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…