October ‘06 Questions Omnibus by Matt McGann '00
Some advice from MIT interviewers, and answers to your questions.
First off, I’d like to thank everyone who comments on this and the other blogs. I do read all of your comments, and even if I don’t respond, you should know that I have read and thought about your comment. Having a this converstaion be a two-way street, with our posts and your comments, make these blogs exciting, and make writing here so much more fulfilling for me. Many thanks.
As you may know, I do my best to answer every question that is asked. Below, and in my other Questions Omnibus posts, I try to do just that (some questions I have replied to directly and personally). Read on for lots of Q & A.
Before I do that, though, I’d like to reprint comments from two of our Educational Counselors (ECs), Greg H and Mikalye, with their interview thoughts. First, Greg:
I’m an EC (second time: once in the late ’80’s and early ’90’s, and returned to doing it just this year).
Stu’s blog posting is closed for comments, but some replies there, as well as some here, made me think of something to post: namely, your EC is a person, and is most likely NOT an EMPLOYEE of MIT and its admissions department. So, if you call or e-mail your EC and don’t receive a response in a few days, that does not necessarily mean the EC is ignoring you or isn’t doing his or her job: it might mean the EC is on vacation, on a business trip, or fixing a hole in the roof where a tree came in (which has been my excuse for the past two days).
Anyway, as an EC, here’s my paltry addition:
(1) I try to have comfortable conversations, rather than inquisitions. I don’t think the typical EC expects you to appear prepared to have a job interview, but my advice would be to ASK that EC in an e-mail or phone conversation if they expect you to bring anything, or to dress in a particular way. My bet is the answer is “no” on both counts. In my case, I tell the students to dress however they would be dressing if they weren’t coming over for an interview, because, most likely, they’ll be dressed better than me.
(1.1) Regarding dress–if you’re wondering, ask the EC when you set up the interview. My office is located in an R&D center at a chemical plant, so when I interview there, I don’t expect suits and ties, but my company requires certain clothing (like long pants, closed shoes, and no hanging jewelry) to get in the door. However, when I interview at home, someone showing up in a suit will probably make the neighbors think there’s an undertaker visiting, and they can go pick up my patio furniture, because I must be dead.
(2) I tell scheduled and prospective students that I’m available to talk at any time, before OR after the interview. I look at being an EC as being a resource to MIT applicants at any point in the application process, from “curiosity” to “already applied” to “got in”. I think ALL ECs are probably the same, and if not, you should contact MIT with any follow-up questions, or to request the name of some other nearby EC who’ll be happy to talk with you.
(3) Interviews and parts of the application: I’ve interviewed students who’ve submitted every part of the application BUT the interview, and I’ve interviewed students who’ve submitted diddly. The interview is NOT a step in a linear progression of admissions activities–it’s a step that you should complete at some point DURING those activities. Make sure you get all parts of your application in to Admissions on time, and if you happen to have your interview before or after those arrive, I don’t think it matters, as long as you meet all the time requirements.
Anyway, just my lame addition from an EC to the vast populace reading this blog. I’m sure if I’ve said anything hideously wrong, the Admissions department will fix it.
Thanks, Greg! Next, it’s Mikalye:
I’m an EC and I almost never ask about SAT’s, Class rank, or anything else that is likely to show up elsewhere on the application.
The interview is one of the better opportunities that both sides have to work out the likelihood of a good match. The interviewer is trying to work out what characteristics of the candidate are unlikely to show up on paper, and to try to bring context to the application. We are also looking to identify whether the candidate shares MIT’s values.
The interviewee is trying to figure out if the school is right for them. I have had candidates ask me about the judo team, what it means to live in a fraternity, and about the theatre program tours (Dramashop went to the UK this year). I have also had candidates ask me “what majors are offered at MIT?” and other questions which suggest that the candidate has never been to the MIT website. That question does not reflect well on a sense of intellectual curiosity.
Fundamentally the interview is a (hopefully) relaxed chat. It’s an opportunity for the interviewer to find out who you are without the constraints of a word-limited essay. There are of course other constraints, but that’s a separate post. I try very hard to put my interviewees at ease, and I try very hard to ensure that I reflect my candidates accurately as possible to the admissions staff. Very often the interview can be enjoyable for both parties.
I have had students reel off their achievements at the interview, almost straight off the application, and that’s fine, if it helps them to relax, and reminds them that they have much to be proud of, but little or nothing of that usually makes it into any interview report that I write for the admissions office.
I’m just trying to get a sense of who the candidate is, and why they want to go to MIT. One concrete hint, a candidate should be able to talk about why they chose to apply to MIT, what attracted them to the Institute, and possibly what concerns they might have about going there.
But the interview is nothing more than a conversation, and a bad interview (and they can exist) is quite unpleasant for the interviewer as well as the interviewee, so most interviewers do work hard to avoid them.
As to clothing, I can understand why people fret over what to wear; its one of the things you can control completely in advance. I have had people show up very casually and very formally. When I interview, I am trying very hard to put the candidate at ease (and to be at ease myself). The clothing should not interfere with that.
If you wear a suit all the time (that tiny, tiny percentage of HS students male or female) and you feel comfortable in a suit, there is no problem wearing a suit. If you never wear one, it is likely to make it harder for you to relax, and you will come across as uncomfortable. Anyone who has ever seen news footage showing some petty criminal dressed up in a suit for trial has encountered this. You definitely don’t want the “defendant” look.
The opposite side of the coin is that you do want to show that you care about the interview. That badly ripped t-shirt and cut-off jeans may not work well with all interviewers.
Basically, you are looking for presentable, comfortable clothes in which you feel at ease.
Strong caveat: This is modified by both the interviewer (there are a lot of us, and your mileage may vary) and by the location for the interview. I normally choose coffee bars for my interviews, but others interview at their offices, or almost any other location.
If you need to make a sartorial choice that you have some doubts about, or if you are genuinely unsure as to the appropriate clothing for the location, then ask the interviewer when setting up the interview (“Ummm… I’m coming straight from work, is it ok if I wear my Happy Burger uniform to the interview?” or “Given that the interview is at the beach, is a bathing suit appropriate?”). Both of these are exaggerated a little for effect; I am unaware of any beach interviews, but there may well have been one.
One last note, I want both people in the chat to be comfortable. Certain choices make that harder. As a rule, see-through clothing or very revealing clothing makes for a difficult interview. That applies for both men and women. It just makes it harder for both people to be at ease.
Thanks, Mikalye! Now, on to the questions…
Harrison wrote, “Well, here’s a question for the next Omnibus–a lot of people from my school are applying to MIT this year, and I’d like to know if you directly compare applicants from the same school. For example, Person A has higher grades and more extracurriculars in school compared to Person B, so Person A would be ranked ahead Person B or something like that.”
No, we don’t engage in direct comparisons. We will consider you within your many contexts, including your school context, and we will be comparing you against the entire pool. But we’re not a school that makes our decisions by school with direct comparisons.
Jared wrote, “I like both of the two essay topics and I’ve written both. I think those two are both nice works and I don’t know which should I submit. Can I submit two essays in a doc. file? If I did so, would AOs be kind enough to peruse both of them?”
You can’t submit any application materials in attached files, though via the online application you can upload a Word file. We do allow you to submit extra materials, such as an extra essay, if you like.
Ajit wrote, “if a person enrolls in a open university (such as IGNOU-www.ignou.ac.in) in a 3 year bachelors degree granting couse where no regular class is conducted/only subject counselling and doubt clearing classes are held that too 4-6 hours in a week and the student have to study himself the course materials (books) and prepare for the term end exams, should apply as a freshman or transfer applicant to MIT?”
If you are enrolled in a degree-seeking course at a university, including open universities, you should apply as a transfer student.
Zain wrote, “On the application, specifically the short answers, how particular is MIT Admissions about the word limit. Is it absolutely critical to utilize fewer than a 100 words, or is it okay to slightly exceed that amount?” And Sinchan wrote, “Could you tell me if I could write more than 500 words on the essay — like 30-40 more?”
Well, here’s what I can tell you. We’re not going to reject you because of the length of your essay. We do not have an auto-word-counter for the online application. Also, I am not going to count the words in your essay. I have never even estimated the length of an essay response.
Really, quality is much more important than quantity. And some people, I know, do have more to say than what fits in the suggested number of words. If that is you, I’d encourage you to show your essay to your favorite English teacher, tell him/her that your essay is currently longer than the recommended limit, and ask what advice s/he would give you. They may tell you to send in the longer essay, and if they do, I’d trust that. Or, if they recommend paring it down to restrict it to the word limit, I’d take that advice.
Rebecca wrote, “I am currently a junior in high school and an IB diploma candidate. This means I won’t be taking the IB exams until May of 2008, however I plan to apply for Early Action, so does that mean those scores really don’t mean much in terms of my acceptance? Also, if I do apply for Early Action, does that mean I should get my teacher evaluations this year instead of my senior year teachers (since I would’ve only known them 2 months or so before the applications are due)?”
Many schools will send us predicted IB scores, and if your school does that, we will consider those in our process. As for recommendations, you can feel free to ask any teacher from grades 9-12 who has taught you and knows you well. I would ask at the beginning of next academic year, or possibly at the conclusion of this academic year.
Arthur wrote, “I fear that in my application, I sound too much like I am making a sales pitch about myself, focusing specifically on everything about me that would prove a good match between me and MIT, and leaving out stuff that doesn’t ‘fit the criteria.’ To what degree should the application be aimed at convincing the admissions staff that I am a good match for MIT? Or am I worrying too much?”
Your objective in your application should be to present an accurate, honest, and (yes) positive portrait of yourself. If you do that, the match between you and MIT should become clear. Be positive and honest, but don’t feel like you need to be a cheerleader for yourself.
Jack wrote, “I’d like to ask a slightly personal question. Would you consider your time spent at MIT,as a student, the better part of your life so far? Or is working life at MIT superior? (Or, of course, those years back in Elementary with nap time and crayons)”
I will always look back fondly at my student years at MIT. They were certainly happy times. But I’m also enjoying life now, and I enjoyed life before MIT. I’m a pretty happy and optimistic person in general, so I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that being a student at MIT was the highlight of my life, though many, many great things in my life have come from MIT.
blank wrote, “Hi Matt! Do you know when will the enrollment data for the current academic year be avaliable at the Registar’s website? I am particulary interested in the Geographic Distribution of International students for this year.”
The Registrar’s Office is currently updating their data; I’m sure they’ll get to the Geo report in the near future.
Helen wrote, “First, I’m a student from China and I’m in grade 10 now, but I’m still applying to MIT (class of 2011). I took an IELTS test last December and got very good scores. how can I report my IELTS score, as in Part 2 of the freshman application there is only TOEFL and SAT and ACT for you to report your scores?
“And Q2…my school wasn’t on the list of schools provided. So I clicked on ‘I can’t find my school’ and it produced a code of ‘699999’. I then entered the name of my school. When I previewed Part 1 in PDF form everything was in place. Then I previewed Part 2 and I scrolled down to the self-report form…and then…I found my high school name was back to ‘NO SCHOOL AVAILABLE’ again…any problem with that?
“Q3. As you know I’m in China now, and we don’t usually have AP and IB and credit classes here. But I’m in the top school in the province, and in the best of the experimental classes in my school, and I take the maximum number of advanced classes and olympic classes provided. So…is there any way to get this through…even though I’m in a totally different education system? Or should I just explain in the additional information part?”
In order: 1. We currently do not formally accept the IELTS in place of the TOEFL. We may do so next year when you are applying, but to be safe, you may want to register for the TOEFL. 2. Entering 699999 is fine, as long as elsewhere in your application we have your school’s name. If it is the top school in the province, we probably are familiar with it. We will then recode your school with our own internal codes we use for schools without College Board codes. If you want to do a service for the students that follow you, you may want to try to convince your school’s administration to register for a code for the future. It’s not hard, and will help students when applying to US schools. 3. We are familiar with education in China, don’t worry about that.
Reg wrote, “I would like to second Helen’s question. I took IELTS mainly for UK/Australia/HK university admissions since I knew that not a lot of US universities recognise IELTS. Would I be able to use my IELTS score instead of TOEFL for admissions? Also, can we change our personal details when we register in MyMIT? I want to register, but it would be troublesome if the name I use there is different to the one my school knows and the name used for test scores.”
As I wrote above, we don’t currently formally accept IELTS, though we may in future years. As for your name, try your best to have your testing name and your MyMIT name match. You can’t change your MyMIT name, but you can register for a new account, or you could contact MIT via email or phone with a request to change your profile name.
Theresa wrote, “on the application, for extracurricular activities.. ‘in order of what’s important’… does that have to be in terms of time spent, or what personally is most important? really my most important is my church youth group, but my second most important activity, marching band, takes up more time. it should just be what’s really personally most important, right? not in terms of time spent?”
That’s right. We hope you’ll list the activities in order of their importance to you.
Mukul wrote, “i am an indian student. how can i send evaluation report A and B.”
You should print out the forms and give them to your teachers. When they’re done, I recommend sending your recommendations, secondary school report, transcript, and any other paper documents you are sending to us in the same envelope via post to MIT Admissions.
Candace wrote, “When comparing the number of APs an applicant has taken to the number offered at his/her school, do you take into account the applicant’s interests (or lack thereof)? For example, I haven’t taken AP Studio Art because I’m not an artist.”
We don’t expect you to have taken every AP (see my recent post). If you’re not interested in AP Studio Art, it’s fine that you’re not taking it.
Amy wrote, “I moved to the US from China last December and I am a US permanent resident (Green Card holder), and I am a non-native English speaker. On the website it says for non-native English speakers you have 2 options, the second one is you may take TOEFL and two SAT Subject Tests. So it means I can take TOEFL INSTEAD of SAT Reasoning Test right? Or it means SAT I and TOEFL are both required. Just a little bit confused and want to make sure.”
You are correct. You can take TOEFL instead of SAT Reasoning, and in your case it sounds like the best option for you.
Wak wrote, “I applied to MIT last year and my application got denied. I don’t know whether to apply again. How would you suggest i decide whether I have a chance of getting admitted this time because I’m still the same person :).
Secondly, If i do apply again, will you have all my teacher evaluations, schools reports, test scores, interview reports etc stored on your database or will i have to send them again.”
Some people do find themselves admitted after having previously been turned down, but I don’t have any statistics on how many people are in this group, nor do I have any ideas about what made those particular reapplications find themselves admitted the second time around. My sense is that most reapplicants either 1) stayed in high school for an additional year, rather than leave high school early, or 2) took a gap year in order to apply again to not just one but a number of universities. Students who enroll in a university following being turned down from MIT apply in the transfer pool, and I’m not involved in transfer admissions. I do know that you should submit a new application, though we can fetch your old test scores. Whatever you decide, i wish you the best.
Aaron wrote, “My GPA is somewhat lackluster, but my test grades are really good. how heavily are these two parameters weighed against each other? (by the way, my GPA is a 2.71; how badly will this damage my application?)”
Strong performance in school is very important. You don’t need perfect grades, but mostly As in mostly tough classes is strongly recommended. As for your particular GPA, if I am correct in interpreting a 2.71 as meaning that you have more Cs than As, then I have to be honest and tell you that I can’t remember anyone we’ve admitted with grades like that. That doesn’t mean that graduate admissions or even transfer admissions aren’t possibilities, but freshman admissions with more Cs than As would be extremely unlikely, I’d say.
Richard wrote, “How does someone become an admissions officer? Was there an opening when you graduate? Did you work in admissions as an UG and then got to know the other officers?”
There’s no undergraduate degree program in “admissions science” or anything like that, and only one admissions officer at MIT worked in the office during their student days (Marissa did; Stu, Mikey and I didn’t). We do have two positions in the office, called Admissions Counselors, that are designed for recent MIT graduates. We interview for those positions each Spring. We look for a variety of qualities, including good judgment and an ability to thoughtfully talk about the MIT experience from the point of view of a recent graduate. Look for more information about our backgrounds in future entries.
Rob wrote, “What if a student has an interesting (and meaningful) building project done the summer prior to entering high school (in my case, an Eagle Scout Project)? Would you be interested in seeing photos or hearing about the project? Or, would it be too long in the past to interest the admissions committee?”
We would be interested in hearing about it, but we would be more interested in hearing about more recent projects as well.
Anna wrote, “I wrote about a volunteering activity in part 2, section A (“tell us about something you do simply for the pleasure of it”). However, this activity is also one of my top 5 interests (part 2, section 5). Would it be a good idea for me to mention it there as well, or is it better to place another activity in section 5 instead?”
You should answer both questions honestly and in the best way you can. If that means talking about the same activity more than once, then by all means do so.
Joe wrote, “Are you releasing decisions this year online or through the mail?”
We’ll talk more about releasing decisions as the day draws nearer. Look for more news soon.
blank wrote, “i’m from india…I’m a high school senior..but i’m lost..what are APs?..and how do i calculate my GPA?..in my HS we give a take a set of tests on all our 7 subjects and in march we take the ISC exams(these results will be out in may/june 2006)..which is given throughout india..i’m confused..help!!!!
also..the results of my ISC will be out in may or june 2006..is that too late?will you be needing those???”
The APs are a mostly American exam administered by the College Board, the same organization that does the SAT. Don’t worry about this. My recent entry on APs was directed more at students in AP schools. As for GPA, don’t worry about this; if your school uses GPA, they would provide it, and if they don’t, then they won’t. Finally, we are quite familiar with the ISC exams and many other facets of the Indian educational system, as we receive many applications from India each year. In short, don’t worry.
blank wrote, “i’m into a LOTS of extra curricular activities..but no olympiads and stuff..i’m the HS student council president..is that somewhere close to good enough? and how much is college going to cost me?(approx?)(international student-india)”
Don’t worry about your activities, you sound like you’re doing great things. As for money, I don’t know how much you will have to pay for MIT. It will be somewhere between $0 and $46,000, depending on your family’s financial need. We will meet your full financial need, meaning that if you don’t have much money, we won’t ask for much money. In my experience, most of our international students are received significant financial aid, usually in excess of $35,000 each year. For more information, check out Daniel’s blog or the Financial Aid page.
Girl wrote, “I was wondering if it is easier for girls to get into MIT? I know you have 45% of your class as girls, so do you accept more girls than guys? And, what is your girl acceptance rate?”
Well, girls don’t get any extra bonus points or anything when they apply for MIT. There is no affirmative action policy in admissions for girls, and the girls we admit are just as good as the boys. We have never accepted more girls than boys (last year, 48% of admitted students were girls). Admissions numbers broken down by gender are available on the Common Data Set. I hope this is helpful for you.
blank wrote, “i’m learning how to play a few musical instruments..but my course is not complete…i am not ready to play..but while at MIT,can i pursue learning how to play these instruments?”
Yes, you can pursue learning musical instruments at MIT. Check out the Music Arts page for some further info.
the anonymous one wrote, “realistically speakin..be brutal.i’m a prospective international student from india..what is the maximum scholarship i can get to cover my fees etc?(percentage-wise)?i take part in a lot of extra curricular activities and i am a national level sportsperson..but all sports aren’t big here…so…? will doing well on my SATs get me scholarships?”
All of MIT’s financial aid is based on your family’s financial need. That means that if you really need a lot of money to be able to afford MIT, we will provide a lot of money to you. Over the years, many students from very poor international families have come to MIT, and have received very generous financial aid packages. If you are admitted, take a look at your financial aid package. I expect it will be to your liking.
blank wrote, “the medium of instruction in my school is english and my primary language has been english for as long as i can remeber…would you still want me to take the TOEFL?”
No, we would not expect you to take the TOEFL.
Anshuman wrote, “Do the teachers send in their recommendations directly to MIT (like the Secondary school evaluation?). Also, we are to receive our 12th standard results after January. So, will it be a problem if I send in only the 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th standard results?”
Teachers will frequently send their recommendations directly to MIT. Sometimes, the recommendations will be mailed as part of a larger package with other application components. As for your grades/marks, send us all that you have now, and when your 12th standard results come out, you can send those along as well.
Kimberly wrote, “Arg. So confused. Ok. So science/math wise my high school only offers a couple of course (all of which I have taken). I have also gone to the other high school in my district to take one of the ones not available. And I have simultaneously been taking a fair amount of community college classes, without decreasing my high school course load. Is that bad? I do it because I am really type A and I love learning, not because I want to get into college.”
No, it sounds like you’re doing good things. I wouldn’t worry.
Anna wrote, “I was wondering if it is a good idea to bring some sort of “portfolio” that represents you to the interview. For example, I am part of a great program called MESA, where my classmates and I work on engineering-related projects. Would it help to bring pictures of these projects or something related to them, or is it better not to do so?”
I might ask your EC what s/he thinks as you set up your interview. In general, I do think that pictures can be helpful, but see what your EC thinks.
Thuita wrote, “I was just wondering – how official should one look like? How well should I be dressed? But now I am thinking beyond that – how to express myself without saying too much of whom I am not just to please the interviewer.”
I wouldn’t wear a tuxedo or evening gown, but I also wouldn’t wear ripped jeans and flip flops. I’d dress comfortably but nicely. Maybe “business casual” would be good advice.
Jacqueline wrote, “I’ve been in the Albertan school system for almost all of my high school. Although AP courses are not offered at most schools here (including mine), our math and sciences programs were recently ranked second and third in the world by the Economist. From personal experience, I can attest to the fact that an unweighted A in a weighted, “pre-AP” class at my high school in the US was much easier to obtain than an A here. I’m just wondering if the admissions staff is aware of national/provincial differences when considering GPA and course rigor. On another note, should I complete the Self-Reported Coursework form in the application for the courses I took in the US? Or should I just leave the whole form blank?”
We are rather familiar with Canadian schooling, but you may want to ask the person who fills out your secondary school report to make specific mention of these things. As for the Self-Reported Coursework form, you can feel free to submit it with just your US courses, or with a mix of you US and Canadian courses, or you may even not submit it at all. All of these would be acceptable options.
Chen wrote, “I was wondering: I have scheduled an interview with my EC already; however, I have not turned in my Part 2 yet. Is that a problem? In addition, for the interview, do I need to wear formal, prepare documents and etc.?”
You need not submit your Part 2 before having your interview; in fact, you need not have submitted any of your application before having your interview (though I do recommend submitting your Part 1). As for your other questions, see the above answers.
Lendz wrote, “My EC has told me that anyone who takes a class at a CC while waiting for their acceptance is automatically applying as a Transfer student… he seemed a little fuzzy about this… and told me to check with you.”
No, you can take some community college classes and still apply as a freshman. Don’t worry.
Cesar wrote, “It seems that there are no test seats until January for the TOEFL exam. Would it be OK to do it in January?”
Please email [email protected] It will probably be okay, as we can accept January test scores on a case by case basis.
Ranjitha wrote, “Can I get a few sample essays so that I can get an idea as to how the essays should be written ?”
I can’t provide you with sample essays, but I can give you some advice. Know that we’re not grading your essay based on how well it’s written; rather, we’re reading your essay for its content, to learn more about you. Answer the questions in an open and honest way, letting us know you better. There’s no formula for essays, and I’ve read many different kinds of essays from students who have been admitted. So do your best, and that will be all we can ask.
Arkajit wrote, “Do we need to send a copy of the official score report for our AP scores or is listing them in Part II enough? Also, would it be alright to submit Part I online and Part II on paper? And is it ok if the paper version still has the ***DRAFT*** header and footer from when you preview the application, or is there a way to suppress that?”
You don’t need to send in your official AP score report at this time. As for the application, we recommend either clicking the submit button (instead of printing the draft), or sending in a different copy of the application. However, every year do do receive some applications with ***DRAFT*** stamped on them (and treat them the same as the other applications), and we also see some applications where people have taken their PDF and used Adobe or other software products to make their PDF submission fit their own needs. All of these options are fine by us.
Dad from AZ wrote, “I have read through your list of postings, and have received some important information and thank you all for that. What I am looking for is that my sixth grade son has indicated to us and his teachers that he wants to attend MIT. I give him credit for knowing what he wants. He is involved in band, scouts, and sports, loves reading books, starting his own business, and is bored with his honor classes because, as he put it, they do not challenge him enough. I realize that he needs to be a child, but what can we focus on, to make him a stronger candidate for MIT or another university?”
Honestly, I don’t feel comfortable or qualified to be giving advice to sixth graders. If your son needs a further challenge, and loves knowledge, there are some other organizations that may be able to help. I’d start with the Center for Talented Youth and the Davidson Institute for Talent Development. Good luck!