But What Are They Really Looking For? by Kim Hunter '86
My thoughts (advice) on navigating (surviving) the college application process.
Last week I started working at the MIT Alumni Association. It was difficult to leave my job in admissions since I have really enjoyed working with my admissions colleagues and the incredible alumni who interview our prospective students. The transition happened quickly and I didn’t have time to think about all the things I would miss about my old job but now those things are becoming clear to me.
This time of year my life has long been full of finding out about the lives of those who are applying to MIT and it has been absolutely fascinating. It was also very fulfilling when I got to see applicants admitted and then watch them become a part of our community as students. My new office is far off the infinite corridor so while I don’t have to navigate the crush of people during passing time I also don’t get to randomly see students I know in the hall. I also miss walking up the steps to Lobby 7 every morning. That was a habit that started for me when I was a freshman and when I came to work at MIT it became a part of my daily routine once again. I have always viewed this ritual as a moment to be thoughtful and appreciative about what opportunities being connected to MIT has provided for me. But most of all, I miss talking to each of you!
I loved giving admissions information sessions (both at MIT and on the road) and have been known to tear up a bit on occasion when I get to a story that has special significance to me. I believe MIT is an amazing place and having the chance to discuss what, to me, makes it special with potential applicants and their parents was one of my favorite parts of the job. If you have ever been to one of my sessions you probably also figured out that I love to give advice…both on what you should say on the application, but also how you should approach this whole process. Since I won’t be giving those sessions anymore I decided I might as well share my advice here for those who won’t get to hear it in the months ahead. Here are a handful of tips I have for anyone who applies to college (MIT or otherwise):
Be yourself: Students spend so much time trying to figure out what admissions officers are looking for and it is the most common question we are asked. Don’t worry about what we want to see in your application. Instead make certain you have thought through what are the most important things for admissions offices to know about you. If it helps, make a list before you start and then make certain those things are in your application before you hit “submit”.
There is no single path: There really is no one perfect school for anyone! You will probably like some more than others at various times, but if you apply to a school be prepared to spend four years there as it may be where you will go. Also make certain you apply to a number of different schools. The chance of getting into any single school is quite small so you have to have a full list of options and they should all be choices that make sense for who you are and who you want to be.
Embrace your choice: Once you have the list of schools to which you have been admitted, forget about those you didn’t get into and pick the one you feel is the best choice for you. Not being admitted to a school does not mean you are not amazing! None of us have enough space to admit all the students we would like to admit so we make tough choices. That means we don’t admit a lot of great students and it is our loss but the decisions won’t change. As hard as it will be you must move on and should make the most of the school you do go to. College will be what you make of it, no matter what school you attend.
Don’t forget to breathe…often: Applying to college is so much more difficult and confusing than it was when I did it. It may be the most difficult thing you have ever done and it is tough on your parents and family members as well. Parents are used to helping you navigate obstacles in your life and in this process there isn’t much they can do to help beyond reading your application and reminding you about deadlines. The more you are stressed in this process, the more those around you will be stressed.
While it makes me sad that I won’t get to deliver this advice to you in person anymore I still will greet each new class at MIT with excitement. I know that I’ll get to see them not just be a part of our undergraduate community but also become part of the alumni community when they graduate. While MIT is a special place for me, the school you ultimately attend will be special for you as that is the way it works. In the end if you pick the school that you are admitted to that feels like “home” and make the most of the opportunities available to you there you will be at the best college for you, and isn’t that the best possible result?