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MIT staff blogger Ben Jones

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

Answers to questions received through 4PM on 01/09/06.

Answers to questions received through 4PM on 01/09/06…


Many people wrote in with concerns about the application tracking portlet.

Please don’t worry, and there’s no need to call the office for at least another week or two – we are inundated with mail at the moment.


A few people wrote in asking if I accept personal email and what my email address is.

If your question is a general one, I prefer that you post it to my blog so that others will benefit from the answer. If your question is very specific to your case, you may email me at benjones at the mit domain (, but please don’t email me with any variations of “what are my chances” questions. I simply can’t answer them on a case-by-case basis, because until I’m in the committee room with the rest of my colleagues, with your entire application spread out before us – in the context of the entire applicant pool – I honestly don’t have any idea what your chances are. (Unless you have a bunch of D’s, in which case you can probably figure it out on your own.)


Romola wrote: “I am about to take the SAT II subject tests, is it possible to take the test in two science subjects (i.e Physics & Chemistry) and one math subject in either level I or II?”

Yes, that is totally fine. You need one in math, one in science, and a third in any area of your choosing (including another math or science).


SpeckJr wrote: “I’m definitely sending in some supplementary material to let my personality really come through (nothing like my essay). Is it possible to really be too honest? How far should I really go into expressing who I am? Like, where do they start to go, ‘Now that’s just weird and immature’?”

It’s possible to be “too honest,” yes. :-) I’ve seen this in a few cases (oh how I wish I could share the details here, but I’d get fired). My advice would be this: don’t be too risky, but also don’t be too safe. You want to make us notice you, make us feel something, make us laugh, connect with us. But you don’t want to give us reason for pause either. I know this is a vague answer; I just can’t think of a way to really answer it. At the end of the day, you really just need to trust your own instinct.


Sushant wrote: “For the SATI, on the application, the writing section is said to be ‘optional’. Does this mean that it will not be considered as much as the critical reading and math scores (especially if it is lower than the others)? Or is that for applicants who took the old SATI?”

See answer to Irina’s very similar question in my Q&A #5, about 1/3 of the way down the page.


Dhrubo wrote: “I have dispatched my app materials via DHL on 23rd December. I heard them DHL people saying that the stuff would easily make it to MIT before 31st, but asked whether there will be somebody to recieve it?”

I know this answer is late, but rest assured that the records team worked all through the holidays to receive and process the large volume of mail.


Warren wrote: “I’m confused about sending SAT scores to colleges. I intially thought that they are submitted electronically, and waited perhaps too late to send them out. The collegeboard website says 3-5 weeks, I’m guessing this is just for the letter/written version. But a feeling of anxiety exists in me that my scores won’t get where they need to go if I sent them today (via internet). Is this anxiety misplaced? Does MIT get scores electronically?”

We do get scores electronically, and since apparently we can take scores from the January 28 tests, I don’t think you have anything to worry about. :-)


Mohan wrote: “I am an international applicant. I dont know either about SAT or toefl untill I completed my 12th. In june or july i came to know of sat and descided to take a chance for this year as these may lead to a brilliant future although I recieved admissions in the local universities. My scores in maths level II c, physics, chem 720/660/700. my score in toefl is 247. I am taking my SAT in jan as my scores in nov are very poor. I am sure that i would recieve a very good score in this sat, because last SAT is taken with just a 15 days preperation and toefl with a 10 day prep and these tests are totally of new shape of what I had been taking all these years. Please tell me whether the score in toefl and sat II will help me? I cannot again afford to take toefl as time is a factor.”

All of your scores are competitive – but I do always feel compelled to remind everyone that it’s never the numbers alone that get you in to a place like MIT.


Rizwan Naveed wrote: “I’ve been playing guitar for like three years, and I’ll probably carry my axe to the grave with me:) I’m completely self taught with little knowledge of music theory :P… Anyways, I have this old video of a gig I did in our High school. The music was not Beethoven or anything, but I personally think we rocked. The video’s a bit shaky, but I think the sound comes out fine. Should I send the Video as supplemental material?! By the way, I’m planning on studying electrical engineering, but I think this particular passion hasn’t surfaced elsewhere on my application. Should I send a cd containing the video? And is it appropriate if I answer the optional essay for question fourteen with a song I wrote (WITHOUT any explanation)? And btw, I think a rocker for an admissions officer is the coolest thing I ever heard. You kick * man.”

Hehe, well thanks for that last line, but I only play music in a band to make enough money to support my admissions habit. :-) :-) :-) (Oh, if that were only the case…) The video would be an awesome supplement, especially if you can put it onto a CD or DVD for ease of viewing on a computer. And I think a song you’ve written is a great use of question 14.


Sebastian wrote: “I just immigrated to the US with my family, and I don’t have a high school diploma from any US school. I’m planning on taking APs and enrolling at a shool for that purpose (Calc AB, Calc BC, Physics C and maybe Art or Lit) I’ll be taking the SATs and also the TOEFL. The idea is to prove I am a qualified student for MIT, but i’m not sure i’d I really need a High School diploma. Should I just take the APs? (I’m sure I would get outstanding grades.)”

You don’t need a high school diploma to enroll at MIT, just appropriate evidence of academic preparation. Sounds like you’re going to have that covered.


George wrote: “Do you only get supplemental materials by mail or is it possible for me to e-mail less than 1MB of sound files? It’s a small sample of my guitar playing.”

Sound files will need to be sent in by mail so that they get placed into your file for your readers. If you sent them via email, we’d have to burn a CD for your folder, and unfortunately we don’t have the staff to handle this level of production for thousands of applicants. :-)


The Greatest wrote: “I am applying to MIT as a Freshman for the 2nd time in a row. I sent 3 letters of recommendation with my last application. I have found one teacher to write me a new letter for my reapplication, but do I need to find another one, because that would just be the same as the one I sent last year?”

You can reuse one of last year’s, but I’d let the committee know that this is your intention so that we don’t think one is missing. You can do this via [email protected].


Jason wrote: “I took the Math Level 2 Subject Test and scored an 800, but have never taken the Math Level 1 Subject Test. Should I now take Level 1?”

Nope, you’re all set.


Sly wrote: “i sent an email to [email protected] about an application i sent but i never got a reply. I posted them in november but they haven’t been ticked on my application tracking. How can i get to know when it has arrived? Can you suggest what i can do if it doesnt arrive before the deadline?”

See above – we’re very backed up. I would not worry about it for at least a week or two.


Anonymous wrote: “I did my TOEFL in April and my SAT 1 in June. Both these tests have not been processed in My MyMIT account. This really worries me because my SAT 2 (which I did in DECEMBER!!) has already been processed. What’s the problem, could you help me in any way? My scool report and teacher recomendations are also not processed even though I made sure they were sent in early December. Do I need to get them sent again? I hope not because this is a real problem for me, getting them in the first place was difficult. Does it take longer to process things for international applicants.”

Don’t worry about the stuff you sent in December, but tests that you took in the spring/summer *should* have reached us long before now. Are you sure you instructed the scores to be sent to MIT? I would check with the testing services to be sure that the scores were sent to us. If they were, contact our office with this information.


Andrew wrote: “Firstly, I was wondering if you are familiar with the tertiary entry ranking systems in place in the various states of Australia. More to the point, if I sent my tertiary entrance certificate and rank (I’m from Queensland, Australia), do I also need to enclose an explanation of the system or a link to a webpage with an explanation. Secondly, I recently reevaluated my MIT application and I felt it does not do justice to my personality and who I am as a person. So I was wondering if it would be wise to include a reference from a friend. (The reference was quite specific to a particular event.)”

We are indeed familiar with the various international school systems. That said, it never hurts to enclose an explanation (or a link thereto) in your application. At this point, you could email it to [email protected]. And you are welcome to enclose a reference from a friend if you feel it will add additional significant context to your application.


Prashant wrote: “I have sent some supplementary material (a bit via post like some pictures i took, because photography is my hobby)… and some programs over email. How much do the admissions officers consider this supplementary material? And how does that assist you all in making a decision? I mean, if the programs and pictures etc. aren’t truly out-of-this-world or ground-breaking, but pretty solid and display a genuine interest in the activity, can they ruin a person’s application? I ask you this, because I heard one guy discouraging me from sending stuff, saying that “the admissions guys will laugh at you if you send xyz material”. I know there aren’t any fixed percentages, but in comparison to things like standardized tests, grades, essays, recommendations and interviews, how important are the extra materials?”

With a few rare exceptions, I’d say that supplemental materials can really only help you or at minimum have no effect, but really can’t hurt you. The admissions committee wouldn’t laugh at you or hold it against you if we weren’t impressed by your submissions – if anything we’d admire your interest and dedication and say “great start, but keep practicing!” :-)


Hossein wrote: “I was wondering what aspects MIT looks at its students. I have not taken my SATs or SAT II yet but I usually don’t do all that well on multiple choice and standardized tests. I am at the top of my math class but I just seem to do poorly when it comes to those tests. Also, I’ve been taking classes at my local college since i was very young and was wondering if I sent in my transcript, would you guys look at it just to see my motivation and consider that a factor since most the classes aren’t transferable to MIT. And one last question. I go to a high school with a high level of competition in grades within our classes but lack of extracurricular academic programs. Anyways, because of the competition the teachers have changed the structure so in classes especially math, the top grades in my class at least, are around a low A or A-, however some teachers have different structures allowing for higher grades. I was wondering if MIT would be aware of this at admission to show leniancy and not punish applicants for the high school or teacher they have.”

You should aim to do as well as you can on your standardized tests but don’t agonize over them – they are only one component of a very large application. You should definitely send in a transcript from your local college and any other academic pursuits that you have undertaken. We feel confident that we know the profiles, reputations, and rigor of schools very well, however it is difficult to know within a given school what the individual teachers are like. If this is of concern to you, you should discuss it with your guidance counselor – generally when we are made aware of such things, it is within the GC report.


Anonymous wrote: “Does this mean the adcom starts looking at apps 2morrow, or today?” (written on 1/2/05)

It takes a few days before individual folders are complete and ready to be read. I believe the first folders were released to the readers on Wednesday (1/4/05).


Me? wrote: “I’m on one of the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams, so you guys obviously know a lot about this. Would you think it could be beneficial for me to send in a newspaper article (front page :)) where I was one of the main people interview? Would this just be considered an annoyance, as you guys already know so much about it?”

This certainly couldn’t hurt, and might be pretty cool. :-)


Seth wrote: “Hi, my name is Seth and I did not apply to MIT. I have never been great at math and have never taken a math SAT II; therefore I cannot apply. My question is, and I am not sure whether this can be answered, why is MIT’s philosophy to discriminate who can apply based on demonstrated mathematical and scientific aptitude? MIT also has social science programs; is it possible that a student could highly contribute to those programs without having the inclination to spend their lives as a research scientist? Really my root question is probably too broad and multi-faceted to have a satisfying answer. Ultimately I am wondering why, if education at elite colleges is so fantastic, so unequivocally better than an education at a less prestigious name, should admission be so limited. IF MIT really offers an unparalleled education, then selectivity seems to deny the chance to many who would intellectual contribute and participate as much as any admitted applicant. I guess that as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and MIT all steadily inch towards single digit acceptances, all of the motivated and passionate students not offered a spot will attend supposedly lesser institutions, and once they get over the prestige, realize that the admissions process has become so upended and unbalanced that the idea of one school being better than another has lost meaning. But I’m interested in what you think. Hundreds of thousands of high school students have motivation, intellectual passion; some are better able to demonstrate it on an application than others. How do you define intellectual curiosity? How do you find it among all the data? How do you distinguish one curiosity as being superior to another? What do As in an application mean to you? Why do you want students to have an aptitude for math and science? Why do you want students to have an aptitude for test taking?”

Thanks for this, seth, there are a bunch of great questions here. First, about the emphasis on math and science… The answer is rather simple – every MIT student, regardless of major, must complete the General Institute Requirements (GIR’s) which include a significant amount of math, physics, bio, and chem. Students who haven’t demonstrated a propensity for these subjects in high school generally run into trouble here. Why do we have the GIR’s in the first place? We’re a technology school whose culture is and always has been heavily influenced by science and math. It’s just who we are. As for your other question, you certainly won’t find me saying that education is better at “these elite colleges” than it is anywhere else – in fact you’ll find me saying the complete opposite in many places on this blog (here for example). There are hundreds of phenomenal schools out there; MIT, Stanford, and the Ivies are just a few of the many. I attended a “supposedly lesser institution” and would argue to the teeth that I got a better education than I could have at any Ivy – it was a perfect match for me and none of the Ivies would have been. As I’ve said before, don’t get caught up in the names, folks – you’ll sacrifice options that you shouldn’t be sacrificing.


Anonymous wrote: “I had my research mentor send in a recommendation directly, but I forgot to ask her to write my name and birthdate explicitly. I mean, obviously she will have written my name in the recommendation, but she hasn’t written my birthdate. Should I ask her to submit another letter of recommendation with my birthdate? Also, how can I make sure the supplemental recommendation has reached MIT? Can I call them up, or should I just have faith that it reached?”

I wouldn’t worry about it – it likely won’t be a problem. If you want, you can call our office in a few weeks to confirm. :-)


Prashant wrote: “I’ve sent certain extra materials via email and via post, along with the rest of the application material. The thing is, I sent the email just a couple of days before the deadline. How can I be certain that all my stuff has reached you guys?”

Give it a few weeks and then give us a call if you like.


Wish wrote: “I sent my application over from France by regular mail, not ups or something like that. Should I worry that it doesn’t say on my MyMIT account that the final parts I send have been received?”

Nope, don’t worry. (See above for mail issues.)


Jessica wrote: “Do you think it is possible for an applicant to send in ‘too many’ supplementary materials? For example, a music recording on top of two athletic recommendations. Is it an advantage to be “well-rounded” and able to contribute to many parts of MIT’s community?”

If the supplemental recs start repeating themselves (i.e. not adding any additional context) then that’s not really a good use of your reader’s time. If they each provide different insights, however, then that is valuable. It’s always good to contribute to multiple parts of a community, but I’d say that quality is more important than quantity. Get involved and be passionate; just be careful not to spread yourself too thin! :-)


Jia wrote: “I have already submitted my application on the web. Please note that there is a mistake on my transcript. That shows that I only have 50 hours of community service. In reality, I volunteered for over 500 hrs and have met the requirement for the Presidential Community Service Award. That’s my fault. I forgot to submit my social work sheet to school on time. In the Midyear School Report from my school, it will show that my actual community services time is 508 hours. I feels so bad about it. Do I need to write a letter to admission office to explain this?”

You don’t have to, but I would. That’s a significant difference and 500 hours is quite impressive. A quick note to [email protected] will correct this and ensure that your readers know the full impact of your participation.


Anonymous wrote: “My school sends recs + transcripts + school report in one package, but only my recs are processed! Why?!!”

Different parts are processed at different times; fear not.


SyRx wrote: “I’m an international student (foreign school system) and I was wondering whether I have to send in a Mid-Year Report. One of MIT’s application brochures says I don’t have to, but I just wanted to clear the matter up since the Online Application Tracking has a checkbox for the Mid-Year Rep too. Please advise.”

International applicants do not need to submit a midyear grade report. The MyMIT app tracking portlet doesn’t differentiate between domestic and international applicants – thus the unchecked box. Sorry for any confusion!


Linda wrote: “On the online tracking page, it lists both my teacher recommendations as Not Processed, but they both swear they sent it in two weeks ago. Who should I talk to? What should I do?”

Fear not (see above). :-)


Virzhiniya wrote: “I am worried about my fee waiver. I sent it along with other application materials in December. MyMIT shows me that all my application materials are received and processed except for my fee waiver. It is a letter I wrote with my college counselor’s signature to verify my financial difficulty. I’m worried whether the admissions office will accept this kind of a fee waiver. If there is something wrong with it, or if it lost, could you notify me so that I can send a new one?”

You’ll need to call our office to verify that it has been processed. Be sure to mention “fee waiver” when you call so that you are placed in touch with the person who processes them.


Phil wrote: “On my application, I included some info about my musical interests. Rather than send in a CD with a few of my home recordings on it, I put a link to my purevolume site in my essays. Is this a smart move? Will the admissions staff really go to the trouble of typing in my URL? Probably a petty worry, but hey, it’s one of my biggest passions so I want to make sure you all get to see it.”

Most readers would check out a URL, however it can’t be guaranteed that all readers will have internet access when reading. If you want to be 100% confident, you may wish to mail in a CD.


Anonymous wrote: “Can i send additional material direct to your email? Or do I have to send it to the undergrad office, I have had many emails go unheeded by the actual office.”

Additional materials should always be sent to [email protected]. They can’t always respond to every email of this nature, but you can be confident that all materials will be placed in the proper application folder assuming you’ve included your full name and birthdate.

13 responses to “Ben’s Seventh Semi-Annual Q&A”

  1. Jon says:

    Alright, so I have to stay that I have tried to stay silent on the SAT writing section debate, if there really is a debate, but with it being brought up again and again, I think I should mention that the optional essays are considered optional in that they are not required, but if they can give more information, they can help you. The optional interview claims to be the part of the admissions step that can help you, but most likely will not harm you. Don’t you find it fishy that all of a sudden a big optional means that an 800 or 790 or whatever is not even looked at? What ever happened to going the extra little bit? I can understand the claim to not trust it and ignore like a 550, but if you have an 800, is it really fair that that is not even given a consideration? To me, and possibly some other students, it would be like testing calculus around the nation. Not every student knows calculus. Not every school has the resources to teach it. Would MIT distrust the score because of that? When I took the AP Calc exam last year, the directions the graders get on these exams is pretty much look for the right answer. Thus, if you weren’t sure what method to use, by writing 2 answers on the paper, you actually leave the grader the decision of choosing the correct one. Standardized tests are not perfect, and should not be used to punish anyone. But, does that mean that by removing punishment we must remove reward, too?

    Looking back on this, it looks like a rant, and I apologize, because I’m mostly on your side. Then again, I do feel my critical reading score was a factor in my deferral from EA, so yes, I think writing could and should be able to help students. Either way, I want you to know I still accept and understand the policies MIT makes on this, whether or not I agree with them

  2. Edward says:

    Hi Ben!

    Just to break the monotony, how are you doin? Are you having a good day?

    Take care.

  3. Anonymous says:

    So how were those New SAT Writing scores in early action? Was there anything shocking about them? Were they a helpful deciding factor? Any correlation between writing and math or writing and CR? What was the middle 50% of acceptees’ scores?

  4. Quick question about supplemental materials:

    I’m a deferred early action applicant, and I sent in a DVD recently of the special effects and animation work I’ve done. What if it is added to my folder after my application has been read for regular admissions? My application is complete, and all of the piece are in place, but there may be more parts (like this DVD) that don’t get seen because they will arrive in the admissions office after my application has been read. Will such additional pieces be noticed in committee? (I mailed the DVD and its explanatory letters about a week ago, so it should definitely arrive before February)

  5. Ben,

    If we were deferred, do our E3 summary cards from the EA round get saved in our folders and considered again, along with new RA summary cards? Would an application then wind up with 4 readers and 4 summaries by then end of the RA round?

  6. Stephanie says:

    I was just reading over some old blogs and one girl was questioning why the SAT essay scores weren’t considered. After thinking about that, I thought how wonderful it was that the score do not mean much because I am an awful writer. While thinking about that I also thought, “Gee this gives me more time to review math!” It’s a win-win situation for me. Thanks!

  7. Amalchi says:

    I have a few questions regarding the TOEFL. For some reason, ever since the new version of the TOEFL came out, no center in Puerto Rico has been offering it. I am very worried about this since we (students) are obviosuly foreign language speakers. I tried to see if any other version of the TOEFL was being offered, but I was unsuccesfull. Many students and I feel like this will put us in a disadvantage, since our SAT scores went down the drain for the most part.

    I am very confident and happy about the rest of the application I sent to MIT, but I must say I am not at all happy about my SAT scores and felt a need to take the TOEFL in order for this test to be taken into consideration in conjunction with the rest of my application. The only other test I have taken where my english proficiency has been scored is the PEAU, which is offered by the college board for students who are interested in applying to colleges in Puerto Rico. I took this test last year, in order to gain admission to the residential school where I am presently Studying. I will be graduating this May from high school. I called MIT on one occassion and they told me to send the PEAU results with a letter stating that this was the only test I was able to take besides the SAT. But the score results are in spanish. They are not offered in English. Will the people at MIT be able to find someone that can translate them to the rest of the admission officers? Will this test be able to substitute the TOEFL? If we send the PEAU results, will they be taken into consideration?

    thanks smile Amalchi

    [email protected]

  8. Dadx4 says:

    “We feel confident that we know the profiles, reputations, and rigor of schools very well…”

    Ben, I know you are busy now, but I’d appreciate it if at some point you could describe how the admissions staff know the profiles and rigors of various schools across the country. I have one child applying to colleges now, and three more yet to go through the process, and I’m curious to know to what extent the strength (or weakness) of particular high schools factors into admissions decisions and what information on the the high schools the admissions staff has access to. Thanks in advance.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Hey, well, I’m a student from Saudi Arabia, I study in all arabic school and my teachers don’t know english really well. I have a 4.0 average. I just took the SATs and did extremely well on the math section. I know I can make it into MIT. My question is that what should I do about my teacheer reccomendations? They all speak fluent arabic, I’m going to let me english teacher write me one and I know it will be amazing, but what should I do about my other reccomendations? They won’t be able to express themeselves very well in english?

    My other question is that my school doesnt offer a lot of reccomendations what should I do, I’m taking all thats offerred and trying my best? Is MIT familiar with the schools in Saudi Arabia? Thanks for your time.

  10. George says:

    This might come in handy to ease the people’s nerves down. Say that you take your advice, Ben, and wait another two weeks before contacting the Admissions Office about mail. Then we found out it never got there, not because we did not send it, but because of some problem with the post office or something. Would our application be harmed by that? Would we be able to send it again (although that might take a whole lot especially for International Students?)

    One thing that I love about MIT is the fact that its deadlines are completely reasonable. I’m applying to Stanford as well and they’re either odd (December 15th? Why not January 1st! hehe) or early (February 1st for Financial Aid. I’m getting so frustrated over the process)

    Good thing is because of that I have to have everything ready before MIT’s deadline smile

  11. Tom says:

    I was wondering about MIT’s evaluation of ACT scores. How does MIT look at scores? Like other schools, does MIT convert ACT scores to SAT? If so, it’d be nice to see your conversion chart/ how you guys convert scores.

    Thanks very much for your time.

  12. ferdinand says:

    i plan to apply for aid and wish to know how i would be informed when my financial aid materials would be received coz there is no space for that in the online application and tracking.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I was deferred EA to MIT and I plan on sending in a supplemental essay with my Mid-Year Report. However, the essay will be in non-traditional format. Is it alright if I include an update of my activities in the essay, or should I include a separate list for that?