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MIT student blogger Chris S. '11

What Makes You Tick? by Chris S. '11

To all the Early applicants.

Seeing all the parents converge on MIT campus for Family Weekend reminded me of my parents, who are one continent and one ocean away. So, on a side note, really take the time to appreciate your parents while you’re still with them. This is especially true for all you high school seniors who are leaving for college a year from now. Your parents might be nagging at you about your SAT scores now and there’s still technically one year left before you have to say goodbye, but they’ll be gone before you know it (really.)

Anyways, all this reminded me of all you Early Action applicants, who are probably cranking out application essays, having interviews, and/or worrying whether your SAT scores are high enough right now (or, at least, I hope you are – just not the worrying part).

Therefore, I decided to tell you my ED story.

Last year, around this same time, I was pretty much in your shoes. I’ve identified a college that I was very passionate about way back in August, and knew I wanted to ED it, no questions asked. I was done with the testing and other requirements fairly early, so I spent the majority of my time re-reading and re-examining my applications (while wondering why in the world my interviewer hasn’t bothered to call me yet).

I wrote out my essays, I polished them, and I fine-tuned them to a point that I was able to recite it backwards (I’m serious). I had several of my teachers read over my essays, and I actually wrote 13 drafts for my main essay. This is like a world record for me, since I am basically the master of churning out pointless fluff “insightful” essays for AP testing. Simply, I just hate writing multiple drafts for a single essay.

Predictably, l became paranoid about my application very quickly.

I wanted it to be totally perfect. 100% perfect – not 99%, or even 99.99% – 100. At one point, I actually went online and searched for the “right” orientation of stapling pieces of paper together (the staple should ideally make a 45 degree angle to the left side of the paper, so it’s basically slanted, sloping up to the right) because I didn’t think I should staple my papers together recklessly (afterwards, I discovered that it’s generally not a good idea to staple any part of your college application, actually. Many colleges scan additional sheets of paper that come in, and staples are a huge hassle.).

When I clicked submit online 2 hours before the deadline, I felt I had the complete package. I had the stats, I had the essays, I had the recs – I am going to college.

A month and a half later, I was shocked when I received a deferral letter in the mail – and this is not due to blind confidence either, as I really felt that my application was strong enough in terms of academic merit to get into the college I was applying to.

I started asking myself these questions – were my SAT scores not high enough? Did I not do enough activities? Was my essay too boring? Finding no answers to my queries, I plunged myself headfirst into Regular Action applications. Not to sound corny, but it was after doing the MIT application that I realized what was wrong in my Early application.

I was trying too hard to be different. I was trying too hard to be the “person that adcoms like.” I wasn’t being myself. I re-read my Early application, and I realized that I sounded like a cookie-cutter student that was trying too hard to flaunt his academic abilities. I was trying hard to impress, trying hard to be unique, but I hardly recognized the person that the application tried to convey.

Realizing this, I completely took out the 13-draft essay that took me three solid weeks of revision and wrote an essay on the same topic, using the tone I liked and the angle I wanted to convey it from, not the tone and the angle that my teachers had suggested. After proofreading it carefully for grammatical errors multiple times, I sent it in without consulting another adult. I wanted this new essay to be mine, I wanted it to be from myself – not from my GC, not from my teachers.

The biggest piece of advice I want to give you guys as you guys approach not only the EA application, but all the future applications that you might encounter is to just be yourself in whatever you do. When you write your essay, don’t write with a specific audience in mind. Don’t say the things that you think the admissions officers “want” to hear. When you do the interview, don’t try to second-guess your interviewer’s questions and remarks. When you describe your activities, convey your true passions. Don’t say that you totally loved Student Government when you hated all the lunch meetings, and don’t be shy to share the ups and downs in your life – even if it may be something as simple as loving the fresh smell of grass after a spring rain. These things are what makes you different from the thousands of people applying to the same school as you are. It’s not just about the four digits in your SAT score or the numbers after the decimal point in your GPA. Even a robot can be trained to take tests or do algebra, but what is it that makes you different from a test-taking machine? Quite simply, what tickles your heart and motivates you to overcome the challenges that you’ve faced in your life?

I wish you guys the best of luck in your college application experience. And for those really committed to coming here, I hope MIT is a wonderful fit for you :) I’m still discovering reasons to love MIT each day. Take a look:

Amazing Guest Lecturers

Dr. Harish Hande is a pioneer in bringing light and electricity to rural locations in India through affordable solar panel systems. iHouse had the honor of inviting him to dinner and learning about his developmental solutions for underprivileged countries.

Diverse Talents
Last Saturday I went with my friends to Sigma Kappa‘s Late Night – an annual charity talent show hosted by the sorority to promote research for Alzheimer’s Disease…

…and saw some really amazing acts –

One of the most incredible things about MIT is the wealth of talents that is represented in the student body. Everyone comes here with a story to share, and it is very rewarding to discover the stories of your fellow peers. We may hail from the different corners of the world, but we are all connected by a love of learning and a deep conviction for our passions – be it playing the guitar, acting in a circus, or inventing robots. Explore the stories of those people around you – you will be pleasantly surprised (I still am, almost on a day-to-day basis).

MIT is United. We may be taking classes from Course 1 to Course 24, but we are never too busy to help the person beside us in a pset that dragged on for too long or help him study for a test that seems too difficult.

I went on a retreat with my fraternity, SigEp, last weekend, and we played this game in which the objective is to lower a stick propped up by the index fingers of all the players to the ground, with the catch that no one can lose contact of the stick in the process. A couple of days after we returned from the retreat, some of the older brothers volunteered to host a study session for the froshies in anticipation for the 8.01 midterm. It is interesting to note that one of the key points in the “Helium Stick” activity is to constantly look out for one another, especially the people who are about to lose contact with the stick. In the same way, the people at MIT offering help to one another is in tune with the same spirit. I’m not referring to just my fraternity brothers offering to prep me in 8.01, but also the guy in my 18.02 recitation that patiently explained the concept of directional vectors to me, the girl that offered to sub in for my SAT class when I have to be gone for the SigEp retreat…the list goes on and on.

Anyways, this entry could quite viably be two entries, so I think I will pause here. Before I sign off though, check out this cool picture from our retreat…

…and some excellent food.

So best wishes from George ’10 and me to all the Early applicants! Share your stories, explore your options, and dare to dream. George and I have every confidence in you. Right, George?


Here’s to you all. Cheers!

52 responses to “What Makes You Tick?”

  1. Hyun Jin says:

    Wow, you must really miss home if you’re sticking to asian foods
    And thanks for the essay advice!

  2. Snively says:


    MIT has a juggling club that meets pretty regularly and anyone can drop by. It’s in lobby 10 and killian court. Basically, if it’s an activity, they do it here!

  3. Aditi says:

    juggling club….! interesting! are you in it?

  4. Paul says:

    I actually know the two guys in the Diablo picture – one’s a freshman who did DME with me, the other is his brother (who’s a junior). In addition to being MIT students, they’re both professional clowns.

    So the moral of the story is that all kinds of people get into MIT. ^_^

  5. Paul says:

    Also, I feel obliged to point out that you posted posted the real 2011th entry. Everybody CELEBRATE!

  6. Snively says:

    Sadly, I ran out of time for activities, so I’m not in the juggling club. There are so many cool things here and only so much time.

    Speaking of time, I’m going to go build a pirate ship out of bottles (which I’ll blog, yay! but only when I’ve finished)

  7. Isshak says:

    2011th already ? Congrats ! Maybe Hawk can do a guest 2012th blog, to represent !

  8. JH says:

    great post nice pics

  9. Nihar says:

    Nice one Chris! The application frenzy was especially well shown…hehe
    You submitted the package 2 HoUrS before deadline???Omggg…were you revising and re-revising till then or??
    Nice to see the wonderful time you’re having with iHouse…n by the to tell us what you were so excited to be eating at Pho?^^

  10. Nihar says:

    n yea…Yayy for being yourself!!!
    Cheers all the way!

  11. Hunter '11 says:

    Wow, that water bottle is balancing…?

    Nice post =)

  12. Anonymous says:

    I am so in love with the perspective that applying to college shouldn’t be about trying to impress strangers on a committee.

    That being said, will the admissions committee be absolutely disgusted if the main essay is over 500 words? =) (Even if I’m being myself with every word?)

  13. Reg says:

    Thanks for the advice! I was planning to write my essays over this week, and this came just in time :D

  14. Aditi says:

    OMG are those diabolos in the picture?! There are people at MIT who perform with diabolos? (Wow smile )!!!Is there also some kind of a community or association or something?
    i’m learning!(the diabolo…started last year :D )

    oh and its a great post!

  15. Ginger says:

    Again, truly wonderful advice from you. The pictures make me love MIT even more! I really love that one with the water bottle. XD

  16. Katelyn says:

    I just had my interview today, and my EC mentioned the juggling club. smile

    @Anonymous: I doubt that they’ll be angry if you’re just over 500 words. If you’re way over, that’s a different story.

  17. Ana says:

    Nice post, Chris! It’s helpful and encouraging for all of us, even for RD applicants (I can’t apply early because I am an international student. By the way, I hope you did not forget you promised to post something about the international application process!). Best wishes!

  18. Allen is a freak! But hilarious! :D

  19. Snively says:

    I might as well be the one who starts off the application season by saying something that’s going to be contested by many and reinforced by many more:

    It’s not only your score that matters, otherwise I wouldn’t be here, nor would most of my classmates. It’s hard to believe during the application process, but oh so easy to see when you look around campus. If you ever visit, just ask somebody what their scores are, not only would they be happy to tell you but you’d also realize that amazing scores aren’t the most important thing.

    Trust me on this, please! It really is true, nobody is trying to be tricky, go behind your back, or use ulterior motives. Scores . . . Aren’t . . . Everything.

  20. ronald says:

    but scores do matter for other colleges…isn’t it? and we can’t all be sure that mit will admit us…so that’s were the high-score thingy comes up..isn’t it?

  21. Hunter '11 says:

    Snively isn’t saying scores don’t matter – just that they’re not EVERYTHING. They don’t decide whether you get in or not, they’re just a piece of the puzzle – and there are other, much more important parts. Try to get good scores on your exams, then go off and do something you enjoy. MIT’s more interested in your passions than whether or not you forgot to include a negative sign somewhere on an SAT question.

  22. milena '11 says:

    Nice post grin I think you’re right, one has to approach the essay with a “screw it, I’m not here to impress you, but here’s my story” attitude. I don’t think they’re looking for good writers, just good storytellers. (there’s a lot of people here that suck at writing, myself included.)

  23. Rena says:

    I’m working on my essay right now. I keep wanting to mention school stuff, or what makes me “different” or anything other than who I am. Thanks for the reminder that the essay should be relaxed and genuine.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Chris..>>This is wht i’v been dng…writing my own essays,proofreading them but i never gave em 2 any adult fr any suggestions except my mother.I had a interview a few days ago n realized tht its only ur score tht matter n nothing else.Im heartbroken

  25. 你的爸媽一定也很想念你!

  26. Oasis says:

    Responding to the comments!

    @ Nihar –
    I submitted my application 2 hours before the deadline because I was too paranoid that if I submitted it early, I might have not caught a mistake inside and I’d hate myself afterwards for pressing submit before I absolutely have to. My method is not recommended, however wink

    I never had pho before, so it was cool trying it the first time. It is very tasty. =p

    @Anonymous –
    The thing with word limits is that there is really not a stringent word limit*. I know that although most colleges ask you to keep your application essays to 500 words, I have submitted some 600-700 word essays. Multiple college interviewers and adcoms had told me that they don’t want to impress a solid word limit on the applicants, but they don’t want to read a long elongated essay that tries to convey too many ideas either. I think the rule of thumb that you should go by is that you need to evaluate whether you REALLY need those words. I thought I did for a 800 word essay, but I ended up trimming it down to 530 and I thought it looked much more concise. Get to the point, and don’t go on long rambling tangents. Remember, you don’t need to summarize your entire life into your application essay, and many of the most poignant essays I’ve read are actually around 500 words (sometimes even less!). It’s definitely doable. Find out what works for you, but don’t lose sleep if your edited essay is 512 words long.

    * = except some colleges’ online applications – some colleges have a word count ticker in their online essay form, and they will cut you off if you go over their specified limit. Be sure to ALWAYS “print preview” before you submit an online application to make sure that nothing gets cut off or goes wrong when you submit it.

    @ Hyun Jin –
    I actually don’t miss home that much. I post Asian food pictures because…to be honest, Restaurant Asian Food is much cheaper than Restaurant American Food (unless you go to fast food or burger places – and I figure pictures of burgers and fries won’t be very interesting =D).

    @Ginger and Hunter –
    Yes, the water bottle is free-standing and perfectly balanced about its center of mass smile (ahh! 8.01!)

    @Paul –
    I didn’t actually notice this was the 2011th post! – should have saved it for you =p

    @Anonymous, and just my general comments about test scores –

    Like what Hunter and Snively said above, it is really true that scores aren’t everything. When I applied colleges initially, I felt that I really needed a 2300+ on my SAT scores – if I didn’t have a 2300, that was it. Period. Game Over.

    Coming here, I realized that there is plenty of very good test-takers here, but that is really not the entire student population! We have our shares of 2400 students, but what is most important – as mentioned by some of the commenters above – is your “match” for MIT and just your inner passion for the things you love to do and for learning. This sounds really idealistic and warm and fuzzy and all, but it is true. If MIT had a standard SAT cutoff line, half the people I know right here, right now, wouldn’t even be here. This is one of the biggest differences between the American university system and other college systems in the world. In my home country of Taiwan, if you are even ONE point below the cutoff line for National Taiwan University, it’s simply “tough luck, try again next year.” Here, you are not put through an esoteric empirical formula devised by the Admission Office and evaluated on the number that comes out after they plug in your test scores. You are evaluated as a student with a personality, with character, with ambitions – not some test taking machine!

    But that being said, test scores and your academic record are still important, because, after all, MIT is a leading scientific university in the world and students are still expected to come in with enough academic experience so that they can survive the courseload and the work pace here. This is really a safety catch for you, since if MIT admitted a student who cannot cope with the work here, that student will experience failure and emotional trauma that could have very easily been avoided should he have attended a school that isn’t as demanding as MIT.

    I know I’m doing what exactly you shouldn’t do on application essays (read: ramble on and on), but really, like Snively said, scores aren’t everything. You still need a standard of academic performance, but other than that – it’s all about the passions, dreams, and ambitions that comprise you (and, at the same time, makes you different from everyone else in the world – even the ones with the same SAT scores). This is what’s really important.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the response. It’s hard to write in such a succinct way when you’ve been taught all your life in English classes that the more adjectives, the better! Thank God there’s still two more weeks before the EA deadline… =) Hope you are enjoying yourself at Ma Sheng Li Gong!

  28. Aditi says:

    @ paul : i just (desparately)hope i’m one of those all kinds of people who DO get in!

    @snively: pirate ship out of bottles?! how?!

  29. Michael says:

    I have an urgent question about teacher evaluations: specifically, are the evaluations limited to only one of Form A and one of Form B? Are applicants limited in the number of evaluations submitted? I ask this because the wording of a few of the pages that I’ve read seems to suggest that more than the normal three could be submitted (maybe I’m just confusing myself).

  30. Hunter '11 says:

    MIT doesn’t set a limit to evaluations, but don’t overload the admissions office =). Really, pick the people who know you best and can write you a good evaluation – try to get different perspectives so that MIT admissions can build a dimensional picture of you. Maybe send one or two over the normal, but go for quality, not quantity.

  31. Anonymous says:

    thanxx oasis n snively…fr lettin me knw tht scores srent not frm american..but after reading ur responses..i got 2 trust u..thanxxx

  32. Oasis says:

    @ Anonymous –

    Why is it the “normal three?” MIT only requires two teacher evaluations.

    A good question to ask yourself before submitting additional information is whether the extra rec you send will add a new dimension to your existing recommendations and application. If it is not going to be significantly different from your two primary recommendations, then you can perhaps hold off on the extra recommendation.

    I did send an extra recommendation, but that was because I did mathematical research and my adviser was not from my high school, so he was able to write about how I work outside of my high school. I thought that was beneficial. Judge accordingly and see what works for you. smile

  33. Sam says:

    Chris: Have you yet played a game of Color or Country at MIT?

    Oh, and how many people at MIT are in each fraternity?

  34. Hunter '11 says:

    Isn’t it 2 teacher evaluations plus a counselor one?

  35. David says:

    Thanks for this post. EA is due in about 16 days and I’ve been going over my essay more times than I’ve gone over any essay ever, as you said. I think I’ll go over it again right now and make sure it says what I want it to say. I’m so excited to visit MIT again before I apply.
    Also, I had a recommendation sent in about two weeks ago and now I realize that my DOB wasn’t on it. Will it still go into my application, or should I get it sent again with the DOB on it?
    I think I might be worrying too much about this. But if I get in, I guess it’ll al be worth it.

  36. Nihar says:

    So what did I learn??
    **conscience voices**
    ‘Pho’ is a dish(thanks for the pointer:)) and not a restaurant you bazooka!

  37. Oasis says:

    @ Sam:

    Blue! Blue! Taiwan*! Peru (the color)!
    * = debatable.

    The size of fraternities vary – PBE, one of the bigger fraternities in campus, has around 70 brothers. SigEp has around 40. Greek life is very active on the MIT campus – the majority of men pledge a fraternity.

    @Hunter –
    I always tend to think of the counselor report/eval not quite the same as a teacher evaluation, since it is always mailed off with the transcript, rather than me having to mail it out myself. Well, in that case, then there is 3 evaluations.

    @David –
    I think the admission office will figure out your date of birth – there’s no need to mail a new one. If you’re really concerned, however, you can email the office to confirm.

  38. “Be Yourself”
    I’ve never understood what that meant. As a command, it makes as much sense as saying, “let x be equal to x.” By definition, I am inherently myself. x=x.

    Does this statement command someone to define themselves and then live up to that definition? No definition can encompass a person, as no map of earth can be completely accurate unless it is the size of earth.

    Suppose I take as my goal to paint a picture as close to how I view myself as possible. How would I accomplish that given that how I see myself varies from hour to hour? How would I account for the fact that what makes perfect sense to me as an expression of myself would be read differently someone else?

  39. Morgan says:

    GAH! You can send more than 3 recs? Hmm would it be beneficial for me to have my boss or manager to write one? And is there a form for that? I am about to pull my hair out this is so stressful…

  40. Hunter '11 says:

    Be yourself essentially just means be honest with yourself. Don’t take every AP because you’re looking to impress, take the classes you want! Do extracurrics you enjoy, not what you think will get you in a college. Yes, we all have emotion and don’t act exactly the same every minute of every day, but certainly you have qualities that are unchanging – otherwise, how are you you?

  41. Oasis says:

    @ Andrew:
    You raise some very interesting points.

    When I say “be yourself,” I’m basically saying that often, most of us try to hard to be “someone else.” When we look at the people around us (or, in the case of college admissions – people who we consider “smart” or people who got into elite colleges), we have a natural tendency to imitate them. After all, didn’t they get into a good school because they did X, Y, and Z? Seeing this, we also think that if we didn’t do X, Y, and Z, then we fail at college admissions – or we can’t be as good as them.

    Essentially, what I am saying is almost the opposite of “defining [yourself] and [living] up to that definition” – you don’t need to do anything like this! Just do what you have been doing – express your passion for the things you love to do – and that’s it! Don’t look around and think that there is a “formula” of getting into MIT – or try to imitate something that another person did to get into college. Dare to be different – and thus, this is what I mean by being yourself.

    You never paint a static picture of yourself – I believe each individual is too dynamic to be able to capture in a single picture. Don’t be afraid to show the multi-facetness of your nature! Don’t double guess what other people would think of you either – if it makes perfect sense to you, why do you care what other people think? People will respect you for your ideas and dreams (well, there are certain limitations, but I mean, within reason). Showcase your individuality.

  42. MITGrad says:

    I’m constantly amazed by the kind of things people write on the admissions blog. Sometimes I feel like people are too stressed when they needn’t be and sometimes I feel like all of you kids are very hard working and motivated. Someone who didn’t go to MIT as an undergrad, nor from the northeast (where most of the top tier schools are popular), I have to say that above all else “to thine own self be true.” You aren’t any less of a person if you don’t go to MIT so why spend your time worrying if you are “good” enough, I think that evaluation comes long before you apply. So to all those high school seniors applying, really take chris’ advice to heart cause you are who you are, you can’t fake the person you are and besides why would you want to do that? It honestly and truly is about the best fit (no matter what anyone tells you, the school doesn’t define you, you define yourself), now you wouldn’t buy an over-sized shirt just cause it’s the one in style would you?

  43. Maia '11 says:

    I know where that giant penguin is……

  44. Eric T. says:

    Chris, Thanks for the post, it certainly took a lot of stress off of me (the guy who has been rereading his MIT app over and over).

  45. yo chris. thanks for putting up that picture of us on the guitars. i appreciate it.

  46. Michael says:

    @Oasis, Hunter and Snively
    Thanks for responding to my question.

  47. lu says:


  48. Angela says:

    My mom’s been pressuring me to let my counselor (or at least my English teacher) edit my essay, but now I’m more determined than ever not to let anyone besides me touch it. smile

  49. Hey wassup dude? Think momsie and popsicle very :D about ur statement “take time to enjoy ur parents while ur still with them.” Think ur writing’s improved since the days of Blueprint. But that bit of stress about the exact juxtaposition of a staple on ur college apps. . . dude, u pyscho or something?

    Anyways, good job. We won volleyball tourney today and got a nice medal each proclaiming “Tissa.” Yolanda showed me ur Facebook; looks like u’ve taken to burning lightbulbs instead of midnight oil. But don worry about me crashing ur Facebook cuz although i gotta account (i think) i lost my password and i’m too lazy to get another one. :D 2 seniors asked me to look over their college app essays. Think psat was fun; depends on wat score i got though. I’ll get Mcgrew next week; work on getting yearbook interviews in. Dude, i hate u for writing up that stupid interview completion survey. It makes my interviews seem profoundly incompetent. :D Haven’t gotten comp poisoned through Limewire yet. Aren’t u proud?