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MIT student blogger Snively '11

Liveblog: Info Session with Karyn Blaser! by Snively '11

Learn about MIT

Hey everybody, I’m taking a break from working on 2.004 in order to sit through an information session with Karyn Blaser (MIT Admissions Rep). I think I’ve mentioned before that I sit through one of these every so often just to stay fresh on current admissions policies and procedures, and typically when I sit through one I’ll live blog about it.

So here we go! Right now I’m just waiting for it to start, people are all signing in on OLPC’s (somehow the admissions office got a hold of two of them and use them for signing in now) with Mac keyboards (thank goodness, OLPC keyboards are AWFUL!).

1:56 — I’m taking this opportunity to finish up my food, Chicken Makluba from Sepal (a restaurant in our student center)

2:04 — I just led everybody through a game of MIT Hangman. I chose the words “Green Building” and “IHTFP.” Both were guessed and the MIT student didn’t die!

2:06 — Most of the students here are seniors, some juniors, and poor little siblings drug here (not drugged, drug), from a variety of states (farthest being Texas).

2:07 — MIT was founded in 1861 by William Barton Rogers who decided that people weren’t being trained for life after college, so he created a place that would prepare students to adapt with the changing world and become leaders.

Originally MIT was in downtown Boston until 1916. MIT used to be one building and everybody was near each other, something everybody liked (created relationships, encounters, collaboration, and friends). Current campus has the “Infinite Corridor,” really really long hallway that connects many labs, classrooms, and offices, encouraging collaboration and “bumping into people” in today’s campus.

2:09 — “Use science and technology to benefit society.” is the core mission of MIT. An example are the OLPCs people signed in on. OCW (OpenCourseWare) is also an example of benefiting society. MIT Publishes almost all of its courses (notes, problem sets, exams, lecture slides, etc) online for people to get a similar educational experience as at MIT (but not the same, nothing compares to being here). Additionally, the new cancer research center here is just being finished and will hope to find a cure for cancer.

MIT’s motto is “Mens et Manus,” Mind and Hand. It’s important to get the theory and the smarts, but it’s also important to get your hands dirty and get stuff done.

2:13 — At MIT you don’t learn facts, you learn to think. You will rarely ever spit out memorized information on a test. You will sit down for a test and see something completely new, something you have to apply your knowledge to and critically think your way through. It requires adapting to new problems and finding solutions.

Academics: An application to MIT is an application to the institvte as a whole, not to a particular major or school. There are separate “schools” here, but they aren’t really distinct and are kind of a technicality. School 1 = Engineering, 58% of students. School 2 = Science. School 3 = Architecture. School 4 = Management. School 5 = Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (over 500 courses), 8 required to graduate).

Beyond those humanities requirements, there are other requirements, like the GIRs (General Institute Requirements). 2 physics classes, 2 math classes, 1 chemistry class, 1 biology class. Most are finished freshman year with friends and other freshmen.

2:20 — There’s a swim test that you MUST pass to graduate. No, I’m not kidding. There is also a PE requirement (snowboarding, hiking, yoga, pistol, soccer, etc). Your major is declared at the end of freshman year. Requirements in each major vary vastly so it’d be best to look up those requirements. The swim test is ~1/2 the width of the Charles River, ensuring that if you fall in and swim in the right direction you WILL survive. If you swim the wrong direction, well, you shouldn’t be at MIT.

2:22 — MIT is set up on a 4-1-4 schedule (4 months of classes, 1 month off (IAP) and then another 4 months of classes). MIT emphasizes working with peers and collaboration. Some problem sets ask who you worked with as one of the problems (this isn’t actually true, but we’ll let the people here believe it). “PSET Parties” often happen the night or two before the assignments are due (PSET = Problem Set, weekly homework assignments).

MIT has a Pass/No Record system for freshman year. As, Bs, and Cs all are recorded as a “Pass” on your transcript. A D or a F is not recorded and your transcript shows no record of you having taken that class. This tries to eliminate competition among peers and eases the transition to college without trying to get a perfect GPA first semester. You slowly transition into a normal grading system. Second Semester is A/B/C/No Record, just like Pass/No Record except you get letter grades (much harder to take advantage of). Sophomore year is a normal grading scale.

2:27 — IAP (independent activities period) is during the month of January and every student gets to decide what to do. They can stay at home, travel abroad, spend free time on campus, or take fun/serious classes. Some students do research, others take classes like 6.270, glass blowing, MASLab, welding, ballroom dancing, EMT certification, charm school, Mystery Hunt, etc. The environment is much more relaxed and gives students a chance to do things they normally don’t have time to do.

MIT also has one of the largest underground tunnel systems and can get you around campus during the winter without having to go outside.

UROP (undergraduate research opportunity program) is wildly popular with undergraduate students. It lets students work in just about any lab on campus and do research with professors and graduate students. Getting a UROP is as easy as checking the UROP website or directly contacting a professor and asking if they could take you on as a researcher. It’s actual work, not just cleaning test tubes, so it’s important research somewhere you’d enjoy working.

The Media Lab is one of the most popular places to UROP at MIT.

2:33 — Internships are also very popular. MIT has connections with places around Cambridge, Boston, and the world. MISTI (MIT International Science and Technology Initiative) helps send students to other countries to do research with partnering businesses.

D-Lab (Development Lab) is a popular class at MIT that allows students to look at developing countries, think about resources available in those countries, and device solutions that address the issues they’re facing. A recent class used a bicycle to cut the corn kernels off of a corn cob so developing countries no longer had to pick kernels off by hand. Wheelchair design is a spin-off class from D-Lab that designs wheelchairs for countries with limited resources. Students in these classes sometimes visit different countries during IAP or the summer.

2:37 — “Do you need a perfect GPA to get into MIT?” short answer, no. long answer to come.

All undergraduate courses are taught by professors, not graduate students. Graduate students often run recitations (smaller subsets of students that are all in the same large class), but lectures are run by professors. Standard Eric Lander plug (man who mapped the human genome teaches freshman bio, 7.012). Student/Faculty ratio is ~6.8:1.

“Can students start their own research here?” Yes, but you need to get a faculty advisor/mentor to work directly with. It’s less common, but can happen.

2:41 — Social Life: Housing is guaranteed all four years. All dorms are coed but one, all freshmen have to live in the dorms. All the dorms are different (suite style, hallway style, kitchens, cats, murals, etc). After freshman year you can a) stay in your dorm, b) move dorms, c) move into frat, sorority, or independent living group. Many FSILGs are on campus but most are across the river in Boston, accessible via foot, bike, free shuttle, etc). 20% in FSILGs, 70% dorms, 10% off campus.

MIT has over 450 student clubs and organizations (newspaper, radio station, knitting, MITBeef, cultural, religious, performing arts, a capella, MIT chocolate science lab, and underwater hockey club). Boston and Cambridge also afford a lot of exploring opportunities, food, and theaters/shows.

Lastly, athletics. MIT has 33 varsity sports (division 3 except for crew, division 1). 25% of students are in varsity sports, there are also club sports (75%-80% of students are involved in some kind of sport).

MIT is like drinking from a fire hose (so much to do, not enough time to do it all).

2:47 — Now it’s just a Q&A session, which I’ll skip, in favor of you all asking questions in the comments and I’ll get around to answering them (probably sometime tonight after swimming).

2:50 — Psych! It’s time to talk about admissions and applying. MIT uses “MyMIT” for applications. EA is due November 1, Regular Action is due January 1. EA is non-binding and the only real difference between EA and RA is the date it’s due. EA applies sooner and finds out sooner.

MIT has an optional interview as part of the application, conducted by alums who live all over the world. Seniors are assigned an interviewer to chat with. It’s not a math test, it’s just a chance for an alum to get to know you and report back, think of it more as a conversation. Interviews MUST be scheduled by October 20th. You will be responsible for contacting the interviewer to set up the interview.

2:53 — Parts: Essays! Now MIT has 3 short essays now instead of one long essay. Students were doing too much story telling and meandering with the long essay so MIT shortened them to get more direct and focused answers to the essays. For the “End of the world” essay, note that it doesn’t need to be a life-altering experience. It can just be a time where things didn’t go quite as well as you wanted. Don’t stress out about having a relatively boring and lackluster life, this doesn’t need to be extreme, just some time when you failed or something didn’t go well.

2:56 — What do you enjoy? Stuff like Mythbusters, Red Sox games, Chess, etc. What department are you considering? It’s just so they can learn about you, they don’t have a quota and they don’t make this binding.

Activities: They want to know what you enjoy, what makes your eyes light up, what’s most meaningful to you. NO RESUMES! What’s meaningful to you now.

Recommendations: Math/Science teacher, Humanities teacher, and counselor.

Academic Record: Which class have you taken (difficulty level), GPA (does it match up with the difficulty and courseload?) and what’s your background.

Standardized Testing: SAT I or ACT with writing, with SAT IIs in math and science. “Score Choice” is supported. MIT pulls out the top sections from tests taken multiple times in order to get the best possible scores (Reading from Sophomore year, Math from Junior year, writing from Senior year, for example).

3:01 — Admit rate ~10%, so it’s not easy, but it is possible.

Financial Aid: Need blind admissions (they don’t care how much money you have). Scholarships are only given for need, not for academics or sports. Loans are also a big part of financial aid, in addition to work study (UROP, on-campus jobs, etc).

OK, I think that’s it. Thanks guys!

35 responses to “Liveblog: Info Session with Karyn Blaser!”

  1. Ruhban says:

    Get a teloporter invented soon, should have been there this time

  2. Ruhban says:

    In my hurry to write the first comment, i might have sacrificed sense. What i meant was, do something of the sorts for internationals too (Pass this msg on to those who can!!!)- let it be an online one in itself, a webinar of sorts..yeah this makes better sense then the previous post

  3. Anonymous says:

    it’s actually “dragged”, not “drug” (or “drugged”)

  4. Nicole '10 says:

    Just a clarification, though I think most people can probably figure this out on their own – the swim test isn’t actually *in* the Charles River, it’s in the Z-Center pool. And if you don’t pass, you can fulfill the requirement by taking a swimming PE class. Oh, and MIT offers single-gender swimming classes every once in a while if you’re not comfortable swimming w/ people of the opposite gender for whatever reason.

  5. Shiv says:

    Hey nice liveblog! Though what is the long answer to – “Do you need a perfect GPA to get into MIT?”

  6. Harish says:

    Never gave the long answer on the GPA question, but it’s alright.

    My question: what is your least favorite part about MIT, other than being hosed? I don’t think I’d mind being hosed, except when I am.* I’m asking about the smaller things, like how your window doesn’t close. (maybe not that small, something more universal to MIT even if it only peeves you i.e. none of the windows in the institvte closing)

    *Before and after I would most likely have a sense of accomplishment and a lingering feeling of “what do I do with myself?” I wouldn’t get that without the hosed intermediate. Without, I only get the latter feeling, which makes for a lame life.

  7. Thank you for all of the information! This is one of the best condensed versions of what you need to know about MIT and applying that I’ve read.

  8. Linux says:

    2:37 — “Do you need a perfect GPA to get into MIT?” short answer, no. long answer to come.

    Where is the long answer ?

    Activities: They want to know what you enjoy, what makes your eyes light up, what’s most meaningful to you. NO RESUMES! What’s meaningful to you now.

    What does this mean ? Should we make no resumes ?

  9. Karyn Blaser says:

    Thanks Snively for that great recap, and for sitting in yesterday.

    The “long” answer to GPA was discussed in Snively’s post, it’s just not all that long of an answer! Essentially, GPA is one factor among many in what we consider as part of our holistic admissions process. When we look at the transcript, we see it as providing multiple points of information, so we are not solely looking at the GPA and making determinations based on that. As mentioned above, we will be looking at what classes you have elected to take in your high school’s curriculum, the level of challenge of those courses, and your level of success within those challenges (aka your grades). MIT’s admissions process is not strictly one-sided or numbers-based; my colleagues and I spend a lot of time reading the entirety of each application and evaluating them on a holistic (both qualitative and quantitative) basis. Hope this helps!

  10. Kim '12 says:

    A note regarding MIT financial aid. MIT financial aid works a little differently from the way federal financial aid is normally evaluated.

    For example, regardless of how old the student is or the parents are, MIT looks at both the parents’ and student’s financial records.

    MIT believes that it is the responsibility of all parents to help pay for the undergraduate education of their child.

    There have been times when such a policy has made financing an MIT education difficult for students.

    As an example, I knew a student (class of 2010) whose father earned enough such that the student did not qualify for any MIT financial aid. But, the father refused to help pay for the student’s education.

    In that case, the student ended up working over 40 hours a week to try to pay for MIT out of pocket. She also tried to minimize MIT costs by taking 120 units a semester, to take advantage of the fact that MIT charges a fixed per-semester tuition not based on credit-count.

    (She never attended classes… she just went to exams and submitted assignments to pass her classes).

    In the end, she graduated in 3 years (to save a year on tuition costs). Don’t ask about her GPA, but at least she passed everything.

    So, keep in mind that while, for most people, I am sure that MIT’s financial aid package is great and accommodating to people’s need, it can sometimes not meet the realities of some people’s circumstances.

    Oh, as a side note, regarding grades:

    No, you don’t need a perfect GPA to get admitted into MIT.

    I had a 3.85/4.0 (unweighted) GPA from my high school. I got As in my math/science classes, and A’s/B’s in all the humanities-related courses. I think I also had a couple of C’s on my high school transcript as well.

    I think what is most important, is that you demonstrate continuing improvement in your high school grades.

    My freshman year GPA was not so great. I think it was around a 3.3 to 3.4. While I never had a 4.0 semester, I had a consistently improving GPA from semester to semester.

    Hope that helps!
    -Kim, MIT 2012

  11. Steph says:

    MIT….so glorious.

    @Linux – It means that you shouldn’t write your essay as if it’s a resume. MIT admins (or any admins) don’t want to read about the same things already listed in a resume because it’s redundant, has no real sense of who you are, etc.

  12. Linux says:

    Thanks for you reply.

  13. Ujjwol says:

    Thank you Snively for this great post.
    It is good to see that all my questions are answered in above comments.

  14. '12 says:

    Actually, I’ve had 4 classes so far where there was a specific question on each pset asking for who we worked with.

  15. Snively says:

    What I meant is that they’re not graded to make sure you worked wit people, they just ask.

    Actually it means that MIT Admissions really doesn’t like reading resumes. They give you limited space for a reason, it’s because they want to see the most relevant activities, not a huge list of everything.

    @Kim ’12
    I agree with everything you said about grades

  16. Steph says:

    @Snively — Thanks for the heads up. hehe

  17. About the “what do you do for fun…” question. What if what I do for fun is actually one of my extracurriculars? Should I restate the activity as an answer to that question?

  18. FAIL says:

    I…FAIL…at writing my name!

  19. another '12 says:

    Actually, I have a class where psets are required to be done in groups, with each group submitting one piece of paper.

  20. Anna says:

    I am a permanent U.S. resident with a green card. The application requires me to mail a photocopy to MIT. How will I mark the photocopy so that it gets filed properly with my application? Thank you very much.

  21. Banerjee says:

    @ Kim ’12:
    Thank you so much for that. My Term 1 report card just came out and my grades weren’t that good. People kept telling me that it’s the improvement that matters, but hearing it from an actual MIT student does make me feel better. So, again, THANK YOU!!

  22. Emily says:

    I had my interview a few weeks back and I thought it was a really enjoyable experience! However I was just wondering – I haven’t submitted my Part 1 of the application yet and so I’m assuming MIT don’t know I want to apply. (though I do have a mymit account)

    Is it a good idea to send Part 1 off as soon as possible? Would I still be able to work on Part 2 after sending part 1?


  23. Dave says:

    @ Anna

    Just make sure your name is clearly shown on the item (or print it neatly if the photocopy is less than clear or your name is different than it appears on your application).

    @ Hanjoon

    We do have some truly amazing students and yes, we do feature some of them in the blogs. We’re proud of their accomplishments and excited about what they’ll do here at MIT. Rest assured that for every new freshman who seems destined to have their own movie-of-the-week, there are many others who are astounding in less obvious ways. That’s why the admissions process is so thorough (and, as I’m learning, work-intensive). Don’t be discouraged if you don’t think you measure up to the “blog standard.” As the saying goes, everyone is the hero of their own story. Tell us your story. I think you’ll find it’s more impressive than you give yourself credit for.

    @ FuLanKe

    Unfortunately we just don’t have the resources for international travel, so unless you happen to catch one of us on vacation (which has happened) there are no international info sessions. Hopefully the website and blogs can give you some insight into life at MIT, and if you ever have a specific question just let us know.

    @ Emily

    Completing Part 1 puts you on our radar, so it’s a good idea. You can work on Part 2 after submitting Part 1.

  24. Hanjoon '16? says:

    I was reading over the reports of the new ’13 students at MIT, and for most of them, they overcame a very big background disadvantage or was on one of the International Olympiad teams.
    I’ve been dreaming about MIT since I was young (like a lot of the other students reading your blogs), but I feel more and more hopeless as I read the qualifications of some students. I was never really disadvantaged and making the International Olympiad team for any subject is no easy matter.
    What I’m trying to ask is: What really helps a student’s love of Science and Math stand out to the admission officers? I’m sure there are tons of students out there that take many AP/IB courses, get straight A’s, and get perfect scores on the SAT/ACT. But, MIT can’t and doesn’t accept all of these students.

    @Kim ’12:
    Your story alleviated my stress of college acceptance, and I’m only a sophmore in high school. Would you be willing to share with me what you did to stand out from the thousands of other applicants?

  25. Anonymous says:

    @ Hanjoon

    Luck is what makes you stand out. Luck.

  26. FuLanKe says:

    Are there such information sessions in countries outside of the States?(Apart from Canada)

  27. Kim '12 says:


    This was what my high school career was like:

    GPA: 3.3 – 3.4 (cumulative)
    A’s in geometry, biology; A’s + B’s in humanities, C’s in Spanish.
    EXTRACURRICULARS: high school math team

    NOTES: Spanish was my weak subject. While I did not need it to graduate, in my school, you needed foreign language classes to get the “honors” diploma rather than a regular diploma. Also, many colleges encouraged students to take foreign language, so I stuck with it. *sigh*

    GPA: 3.5 – 3.6 (cumulative)
    A’s in pre-calculus, physics and chemistry; A’s and B’s in humanities, B’s in Spanish.
    EXTRACURRICULARS: high school math team, science team, newspaper, student government, Key Club, recycling club.

    NOTES: In my school, you are supposed to take Algebra 2 your sophomore year, and pre-calculus your 3rd year. But I managed to test out of Algebra 2. YAY! Additionally, in my school, you normally take chemistry your sophomore year, and physics your 3rd year. But, since I managed to skip Algebra 2, I met the Physics pre-req… so I took both chemistry and physics at the same time. I also started adding more extracurriculars, for fun and for college admissions.

    GPA: 3.7 – 3.8 (cumulative)
    A’s in AP Calculus, AP Physics, AP Chemistry
    EXAMS: AP Calculus (5), AP Physics (5), AP Chemsitry (5), AP American History (3), PSAT (80 math), SAT (770 math)
    EXTRACURRICULARS: high school math team, science team, newspaper (associate editor), student government, Key Club, recycling club, year book, National Honor Society, state journalism summer camp, math tutoring, golf.

    NOTES: Added a bit more extracurriculars to my resume. My grades were still very much slanted, A’s in the math/science arena, and missed A’s and B’s on the humanities area. Note that usually, in my school, you don’t take AP math/science classes til your senior year. But since I skipped a year of math and doubled up science classes my sophomore year, it gave me the opportunity to take AP Calc, Physics and Chem my junior year… which I got 5s on. Also took AP American History (typical for juniors), which I got a 3 on. *sigh* Like I said before, humanities were not my strong suit.

    GPA: 3.86 (cumulative)
    EXTRACURRICULARS: high school math team, science team, newspaper (editor), student government, Key Club, recycling club, year book, National Honor Society (president), state journalism summer camp, math tutoring, golf.

    NOTES: I ran out of math subjects to take at my high school. I also ran out of science classes… well, I could have taken AP Biology, but I am not as strong in that area, so I did not bother to take it.

    FINAL NOTES: As you can see, my 1st year was not particularly note-worthy. And I never once had a semester where I got a 4.0 GPA. But, my grades improved from semester to semester, and I got more involved in extracurriculars over time.

    So, MIT is not looking for perfection. I know students who got significantly lower SAT scores than me, and lower grades, but who demonstrated strengths in other areas. In my case, I think my strength was improvement over time. In the case of some of my friends, it was excelling in non-academic areas, or research projects or whatnot.

    If you do not have ideal grades your 1st year. Don’t worry. Improvement counts. Actually, it is probably better to trend upwards, than it is to get perfect scores early and then start trending downward over the years.

    Hope this helps!
    Kim, MIT 2012

  28. Anna says:

    Thank you for the help.

    Also, in the section where there is an opportunity to submit a letter from a mentor about a research paper I have done, what fields of study is this limited to? I have done a research paper based on British literature in correlation to the time period the novel was written in. Are there any rules at all that would limit as to what can be submitted as well? Thank you very much for your time.

  29. Hanjoon '16? says:

    Humanities aren’t my strong suit either, and Spanish might be tricky for me this year.
    Thanks Kim for the help and encouragement.

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  31. Anonymous says:

    Yeah…the limousine will help you get in. Spot on!

  32. Banerjee says:

    Kim: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    You’re posts are so awesome, I’m not even kidding. Thank you (again) for sharing personal information.

    Oh, and thank you Hanjoon for asking =]

  33. Kim '12 says:

    Just as a note, I think that many top schools are more concerned about “improving performance over time” rather than “perfection”.

    I personally applied to numerous colleges my senior year of high school, in part because I was pretty concerned that my SATs were not perfect, my GPA was not 4.0, and my rank was not #1 (I graduated rank 12/300ish). In the end, I got more acceptances than rejections.

    MIT: accepted
    Harvard : rejected
    Yale: accepted
    Princeton: accepted
    Caltech: accepted
    Stanford: rejected
    Rice: rejected
    Cornell: accepted
    Columbia: accepted
    Johns Hopkins: accepted
    Duke: rejected
    Darmouth: accepted
    Purdue: accepted (safety school. Received my acceptance letter within 10 days of sending in my application, which I thought was a bit quick)

    Harvard, you are dead to me!

    In summary, even without perfect grades, test scores, or class rank, you can still get accepted by many of the nation’s top schools, if you can demonstrate improvement in your high school career, and balance academics with extracurriculars.

    Hope this helps.

    -Kim, MIT 2012

  34. Val'14? says:

    Kim that was really nice of you.=)
    Thanks for your information and encouragement!
    It is really helpful. I feel a lot better about not being #1.
    And hey my application list looks a lot similar to yours. wink

  35. Hanjoon '16? says:

    Once again, thanks Kim =)
    As I mentioned before, my humanities arn’t my strong suit either. (I received a 3 last year on AP World History)
    I love math and science though. I eagerly look forward to science bowl practices. =D
    Your extracurriculars were impeccable, and I loved your comment about Harvard.
    Hopefully, I can overcome not being #1 in a class of 30 students (which will inevitably get cut down to around 20).