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MIT blogger Rona W. '21

my application essays by Rona W. '23

try not to cringe

It’s been four years since I applied to MIT, and while I’ve been irrevocably changed in many ways (my meme game has improved exponentially), I am sadly still 5’2″. That’s 157 cm, for the 95.7% of humans who don’t reside in America.

Autumn came late this year; the leaves are only now ripening. The sky is full-bellied with sunshine. Still, we’re on the verge of November, and I’m reminiscing about my own early action application. Here’s what I wrote about, and what I would change if I could do it all over again. Of course, this is only one approach to the essays. The most important thing is to be true to yourself.

  • We know you lead a busy life, full of activities, many of which are required of you. Tell us about something you do simply for the pleasure of it. (100 words or fewer)

I wrote this essay about K-pop. However, before I wrote about K-pop, I considered writing about a myriad of other things. I posted to College Confidential, asking which topic would best showcase my abilities, and promptly got roasted for trying to turn this essay into another opportunity to humblebrag. Lesson learned. It’s actually okay to do things for fun, guys.

I still love K-pop; however, I could also see current-me writing an essay about memes or naps. I didn’t truly appreciate the value of either of these things until I got to college.

  • Although you may not yet know what you want to major in, which department or program at MIT appeals to you and why? (100 words or fewer)

I initially misunderstood this question and wrote about wanting to help out with the Harvard-MIT Math Tournament, which I participated in during high school. Then my dad was like, “I’m pretty sure they mean an academic program,” and I wrote a new essay, which you can read below:

With passion for both English and mathematics, I’m drawn to MIT’s unique writing department, which offers both creative and science writing.

I’m particularly interested in 21W.742[J] Writing about Race and 21W.032 Science Writing and New Media. In my own work, I examine an Asian-American narrative often marginalized in the media; these courses would allow me to explore new ways of bringing visibility to this identity. In addition, I want to study the roles writing can play outside of literature and learn how I can meld my interests to do something that will make an impact.

In retrospect, this essay could’ve focused more on why I particularly wanted to study at MIT. I didn’t look at the course catalog too carefully. I simply pulled the titles of some classes that sounded interesting and relevant. Perhaps similar courses are offered at other schools; I should’ve researched more about what made MIT unique. (Current-me can confirm MIT does have a pretty kick-ass writing department.)

  • At MIT, we bring people together to better the lives of others. MIT students work to improve their communities in different ways, from tackling the world’s biggest challenges to being a good friend. Describe one way in which you have contributed to your community, whether in your family, the classroom, your neighborhood, etc. (200-250 words)

I wrote about organizing my school’s Harvard-MIT Math Tournament team and about starting an online writing mentorship program. Current-me wants to be obnoxious and point out that leading is not necessarily the same as contributing, but to seventeen-year-old Rona, these examples were the most obvious ones to write about, even if they weren’t truly the most impactful. Still, I cared a lot about these initiatives, had fun carrying them out, and saw their effects ripple through the communities I was part of. Maybe that’s all that matters.

  • Describe the world you come from; for example, your family, clubs, school, community, city, or town. How has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations? (200-250 words)

For this one, I wrote about slam poetry:

The stage lights burst open, blinding and white. I trembled.

I was at the citywide poetry slam, Verselandia, about to perform in front of hundreds. 

Earlier in the month, I had qualified through my high school’s contest, which I had signed up for because, “Hey, there might be free cookies!”

(There were not.)

At the time, I didn’t know much about spoken word besides from street performers (this was downtown Portland, after all). But I practiced in front of my mirror, my friends, and my faithful stuffed animals. Ultimately, I’d placed first at school.

At Verselandia, I watched others perform about abuse, racism, and feminism. A few talked about their LGBTQ+ identities; one addressed bisexual erasure, which I could personally relate to. Slowly, I realized that writing didn’t serve just as a cathartic outlet; it could startle others into empathy and create awareness. 

At the slam, I delivered lines like “Your heritage is more than an exotic enigma.” Afterwards, several Chinese-American classmates told me they could relate. I realized that my writing had the power to give these experiences visibility, which in turn might help erase damaging yet common preconceptions about my ethnicity.

As a Portland Youth Poet Ambassador, I have opportunities to not only promote creative writing, but also advocate for social equality. Through poetry, I want to depict not only a narrative from a person of color, but also a narrative of a queer person of color–a perspective almost completely obsolete in the media.

In my opinion, this essay doesn’t do a great job of answering the actual question; it doesn’t provide a good sense of what Portland is like, or how it has shaped me. In retrospect, the coolest part of doing slam poetry was the opportunity to see Portland outside of the upper-middle-class suburban bubble I resided in. Through poetry, I met kids from all over the city. Each one of them had something to say: sometimes devastating, sometimes uplifting, but always astonishing. I wish I had focused more on that.

  • Tell us about the most significant challenge you’ve faced or something important that didn’t go according to plan. How did you manage the situation? (200-250 words)

I had a lot of trouble with this essay, because I wasn’t sure if I could write about a personal family issue. I fretted. Maybe it was oversharing; maybe I should stick with a safe topic, like failing my driver’s ed test or not having a prom date. Ultimately, though, I took the risk, and I don’t regret it.

If you’re applying to college this year, my best advice is to be yourself. It’s overused, I know, and whether or not any of us even have a self is a discussion for another blog post. But the application process is an opportunity to reflect upon the last several years of your life; don’t squander it by writing what you think someone else might want to hear. Also, being genuine seems way less stressful.

Good luck!