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MIT student blogger Mollie B. '06

How to do everything wrong and still get into MIT by Mollie B. '06

Perfect SAT scores and #1 class ranks are so last millennium.

I solemnly swear that I am about to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God. (Woo, who’s been watching too much Law and Order this summer?)

In my various unofficial capacities as a knower of MIT-related things, I have been asked many times how, precisely, one goes about getting into MIT. My first response is generally to spout one-liners about passion and hard work. I have been known to mention interviews and essays and extracurricular activities. This doesn’t always seem to put the anxiety of prospective students to rest; knowing you’re competing against 10,000 other people for spots in a class of 1000 tends to make people unsure of their own merits. But today, I realized that my own high school experience was so far removed from what most people judge to be MIT-worthy that it might be worth sharing.

First, I’ve always been psyched about brains. When I was in 8th grade, my mom brought home a copy of How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker, who used to be a professor here in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. I’ve also always been a voracious reader, so I snuck it out of her room and read it. And loved it. On the back cover, it said that Pinker was a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I liked the way that sounded. It had a lot of syllables.

That’s not why I applied.

Sure, it was part of it — I knew MIT had a Brain and Cognitive Sciences department, and I knew that’s what I wanted to major in, and, hey, if one of the professors in the department wrote awesome, popular books, it sounded like a good place to be.

But more importantly, my freshman year in high school I briefly dated a senior boy whose only ambition was to attend MIT and major in aero/astro. We broke up. He didn’t get in. He was devastated.

You may see where this is going. Yes, I applied to MIT just to see if I could get in, and then make sure my ex-boyfriend knew all about it. I am a terrible person, blah blah.

Besides the terrible motivation for applying, I had a lot of other factors going against me. I was dead-set on attending Ohio State University, because I’m from the Columbus, Ohio, area and knew I could probably get a full ride. The best way to get a full ride at OSU is by being a National Merit scholar, so I knew I’d have to do really well on the PSAT. So — and feel free to admire the logic here — I took the SAT on October 14 my senior year as practice for the PSAT on October 17. No test prep, no studying vocab words. I didn’t even really care what I got on the SAT, since OSU accepted the ACT, and I wasn’t serious about applying to any east coast schools anyway. Good news: I aced the PSAT (80V, 74M, 80W) and got National Merit. Bad news: I got a 1430 on the SAT I.

NOTE:I do not personally think that a 1430 SAT I (which I guess would be, say, a 2150 or so now) is a bad score. But there are a lot of people who think that it is a bad score, and there are certainly a lot of people who think you can’t get into MIT with a 1430/2150, especially if your math score is sub-700.

The one thing I always had going for me was that I was very involved in the performing arts at my high school. I made all 8 shows in the extremely competitive drama department, and even had lead roles in 6 of the 8. I made the elite show choir as a junior — the only girl to make it her junior year. I was the captain of the 40-member color guard in a marching band which went to the Fiesta Bowl parade, Orange Bowl parade, and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. I did other stuff too: counseled 5th graders about drugs, NHS, quiz team, drama club, Latin club, all-Ohio choir, girls’ state… you would sort of suspect that I was doing it for my resume, except that I obviously wasn’t gunning for the Ivies. I just like(d) being insanely busy.

So during fall of my senior year, between state band competition, show week for the fall play, the Macy’s parade trip, and Christmas shows for the show choir, I never got around to scheduling an interview with my EC. I didn’t really worry about it. I was going to OSU on a full scholarship.

I should also mention that my school (which was a decent suburban public high school — not awesome, not terrible) had weighted grades. Band and choir were held during the day, so I got band and choir grades, which were obviously As. I had also taken regular geometry and algebra II, then switched to honors for precalculus and calculus. So even though I had almost straight As, I was ranked 11 in a class of 530 because some other kids had figured out that if they only took honors classes and had 4 or 5 study halls a day, they could get straight As and be at the top of the class. I didn’t really worry about it. I was going to OSU on a full scholarship with a stipend! Woo!

My high school offered 8 AP classes, and I took 3 (Government, English, and US History). Although AP Chemistry, AP Biology, and AP Physics were offered, I didn’t take them (physics and chemistry because I hated them; biology because there was a conflict with show choir. To my credit, I did cry.) I did take all the honors science courses offered (biology B, genetics, and meteorology/oceanography), except physics. I hate(d) physics.

I have to admit that, looking back on this sorry history, it seems extremely unlikely that I was admitted into the class of 2006. You may also think that it seems extremely unlikely that I attended MIT, since I seemed so set on my scholarship and stipend at OSU… my friend Akhil (who has the distinction of being the smartest person from my high school ever to attend MIT — there have only ever been two people from my high school ever admitted here!) claims that I never really wanted to go to OSU, I was just telling myself that. Maybe he’s right. (He usually is.)

Anyway. I hope this story has been at least somewhat informative… anecdotal evidence has its limitations, but clearly it is possible to get into MIT without being a super-genius, or slave to schoolwork, or world-renowned master of something frighteningly difficult. (Although I suppose that helps.) Real people get into MIT. Real people even go here.

36 responses to “How to do everything wrong and still get into MIT”

  1. Laura says:

    That was a great story. I really enjoyed it. Especially the part about how you applied to MIT to get back at an ex. That’s awesome. Haha.

  2. fajrul says:

    I read your statement, it was very intersting. I would like to shere your experience to me how to getting in MIT. I am from indonesia, and I am quit in my studying because Tsunami Victim in December, I think YOU knew bout that. I lost my family and I am just alone now. For me no comment to you. But you want to give me information about MIT and I am really pleasure if I could continue my studying in MIT probably in next year. Could you explain to me what I should prepare to gotting MIT. Thank you very much before and I am waiting for you answer…

  3. Justin M says:

    Did you submit your CV (the PDF linked in the post) with your application? I know the app says not to include a resumé in lieu of the form itself, but are they OK with filling it out and listing everything else like that?

  4. Laila Shabir says:

    Oh well, applyin to get back at an ex sounds like a thing I would’ve done too.. dang… Evil is good!! haha wink

  5. Laila Shabir says:

    Oh well, applyin to get back at an ex sounds like a thing I would’ve done too.. dang… Evil is good!! haha wink

  6. Jessie says:

    Your applying to MIT to get back at an ex reminds me vaguely of my mom, who applied to MIT during her junior year of high school to impress a math teacher on whom she had a crush…and got in!

  7. Alice says:

    If you hated physics so much, how did you get through your freshmen year then? I mean, with 8.01 and 8.02, that’s a lot of physics to go through for someone for doens’t like it. I personally like physics, but my problem is my brain can’t process information quickly and efficiently. So what takes other people an hour to “get” or to finish a homework assignment, it takes me usually three times the time. :( To be honest with you, reading your story makes me feel better (Real people get into MIT. Real people even go there) but I guess as I am preparing to enter MIT in the fall as a freshman, there’s this nagging voice in the back of my head that tells me I won’t be able to handle the intensity and the workload. And that I only got in because of luck.

  8. Applying to get back at an ex is just as good a reason as any other! You go Mollie!

  9. None says:

    Anyone who says a 1430 is bad is wrong!!

  10. Well after reading that my hopes for getting into this fancy school have been destroyed. Actually, reduced to the hope of a miracle. If i ever get a good grade on my SAT it will be at most 1430, and my involment in extracurricular activites (actually lack of involment) reflects on my tragic lazyness. So if i ever do get to go MIT it will be to use mow the lawn. But your story is a good one nontheless. smile

  11. I gues I can relate to wat ur tryin to say, Mollie.I am an incoming freshman to the class of 2009. and im coming all the way from Nigeria. Incidentally, when I told people i was applying to MIT so many of them actually discouraged me, in no uncertain terms, I was told not to waste $70 on something so futile.I didnt exactly get perfect scores either(1480) and in Nigeria we dont have AP courses and stuff like that.My course schedule was actually the most rigourous but like i said, Nigerian kids aren’t exactly blessed with the kind of resources our American counterparts have at their disposal. Anyways to cut a long story short I got into MIT, and was the only Nigerian to get in, People actually treat me like a demi-goddess round here, and i gotta say im revelling in the glory right now and milkin it for wat its worth

  12. Hey Mollie, I can totally relate to wat ur sayin.im of the class of ’09.yeah, just got in. n to be honest if anyone had told my a couple of years ago that i’d go to mit i wuld never have believed. first of all im cumin all the way from Nigeria,i also dint exactly get perfect scores on my SATs (1480),was into just abit of extra curricular stuff,(by luck) and of course Nigerian kids are not exactly blessed with the type of exposure n experience our American counterparts are endowed with. Im cumin from a country where the concept of a teenager working is frowned upon as child labour and the average teenager’s knowledge of computer applications is limited to surfing the web and chattin with frends.a lot of people actually told me not to allpy to MIT.in their words there were much better things to do with my $70, well im glad i didnt listen to them cuz then i would not be lappin up being treated like a demi-goddess or reveling in the glory of being the only Nigerian gurl admited.Basically I think it was just divine favour.it isnt juat about gettin the perfect score( people actually told me to take the SAT again cuz i did it only once) or being top of ur clas, gues its also counts to be able to add a bit of ,spice to the school, plus, a lil luck on the side never hurt anyone

  13. Thanks for that story, I guess that it helps me a little to understand that MIT doesn’t care only about students having 1600’s on their SAT’s and Aced all the classes.

  14. heeroyuy says:

    i am a chinese student,now i am in japan ,i want to go to MIT.

    i read you works,really good .i want to make a friend to you ,ok?

  15. Well, I do believe it’s only fun to joke about it after one gets it, as right now I’m a nervous wreck. Only then can I be sure I’m not jinxing myself.

    Your story was quite interesting. As someone else put it, it’s quite nice to see real people get in.

    Then again, I’m not exactly real. I don’t know how much this will help me. Happy hunting anyhow.

  16. Brian Burg says:

    Well, your story is funny but it doesn’t settle my nerves at all, to be honest with myself. I’m pushing as hard as can be possible to challenge myself here in this town, but for some reason in the back of my mind a little voice says, “it’s still not good enough”. Even 5 AP’s, good SAT score (800M 750V) and 24 credit hours at the local state college, and my nonacademic commitments, I don’t think will measure up to mean a whole lot.

    It doesn’t help either when nobody from my school has ever gotten into (or applied) to MIT, so nobody can really give me any local advice. I hope the interview puts me at greater ease. Perhaps a dozen or less of a class of 350 go out of state for college, so I don’t have a whole lot of encouragement from staff here besides the initial “gee whiz” type of comment.

    It’s hard to be isolated, but somehow i’ll push through. Don’t mind my ranting..

    *goes back to making kanji cards.. have to learn 60-100 kanji by wednesday*

  17. vivek says:

    thanx !!am sure to get into mit

  18. Wow. I’m really excited to hear that “real” people get into MIT! But I’m still way stressed out. I sent the first part of my application today (online) and I had butterflies in my stomach when I clicked the “send” button!! I’m really scared that I won’t be good enough for a school like MIT. I mean, I’m in the top 3% of my class, I’m taking a college math class, and by the time I graduate I will have taken 5 AP courses… but my standardized test scores are not that great. I see all these statistics saying the average ACT is 31-36, and I got a 30 (I’m re-taking it in December though!)…I feel like I’m just barely missing the cut-off. Is it true that the test scores arent as important as the classes you take and the activities you do? Thanks for your story!!

  19. Michael says:

    I’m about the worst SAT test taker to grace the earth, and yet I want to go to MIT. I ponder if transfer students’ SAT scores matter as much as what they accomplish in college? Should someone with the ambitions and the love for learning and science be denied admissions to MIT because they can’t take the SAT? Blast that collegeboard. *And a shake of the fist to conclude*

  20. Yasha says:

    hey, i can totally relate to what ur saying. I’m not that brilliant, but i’m Indian American and I’m from a small town- i had an interview with my ec and he said no way can u get into mit, but i want to try anyway. the early action deadline is nov 1, only a few days away and i’m sending all my stuff in today, along with a few supplements. I took the act 4 times and i have a super-scored comp of 30, and i’m going to take the sat for te 3rd time in december (yes, that’s how lame i am at taking standardized tests!) and i’m taking the stupid sat 2’s next week. based on this post here, what would you say my chances of getting into mit are?

  21. bittered says:

    Yasha, you are probably right. If you’re an asian-american male your chances are just about nil, even if your verbal score is better than your math score. It’s okay though, there is life outside MIT, and take it from me, I’m at a really good grad school in the sciences, despite my rejection.

  22. I asked my interviewer about SAT scores. She said that the admissions at MIT primarily use it as a check… if you have shinning recommendations, perfect grades, beautiful essays, and a 900 on the SAT, they’re going to look twice at your records. She mentioned that my score, 1940 on the new one–1300 discounting writing, would not hurt me.

    The SAT is a worthless test. How one comes to a conclusion is far more important than the conclusion; the path gives the destination validity. The SAT completely ignores that philosophy, and reality, completely; the entire thing is crap, and it should not be feared.

    Take, for example, the SAT writing section. I’m probably going to spend more than 20 minutes writing this response–and it is typed–how can they expect someone to write a structured essay in 20 minutes on a topic they’ve been given no time to even think about? The only ability the SAT writing tests analyze is the ability to bullshit, and that will never replace solid ideas and decent planning. I would like to know if those ignorant fascists at the College Board have written a college level essay in the last 10 years and even remember how to do it or how long it took them.

    Then there’s the SAT verbal section. Of course, being able to read is important but, once again, is being able to read FASSSSSSST important? I can read something I’m interested in and comprehend it well, and I can scan something that only slightly grabs my interest, but I can’t stand the boring tangents that the test succumbs to. In addition, what if someone is lucky enough to have prior knowledge on one of the presented stories?

    The math section seems the least likely to be biased in anyway or have any flaws. After all, it’s not subjective, there is one numeric answer, and mathematics is pleasantly bland enough to be universal. However, to cite an anecdote, mathematics is not just about one numeric answer. During my first semester of Calculus, I spent about ten minutes solving a series problem the “brute force” way. In the midst of my solution, I forgot to distribute a negative, which threw off my entire response. When grading the tests, I mentioned the error, and my professor laughed and said to take off a point. Now, if this had been the SAT, I would have lost all credit for my answer, despite that I know how to compute a series. In fact, on the report I eventually would recieve from the College Board, it would says that I couldn’t do whatever Geometry/Algebra I/Algebra II despite that I may have made a simple arithmetic error.

    Because of one of those, a little swap of numbers, I came steaming out of the SAT II. Looking back at the problem, I had made a computational error–swapped a number from an earlier step with the one I was working on, probably due to moderate dyslexia, from which I suffer. Nevertheless, the question was geometry related, and now the SAT II Math Level 1 claims that I am not capable of manipulating trigonometric functions.

    As fast as my world flies by, it takes sixty minutes for my heart to pulse. How am I supposed to demonstrate that I am, in fact, good at math in that time?

    The SAT is worthless. It’s a shame that we have to worry about our SAT scores, but don’t ever take them personally. For your worth as a human being, as someone awesome, it doesn’t make a difference. You won’t get anything because you have a good SAT score, you get things because you do things with the mind you have. Anyone who flaunts a score should be kicked in the balls and have their score branded onto their forehead; they deserve the pain and the ridicule.

    Breathe, think, listen. Respond, always respond. Never shut up.

  23. Oh, and, of course, this article fueled the fire of my hatred. Enjoy: http://www.ucop.edu/pres/speeches/achieve.htm

  24. Sagar says:

    Mollie, I’m having trouble balancing my grades and my research. I go to a pretty prestigious school, the NC School of Science and Mathematics as a junior, and I pulled a B+ in AP Chemistry and VectorFunctions/PartialDerivatives. Will MIT take into consideration that my school usually grades harder? I know I know that MIT people always make STRAIGHT A’s!!! but its not easy, especially when we have less than 5 grades per trimester consisting of quizzes and tests.

    Do B+’s hurt bad? My school usually sends 7-10 kids to MIT every year. I love my new school, but sometimes I think if I stayed at my old school I could have nailed straight A’s and became valedictorian(we don’t have rank here).

  25. Allie says:

    Hi Mollie smile I’m a junior in a Texas high school and an MIT hopeful. You’re story is so inspiring! smile But I have a proobbblem and was wondering if you had any commentary on. So- I saw that you aced the PSAT; that’s awesome!! For me though, I took it my sophmore year and did eh so-so… but this year [my junior year, remember] I completely missed it because I woke up sick the morning of and without my graphing calculator. So I had a double fault and slept through the disappointment. Anyhow, do you think that not having taken the PSAT junior year will effect anything? (My REAL SAT scores come back in 9 days — wish me luck! smile). Thank you for the encouraging sorry! Have a great yeearrrr.!.!.

    -Allie

  26. I am also a science student. I would like to have information on biotechnology. Please do send the required data in this field or any other field in medical line.

    Waiting for your earlier reply.

  27. William says:

    So in otherwords the most popular kids get in? Because that’s what it looks like. Shouldn’t it be wholly based on your Academic Potential? Because that’s why you’re going to study at MIT?

  28. Kyle says:

    Well, an encouraging story, but not everyone can get in. I have a 4.0 GPA, got 2370 on the SAT II, did community service at a local hospital for the past five years, took 6 AP’s and did not get in.

  29. Johnston says:

    Great story. And after seeing your list of all your achievements, I was amazed. Haha, I better start doing more community service and participating more in school.

  30. Ayush Gupta says:

    Hmmm … I was the President of my school’s computer clan; I was a Prefect for 2 years; I won at over a dozen computer symposia; I designed and maintained my school’s and the club’s websites; I participated in Math Inter-State Olympiads (only 5 from my school were sent to participate); and (my favourite) the School Principal calls me a “Computer Genius”. I rank 6th in the class of 50. What are my chances of getting into MIT?

  31. Omar '10 says:

    Chances of getting into MIT? those are very random. I’ve seen people with perfect everything that didn’t get in, and I got in (and trust me, my stats suck compared to many)

  32. HenizeMeteor says:

    It is very competitive for international students to apply for MIT

    however, i will try my best =)

    ur blog gives me a pleasant feeling, i like it

  33. lama says:

    hey

    i am jst 14 and have a couple of years ahead of me be4 applying but hey its always better to start learning bout the place early ..

    anyways i have always wanted to learn biochemistry at MIT .. but i feel that i am way to average if you know what i mean ..

    i am canadian but i live in the united arab emirates decreasing my chances of getting in

    my grades are high but so are 10s of thousands of others.. i participate in shows and plays and teach my class sometimes too

    do you think i can ever get into MIT with such an average lifestyle?!

  34. sukanya says:

    hi i read your story n found it interesting.well i m n indian and live in india itself.i wanted 2 know that wht qualifications we must possess n which exam i must sit into for getting into MIT.

  35. Trevor says:

    Whhoooooo!!! OSU!!

    I actually haven’t even finished reading the blog yet, but I read the part about being from Ohio. I happen to reside in Lancaster. Well, between Lancaster and Canal. So to return to my previous point:

    WHOOOOO!! GO BUCKS!

    smile

  36. Trevor says:

    So Emperor Dan up there called ETS fascists. I find that funny.

    Anyway, I see now that you’re actually from Pickerington. You say Columbus since many ppl wouldn’t know the first idea as to where Pickerington is. Funny, think how it feels to be from Carroll.

    I go to BC, and decided to mention it because it gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling that someone within the small area I know is actually going to MIT. Of course, Pick-town’s still got its goods and its bads. I’m still not sure as to why the girls my class have a habit of dating guys from Pick-town. Big, strong football players usually… weird.

    But BC is still as crappy as it ever was.

    So, I’m just thanking for the post (kind of reassuring) and saying hi from back home.

    HI!