This is a long one. Apologies in advance!
First, a quick response to this…
I’d just like to remind folks that blogging is not in my job description, nor is it in Matt’s. It’s something we do in our spare time because we think that keeping in touch with you guys on a personal level makes the whole admissions experience more fulfilling for everyone involved – on both sides of the equation. I apologize to those of you who think these blogs are just a glorified PR trick. I’m not going to waste any time attempting to refute that – my blog is what it is, and the folks who “get it” will get something out of it. Others won’t, no matter what I say here. That makes me sad, but I can live with it, thanks to the rest of you.
Okay, here are a bunch of responses to my blog comments…
NoCreativity – thanks for your post and I am so sorry to hear about the student at your school who was killed. You couldn’t have said it better – people do need to try to keep some perspective when it comes to life and disappointments. Thank you for saying that.
At the end of my junior year of high school one of my friends died in a car accident. I remember how my class came together in the wake of that experience – cliques ceased to exist, people stopped arguing about trivial things, folks started to look for the good in each other instead of the differences. It’s such a shame that it sometimes takes such a loss to wake people up to what’s really important. Thanks for doing your part to keep these threads on the right path.
As you also point out, however, people have every right to be disappointed if they didn’t receive the big envelope. For me, seeing the admitted students happy is no consolation to seeing the deferred students so unhappy, because the former all got what they deserved whereas many of the latter did not. It would be so much easier if the number of qualified applicants matched the number of open spots.
Anyway… if you are comfortable telling me who you are (email address below), I’d be psyched to read your essay. It doesn’t sound familiar, which means I wasn’t one of your readers for Early Action, but I can still read it if I know which file to open. :-) If not, no worries, I definitely respect the folks who wish to remain anonymous here.
(Edit – one thing I should mention, as I’ve already received a few emails about this: unfortunately I can’t offer feedback or advice on an individual case-by-case basis – I wish we could, but it wouldn’t be fair to other applicants who weren’t able to receive the same attention. I apologize for being misleading above. Basically, I meant that I’d really enjoy reading the essays that are discussed here; I just can’t respond to them directly. I’m only allowed to give general advice – written for everyone – via the blog.)
As for what you can do… Marilee has written a letter which will be published this week in your MyMIT account. She says pretty much what I’ve said in earlier entries – there’s unfortunately not much you can do, as you were likely deferred for space reasons, not because your application wasn’t great.
Off the record – and I say that because this is a personal instinct and not one that is in any way officially sanctioned by the MIT admissions office – I’d say if you’re going to send in something additional, address the idea of “the match” in some way. If you feel your application hasn’t done this already, let us know why MIT is the place you really want to be. Talk about the “real you” – what makes you feel truly alive – in the context of MIT. Why is this the best place to continue the pursuit of your dreams?
And feel free to “hijack” my blog any day of the week if you’re going to add such good, thoughtful posts to the conversation. :-)
Sagar asked should I be busting my ass over classes like french, where getting an A is very difficult, or should I spend my time doing the things I love, like bettering my chess engine, or my Neural Network CS projects, or My C interpreter, or my miniature mock particle accelerator?
My two cents: you should do both, but balance them. You should strive to do your very best overall, but recognize that your life will require compromises and sacrifices. In a nutshell, we understand that your best in French may well be a B if your brain and priorities are wired more towards other things – and that’s okay. We know you could sacrifice your true passions to get that A in French, but at what cost? Let’s say it takes an investment of 2 hours a day to raise your french grade from a B to an A, but it feels miserable, like swimming upstream. If you applied those 2 hours instead to something your brain was truly excited about, wouldn’t that be a much better (and productive) use of the time?
Just don’t waste the two hours. Do something magical with them that will stand out from the application to the point that a reader won’t even notice the B in french. People run into problems when they sacrifice one thing for another but then fail to follow through. Make sure that your B in French is balanced by something amazing you did with all the time you saved.
On the other hand, you don’t want to swing too far in the opposite direction. Anything less than a B in french could hurt you, especially in the later high school years. But an application with a solid B in French and vast accomplishments in other areas is likely going to be more competitive than one with a perfect GPA and nothing else.
Does this answer your question somewhat? It’s not totally a black and white issue – you really have to be the one to decide what the best use of your time is. I’d say most importantly, make sure you are true to yourself. Live your life! If you follow your passions and use your time wisely, success will ultimately follow.
Mike D – Feel free to call and ask for me. (When they ask where you’re calling from, say “Brooklyn” and then scream “NO SLEEP ‘TIL!!!!”) Seriously, I am here until 5PM M/T/W of this week (although not always at my desk – sometimes I’m out and about doing MyMIT stuff). Then I’m out until 1/3. Matt is already gone for the holidays… But if we can connect I’d love to chat.
Anonymous – there is a space for the question you described. It’s #14 in Part 2. (Thanks Sean for beating me to it!) You are welcome to send in additional materials, I think Matt was just saying that in most cases they’re not necessary – your application is probably already very strong (see above for further discussion). Another personal opinion of mine – I think it’s always good to check in with a school between getting deferred and Regular Action. It shows the school that you’re still really interested (assuming that you are!). This can be done with supplemental materials or just a simple email or letter. Any of these will be recorded into your file and seen when your application is reviewed again.
Earlier I wrote that “trying to define admissions with a formula is like trying to explain poetry using calculus” to which Marcus replied “I thought calculus was a form of poetry.” Marcus you are absolutely right (although the farthest I ever got was AB Calc, which didn’t seem very poetic – I’m assuming it gets moreso in upper-level Calc?). Regardless, it was a bad analogy, especially in the company of all you math stars.
Let me put it another way… I read a ton of Shakespeare in high school and college and hated most of it until my Dad said “Shakespeare was never meant to be read, it was meant for the stage.” So I went and saw Shakespeare, and it changed everything – it was brilliant. Trying to define admissions with a formula is like reading Shakespeare and thinking that’s the extent of the experience. Accepting admissions for what it really is – a wholly human endeavor – that’s like seeing Shakespeare on a stage, brought to life by the finest actors in the world.
An anonymous poster asked how to email me – it’s benjones at mit dot edu. I trust you can rearrange the anti-spam wording of that. ;-)
And to the person who suggested the RSS feed for my blog – fantastic idea. I’ve been planning that for awhile and just haven’t gotten around to it, but it will be coming soon. Sorry for the delay, I know I’m behind the times!
Thanks to all of you for posting feedback for me. It makes this blog so much more fun. Happy holidays to everyone!