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MIT staff blogger Ben Jones

Ben’s Fourth Semi-Annual Q&A by Ben Jones

Even yet still more answers to your questions.

A real entry is coming soon! I promise!

In the meantime, more answers to more questions…


Andrew Lin wrote: “I recently got my SAT I results back (760 maths 740 reading and 680! writing). I was wondering if it would help my application if I did the test again (I only studied briefly for SAT I), considering that I am an international student (although I do have a good profile, including an int’l olympiad medal).”

Don’t worry about the writing, and your other scores are fine. :-)


Robb Carr wrote: “When reviewing applicants, obviously there is a certain point where it is clear that they are ‘qualified’ and could succeed as far as coursework goes. After this point is it purely ‘match’ or do the previous factors still weigh in?”

We always look at a given applicant’s story as a complete picture – each factor affects each other factor to some extent, so you can’t really divide them up so cleanly. Your above statement is correct in that once you’ve proven yourself to be academically qualified it is “purely match” that gets you in – but keep in mind that the specifics of academic potential are part of of match.


Molly wrote: “If we applied early action (or even regular action) is there any way of knowing what the admission decision is online or through e-mail?”

Not yet. We are discussing this as a possibility for the future, but it won’t be in place until 2006 at the earliest.

“Also I know you stated in a reponse from another question that you can send supplemental materials later if you are deferred, could you also retake some tests and send in new scores?”

Yes, we’ll accept new test scores between EA and RD if you are deferred.


Jonathan wrote: “I could’ve sworn that I’ve seen a photo entry in your blog, Ben, or maybe not. I use an RSS reader, so I apologize if I’ve mistaken you for someone else.”

You are correct! I had posted an entry in which we turned Sam into Tim The Beaver, but have since removed it. Sorry for the inconvenience!


Saatvik wrote: “If I stick to the word limit for the essays, a lot of space is left over in the Preview PDF (I’m applying online). Is it ok for me to write more and and fill this space up? I saw your post about how 50 words over the limit is not a big deal.”

50 words over the limit is fine, but don’t exceed the limit by too much. Don’t feel that you need to fill up white space; word count is the measure, not space. :-)

“I know how MIT likes to see Intenational Olympiads and Science Fairs etc. on the extracurricular list for internationals but what if I didn’t know about any of these till the final year of school? It’s not like I’ve been living under a rock or anything, it’s just that my school is not very active in these areas. For example, I only found out about the Informatics Olympiad in 11th grade (I reached the training camp then). Even though my school already had the participation form, they didn’t tell anybody about it! I had to go and request them to send my name after I saw an ad in the local newspaper. Despite all this, I’ve given my best (and gained recognition) to activities and competitions that I did find out about (again, all through my own initiative). How do I get this across? Should I write about it #14?”

#14 is the perfect place to explain those things. And I’d encourage you to do so – the more context we have, the better.

“I’ve been playing guitar for about 1.5 years now and would really like to send a recording to MIT. Unfortunately, there’s no way it can sound professional. The best I can probably do is record it on my computer using a microphone. Is this all right?”

That is fine – we’ll be listening to your guitar playing, not your recording studio abilities (unless you tell us that’s what we should be listening for!).


Adnan Esmail wrote: “I had a fairly specific question regarding MIT’s consideration for SAT I reasoning scores. Earlier, you mentioned 740 would not really be considered as much different from an 800. You mentioned that the purpose of the standardized test requirement is to gauge whether the student would be able to survive the rigorous academic environment. I was wondering how you would consider high AP scores (5s and 4s) and relatively high SAT II scores (700-800), along with average SAT I scores (650M 640V 670W). While these scores are not high, they do demonstrate proficiency. How are these scores considered? Also, how are GPA and course selection taken into account?”

All of these individual components are just pieces of a larger overall picture. One less-than-stellar component won’t keep you out of MIT. (As Bryan says, think of it as a table with many legs. If you chop off one leg, the table won’t fall over.) In any case, I’d say a high GPA in challenging courses is much more important than standardized test scores.


Shikhar wrote: “Please tell me if you know about any other research programs other than RSI where an international can participate and which are almost if not exactly as enriching and open ended as RSI.”

Check out Matt’s phenomenal entry on this very topic.


Long wrote: “My teachers’ evaluations are “Not Processed” according to my MyMIT account, though I know my teachers sent them already. Should I be worried?”

Not at all. We got a gazillion pieces of mail right on the deadline. It will be weeks before everything gets processed. :-)


Oren Hazi wrote: “…about mid-year grade reporting, if a school has both quarter and semester grades, does MIT want our first quarter grades? First semester grades? Both? Is it different for early/regular action?”

However your grades appear on your report card is how we’d like to see them. So if your school releases quarter grades, yes; if not, no worries.


Saned wrote: “I’m an American living abroad and I don’t attend an “English is the medium of instruction” school. My school offers a very limited number of activities and I’ve started many of those on my own. Moreover, my SATs aren’t stellar (the verbal section cause you know ‘I don’t speak english every moment’). In other words I ended up with a 600. I did my SAT II expecting high 700 in all. Yeah, btw my SAT I math is 700 (the most stupdist mistakes in my life; -0.5-0.5=-0.25!!) Will these scores affect me negatively?”

Remember that scores are just one piece of a big picture. (Sorry to sound like a broken record!)


Jess Kim wrote: “I put in my jobs section that I work as a freelance web designer, but I couldn’t find any place to put my URL. So I wrote it on the inside cover of a DVD I sent in with some of my other work. I’m really starting to regret not putting it in a more noticeable place, but it was somewhat large and written in green pen. What’s the chance that it won’t get noticed? Will you look out for it for me?”

Your readers will likely see it on the DVD. If I happen to be one of your readers, I’ll certainly look out for it for you. But statistically, I’m likely to not be one of your readers… If you’re really worried about it, you can send a letter to admissions (don’t forget to put your full name and birthdate on it) with the URL and an explanation and it will be placed in your file.


Edward wrote: “I wanted to send an additional recommendation by a close pal and I wanted to know if there are any specific forms or can she just write it as letter.”

A letter is fine.

“I probably should not ask you this but… I want to contact a coach and I have not done so for a few days wondering exactly what should I say? Does he/she consider only athletes with proof of substantial achievements like trophies etc.?”

The coach will likely wish to corroborate your athletic success somehow but this certainly does not have to be in the form of a trophy. You should contact the coach – it couldn’t hurt!

“If I’ve been employed by the same employer for the same job since my first year of high school, does it affect my application negatively since I have not sought… er… different experiences… or something like that?”

Not at all. Perhaps it shows that you’re an amazing employee!


Shikhar wrote: “I will be giving the International Olympiad of Informatics this year. Unfortunately the results (obviously if I get selected) will come out after I think the decisions. However I do have certain national olympiads about which I can write in my app and which were in no way less competitive (in fact one was more competitive than IOI heats) so will these olympiads be an equally good indicator of my passion for computer science?”

I would just make sure to explain the levels at which you participated. Sometimes people just write “olympiad” and as we all know, this could mean 50 different things. :-)


Adnan wrote: “How are the optional essays evaluated. In a previous message, you stated that the optional essays are good if they better “tell our story.” What if both the optional essays we wrote further the reader’s perception of our passion and interest in a field (ie. research)? Is it fine if the essays don’t introduce a different dimension? Is portraying a different aspect of one expected if we include an optional essay? Also, can these essays hurt us? Suppose we don’t write the most compelling or fluent essays, can the optional essays disadvantage our application?”

I doubt that an optional essay could ever hurt an application. They’re really just there to help you tell your story. You should use them however you see fit. :-) I honestly see them used in many different ways, and one is not necesarily better than the other.

“I was told that I should NEVER use any technical terminology in any of my essays. Is this true? If so, what about the optional essay in which you ask about a design? Writing about a design typically entails some sort of technical description. Is this ok?”

Absolutely. The “T” in “MIT” is “technology”, after all. :-)


Laura Yue Bai wrote: “We should estimate our financial aid materials right, if we don’t have the 2005 forms. So we should send in the 2005 forms if we don’t have the 2006 forms. Also, when we do have the forms, we should refill out the applications and send them again? As soon as possible after getting the correct estimates? After we know we’re admitted?”

I honestly don’t know, as I’m far from an expert in financial aid matters. You’ll want to ask the guru, Mr. Daniel Barkowitz.


Bernard wrote: “I am having my interview on thursday. Any suggestions or final notes?”

Quite simply, be yourself. Don’t say things you think we’ll want to hear – just speak from the heart. Though it’s called an “interview,” it’s really supposed to be more of a casual conversation, so most of all – enjoy it!


Ann wrote: “My son’s application makes no mention of my having multiple sclerosis which was/is extremely difficult, in many ways and on many levels, for him to deal with his whole life. His growth, compassion and perseverence have fallen through the cracks of the online application process. Would this be information admissions officers would like to know in their attempt at getting to know the whole student?”

Absolutely. The more context we have in which to evaluate an applicant, the better. If there are issues that a student is uncomfortable mentioning in his/her application, the parent can always ask the guidance counselor to include it in the school report.

38 responses to “Ben’s Fourth Semi-Annual Q&A”

  1. Clark Poland says:

    Thank you for the Q+A’s, I love it when someone asks the question I was gonna ask.

    Bernard: Don’t worry about the interview. Have fun with it. Remember a funny story just in case the interviewer asks. It’s cliche, I know, but it’s not an interview but a discussion about who you are.

  2. Shikhar says:

    ben thanks for all the help.

    Well regarding the olympiads.

    The National Cyber Olympiad(the very competitive one with about 80k-100k competitiors an about 10k state competitors)

    I won first prize state and silver merit (8th National)

    Then on this second olympiad(an invitational one for selected school of ICSE about 75 schools from all SAARC nations)

    i was 3rd.

    so there you have more perspective into the stuff.

  3. Drew says:

    I noticed some people had questions on the interviews, and all i have to say is don’t worry too much about it. I had mine on a saturday afternoon and ended up sitting and talking with my EC for 2 hours, and I had already gone for a tour and information session so I didn’t have too many questions. The alumni are doing it because they want to, and they are both very nice and very intelligent, just go into it ready to discuss yourself and your interests.

  4. Hey Ben!

    Wow you’re really efficient with those Q&A’s, thank you so much it really alleviates some of the pressure, although people mentioning their skyhigh scores is pretty crazy! My question is, if i’m living in Kuwait, is there any possibility of receiving the Admissions decision either by courier mail or online? This is because the problem comes not from the international mail’s speed, but due to the very poor mail system here in Kuwait. It is vital for me to receive my admissions decision before the May 1st deadline, whether it be acceptance or (God forbid) rejection.

    Many thanks,

    Abdulaziz (Aziz)

  5. Edward says:

    Once again, thank you for the prompt answers.

  6. Jess says:

    Thanks for the answer!

    LOST is on tonight! Are you ready? Have you seen this?

  7. Merudh says:

    hey ben…just stopping by once again to say hi. I see everyone is pretty busy asking questions and what not… good thing I sent my app in a couple weeks ago. Anyway, hope you get a chance to see the dvd I made… just letting you know in case you don’t wink ahha

    anyway, I was wondering if you watch House, M.D. next to LOST?

    its a great show…you should watch it if you don’t already its medicine based (my love) but I mean its got that whole technology thing built into it too which makes it all the more interesting to watch. It comes on FOX by the way on Tuesdays at 9pm. Cya.

  8. jimmy says:

    man that was a good show of lost. was that Jack that pushed the doctor away in the flashback when shannon and her stepmom go to the hospital?!

  9. Dan says:

    I think creative writing and contemporary literature (1/2 year counted as regular CP) for 4th year english is truly more beneficial than BRITISH LITERATURE (honors), but it’s not as challenging and that shows, so I’m iffy about choosing not so demanding english senior year. (I’ll be in AP calculus, AP physics, AP biology, AP US government and spanish 4 honors) what do you think?

  10. Andrew Lin says:

    Thanks Ben for your eomments. I was wondering whether phone interviews are accepted, since my nearest EC lives 1000km away (If not, I guess I can always have a holiday in Sydney.)

  11. Oren Hazi says:

    Ah… excellent. Thanks, Ben!

  12. Oooh, House is very interesting. He’s a really quircky character.

    I remember one episode in which he went by some babies who had caught a flu virus which was killing some of them. He called them, “Exhibit 1, …… Exhibit 2, ……” explaining their symptoms and his deductions to the doctor next to him (who was that Afro-American guy, and what’s his name again?).

    Hmmm… on reflection, House seems to be a mockery of the ruthless efficiency of a hospital, and the director does that by making him the moodily-comical center of attraction in the show. Nice serial drama…

  13. Anonymous says:

    Hey aziz you were at MIT this summer right?!

  14. Adnan Esmail says:

    Thanks Ben for your frequent updates of this blog! Your responses (both here and on CC) have been very useful in guiding us through the college application process.

  15. Shikhar says:

    I am from Uttaranchal.

    But the year I won it..uttaranchal was not recognised and we were clubbed with Uttar Pradesh. (so basically that makes the competition more tough).

    where r u From? I am from Dehra Dun, Uttaranchal.

  16. Shikhar says:

    oh and Ben can you please make a mental note of the third party (s) comment “shikhar, which state r u from? the NCO is real tough. I generally give its sister the NSO”.

    So that when you read my app in January its a bit easier for me to emphasize on this.

    Although doing this is very very tough but please if you can do so because I have no other way to prove how competitive it is as people always look at IOI which is not very popular in India due to lack of availability and penetration and think that the NCO is some crappy local olympiad.

  17. Shikhar says:

    one thing more to s.

    has the deadline for this years NSO passed. Please tell me because I could not take part in the NCo this year due to another olympiad in Lucknow.

    Oh and Ben in my EC section should I put down that I have been member for four years of my schools programming and quiz team at certain competitions called MODEM,COFAS (and explain about them in the explanation sheet) or is participation not that worthy to put down anyways. Actually I am asking this as this shows my continued achievement in school and certain dmension of passion for computer science (as it is 4 continuous years). Btw I also have some prizes so obviously I will be putting them down. But I still want to know about the 4yr participation part.

  18. s says:

    Shikhar, which state r u from? the NCO is real tough. I generally give its sister the NSO

  19. Andrew Lin says:

    I m glad some people here like House. It is simply awesome, although I still believe Hugh Laurie should be speaking in his natural accent. In Australia, we are only up to the first season. Next Wednesday, Carmen Elektra’s on the show. Can’t wait!!!!

  20. Jane says:

    Ben, don’t you think that’s enough Q&A’s for the moment? Where’s that real entry you promised? smile

  21. Shikhar says:


    I have served my local community service center (a mix of oldage home and underpriviliged children and mentally impaired people) for a very long time. I cant exactly remember the number of hours as the’d go in 1000’s I suppose.

    However, what I want to ask is that do you want proof of my work there in the form of a letter of reference or is my noting this fact in the application good enough for the admission commitee.

    (the letter is not any form of reccomendation but just something which the Chief officer wrote for my appreciation and sort of just explains what all I have done there…which is quite a lot)

    as I do not intend to write an essay about this. I was wondering whether that letter will be of help as that will explain my activities at the centre without me having to write about it.

  22. Merudh says:

    YES! Tueaday HOUSe 9 pm Carmen Elektra! Watch it people. By the way…Andrew you are right he should stick to his native accent…but he nonetheless he does a great job hiding it too lol

  23. Shikhar,

    That’s a whole lot of questions you’ve got. I wonder, perhaps if you followed your instincts, then your passions would shine through in your applications, right?

  24. Cheng Lam says:

    Hey Ben,

    My guidance counselor tells me that she can’t send out the Mid-Year Grade Report until the middle of February and at the same time I’m applying via Early Action. Will this affect my chances of getting in? And if it does, what could I do about it?

  25. Raghav says:

    I have got to stop underestimating myself. I came 3rd national in the NCO and never considered it a great achievement. Thanks Shikar and s for making me see it is pretty good after all.

    Abt the interview, I had mine last week and it was great. What I expected to be a 1 hr talk abt courses turned into a 2hr talk abt music, friends and cricket. It was a 4hr drive to get there but definitely worth it.

  26. Danish Zaidi says:

    Hi Ben !!!

    I am really very upset about my SAT II results. I got 560 on my Maths IC..Physics-600 and Chemistry-620 (yes they are that poor)….I want to improve my scores by retaking the tests but I have to take the SAT I on DEC 3rd and this is the last month I can take any standardized test as I applied through Regular Action. I could do much better if I could retake the test. That was my first attempt. You pls tell what should I do. I know they are much below the MIT requirement.

    Secondly, I am an applicant from Pakistan. I have passed my HIGHER SECONDARY CERTIFICATE with 80% aggregate. Will you people evaluate me in context with the Pakistani students or the american students?

  27. Mamat says:


    my English isn’t good enough. Although I finished

    Advanced Calculus at 8th grade and participated International Mathematical Olympiad, because of my English I couldn’t get full at SAT1 and SAT2 on MATH.

    My dream is not to enter MIT, my dream is to realize my dreams at MIT. Is it possible to achieve the highest levels at MIT with bad knowledge of English?

  28. Utsav says:

    Hi Ben! I got a score of 670 in Maths, 570 in writing and 560 in verbal. I am a Student from India. Are my scores too bad for MIT? I secured 89 in English in my CBSE XII exams. I will be taking the ACT in Dec. My SAT II scores in Maths2/Physics/Chem are 800/760/770. Please suggest.

  29. Shizzlast says:

    I’m an international student (Canada) and since the admission rate is so low for international students is it possible for students to get in without AP classes etc. My school does not offer AP courses and i am the first person from my school to ever take the SAT! My SAT scores are 800(M)-750(R)-720(W). Will these high(er) SAT scores and a strong atheltic record (hockey) as well as good SAT Subject scores (which I take on Dec 3) get me to MIT?

  30. Sam K says:

    I submitted the (paper) application EA. For the optional section (#13) I attached a copy of my final composition project for the music theory course I took junior year. I’ve kind of been wondering… is this the kind of thing you guys like to see for those questions?

  31. irina calciu says:

    I saw a big OPTIONAL written there under my writing score on the SAT Reasoning Test. Does this score count in the admission process? well.. my Critical Reading score wasn’t fabulous (690) and I got 780 in Math, but I am very proud of my 800 in writing. Why is that score “optional”?!

  32. Olga says:

    So ….. do you need to send a mid-year grade report for EA? I figured it was just for RD applicants, since we haven’t reached the mid-year yet.

  33. None says:

    Your answers have been very descriptive, useful and clear. Thank you.

    I would also like to ask two questions: 1) in the first optional essay what do you really consider as an invention? for example if once I happened to notice a geometric progression in chemistry and then used simple mathematics to produce some basic but new (in that I never saw these equations in my chem text books) equations is this suitable content for optional essay 13.

  34. None says:

    2) Is it okay to answer optional essay 14 with an essay which tells of my interests and excitements about space exploration? My application so far has not spoken about my scientific passions specifically.

  35. Rafael says:

    Hi Ben. Is it necessary to give a specific title to the essay or is it ok to just begin writing with the instructions as so called title?

  36. Stephen says:

    I am interested in attending MIT and I have heard the sleep pattern is very different, and that many people get very little sleep. I was wondering how these students manage that, and how I could build up a solid sleeping pattern that only has about 5 hours. I have tried in the past, but I always end up becoming too tired to continue throughout the day. What should I do?

  37. inquisitor says:

    Hello, Matt!

    I hope that this question does not come out the wrong way, but I wanted to ask what the qualifications are of each member of the admissions staff who vote on whether to accept or reject an applicant.

    Are you all MIT alums?

    If not, do you all have science/engineering backgrounds?

    If neither of the above, what would qualify a non-alum to gauge ability of an applicant to “fit” within MIT’s academic and social culture? If you yourself never went through the MIT undergraduate experience, how can you possibly judge an applicant’s ability to “fit in?”