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MIT staff blogger Ben Jones

New MIT Viewbook by Ben Jones

Is a viewbook as useful to you as it might have been for my (pre-internet) generation of college applicants?

Just got back from interviewing design firms. We’re embarking on a redesign/updating of the MIT viewbook, a process that will take almost a year from beginning to end. We’ll choose a firm in the next few days, and the first strategy meetings will begin next week.

If you guys have opinions on the current viewbook I would love to hear them. What do you like or dislike about it? How does it compare to (or stand out from) other viewbooks you’ve seen? Do you think it represents MIT well? There are so many components – photos, text, profiles, illustrations – I’d love to hear what you’d keep and what you’d change. I’d also love to know what you feel is missing, if anything.

Also: you guys are the first generation to truly “grow up with” the web and it’s a (the?) predominant source of the information that you collect. This makes you different from every generation that has come before you. I’m wondering how your affinity for the web influences your relationships with print material. Is a viewbook as useful to you as it might have been for my (pre-internet) generation of college applicants? What can a viewbook offer you that the web cannot?

Thanks in advance for any thoughts.

38 responses to “New MIT Viewbook”

  1. Kiersten says:


    A view book is superior to the internet in my opinion, because you can hold a view book in your hands and read it anywhere anytime regardless of access to a computer. A view book also seems more personal somehow. conclusion: viewbook = good.


  2. Eujin says:

    Howdy, Ben!

    I agree with Kiersten on that. Plus, it is easier to make an attractive look-and-feel out of the viewbook’s limited space (whereas it’s a much harder task for a Web source).

    Sincerely, Eujin

  3. Fabrice says:

    I’ll say that I hadn’t even heard of a viewbook until well after I decided to apply to MIT. I’d scoured the ‘net and viewed the MIT site in its entirety, becoming acquainted with the various majors, buildings … even dorms. The viewbook wasn’t too useful for me as it was really a vague touch on the whole MIT experience compared to what I had already found. Tell you what … I’ll read through it again and see what stood out smile

  4. Mona says:

    I didn’t like the colors in the viewbook. It was too dark in some places. (I actually found the colors quite depressing, but that’s probably just me.) I liked the little drawings though–I hate viewbooks that look too formal and institutional. In that respect it was better than a lot of others. The profiles of students, jokes, etc. gave the sense that MIT is a school rather than a big scary institution.

  5. Alexandra says:

    the only thing that really bothered me about the view book was the size. i liek the idea of having it be different than most other schools, but the oversize makes it hard to fit on a book shelve or stack with the rest. maybe if it was just wider instead of tall, i don’t know, otherwise i liked it, but the mostly the picutres of campus were the most important to me, and the cute little drawings that ran throughout.

  6. Aneesh says:

    Maybe you could include a CD with cool videos about the happenings at MIT like 6.270, charm school and maybe also the mighty blizzards wink

    In my opinion don’t just tell them about MIT, SHOW them how awesome it is!!!

  7. Hey Ben,

    If there was one thing that Olin College did right, it was the viewbook (not that they didn’t do everything else right :p). Take a look at their prospectus. It’s simply amazing and drew me in right from the onset because it was so creative.

    Slanted duct tape binding, penciled cover, etc. Sure, it’s a gimmick, but it draws you in and then you read all of the juicy information inside.

    Take a look if you can get your hands on a copy.


  8. Kiersten says:

    I like the video idea a lot!

  9. Kathy says:

    Another thing that makes the Viewbook important: you can actually sit down with it and read it from cover-to-cover, while it would be impossible to surf every corner of the MIT site. I find that feeling of completeness really secure–you can be sure that you didn’t miss anything, but you also have the web if you want to explore anything deeper.

    One limitation of the web, particularly for planning or scheduling, is that monitor-space is limited. I don’t like to constantly click from window to window; with physical sheets of paper, I can spread them out on the floor and get all my information at one glance.

    And on print in general: there’s something about turning a page that the mouse click doesn’t capture.

  10. MIT Hopeful says:

    If you could include a poster in the viewbook would be great too!

  11. denise says:

    a viewbook is immediate and hard to ignore, whereas most people would only view a website if they knew that they wanted more information. your viewbook, IMHO, should try to attract people who otherwise wouldn’t give MIT a second thought. also, nothing the internet does can ever replace words on a physical page. there’s just something special about them. i think paper also gives you more freedom of layout.

    however, i agree with the storage issue that an oversized viewbook presents, even though it did make it *really* hard to ignore.

  12. kendall says:

    i found i received so many viewbooks and mailings that they all sort of blended together. if i received it during the first part of junior year, i may have read it, but any time i was looking for specific information i turned to the web.

    however, when i did open viewbooks, it was the student perspectives that i read. everything else seemed to be the same from school to school. duke’s view book had a sense of humor- something key when you’re beginning to get stressed about the college process.

  13. Fabrice says:

    I like all of the student quotes and perspectives in the current viewbook, especially the highlights at the top of each page which grab your attention.

  14. Eujin says:


    My January scores came in yesterday, and Writing and Math II scores were terrible, although Physics score went up 30 points. What makes it even worse is that my Math II score was an 800 just a month before. Now, will those not-so-good scores make y’all (admission officers) think that there is something wrong with the guy that has such *strange* difference between 2 test scores? ( There is a number of reasons I did that bad, but I do not want to list them here).

    Sincerely, Eujin

  15. Jane W says:

    Eujin, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. If you’ve had better scores in the past, they’ll just realize you were having a bad day. It happens to everyone. Besides, test scores aren’t everything.
    Good luck in March!


  16. Eujin says:

    Thanx for the words of support, Jane!
    Y’all are so nice. smile


  17. Kelly says:

    Ben, the veiwbook was one of the things that got me really excited about MIT early on, but the one problem I had with it was that there weren’t enough pictures of the campus. I think you can find PLENTY of pretty and awesome pictures around without scaring kids off because it doesn’t nessecarily look like Harvard or Princeton. Which it kinda does. Anyway, I thought it was pretty, and I got some pretty crappy weather.


  18. Asli says:

    Hey Ben,

    I was one of those who couldn’t get a chance to visit the campus. So, the Viewbook, the Web, and a few friends who go to MIT were my only resources to find more about the place.

    I thought the viewbook was pretty cool. I liked the fact that there was a twist in the way things were put, (eg. how everything becomes up-side down through the end.) One thing that you might one to consider is putting the quotes, facts, and interesting ideas in between the stories of MIT students and staff. It’s kind of divided in half in the current one. Oh yeah, and I agree with those who said more pictures of the campus. I would actually want to see the campus as it is during a finals week, not when everyone is smiling, happy and as if everything is perfect. The current viewbook gives a quite realistic image of the fact that MIT is a rigorous place, and it would be nice if we saw that through some kind of media.

    Good luck!

  19. Angie says:

    I agree, internet viewbooks are easier to access.

  20. Meder says:

    Hey Ben,
    Do you send your Viewbook to International applicants? I’ve got them from all the school that interested me (about 30), except MIT. I recieved the International Fact Sheet, instead. That was dissapointing.
    I really want to have a look at the viewbook.

  21. Ben says:

    All: this is wonderful feedback. Thank you *so* much for taking the time to write in.

    Eujin: we consider only the top score in a given test, even if it’s not the most recent, so no worries. Everyone has bad test days!

    Meder: that’s a great question. I assumed we sent the viewbook to everyone but perhaps it’s prohibitively expensive to mail to all international applicants – I will ask and get back to you with the official answer.

  22. Ben says:

    Hi Shahab, it will definitely be soon. We read domestic first because it usually takes longer to receive all of the parts of any given international app. I’ll let you know! grin

  23. Shahab Umer says:

    I’m one of the international students… we don’t get any beautiful MIT viewbooks :(….

    J/k! smile

    Anyway, Ben could you please tell me (us!?) when you start reading the international applications??


  24. Matt already started reading the intl apps!!

  25. Ben says:

    All the apps go through the triagers (Matt is one of these) before being read, summarized, and prepared for the selection committee by the readers. I think that’s what Matt was referring to in his blog. As far as I know, all of the readers are still reading domestic, but I could be wrong. Personally, I haven’t seen any int’l apps come across my desk yet.

    More on the process (including the triage stage) here:

  26. Fabrice says:

    Any idea how many apps are dropped in triage during EA? Or does MIT automatically defer, instead of reject, the usual “half” in EA? (The “half” statistic was cited in that article, but presumably only applied to Regular Action.)


    “Between early November and the middle of February, about half of the applications received go through a five-step selection process: triage, two individual readings, numerical ranking, selection, and fine-tuning. The other half will be dropped after the triage stage.”

  27. nghi says:

    I like the MIT viewbook. It epitomizes the spirit of MIT. I could see why you guys make it bigger than most regular viewbook: unconventionality. But I dunno, unconventional without functional is not very useful.

    I like how there is two sides to the viewbook. The pictures are incredible! On the side with the Building 7 on the cover, it’s really hard to follow the content of the viewbook. I love the quotes. It feels like the students and faculty are personally talking to us. I didn’t find a lot of unity in the viewbook. I don’t know whether that’s regarded as bad or good. Every time I read a page, I have to reference to the table of content so I won’t get lost.

    On the more creative side, well, some of the pictures kind of scared me. Pictures done in a “Ren and Stimpy”-esque manner aren’t very attractive. Sorry, I feel horrible saying that.

    I really love how myMIT is set up. It’s divided correctly. It’s functional. It’s user-friendly. It’s appealing and colorful. The colors in the old viewbook were very hard on the eyes: fuschia on a pale chalk-like background? :( Oh there was a lot of contrasting institutional whites too. That wasn’t pretty. It’d be cool if you guys took some picture of MIT campus at night. I know Simmons Hall looks INCREDIBLE at night. More pictures of MIT in the winter because it’s heaven! The Charles River frozen over-what a sight!

    Have you guys seen Olin’s viewbook? I thought it was the most creative viewbook ever. It had a coffee cup ring stain, It was bounded in duct tape. It looked like a lab journal with scratched out pen lines in different colors. Being the MIT nerds that I claimed to be, I thought it was just soooooooo cool!

    p.s. ben you might be reading my application *gasp* smile

    have a good day!

  28. Nbot1 says:

    I’ve received many viewbooks throughout junior and senior year and each of them have been the standard guides to schools. MIT’s viewbook was by far, quite different and may I say creative and unique. I loved the illustrations presented throughout the book. They help to add a touch of humor and adventure to MIT. Its also nice to read about student perspectives. Many of the little one line sayings were also interesting to read. Each of them serves as a piece to solving the puzzle of what MIT is all about. The viewbook was great. smile

  29. lulu says:

    I never got one :(

  30. Anna says:

    I found the viewbook to be very interesting and unique. I enjoyed the profiles of students/alumni the most. They made MIT seem more real, I guess, as opposed to being just another frighteningly selective school before I got the viewbook. grin

    I agree with Kelly above about more pictures of the campus though. I was lucky enough to visit during the summer, and the buildings, especially the new fitness center and the science one with the petrified tree in it, really impressed me, so those would be my suggestions for photo subjects.

    The best part about a viewbook versus the web, to me, is simply getting snail mail, which I don’t get enough of nowadays. I received the viewbook early in my college search, though, and I doubt it would have been as impressive later, when I was totally inundated by college mail.

    A plus about the web *in addition* to the viewbook is that prospective students can find out more online about something they read or see in the viewbook. One thing I discovered was that Steve Altes, a alum, is not actually a body double for Brad Pitt, as the book states, but rather a stand-in. Haha.

  31. Ben says:

    Hey Fabrice,

    Some are triaged out during EA, but I don’t think quite as many as in RD, as EA applicants tend to be a bit more self-selecting.

    Regardless of EA or RD, rest assured that there are no quotas and all worthy applicants get full reads.

    (Note to future applicants: if your GPA is a 1.6, applying to MIT isn’t the best use of your $65.)

    grin B.

  32. Ben says:

    All – thanks for the additional viewbook feedback. Much appreciated!!

  33. Ben says:

    Meder – to follow up on my earlier comment, I discovered that unfortunately we don’t mail the viewbook to international students. Apparently the postage to ship our (oversized) viewbook outside of the USA is prohibitively expensive.

  34. Fabrice says:

    Ben, thanks for the note. Wow, did someone really apply with a 1.6?!

  35. nimotan says:

    i liked that picture in the viewbook where i think there was a balcony and the light was shining through the window in a manner that was positively breathless. when i visited mit over the summer and i saw that balcony i felt as if it was deja vu for a second.

  36. Anonymous says:

    Ooo I love taking pictures. I can definitely help with the “more campus pictures” deal smile

  37. lulu says:

    I never remember to enter a name.

  38. Ben says:

    Lulu – I’ve seen your work, and I *really* hope you’ll shoot for MyMIT next year (keeps fingers crossed)