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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

Questions Omnibus, Part 2 by Matt McGann '00

Things are actually pretty calm here in New England, even with the Patriots’ dynasty-confirming Super Bowl win yesterday. Patriots fans are excited, sure, but the third win in four years for the Pats is nothing compared to the Red Sox first World Series win since the Wilson administration, which caused pandemonium throughout the region. [international readers: you’ll learn to enjoy baseball and American football, really, but in the meantime feel free to use this post’s comments section to talk about international sports: World Cup 2006 predictions, the upcoming India-Pakistan test matches, Six Nations rugby, why people shouldn’t cheer for Manchester United, whatever you like]

Today I got back to reading domestic applications after spending much of last week reading international applications. Today’s applications hailed from Arizona, Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and New York; about 15 applications so far today, all said. And now, as I write this entry, I’m also half-watching one of my ten favorite films of all time: Sneakers.

I’ve got a week’s worth of questions to catch up on. I’ve been writing this entry for a while now and am less than half done, so I’ll answer my backlog of questions in several parts. Here goes part 1:

Random questions

Akash asked a common question: “Is it true that Will Smith turned down a scholarship to MIT to pursue his rap career?” My understanding, though people express uncertainty, is that it is probably not true, though many publications cite this as a fact. It is a fact that the Fresh Prince is a very bright guy. And as far as scholarships are concerned, MIT was in the 1980s, as it is now, a school that offers only need-based scholarships, so that says more about his family’s financial status than anything else.

VermontDude asked, “Did you perform the removing-your-belt stunt ?” Hmm… perhaps you’re referring to my story about MIT Math Professor Hartley Rogers that I sometimes tell? So, here’s the story: my first term at MIT, I had passed out of single variable calculus (18.01) with an AP test, so I could take multivariable calculus (18.02), taught by the legendary math professor Hartley Rogers. Hartley made the phrase “intuitively obvious” infamous on the MIT campus. He “ran” for US President in 1992. He has numerous “Web shrines” in his honor (here and here among others), enshrining some choice quotes. Hartley is in his late 70s.

Anyway, we’re talking about surfaces this one class. Hartley starts getting a bit goofy. “Who wants to see a Mobius strip?” he says to us, as he begins taking off his belt. Omigosh, we think, he’s going to take off his pants and strip. But (Many of you already see where this is going), what he does is simply give his belt a half-twist, and — voila! — a Mobius strip.

Numbers-related questions

interested in stats and Kiran both ask for numbers: “Do you have any numbers for us yet!! (applied etc.)” “i was wondering if/when you were going to start posting numbers of how many applicants, how many will be accepted, etc.” I still haven’t seen our final regular action numbers yet, but from all indications, our application numbers will be mostly similar to last year’s. I’d expect that our final number will be somewhere right around 10,500. I’ll post more numbers when I can.

Kiran also asks, “Is it true MIT is aiming for a class of ~950 this year??” and “The quota for intls, is it 100 accepted or is MIT hoping for 100 to enroll??” It is true that we are aiming for a smaller class size this year. I don’t know what the exact target is, but my understanding is that it is between 950-1000. Also, we aim for 8% internationals in each year’s class, and traditionally admitting 100 yields about 80 international freshmen each year.

Anxiety-related questions

Sumith P Mathew writes, “It’s heart wrenching to wait till mid-March for a decision from MIT. Why does MIT follow the rule that only U.S citizens or permanent residents can only apply for early action at MIT but not International Students?” This is a question I answered in this post. The answer was: “We only have one round of admissions for international students, during regular action. Given the small number of international students we are allowed to admit each year, it is better for us to compare all of the applications together than to have an early and regular round.”

Sumith also asks, “Everyday I come home from school and bite my nails while I open up the MIT website to find out the latest information about my application. But every time I find that there’s nothing new. By now, I have repeated this process a hundred times and I’m out of nails. Could you please give me some clue about my application as in if u liked it or something and could you please hurry up your application process?” Sumith, we are in the middle of our defined, standard process that brings us from more than 10,000 applicants to 1600 or so admitted students. We take our time with this process because we feel we owe it to each an every applicant to give their application the thorough review it deserves. And, ultimately, we’ve found that our process works. I know that it’s a stressful time, waiting for decisions from colleges, but I don’t think a few months is too much to ask for a well-thought-out decision. So, relax, enjoy a good book, and you’ll hear back from US colleges over the next couple of months.

kate writes, “I feel clueless when it comes to objectively accomplishing my lifes goals. I know the starting point…getting into college, and I know what I want to study when I get there however I feel an overwhelming amount of concern for the options I have been given to choose from. I love brain and cognitive sciences, however very few people offer that as a major and so my question begins. Do you believe that a generalized major which you shape closely to your desired major will suffice? Also, how long does it take to recieve a masters or a doctrates of philosophy from that point. Is it two years per graduate degree? More or Less? And how does MIT feel about accepting graduate students who earned their degree along with their bachelors in four years? How about people who earned a master’s unrelated to the Phd they wish to persue?”

kate, relax about not knowing yet how to accomplish your life’s goals! You’re still young and have lots of time, and there will be many people along the way to help and mentor you. Along those lines, let me answer some of your questions to try to help. If you’re interested in becoming a scientific researcher in neuroscience (?), you could go to a well-known for science school with a Brain & Cognitive Science major like MIT, but you could also go to a liberal arts college or state school and major in biology. Find a college that is a good match for you; as long as it’s not, say, an art school, you’ll find a major that will prepare you well for a research career in brain science. As for graduate school, I’d recommend not starting to worry until you’re an upperclassperson in college; lots of things can change, and lots of doors can open, in two or three years. But to answer your question, most of my friends who pursued graduate degrees in research science applied from undergraduate (MIT) directly to PhD programs (some programs will give you a Master’s along the way). PhDs in science can take anywhere from 3-10 years to complete, with 4-6 years being the norm, at least among my friends. For questions on graduate admissions in MIT Brain & Cognitive Science, go here; I’m not involved in graduate admissions. Regardless, kate, I’m confident things will work out for you. Let me know how I can help further.

Stuyvesant/Stuyvescant also had some anxious questions. S/he wrote, “Not yet applying for colleges or scholarships, still being a lowly sophmore, but id like to know something about my chances; im really good at math;assuming i dont flunk anything ill have taken calculus 1-3 by the time i graduate, as well as 2 years of latin, all required english and soc. studies, a year of computers, physics, chemestry and two years of biology. oh, and im really good at math. my PSAT scores were 99th percentile, but my GPA tends to [not be good] – last semester was the first time i broke 3.0, i think. Did i mention the math? understand i have all the competence in varsity athletics as the average dead person, and assuming i do some sort of community service, do you think id have a chance at getting a decent scholarship, or should i start collecting pennies and looking for a refrigerator carton to live under?” It’s good that as a sophomore you’re beginning to think ahead about college, but there’s no need to have such anxiety yet. Talk with your parents, teachers, and guidance counselors about your hopes and aspirations. They will be great helpers and mentors along your journey. No one can really predict your chances at MIT or for scholarships (and I won’t do that on this blog), but over the next few years with some research you’ll be able to develop a good list of match and reach schools and some scholarships that might help you pay your way through college. For good information on financial aid, you can check out Daniel’s blog.

Stuyvesant asked further, “what sort of a GPA do you need to get into MIT? ive looked all over the stie, and cant find anything- is it a 4.0’s only club, do they just care about SAT deals, what? Oh, what about the level o fthe classes your taking? if my math grades arent the best, but im taking a math class more advanced than anyone else in my grade, does that count much in my favor?” Stuyvesant , I hope that you’ll read the MIT Admissions site, and also my older posts in this blog, and Ben’s blog, and I think you’ll get a sense of how MIT’s admissions process works. To directly answer your question: we hope that you’ll get mostly As, in mostly challenging classes. There is no GPA minimum.

Another post coming soon… in the meantime, leave your questions or Man U taunts.

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