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My MIT Interview by Anna H. '14

I think that I forgot to tell you about that

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! This is the result when you look me up on the MIT website:

I’m an AFFILIATE now. No longer a student!

Maybe that’s just as well, though, because according to Youtube it’s clearly time for a lifestyle change:

*     *     *

Post-MIT life involves a lot of airports and train stations.

Yesterday, I was at LaGuardia waiting for a flight that had been delayed by two hours. So, I got out my laptop and dropped stray documents into folders. I also moved folders into other folders (I’m kind of a laptop organization freak): “Grad School Apps,” “La Maison Française,” “MIT Classes,” and “MIT Extracurrics” are now all in a folder called “Old.”

Eek.

In “Old,” I found a folder named after my high school. Inside are e-mails that I saved from my high school days, back when our ancestors diverged from the chimpanzee lineage. One of them is from my MIT interviewer, saying “I remember you mentioned that your birthday was today” and wishing me a happy birthday. In the e-mail, he also observed that “your last name* maps to a rare earth element whose compounds have magnetic properties and has a very high boiling point!! All good stuff!”

*Ho is Element #67, has a boiling point of 2973 K, and according to Wikipedia has “the highest magnetic strength of any element.”

Ah yes, my interviewer was definitely an MIT alum.

When I read that e-mail, I realized that I couldn’t remember ever blogging about my MIT interview. So here goes.

In my senior year of high school, I was living in London. I don’t really want The Internet to know my address, so for the purpose of this story I need you to imagine that:

— My address was 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey, and
— Privet Drive is a large apartment complex.

With that in mind:

To schedule my interview, I got in touch with my EC and we agreed to meet at his office. He works out in one of London’s financial districts: Canary Wharf. Here’s a map of the London tube network:

Canary Wharf is over there, bottom right, on that silver line (called the Jubilee Line). Unfortunately, I don’t live anywhere near there.

One longish tube journey later, I showed up half an hour early with one of my best friends (who lives near Canary Wharf) and we wandered around for a bit to calm my nerves. Finally, I walked into my interviewer’s office. He studied a form that had my name, address, etc on it, and glanced up at me with a little twinkle in his eye.

Interviewer: Where do you live?
Me [thinking: don’t you have my address right there in front of you? is this an identity test?]: Um, I live in…London.
Interviewer: Yes yes, but where in London?
Me [thinking: there’s no way you’ve heard of this place]: Um, well, the area is called Little Whinging.
Interviewer [obviously exasperated]: Yes, WHERE in Little Whinging???
Me [thinking: this is getting a little weird]: The building is called Privet Drive.
Interviewer: I LIVE THERE TOO!!!!!!!

.

wat?

Turns out that my interviewer lived (lives, probably) a few floors above me in London. Well, that broke the ice. We both felt very silly for meeting in Canary Wharf.

I really like MIT’s attitude towards interviews. I find it much easier to talk about myself in a two-way conversation than in an awkward one-way presentation. In a two-way conversation, for example, you can ask “and how about you? what did you like about being an undergrad at MIT?” and bounce opinions off your interlocutor. You can (should) relax and be yourself, and you can even smile and drink a cup of coffee (a number of my friends had their interviews conducted in Starbucks).

My advice for the MIT interview is: don’t think of it as a speech, or a presentation. Think of it as a conversation with an interesting new person (this MIT alum is probably an interesting person!) in which your goal is communicate what you are really excited about. I didn’t memorize anything before the interview, and in retrospect I think that rescued me from sounding like I was making a speech. I did practice stringing words together about my interests, though, and answering questions about what I do in my free time and why I wanted to go to MIT. I persuaded a few friend and family members to sit down and practice talking about those things with me.

Also, something I didn’t realize until my senior year of college: your interviewer is probably nervous and awkward too. If you can smile and say hi and make a little small talk and relax, your interviewer relaxes a bit too, and that goes a long way in making a favorable impression. If you meet at a coffee shop entrance and walk to a table, or meet at a building entrance and walk to an entrance, that’s GREAT: you have time to break the ice!

So, before your interview, make sure you can talk about:
— What your major activities were in high school, what you liked about them, what you learned from them (anecdotes!)
— Why you applied to MIT, why you think it would be a good fit
— YOUR questions about MIT. Surely you have questions. I spent four years there and I still have questions!

And let your interviewer know where you live.