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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

Reading folders by Matt McGann '00

A little bit more on evaluating applications.

Once upon a time, there was an application to MIT…

It’s a Monday, or or Wednesday, or a Friday, or possibly another day of the week, so it’s a “Reading Day.” I have already picked up a big stack of applications from the office; my stack is fairly random, including applicants from many different states with many different characteristics. I sit down to read my applications, one at a time.

I start reading the application by thinking a bit about the applicant’s context. I can see much of this on the Part 1. Where are you from — a big city? a rural farming community? a university town? Sometimes I’ll use the power of the web to help me out if I’m not already familiar with a community (and you’d be pretty surprised how many communities we do know about) with resources like the US Census’ American FactFinder.

And what kind of high school do you go to? a huge public school? a tiny, rural public school? a religious school? a private school? or maybe you’re homeschooled? Your high school probably sent along a profile of your school so we can learn about it (and again, you’d be surprised how many high schools we’re already familiar with).

After thinking a bit about your context (which will persist throughout the reading of the application), I’ll dive right in. How do you spend your time? theater? work? cooking? family? math and science competitions? etc. What do you write about in your short answer essays? in your longer essay? The Part II is a great place for us to get to hear your voice and understand what is important to you.

Then, it’s time for your grades. I look at the self-reported coursework form to see what courses you’ve taken, and what grades you’ve received. And since I’ve already been thinking about your high school, I have a sense of what opportunities for coursework you’ve had, and the choices you’ve made. This part is not a contest to see who has the most APs; I do want to see, though, that you’ve done well in a challenging curriculum.

Next, it’s time for your teacher recommendations. These can be extremely insightful. The teachers that you’ve chosen to write on your behalf usually write very enthusiastically about you. The stories they tell and the words they use really can help us to get a better picture of who you are, how you are in the classroom, how you think, how you relate to peers and teachers.

Then, I read the secondary school report. This is where your transcript is as well as a letter from your college guidance counselor. Like the teacher recommendations, this can be very helpful in getting to know you.

Finally, I read the interview report. This can be a good way to see the entire admissions case encapsulated nicely. Generally, your interviewers like you (even when you come out of the interview thinking you’ve screwed up), and give us some good insight.

Up until now, all I’ve been doing is reading, thinking, synthesizing. I’m trying to understand you, your context, your story. Using my skills and knowledge from my five years and thousands of applications I’ve read, I will finally write up a summary of your admissions case. This summary includes your context, your fit and match with MIT, and those things that make you you.

I return the application and summary card to the office, where it will be available for a second read before going to the selection committee. The selection committee will not meet until all of the applications have been evaluated. That part of the process comes later on, more on that soon…

29 responses to “Reading folders”

  1. madmatt says:

    One more thought: I know there will be many questions about the reading process following this entry, and I hope you’ll understand if I don’t answer them all. We do write these blogs to be open about our admissions process, but I also need to do this in a way that is responsible. There aren’t any deep dark secrets about how we read an application but there’s only so much detail I can go into here. I’m sure you understand.

  2. AndersoN says:

    Sure, Matt, I think I understand you.

    It was a nice review of application examination process. I have a question regarding the interview. Mine has been waived due to a lack of ECs in my area. How important is the interview? How much time do you spend on it?

  3. Hehe. Thanks for the post. We understand. :? <–intentional. (Isn’t it cute?) smile

  4. Phillip K. says:

    Yupp we understand. :] (Maybe u read FBI files? raspberry)

    Thanks for finding the time and writing the post for us!

  5. Sam says:

    Great insights!

    I know the amount of EA applicants that are turned down outright is very small, but still. How do you guys decide whether or not to defer an application to regualr admissions?

  6. Catherine says:

    Appreciate the insight. =)

  7. Leon says:

    Thank you Matt for informing us about the reading process!

  8. Edward says:

    Hey Matt!

    This is really cool. Thank you.

  9. Christine says:

    I applied Early Decision and was unable to schedule an interview with my EC–I called the number provided on the site a few times between mid-September and Mid-October, but always got an answering machine and my calls weren’t answered even though I left a message with each call, providing my contact information and why I was calling. At the time, I either did not know about [email protected], or it did not occur to me to email them with my situation, until well after the deadline date had been passed.

    Should I do something about this (as it’s been pointed out that not having an interview is a Very Bad Thing)? And if so, what?

  10. So while I’m not completely sure what you should do in your case, Christine, I would say firstly, don’t panic. Call up the admissions office asap and ask what you can do. I’m sure if you explain the situation they’ll advise you as to what you should do.


  11. zoogies says:

    Hahaha! I’m not sure if you’ve heard of my school – you may have, although I doubt it – but the fact that you go online and research schools and areas is awesome.

    If you go to my school webpage, you’ll find that last winter had a hallowing effect on school administration. There’s a 7Weather banner permanently fixated to the site now.

  12. Clark Poland says:

    Have you read anyone that comments on the blogs that’s provided a full name? That’d be crazy if that happened.

    And checking on that link for learning about towns, I found out that the city that gets my mail isn’t on there.

  13. Ben says:

    Thanks Matt, this is awesome, and I’m sure I’ll be linking to it from 400 places on CC. grin

  14. Vanessa says:

    I just randomly stopped by this site and it’s a cool blog =) nice insightful infromation!

  15. Bishan: Skipping the interview (especially if you scheduled it) is not a good idea as it shows a lack of interest/care on your part, unless there were extenuating circumstances. The interview is just a “plus,” if you have it…if you punt it, it can hurt you when you’re read.

    As for test scores/grades, they’re important, but they are not the gist of the application. Everything is evaluated in its own light. Passion is what they look for. They look for passion and a good match between you and the school.


  16. Bishan says:

    Oh, I see. That sounds bad. raspberry

    Anyways,thank you for answering!

    And I have another question, does how the interviewer reacts to a student reflects the chance of getting in? (Like, if the interviewer really likes a student, does the student have a MUCH higher chance of getting in? And if the interviewer spends 15 minutes on a student’s interview and use scratch paper to write down the student’s response, does that mean the student’s chance of getting in is rare?)

  17. Ben Smith says:

    Matt and Michael:

    Just an update from the situation yesterday. I talked with my counselor today, and apparently the forms that the secretary at the front desk of the guidance office promised to “get to [my] counselor right away” never made it to my couselor’s desk. The transcript and couselor’s report forms should be sent first thing tomorrow morning, if not tonight.

  18. Ben Smith says:

    Matt and Michael:

    Just an update from the situation yesterday. I talked with my counselor today, and apparently the forms that the secretary at the front desk of the guidance office promised to “get to [my] counselor right away” never made it to my couselor’s desk. The transcript and couselor’s report forms should be sent first thing tomorrow morning, if not tonight.

  19. Bishan says:

    So the interview does affect the admission result?

    Does the lack of interview negatively affect the result? If so, how and why?

    In my case, I simply skipped the whole interview because I thought it wouldn’t negatively affect

    my admission result. I know that sounds bad, but anyhow, isn’t the interview just a “plus” for our application?

    Will there be an image that “this person doesn’t want to go to MIT that badly” without the interview? Or did I just lose a chance of getting more points?

    And how big a portion will the interview affects the result compare to the test scores? And how about the test scores in relation to the courses taken and grades?

  20. Since Matt is incredibly busy here, I’ll chime in with a few answers every now and then and assume he’ll correct me if I’m wrong (though I’ll only answer the ones I’m pretty sure about :p).

    AndersoN: If your interview has been waived, this will not adversely affect your application in any way. Not having an interview would only affect your application in a negative light (quite a bit, I might add) if you had the opportunity to schedule an interview and didn’t. You didn’t have the opportunity and thus nothing is held against you.

    As for the second part of your question, from what I know the interview will not make or break your application. It will really just help the admissions office get to know you better, and that’s what the entire reading process is about: figuring out whether you and MIT are a good match. In that respect, it’s a two way street; the interview is also a great chance for you to figure out whether MIT is the right match for you. But I wouldn’t worry about the lack of an interview (one that’s waived) hurting you, because it won’t.

    Sam: The only applications that get rejected EA are those that would get rejected RA as well. MIT takes a small amount of applications EA because they don’t want to fill up the class with EA admissions (seeing as how most people apply RA anyway). I would say the default result for an EA application is a deferral, with a small number being rejected and a small number being accepted (those that wouldn’t be accepted RA, and those that they are absolutely sure they want to take).

    Hope that helps, and Matt will correct me if I’m wrong.


  21. Ben Smith says:

    Hi Matt,

    The insight on the reading is helpful. I have an urgent question, though. On my MyMIT homepage, the only part of my application that hasn’t shown up yet is my Official Transcript and counselor report. I talked to my counselor today, and she said she had sent the form in on time. Should I print out another one and have it faxed, or should I just stay patient and keep checking?

  22. Ben Smith, Ben Jones commented on a college admissions discussion website last week that the forms received for EA have been processed, so if it’s not showing in MyMIT, you should fax it to be sure.

  23. Remy says:

    Very insightful. I have just one question. Has MIT ever accepted twins? If they have, how many times?

  24. Jen says:

    Yeah, this is pretty cool…and I felt like posting something! ^_^

  25. Anthony says:

    Remy: they certainly do — there’s a set in my building, for example smile

  26. s says:

    Like I must’ve said a dozen times before. Only not as emphatically – You guys are awesome. (I post this anonymously so that you know I mean it).

    I have a question: I’m from India. My Rev. Fr. principal is doubling up as guidance counselor (he is a priest so he can provide a lot of guidance smile) But he has NO idea what goes into a school profile.

    So I’d like to know what exactly is required in one?

  27. Christine says:

    Yikes. I just called and was told that the admissions office closes at 5 PM EST (which is 2 PM my time). Hmm. But I have that number in my cell phone, so I’d probably be able to call on Monday after school but before getting home.

    Thanks lots for the help!

  28. Dave says:

    Thanks, even though if I don’t get into MIT it won’t be the end of the world, it’s still nice to know that most applications get differed.

  29. Christian says:


    I’ve got a question about YOEFL test results here.

    I’m a senior-2 student in Shanghai and just received my TOEFL scores.I got 4.5 in the TWE(writing) test,653 in the next part.(I assume that a score above 5 in TWE would be better.)Will this affect my application(including my application for financial aid)

    Thanks a lot,Matt.I’m just wondering if I should take another TOEFL test these days when lots of school work,activities and SAT preparation are crammed together in my life. smile