Skip to content ↓
MIT staff blogger Ben Jones

Checking In by Ben Jones

Just a quick note to say hi from the depths of reading. grin

Just a quick note to say hi from the depths of reading. :-)

I know there are a lot of questions in the comments and I’ll definitely get to those this week. But we’ve been instructed to clear everything from our calendars until after EA selection, so I haven’t had time for much else (although we were allowed to take thursday off for Thanksgiving).

I spent Thanksgiving morning in the ER with my 6-month old son, after staying up all night with him on Wednesday, watching his little body fight progressively harder for air. It’s the first time I’ve been that scared for one of my kids. In the ER, we had an amazing doctor who diagnosed him with a really bad case of Croup and pumped him full of steroids – he was breathing fairly normally before we’d even left the ER. It’s hard to describe how that feels to a parent (although other parents will instinctively understand), but relief like that can make your whole body melt.

He’s totally fine now, and living through that experience has shown me – first-hand – the power of research. In this case it was medical research, but the idea translates across the board: research makes the world better. Whether it’s some sweeping development that revolutionizes energy, or a drug that enables one little boy to breathe in a hospital in the suburbs of Boston on Thanksgiving morning, research changes the world.

So to those of you who want to come to MIT and explore in the name of all of this, thank you.

On a totally unrelated topic, I will now get something off my chest rant-style!

Dear Teacher At A Very Prominent School From Which Many Kids Apply To MIT Each Year,

As you may have heard, we don’t read regionally. But there’s always the chance that two students from the same high school will end up in a single reader’s pile, especially when the high school sends as many students to MIT as yours does.

Therefore, when you use the IDENTICAL, word-for-word, paragraph-for-paragraph recommendation for two different students, chances are that someone on this end will notice.

I wholeheartedly understand that you are very busy, so I could almost understand if you wanted to repeat a few generic paragraphs here and there (assuming they really applied to both students). BUT DUDE, have the decency to change at least one sentence so that there is some indication that you actually care and/or know anything about the individualities of your students.

If you can’t find the few minutes it would take to do this, may I suggest being brave enough to tell the students that you’re too busy when they request recs from you.

Of course the students will not be penalized for your indiscretion, but it makes you look pretty lame.

Sincerely yours,


And on the flip side – to all the teachers who take the time to write wonderful and heartfelt recs, who invest not the aforementioned few minutes but literally hours celebrating the differences between their students, you are the lifeblood of the reading process. And I can’t tell you how much we at MIT appreciate you and how much effort you put into your work.

Enjoy these next few weeks and don’t stress, my friends; mid-december will be here before you know it.


18 responses to “Checking In”

  1. Anonymous says:

    wow, word for word!

    good thing I changed a few sentences when I copied my friend’s essay…

    jk smile

  2. Timur Sahin says:

    Medical science is an incredible thing, isn’t it?

    And speaking as a student of a school with a graduating class of 945, I have to say I can only hope that my guidance counselor didn’t do any such thing… I know at the very least my teacher recs are unique. smile

  3. Sam says:

    I hope my teachers didnt do that , we had like 3 MIT applicants this year at my school. Personally I’s be mad at myself if I hadn’t distinguished myself enough to warrant the teacher to write something new about me. But that’s just me.

    I remember when I had breathing problems as a kid, I really feel for your son. I hope this is the first and last time he has this problem.

  4. Kiersten says:


    Glad to hear your son is okay:) My little bro had RSV, so I know how scary it can be when a little kid stops breathing in the middle of the night! In other news, you’re letter to certain teachers is awesome because you address them as “DUDE”:D


  5. Anonymous says:

    I definitely agree that having two identical recs from a teacher is pathetic because the student should have a good relationship with the teacher since he chose that teacher to write the rec. However, receiving identical recs from a counselor is something that the student has no control over. Most students have only one counselor and most students do not know their counselor well because they do not spend much time with them. The student at least spends every class with a teacher while he may only see his counselor once or twice a year if that much. If the counselor is overworked then the student is in an even worse position.

  6. Merudh says:

    hey ben,

    good to see your son is ok. I can relate to such an incident, because my brother recently went through a similar ER experience in late september.

    I also really liked your statement about how research benefits us all (and the fact that I want to go to MIT for medical research makes that even more relatable for me)

    Anyway, have fun reading apps smile cya

  7. Anonymous says:

    Hey Ben,

    I’m glad for your son!

    I was wondering, did you actually send that letter to the teacher you were referring to? Haha that’s great!

    Also, for question 11, do you think that more people choose A or B for their essays? Just wondering…

  8. Saad Zaheer says:

    Ben, I am really glad abt ur son. I wish he recovers very soon and resumes his funny little cute activities!

  9. Catherine says:

    Glad your son’s ok. =)

  10. Brianna says:

    in my state, teachers’ unions sometimes forbid

    the teachers from writing college


    here are a few websites about it:

    what should students do? i suppose one option

    is asking for recommendations as early as

    possible (like on the first day of school!) in

    case teachers start refusing later in the year.

    (the first website says teachers in that town

    will refuse after dec. 1st)

    but getting a recommendation too early means

    the teacher can’t include anything about what

    the student did senior year…

    should we carefully watch all news about our

    teachers’ union and try to ask the teacher

    at the absolutely optimum time? smile

  11. Christina says:

    Ah, croup. (If you remember, I shadow at pediatrician’s office and) We’ve been seeing a TON of croup,lately. It’s scarier than it seems, in most cases. The cough is terrifying, isn’t it?

    As I’m sure they told you, a humidifier is really important. But the Prednisone (or Prednisolone, in a baby’s case, if that’s the steroid they’re using) should have cleared things up pretty quickly.

    And yes, I love the cause and effect healing aspect of medicine. <3

    AND MAN, the story about that stupid teacher makes me so mad. Because I’m sure both students are wonderful and deserved something much, much better. :-(

  12. Shikhar says:

    Hey Ben,

    Good to know your kid is allright now.

    Here is a question posted on cc by someone for u, I think we all will like to know your answer because some of us (a.k.a. me) are so in love with MIT that we can take an year off after high school to reapply:

    so here’s the q

    I am applying to MIT for the second time now. I wonder what does MIT do with our (for those reapplying) old application folders. Do they open them again? And if yes, what impact do they have on the new admission process?

    No impact at all, very little, little, some, the same as the new app. folder, undefined or it depends on the individual?

    add to this: Does MIT consider the previous shortcomings of your application by comparing the two?

  13. Edward says:

    Hi. I hope ur ok

    I’m glad for your son!

    Keep up the good work

    Have a nice day

  14. Zack Yang says:

    Having to watch your son fight for air must have been terrifying. When I read that he was struggling for air, my body momentarily tensed up. It’s good to know that he’s alright now.

    I’m appalled by the fact that a teacher would simply copy and paste a recommendation for a student.

    From an optimistic perspective, at least the teacher didn’t write a rec for Johnny, and then, in the rec, write: “And that’s why Sue is the perfect candidate for your school.” I wonder how often admissions officers encounter this sort of thing.

    I agree that, if a teacher feels too overworked to be able to write a good recommendation for a student, he or she should simply tell the student, “No.”

  15. Mikey says:

    Zack –

    I’ve actually encountered that in my reading! One time, the use of the wrong name, and another time, the use of the wrong school. Nothing worse than seeing “and that’s why so-and-so would be a great candidate for [a peer institution that is not MIT]”. Whatever happened to proofreading? : P

    Ben – glad to hear your son’s okay!!!

    P.S. You’re my hero

  16. Victoria says:

    Seeing people with breathing problems is always scary… I volunteer in the local emergency room, so I see a lot… and it frightens me every time.

    *winces* About the teacher letter: I think teachers think they can get away with it because the students all sign the Buckley waiver, so they never hear about it. This could be a problem for me…

    *runs off to ask teachers*

  17. mitgrad says:

    Haaaaaaa! TJ sucks.

    Relatedly, a friend was reading applications for a fellowship program and encountered a recommendation letter (from the applicant’s own graduate advisor!) that used the wrong name. If you’re going to cut n’ paste, at least edit the name!

  18. Adnan Esmail says:

    I don’t see how such “cut-paste” letters would help any student. If the letter is generic, used vague adjectives and common phrases, how does it effectively portray a different dimension of the applicant? I’d guess a valuable letter would emphasize the uniqueness of the applicant–highlight certain desirable attributes in possibly an anecdotal fashion. Maybe telling a story or providing details about the applicant would help in conjuring the applicant’s distinct personality.

    Any letter which is vague enough to apply for multiple students probably wouldn’t be worth asking for. As MIT recommends, go with someone who has known you for a while and can accurately represent you.