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Reflections by Stu Schmill '86

Some thoughts on the admissions process, both to those who were admitted and those who were not.

I know that it’s been a long year, and now that you’ve had a week to process the decisions, I thought I’d offer some thoughts on the process, both to those who were admitted and those who were not.

From reading your applications, I know how much energy and care you put into them. For the last several months, as you have been waiting to find out your decisions, we have been reading and discussing your applications with the great care and thoroughness that they deserve. On behalf of the entire staff, I want to say thank you for your interest in MIT, and for sharing your stories with us. We have all been truly inspired by them.

Many of your applications brought back some memories for me. When I was in high school more than 25 years ago, I played Ultimate Frisbee and attended the Saturday morning Columbia science program. I took the city bus to my public high school every day and had a job all through my high school years.

Of course, there are many other experiences that I read about that are completely foreign to me. I have never assisted at a calving, had my artwork displayed in a museum, nor led a group of students through a rainy trek up Illimani. This is certainly one of the exciting things about college that you will soon experience: the chance to learn with – and from – students from all over the world with backgrounds both similar and completely different from yours. This opportunity, in fact, may turn out to be the one you most treasure about your college days.

Reading through your applications, I was also reminded of how different things are today. Not so much in terms of your backgrounds or aspirations, but simply in how many more applicants we have. When I applied to MIT, we admitted one out of three applicants; this year we admitted just one out of nine. There are now more students graduating from high school than ever before, and more of them are going on to college. Add to that an increase in the number of students who recognize the value of the type of education that MIT offers, and this year becomes the toughest year in our history.

And so, given that just about all of you are well-qualified for admission, there were simply not enough spaces for the large number of highly qualified applicants, many of whom I would absolutely love to invite to our campus.

The one thing I hope you will keep in mind is that your college experience will be what you make of it. If you maintain the sense of optimism, initiative, creativity, and service that I experienced in your applications, you will thrive wherever you wind up. For those who will come to MIT, I welcome you. For those who will study elsewhere, I wish you the best of luck, and perhaps we will see you again in the future.

I am counting on all of you to help make the world a better place. And I know you can, because I read all about you in your applications. Thanks to you, I have enormous hope for the future.

58 responses to “Reflections”

  1. Roy says:

    MIT is the only school I’ve encountered in the last few years (as two of my children have applied to college) with such an intimate, supportive, available communications system. So many other schools seem to take an “us v. them” approach. You are to be commended for this website and blog!

  2. T says:

    wow….third? i’ve never been to a post this early in the comment process

  3. Anonymous says:

    I’ll have to remind myself of that when I apply next year. And it’s great that MIT cares about everyone, admitted and non-admitted! ^_^

    (PS: To the people above, c’mon ya’ll! Is it really that important to be first and second?)

  4. Abhishek says:

    @Anonymous
    yes its important coz u r new here i guess…just wait and learn….

  5. yiwen says:

    Congrats on being named dean of admissions! And thanks for this entry…it was very heartfelt. Like Roy, I love MIT’s open communication system; it’s gotten me hooked on this school smile.

  6. Recognizing that all your applicant pool reflects those who are highly accomplished and math/science oriented, can you give me an idea of the percent of admits that are “just” well-rounded super high achievers who have not competed and/or won in regional or (inter)national science or math competitions or similar?

  7. Shruthi says:

    To be truthful, more than the reputation, more than the amazing experiences, and definitely more than the academics, it was the warmth with which all of you (MIT Adcoms, Bloggers and everyone else) talk to us, thats what makes MIT uniquely MIT smile I dont regret not being admitted. Instead, I really do feel happy about the fun I had throughout the process.

    Thank YOU all for that smile And Congratulations!! smile

  8. Shannon '12 says:

    @Abhishek
    I’m willing to bet that I’ve been around here for longer than most of the people in our class, and I find the first post stuff ridiculous. Also, the “first post” business has only gotten really big in the last few years, if even that. I agree with Anonymous’s point- what’s the big deal? MITblogs managed to survive somehow without them for a while.

    And in response to the actual blog entry, you guys are truly awesome.

  9. Ram says:

    Stu,

    Congratulations on being promoted as the Dean of Admissions!

    MIT has a well balanced, energetic, fair, highly capable, highly accessible and awesome admissions team. The Blogs have played a big role in making the whole admissiosn process so much more transparent. Good luck to you all for decades of success in attracting and admitting brilliant minds to MIT!

  10. Chris says:

    I have to say that’s whats most exciting for me. Sure there is Boston, and cool geeks (they exist!), Walter Lewin, the amazing facility and all that jazz, but at the end of the day whats most amazing to me is the attitude. The belief that we can all come together and make a difference for the better in the world we live in. To cause a lasting impact in peoples lives, truly amazing.

    *ahem* err..

    *steps off soapbox*

  11. :emaN says:

    Yay jazz…

    Thanks, Stu.

  12. Abhishek says:

    @Shannon
    If u think its ridiculous then dont do it, no1’s inviting u…wts ur problem we are happy doing it……the worlds not going to change in the way u want

  13. Ben says:

    Okay let’s not start a war over the whole first post thing here.

    I have to back Shannon that the first post thing – as it stands – is a bit ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for the spirit of wanting to be the first to comment. But not if it’s just to say “first.”

    I think the race to be first would be so much cooler if the rules were amended to say that a comment didn’t count unless it included something of substance. Just my 2 cents…

    grin B.

  14. Shannon says:

    Abhishek, sorry, my comment may have come off as slightly more harsh than I meant it to be.

    I do, however, like Ben’s suggestion of ammending the rules. I get just as excited as anyone else when I realize that I’m the first person to read something, but I personally feel guilty if I leave a comment with no real substance to it.

    And Stu, congrats on the promotion! Didn’t mention that the first time around.

  15. Tong says:

    Thank you MIT admission for everything this year!

    Apparently, Abhishek is unaware of the enormous popularity that Shannon commands (both here and on CC). Anyway, I’d like to back Ben’s proposal.

  16. Paul says:

    Even as someone who went through the admissions process last year, this entry is still incredibly touching. I can’t help but hope that this entry is representative of the insight and vision that you will bring to the Admissions Office for the next n years!

    (And for the record, I second Ben’s idea.)

  17. Congratulations on being named Dean of Admissions! And shouldn’t we be thanking YOU for spending months shuffling OUR papers? =)

  18. '11 says:

    you don’t make the world a better place by typing first into every single blog post. in fact, you’re making it worst by consuming valuable bandwidth and energy that could have been used for better things.

    anyway, congrats to everyone!

  19. Abhishek says:

    @’11

    By posting this u r doing the same thing. If you think u r right why r u not mentioning ur name and just writing ” ’11 “???

    Come on man we are just posting 1st 2nd….we r not trying to abuse sum1.

    I agree with u Ben but others still have the same attitude…..i post 1st or 2nd coz i read the blog and i respect MIT and the person who posted the blog for us. This thing just sends the message to the blogger that sum1’s reading the post. If i have sumthing to ask/say,i will ask/say but if i dont, i just posted 2nd.whats the big deal???

  20. Omar '12 says:

    LOL @ Shannon and Abhishek. You two are awesome grin.

    Congrats Stu!

  21. Chelsea says:

    Aww guys let’s all just love one another. smile

  22. Chelsea says:

    P.S. Congrats, Stu!

  23. Ben says:

    I agree with Chelsea. At least post “love” instead of “first,” that way there will be some love in every thread.

    -B

  24. WTBS Alumni says:

    Congratulations Stu! You’ve got a great admissions staff working with you at MIT. I don’t relish the job you folks have sorting through the applications from so many wonderful and talented young men and women. It’s been a crazy couple of weeks at home…my daughter was heartbroken when she was not admitted, but she was thrilled a few days ago when she got admitted to Stevens with a full scholarship. Who knows, someday she may be applying to MIT again when she’s ready for grad school and I may be back to haunt these boards. smile

  25. Anonymous says:

    @Abhishek

    if you agree with Ben, then you wouldn’t be writing ‘1st,’ ‘2nd,’ ‘28323rd.’ the “big deal” is that it is annoying to look through the comments and all you see are mind-numbing 1 word posts that have absolutely no message in them at all. you know a better method to let the bloggers know you viewed their post? actually COMMENT on it. and seeing as how you agreed with Ben, your ‘2nd!’ post doesn’t count as a comment.

    oh by the way, a sure sign of a losing argument is when you change the subject. i don’t see how what i write as my name can be called into the subject matter. Thanks and have a great day! smile

  26. Dima '12 says:

    Congrats Stu!
    This entry represents what makes MIT stand out amongst the best universities in the world.
    Thank YOU for making the application AND admissions process all the more enjoyable and memorable!

  27. Thank you for the encouraging words, Mr. Schmill. You are a highly intelligent man. I’ll bet you’ve also got a wonderful memory. So good you’ll remember all the completements from this ’13er come next year. To be serious though, congratulations on the new position and great job handeling the admissions this year. From what I hear, next year will be the biggest application pool ever. Good luck handeling all that paper-work.

  28. Isshak says:

    Congrats Mr Stu !

    And I do second Ben too. “love” is so much better then “first” ! ^^

  29. Abhishek says:

    @Anonymous

    i will do wt ever i wanna do,i dont have to ask u…so plz mind ur work…

  30. carmen'12 says:

    that is so cool! you went to columbia science program back in the day too!

  31. Anonymous says:

    Abhishek, you’re right, you don’t have to ask permission to post 2nd. You also don’t have to ask permission to graffiti school walls, burp at people and not excuse yourself, or moon random strangers.

    But think about what people are going to think of you. And don’t expect to be treated with respect in return.

  32. Anonymous says:

    I vote the MIT Powers-that-be delete all 1st, 2nd, etc posts.

  33. Paul says:

    Lainers – That’s a beautiful question. I wholeheartedly agree that the passion, dedication, and team spirit of the Admissions department is just one example of MIT’s overarching attitude and mission – shared by students, faculty, and administrators alike.

    I started writing another paragraph, but I realized it would take about three paragraphs for me to write down everything I really want to say. Since this is Stu’s blog, after all, I’ll try to keep things simple and just leave my response like this for now. Sorry to make you wait, but I promise I’ll answer this question in more depth very soon in one of my own entries. smile

  34. Anonymous says:

    Someone from MIT please justify the above thing.

  35. Abhishek says:

    I am sick of this wt ppl will think abt me(and this is the main reason for not being at MIT),i have done enough for others now plzz let me do wt i want,i have just posted “2nd” in one post and all of u r behaving like i killed sum1,this is my last post regarding this matter now plz i dont want any more discussion.thnx for ur advice.

  36. Jay says:

    @ “…this year we admitted just one out of nine.”

    I’ll just copy a snippet of what I wrote in Matt’s “Snapshot Statshot”:

    “I must add one more thing about the admit rate: the 1-in-9 is a bit misleading.

    – For US students, the admit rate was 13.9% (under 1 in 7 by less than a hair).
    – For international students the admit rate was 3.9% (very slightly above 1 in 26).”

    It was very disappointing to hear (from an alleged EC, Alice ’78) that the reason for your quota is:

    “MIT knows what the historic financial need is for the 8% internationals—a not insignificant number of them require 100% aid. Because international students do not qualify for the primary sources of undergrad financial aid (which are US federal programs), international students have to be paid for out of MIT’s endowment.”

    From what I’ve read/heard, MIT in supposed to be need-blind for all applicants, including internationals.

    From Wikipedia’s Need-blind admission page:

    “There are only eight colleges that are need blind for all applicants, including international students. These are …, MIT, …”

    So now, besides still being extremely disappointed with myself for not being admitted, I’m also quite upset (and I take longer than most to “let go” of things that make me upset, as is evident from my replying on these blogs two weeks after being rejected). Was my application given less consideration just because my family can’t afford to pay almost $50k a year for college?

    I would like to know, once and for all, if the quota is based on financial need or not.

    If it’s isn’t, then why is it there? Even if it IS there, why is it so low? Why aren’t international students (paying the same application fee and working hard to meet testing requirements even when these are sometimes not easily available in your area and are using a different curriculum) given the same opportunities?

    Is MIT afraid that the American students will become a minority?
    Is MIT afraid that after completing studies, most international students will go back to their own countries, leaving less MIT graduates in the US?
    Or is it just that American students are, in general, better qualified for MIT?

    Bleh. Mahalo.

    Jay

  37. Lainers says:

    @Paul:
    As someone who was recently in our shoes, does it seem that the Admissions team’s spirit is representative of that of MIT’s in general, or are they as uniquely extraordinary on campus as they are in the Admissions world?

  38. intleyes says:

    Hi Mr. Stu,
    Congratulations are most certainly earned as you are the perfect choice. My son and I met you in Tampa the Fall of 2004, at one of the many information sessions you conducted that year. That evening changed our lives. My son decided to apply EA to the Institute. Well, it is now March, 2008, and he is presently a junior, Class of 2009. I guess the best words I can give you are: Thank You! I trust that the personal attention and interest you gave over four years ago will continue to flow into your new position. I know that those attributes will gain you great success. Best of luck for all of your endeavors.

  39. Paul says:

    International selection is every bit as heartbreaking and difficult for the Admissions Office as domestic selection is. I should know; I have talked to Matt, Ben, and other admissions officers while they’ve been in the throes of it.

    Whoever you are, Jay, I can assure you that MIT was as every bit need-blind for you as they were for me, and for all the other applicants, domestic and international, both this year and all the years past.

  40. Isshak says:

    Jay, from what I understood, MIT works like this. Your app is considered, reviewed, and if you are accepted, then they check if you can pay for your tuition or not (your financial aid app). If not, they will try to find a way to help you (financial aid package). That is need blind.
    Maybe I’m wrong (then by any mean correct me) but I think that’s how it works.

  41. Anon says:

    44th!

    Bravo Abhshinek, you started the 2008 MIT admissions blog flame wars.

  42. Jay says:

    Well, I just got my snail-mail rejection. Damn… sometimes you just can’t shake the feeling that that life is seriously trying to rub it in…

    @Paul:

    I very much expected a reply like yours, from somebody just like you (don’t get me wrong here when I say “just like you”; at the risk of sounding extremely presumptuous and judgmental, I think you’re a really nice person, though feel free to correct me if I’m wrong there ;D). Not that there’s any problem with getting an assurance wrapped in warm, fuzzy sympathy… Au contraire, reading your words did make opening the decision envelope (which I must say looked so vague on the front it was kind of screaming “rejection”) a bit less unpleasant.

    It’s only that I asked a lot of questions, and getting an answer to just one of them is less than satisfying (not that I blame you. You’re a blogger, not an admission officer, and just the fact that I got that one answer is more than what I can say for some other posts. Once again, I hope nobody takes that the wrong way; I understand the fact that most of you are swamped and I’m sure everybody who’s perused these blogs appreciates everyone taking time out of their busy schedules to help/console/inform us.).

    I’ll wait for an admissions officer to post here… hopefully a few more will get answered.

    Thank you for your reply though.

    Jay

  43. Jay says:

    BTW, @Anonymous (3 posts above):

    Now where have I heard that before?

    I think somebody had a T-Shirt… ;P

    LOL, that made my day.

  44. Anonymous says:

    Let me get this straight….If a quantum student is accepted to both MIT and Caltech, and he’s not observed, will he attend both simultaneously? wink

  45. siremeric says:

    Abhishek:
    What concerns me more than your posting of “first” or “second” is the abreviated grammar you use. I will admit I did not grow up in the IM age (although I have adapted), but all this abbreviated grammar makes your posts difficult to read, and makes you look like something I am sure you are not. My concern for you is that this “e-slang” is in your fingers, and it will be hard for you to fight out of it in the future. Much corporate communication is now electronic, and this shorthand will not sit well with your professional peers and supervisors. And some of it makes no sense! In your entry of 3/28, you use “sumthing” – only one letter off from the actual word! Did you really save time doing this? Or did you have to stop for a nano-second to figure out a cute way to say “something”? This kind if habit will only cost you extra time, since you will haveto go back and spell-check everything you write. I have never been a lightning typist, but I rarely have to go back and correct spelling and grammar, so I can proofread for content and good sentence structure.
    As a parent whose son wants to attend MIT, I begin to wonder when I see public posts like yours. This is not a private chat, this is a public forum, and your “slang” do not reflect well on you. Not an attack, just an observation from the outside.

    Be well.

  46. Nida says:

    Dear Jay,

    I was admitted to MIT in 1997, when international students were still being admitted at the rate of about 1 out of 10, whereas 25% of the US applicants were admitted. I never questioned why the admission rate was lower for international students versus the US students. I just accepted it as it is. Now, after reading your post, I finally understand why.

    I think, however, you are looking at it from the wrong angle. MIT has a set budget of funding that it can offer its admitted students every year. Based on this number, it needs to play around with the composition of the student population, so that it can give admission to the maximum number of students, while still maintaining diversity. I think if it were to offer admission to a higher number of international students, it would need to drastically reduce admission to US students. For every extra international student who is admitted, there would be 3 or 4 US students who would not be admitted in his/her place, to make up for the financial aid that international student is given.

    So, now keeping in mind that the admission committee has decided that, based on its financial aid budget, it can only afford to admit, say about 1350 US students, and 120 international students, then the committee will approach the admission process with these numbers in mind. And, in this way, it will treat all international students the same, without having any idea how much or how little any of the applicants can pay. And then it will choose the top 3 or 4% of the applicants from that pool. So, really, the fact that your parents can afford to pay $50,000 a year will not help you. Because the admission committee will not have had any idea about that fact when they were going through your application. Similarly, your inability to pay that fee also has no effect.

    Now, once MIT does admit a student, you can be sure it will make sure the student attends, if financial worries are the only thing standing in the way. However, if MIT had admitted a greater number of international students, it would have meant that either the class size would have been greatly reduced, to 600 or 700 students (which increases competition even more), or it would have meant that MIT would not have been able to guarantee that if a student is admitted, he/she will not have to worry about financial constraints. So, this is the best possible solution that is available for now.

    However, the best part about all of this, apart from getting 100% financial aid from MIT, was that we international students could taunt our US friends that we were much much smarter than them, since we were the top 8-10% of the students in the world, whereas the US MIT students were only the top 25% of the US (at least in 1997).

    Best of luck with your remaining admission decisions.

    Nida

  47. Nida says:

    Dear Stu,

    Congratulations on becoming Dean of Admissions. I read the news in the monthly MIT newsletter I got by email. But I did not immediately realize that this was the same man who taught me to play tennis in PE classes in 1998 or 1999, and who even sat in for my golf PE instructor a couple of times in 2000, and who once asked me if I played squash and would join the MIT female squash team, since I was from Pakistan.

    Now that I looked at your photo more closely and recognized you as the very man, I had to congratulate you. I am so happy to see you fill the post.

    Nida

  48. Berta says:

    Dear Jay – To just add to what Nida said, while I was at MIT (and I imagine it is still the same) – there was always a policy that only 8% of the undergraduate students could be international. I can’t quite remember if this restriction was part of MIT’s founding charter, or something similar. Anyways, as a domestic student, I always had the greatest respect for the international students, knowing how competitive it was to get into those limited spots.

    Now I’m an EC and I really enjoy meeting applicants each year. I myself wonder if I would even be admitted if I applied nowadays as I was admitted in (gasp!) 1995 and I think the overall admit rate that year was 1 in 6 or 1 in 5. You all are really a talented bunch – MIT is a wonderful place to study at, with many memories I’ll treasure and education that I value. At the same time, as Stu said, you can be very successful and thrive without having to attend MIT.

    And to Stu – congratulations! You’re doing a wonderful job!

  49. Berta says:

    Oops! Being the very thorough person that I am, I found this:

    The following policies were then finalized in May 1995:

    The definition of International Student is changed to henceforth include Canadian and Mexican citizens. Prior to this time they had been included in the domestic applicant pool.

    There is no quota on international students. Prior to this time the limit had been set at 6% of the entering class.

    It is intended that no more than 10% of the financial aid budget be awarded to international students. Each year in cooperation with the financial aid office, the Admissions Office will place an upper limit on the number of international student admits, so that those who attend will require no more that 10% of the financial aid budget. With the history of the two most-recently admitted classes, this limit on financial aid results in an international student population of 7% to 8% of the entering class.

    Individual students are admitted on the basis of merit. Approximately one in ten international applicants is admitted.

    We seek broad diversity within the international student body.

    It’s from the MIT Report to the President 1994-95
    http://web.mit.edu/annualreports/pres95/15.03.html

  50. Anon says:

    When I appied to MTI in the mid 70’s, there were approximately 14,000 applicants, approx. 1450 acceptances, and about 1050 people showed up freshman year.

    The statistics don’t look terribly different in terms of apps, acceptances, and yields until this year.

    What changed?

    The huge wait list, the larger acceptance pool, and the uncertainty over yield.

    Why? Because MIT was forced under competiive pressures (the best kind of pressure) from the Ivys, lead by Harvard, to up its financial assistance across the board. E.G. Practically eliminating loans for most students getting financial aid. This will be more than 50 pct of the student body, as it is impossible for most families to come up with $50k+ per year of after tax money each year for 4 years.

    So I must respectfully disagree that your seeing more applications is a surprise. It is a rational economic choice by intelligent people who are othewise faced with graduating from a second tier school with $15k to $25k, or more, of debt.

    And here is a forecast for you. Depending on which colleges’ endowments get hurt by the credit crunch and its effect on hedge funds in which they are invested, the effects will be even more pronounced next year, especially as the U.S. economy continues to weaken, making it even harder for famiies come up with the money. The “bulge bracket endowment” colleges such as MIT will see even larger numbers of applications. Anyone applying to college, or their parents who pay for it, and who thinks about tuition costs rationallly will strive to minimize the cost. The route will be to apply to, and hopefully, attend a school whose endowment will pick up the tab.

  51. chris says:

    Congrats Stu,

    I remember catching up you at our ’86 Reunion and thinking what a cool job this must be……..picking the future tech leaders and giving them the MIT stamp of approval……priceless in silicon valley!

    To those of you who did not get admitted…….Some of my fondest memories were created by the few (incredibly driven)students who transferred to MIT and represented “new blood”……so don’t give up hope!

    Best of luck to all…..

  52. Mark Perutz says:

    I learned how to row crew under Stu when he was the freshman rowing coach at MIT and feel that MIT and the prospective students are lucky to have him as Admissions Director. Stu is a great guy and an excellent ambassador of the Institute. Congratulations Stu!

    best, Mark

  53. Anonymous says:

    As an MIT alum who did not thrive once I got to MIT (you’d be surprised at how many *don’t*), I just wanted to reiterate the truth of Stu’s closing paragraphs. Getting admitted is an opportunity, not a ticket to lifelong success, or any kind of justification/approval of one’s life. For everyone who didn’t get in to their “first choice” school, and were bitterly disappointed, I can identify. Know that having had a reasonable chance to be admitted to MIT is a great position to be in already. I truly believe that true greatness is not measured by the “honors” that one receives, and you can make a difference regardless of the school:

    “The one thing I hope you will keep in mind is that your college experience will be what you make of it. If you maintain the sense of optimism, initiative, creativity, and service that I experienced in your applications, you will thrive wherever you wind up. For those who will come to MIT, I welcome you. For those who will study elsewhere, I wish you the best of luck, and perhaps we will see you again in the future.

    I am counting on all of you to help make the world a better place. And I know you can, because I read all about you in your applications. Thanks to you, I have enormous hope for the future.”

  54. Ken85 says:

    Great wisdom here:

    “The one thing I hope you will keep in mind is that your college experience will be what you make of it. If you maintain the sense of optimism, initiative, creativity, and service that I experienced in your applications, you will thrive wherever you wind up. For those who will come to MIT, I welcome you. For those who will study elsewhere, I wish you the best of luck, and perhaps we will see you again in the future.”

    I was admitted to and graduated from MIT. It was a dream come true. Looking back 25 years, I made lifelong friends, other than that the fact that I went to MIT turned out to be rather irrelevant to my life. It’s not that it was a bad thing to go to MIT. The point is that those of you who were not admitted will do something else, and it will work out fine I hope, or maybe not, but whether or not you attend MIT is not going to be a big deal. That may not seem right from the perspective of a high school senior, but trust me, you will understand later in life.

  55. 21A06 says:

    siremeric ur a N00b whos kid is gonna get Pwnd by TIM the Beaver. If u cant read l33t-sp34k and ur kid c4nt 31ther, y’all should just give up

  56. Norm D says:

    I never congratulated you on your new Job.
    You needed the patience of Job for that long interim year.

    MIT always seems to have the bench depth and the right person ready to take over the critical functions.

    Obviously, you’ve started out with a bang

    I regret to report my grandson is enjoying Harvard.