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MIT staff blogger Chris Peterson SM '13

Guest Blog: A Guide for the Hopeless and Drenched by Chris Peterson SM '13

thoughts from mark '15

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.

31 responses to “Guest Blog: A Guide for the Hopeless and Drenched”

  1. Jose ('17?) says:

    Is this the full essay?
    I love it and I would really enjoy to read the rest (if it exists).
    Thanks to Mark, and to you Chris for showing us this great essay, it gave me the force to believe that MIT is maybe an open door.

  2. Kyle ('16?) says:

    Wow, this blog is inspirational. It gave me hope that I still might have a chance. My dream can still be realized. Thank you Mark and Chris.

  3. m_quinn says:

    How sweet …

    Nice words from someone from the class of 2015*. But there are some very large holes in the argument: your parents wealth, your race, where you live. Why no mention of the 4 US States which got the MIT snub ( “not represented” in MIT parlance)? Why no mention of MIT’s clear reluctance to publish SES statistics for the class of 2015?

    Remember: EC’s indicate affluence – that’s why the admissions folks place such emphasis on them. MIT is after the wealthy and connected; your passion for doing great things – to them – is irrelevant. eh Chris?

  4. Anthony L. '15 says:

    Curious, for what class is this?

  5. Gill says:

    Amazing, Mark !! And well written… smile

  6. Bidesh Thapaliya says:

    I just found a convincing reason to apply.

  7. Adarsh Rao says:

    ..Very well written..

    @Chris : Please tell me he’s going to be a blogger.

  8. Heather K. says:

    m_quinn, you sound like a jilted lover, quite honestly. Were you not accepted?

    If I remember correctly, I read something about MIT admitting students from all states, BUT not all states had students that chose to attend. Also, if race has something to do with it, then why does MIT have excellent diversity – far better than most other schools I’ve seen?

  9. Bidesh Thapaliya says:

    Heather, I miss a like button! wink

  10. Jota says:

    The BEST post I’ve ever seen here. Seriously.

  11. Andrew ('17?) says:

    Wow, thanks a lot, this is very inspirational. I gives me hope that I may still have a chance :D

  12. Nasser '17 says:

    Excellent post. Makes me feel so much better about applying. you made my day.

  13. M (!= '15...) says:

    I was part of the guest blogger’s applicant pool, and I was actually the “non-super” student referenced in the writing.

    I didn’t get in, of course.

    The most important thing in getting into a “seventh-gear” school like MIT is having enthusiasm and drive. Enthusiasm about what you like, so much that you feel you have an infinite pool of effort to devote to it, and the drive to push that effort into overflowing into anything else you do.

    Apathy towards anything is not an option. You may not like something, but you at least have to put your best towards it. That’s where I was lacking — I didn’t like some things, of course, but my mistake was not putting full effort towards them anyways.

    I’m going to a fairly well-ranked university at the moment (I’d guess 1 or 2 standard deviations above the mean), teaching myself to put all my effort into everything I do. It’s a difficult change from high school, but I hope it’ll be worth it by the time grad school comes around.

  14. M says:

    (Err, by “the ‘non-super’ student”, I don’t literally mean that the guest blogger was referring to someone specific. I mean that I fit the criteria. My bad!)

  15. N says:

    Im a sophomore and I really want to go to MIT and become an aerospace engineer. Problem is, I’m not very smart at all, and I’m not in the least bit athletic. Any advice would be greatly appreciated ;P



  16. Jayant says:

    Very well written and arranged essay.

  17. Hakker says:

    MIT cares about its statistics. Nuff said.

    I’m a hacker. I hack everything and anything including Ivy League admission systems.

  18. Edward Schembor says:

    The second paragraph explains me perfectly :b

  19. S '15 says:

    Looking from the comments above, I can see myself from last year in every one of these above. You’re right: MIT does care about statistics, as do the Ivy League, as does your state university, as does your community college. If there was no reason to try to do well in school or try to do well on your SAT/ACT, then what would be the point. But so many of you forget that no one can ever define you as numbers on a sheet of paper, and if any institution knows this much, it’s MIT.

    Was I the smartest person in my class? No. Did I have perfect scores? Heck no. But I was passionate about what I did. I enjoyed what I did. I wanted to continue what I did. If you don’t want anyone to define you solely by statistics, then you should start by not defining yourself, your school, or anything solely by statistics. MIT is a great school because of the people who represent it, not because of its ranking. You’re a great person because of your values and quirks, not because of your GPA and test scores.

    So will moping around write your essays and perfect your application? No, you have to do that yourself. Will anything change your lack of admission in the past? No, but you can change that for the future. MIT is all about thinking out of the box and dreaming big, and no piece of paper can ever change that. No, the only thing that can make your plans a reality is you. Don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. Keep it up.

  20. david richardson says:

    Read your essay,thought it was a great tidbit of inspiration.I myself have always had a great heartfelt desire to one day attend MIT.Iwas a diagnosed genius(IQ-153) early in life,but chose not to pursue my academic pursuits because of lifes responsibilities at hand.Now at age 49 I have decided to make one last stand to pursue my passion for academia.I once read how General George Patton faced life with a great similarity of cicumstances like mine and in the end overcame his own demons in the end.”Do you damndest always” was one of his greatest self motivating mottos.”Never give up” was another.We all want to look back one day and say to ourselves,”I DID IT,I OVERCAME”.

  21. Hakker says:

    MIT wants people who meet their criteria. Nuff said.

    I’ll give you a hint. Remember, the admission board are people just like you and me. They read your application… The people who read your application decide wether you are accepted or not. Very simple. Use that to your advantage. NLP.

    I’ve said enough already.

    I’m going to have fun applying to MIT next year. I’m 15.

  22. Hakker says:

    “to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century” by “generating, disseminating, and preserving knowledge, [and] working with others to bring this knowledge to bear on the world’s great challenges.”

  23. m_quinn says:

    Passion, merit, wishfull thinking, prayer, Karma (good) matter not: your race, your home state, and your family’s wealth are what MIT really cares about. If you are poor, and live in the wrong state you …
    haven’t …
    a …
    chance …

  24. Heather K. says:

    m_quinn, I guess I’m just confused as to why you are saying this. I see no data to back up your claims, and without data, it sounds like you’re either annoyed they didn’t accept you (or someone you know) or that you’re just trying to provoke an argument for the sake of an argument.

  25. Seriously. I don’t understand why people like ‘m_quinn’ end up raking dirt on such beautiful posts!

    Saddening! :(

  26. m_quinn says:

    @Heather K

    Do you REALLY believe the MIT assertion that admission was offered, but not accepted in not 1 but 4 US states? How do you feel about gravity? Evolution? I mean how embarassing for MIT to admit that they snubbed 4 US states?

    Now as to stats: ask Chris P or Matt. They could, but do not post SES stats – which is really suspicious …

    I don’t know what Universities you’re refering to, but MIT diversity is miserable.


    Next Spring, when you get an email (yep that’s all you’ll get for your app fee) informing you that you’re not going to be admitted, why don’t you come back to this blog and re read my posts – twill be different I assure you. You don’t even have to wait till Spring if you’re an early decision applicant. In that case the misery will start when MIT sends you an email defering you to “regular” admission. When the admissions folks tell you something like “MIT wants you” you know you’re had buddy …

  27. @m_quinn

    Thanks for making me even more determined.

  28. Heather K. says:


    I agree with Raj.

    That said, yes, I do believe the MIT assertion. I know people that have turned down offers to go to MIT, for various reasons. It’s not that crazy to think that people might be offered admission and turn it down.

    MIT diversity – from college board: 23% Asian, 6% Black or African-American, 15% Hispanic or Latino, 39% white, 5% Two or more races, <1% American Indian or Alaskan native, and 9% Non-resident alien.

    University of VA diversity – from college board: <1% American Indian or Alaska Native
    14% Asian
    7% Black or African American
    5% Hispanic/Latino
    58% White
    4% Two or more races
    6% Non-Resident Alien

    Wellesley – 22% Asian
    8% Black or African American
    9% Hispanic/Latino
    44% White
    5% Two or more races
    11% Non-Resident Alien

    Reed College – 1% American Indian or Alaska Native
    6% Asian
    1% Black or African American
    2% Hispanic/Latino
    66% White
    12% Two or more races
    5% Non-Resident Alien

    Yale University – <1% American Indian or Alaska Native
    16% Asian
    7% Black or African American
    9% Hispanic/Latino
    <1% Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander
    49% White
    6% Two or more races
    11% Non-Resident Alien

    Granted, those aren’t all universities, but MIT is on par with most of them, or better. What would their diversity have to be to be good? And yes, that does not encompass all of diversity, but it was what I could find the stats on easily on college board.

    Now, I don’t know what SES stats are, so I cannot respond to that. Sorry.

  29. m_quinn says:

    @Heather K

    Come on … in what universe does 23% Asian accurately reflect the Asian population in the United States? 6% Black / African American? That seems good (or fair) to you? For an institution that can get within a few millionths of a degree from absolute zero, these diversity figures suck. However, when viewed through an SES lens, they are undoubtedly perfectly understandable …

    SES stands for Socio Economic Status – how rich you, your family, your community …

  30. The wolf always says that the grapes are sour raspberry

    m_quinn, please do not discourage us. If we have to get rejected, we will. But let us face it. Let us experience the thrill of applying. It’s already made me a better person and I’m thankful to MIT for that. No, I’m not indulging in flattery, but just speaking the truth.

  31. jrens says:


    I understand your cynical viewpoint, and to a certain extent your argument has validity, that typically wealthier applicants have a higher rate of acceptance. Have you considered that applicants from wealthier families may simply know more about how to craft a persuasive application? I would give greater credit to the MIT admissions department. They realize that the smartest, most successful people don’t always come from the highest sector of society and have the capacity to discern the people who look good from the people who truly are good.

    @everyone else

    Being a senior in the college process, I see too many of my peers taking a dangerous point of view. Though the original post does offer good advice, I fear it may lead readers to take motivation from the wrong place. College acceptance should never be your highest priority. Leading a life to please some arbitrary selection committee is pointless. You should be comfortable enough with yourself, your abilities and your interests to do what you want to do simply for your own benefit. An acceptance into MIT does not guarantee your future success or happiness, but getting in touch with and developing your best qualities will. MIT should (and will) accept you because you belong. You should strive to show who you truly are in your application. If you contort your personality to fit any institution, you will end up wasting what’s supposed to be the best four years of your life. If you get accepted, then great, you know that you will have the time of your life. If not, then do not despair. There’s a place for you, you just have to have the courage to find it.