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Leaf in Face by Jess K. '10

I got hit in the face the other day. By a leaf.

The other day I was walking back to Next House when a leaf literally hit me in the face. Not a light caress, not a brief reminder of the autumnal equinox, but an actual BAM! Leaf in face. It was new, and weird, and a painful metaphor for my life right now. (Sometimes, a leaf isn’t just a leaf.) It was something out there trying to tell me that I need to wake up, buckle down, and work.

Which means I need to stop fooling around (meaning, spending quality time with my parents, because this last weekend was Freshman Parent Weekend!) and answer your questions. Thanks, leaf!

Christiane asks: What’s the age-limit for prospect students at MIT? (If there is any at all.)
There’s no specific upper-bound, but MIT doesn’t award second bachelor’s degrees. As long as you don’t already have an undergraduate degree, you’re qualified to apply. This does mean that if your mom didn’t have a bachelor’s degree, she could apply, get in, and come to school with you. (But not my mom, because she already has a college degree. Go, Mom, go.)

If you’re a younger student looking to apply to MIT early, you can check out Matt’s earlier post on the subject, or ask him directly. He was a young’un himself when he came here, so he’s got some pretty good pointers on the subject.

Janice wonders: Hi Jess,
I am a Junior in Michigan who is considering applying to MIT next fall. Recently, I heard from my Physics C teacher that being recognized in national math and science competitions is “absolutely essential” to be accepted to MIT. Obviously, I realize that not every single person accepted every year has that qualification, but I could not help wondering on how much of the student body actually does?
ie. Did the majority of students place in the Top 200 in Math/Chem olympiads in high school?
Thanks for your help. :)

Sorry, Janice’s Physics C teacher in Michigan! Being recognized in a national math and science competition is in no way “essential” to be accepted to MIT, and I can tell you for sure that the majority of freshmen did not place in the Top 200 in Math/Chem olympiads in high school. We have a freshman class of about a thousand; even if all the top 200 students were accepted to MIT, they wouldn’t make up the majority. So it’s okay if you’re not a nationally recognized mathlete. If you do end up here, you WILL be among nationally recognized mathletes, and it’ll be both really scary and really cool. But no, there is no specific award you must win to get into MIT, like there is no set course of actions that will get you into MIT – otherwise why would we need a thousand freshmen?

Jeanie queries: Does it matter if we do research things that are kind of irrelevant to our “interested major”? Because I’d like to (maybe) study MechE, but I really enjoy researching things about the environment?

I believe there isn’t too much weight placed on the major you apply under. It’s perfectly acceptable to declare “undecided”, because really, how much CAN you know about yourself when you’re 16-17 years old? (I have no idea, and I’m 18. Okay, it’s one year, but still, no clue.) I know that a lot of my friends at other universities have to stay in the college they applied to and were accepted to, or have to go through a big complicated process of applying and getting into a different major, but MIT is more flexible this way. Moreover, it’s a pretty big understatement to say that MIT has a lot to offer, so you can still research subjects totally unrelated to your major here, AT MIT, through UROP.

So yeah, run wild! Go with what peaks your curiosity.

Sam says: I know this one girl who picked guys to date her Freshman year based solely on their AIME scores.

Yeah, I only go for 13s or above. Sorry, guys.

Ankit inquires: Hi

Is that Prannay to the extreme right in the 3rd photo???

You write really well Jkim!

If you don’t mind me asking, how were your SAT scores and how many times did you take SAT??

Hi, Ankit.

That would be my buddy Vijay, who lives on 3rd East in Next House with me. Sorry to say I don’t know Prannay!


I liked my SAT scores. We were friends. I took the SATs enough to be happy with them. I’d say a good rule of thumb for you to be happy with your SAT scores is anything above a 700 in each category (the same goes for SAT IIs), and three times is a pretty safe maximum number of times to take them. Don’t stress too much over your exam scores, though; focus more on portraying you in your application, and why you’re a good fit for MIT.

Rachel enquires: I am a senior at the Illinois Math and Science Academy (IMSA) which is a residential highschool with only four days of school per week (Wednesdays are researved for mentorship and inquiry projects).

Even though my school has math team, sci-oly, AMC/AIME, mentorship, inquiry, etc, I don’t participate in any of those projects (except we’re required to take the AMC) because I am just not interested. For the past three years (there are no freshman at IMSA), I’ve been trying (unsuccessfully) to find a mentor because there is not enough money to fund a technology inquiry in which I’d be interested.

The technology program at IMSA more or less does not exist, so this year I founded a FIRST Robotics Competition team ( We acquired some funding, and we’re going to be competing in March.

I was just wondering if my lack of participation in the aforementioned programs will hurt me when applying to MIT. I’m taking advantage of every technology-related course and extracurricular IMSA offers, but is that enough? Should I join the generic clubs like Math Team and Science Olympiad?


Wow, this is a tough one. I hope you understand that I can’t tell you what’s “enough”; not only is it not my place, but I can’t really give you a completely accurate answer. The best rule of thumb is to go with what really interests you, because you’re not going to get as much out of something you join strictly to enhance your college application. It sounds like you’re on the right track with starting a FIRST robotics team, though, if that’s what you’re passionate about. Basically, there is no set path that will guarantee you admission to MIT; math team and science olympiad will not get someone into MIT just like participation in those programs won’t keep someone out.

I hope that makes sense. If I wasn’t clear, please feel free to ask me again or send me an email at jesskim [at] mit [dot] edu.

L articulates: Wow. There I was, a HS senior freaking out about getting in, and you come along and start telling us about how magnet schools aren’t everything. I’ve been going to a magnet school (I think that’s what it is) half of every day since junior year. Thank you. I think?

Keri answered this one pretty well. Keri?

“L: I went to magnet schools from fourth grade on. The specialized programs are great, for the most part.

Jess isn’t discounting magnet schools, she’s just saying that you don’t have to go to one to get into MIT and that they aren’t the be-all end-all of your application. I’d say that’s pretty obvious from the part right before the magnet reference, where she says that you’re evaluated on you as a person. The resources available to you at a magnet school will help you so long as you’ve taken advantage of them.”

Thanks, Keri. Keri’ll be starting her own blog here this week or so, so if you have any more questions on magnet schools, being a 9 and 5 double major, or how to stay pretty at Mitty, keep an eye out for her.

Kim komments: Thanks Jess. Your blog alleviated my stress factor a bit about being a science and math wiz to get into MIT. Although I’m good in math, and awfully interested in science, I have to say that my school has one of the worst science programs possible. (And it’s not like the student body did absolutely nothing about it, we tried to get different teachers and change the curriculum, but the school system is just so darn stubborn.)

I go to a magnet school (in a science sense, the “magnet” theory doesn’t really work well. Science cease to exist here!) and it mostly evolves around the humanities. Law, teaching… honestly to say, those topics have nothing to do with me. So hopefully, the admission officers would overlook my science handicap. =P

Glad to know I could make you feel a little better! Last year, looking over my high school career, I realized that almost every higher-level science class offered at my school came with its set of complaints – crazy teachers, lectures taught out of books, tests that could be found online… the challenge is to look past all that and see if you’re really interested by the material, and if you might want to take that further. And it sounds like you are, so good for you.

Love the questions, keep them comin’. Sorry for the delay, last week, though only three days, was absolutely insane, but I’ll try not to let it happen again. Even if it takes a whole tree to hit me in the face.

22 responses to “Leaf in Face”

  1. Joe P. says:

    At least you didn’t get hit by the whole tree. ;D

  2. Karen says:


    I was admitted to MIT with much less than perfect SAT scores. They were in the 680-700 range (well, with the exception of writing).

    I haven’t really decided whether I’m proud of this or not, but it does answer your question. Last year when I visited, there was one person I talked to who had a 500-something on one of the sections. And he seemed to be doing fine. However, it can’t hurt to retake them for a better score if you feel they didn’t reflect your abilities well enough.

    Don’t panic smile

    By the way, I’m not a student at MIT…yet. I’m admitted, but deferred for a year.

  3. Andrew says:

    I love how you used a different verb for each commenter [or enquirer, or whatever.].

  4. BananAPPEAL says:

    Wow, you’re cool (JK… haha, love them puns) – and Korean, I’m guessing?

    1) Is MIT a place for academic masochists?
    2) What’s your major, and how is the work treating you?
    3) Are you getting paid for working for the Admissions office? Or is it fulfilling some sort of community service requirement?

  5. amrita says:

    i’m sorry i made your life temporarily miserable by ragging on regina spektor and grey’s anatomy.

    i will never do either again
    and…you’re never online :(

  6. L says:

    I never knew I was articulate. Wow.
    Someone besides me listens to Regina Spektor?! Wow.

  7. thekeri says:

    Jessica Kim, I love you.

  8. Deb says:

    I think you’ve got quite a metaphor there, somehow I feel that it’s the little mundane things that matter most sometimes.

    haha as for the AIME score thing, I only go for guys with 11 and above b/c the highest scorers in my town had 12. sadly, one graduated last year and went to caltech.

    anyways, I was wondering if low SAT II scores would hurt me, since none of them are over 700 (there was a huge stress fiasco last year, and it wasn’t pretty). It’s not that I’m a horrible student, I still have a fairly high GPA and I take a crazy courseload, and I’m got this unhealthy relationship with my research lab. But would disastrous SAT II scores be a huge end-all or something?

    oh. and I love that quesetion in the comments, haha academic masochist….

  9. Brian says:

    Hi Jess!
    All my buddies tell me MIT is for a bunch of nerds who have no life. Is that true? Can you have a stronger interest in your liberal art courses and still have a good chance of making it in MIT?

  10. Giovanni says:

    Hi Jess!
    All my buddies tell me MIT is for a bunch of nerds who have no life. Is that true? Can you have a stronger interest in your liberal art courses and still have a good chance of making it in MIT?

  11. Christie says:

    whaaat? I’ve never even heard of this AIME thing till your last blog. and I’d never even (in my haste I wrote “enver”) heard of IB till end of senior year! carazzy. anyway, keep rockin the MIT jessie-poo. can’t wait till you come back.

  12. Sean says:

    Hiya Jess. I just want to say I love your blog entries.

    Just one question though, do you know of anyone at MIT who was a member of FIRST, or recieved a FIRST scholarship?

  13. Joe says:

    Maybe you should try not pissing off the leaves, neighbor…

    It could have been worse. It could’ve been a nut. Or a squirrel. Or Greenpeace. But it’s not as deep that way, I guess.

    And I like how everyone seems to think you have to be “teh perfect jenius” at math and science to get into MIT. It helps, but…if it’s a prerequisite, what the heck am I doing here?

  14. Colin says:

    L — Jess and I and a bunch of our friends MET Regina Spektor after her concert on the 6th. We are pretty obsessed. (Read: I am pretty obsessed, while everyone else just likes her a healthy amount.)

    Kamber — this is a great entry. I’m sorry the leaf hit you in the face. :'(

  15. thekeri says:

    Sean: quite a few people at MIT were members of FIRST. The other two people who came here this year from my high school (one being Mr. Neha ^_^) were really into it, and I can think of some others off the top of my head. I’m not sure whether or not any of them got FIRST scholarships, though.

    Also, Laura’s one of MIT’s FIRST mentors – they help out a team from one of the area high schools, if I remember correctly.

  16. Christiane says:

    Hello Jess, thanks for answering my question. It was kind of a relieve for me to read, that there is no upper-bound… smile But i would under no circumstances try to convince my mother to join me in my task of getting into MIT. She is 72… and has no college degree either. I think she wouldnt even survive the flight to MIT… wink Everything else you’ve been replying to my question fully applies to me. I got no degrees so far, so chances are good, that i might get my chance. But thats solely up to me how i compare to others who also want to get in. Hopefully, when the time has come and my papers are on the way, i get admitted to study at the MIT. wink

  17. Josh says:

    Fall is slapping me in the face too. I look out my window and see the sun and blue skies, walk out in a t-shirt and shorts… and freeze. My body’s temperature sense is pining for a land where there are no seasons, it rains every day and the average temperature is in excess of 30 degrees celsius.

    About the academic masochists comments, I think I might be able to give some good feedback on that.

    Since I live in a dorm (Random Hall) known for being one of the nerdiest on campus, we have more than our fair share of obsessive tools. There are people down the hall from me taking 3 grad school classes and 2 advanced undergrad subjects per semester, and guys upstairs taking classes totalling in excess of 100 credits per semester. That said, like any other school, it’s only as hard as you like it. The legendary MIT student who works 24-7, barely sleeps, and only stops to make some brilliant hack is largely just that – a legend.

    We definitely have lives. The social email lists dispense news of campus parties and events all week, and personally, if you wander around my dorm on a weekend, if anyone is around, then it’s (a) raining outside or (b) they are playing PS2 or Gamecube or (c) they went out on too many other weekends and are completely swamped with work. My point is, even though MIT kids may have passed the admittedly stratospheric admissions standards, it doesn’t mean we don’t know how to have a good time.

  18. Kim says:

    Whoo! So glad you replied… I admit, I wasn’t really expecting it. (I love you now. XD) Speaking of the SATs and SAT IIs, I say we’re enemies who keep on meeting over and over again. I am never really satisfied with my scores because it seems that standarized tests and me never get along. I just took the Oct SAT and I believe it was one of the worst (I got sick the night before because I had a tennis match in the freezing cold). Therefore, I’m hoping the ACT would help me in some way. I’m just a horrible test taker. Wouldn’t the world be easier without these tests?

    Anyways, how hard do MIT students party? At some of the colleges my friends went to, I heard the students often attend classes with hangovers.

    P.S I got hit with an acorn once while walking. It didn’t really wake me up or anything, just gave me a headache.

  19. Adam says:

    Party, you ask?

    I’m still in high school, but from what I’ve heard, MIT students are very normal. They party, but I’m sure they’re smart enough not to attend class with hangovers, etc..

    Have you ever heard of the party button? Here’s a few links.

    The design..

    The video..

    Yeah.. MIT students are great.


  20. dChen says:

    Hey, at least it was just a leaf that hit you and not a rampaging blogger goin’ at you full steam in the hall

  21. nehalita says:

    Sean — I was a FIRST member (as keri mentioned) but I didn’t get apply for a FIRST scholarship

  22. Jean says:

    All those answers you provided for those questions answered alot of questions that I had floating around in my head. You are great JKim!