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MIT student blogger Jess K. '10

Nuns, fret not! by Jess K. '10

Like baby alligators in the sewers, you too will grow up fast.

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.

16 responses to “Nuns, fret not!”

  1. Jess says:

    Daniel: I didn’t get out of Next; like East Campus, Next has their own 2nd East, 3rd West, etc. I live on 3rd East.

    Ying Wei: I wish I could give you a clean-cut yes or no answer! If you consider it a great enough disappointment that you then overcame, you might want to think about writing your essay about it. Even better, there’s a section at the end of the application that allows you to tell the admissions officers anything else they might want to know. Some people write an extra essay; you could just write a short response about your school system.

  2. Christiane says:

    Nice pics, i wish you all the best for your upcoming exam AND the paper. As in the song: You can do it if you really try, try and tr… *stops singing makes world happier place* Keep on blogging, more of it!!

    Oh, before i forget to ask (again), what’s the age-limit for prospect students at MIT? (If there is any at all.) Just asking in the spirits of a saying that goes like this: On the mountain lies snow, but the grass is still green down the hill. (Whatever you might conclude of this saying in connection with my questionm let me know what it is) :-p

  3. Amy says:

    Beautiful entry, Jess!

    Thanks for reminding us that it’s not all about “getting in.”

    I went to an MIT info session this week with Marilee Jones, and after meeting her (she is like the most amazing lady I have ever met in my entire life) I definitely agree that the admissions office knows their stuff, and even though I will still cry horrendously if I don’t get into MIT, I’m sure I’ll find someplace else that will be an amazing fit for me. (Maybe even – should I say it? – Caltech.)

    TTFN! Keep writing!

  4. Daniel W says:

    Oh snap, you got out of Next House? That’s pretty cool. I’m surprised I don’t see you down in tetazoo, though.

  5. Ying Wei says:

    Your post is simply wonderful ^.^ . It makes me feel a lot more better smile

    My situation here is very special too and I wish that you can give me some guidance
    Thing happens like this:
    There is two type of secondary school in Malaysia
    One type is public government school,while another type is independent school which is independent from government’s financial support and founded by Chinese ( as u know, malaysia is a multi raced country)

    However, since Malay government always wants to unify the education system, our independent chinese high school’s student are usually not given chances to participate international competitions like ISEF , Olympiad etc.
    One of my friend got two gold medals in Malaysia Maths and Physics Olympiad respectively, However, in spite of his merit, he was still not selected as the Malaysia’s International Olympiad contestant. I think it is not fair to Chinese high school students,but since it is somehow a political issue so i shall not express my dissatisfaction aggressively

    But does MIT know this situation?
    shall i note it in my application?

  6. Janice says:

    Hi Jess,
    I am a Junior in Michigan who is considering applying to MIT next fall. Recently, I heard from my Physics C teacher that being recognized in national math and science competitions is “absolutely essential” to be accepted to MIT. Obviously, I realize that not every single person accepted every year has that qualification, but I could not help wondering on how much of the student body actually does?
    ie. Did the majority of students place in the Top 200 in Math/Chem olympiads in high school?
    Thanks for your help. smile

  7. Jeanie says:

    к≥†лІИмЫМ! That somewhat reassures me, but not by much, but I think that’s just because life is one big, kooky beach ball of stress at the moment.

    But I guess all I’m expected to do is try my best, eh?

    Does it matter if we do research things that are kind of irrelevant to our “interested major”? Because I’d like to (maybe) study MechE, but I really enjoy researching things about the environment?

  8. Jeanie says:

    Ha. By the way, your “sewer alligator” description reminded me of this.

    Snakes. In a Toilet.

  9. Sam says:

    Then again, I know this one girl who picked guys to date her Freshman year based solely on their AIME scores.

  10. Josh says:

    You guys went out of state for your dorm event? We went picking apples, then used an old fashioned cider press. Unpasteurized apple cider baby.

  11. Hi

    Is that Prannay to the extreme right in the 3rd photo???

    You write really well Jkim!

    If you don’t mind me asking, how were your SAT scores and how many times did you take SAT??

    Ankit Chandra
    Gaborone, Botswana

  12. Rachel W says:

    I am a senior at the Illinois Math and Science Academy (IMSA) which is a residential highschool with only four days of school per week (Wednesdays are researved for mentorship and inquiry projects).

    Even though my school has math team, sci-oly, AMC/AIME, mentorship, inquiry, etc, I don’t participate in any of those projects (except we’re required to take the AMC) because I am just not interested. For the past three years (there are no freshman at IMSA), I’ve been trying (unsuccessfully) to find a mentor because there is not enough money to fund a technology inquiry in which I’d be interested.

    The technology program at IMSA more or less does not exist, so this year I founded a FIRST Robotics Competition team ( We acquired some funding, and we’re going to be competing in March.

    I was just wondering if my lack of participation in the aforementioned programs will hurt me when applying to MIT. I’m taking advantage of every technology-related course and extracurricular IMSA offers, but is that enough? Should I join the generic clubs like Math Team and Science Olympiad?


  13. L says:

    Wow. There I was, a HS senior freaking out about getting in, and you come along and start telling us about how magnet schools aren’t everything. I’ve been going to a magnet school (I think that’s what it is) half of every day since junior year. Thank you. I think?

  14. thekeri says:

    L: I went to magnet schools from fourth grade on. The specialized programs are great, for the most part.

    Jess isn’t discounting magnet schools, she’s just saying that you don’t have to go to one to get into MIT and that they aren’t the be-all end-all of your application. I’d say that’s pretty obvious from the part right before the magnet reference, where she says that you’re evaluated on you as a person. The resources available to you at a magnet school will help you so long as you’ve taken advantage of them.

  15. Kim says:

    Thanks Jess. Your blog alleviated my stress factor a bit about being a science and math wiz to get into MIT. Although I’m good in math, and awfully interested in science, I have to say that my school has one of the worst science programs possible. (And it’s not like the student body did absolutely nothing about it, we tried to get different teachers and change the curriculum, but the school system is just so darn stubborn.)

    I go to a magnet school (in a science sense, the “magnet” theory doesn’t really work well. Science cease to exist here!) and it mostly evolves around the humanities. Law, teaching… honestly to say, those topics have nothing to do with me. So hopefully, the admission officers would overlook my science handicap. =P

  16. Is it true that MIT gives more importance to your personality and characteristics rather than your grades. I mean, I know grades are important but…every individual is different and numbers arent. so if i dont have like a 4.0 gpa is that really a BAD thing..i mean like have like a 3.8 but…im just paranoid…