Guest post today from Mark F. ’15, who was working on this essay for a writing class and wanted to share his experiences and insights with y’all:
There will come a moment when you will decide what you want to do for the rest of your life. For some, this moment appears organically in the form of a hobby, or perhaps an inspiring book. Others may experience it more synthetically, be it the pressure to earn a living, or living up to another’s expectations. No matter the means of inspiration, there is a goal, the destination to your journey. There is no winning path, and not every path leads to your goal. At times the road will bend and twist and break, doing everything to throw you off its course. A storm will break out, desperately pillaging the earth with electricity and water. Hopeless and drenched to the bone, you’ll take shelter off the road in a wood cabin. As the raindrops patter on the window, you seek guidance, and guidance you’ll receive.
Hope: A Guide for the Hopeless and Drenched
If you are reading this, you are lost on the path to MIT. Your grades are sub-par, your classmates are winning gold, your teachers are unimpressed, your essays are underwhelming, and your extra-curriculars are all but one. You begin to doubt your once powerful feelings of belonging at MIT, for what chances do you stand against tens of thousands of competent students with excellent grades, gold medals, impressed teachers, inspirational stories, and never-ending lists of extra-curriculars? Hopeless and unmotivated, you naively contemplate your odds. Before you call it quits, allow me to interrupt the biggest mistake of your life. Take a deep breath, slowly count to ten, and open up your mind as wide as you can. You are about to be given a couple guidelines you may have thought never existed. Not only do they exist, they hold true for getting into MIT. While following each guideline does not guarantee your acceptance, it may give you the best chance you got.
Guideline #1: There is more to you than numbers and letters.
Scores and grades do a fairly reasonable job of representing your academic competence on an objective scale; however, they can be fairly incompetent in determining who you are or what you are capable of achieving. Those who excel academically tend to hide behind the ink, exposing their success solely through exams. This is not to degrade the students who study and work hard to do well in school. It definitely isn’t easy and the high marks are well deserved, but there is more to being successful than succeeding academically. If baking cookies is your passion, or photographing the cities of the world is your dream, or writing code that affects millions of people is your drive, do it! Dedicate a significant amount of time to your hobbies as frequently as possible, even if it means skipping out on studying for a quiz. I cannot stress enough how fortunate you are to be applying to MIT, for you will not be judged entirely by the contents of your transcript, rather by the quality and depth of what you bring to the table. Bring the cookies, bring the photos, and bring the code. They will convey more about you than the grades everyone else has. People apply to MIT, not numbers and letters.
Guideline #2: B yourself, not As someone else
Don’t try to be the perfect pre-med student your parents want you to be, or the genius your calc teacher always wanted. If you’re going to become the perfect pre-med student or math genius, do so because it is what you want. In the long run, passion is more meaningful than academic competence. Students who tend to stay true to their passions even if it means sacrificing scores face just as equal, if not greater, chances of acceptance. Each year, thousands of brilliant students with dazzling transcripts get rejected while others with less satisfying numbers do not. This is not the admissions department perpetuating unjust evil. This is passion prevailing over academia, dreams over acquiescence, who you are over who someone wants.