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MIT staff blogger Kim Hunter '86

It’s a puzzlement… by Kim Hunter '86

...or why I really love reading your applications!

So, it’s the middle of January and although it was an unseasonably warm day in Boston today, I still had applications to read. However, I learned quickly after joining the Admissions Office that it was important to take breaks from reading so I used one of them to take a quick walk around campus mid-afternoon today. I went by some of my favorite spots, the most important of which is the Great Court. That’s the place I head anytime I need just a few minutes of peace and quiet or when I need to clear my head. As I was walking around today I thought about why I enjoy reading your applications so much and it came to me about the time I walked by Building 66 (where I spent much of my undergraduate life). I like reading applications because they are a lot like doing jigsaw puzzles.

When I was very young my family started a tradition of doing jigsaw puzzles on New Year’s Eve. Now you need to understand that we have always done jigsaw puzzles starting with those big wooden ones that you give to very small children, moved through the medium size pieces with the pictures of animals and cartoonish type qualities, eventually moving to those with hundreds upon hundreds of pieces based on artistic masterpieces. The best part of the tradition however was starting a puzzle on New Year’s Eve and racing to finish before going to bed that night, constantly saying, “I’ll go bed after I put in just one more piece, I promise.” It’s not a surprise to me that my brother and I both still honor this tradition over the holidays as it brings back wonderful memories of times gone by.

So why do your applications remind me of jigsaw puzzles…think about it…each piece of information in your application folder, is like the piece of a jigsaw puzzle. When my brother and I do puzzles these days, we put the top of the box away, trying not to look so that we see the puzzle come alive as we put it together and that part, too, is like your applications. We get all the pieces when we read it, but we have no idea what it will look like when we start, only after we have read it cover to cover, exploring all the details do we truly have the picture of who you are.

The Part I is like the border. That’s where you tell us your name, address, school and information about your family. That sets the boundaries, forming the edges of what we will see and shows us just the very beginnings of the picture, hinting just a bit at what will be in the larger picture when it is done. Important note: my brother doesn’t like doing the border and leaves that to me, choosing to begin assembling details from the middle; must be why he’s an EC and not an admissions officer.

The Part II shows us the big areas of the picture. The areas that are kind of easy to put together because the colors all move from area to area easily. Larger areas of the design come out and we begin to see the larger themes in the puzzle. That gives us lots of the finished picture, but all the details are not filled in yet.

So what provides the detail…those are your school recommendations, the report from your school and of course, the interview report from your local EC. Those are pieces of the puzzles that fill in the in between spaces…sometimes they represent the sky, which while it all seems like a lot of the same color, in some pictures makes a huge difference in the final picture. Other times, the recommendation letters are the in between little pieces, between the flowers, and will contain very important little details that really make the picture complete. The interview reports will generally do that as well, fill in little bits of details about who you are and help us with our decisions. That’s why the interview report from your EC is valued so much by my colleagues and me.

One of my least favorite parts of doing a jigsaw puzzle is getting to the end and realizing there is a piece missing. Now sometimes it will seem very unimportant since its just one piece in the middle of a huge swath of color, but sometimes it’s that piece right in the middle and not having that piece makes the picture less than it can be. It is still pretty, it just doesn’t feel complete. That’s why having all the pieces in place in your application is important and why once we have all our data entry done we’ll give you a chance to send us anything that is missing. In the meantime, don’t worry because we’ll give you plenty of time.

So…now you know why I like reading your applications. I like learning about each of you, and the fact that reading about each of you reminds me of one of my favorite pastimes makes it even better. I’m looking forward to lots more puzzles over the next few weeks so thanks for sharing your lives with me, I’m enjoying it tremendously.

Back to my folders…and to meeting all of you :-)

41 responses to “It’s a puzzlement…”

  1. Smit says:

    Thanks for taking all that time for us! It must be amazing, working through the life-stories and personalities of different people from around the world. I wonder how many possible combinations there may be…

  2. Ms. Hunter,

    Thank you for taking the time and giving all of us your careful consideration. To know you take sincere pleasure in reading our applications gives me a great sense of relief. Happy reading!

    Geetsikha Pathak

  3. Hello,
    Ms Hunter,
    Recently I was watching Chem 3A and Chem 3B(Organc Chemistry) from UC Berkley OCW, and Dr Peter C Vollhardt said, “Visiting live lectures in classroom is more important than Opencoursewares”, I tought “How” I am not enrolled !! So I decided that I will and applied to MIT !! So I am eagerly waiting for My 5.112, 5.111, (Chemisty), 8.01, 8.02 (Physics), Mathematics and all 1st year courses to start so I could sit in the lecture hall to listen the lectures at MIT !!

    Thats a good reason for being at MIT ! Isn’t it ! smile
    The other reason is that I am a big fan of MIT professors like Prof Walter Lewin (my inspiration in life) (seen all OCW’s), Prof Sylvia T Ceyer (for 5.111,2), Prof Donald Sadoway (3.091), Prof Graham Walker (7.014) Molec. Biology, so want to study from them in MIT classrooms !!

    The third reason is I want to put my name in MIT Inventions and Breakthroughs, really (my aim)!!

    So whats the match between me and MIT ?
    I feel I am made for MIT or vice versa !! smile

    Now please solve this puzzle also !

    Sambheet Krishna
    Class Of 2014

  4. Anonymous says:

    The folks at interview at mit dot edu are really helpful. They changed my EC thrice. It was my bad luck that none of them seemed to be interested. Ultimately, they waved my interview.

  5. navin says:

    @Kim Hunter:
    (i)why can’t i see the financial aid application tracking in MyMIT account?
    (ii)where should i mail my financial aid application materials(hardcopy)?
    is it to the main MIT address or to
    Student Financial Services
    MIT Room 11-120
    77 Massachusetts Ave.
    Cambridge, MA 02139?

    thanks for reading this comment and hope i will be answered soon

  6. That is a good comparison between the application and jigsaw puzzles. In fact, when I was writing the application, I have the feeling of cutting a big picture about me into smaller pieces, and I have to make sure each piece means something.

    Well. I hope that the pieces from my teachers will not be harmful pieces raspberry Those are random tiles.

  7. Brad says:

    Hey Ms. Hunter,
    This blog post was very cool. I’ve never seen much admissions blog posts from anyone other than Matt so it’s nice to know that the other admissions staff put stuff here as well.
    It was a nice analogy and it gave meaning to the various parts of the application. I’m an applying freshman for fall 2010 so it’d be so awesome if you would get the persons in charge of international and freshman admissions to do something similar to you! Thanks


  8. devin says:

    MIT says they do not mind either math I or II subject test….but this cant be for real. Theres no way taking I is seen the same way. I’ve im 100% sure of getting 800 on I, but only 50% sure of getting 800 on II (790+ for sure though), which should I choose?
    or 700 on II, 800 on I?

  9. Divyansh says:

    i had a question regarding finacial aid papers. i haver already completed CSS Profile and sent it. But nowhere on my application tracking it is showing that i have submitted these papers. and now i only have to submit my parents last financial years income tax papers and present years financial papers. Is it all or do i have to send something else also?

  10. Dubcy says:

    I was wondering if you know how i would get in touch with my EC who i sent an email for an interview for more than a month now,does it mean she is consciously ignoring my messages or she doesn’t want to give me an interview? either ways what exactly should i do.

  11. @Dubcy

    Honestly interview is very important though it is not essential. You should have sent an email to [email protected]. Also your EC’S contact number should be visible in your myMIT account. You had better call her and tell her that you urgently need to schedule an interview.

    Also, I can testify that ECs have very busy schedules; I don’t think she is ignoring you. Don’t spend more time in speculation, and act since it is the only way to get things done!

  12. Anonymous says:

    @Dubcy : Don’t know for sure, but if I remember correctly, the deadline for the ECs to submit their reports was January 6.

    I don’t think you can do anything now, but, again, you never know for sure until you hear from one of the officials.

  13. npm12 says:

    Thanks Kim. That’s wonderful.

    I probably have the similar (just similar, not same) feeling. When I first saw the MIT application, looking at every parts of it, I knew it was special. It was special because I believed I could best portray myself with it. It was special because I felt that it would help me to go through again my 3 wonderful high school years. And thus, I decided to make my MIT application my most important college application at that time: it is a chance to travel back and see how far I have gone.

    Yet I believe my MIT application is not finished, partly because the mid-year report hasn’t been available. But the main reason is, that I know it will not end until mid March, when I receive the result. I don’t care whether it is an “accepted”, “rejected, or “wait-listed”. The only thing that I care is my final piece: the judgment of other people about how far I have gone. It is a puzzlement about who I am, and who I look like through people’s eyes. And I’m sure this, my MIT application, will be one of my best piece of life.

    Thank you again, MIT.

  14. n.vilcins says:

    Although check marks appeared next to both my evaluations about a week ago, I still lack one for the school report. Everything was mailed together. Is anyone experiencing a similar problem?

  15. Ammar'14 says:

    Now that you put it this way, I feel like an incomplete jigsaw puzzle, I really need to work on those missing pieces.
    Although I still have confidence in my application.

  16. Hey, just wondering if there are any other Scottish applicants out there this year? Just being curious :D

  17. Aimee says:

    @Dubcy: I’m sorry that your EC hasn’t responded. My husband and I have been ECs for 11 years and really enjoy it. We’re busy, but we wouldn’t blow an applicant off — we know how stressful this process can be. @Kim, is there some way that an applicant whose assigned EC has been unresponsive can get contact info for the regional coordinator, so as to get reassigned to someone else? It would also be important info for the coordinators to have. An unresponsive EC could make it seem like MIT is all about the Big Screw.

  18. Val'14? says:

    Really nice analogy. Wow, not even setting foot on campus but I’m already feeling the warmth of people of MIT! Thanks so much Ms. Hunter. =)

  19. Dan L.'14 says:

    @Sambheet Krishna

    I can’t wait to meet you and the other members of MIT class of ’14

    YAY! Us.

  20. AMH says:

    I think that is a very good way to approach applications. I suppose the ones that come together best merit further consideration. Perhaps that’s a good way to think about writing post college resumes as well.

  21. @npm12: Hi. This is kenhungkk. Do you remember this username?

    Well put, your words are. (Sorry for the StarWars style.) I worked on quite the opposite approach: I cared about the whole picture, rather. Anyways, every road leads to MIT!

    And the app itself in fact clear my mind about my hopes and aspirations. The questions stroke me (although the same applies to the questions from the application in other universities as well, in particular the Princeton one.) This is definitely a SIGNIFICANT EXPERIENCE and CHALLENGE for me.

    Best of luck to everybody, especially npm12.

  22. Masod says:

    I’m experiencing a similar problem, but I wouldn’t call it a problem till Jan 22nd. Hopefully by then everything is check marked except Mid Year Report.

    Good luck,


  23. Anonymous says:

    WoW! That’s so cool! I never thought of applications as jigsaw puzzles!

  24. npm12 says:

    @Kenneth: Hi, Kenneth.
    Well of course, I recognize the same name, and the same attitude, the same spirit.

    Haha, I felt just the same way. To me, the application was definitely a challenge: I struggled a lot with words before I jotted them down! I tried hard to convey my thoughts and my emotions, and make sure that the readers wouldn’t misunderstand, so that my effort wouldn’t be in vain, and I would be able to be proud of myself, whatever the result would be. At least, after 3 years in high school, I did make something special on my own, especially when 2 of the three main essays are dedicated to my dear big brother! It was clearly a great opportunity for me to make a good piece of my life’s picture.

    And thank you, Kenneth. But I’m not going to say “Good luck”. I never say that. What I’m gonna say to everyone is: I hope the admissions committee will not misread even a word in your applications. And again, this wish is especially for you, Kenneth smile (I have to admit that I used to have prejudice against Chinese guys that they were hard to be close to, but now, I’ve changed my mind)

  25. @npm12: I’m not that Chinese-like. At least I am somewhat Westernized. Taking me as a sample space would not be a good idea.

    Plus, I would not mind if they misread my Grade B in Chinese as a Grade A raspberry

  26. npm12 says:

    Well I don’t care about your Chinese or Canadian origin. The Kenneth I know is the one who changes my bias that all Chinese guys are unsociable. I’m sure many people visiting this blog will be surprised to see a guy with a Western name is actually Hong Kong. But who care? smile
    And don’t worry. I think they are very responsible, so they won’t miss your B (just kidding :”>). Anyway if they ever read these words of yours, I’m sure they will love you and even your B :D
    Haha I doubt that we are gonna be spammers here!!!

  27. @Amethyst (’14?): I feel the same as you do. MIT is my first priority so I naturally started to work on it first. I get my first experience with interviews and essays through MIT. Now after working on other apps, I figure out that I didn’t do my best for MIT, for interviews, essays and even teacher’s recommendation (I should have asked another teacher).
    But it’s out of my hand nonetheless, nothing I can do except expecting a brutal “REJECTED” on Pi day :'(

  28. aleriosg says:

    Beautiful imagery. Thank you for your time, Ms. Hunter.

  29. npm12 says:

    After reading your blogs (sorry for not asking for permission raspberry) and some of your posts on CC forum, I feel that you are truly a guy that underestimates himself too much. You know, I’m kind of disappointed.

    That might be a hard time for you, though I think applying, especially to MIT, is a wonderful experience to everyone. Of course, after clicking submit button, anyone may regret something: we all could have done even much better. But after all, we learn, we grow up. If we are already perfect, what is the point of going to school?

    My teacher told me just before I took the Team Selection Test, that “Failure leads to another chance, even the best one ever in your life.” This is the path you chose. Whatever the result is, you must live with it. So why not take it easy? It’s not the end of your life. If MIT takes you, great! And if not, okay, kill yourself and no one will remember you.

    I know I don’t have any right to blame you. To me, personally, applying to MIT was the right choice that if I hadn’t had that courage, I would now have to regret for the rest of my life. And I know I will enjoy it till the very end.

    So be confident, Kenneth smile (I’ve just thought, if you won’t make it, then who can??? raspberry)

  30. @npm12: My blog is public, so no permission is needed raspberry Well… I usually write a blog post only when I’m under stress / feel sad. In most cases when I go over the moon, I won’t even think about typing it on my blog… I’ll go and celebrate. Why care about those who read my blog XD?

    (Hmm… You should be one among the few who really read my blog. They just “like” my posts on Facebook every time with few go through them.)

  31. Anonymous says:

    I agree with npm12. You really underestimate yourself. Getting a silver medal in the IMO is no small feat. I am pretty sure they will accept you.

    PS I read your blog too.

  32. @Robert(’14?) I am not Scottish, but I am a British dual citizen and I used to live in Great Britain. smile It is absolutely beautiful. But I wish we could have gotten that far north…!

    Two things I am a bit worrited about are A)that my application might end up seeming a bit monochromatic somehow, and B)that the MIT application and interview were both my first ones for college. So I went into them both cold; the interview made me so nervous!! I don’t think I really put my best foot forward…but oh well. I suppose a lot of other people felt that way too, right? I’m just glad I applied, regardless of what happens in March. smile Good luck everyone!

  33. @Amethyst(’14?) You don’t know beautiful countryside if you were just in England haha :D, gets better the further north you go! Did you stay here for long?

  34. JC says:

    Hello all, I am one of those EC interview people. As I read all of this I see how everyone ‘really gets it’. MIT is really the land you have dreamt of. One aspect, of course, is learning how to make our optimistic and realistic dreams become achievable. Some call it thinking like an engineer.

    It is so much more than that. A culture that is passed on. Maybe, a part of it is learning to dream like an engineer?

    But (my recurring theme) there is always more. Your EC’s are among the most passionate of the MIT community. They want that spirit to continue throughout the ages. This place can change your life; and give you the tools to add to the world.

    The friends you make, may indeed play important roles throughout your life. (I have a Scottish friend, Troxie whom I like to visit to this day)

    When I walk these halls, I feel that soul, like an old friend. Or maybe a wise uncle.

    The institute also has a face, and you are seeing some of that too. Maybe we don’t know how many great Scotts have applied at this moment (ok, a quick database query solves that). But so much care and effort goes into this selection process – all the vital, and important details are considered. So many ‘nice to haves’ like this blog are attended to also.

    Since people that are upset tend to post at higher rates than happy ones, I get the feeling that the system is working, and working very well.

    And all of you who taken those first steps into this special world should feel good for having hopes and dreams. Please keep the dialogue going – it helps us all get better.

  35. @Robert (’14?) I was born in Huntingdon, spent about a year there, then came to the States till I was 10. Then a year in Germany and two years in Suffolk. The fens, lol–people where I live now still cannot believe that the “desert of England” still got rain at least once or twice a week…I am in love with the countryside over there, though. It’s completely different from here. And the birds!! :D (Major birdwatcher) Definitely want to get a bit farther north next time, though. smile
    @Kenneth (’14?) Don’t be so hard on yourself. I’m guilty of it too; I think a lot of us on here probably are. Perfectionists, maybe? Or artists, in a sense? Remember, artists critique their own work more than anybody else–like someone else on here said, if we were perfect we wouldn’t have to go to school…whether or not we end up at MIT, we’re still going to find somewhere to fit in, maybe someplace we’ll be even happier with. We’ve done probably the best we can for now; no sense at all in stressing out about it. I think I am just going to relax and work on inventing a pie recipe for Pi Day smile

  36. Pie for everyone in my school math team if I get in! That’s a promise!

  37. garnet says:

    i love this analogy! its so thought out… truthfully, the last part makes me nervous =)

  38. Tito says:

    I can’t help but love this analogy. Analogies always make me wonder how things in life are so similar but different, and with my dad constantly making up analogies I should say I’m used to it by now. But they never cease to amaze me. This one in particular seems to have a pacifying effect on all the nervous applicants and even has a calming effect on worked up me who has a year to apply. So, briefly, I pretty much wanted to say thankyou for the analogy and considering applicants by both the little pieces and the whole (which is probably greater than just the sum of the parts).

  39. Sydney says:

    Hey Mrs. Hunter

    I am a freshmen in high school and MIT has been my dream collge for a long time. When I was in 2nd grade I decided I wanted to be a chemical engineer and attend MIT. I was just wondering what I should do to help me get into MIT because I have been doing as much as I can in school and outside of school.

  40. Anonymous says:

    very nice analogy Mrs. Hunter, just one curious question for you:
    Have you ever happened to recognize some pieces that don’t fit into the puzzle? Like an airplane appearing in the sky of the Jurassic for instance? These pieces, while they’re usually made intentionally, they’re sometimes just the result of the applicant’s unconsciousness. If you encounter something like that, will you be able to distinguish between these 2?
    Like everyone else, I just hope MIT doesn’t misread anything.
    @Kenneth: don’t worry. According to your blog you seem way better than I am in these parts. So even though MIT rejects you (which is about 20% I guess), I am pretty sure at this rate you will achieve your ultimate goal successfully. So cheer up :D

  41. Ms. Hunter,
    I am so pleased to have the opportunity to think of our future class(hopefully)as the link to a puzzle with so many dimensions and so much color. I like to think of myself as a person who would like to be a part of the sky (to blend in) yet part of the flowers(to stand out and be noticed). In any case,I appreciate all you do, and I feel that doing the border of a puzzle shows stability and a way to accomplish a goal for the start of something great for a future accomplishment.
    Thank you!