Skip to content ↓
MIT staff blogger Ben Jones

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

More answers to your questions.

Ambreen wrote: “What is the rationale behind question ‘what department at MIT interests you and why?'”

First, I should note that it has no bearing on your application, as ~50% of our admits end up majoring in something entirely different from what they write here.

It simply adds a bit to the context of your overall app – what you’re interested in, what you’re excited about, etc. But there’s no right or wrong answer – remember that we have no quotas for majors, which is why you apply to MIT, not to one of its 5 schools.


Zack Yang wrote: “Should I have my November scores rushed to MIT?” And Sarah Bana followed with: “on the same note, should we have October scores rushed to MIT?”

Nope, and nope. If you’ve designated MIT as a recipient, there is no need to rush October or November scores. If, as Matt says, Thanksgiving rolls around and you’re thinking “gee, I should probably send my scores to MIT” then at that point you’ll want to rush them. ;-)


Shikhar wrote: “Should I carry any special thing or portfolio with me when I go for MIT interview?”

Eric responded that it would be a good idea to ask the interviewer beforehand if there’s anything that he/she would like you to bring. I think this is great advice, as each interviewer is different. Many will say “just bring yourself,” but others will appreciate the opportunity to see some additional things.


Shikhar wrote: “I think I’ll ask the admissions office to consider me for submitting January test scores of SAT II. I also want to know whether it’s SAT II which are more important than SAT I as SAT I can be replaced by TOEFL.”

You can definitely submit test scores in January for regular decision. We make no distinction between the importance of SATI (or TOEFL) and SATII – all of these are important components of your application.


He-Who-Does-Not-Want-To-Be-Named wrote: “I got really bad scores in my SAT I. A 720 in Math is NOT MIT material. If I do get 750-800 in Math Level IIC and Physics in SAT II, will that over-ride my bad SAT I performance?”

A 720 is fine! Don’t give it another thought. Remember that scores are used to determine whether or not you would thrive academically here. Anyone with a 720 has the potential to do just as well at MIT as anyone with an 800. Focus on the things that are actually used to select the class: match, essays, recs, interview report (if applicable), activities, passion.


Nina toleva wrote: “Well, I decided to apply to MIT but I have really big problem. I had great difficulties trying to save money for the SAT and TOEFL exams. At last, I have the required sum, but there are no free dates for TOEFL till early January. What should I do and how should I proceed? Please, help me!”

No worries, take the January TOEFL and feel free to let us know somewhere in your application that the scores will be coming to us.


Rob wrote: “What if an applicant doesn’t have five meaningful activities? I have three activities that I value greatly and into which I put a significant amount of time. How would only three activities look to the admissions committee? I don’t want to put down clubs I belong to that only meet once a week or honor organizations that don’t do anything.”

To us, it’s quality over quantity. That’s why we only have five slots (I’m aware that other schools have more, sometimes many more). If you only have three, that’s fine! Not every admitted applicant fills up all the slots.


Karen wrote: “My college counselor… made my essay look like it came straight out of ‘What Colleges Want to Hear.’ (If that existed, she would have written it.) In this aspect, I defied her. I wrote another essay because I felt like the first was suffocating – and I didn’t tell her. In fact, I didn’t show it to anyone until after I mailed it (don’t worry, my writing stands on its own). Was this wise?

Not only was it wise, but it was honest, and undoubtedly more “you.” Bravo. The essay is not a writing test; it’s your voice in the application. Therefore it’s important that it represents your voice, not anyone else’s. Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with asking a counselor to review your essay(s) and offer feedback. But if a counselor changes things to the point that you no longer feel that your voice is represented, that’s a BIG problem.

“If I don’t get accepted EA, should I send in anything more to give my app. another push for regular decision, or should I just leave it as is? If I should, what sort of things could I send?”

You are always welcome to send supplemental materials if you are deferred. We encourage anything that will show growth or progress that occurred after the original application was sent in.

34 responses to “Ben’s Third Semi-Annual Q&A”

  1. Robb Carr says:

    Mmm, theres another Rob posting. Thanks for all the answers smile, and on that note…another question. 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.

  2. Robb Carr says:

    Agh, accidently posted early…

    or do the previous factors still weigh in?*

  3. I think people get too worried about stuff that they can’t really control. If you get in you get in, if you dont, who cares?

  4. Molly says:

    If we applied early action (or even regular action) is there any way of knowing what the admission decision is on-line or through e-mail? 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?

  5. jonathan says:

    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.


  6. Molly, MIT only sends paper decisions — no online or email notifications. I’m sure Ben will verify this in his next “omnibus” but that’s been the policy like forever and isn’t likely to change this year. (Right, Ben?)

  7. a 700math iic and a 730 physics….. i’m a sure reject, right?

    I’m retaking them though. I hope to do a lot better. However, I still want to know what such scores could do to me considering I don’t have olympiad medals or even national honors and awards! All that I have is my passion for my passion!

  8. Shikhar says:


    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 enriching and open ended as RSI (summer schools dont count).

    Thanks a lot

    Shikhar Saxena

  9. Saatvik says:

    Sorry, I posted this in an old discussion without realizing where I was posting. Anyway, here it is again.

    I’ll be applying to MIT this year as an international student from India. I had a few questions:

    1. 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. So just checking smile

    2. 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?

    3. 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?

    Thanks for your time!

  10. Adnan Esmail says:

    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?

  11. Anonymous says:

    Ben, Thanks a lot for answering those questions.

    Saatvik, you live in Delhi….whats the fuss about.

    Also long time no see on CC.

  12. Shikhar says:

    Sorry sorry the post abov is by me. I forgot that Bens blog does not “remember me” like Matts.

  13. Long says:

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

    And thank you SO much for doing this. The Q&A’s help tremendously.

  14. Saned says:

    Hey Ben!

    Well, I’m an American living abroad and I dont attend a “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 arent 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??

  15. Anonymous says:

    Hey Adnan where are you from?!

  16. intl frm around the planet,

    Man, you gotta chill out a bit. 700+ doesn’t necessarily translate to “sure reject”. In fact, 700+ should be quite good already. That’s what Ben’s been trying to say.

    But since you’re re-taking them (just like myself; I’m sort of a perfectionist…), good luck to you! Hope you get your 800s! =)

  17. Oren Hazi says:

    Long: Same story here. Both my teachers emailed me on the 30th telling me that they had mailed the evaluations, but they’re not showing up. Neither is the school evaluation, which was sent on either the 31st or the 1st. I guess paper materials take longer to process…

    Also, 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? At my school, quarter grades are due on November 20ish and mid-year grades are due some time in January.

  18. Ben has said in several places that with the volume of paperwork moving through the records room right now, it could take 2+ weeks for acknowledgement to show up on MyMIT.

  19. Laura says:

    OK, so I said this about 300 times, but I’m saying it again anyway.

    My SAT I math score was a 700. Even. That’s “seven hundred and nothing else,” in case you weren’t sure if I had a typo in there. Don’t put so much thought and energy into worrying about 20 points on your SATs- those points are such a small percentage of your app. They’re just tests, guys. Don’t let them run your life. =)

  20. Shikhar says:

    Ben 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 (infact one was more competitive than IOI heats) so will these olympiads be an equally good indicator of my passion for computer science.

  21. Kiersten says:


    Ditto to what Laura said! Chill out guys. You are not your SAT scores. You are not the number of extracurricular activities in which you participate. You are not your olypiad metals. You are who you are, and that rocks!:D


  22. Edward says:

    Hiya Ben.

    Thanx for all the great work. I do not have anyone to guide me in the application process (no one else in my family has been to college in Kenya, let alone in the U.S.) so you guys at MITBlogs are all I got and I must say you have really helped me out. I do hope that things work out and I get to thank you all in person but for now I’ll just say THANK YOU.

  23. Edward says:

    Hi, again!

    In the process of thanking you I forgot to ask:

    1. I wanted to send an addittional recommendation (dont mind the spelling errors, if any) by a close pal and I wanted to know if there are any specific forms or can she just write it as letter.

    2. 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 substatntial achievements like trophies etc.?

    3. 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?

    4. Have a nice day and goodmorning to you.

  24. Supriya says:


    I am in trouble!

    I sent in my application itself by the deadline

    but my ‘green card’ copy is in the mail today…november7th

    will i be considered for early action?

    also my ‘mit’ says that my transcript is not received…however my office insists that they have sent it

    ben, i am in tears

    will i be rejected without any consideration?

    is there a way i can change my status to ‘regular action’ if so?

  25. hmmm, just wondering. 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. Forgive me, these might have been posted before elsewhere, but I want to recap.

    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?

    Thank you.

  26. Bernard says:

    Sorry to interrupt your topics guys..but I am having my interview on thursday. any suggestions or final notes? it’s my first interview of the year.

  27. Bernard,

    Just relax, be yourself, and show who you are to the interviewer. Simple as that.

    And you should check to see if your interviewer wants you to bring anything there.

  28. Remember, applicants, the records office is extremely busy this time of year and Ben has said it might take 2+ weeks for all the paperwork to be recorded so your MyMIT shows it’s been received. Relax a bit, if you possibly can.

    Ooops, now I’m starting to sound like a broken record. grin (See yesterday’s comment where I said the same thing.)

  29. Ann says:

    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?

    Thank you,


  30. lavkush says:

    please, satwik, or anyone,

    how do you start for RSI, what are pre requisite? what std? what exams ?please tell me where to get these details. Thanks.


  31. Carlos says:

    I am panicking right now. I am international student from Guatemala. My SAT I is of 650 (math)and 620 (verbal and writting). Someone in this board feels rejected with a 700. I would die for a 700! My SAT’s aren

  32. Carlos says:

    I am panicking right now. I am international student from Guatemala. My SAT I is of 650 (math)and 620 (verbal and writting). Someone in this board feels rejected with a 700. I would die for a 700! My SAT’s aren

  33. Arka says:

    Hey Shikhar, Anonymous, Adnan, Supriya, Saatvik etc etc…are all you guys applying from India. Thats pretty cool…me too.

    It will be great to share our application experience…

    My E-mail: [email protected]

    Have fun!