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MIT staff blogger David duKor-Jackson

In Search of Answers by David duKor-Jackson

Seeking recommendations, rather than providing them...

When most people learn what kind of work I do, they often speculate about the difficulty in selecting the students who will ultimately be admitted to the class. Even though they are certainly right, I am quick to point out that I am just a single member of an otherwise exceptional group of people who make up the admission staff. It is the collective wisdom of the admissions staff that can be credited with the successful enrollment of each outstanding new class.

While I don’t want to minimize my contributions or the work of other admissions officers, our roles in the admissions process are far easier than the tasks that students and their parents face.

For me to weigh in on the merits of an individual applicant, I don’t need to be introspective or do any soul searching to figure out who I am. I don’t need to assimilate tons of information accumulated through extensive research, campus visits and conversations. I don’t have to figure out how to organize all that information, or even determine the criteria that will be used to make the decision. Fortunately, everything that I need to know typically comes together in a nice, tidy package.

For students and parents, this is simply not the case.

If you approach the process thoughtfully, there are no shortcuts. Guidebooks can be useful if you are looking for a quick synopsis. Rankings can provide a comparative yardstick. But there is no substitute for figuring out who you are, who you want to be, what experiences you need to have to help you get there, and what institution is best suited to provide you with those experiences.

I have had several conversations in the last few weeks with students and parents, struggling with issues ranging from which high school environments will provide the best foundation for admission to how does one actually make the choice between enrolling at MIT or one of our similarly selective peer institutions, assuming that one is fortunate enough to have that choice.

I won’t answer either of those questions here, as those conversations were long and nuanced. What those and other similar conversations highlighted for me is that I just haven’t come across a lot of great resources that help students and parents consider these questions. So I am curious, has anyone come across a great resource (other than the MIT Admissions Blogs) that helps students and parents identify and explore these aspects of the college search and admission process (without the misguided focus of attempting to gain admission to a specific institution or type of institution)? If you have, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below. There is a good chance that everyone else will appreciate your recommendations as well.

11 responses to “In Search of Answers”

  1. valart says:

    Here are 2 web sites I found very helpful in narrowing down choices:

    http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges
    http://www.payscale.com/education/benefit-of-college-education

    You need to spend time on each website as there are a variety of ways to look at your best choices. You can look at overall rankings or by region or by major, college size etc. Look at both sites. Cross reference the things that you like the most. When you narrow down your choices spend hours on each of the college websites reading everything you can about them. Almost every site has a virtual tour and highlights students in videos or biographies.
    Take a tour of the college preferably when school is in session so you can get an idea of what the students are like and ask them questions. Spend some time in the town or city that the college is located in because you will be living there for 4 years. If you can’t visit before you apply then visit the schools you get accepted to. Your top choice may not be once you visit. A school that may not be high on your list may become one of your top choices after you visit and can picture yourself feeling very at home there. Start visiting the summer of sophomore year if possible so you can see a few schools by senior year without having to travel all at one time.
    I haven’t found a college website with an admissions blog quite like MIT, but with hours of research you can find out just about anything you have questions about.
    Watch a sampling of Open Courseware on the MIT site. It gives you a feel for what the professors are like and how the classes are taught. Other schools have similar videos of their classes.
    Whatever you do don’t pick a school because your friends are going there. It may be right for them but wrong for you.

  2. JDK says:

    Eh, I should mention that I was denied admission to MIT twice; once as a freshman prospect, and then again as a transfer student.

    I did a lot of online research initially. So much so that it could have been deemed an obsession. I am not just talking about the particular school’s website and their admission blogs, if they had them. No, I went further. I looked into Student Reviews, other “review” sites, personal non-institution related blogs, and even went as far as to google an individual school’s name numerous ways to find specific information too nuanced for a basic search.

    But the best source of information I found to be was simply talking to students that attend[ed] these schools. Luckily for me, as it turns out, I live in New England….and only applied to schools found in New England. So visiting here and there from time to time was fairly easy.

    These blogs, and other admissions blogs alike, are a great resource for students and parents, but to be honest, they leave out certain “truths” of what being a student at MIT [or where-ever] is really like. Sometimes the pain and frustrations and joys and fun of being a student on campus can only be gleamed by physical observation and live conversation. That is something that is difficult, even by an experienced writer, to accurately express in words [even more so if you are into Post-Modernism smile ].

    These blogs, other blogs, and websites can only reflect a base-level amount of accuracy. They are designed, and intended, to provide information. They can be frank, and often times are, but they cannot by totally honest. That sort of brutal honesty can only come from talking to students who are currently experience something at an institution that you hope to experience things at, too.

    So, if possible, visit the campus and talk to as many students as you can. They may not know exactly what got them in, but they will sure as heck give you their opinion of what it was about their application, high school, etc. that surely sealed the deal for them.

  3. Molarity says:

    If it isn’t possible to visit campus, I suggest going to one of the college’s regional meetings. Big name colleges often have meetings in hotels or public buildings in larger cities (ex. NYC and Philadelphia) while smaller, more local colleges may even have meetings at your school.

    They’re very helpful and let you ask many questions while giving you a snapshot of what the school is like without actually visiting. Although to be sure, it’s wisest to visit before enrolling.

  4. theapostles says:

    what is the required GPa to apply for MIT or what is the average GPA of accepted students.

  5. singhalm says:

    does it matter that your reading and math scores are well above 700 but your writing score is quite low like in the 600’s

  6. David duKor-Jackson says:

    I think valart, JDK and Molarity each make good general suggestions about approaching the process, but it seems to me that there probably isn’t a single place that puts the whole thing together in a comprehensive and thoughtful way.

    As for the questions regarding scores, you should be able to find all the data that you want here:
    https://mitadmissions.org/apply/process/stats

    The other thing to add about scores is they are used primarily to corroborate the portions of the academic record that we learn about from the transcript.

  7. David duKor-Jackson says:

    @Greg

    There is no mechanism for transfers to interview with one on of our alumni volunteers on the Educational Council, and no expectation that an interview will be part of the transfer application process. If there is information that you want to provide, that doesn’t seem to have a space on the application, you can certainly provide supplementary information, but you need to do it in a way that does not include an interview.

  8. @David duKor-Jacskon says:

    Thank you for your input. I’ll definitely go that route, then.

  9. Greg says:

    Since we are on the topic of recommendations, I would like to ask a related question. I will be a transfer applicant for the Fall 2012 semester. In addition to the required recommendations, would it be advisable, or even permitted, to request an interview from an alumni volunteer? I would like to submit one, perhaps as a supplemental document, but they seem to be available solely to prospective freshmen via myMIT.

  10. Nathan says:

    I have a muscular dystrophy disorder. I’m in a wheelchair as needed. Is there any special way I need to go about applying to MIT? Is the campus ADA friendly? I’l like to be able to go into biomedical engineering and perhaps find a solution to my disorder.

  11. David duKor-Jackson says:

    @Nathan

    There is no special way that you need to apply. Everything needed to submit your application is accessible through the myMIT portal. My sense is that the campus is very ADA friendly. There are a number of students who seem to be able to get around fine in wheelchairs.