I’m a little nervous right now, because I have my first major exam this week (Wednesday, in chemistry), but it’s my favorite class (and not only because my TA is Canadian and says “molar mahss”) so I’m less worried about it than I am about my first major paper due the day after both the exam and the season premiere of Lost. There’s no guarantee that I’ll be able to concentrate that night.
Instead of concentrating this weekend, I blew off steam by going on retreat with my hall (3rd East) to New Hampshire! Not all of us can go on fantasy pirate cruise ships, so we all chipped in $35 and rented cars and a cabin (apparently, MIT students can rent cars, even if they’re under 21). We danced, watched movies, and almost fell off a giant mountain. Zozer ’07 smashed a fly with a spatula. What better way to get to know your hall?
So a lot of you have commented about coming from “mediocre” schools without any particular science/math focus, and not having any research opportunities. A year ago, my comment would’ve read “What’s the science olympiad? There are actually schools that focus on science and math? Can I make a baking soda volcano and submit that as research?”
But now? Now, my comment says “Chill out, man. Also, Mr. Neha, we should throw out these bananas. They’re a little too ripe.” It’s an understandable contrast, since I’m writing the blog now and not applying – but two of my closest friends here came from a high school that offered only 4 AP classes. My high scool was just a regular public high school, not private or magnet – our biggest pride was our football team, not our academic decathalon. It just happens that way – some areas are privy to more opportunities than others, and the admissions office will take that into account.
I, too, had no science olympiad program readily available at my high school. I didn’t have any AMC scores to submit, and I was just as terrified to submit my application with that seemingly obvious hole in the middle. So I know how easy it is to dwell on your weaknesses, and I’m not saying that NOT having AIME scores will get you in, but it won’t make you or break you. It’s not your responsibility to cover all the weaknesses that come with your environment, because it’s not your fault if you can’t find people who are just as excited about microbiology as you are – but it’s also good to show initiative and look for ways around them, if you can.
So look for opportunities offered outside of your school that you can take on yourself; classes offered at local colleges or online are a good place to start. And there are plenty of research opportunities out there totally unrelated to where you come from – the summer after my junior year, I spent five weeks scuba diving and measuring the abundance of Diadema antillarum, the spiny sea urchin, inside and outside of the marine protected areas of South Caicos through the School for Field Studies. I was one of three high school students there, and the knowledge and maturity I gained from that experience is something I’d never have found at my high school – it put me in a place where I was utterly uncomfortable and forced me to adapt to my surroundings.
But there’s no set formula to one application – MIT is looking for more than that. The important thing to remember when you’re applying, whether you have too much to write about or nothing at all, is that you’re being evaluated on you, as a person, and whether you as a person fits at MIT, not whether or not you come from a magnet school or are homeschooled. Because after this whole thing is over, you’ll no longer be a part of that mediocre school, but you’ll very much still be you as a person. The only difference is you’ll be a freshman in college wondering why your bananas, too, are so very ripe.
It happens to the best of us.