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Keg of worms and phytoplankton by Matt McGann '00

I’m at home now in Hampton Bays getting ready for the first of my fall meetings this Sunday in Plainview, NY. Yesterday, I went fishing with my uncle out in Shinnecock Bay. Nothing too big: we were just going for snapper. Sadly, though, I had almost no luck (skill?). Maybe I was using the wrong lures and jigs.

Nevertheless, I had a lot of fun. It made me wonder why I don’t see more people listing fishing as an activity on their MIT application. In my three years of reading applications, I can only recall one fisherman (fisherperson?) from the thousands of applications I’ve seen. I thought about this for a while, and what I came up with was this: people prefer to tell us about the things they think we’re interested in, rather than what they’re really interested in. It’s perfectly understandable; I remember doing a bit of that myself on college apps.

I vividly remember one relevant story from high school. Erin Moroney, who was two years ahead of me in school, was working on her college essay on the bus to a cross country meet. I asked her what her essay topic was. “The Varsity Club,” she replied. The Varsity Club was a special community service club at my high school that only varsity athletes could join. I remember thinking it was the perfect essay topic: it talked about sports and service, two birds with one stone! If there’s one thing colleges like more than athletes, I thought, it’s people who volunteer. The problem, as I can see now, is that Varsity Club didn’t really seem to be an important part of Erin’s life. It was more of a resume-filler, something that would “look good on college applications.”

We college admissions officers see thousands of applications a year. The applications where the student is being genuine, where the student isn’t being a poseur for the sake of admissions, are the applications that really shine through. And on the flip side, we’re also pretty adept at sniffing out the applications that lack substance.

In short, I encourage you to tell us about the things that really float your boat, whether it is fishing, or youth group, or jewelry making, or car repair, or whatever it might be for you. Your time is your most valuable resource, and we want to know how you spend it.

Current music: Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On” (many thanks to my dad)

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