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MIT staff blogger Bryan G. Nance

“I’ve Got 99 Problems… Admissions Is Not One” by Bryan G. Nance

Really 52, but who's counting? I know that you love numbers, stats and checklists, so here's a checklist for the ages.

Okay, so it’s really 52, but who’s counting?

So far I’ve been fairly serious with my entries about the college admissions process. I think that it’s time for me to lighten the mood around here. So to all of you uber-serious folk… back away slowly and no one will get hurt.

As most of you know, I’ve been on an AWARD TOUR WITH MOHAMMED MY MAN. And everywhere I go, you want to know the skinny on how to get into MIT. The more I try to tell everyone that just showing your passion and being yourself is enough, the more I get the “yeah, r-i-g-h-t” look. So let’s try another tactic. I know that you love numbers, stats and checklists, so here’s a checklist for the ages.





  1. Don’t refer to yourself in the 3rd person. It doesn’t work for pro athletes and it won’t work for you.
  2. Don’t use the flashback essay. You know, the one that envisions you receiving the Nobel Prize in Biology and attributing all of your success to your admission to MIT. Yeah, that’s about as original as the obligatory standing ovation at the end of an Ashante concert. (This is NOT an endorsement of Ashante or her inability to maintain pitch control, not lip-sync at live performances, or to write lyrics that use Boo as a pronoun.)
  3. Do not use words that do not exist… irregardless of how much you orientate the direction of your essay.
  4. Avoid slang. Use “street cred” on your own time. If you want to “keep it real” get an “A” in Calculus. That’s hot!
  5. Never refer to your parents as Mommy and Daddy, your dog as your best friend, or your girlfriend as your “Ride or Die.”
  6. In that same vein, if your mother really is your hero – you’d make your bed, refrain from calling your younger brother a mistake, and stop taking the cable box apart for poops and giggles.
  7. Do not quote Holden Caufield in your essay. (It’s a good way to share A ROOM WITH MARK DAVID CHAPMAN.)
  8. Additionally, don’t use quotes from Fountainhead or Jugghead.
  9. The “Every Important Lesson I Learned in Life, I Learned From Wolverine” essay has been tried. (Feel free the ask the author how he’s enjoying his PG year.)
  10. There is no reason to use the word “nipple” anywhere on your application.
  11. Unless you work for Bad Boy Records, The death of Biggie and Tupac do not count as defining moments in your life.
  12. Under the section labeled Extracurricular Activities, do not list the following: Being a great boyfriend/girlfriend; 20 hours per week.
  13. Never quote the MasterCard commercial that ends with the word PRICELESS.
  14. Know what the hell you are talking about! Free radicals are atoms or groups of atoms with an odd (unpaired) number of electrons and can be formed when oxygen interacts with certain molecules. Their chief danger comes from the damage they can do when they react with important cellular components such as DNA, or the cell membrane. Cells may function poorly or die if this occurs. The New Radicals are a one hit wonder 80’s pop band. (You only get what you give!)
  15. Refrain from cutting and pasting whole sections of our web site to use in your essay. (If you do cut and paste, please use quotation marks and change the font to match that of your document.)
  16. NEVER CUT AND PASTE BETWEEN COLLEGE ESSAYS. If we receive an essay that states, “…and that’s why Harvard is my dream school” WE’LL TRY REAL HARD TO MAKE YOUR DREAM COME TRUE.
  17. Think carefully before quoting music lyrics. If you must do it, Gwen Stefani’s chorus is “I ain’t no holla’ back girl” NOT “I ain’t no Harlem Black Girl.”
  18. The same goes with movies. Yes, Cool Hand Luke is steeped in allegory and I do believe that it is a modern parallel of Christ. No, I do not accept that Mean Girls is anything but a tween movie.
  19. Don’t submit anything written or drawn with a Crayola or Sharpie.
  20. Don’t use statistics as proof of your excellence if there were less that 10 others that you competed against. We TOO know the power of small numbers.
  21. No matter how tight your argument is, Halo groups are not extracurricular clubs and your mastery of said game is not a skill.
  22. Don’t attend MIT Central Meetings and pick fights with the Admissions staff. You want us to remember you in good ways.
  23. Don’t rely solely on your 2400 SAT/36 ACT scores to get you into MIT.
  24. Don’t count yourself out if you have considerable lower scores than those listed above. (Ed. note: …or if you spell like Bryan does.)
  26. If you are not a student of color don’t fall into the trap of thinking you won’t be admitted because of Affirmative Action. If you are admitted, it will be because of merit. If not, it wasn’t because someone else took your spot.
  27. Don’t spend your entire essay telling us about what you want to be after you leave MIT. Instead tell us what you want to do at MIT.
  28. Do not let the costs of MIT deter you from applying to MIT. We have this thing called Financial Aid. If you don’t apply, you can’t afford it.
  29. Don’t take college advice from your crazy know-it-all uncle whose only experience with MIT was the time his car broke down on Mass Ave back in 1974.
  31. Don’t let more than three people critique your essay. If you do, you’ll get conflicting messages and your voice will be lost forever.
  32. Life is not like a box of chocolates.
  33. If you know who the Wiggles are – for whatever reason – keep it to yourself.
  34. Anything with the words “Graphic Novel” on the cover IS a comic book. Don’t quote it.
  35. Don’t apply to MIT solely because your best friend suggests it.
  36. Do you really think we’ll be impressed by the poster that has your head superimposed on the body of Arnold and is titled: “I have the will, show me the way”? Use Photoshop responsibly.
  37. Don’t call us repeatedly hoping that we’ll give you a decision early. You’ll know when you know.
  38. Do not have your parents call on your behalf. Enough said.
  39. NEVER question MATT McGANN. He is of the MIT Omnibus.
  40. Do not write to admissions officers using email addresses that contain lewd expressions. (Ed. note: I removed Bryan’s example. It was that bad.)
  41. There is no way to convince me that the Designated Hitter rule is good for Baseball. Don’t even try.
  42. In terms of your intended major, don’t confuse “undecided” with “I don’t know what I want”. In other words, undecided means that you are struggling to decide between disciplines; not “I don’t know”.
  43. Don’t blow off your interview or wait until the last minute to make an appointment.
  44. Don’t use profanity in your essay, even if you’re quoting someone.
  45. Don’t spend your time looking for the Admissions back door. No matter what you read on College Confidential, it doesn’t exist. There is only one entrance to the Infinite Corridor, and that’s through the admissions committee.
  46. Don’t use canned essays… if you do, we’ll use canned rejection letters.
  47. Don’t send a bejillion letters of recommendation. We know that most of you have only lived for 17 or 18 years. We don’t expect you to have a ton of experiences. I’d say more than 5-6 letters is really pushing it. Remember, we’ll read everything that you send us. Don’t abuse this. If I read a letter from your milkman saying that you like strawberry yogurt, I’m gonna be pissed.
  48. NEVER EMBELLISH. I know that you are smart enough not to lie. Do not let your desire to attend MIT overshadow your integrity. This is an area that we see as absolute and black and white.
  49. Do not miss deadlines! Not for the CSS Profile or any part of the application.
  50. In that vein, don’t wait until October 31st (early) or December 31st (regular) to apply, especially if you plan to apply online. If the server is down for some reason, you’re screwed.
  51. Don’t slack off academically or do something stupid that could put your admission in jeopardy. MIT giveth and MIT taketh away.
  52. Admission to MIT is like wearing spandex in public – it’s a privilege not a right.

100 responses to ““I’ve Got 99 Problems… Admissions Is Not One””

  1. David B. says:

    This is a really funny checklist! I’ll have to keep it in mind when applying to MIT next year.

  2. Timur Sahin says:

    Bryan, I’m not sure if you know of pollster George Gallup, but he said something that seems to relate: “I can prove God with stastics.” He did quite a bit of resarch on how statistics affect our society’s decisions.

    Statistics can be manipulated any which way, for anything. For MIT, you can take the raw acceptance rate, factor in the EA acceptance rates, the international cap, geographical diversity, ethnic diversity, and end up with a 100% chance of getting in.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean you’ll get in. smile.

  3. Timur Sahin says:

    Bryan, I’m not sure if you know of pollster George Gallup, but he said something that seems to relate: “I can prove God with stastics.” He did quite a bit of resarch on how statistics affect our society’s decisions.

    Statistics can be manipulated any which way, for anything. For MIT, you can take the raw acceptance rate, factor in the EA acceptance rates, the international cap, geographical diversity, ethnic diversity, and end up with a 100% chance of getting in.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean you’ll get in. smile.

  4. Timur Sahin says:

    Ack, sorry for that double post… don’t know what happened.

  5. Hey Bryan,

    Thanks man! This post is really funny, I had a good laugh at it while looking at it in the morning.

    On a more serious note, it does show *some* of the major blunders applicants make when college anxiety pops in. A really useful entry.

    My favorite is no. 47, coz it makes use of contrast to highlight a very important point.

    What’s yours?

    (P.S. Thanks again Bryan!)

  6. That list was amazing.

  7. Zack Yang says:

    Some of this stuff is hilarious.

    Mr. Nance, I run a humor magazine at my high school. Could we take the funniest parts of your advice and publish it? We would credit you, if you wish. Normally, the magazine has just students and faculty, but some of these lines are just too good to give up.

    (Case in point: “Unless you work for Bad Boy Records, The death of Biggie and Tupac do not count as defining moments in your life.”)

  8. Jessie says:

    Hehe, that’s great! Of course, I saw it yesterday while hanging out with you and Ben in his office.

    I did #6, or at least, the thing #6 implies you shouldn’t do, when I applied to MIT, but after I explained why to Ben, he felt I was justified.

    In regard to #34, I think that if you quote something like the Sandman series (which won a World Fantasy Award) you can totally justify it. In general, though, that’s probably a good guideline. smile

  9. Oh, and just to substantiate, contrast is one of my favorite literary techniques. wink

  10. That was hilarious, one of your funniest posts.

    Hmmm, does that mean I should not write about my love for manga? I don’t have to put “Graphic Novels” after that in parentheses because you already know what it is, right?

  11. Chris Dancy says:

    This post really made me laugh

    One of my favorites was 32

    great way to lighten up the atmosphere smile

  12. Honest G,

    Honest G… What kind name is that? Do you sell used cars? Anyway, it is fine to have just a few extracurriculars or even just one. We’d rather see you very involved in a few great activities than participate in 47 different activities.

  13. Timur, Timur (sorry for the duplication of name)

    As usual, you are on point. Numbers, damn numbers & lies is a great defination for statistics!

  14. Zack,

    You ABSOLUTELY can publish any or all of this post. Please send me the royality checks!

  15. Jessie,

    I am honored by your post. (EVERYONE, please acknowledge that we are in the company of greatness! Now go check out her blog!)

    You are correct, there is a huge difference between Sandman and Preacher versus, say Archie or Aquaman. (sorry Entourage fans) Also, folks who enjoy the time honored act of reverse-engineering household appliances tend to fit in really well at MIT.

  16. Laura,

    Menga is fine. However, the minute that you mention your Hello Kitty collection, all bets are off!

  17. Neha says:


    I love Hackers! haha.
    CC, for me is the most depressing college site to go to, yet I always go back. =D

  18. Honest G. says:

    This checklist is really usefull and funny.Thanks! It will help all the applicants. I want to apply and I wonder if an applicant can only have one or two extracurrucular activities

  19. Alex says:

    I iam ashamed to admit that I actually do know who the Wiggles are. I promise I won’t put it in my application!

    (P.S. the purple one is my favorite)

  20. The Purple Wiggle is Jeff. (Don’t ask…)

  21. Nancer, what’s your favorite hack? Mine was the weather balloon. Oh, and the rocket banner too. Both have a very obvious similarity. wink

  22. anniiieee says:


    Are you serious about #7 because I actually did quote Holden Caufield in my essay.

    Some might strongly disagree with and be offended by #11.

    I wonder what #40 said that was so bad…..

  23. anniiieee says:

    Oh yeah, Thanks, i love your blog too!

  24. Eric,

    My favorite hack is the Police Car on top of the dome, complete with cop, coffee & donuts!

  25. Amy Leung says:

    Hey Bryan!

    Did you get your title from YeSeul? She invented the “I’ve Got 99 Problems and Biology ain’t one” during MITES!

    That list is so funny and true at the same time.

  26. Hello Everyone,

    Today I had to remove a comment from this thread because of an inappropiate comment. Remember, sarcastic and witty is fine (actually it is encouraged), but name calling is not.

    With that said, I return you to your regularly scheduled Nance Effect, already in progress.

  27. Annilleee,


    I’ve got to out you…What’s up with all the pictures of your UPENN trip on your Blog? Where are all the MIT photos?

    If you quoted my boy Holden, that’s fine… remember the line from the movie The Truth About Cats and Dogs, “You can love your dog

  28. Amy,

    I did not get my title from YeSeul. (If she hears of my title she’ll swear that I stole it!) However, I’m sure that her version is far funnier than mine.

    YeSeul, if you’re out there, let us hear from you!

  29. annieee says:

    MIT photos of were me when i was 10 but it’s there. But i’m visiting MIT again in November. MIT is my heart, UPENN is only my jumpoff, or mistress or whatever you want to call it.

    -Annie (LOL my fault for repeating letters in my name)

  30. zoogies says:

    Bryan, where are your Movable Type trackbacks? I’ve scoured all through the source file and couldn’t find it.

    But anyway, I would just like to note with a certain degree of curiosity that you neglect your own advice of “If, somehow, you know what the Wiggles are, keep it to yourself.”

    I think Teletubbies is way better, and Boohbah somewhere in between. For instance, have you seen Boohbah Zone (Flash). It’s really wonderful, though its intricate workings are yet strange to me.

  31. Sunil says:

    “18. The same goes with movies.”

    So is it a bad idea to say that you want to freeze your dorm’s hallway and meet the genius in closet, just like in Real Geniuses?

  32. Sunil says:

    er, *Real Genius

  33. YeSeul says:

    My presence has been requested! Lol. I must say, I think i DID influence Bryan somewhat for his 99 problems blog. For anyone interested, I did make up a song/parody called “I got 99 PSets..but Bio Ain’t one..”
    The song kind of goes like…

    “If you got problems, I feel sorry for ya son,
    I got 99 PSets but bio ain’t one..”

    Yes, this is what MITES does to you

  34. Michael B B says:

    Just like Neha said,
    I love ‘Hackers’, even though it should have been called ‘crackers’, due to the nature of the programming contained in the film. However I do see the marketing problems this title would face.
    And once more… Hackers is an excelent story portraying how young people try to survive in a tech world. Rather reminds one of how it would be like to be admitted to MIT (although preferably without the spandex).

  35. THE WlGGLES……

    Yes I know of these Wiggles that you speak of. I know the lyrics to songs such as:
    D-O-R-O-T-H-Y the Dinosaur
    Fruit Salad (Yummy! Yummy!)
    and who could forget Captan Feathersword?

    The jig is up… I know these hideous songs because I have a 2 year old that has AN UNHOLY INFACUATION WITH THE WIGGLES.

    There you have it! My dirty little secret is out!

  36. Kristin says:

    Hey Bryan,

    Everyone always says to only have a few really good extracurriculars rather than too many shallow ones. My problem is that I’m doing a lot of activities, and I’m afraid that colleges will think I’m doing it just to look good! I’m really not — I’m actually interested in everything I do (well, except band, which I do just for the PE credit), and I really like to explore a lot of different areas to help me see what I really like. Is this still not a good thing?


  37. LORD people, it’s CAULFIELD, not CAUFIELD!!!

  38. Matt Bayer says:

    Really entertaining list of waht to do’s/ waht not to do for an application, too bad I didn’t read this sooner :(. Although, I followed the majority of your criteria with my application. I used a music quote with my application essay, that I thought tied into it well. I would like to know how important the optional questions are on teh last section of the essay and how important the SAT II tests really are for the application.


  39. About #5:
    I have a classmate that always refers to his parents as “Mommy” and “Daddy”. He gets irritated when I refer to my mother as “mother”. I warned him about this.
    “It makes you seem rather immature.”
    “I am so mature!”

    I think your list is great. I should make a similar one: 10 things people should not do around me…

    Are Asians a minority anymore? In a lot of campuses, they are a plurality, and even in one case, majority. Just wondering…

  40. I think Asians aren’t really the smallest minority in MIT. One of the ECs that came to my school told us that Asians pepper the campus – you can see a blackhead everywhere you go.

    Gee, we’re blackheads…

  41. ORM, overrepresentedminority.

    well, better than a white head?
    geez, sounds like i’m talking dermis here.

    :3 asian is judged harder.

  42. Clark Poland says:

    “There is no way to convince me that the Designated Hitter rule is good for Baseball. Don’t even try.”
    I knew I should’ve written an essay on how the DH has completely changed the virtues of America’s pastime in a negative manner.

    On another note, when I was checking the rhythm of the title line (the extra syllable kind of irritates me), I found a remix of the song called “99 Luft Problems” by Jay-Zeezer. I have no idea where I got it, but I thoroughly enjoy it. Do you like any of the other remixes of the song? I’m still a fan of the Grey Album rendition. Avoid “99 Problems with Buddy Holley”, it’s terrible.

  43. Timur Sahin says:

    * Ack, typo. Not so much that MIT is about engineering as it is about innovation.


  44. Hey!…well i dont know if you rember me, but i went to visit MIT in mid-October with the school Manhattan center, and i spoke to you breifly. My name is Patricia, and i attend the program SEO. I apologize for not posting earlier, but i have been very stressed out wit college applications. Well anyway, i really enjoyed my visit to MIT, and I am very excited about appplying to it. However, i do have a question for you about the school, that i hope you can give me your opinion on. During my visit to MIT, i encountered alot of the students. And surprisingly enough, alot of them told me that alhtough MIT is an excellent school, it is truly famous for its engineering programs. That one should only apply if they are interested in engineering, because that is MIT’s main focus. Nowi personally do not want to study engineering, i want to study biology, and i wanted to know if MIT was still a good choice for that. Because i do know it does specialize in the math and sciences, but everyone has been telling me that it is truly famous for engineering, because that is its main focus! So what can you tell me? what do you think??
    Thank you

  45. Timur Sahin says:

    MIT’s motto, “mens et manus,” is literally Latin for “mind and hand.” What this means is that although you will be learning about biology, the Institute will be teaching you how to make the best use of that biology knowledge. This is especially apparant in most of the undergraduate research students participate in. A lot of this does amount to engineering, but that’s because engineering by its nature is applied science.
    It’s not so much that MIT is about biology as it is about innovation.

    Can you learn pure biology? Yes. I’d recommend checking out Mollie’s blog ( ) But anyone can learn biology anwhere. You can pick up a biology book and go to work on that. What MIT wants to do is prepare you to make a difference. It may be through engineering, or through research, but whatever you do, be prepared to change the world.

    God I love MIT.


  47. Timur Sahin says:

    I have a strong feeling the death of your laptop was no coincidence.

    You have two options:
    A) buy a new laptop, move on, and live in ignorance, OR
    B) undergo ninjitsu training, track down the gnome pirates responsible for your laptop’s premature death, and give them the thrashing of a lifetime.

    I think we both know which the better option is.

  48. I’m sure that, at a place full of engineers, crackers, and geeks, you can find someone, somewhere, to fix it for you. Especially if he/she is a minority student. wink
    My guide (no, not HHGTTG, though I love it dearly) to colleges says 30%. We’re creeping up on a plurality here.
    I’d rather be a blackhead than a banana.
    Joke from Isaac Asimov: “You have to know the most for a career in dermatology. After all, you’re dealing with skin… and that covers everything.”
    Go pre-meds!
    :-( Asians are judged harder? Bryan/Mr. Nance, will you confirm?

  49. Oh, oh, oh, get a Mac if you get a new laptop. It’ll survive much longer than if you get a PC. wink

  50. Laura says:

    I’m totally with you on the DH rule…man that bugs me!

  51. zoogies says:

    Hey Bryan, looks like we’re seeing #50 in action now, MyMIT being dead and all smile. Timur’s picture is PRICELESS. His MS paint skills put my photoshop abilities to SHAME.

  52. Hey, Zoogie’s post was #52, same as the no. of “things not to do” posted here. Not bad…

  53. Timur Sahin says:

    Fear me, for I am PaintLord. smile

    Truth is, the computer with Photoshop (along with MSVS and MATLAB) kinda overheated and I fried the graphics card, so I’ve been taking out my artistic frustration with Paint. :D.

    Besides, Paint is like, old school.

  54. Timur Sahin says:

    No clue, but my bet is it’s the same guy who threw together a bunch of periods and numbers and came up with ASCII art. :D

  55. Victoria says:

    I thought old-school was punchcards.
    Go punchcards!

  56. Victoria says:

    A modern artist probably would grin
    Um… I know the SFS writes notes on old punchcards.

  57. nehalita says:

    Loved the post.
    …life isn’t like a box of chocolates? my childhood’s ruined.

  58. I’m BACK!!! As you know, my computer died an ugly death and of course Rule # 50 kicked in.

    “It’s been a long time,
    I shouldn’t have kept you,
    Without a strong rhyme to step to…”
    – Eric B & Rakim, I Know You Got Soul.

    Lets jump right in.

    Victoria asked:
    Are Asians a minority anymore? In a lot of campuses, they are a plurality, and even in one case, majority. Just wondering…

    Answer: While Asian Americans are minorities at most colleges in the US, at MIT they are not considered Under-Represented (URM’s). We define URM’s as African Americans, Native Americans and Latina/o students. It is important to note that there is no majority ethnicity at MIT.

    Eric Commented:
    Asians aren’t really the smallest minority in MIT. One of the ECs that came to my school told us that Asians pepper the campus – you can see a blackhead everywhere you go.
    Answer: Eric I don

  59. Haha, now punchcards are really, really damn outdated.

    Wonder who bothered to make art with punchcards?

  60. Victoria says:

    That’s what I thought. Thanks for confirming that.
    I thought plurality was having more, rather than most, if you see what I mean… it’s sort of like a majority, but it’s under 50%. Random House (:-D) defines it as “the excess of votes received by the leading candidate, in an election in which there are three or more candidates, over those received by the next candidate: distinguished from majority by the fact that it is not over half”. It’s more of a politics definition, but I’ve heard it used in a discussion of minorities in [California, colleges, US]. So if we replace votes received by students of a single race (let’s say Asian, since that’s what we’re working with here) and candidates by race, and election by admitted, we should have a pretty good working definition.
    I’ll admit that this isn’t standard Debate/Forensics technique (sorry!), but that’s what we have to work with. So…
    Well, you could always put it like this…

    [Ad in the paper]
    Interested in Financial Aid? Fix this laptop!
    [img src=”laptop.jpg”]
    I know Mr. Barkowitz.

    (yes, I know I’m using the wrong enclosures for the HTML tags, it’s to emphasize a point.)
    Or you could always say “I bet you can’t fix this laptop.” to some promising student.
    Asimov is great. Even if he did teach at BU.

    Oh, the power of backups. But seven gigs is formidable. Good luck.

  61. zoogies says:

    Macs fail!? No way! o.o

  62. nehalita says:

    You know funny you mention Santa Claus (if there are any kids reading this, i do not advise reading any more…)–

    I casually asked my dad if SC (Santa Claus not South Carolina) was real and he casually responded “no.” I went back to my elementary school (first grade folks) and told them SC wasn’t real and they nearly kicked me out of class (on top of that they didn’t even let me try to convince them otherwise…). Ignorance is bliss I tell you…

  63. Timur Sahin says:

    Nehalita: I had a similar experience.

    I talked to my friends about it, and for the next few months the other kids talked about how their parents said I was going to Hell. :/.

    But the school administration actually got mad at you? Wow. That’s horrible.

  64. Hi Bryan,
    just wanted to ask you a question. Am taking the November 5, 2005 SAT II’s, I was wondering if i showed just sending all my SAT scores with those scores or should i send them seperately. If i send it with the November scores it would be free rather than $9.00. So i was just wondering which would be more convenient. Your comments are really helpful after reading that I had to change a few things (no…..just kidding)

  65. Holy, Nancer, you had 7 GIGS of music??? All I ever had (max) was 3 GB.

    How’s the TiBook? It should be really cool… I’m planning to get one next year, when I start earning my own money.

  66. Kristin says:

    Man, every kid in my family (including me) believed in Santa Claus until about the sixth grade… hooray for blissful ignorance!

  67. Clark Poland says:

    I somehow managed to track down a GreyAlbum torrent. Of course, you’ll need bittorrent or one of the other clients to download it.

    jcarkeys (AT) gmail (dot) com

  68. Clark Poland says:

    … and I should’ve previewed it to make sure that the HTML works. Oh well, y’live and learn.

  69. Timur, I think Nehalita was kicked out of class by classmates, not the school admin.

    Then again, even though I didn’t believe in Santa Claus, when it came to christmas time, I happily abandoned any thoughts about him *not* being present, and joined in the festivities. Nehalita is right – ignorance is bliss…

  70. ;P sorry Mr. Nance and all. I guess I fell victim to #45, college confidential, though not for looking for an admissions back door. That site is insightful and awful.

    “…I went from being ignorant of being ignorant, to knowledgeable of being knowledgeable”
    -Their Eyes were Watching God.

    I don’t know – ignorance? But I do think that what is not known can often be changed. My motto. Leave me to my delusions.

  71. Robb Carr says:

    I should probably stay out of this…eh just thought I would briefly touch on it though. I am definitely on Timur’s side as far as this one goes. Obviously there are…varying degrees of ignorance and in variable forms however it is never…desirable. During the holocaust obviously the general German population did little as far as to attempting to stop the massive killings of Jews (and of course other groups however again…the focus was on Jews) , and infact chose to ignore it because it made their lives easier, “ignorance is bliss” obviously this is a…”strong” example and possibly overkill however it shows the point well. There is an important distinction to make here though, between recognizing ignorance and accepting ignorance. I am going to draw an analogy to mathematics here as it is the field I feel the greatest connection to…however in the spirit of mathematics I will attempt to generalize a bit. Obviously any research mathematician will realize despite the immense amount of knowledge he may (or may not!) possess about numbers, there is such an immensely large amount of knowledge yet to be discovered and elegant statements yet to be made that it would be foolish to describe himself as fully versed (Obviously this is not necessarily true of specific cases for example Euclidean geometry is a good bit more developed than some other fields or countless other examples).

    However what separates some of the greatest minds in recent history (I cite recent history as there is a plethora of available quotations providing more insight into the figures character, relatively) is that they recognize they possess a certain ignorance, yet strive to chip away at this ignorance and increase their understanding. For me this is part of the intrinsic joy/beauty of Mathematics, its this constant drive to learn more, discover more, and increase ones knowledge…its this sort of curiosity which is not really describable if someone does not already have a concept of it.

    It’s like asking why Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is beautiful. If you don’t see why, someone can’t tell you. I know numbers are beautiful. If They aren’t beautiful, nothing is.

    -Paul Erdos

    We look at a man like Paul Erdos (I would cite Leonhard Euler as he actually had many more publications in comparison…however again I do not know as much about his…personality as that of Erdos). He did not write 1500 non-trivial mathematical articles for money (infact he gave most of it away) or fame or anything of the sort, he had that constant drive for discovery and to chip away at so-called “ignorance”. He referred to people who had stopped doing mathematics, as “dead” and people who had died as “left”. Or consider another great recent mind, Richard Feynman, let me quote an example from Wikipedia:

    “Feynman was also sought out by the more senior physicist Hans Bethe for one-on-one discussions of physics theory. Bethe later explained to Feynman that most physicists were too respectful of his reputation to contradict him, but that Feynman seemed to have no inhibitions about disagreeing with him and offering contradicting ideas, which he needed to progress in his thinking. Feynman said he felt just as much respect for Bethe’s reputation as anyone else, but that once anyone got him talking about physics, he couldn’t help but forget about mere social considerations and just openly try to figure out how the physics worked.” (Incidentally Timur I have about 1…40? edits now…20 new articles maybe all in mathematics hehe also I randomly stumbled upon your user page, interesting coincidence)

    Anyway back on the subject again we see this quote illustrating the previous point. One could argue “Oh sure I am real curious about (subject area) however in day to day life I am content to be disillusioned” however I do not think this is really a sound argument as being content to be disillusioned about one thing will merely lead to another smaller delusion…which leads to another…(And hence by infinite descent said delusion cannot exist!…sorry…no more bad math jokes). A relevant quotation: “Do you have a map of the cat?” -Richard Feynman .

    Eh, anyway I said I would not get into it and I ended up writing a page

  72. Momchil says:

    I have a SERIOUS question:

    After you told us so many things not to do and not to write in our essays, my only question that remained unanswered is…

    Can I use “fuck” on my admission essay? After all, Joseph Heller uses it occasionally, and who can say that his writing is poor?

    No, really… How else can I say something like,

    “Greenpeace says we must be more concerned with the environment.
    The government say we must think positively about our lives (in my country our prime minister actually said that).
    The feminists say we must respect women.
    Teachers say we must do our homeworks.

    I say… Fuck everyone who tells us what we must do. I think I know what I want, and I think I know how to do it. And right now I will go out jogging, not because my doctor tells me it is good for my health, but just for the fun of it.”

    This was quite improvised, actually. But, really, how will it be looked upon if I use “fuck” or something like it in my essay? What if I feel that it is the best way to express my thoughts? Well, I hope you understand. I also hope I did not just ruin my chances for ever being admitted to MIT or to any university, for that matter…

    I hope my post sounded funny, because I like it when people find what I write or say humurous, but, nevertheless, it is also a serious concern of mine.

    P.S. But now that I saw your #7 advice, I think I must remove “As Holden Caulfield says, ‘You can’t erase all the fuck you signs in the world’ ” from my list of fuck-containing, potentially-useful for-my-essay sentences.

  73. SHABIN says:

    ~nehalita : “told them SC wasn’t real and they nearly kicked me out of class (on top of that they didn’t even let me try to convince them otherwise…). Ignorance is bliss I tell you…”

    Is that all?
    My biology teacher rejected my project and sent me out the class in 8th standard because I did a project on a “wrong”, “forbidden” and “sinful” topic in Biology and tried to defend it in front of 50 classmates.

    What do you say here? That ignorance is a bliss!

    “Life is not like a box of chocolates.”
    Yes, life has a cone of ice-cream and a cup of coffee also.


  74. Momchil,

    I’ve been waiting for just such a question. With that said, I am glad that you asked this question. Here is a very simple question drawn from the world of economics;

  75. Timur Sahin says:

    If you ask me, “ignorance is bliss” are the worst three words ever uttered by any human. Ignorance is a crime, and people who purposefully maintain ignorance (not you, just in general) should not be allowed to reproduce.

    But if you’d like to talk to me about that, feel free to contact me. It’s a subject I have a long history with, and does not belong on a weblog.

    And Clark, I don’t know about the wisdom in posting a “banned music” link, but then again, I left the IP loop a long time ago.

  76. Victoria says:

    Reminds me of an old joke:

    Person taking poll: “Which do you think is the bigger problem in today’s society: ignorance or apathy?”
    Respondent: “I don’t know and I don’t care.”

    I sort of agree with Timur. I mean, ignorance doesn’t make sense evolutionarily.

  77. Wow… long one Robb. Guess you feel pretty passionate about this particular topic.

    I guess we say “ignorance is bliss” when we realize that not being ignorant actually brought us harm. (Or so that’s what we percieve.) So we wish that we could have ignored that particular thing.

    But then most of the time, I guess that knowing is better than not knowing. Depends on the situation, isn’t it?

  78. Kofi Kusi says:

    Hey Bryan,

    You should write a book called:

    MIT for Dummies
    52 things not to do if you wanted to be admitted to MIT
    By: Bryan G. Nance

    Trust me, it will be a bestseller. I would pre-order it or wait outside of Barnes & Nobles in the freezing cold to get the first signed copy. LOL

  79. Victoria says:

    And if you added that you are a director of recruitment, you’d probably make the top spot in non-fiction. grin

  80. Momchil says:

    Mr. Nance,

    of course, I expected an answer like yours. What I mean by that is that it must be obvious to us, students applying to such noteworthy institutions, that using the f-word is not exactly what the admissions offices expect of us.

    And yet, of course, we have to be original. But if I quoted Holden Caulfield, that would be trite. Even if I said that quoting Holden Caulfield has become very trite, that again would not do. You already said that. So what should I say in order to be original, “quoting Holden Caulfield is becoming a good thing to do, because a lot of people are starting to believe the opposite, and this presents you with a perfect opportunity to show them that they are wrong”?

    I don’t know, that still might already have been said.

    And I do not say, that I consider using the f-word original. Of course not, I think, in the most cases, it is like a desperate cry to bring attention to you. But what I wanted to find out with my question, besides whether or not I can use that specific word, is precisely how freely I can express myself. I think I received an adequate answer: “Here

  81. Momchil,

    Nancer’s post could be best described as humorous, and tounge-in-cheek. Just treat those joking statements with a pinch of salt. Best to evaluate them based on your own judgements.

  82. nehalita says:

    Just to clarify… the teacher never kicked me out of the classroom. I was exaggerating a bit actually. I was referring to the students’ reactions when I told them that SC wasn’t real.

    actually commenting on Kofi’s idea — even if it isn’t a bestseller, I’m sure you’d have a ton of cash coming in. I’m sure the amount of money the parents of america would collectively be willing to pay for a book like that would probably be enough to pay the electricity bill for MIT for the next year. (alas I am exaggerating again…perhaps it’ll only last 11 months worth of power)

  83. Ben says:

    I’ll weigh in here. The truth is that cool people like me don’t care what language you use in your essays, but you run the risk of being read by people like Bryan who will outright deny you for stepping out of line. You’d think there would be more freedom of speech, but with people like Nance… jeez.

    LOL totally kidding. Nance and I are cut from the same cloth. But the truth is, there are many different folks who read and select. Some have more tolerance than others. grin That’s not a bad thing per se, just a fact of life. A key example: remember that faculty are a big presence in reading and selection. So just be careful – that’s my advice. Whatever you do, make sure there’s a good reason to do it.

    As for perfect SAT’s – LOL LOL LOL. One will never get into MIT just by “dialing toll free” (having all 800’s). Because more often than not, achieving perfect SAT’s means sacrificing many things that are more important.


  84. Momchil says:

    Eric Asava-Aree,

    I don’t know if it was because I’m taking the SAT:Reasoning Test tomorrow, but what you said, “Nancer’s post could be best described as humorous, and tounge-in-cheek. “, sounded just like an answer to a question from the test.

    You know, “The author’s tone can best be described as (A) pointedly vitriolic (B) playfully ironic (C) firmly indifferent … and so on with those answers that I don’t know how collegeboard thinks of … “

    But, anyway, thank you for the advice.

    Mr. Nance, speaking of the SAT, you say a student should not rely solely on a 2400 SAT score. But can I at least rely solely on a 2400 SAT, 800 Math (level 2), 800 Chemistry, 800 Physics? Not that I have those scores (not yet, I hope… As I said, I’m taking the SAT tomorrow… LOL). But I wonder, what sins you must have committed if you get those scores and still be denied from MIT.

    Perhaps the sin of sloth. In all other endeavors except studying for the exams, of course. What do you say?

  85. Momchil says:

    “Because more often than not, achieving perfect SAT’s means sacrificing many things that are more important. “

    Perhaps you are right. I do have an 800 Chemistry and an 800 Math level 2 scores. I am very optimistic about another 800 in Physics. But to do this, I spent a month in the summer studying Chemistry and another one studying Physics (Math I did not have to study for more than a week because I knew practically everything, so I just did some practice tests and questions). So now I don’t know what to write in summer activities – studying for the SATs?

    Actually, I think I am going to write just that. Because it is not that I sacrificed all my time for the great and almighty 800s. I studied in a club, and there I met a lot of interesting people. I even met my girlfriend there. We’ve become good friends with the others – we are gathering together in the evenings and we’re having a great time. And during the days in which we study, we do it together – we’re discussing essays, we’re practicing questions… We’re studying and we’re having fun simultaneously. With that I meant to say that, although I studied hard for the SATs, I don’t think that I have forgotten the other important things. Moreover, everything I learn is quite useful for the other things and projects that I do, during the schoolyear.

    I just wanted to say that studying for the SAT can be fun. There was a lot of serious work, of course (actually, I am glad it is almost over now, because I will have more time for all the other things and for my friends), so I guess it is up to you to make it both easier and more useful. I don’t know, but “studying for the SATs” does not sound so pathetic a summer activity if I explained all this, does it? I hope not.

    I had another question, though. When I write the honors that I have received, from local, national and international championships and contests, must I send a photocopy of the certificates? And if I must, but the certificates are in Bulgarian, what should I do?

  86. Timur Sahin says:

    Momchil: I think you’re on the honor system with that one. More often than not, though, accomplishments on such levels (especially national and international) would be corroborated somewhere in the counselor letter or one of the recommendation letters.

  87. Sirius says:

    “studying for the SATs”? Does MIT expect us to “study” for the SAT or APs? Because, I did anything but studying for SAT… I find studying for some SAT test too, shall I say, intellectually irresponsible? After all, we are not studying because “we want to but because we have to,” …like what Kerry would say about wars. Then again, what isn’t reinforced, by Skinner’s standards, by some darker motivations?

    Or does MIT prefer to see students care about their SAT scores? If I had known other MIT applicants are dailing toll free all the time, I should’ve spent my summer getting the last 30 pt in SAT II math and 20 in history.

    I hope MIT doesn’t mind me questioning ourselves from 3rd person’s view. (And I really hope that these posts are not linked to the actual application process in any way…)

    (Do you find people using these blog postings to influence your decisions? or is that the original intent?)

    Perhaps I am naive, but I think MIT though competitive has one of the more fair admission processes. smile

  88. I sent an e-mail once to Matt, regarding our substantiation of the details in our application. He told me this:

    “Most vitally important information is verifiable. If, however, we discover at any point in your MIT career that you misrepresented yourself in the application that you lied, it is grounds for expulsion. That fear and people’s own ethics are usually enough to make the system work.

    Copies of the many certificates are usually not necessary.”

    Hope this helps!

  89. Davey C says:

    I’ve just tuned in to this ‘section’ of MIT and find it to be rewarding that, luckily, none of the above 52 Problems were a problem in my application. (I think I came close to a couple… but who’s really checking… haha…) Also, it is a little ‘lighter’ reading and circumstances than applications and deadlines and tests and novels and… On another note, I do have a question: Since there was an extension to Early App date (for which I have applied by) my teachers took the liberty to take the week as a grace period to finish their recommendation letters and evaluations promising that it’ll be postmarked on Nov. 4 and that that is all that really matters- then they killed me saying that it doesn’t really matter if it is postmarked a day late… To which I STRONGLY disagree. All of the application process that I could personally take care of (part 1, part 2, testing, interview etc), was done and sent in time, if in fact, the evaluations are sent last date, or even a day late, would it really affect my chances at MIT? Thanks…

  90. Momchil says:

    “Does MIT expect us to “study” for the SAT or APs? Because, I did anything but studying for SAT… I find studying for some SAT test too, shall I say, intellectually irresponsible?”

    You know, I couldn’t have not studyied for the SATs, especially the Reasoning Test and the Chemistry one. First, because English is not my home language. And for the Reasoning Test you have to know a lot of English. But studying English was quite pleasent, because for one year now I have been reading books solely in English (fiction, that is, I still study in Bulgarian) and I have had great time with them – this was a big part of my preparation for the SAT – I mean, it WAS intended as a preparation for the SAT, but it gave me a lot more, because now I think I am becoming a sort of a read-maniac – I carry a book almost everywhere with me. LOL. And the chemistry, even if I had studied all the information that appears in the test, which I had not, since I have not so big an interest in chemistry, I still couldn’t have handled the language, again, because what I had studied was in Bulgarian. So what I mean to say is that I had to either study for the SATs or get some 650s on the Reading, Writing, and Chemistry Tests.
    And even though I am quite interested in Physics, I still spent some time studying it especially for the SAT – from a textbook for the SAT, that is. Why? First, to get more than 750, which, I think, I could have scored even without studying. Second, because I am interested in it. Because there were some new things I learned, and many old ones that I practiced. And because in February there is the International Youth Physics Tournament (IYPT) national qualification for which we have already began preparing, which is in English, so I thought I will have a lot of advantage if I went again through all the things that I have studied in Bulgarian, but in English this time.

    LOL, I don’t know if someone did bother to read this all, but what I meant to say is simple: I may have studied with a fixed idea that what I study will help me with the SATs, but this does not mean that it has helped me SOLELY with the SATs. LOL.

  91. Sirius says:

    I guess I phrsed it a bit extreme smile of course we do things that are indirectly related to the tests… but in my context, there are people who memorize random vocab (not that it is bad alone) or answer SAT questions after questions…

    true, practicing questions can get you more solid on those particular topics wink.. but it seems wrong just to study for a test, at least my teachers would agree… It may be purely philosophical :D

    good luck with your IYPT. Are you going to tru IPhO too?

  92. Momchil says:

    Well, to go to the IPhO, I first have to qualify on the regional, and then on the national qualifications… But there is quite a lot time, I think they were in March. I will go, though, if that is what you ask. But I don’t know if I will make it to the International level (there are many people here that are also quite interested in Physics… LOL) We’ll see when the time comes.

  93. a parent says:

    re: number 38 above:
    Please remember that high school students who have activities every day after school are not avaialble to phone the admission office during business hours. When our student had a question about a portion of the application, I did call on his behalf, as he wasn’t able to do it himself (cell phones are banned at his school).

  94. Dear Parent,

    I see your point. None of these rules are set in concentrate and as Timor wrote “…somewhat tongue and cheek”

    There is no problem with you Occasionally seeking info on behalf of your son. It becomes problematic if YOU instead of him are the active participant in the application process. A big part of the college application process is learning to take personal responsibility for one

  95. SJ,

    It seems that I mave have struck a nerve with #18. Tina Fey (co-writer of Mean Girls) is one of the smartest writers in the business. Anyone who’s watched her do Weekend Update on SNL knows that to be true.

    Here’s the thing, nothing here was written as a personal attack on anyone. As such, I encourage you not to internalize anything that I’ve written.

    Finally, it is good to know that you (or should I say people) respect me even after quoting the overused spandex line. Trust me, If you actually saw me in spandex, I’m sure that you’d loose that respect… along with your lunch.

  96. SJ says:

    Give respect to the people who do appreciate Mean Girls, especially the ones who find it to be more than just a tween movie.

    People still respect you and you even quoted that overused spandex line.

  97. Fudge says:

    Hi Bryan,

    Thanks for coming down to MD for us awhile back….

    Also, I like your humor, but I couldn’t help but wonder, how many of those are based on TRUE applications in the past?

  98. Dear Fudge,

    A great many of the above list are TRUE. I propose humor in this list but it important to know that we look at at an application as an admit first…. once we see it go south from one untimely deed… God Save the Queen!

    At last count 49 of the 52 are from real life applications.

  99. Justin says:

    Can you tell us which three have not been done in an application before so that I can do them?