably won’t work out, and if it does work out, it will take years of love and dedication and commitment. If you go to MIT you’ll experience this. If you continue in science, engineering, business, or anything, really, you will experience this even more. Failure is inherent in risk, and risk is necessary for success.

Applying to MIT was a great risk, with a very small chance of positive outcome. You’ve already given your all, for almost two decades, to get where you are now. I know you’ve put in a lot.

Here is my deep life advice, for the next week and forever after. Going places and reaching your goals takes luck, skill, and perseverance. It depends more on you than on the school you go to. Keep the future in mind, but live in the present. Enjoy what you do and the people you are with. Take chances; be bold enough to put your all into everything you do. You’ll probably miss at least as often as you hit, but trying hard and trying often are more important than succeeding, since the positive impact of your successes will eventually far exceed your losses.

If you go to MIT, it will take you apart and put you back together again. It’s an opportunity that you can use to learn, grow, and get far. But an undergraduate education is only the first step. Regardless of whether or not you go to MIT, you have a long, uphill battle ahead of you. You’ve gotten far, and you’ll go farther. Your efforts will lead to a lot more than an admissions decision.

If you get in on Wednesday, congratulations. You’re about to start a long and challenging journey with many prizes along the way, if you choose to accept it. If you don’t get in on Wednesday, inhale, exhale, and move on without looking back. You’ll have plenty of other, greater successes to celebrate.

As hard as I know it is, try not to obsess over your pending decision. Do spend time with your family and friends, and revel in the last few months of your childhood before you have to buy your own groceries (the rest of us are jealous, really). Do the things you keep putting off.

Here are some (free) things on the Internet I enjoy now or enjoyed in high school, to de-stress and distract you:

Hopefully I’ll also be posting some math riddles this weekend, for those of you who enjoy that kind of thing. Have a good day. Be happy.

38 responses to “As We Approach Decision Day”

  1. Yashvardhan says:

    Thank you so much for this stress buster. I was in real need of it!
    As you had a dream of getting into MIT since seventh grade, I have it since ninth.
    Of course the ambiance drives me crazy but more than that, the course which I want to study is not offered in my country. I wish I get in and study what I love. What I enjoy!

  2. Jimmy says:

    I’ve also dreamed getting into MIT since seventh grade. In 2010 I realized I could actually apply to MIT and here I am: waiting, dreaming, and striving to achive this goal. Same as you, Yashvardhan, the course I’d love to study (aero-astro) is not offered in my country.
    That was a very nice blog Lydia! thanks!
    Good luck to all of you who share this ‘big’ dream!

  3. Harleen Dhillon says:

    Thank you so much for this blog. And I really really mean it. All this does not just apply to the admission decision I’m waiting for, but to every single thing I will be striving for in my life. I will remember your words whenever in distress smile

  4. AmeliaB says:

    Thanks so much for this post! Though I’m not nearly as nervous right now as I was a week before the EA decisions, I have a sneaking suspicion that I will be in a few days, so I’m really glad for the distractions.

    As much as I love Harry Potter, I’ve always noticed all the things in it that make no logical sense. I’m glad someone else did, too, and decided to turn it into a nerdy, logic-filled, wonderful story. It will definitely be shared with all my fellow Harry Potter and logic lovers!

  5. Ashwin says:

    The Veronica Mars thing is not available outside the US. Oh well….

  6. April says:

    <3 I feel so much better

  7. Taylor '15 says:

    FIREFLY IS AMAZING!!

    Good Luck ’16ers!

  8. Kit Sanders says:

    Thanks for this. I’ve been distracting myself with Failblog, random YouTube videos and my five AP classes (otherwise my head would have exploded from the stress of waiting)

    Speaking of obsession, I have a countdown widget on my computer screen. 5 days, 20 hours, 43 minutes and t-minus 57 seconds to go!

  9. Nabhajit says:

    @Lydia…I am very tensed……bcoz if I am not accepted…I wont just miss the best thing in the world…BUT also the chance to meet the author of the two mind blowing blogs “Computers and Programs” & “What’s My age again?”………and the person who gave me the chance to read “THE MACHINE STOPS”..Is nt it Lydia????

  10. Nabhajit says:

    @KIT Sanders…..Travellers on the same route ….Are not we Kit………??????????Let me get ur Fcebook name….will u please….. give it???then my mail address is [email protected]

  11. Boy, I’m stressed too much now that I have my back up school confirmed… Ofcourse, I still want to get into MIT but then it just feels releived to know that you’ve already been accepted at another good school smile

  12. Nilanjan says:

    As to your seventh grade, I had the feeling of infatuation towards MIT from the ninth grade. Thanks awfully for these stress busters.
    As for me I go on by listening to Metallica, Green Day or playing Modern Warfare 3. Although I have two years before me before I give my SAT and TOEFL!!

  13. I have the stress of studying for my current on-going final exams and decision day… >.<

    But then lol, I guess we should just find a way to enjoy them whatever happens. raspberry

  14. Jeff says:

    Did anyone else think that the success image is very Doctor Who-ish (It’s all very wibbly wobbly, I mean)?

    Maybe I’m just regressing to a state of mind where everything is science fiction related as the decision date comes closer… Thank you for the encouraging post, it was nice to hear (or rather, read).

    Good luck, everybody!!!

  15. Noah says:

    I never knew HP fanfic was so addictive. Thanks for the distraction!

  16. Tim Shi says:

    I applied the EA and got deferred too. I hope I will have similar experience to you!!!!!!

  17. Sourabh says:



    “Failure is inherent in risk, and risk is necessary for success” Righto!

  18. Thanks, guys! I’m glad you liked it. You make me so happy.

  19. Kit Sanders says:

    Why is there a bread stick in the sky next to the hot air balloon?

  20. Thanks, everyone. I’m glad I could make you feel a bit less stressed.

    @Narendran: Congrats! Good luck on your finals.

  21. Because if you were in a how air balloon, wouldn’t you want a snack? (That’s how I draw clouds.) :p

  22. Carlos says:

    Thanks so much for the great advice, Lydia!! 😀

    And good luck for everyone who’s applying!! smile

  23. happymom says:

    lydia,Thanks a ton for this beautifully put piece of advice. My son applied to MIT and so has almost his full class[they are from a magnet science and technology school] and all are waiting with bated breadth for PiDay.Lydia can I take your permission to copy paste this and put it up in school tom for the seniors so that they can be better prepared for after decision time.
    Thanks and Regards,

  24. @James: I love MIT too. =)

    @George: I would say the odds are good. However, I doubt a video would make our break your application. Everything will be okay.

    @Jayne: MIT != Caltech. They’re similar, but they’re not the same school. I know people who have been rejected by one and accepted by the other. Just wait until Wednesday. It’ll be okay.

    @happymom: Wow, that sounds like a really awesome high school. Good luck to your son. And yes, of course you can. I’m flattered. smile

  25. happymom says:

    Lydia,you know their school has all high high high achievers.But the reality is that maybe none or one ot two at the most will get in.So the surrounding tension level is too high and some of these kids may feel that their perfect world just crashed at 6.24 pm on wednesday the 14th
    I think they need tp read this to better prepare them and to realise that life does not end at getting rejected from MIT.

  26. George Khoury says:

    Thank you for this interesting post.

    I have a question, on March 6th. I have sent the admissions office a video (link below), what are the odds that they would actually view it before making the decision?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CThnSDD1cc

    Thank you very much for all of your support, it has definitely made our wait a whole lot easier!

    George

  27. Jayne says:

    LOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOL
    LOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLO
    LLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLL
    OLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLO
    LLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOLLOL

    I AM REJECTED BY CALTECH

  28. James Williams says:

    I love MIT.

  29. Celestine =)) says:

    Thanks, Lydia!! =)) I just got waitlisted by Caltech, so I was REALLY nervous about MIT (and still am, actually XPPP) but your post totally made my day! I LOLed so hard at the Harry Potter fanfic. Thank you again; I hope I get in, but if I don’t…..well, I’ll just be what I always am…optimistic =DDDD!!

  30. KP says:

    @AmeliaB: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

  31. KP says:

    @AmeliaB and everyone else: I think Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality is awesome too! But lesswrong hasn’t been writing for a couple of months now.

  32. Anish says:

    I took physics honors and chemistry honors. I really enjoy those two subjects and am interested in pursuing them in further depth. Can I take ap chemistry and ap physics and skip biology without harming my chances of acceptance?

  33. Gelare says:

    XKCD was a great idea. I didn’t know it. thanks ^^

  34. @Celestine, Gelare: Yay! Glad I could help.

    @Anish: If MIT says you should take biology in high school, you should probably take biology in high school. If you get into MIT, you will have to take biology or place out of it, whether you like it or not. Maybe there’s a way you could squeeze chemistry, physics, *and* biology in before you graduate? Maybe you could self-study one of them (probably biology since you like it least) and take the corresponding AP exam without taking the class to demonstrate your grasp of the material?

  35. anonymous says:

    If you like Firefly and Pushing Daisies, you should check out Wonderfalls (yet another cancelled TV series produced by Tim Minear).

  36. Mayank Singh Tomar says:

    I’m obsessed, I’m infatuated. I love MIT. I have always dreamed of studying here, and do so now also.Like you did, I’m trying every bit to get in. But thank you for these soothing words Lydia, really oozes the tension out.