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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

November Questions Omnibus 1 by Matt McGann '00

As usual, Q & A.

y2kit wrote, “I was just wondering another thing… Are test scores from other examination boards (like GCSE O or A Levels that I am taking) considered? If yes, how would you evaluate them? The grading scheme is different from those in the US school systems.”

We’re quite familiar with non-US grading systems. In fact, your system (O/A Levels) is probably the grading system we see most frequently among non-US systems. No worries, we’re professionals!

Victoria wrote, “Just one more question: I found a tidbit of information about the MIT/Harvard combined premed program… it just said that it exists. I went to the preprofessional advising site, but I can’t find information on it there. This is a program I’d like to write about for the second short essay: can you tell me (at least three days before regular decision apps must be in- preferably longer, but I know you are in the middle of early apps) where I can find more information? My book is a bit outdated… Also, I have two possible responses for the world we live in essay. Is it okay if I put one in the completely optional section?”

I think you mean the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, or HST, which runs, among other things, a combined MIT-Harvard MD-PhD program. The premed advising is an MIT program all the way, and it rocks as it is! I have a number of friends who are enrolled in some aspect of HST, and they seem to think it’s great. As for your second question, yes, it would be okay for you to submit your alternate response as an optional essay.

Rushil wrote, “Does it matter that my research is not fully completed??”

You’re in high school, and you have many other commitments. Honestly, I’m pretty surprised when students can actually complete research. So, no, it does not matter that your work is incomplete.

Harish wrote, “Regarding the teacher evaluation, I’ve rarely had the same teacher for more than 2 years due to me having to shift schools on many occasions. I also have had MAJOR syllabi changes(going from ICSE to CBSE in the middle of high school). Will the admissions office look at things like that? As for independent research. I’m a physics buff and over the last four years, I diligently worked on many “theories” of my own. Problem, they are all, well, silly. on hindsight. I tried things like disproving Heisenberg’s Uncertainity Principle and even have a few ideas relating to the String Theory. It’s mostly rubbish, but heartfelt and pasionate. Will this work for or against me?”

In regard to your first question: these things are an important part of your context. If you tell us about your situation, we will consider that. As for your independent thoughts — it’s not going to work against you, and I think writing the “completely optional” essay about your theories would be quite interesting. I, for one, am intrigued and would like to read more. Good for you for pursuing your ideas.

Syed wrote, “i am a student from Pakistan and i met you in the RSI program over this summer…i am already submitting my RSI paper as a part of my MIT application….is it helpful to send a possible design of a perpetual motion machine (which may be flawed) that I have worked on, just to show my passion for science?”

Hi Syed, good to hear from you. I assure you that your perpetual motion machine is flawed, as I believe in the laws of physics; and if it isn’t flawed, then you probably don’t need a Bachelor’s Degree from MIT, as you will have succeed in upending the entire physics canon. A quick check of (the admittedly frequently inaccurate) Wikipedia says:

Scientists and engineers accept the possibility that the current understanding of the laws of physics may be incomplete or incorrect; a perpetual motion device may not be impossible, but overwhelming evidence would be required to justify rewriting the laws of physics. Any proposed perpetual motion design offers a potentially instructive challenge to physicists: we know it can’t work (because of the laws of thermodynamics), so explain how it fails to work. The difficulty (and the value) of such an exercise depend on the subtlety of the proposal; the best ones tend to arise from physicists’ own thought experiments.

Anyway, all that being said, I do think it would be interesting to hear about your design — as long as you recognize where it violates one of the laws of thermodynamics, or as long as you provide evidence of how your machine doesn’t violate the laws. In the latter case, I’d appreciate a small share of the Nobel Prize.

Sam wrote, “An MIT rep was supposed to visit [my high school] earlier this month but the rep canceled. I know at least 3 people who are intested in applying to MIT [from my school]. I hope you guys didn’t cancel because you thought that was a lack of interest. Anyways, is MIT planning on sending a representative to [my school] in the near future?”

The first thing you need to know is that as an office, we’re able to visit only a very small number of high schools. Don’t take offense to MIT not visiting your school — the vast majority of students admitted to MIT come from schools we’ve never visited. Unfortunately, we won’t be visiting your school (or any other school, for that matter) for at least a few months, as now begins the application reading season, a time where we stop going across the country and focus on selecting a class. Don’t worry, we’ll pay as much attention to your applications as any other.

tami wrote, “May I know what do you consider to b a good SAT Reasoning Test score? Is a score slightly above 600 hurtful? Or do you prefer >700? How to distinguish between good TOEFL and SAT scores?”

I previously answered that question, writing:

We do not make decisions based on test scores. There is no formula for admission, and there are no minimum test scores. Test scores are one of many parts of the application that inform our decision. Admissions decisions at MIT are made following a holistic, subjective review of each applicant.

That being said, I know that folks are still (understandably) very concerned about test scores. To give you a sense of things, here are the middle 50% score ranges of students admitted to the Class of 2009 [MyMIT]:
SAT I Verbal: [690, 770]
SAT I Math: [740, 800]
ACT Composite: [31, 34]
SAT II Math: [740, 800]
SAT II Science: [710, 790]
SAT II Humanities: [700, 780]
(Please remember that we are not considering the new SAT Writing test this year.)

Also, it’s worth noting that more than 35% of students (370+ students) admitted to the Class of 2008 had SAT I Verbal scores lower than 700, and 11% (110+ students) had SAT I Math scores lower than 700 [CDS]. In the end, it is being a good fit & match with MIT that makes the decision.

To fully answer your question, though, I need to add another previous answer about the TOEFL:

TOEFL is the one test for which we have minimum scores. They are: 577 (PBT), 233 (CBT) and 90 (iBT). You should aim to meet or exceed these target scores: 600 (PBT), 250 (CBT), 100 (iBT).

I hope that helps.

Kadhambari wrote, “I gave my SAT I on October 8th and got 1870 critical reading-550 Math -680 Writing- 640 Do you suggest that I apply to MIT with this or write it again I have very good academic credentials and also won accolades in science fairs across many cities in India recently my project was selected the best from 100 entries all over India and awarded the best project. don’t the credentials compensate for my low SAT score??”

It’s hard for me to answer questions like this. I cannot evaluate students over the blog. Please read the above answer (and links) about how we treat test scores. I hope that helps.

Faiqah wrote, “This month we had our October SAT (on 8th) and it was cancelled in Islamabad due to unknown reasons (we students believe it was because of the earthquake of 7.6 that occured on the same day and caused largescale destruction in Northern areas of Pakistan, but I am sure that was not the reason). Then an ETS official e mailed all of us that our SAT will be on Ocotber 29, and yet AGAIN it was cancelled. Now the biggest problem is, I am registered for SAT II on November and December’s date has passed! What if I and many others from Islamabad are not able to give our SAT I (or II), what are we supposed to do? Register for January SAT?? Please reply as soon as possible, coz time is running out!!”

You may want to take the TOEFL instead of the SAT I. This is an option I highly recommend for many international students. We do not prefer one test over the other, and usually the TOEFL puts international students in a better light. Regardless, you should take your SAT IIs in November, as they are required. Additionally, you should register for either the January SAT I (we will accept this in your case, please email the Admissions Office if you do so) or the TOEFL as soon as possible.

nina wrote, “I’ve posted a question, but haven’t received an answer. I know that you are very busy, but.. I don’t know what to do and how to proceed and the time is running out. My question concernes TOEFL. I had great difficulties trying to save money for the SAT and TOEFL exams. At last, I have the required sum, but there are no free dates for TOEFL till early January. Is there something wrong with it? And should I explain it in the applicationj forms, or write a letter to the admission office?”

We accept January scores on a case-by-case basis and will likely accept yours. Please email [email protected] to confirm. Remember that if you take TOEFL the only other test we will require of you are two SAT IIs: one in math, and one in science. Also, a general comment: please be patient; I don’t think it is completely unreasonable to have to wait a few days for an answer, we’re busy people!

Oliver wrote, “Do siblings of current MIT students get discounts off their tutition. Although we do not qualify for finanical aid, having three children going to MIT (two certain, one pending ;) ) will be very taxing for my parents. Also, how do we know if a supplemental recommendation letter has been received by MIT yet?”

I’m unaware of any automatic tuition discount for siblings (Daniel might know better), but certainly having three kids in college would change a family’s financial aid demonstrated need. To find out how it would affect things, you & your family should apply for financial aid. As for your supplemental letter, it is difficult for us to track down individual applications to tell you what non-required pieces are there once application reading begins. I recommend making sure any non-required application pieces are sent early in the process. We will consider any pieces that are part of your application.

mahsa wrote, “I have one question : Do you know Sharif university in iran? is it good?”

I personally don’t know the school, but don’t go by my knowledge. There are thousands of universities across the world, and I know of only a small percentage of them.

Shikhar wrote, “I couldn’t help but notice on Bryan Nance’s list of 52 things not to do if you want to go to MIT. ‘No matter how tight your argument is, Halo groups are not extracurricular clubs and your mastery of said game is not a skill.’ I was looking forward of putting down Computer Gaming as an EC. As I make money out of it and have won awards I think it can be called an EC and I have been playing since age of 2yrs so it should show a little mad side of me.”

Since this is an important part of your life and your story, you should include this in your application. Bryan’s entry was mostly tongue-in-cheek, though it does contain some good advice in there.

tracy wrote, “More questions…I just submitted part ii of the application, and I noticed that the format was sort of messed up. Like, there are no indents in all the places where I meant to have indents. Before submitting my essay, I made sure that the format of the essay was correct, but it still shows up weirdly in the pdf. Now, I understand that I’m being completely obsessive-compulsive, but will the lack of indents at the beginning of paragraphs hurt us in the admissions process?”

We know that our online application is not perfect, and that most of the formatting problems on the essays are our fault, not yours. Remember, we’re not “grading” the essays, we’re reading them for the content and what it tell us about you. The formatting won’t change that, so don’t worry.

Alissa wrote, “I heard it snowed the other day. Could you say something for us sunny Southern California people about how to convince our parents that snow is not the end of the world?”

I wish I were witty and could come up with some clever response here. Alas, I cannot. But maybe someone can help me out here in the comments? And what is it about snow that so frightens your folks?

40 responses to “November Questions Omnibus 1”

  1. Clark Poland says:

    “So for the Southern California folks, just tell your parents that snow doesn’t hurt. Unless you’re having a snow ball fight.”

    It doesn’t hurt even in a snowball fight unless that one neighbor down the street that no one likes joins in the snowball fight and throws either a dreaded iceball or the infamous rock-coated-in-snow ball.

  2. Ouch. Rock-coated-in-snowball. Ouch. The last time I touched snow was when I visited my hometown Victoria (BC) in 2002 or 2003 (can’t remember now… gee, so much for memory work).

  3. Justin says:

    It snowed for the first time in almost ten years in New Orleans on Christmas Day last year. However I dont think that you could call it snow, more like slush. Because it rarely goes below 32 degrees F in New Orleans, snow frigthens us because we are not used to it and everyone freaks out when it happens. People get to wear shorts all year round so when we look at places that are cold from September through May it frightens us.

  4. Hi Mr. McGann,

    Thanks for answering my question! That helps a lot. I assume that what the book meant was that, as an undergraduate, we should consider that program. I wonder why they called it pre-med, but I completely agree with your assessment of the pre-medical advising at MIT.

    Thanks for all of your help.

  5. richard says:

    hey matt,

    I don’t know exactly when I should take an overnight program at MIT. Would you encourage us Floridians to visit during the busy (but bitterly cold!) winter months, or in the spring when I know i’ve been accepted? Would you suggest us to stay with an underclassman or upperclassman?

  6. Shikhar says:


    I know that for internationals MIT does not need SAT I if we give TOEFL. But see actually I am going to give SAT II physics and in November I’ll give the SAT I so obviously my SAT I will reach the admission office. NOw will you also evaluate my SAT I although I already have finished my testing requirements by giving TOEFL or will the SAT I be ignored.

  7. errhode says:

    My best friend growing up (who, coincidently, also went to MIT) was born in Nigeria and moved to Minnesota when she was five. When we were in fourth grade, her grandmother came to visit from Africa and her trip just happened to coincide with the Halloween Blizzard of 1991. I was invited over to meet her, and when I got there she had shut herself in my friend’s bedroom (where she was staying) because she was afraid of the snow. There was still snow in my hair when we were introduced and she seemed simultaneously frightened and fascinated by it.

    As it turns out, she had no idea that snow falls in flakes and presumed that it just sort of fell directly from the sky in big dumps and that it hurt when it hit you. (And since this blizzard was the largest single snowfall in Twin Cities history, that was quite the chunk of frozen water to be falling.) As a nine year old native Minnesotan who had never seen a green Christmas, this was the funniest thing I had I ever heard.

    So for the Southern California folks, just tell your parents that snow doesn’t hurt. Unless you’re having a snow ball fight.

    As for my friend’s grandmother, I believe they eventually got her out of the house. Just not while I was there.

  8. Rushil Goel says:

    Is there any word-limit on the Completely optional essay of the MIT application that gives you the chance to write on something not already covered in the application?

    I had mentioned earlier that I had won the National KVPY scholarship. I dont know whether you are aware of it. Should I explain in detail what it is in my application or should I include a link to the official website? I have the same question regarding the SIA Youth Scholarship and NTSE Scholarship? Are you aware of these? What about the International Space Settlement Design Competition?

  9. Samira says:

    Hi matt

    I sent you an email ,but you didn’t answer me.

    You wrote in October question … 2 that

    I write an email to you and tell you about

    my exams in iran that have not taken.

    and International olympiads,IAO(international

    astronomy olympiad,International olympiad of informatics…) for international students.

  10. Samira says:

    Hi matt

    I sent you an email ,but you didn’t answer me.

    You wrote in October question … 2 that

    I write an email to you and tell you about

    my exams in iran that have not taken.

    and International olympiads,IAO(international

    astronomy olympiad,International olympiad of informatics…) for international students.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Can you please tell me whether summer programs like harvards SSP are worth going to like RSI is.

    Is it really going to help show my academic competence because of its selectivity or is it just a useless money charging program. I ask this being an international mind you.

  12. Shikhar says:

    Does anyone here have any idea when the IOI is held. (the world wide one not the local ones)

  13. y2kit says:

    Wow! You are very quick! Thanks so much! Now I feel more confident!

  14. zoogies says:

    Rushil: on the online application, I believe the stated limit was 500 words.


    And feathery,

    Crystal clear

    And white,

    Six-point stars

    Come tumbling,


    In the night.

    Here’s a page of snow poems to help you SC’ers confront your fears…or something. =)

  15. zoogies says:

    I guess Matt doesn’t accept markup in his comments =p

  16. Sam says:

    I really appreciate you answering my question, but I got another one for you. I wanted to know if you could recommend a good time to visit MIT? I’m interested in seeing the Center for Theoretical Physics, the Bates Linear Accelerator, a couple of classes, and the dorms. Would any time be fine or are some of the facilities I mentioned opened to visitors at certain times of the week/year?

  17. BlueDevil says:


    Will you be addressing questions about the transfer process on this blog, because I have so many inflrmal and formal questions and I have no idea whom should I contact.

  18. Alissa says:

    lol, nice poems. I’ve never been in a snowball fight before, but I definitely feel like my life won’t be complete without one. smile

    It’s not so much that my mother is afraid of snow- she’s lived in places with long, snowy winters- but that she hates the cold…and she always mentions how horrible it is. Oh well, *shrug shrug*

  19. Robb Carr says:

    Eh, Wikipedia is getting better…well the idea is good, unless they have some policy changes they are going to end up with some issues. Eitherway I still enjoy adding/editing articles.

    That was EXACTLY what I was going to say in regards to the Perpetual Motion Machine, including a quote from Wikipedia…however after writing out the comment I thought it might be interpreted as rude so I decided not to post it.

  20. jsmthng says:

    Hey Matt! As an ex-Southern Californian myself, you can tell all your worried parents that snow is *awesome*. I remember the first time I really saw snow… I was studying for the first 8.01 exam of the year by watching Walter Lewin lectures in the Bexley Lounge, and I’d stayed up all night, so I was a little sleep dep’d and the entire incident was a bit surreal. I’m pretty sure I had an idiotic grin on my face, too.

    I also remember the first time I looked down at snow on my black gloves and realized that snow was actually composed of snowflakes, which look like, you know, snowflakes, except a lot tinier than I thought they would be. You know, because in elementary school, we used to make those huge 8.5″x11″ cut-outs to decorate our classroom, so I’d somehow gotten it in my head that snowflakes were very big. I think I also saw a Peanuts Christmas special once where they’d drawn large snowflakes falling from the sky. Embarassingly, it took me three winters to make the connection.

  21. Victor Li says:

    Wow, reading these posts about accomplishments makes it seem like it’s impossibly to get into MIT.

  22. Snow frightens me… I am from GA and whenever we get snow everything shuts down and we all stay at home and eat Graham Crackers. I believe that this misplaced fear of snow is really a manifestation of our parents deeply held insecurities about letting us “leave the nest”. Also, they dont want to pay for sweaters and jackets. Lets face it, living in warmer areas is just plain cheaper.

  23. Alissa says:

    ahaha! You’re probably right about the “leaving the nest” thing, but I don’t have to buy jackets because I can borrow my brother’s I think.

  24. Sam says:

    I just finished my application and just wanted to thank everyone that runs MyMIT; the student, admissions officer, the programmers, everyone. You guys have been a great help to me during the application process. I hope next year I can start my own MIT blog to help out future applicants.

  25. Sam says:

    I just finished my application and just wanted to thank everyone that runs MyMIT; the student, admissions officer, the programmers, everyone. You guys have been a great help to me during the application process. I hope next year I can start my own MIT blog to help out future applicants.

  26. Kiersten says:


    While New England snow is wet and squisky* and not optimal for snowboarding, it is nothing to fear -unless you are opposed to clothing, then you should start worrying.


    *this should be a word.

  27. Shikhar says:


    please tell me if you know about any other Research programs other than RSI where an international can participate and which are almost if not exactly enriching and open ended as RSI (summer schools dont count).

    Thanks a lot


  28. MITmom says:

    Shikhar –

    Here’s a list of math and science summer programs. Most of them are probably open to internationals.

  29. nina toleva says:

    thank you for answering me =) have a nice day =)

  30. Shikhar says:


    I did not read your posts but here’s the answer.

    MIT is not strict that you have to write your essya in 500 words. A 600 word essay wouldn’t matter but (as Ben Jones, the other MIT rep,says) if you completely ignore the limit and write 1000 words that will surely get some frowns from your reader.

    Also I think I have harrased Matt enough about the Eplanation of Activities Letter and if you see the previous omnibuses you’ll see that Matt has said that it is perfectly alright to submit an explanation of the awards and EC’s. So there you are.

    Shikhar Saxena (just wanted to tell my full name to you guys)

  31. Rushil Goel says:

    I have a more specific question whether they are aware of certian top scholarships in India – Matt once mentioned that KVPY was great and I just want to confirm! :-D

  32. Mason says:

    Of course it’s possible to build a perpetual energy machine…just figure out a way to harness the energy of thousands of MIT applications each year.

    All that caffeine has to go somewhere right?

    “Part 3: Please use the included hamster wheel and give us an idea of how physically fit you are. Cold fusion and/or Energizer bunny optional, but recommended.”

  33. Shikhar says:

    thanks MITmom,

    The others you too inform me if you come across a good summer research program especially in computer Science…The question is also open to you Matt.

  34. Benjamin says:

    I have a number of questions on the essays, so please bear with me.

    I have put a lot of time (meaning more than time in school and doing school work) into independent learning, research and projects in a number of areas including mathematics, physics and computer science. As I unfortunately let this work take priority over my school work and grades, I would really like to emphasize the breadth of knowledge I have gained from it in my application and I am not sure what would be the best way to do this. For a large number of the questions I could build my response around this work, but in doing so I would be hiding other positive parts of myself and my life. Should I vary my essays or focus them and provide more information on this part of my life? Should I list it as an extracurricular activity?

    I was also very ill during the early part of high school then became sick again at the end of senior year and was unable to go to college because of it. Going through this period has really shaped my dreams and made me very determined achieve them. Would it be appropriate to put this information in the “What have you been doing since you left school?” section, or is that section more for a brief synopsis of what I have been doing?

    I noticed that one of the recommendations needs to be from a humanities or language teacher. When I applied to colleges last year this specific type of recommendation was never required so I don’t have one already. As I have been out of school for a while, is having a humanities or language teacher recommendation an absolute requirement? If not, would a recommendation from either another teacher or an employer be acceptable (for an engineering internship)? If it were acceptable to get a recommendation from a person who is not a humanities or language teacher, would this hurt my application?

    Also, if I tell my interviewer information that I want conveyed in my application, should I also find a spot to include it in my application or can I assume that it will be passed along to the reader of my application?

    I noticed that the “tell or show us something that you have created” question doesn’t have the “show us” option on line. Could I send my response to that question separately from the on line application? If I were to send in the paper application, could I fill in part one of the application on line?

    I have a hard time deciding what to put in my application and what to leave out because I have had a nonstandard high school experience in many ways.

    Thank you,


  35. Benjamin says:

    Since people are talking about snowboarding: I have to say that new england snow isn’t generally the best for it but snowboarding in the area is still fun. There is a huge difference between snowboarding in New England and other places… everything is much more level and we have real ice! A lot of people find it much more difficult here because of the ice. Most of the resorts are fun and widespread enough to keep you busy for a weekend. If you love backcountry riding there aren’t many options because the mountains are smaller, but Tuckerman’s ravine is pretty good and the backsides of a number of the ski resorts are ridable as well. If you haven’t done it before, I think MIT has a bus that goes to a small beginners mountain, Nashoba Valley – at least they did when I taught snowboarding there.

  36. Alissa says:

    I _> Indeed, I’m not opposed to clothing. In fact, I love layering it.

    Thanks people :D

  37. Anon-pak says:

    Yesterday, when I was about to call my EC, to schedule an interview, my parents asked if I knew who he was and if *I* was sure that the other person to whom I was about to talk to was really the one MIT told me to contact.

    Actually, my parents were anxious because the “identity-theft” problem in the country has perplexed everyone in here and so the only way to gain assurity is through personal information which can be confirmed upon meeting.

    Matt, what should I do to assure my parents? I am really confused as I don’t want to miss my interview on the above stated reasons! Can you help?

  38. Syed Raza says:

    hahaha… i did manage to discuss my design for the perpetual motion machine with some of the tutors at RSI, and i understand now that entropy violation occurs, just like Maxwell’s demon…but I am still working on how to overcome the need for an observer… nice to throw in the distinction that it ‘may’ be flawed wink… you know.. just in case.. :D..and yeah .. if i win the Nobel Prize, 5% to you seem okay?

    By the way, is there any benefit of sending application documents earlier than the deadline…because i guess it may make them smoother to process etc?

    Thanks for ur time

  39. Amit says:

    Hi Matt!

    I am a student from India. I did my 9-10 and 11-12 from two different schools. So, should I get teacher’s assesment form filled by one teacher from each school, or both from the school last attended?

    I am currently working on a research project, related to chemistry, independently. Is it necessary to get it approved or corrected by a Teacher? I want to submit my research paper for MIT application.

    I have made a website themed on Education, Sports, Health. I have been its editor and web designer since its creation in 2001. Should I mention this in my application as an extra-curricular activity outside my school. It gets an average hit of around 50 persons daily.

    Thank you.



  40. Mike says:

    How strongly does the admissions committee look at the midyear report of a student, specifically a deferred student?

    I unfortunately did not perform as well as I usually have in my previous years of High School, due to a very busy schedule (applications, science research, etc.). And sadly to say, a bit of “senioritis” caught up with me. To give you an idea, I averaged mostly A’s and A-‘s, but my mid-year report will most likely be filled with B+’s.