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David duKor-Jackson

The Trouble with External Validation by David duKor-Jackson

Which came first? The admit or the awesome...

Within the last few weeks, early action applicants received their admission decisions and the last of the regular action candidates clicked “submit” as the January 1 deadline came and went. For some the wait is over, while for others it has just begun.

In the admissions office, we are particularly conscious of the magnitude of this selection process, given the limited availability relative to the significant demand, for the exceptional opportunities that await. Since our desire is to make the best possible admission decisions, we utilize a wide range of sources to help confirm and validate our impressions of each applicant.

While this external validation is an absolutely essential aspect of the college admissions process, it is somewhat problematic that it frequently seems to be part of a continuous feedback loop.

Allow me to explain.

In a selective, competitive, holistic, merit-based admissions process, the information and insight that applicants share about themselves is critical, although potentially meaningless if not supported or otherwise corroborated by outside sources.

You say you’re an excellent student who is highly proficient in math and science. We say great! Show me your transcript and test scores.

You say you’re a leader in your school community. We say great! What do your teachers and school counselors have to say about you?

So even at the most fundamental level, external validation is both necessary and appropriate.

Where I think the use of external validation is less appropriate is reading too much into what an admission decision means. If you are offered admission to an institution, it means that you have the opportunity to matriculate. If you are not offered admission to an institution, it means that you do not have the opportunity to matriculate.

You might say “David, thanks for stating the obvious!” Yet I maintain that if it were obvious to everyone, then I wouldn’t need to say it.

All too often students are lauded for being admitted to places like MIT, with the underlying rationale that they are awesome because they were admitted. Many students are awesome and deserving of accolades, and that is frequently why they were admitted. Not the other way around. A student does not become more awesome as a result of being admitted, but rather from what they achieve by taking advantage of the opportunity.

The flip side of this is that not receiving an offer of admission does not make an applicant less awesome. It just means that they need to be awesome somewhere else, and that is exactly what happens for students we are unable to admit. I had an alum recently share with me that although his highly accomplished grandson was not admitted to MIT, the grandson recently earned dual bachelors degrees elsewhere, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at Oxford on a full scholarship. (That seems pretty awesome to me.) While the alum acknowledged that he was initially disappointed, he reports that he is now grateful that his grandson was not admitted.

My point is that the admission decisions that we make are about a lot of things that have been discussed ad nauseum. Preparation, match, distinctions and intangibles are all considered. Since we are admitting 1 out of every 10 applicants, we end up splitting a lot of hairs while making agonizingly difficult choices. Regardless of the decision that we make on an application, that decision should not redefine how an individual sees them self, nor how others perceive them.

That may be too much to ask, and this may simply be another of my quixotic quests to change the nature of larger conversations about college admissions, but some things just need to be said if for no other reason than to highlight the things that should be most important.

70 responses to “The Trouble with External Validation”

  1. Aman Jain says:

    Thanks for all that Sir … but since i have the podium i really like the ask something … i am an international applicant … Q.E.D. hell of the competition … but i come from a poor family … hence never had chance to study to great levels … e.g. i learned speaking english on t.v. at tea stalls .. damn e.g. i suppose but explains me … i do not have an international medal at any olympiad … but i am super passionate about CS and that’s all that means to me … i have achieved way more than anyone else who would have been in my shoes giving my incomparable circumstances … but will the absence of medal make me a case of straight reject ???

  2. Tejas says:

    To be frank the MIT application was more of a self exploration project than an application. Yeah in the end I did press the submit button, but I enjoyed writing every bit and thinking about it. I’ve accepted the fact that I might not get in, but I believe that if by some chance I do, I have what it takes to succeed at MIT – and wherever else I may go – and so do most of the applicants.

  3. I completely agree with what Tejas said. There is one chair and a crowd of 10 willing to sit on it. Each thinking that they deserve it. And perhaps, they do. That is what applying to MIT is all about. But hey, we all have a life that we can rock. And no one can snatch that right away from us.

    (I got reminded to Shah Rukh Khan’s dialogue from Chak De India)


  4. anonymous '14 says:

    fkjf;alsdjf;alks this.

    I wish more people would take the time to realize this. There’s a culture among highly competitive high school students to silently build up pressure around college admissions, with the underlying threat that you will be looked down upon if you don’t get in to a good college, and a similar culture among MIT students that you will be looked down upon if you don’t get perfect grades/double-major and double-minor/win the Rhodes and Marshall and Gates/work for Google in your freshman year. People– not just high school students– need to take a step back, look around themselves, and realize that many of the world’s greatest and most accomplished people went to “regular” universities and did incredible things there. They got Bs and maybe even Cs in classes. They single-majored instead of triple-majoring. They are normal people, and there is no reason to believe that a person who is “imperfect” will not be successful. The people I respect most at MIT are the people who are brilliant and work hard but have seen failure again and again.

  5. m_quinn says:

    More self-serving MIT admission committee hogwash. You see, MIT’s goal is to glean the rich and connected from the pool of applicants- those with folks who can afford application writers and expensive ECs. It’s all kinda like a carnival game where the barker (guys like Chris P & Matt) are inviting, and the prize (admission) is exciting, but, you know in your heart, only ringers (just to fool the suckers) and those who can game the system are going to win.

    Ever wonder why MIT is so bashful about SES data? Well, there you have it…


  6. FenceSeater says:

    Dear m_quinn
    My sincere advice to you is : just multiply all your negative emotion by minus one (-1) and turn them into positive emotions grin. This will benfit you immensely (believe me dear) and also the environment around you.

    A well wisher

  7. David duKor-Jackson says:

    @Aman Jain

    An International Olympiad Medal is certainly an external validator for a student’s claim for excellence in a specific area, but even students with medals find that admission is not a sure thing. To the specifics of your question though, the absence of a medal certainly doesn’t prevent students from being admitted either. In fact, the overwhelming majority of our students have neither participated in, nor won a medal at an International Olympiad.


    I know that I’m going to regret this since responding is only likely to encourage you, but I can’t imagine what is fueling your passionate, but frankly, misguided campaign in the comments of the MIT blogs. Surely, you have something better to do with your time. As for SES data, clearly we are not going to provide unit level data, but I think the aggregate aid statistics available here demonstrate that there are opportunities here for students of modest and moderate means.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Well… but 1 admitted for each 10 applicants seems at least resonable. There are some Brazilian universities that select 1 student among 90 others each year! The others have a rate of about 20 to 30 students for each place in the university…

  9. Aman Jain says:

    Thank you very much Sir … But I was thinking that will your suggestion be applicable for international process too ?? seeing the enormous level of competition and applying from a country from which MIT only takes 5 applicants and almost 15-20 medal winners apply (apart from almost 1000-2000 others) do someone like me with no such Medal stand a chance ??

  10. drkambojrk says:

    Hello David, Thanks for an assuring post but partially convincing. Aspirants must be learning for lives from these positive blogs. But sometimes I guess that whole process is based on the ‘Essays’. If one is able to handle this part is sure going MIT. Teachers and associated may guide in a better way but what about your essay suggestions like ‘Be brief, be truthful, be confined to topics and on the contrary be imaginative’! Now nobody knows actually how you people select these. If I imagine that I want to be part of your Angstrom project(? overenthusiastic) to witch my daughter name ‘Ants_strong’ project, or if I say I come from a sleepy village with disturbed male-female ratio(?Pessimistic). What are your views if this sort of negative reality does matter to essay examiners?

  11. Christi says:

    People tend to be awesome before they are admitted, but it would seem that the acceptance would add onto that, yes?

    Haha, I dunno what I’m sayin.

    I’d like to say “it doesn’t matter where you go, you’ll still do great things”, but it does matter who you’re around. The people around you and your environment have enormous impacts on you. It’s not the deciding factor, but it’s a heavy influence.

  12. Aman Jain says:

    ummm drkambojrk …. That’s an excellent point .. I mean are the essays enough to get you in ???

  13. David duKor-Jackson says:

    @Aman Jain & drkambojrk

    As I am sure you can imagine, “chancing” is not something that I am going to engage in. I will reiterate that winning a medal will not guarantee admission, and the absence of a medal will not guarantee being denied admission. I don’t think I can say it more plainly.

    There isn’t any single thing that would be “enough to get you in” and the essays are no exception. What the essays do primarily, is give the admission staff some insight into who you are, whether you are a good match for MIT, and how best to contextual your achievements relative to your environment and opportunities. We typically try to corroborate insights gleaned from the essays with what we learn from letters of recommendation and interviews.

    I could offer advice on the essays, but I suspect that most wouldn’t find my advice particularly helpful. That is because most are looking for insights that will help them gain admission, rather than attempting to authentically communicate who they are.

  14. Anonymous says:

    It’s a little hard not to see your comments on external validation as “a bit much” when my son (who is realistic about his chances of admission) was sent for an interview to an alumnus who gave him the feeling that he was not awesome enough to make the most of an MIT experience and then tried to direct him away from the field he wants to study (engineering) by comparing him to other interviewees who were more passionate about engineering. That seems not to illustrate either of the forms of validation you are talking about.

  15. David duKor-Jackson says:


    I would not say that “it doesn’t matter where you go.” On the contrary, I think where you go is very important. Both for the reasons that you cite, and because some individuals are better suited to specific environments. Ending up at the right place, while not guaranteeing success, gives one the best chance to thrive. Although, I will continue to argue that the right place is less a function of how selective the admissions process is, or how prestigious a school is, but rather how good of a match there is between a student and institution.

    As for the acceptance, It is an invitation to add on to awesome things that people have already done. Certainly, receiving that invitation (e.g. getting accept) is awesome, but you should have to do something with it before any additional status is conferred.

  16. drkambojrk says:

    Not an Admission Adviser
    Don’t worry about the interview because admissions are not done via interview. Moreover an interview is never bad, alumnus wanted to extract something by this way. You know your son is awesome enough being realistic.
    Make him happy by assuring him. He will be selected in a suitable place.

  17. David duKor-Jackson says:


    The purpose of the ‘Mid Year Report’ is to provide applicants with a mechanism and opportunity to provide information that was not available at the time the application was submitted. For the vast majority of applicants, the most significant new information is grades from the 1st semester. For an applicant, who has already completed their secondary schooling, there may not be any additional academic information to provide, but we would still like to know if there are any new developments, even if those new developments are marks (rather than grades), publications, awards, etc.

  18. David duKor-Jackson says:


    While I don’t know enough to speak to the specifics of this interview and interviewer, I do know that the vast majority of EC’s are genuinely interested in advocating for the applicants that they meet with. Every interview is different. There are times when the conversations flow as naturally as they do with old friends, and there are times when they don’t. When students get pushed outside their comfort zones by EC’s poking, prodding and probing for more info, the EC’s are invariably thinking about Jerry Maguire’s plea to his only client Rod Tidwell “Help me, help you!” and more often than not, still attempt to make the case for an offer of admission.

    Of course, to the chagrin of some of our EC’s, as important as their input is, the interview remains a single piece of a larger puzzle.

  19. drkambojrk says:

    Hi David,
    These queries were sent earlier to Matt but I think you people must be quite busy with applications. So I take chance to direct these to you.
    My questions; 1. Students, who passed High school last year(Mid 2011) and got sores then, need to send these scores in ‘Mid Year Report’? Assumption is that these have been sent earlier by the school counselors.
    2. Some universities award marks instead of grades, what should they report?

  20. Ananyo says:

    Hi David!

    Just a quick query: Are there any ‘quota’s’ per country? Aman Jain mentioned that only 5 people from India are accepted by MIT every year. If so, will an expatriate Indian like myself fall under the same quota? I thank you in advance for your time.

  21. drkambojrk says:

    I m not from admission office
    No such quota exists.

  22. indian m-quinin says:

    why are you making so much fuss about admitting students on an all round basis? I mean you people should admit that these guidelines are for domestic students only. The admission committee of MIT follows hypocritical attitude when admitting Indians. They don’t want to see your application if you are not an international Olympiad winner(or at least participant). If all the applicants from India don’t believe this, then you can search the net for proof of this fact. Just simply search for “a letter from cornell student to applicant” on collegeconfidential and you can treat yourself with the information. I have already wasted my time on writing my application for mit last year and so i know about it. Don’t bother about decisions if you don’t have that medal and I would congrats to all the IMO and IPhO winners who have applied to MIT as you can start your preparation to leave for Boston. The hard reality is last year MIT admitted 6 students from India and all of them were Olympiad winners or participants. If you feel that I am wrong then you can ask Matt and Chris to prove me wrong. Ask them if they have admitted anyone from India who is not rich or medal winner. All others who are in 10th grade and want to study in MIT start preparing for olympiads and don’t ask for financial aid.

  23. David duKor-Jackson says:


    I’m not sure what fuss you are referring too. MIT Admissions is very clear about both the guidelines for and prospects of being admitted as an International student.

    Some of the highpoints:

    Every year more than 3,000 international students apply to MIT, and we can admit fewer than 150. (An admit rate of no more than 5%)

    We limit the number of international students we can accept because of our generous financial aid.

    MIT is one of the few schools in the world that offers need-blind admissions and meets their full financial need.

    There are students from 115 countries at MIT. (If admits were distributed evenly across countries, a country might get 5 admits over a 4 year period, so in that context 6 admits in a single year sounds pretty good)

    Don’t bother searching CC for the letter, I have included the link here. While this “proof” is dubious at best, it is perhaps a better illustration of the need for External Validation in the admissions process than I made in my blog. We are very careful about the offers of admission that we make, and know that we can easily verify Olympiad medals, which happen to indicate a rarified level of distinction. There are other things that international applicants do, that may be very distinctive within their particular context, but there is just no getting around that the selection process for internationals is more competitive than it is for domestic students.

  24. drkambojrk says:

    @Quinin or Quinn
    Perhaps,I,ll also write the same type of stuff next yr., if I don’t get admission in MIT. But r u ready to prove yourself. If You were unable to get into MIT, don’t worry. Your IIT is not inferior to any IT in the world. You may feel happy there or even without entering any college. But if you are passionate about MIT, you will enter it definitely one day as a Transfer or a PG student. So start thinking positively. Best of luck!

  25. vic says:

    Hi, I am an international student from Latin America. I have been searching about MIT, reading the blogs, watching student’s videos…and I feel that I would love being at MIT. in every sense of love. the application process sometimes makes me feel afraid, because despite the fact that I somehow see myself at MIT and think that it is the logical next step, the process is very competitive. My currently school gives importance to meritocracy and “sense of community” -seems to me that MIT shares some of the same values. A student who graduates from my school will always be part of its community, and students can count on teachers, employees and colleagues. The institution is a very important part of who I am and it is responsible for a lot of things I learned so far, both personal and academical (although I know that the students usually build the environment, and not the other way around). Related to admission’s blogs, I read a few posts that I really enjoyed, two of them are from Anna – one is about professor accessibility, how professors are concerned about student’s passions and academical interests; the other post told me about how tired and stressed Anna was after a long week, and how a simple walk across the campus with her friend made her feel a lot better. This are only two of the many examples I have about what makes me passionate about MIT, and makes it my first choice (without citing the excellence of biomedical engineering field) however, I ask to myself if is possible that I feel MIT as the right place for me to be in when it really is not? or if the admission office could think differently… I am applying in 2012, and I want to be MIT 2017 class. Thank you.

    Kind regards,

  26. David duKor-Jackson says:


    Both of the questions you ask are possible. You may find that either MIT is not the right place for you, or you may not be granted admission even if you remain convinced that MIT is right for you.

    So, what to do with this information. Make sure that you continue to consider what is going to be most important for you at an institution, and continue to look for those traits at MIT and elsewhere. When the time comes, make sure that your applications to MIT and your other choices communicate who you are and what you will bring, and accept the outcome, whatever it may be.

  27. hi :) says:

    for you, what are MIT’s philosophies and values? why did you choose to work at MIT? in a general sense, who do you think is important to be at MIT – a genious guy, a smart and dedicated student, a person who believes in change…? what makes a student unique…

  28. David duKor-Jackson says:

    @hi smile

    The way that I would encapsulate what MIT is all about is by saying that this is a place committed to solving the really big problems utilizing our collective energy and intellect. From my vantage point, if you are a genius, but are unconcerned with the plight of others or are generally uninterested in using your intellectual gifts in ways that benefit others then I don’t think there is a place for you here and would not support making an offer of admission. Beyond having an appropriate academic foundation and evidence that an applicant is likely to contribute to and take full advantage of this extraordinary community, I expect a competitive applicant to embrace MIT’s mission to solve big problems and exhibit the traits of creativity, willingness to take risks, and resilience that will be necessary for success. For me, the ‘X factor’ is always making the most of opportunities that are available to you and creating opportunities for yourself even when it seems impractical or impossible. I chose to work here because MIT is filled with those kind of people.

  29. iampositive says:

    I am an international applicant. I wanted to ask-Can inventions & filling patents validate a candidate’s application?

  30. David duKor-Jackson says:


    I would say that evidence of useful patents and/or inventions could certainly validate an applicants claim of being an inventor, and would likely demonstrate both creativity and productivity.

  31. iampositive says:

    Nice questions iampositive.

    Sir I wanted to ask how do you decide whether the invention can stack up against IXO medals?
    Like I was awarded the top-most invention award of my country for my invention, is this sufficient to overturn an IXO medal?

  32. iampositive says:

    oops sorry nice question @hi

  33. vick says:

    hello Mr. David
    I wish to submit a research paper and ill do so today/tomorrow.I wish to include a small paragraph regarding my personal experience in this research. Can i do so? Will the faculty/officers reading it find it normal or maybe…um…unprofessional?

  34. iampositive says:

    Can these inventions(in field of physics) equally demonstrate an applicants interest in maths & science like those demonstrated by IMO/IPhO?

  35. hey says:


    In 2012 I am going to apply. I have almost a year to complete the application, but many times I catch myself nervous about the process. I realized that probably it has something to do with the lack of international olympiads medals. And this is such a sad feeling. In my country the student goes to college by taking a test that envolves chemistry, physics, biology, geography, history, english/spanish, math, philosophy, writing, first language; if the student does well on this test: voilá, he is at college. so there is a very low field for extra curriculars and olympiads, once the national common sense says that they will not helps the student in any way. personally, I enjoy extra curricular activities, I believe that many times the knowledge we get from the books is at the same level or better than what we learn from school classes, and that extra curricular activities offer to me different perspectives and a chance to apply the theory of many subjects. In my country, if you get a national math medal you participate on a practice program to go the international olympiad. In 2010 I won the silver medal of math olympiad but I was too young to participate of such program, that requires a minimum age of 16. I have a few medals in national olympiads, but I have not participated in internationals olympiads. In 2011 I did not do even the national olympiad because I was at an exchange program and did not prepare, instead I dedicated my time to a research I am doing at the federal university of my state, it has to do with the effect of a plant’s nutritional properties in the human body. In your opinion, what is better (once I enjoy both): get a gold medal at national olympiad or participate in a summer course such as PROMYS?

  36. Abhilasha Kamboj says:

    A good question by @hi, and your quote from your blog ‘Parental Advice’is ‘the traits of creativity, willingness to take risks, and resilience that will be necessary for success’. ‘Resilience’ was the thing I thought, best relates to me. I was offered admission last year, but the college and subjects were not of my choice. I decided to take another chance and friends advised,”Don’t take risk, you may not get even this again.” Was repeating equal to ‘a failure’? I never tasted the ‘failure’. I never wanted ‘failure’ attached with my name’. But I decided to fight again and later when I read your blog ‘Parental Advice’, I was delighted. Thanks again.

  37. David duKor-Jackson says:


    I can understand the preoccupation with medals, but you’re thinking about this the wrong way. There is no overturning medals, because there is no comparison like that. We are looking at what you have accomplished, whether a medal, invention or anything else within the context of your opportunities and resources. Regardless of the distinction we are also going to evaluate and scrutinize every other aspect of the application and make an admission decision on the whole thing.

  38. David duKor-Jackson says:


    Within the MIT applicant pool it is perfectly normal (although by no means necessary) to provide an explanation of your research and a research paper (although our preference is just the abstract, as we have enough to read)

  39. vick says:

    What is the average length of an abstract?
    Will i be at a disadvantage if i send a research paper?I have tried to make it more interactive and easy to comprehend by adding new pages with pictures and tables.

  40. David duKor-Jackson says:


    I can’t really say that either is better. Frankly, neither one is any good if you are only doing it for the purpose of gaining admission, because neither one, by itself, is going to make that happen. If you are going to do something, do because you want to, or because it means something to you.

  41. David duKor-Jackson says:


    A typical abstract is no more than a single page, but there is no particular disadvantage for sending the whole paper.

  42. xgenie says:

    Hello Mr David…. and thanks for taking the time out to listen to us.

    I am an international student at African Leadership Academy in South Africa and here, we undertake arguably the most rigorous curriculum in Africa, combining Cambridge A-Levels with Core subjects. Even in this tough curriculum, I decided to take the most demanding courses and have a loaded schedule because I believe in learning, rather than just aceing (acing?) classes that do not push my thinking.

    Because of this, my transcript, while relatively good, does not look as stellar as most US students with 4.9 GPA’s (that is considered impossible at ALA). However, can excellence at national competitions, both in my home country and in South Africa as well as high standardized test (SAT and subject test scores) show that I am a candidate worth considering, in spite of B’s on my transcript? Also, would my passion for non-academic fields and high level of participation in them also show curiosity for learning?

    Thank you!

  43. David duKor-Jackson says:


    We like to see applicants challenge themselves, even if that means they might get the occasional ‘B.’ Since we evaluate your full application, all the things that you mentioned will contribute to our perception of you as a candidate for admission.

  44. David duKor-Jackson says:


    Inventions can certainly demonstrate interest in math and science. However, IMO/IPhO is not merely a demonstration of interest. Olympiad participation is an indication of excellence at both a national level (to qualify to represent your country) and internationally when competing against the best (literally) in the world.

    How inventions stack up against that level of achievement really depends upon the inventions.

  45. NOT A MEDAL WINNER says:


    “………………generally speaking you should have 10 colleges, not more not less, that you’ll be applying to. 4 of these should be dream colleges, 3 should be reach (or compatible) colleges and 3 should be safety colleges……………………………………Lastly, before you get too engrossed in still trying to make MIT or Stanford, consider more than just acceptance rates and prestige. Some people forget to factor in important details. College is a gateway to a good career after all, isnt it? So do you want to be stuck in Stanford or MIT, collapsing under the academic pressure and coming in the bottom half of your class (it happens) or do you want to go to a college like Cornell or Berkeley, which is considered right after those two, and the best four years of your life and be able to top class while you’re at it and land a better job than most Stanford grads. This is information you keep to yourself. Don’t show your parents this bit. Think about it. If you’re the type who WANTS to study all day at Stanford, nobody’s stopping you. If not, choose wisely. Nerdy colleges: MIT, Stanford, Caltech, Princeton. Chilled Colleges: Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, UC Berkeley, Harvard.” ….UNquote

    Phewwwwwwwww………. all crap

    semms lyk this chap did the same applied to 10 odd colleges got rejecte from MIT, Stanford, Caltech, Princeton….. and just got selected in Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, UC Berkeley, Harvard……….

    seems to me to be anti MIT……… strongly anti MIT……..

    feels like he is some almighty saying ‘Son do this and dont do this, and youll get in’……. he seems to have a lot of interest into indians………. Just 6 of em gettin in at MIT and being medal winners dosent mean its so every time………he hasnt checked out datas of times when there have been 8-10 indians being selectd and many being non olympians

    literally speaking i wasted my ten minutes reading this IDIOT , MISGUIDING, STUPID, AGONISING post on college confidential………

    It’s an outcome of his own frustation and noting else

    As for all the indians concerned ” You are unique, best as YOU and thats what we love you for, some MIT isnt the end of it, not getting selected to MIT is just the beginning, theres a grand world awaiting you with open hands if you have the guts to work hard, and if you are a shammer and even then get into MIT,,,, youll probably end up in those 3% who fail to graduate even from MIT…. not because its TOUGH bubtf because its not ment for LOOSERS like you who think that they have wasted their time fill up the app form and given all hope of being admitted even before the admission decisions, and equally obsessed idiots are those who have made MIT LARGER THAN LIFE……..”

    NO OFFENSES PLEASE……..its for all idiots of the world……..i m just one of em……….crazy about my dreams and thoughts…….busy building castles in air and realising them on ground……………it dosent make difference to me if im in MIT or in heaven…….

  46. FenceSeater says:

    This MIT Blog is doing a great social service by allowing every dejected soul to vent out their frustrations. Hats off to MIT.

    Now, let’s think about community service issue. Nowadays we find NGOs are mushrooming everywhere and everyone is keen to “show” that he/she is doing something for a ’cause’. Its not evident though, most of time, whether anyone is really benefitted by these dubious NGOs. Incrmininating evidence of money laundering, tax evasion, duping unsuspecting donors of millions of dollars etc are coming to light. Indeed there are a handful of grenowned NGOs as well who are doing a fantastic job. No question about them !

    Now my question is, knowing MIT requirements, can we rule out dubious NGOs issuing grand “Community Service Certificates” for a generous fee ? I feel its possible. I’m sure MIT is aware of this issue. Curious to know how such a complex can possibly be dealt with ?

  47. David duKor-Jackson says:


    Don’t get me started on applicants and community service. If you really want to know what I think, see my blog entry Esse Quam Videri

    For the sake of brevity, an award or certificate is only meaningful when we understand what it takes to earn it. For things like service and other personal qualities, the most convincing support typically comes from recommendation letters. 

  48. Anonymous says:

    @david: so you agree with the CC letter that an international olympiad is an absolute necessity for an Indian to get into MIT, which means that thousands of other applicants have just wasted their time and money in applying to MIT???

  49. Akshay says:


    Sir, i am an international applicant from India. I read about international olympiads and how good they can be as external validators. I was completely unaware about them last year and thus didn’t paticipate in any. This year when i got to know about them, i decided to participate in International olympiad of informaics (my area of interest). In india we have two round qualification olympiads for this. I participated in the first round and qualified for the second. The second round is going to be held in january and i am hopeful of making it through. Should i qualify, how should i inform MIT about it? It is in late january and the results may be announced after the Mid Year Report deadline. Will it be too late and the admission decisions already made?

    Thanking you

  50. Harsh says:


    Mr. David, some of the achievements I’ve listed cannot be verified by a single entity or a part of a organization. All I wanted to ask is, that Should I send over the names, phone numbers & email addresses of the people/firm/entities concerned with my external validations such as certifications, medals, awards, honors etc?

    Because if MIT would like to verify my certifications, should I put up an online photo album including scans of the details I provided to validate that and password lock it and and send the details and password to you or MIT directly?

    If any of this is required or would help in making the task easier, I’d love to be a helping hand,

    Thanks Again For Your Time,


  51. David duKor-Jackson says:


    I linked the CC letter because it was mentioned in another comment and illustrates that not only do some applicants have a proclivity to do whatever it takes to secure an offer of admissions, whether that is minor exaggeration or complete fabrication, but there seems to be a certain amount of encouragement to do so. I disagree with the authors claim that an International Olympiad is a necessity, although I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that one does need to do something pretty significant.

    While there is a high degree of competition, I don’t regard applying for admission to an institution that you would like to attend to be waste. You may not get admitted, (and from even the most rudimentary analysis of our applicant data, the vast majority do not) but not attempting something because you are not certain that it will work out for you is not exactly the hallmark of the students that I encounter on this campus.

  52. David duKor-Jackson says:


    None of the things that you mentioned are desired or necessary. We already have to ability to confirm the achievements we are most interested in verifying.

  53. David duKor-Jackson says:


    If there is a significant development that occurs after the Mid Year Report deadline, let me know and I will make sure it gets into your file.

  54. Akshay says:

    Thank you very much for your quick and prompt reply.

  55. international says:

    So basically you admit that MIT doesn’t care about credentials of a student which cannot be easily verified. I mean that an innocent student who has got excellent extra-curricular awards would not be considered because some dumb morons exaggerated their profile to the level of cheating. This is great.
    You also said that international olympiads cannot be replaced by other achievements because they can be easily verified by MIT. I think it is ridiculous to reject a straight offer from students who want their activities to be verified. I mean other universities like UIUC ask for contact details of concerned people for verification, then what is the problem with this process.
    The admission office of MIT would accept a student who has got only an international Olympiad medal and it doesn’t matter to MIT if the person is nothing else but a academic geek. A person with well rounded personality will be rejected because MIT cannot verify details provided by him. Its high time that MIT mentions these details on its website.
    David sir, you should be clear about your policy with international students and list an Olympiad medal as requirement. Surely MIT is a world class university and considering this you should stop this marketing stint where more students are compelled to apply and you people boast about the increasing applications. I just hope that MIT doesn’t want to compete with an university like Cornell which has over 30000 applications.
    Also the admissions office should pay attention to some of the comments like “Harvard’s admissions office is more professional than MIT”. I believe that MIT wants bookworms and do not regret with this. It is clearly evident from the fact that MIT engineers team was ranked the fourth worst sports team in the nation. You should look upon Caltech (which is more clear on its academic criteria) and Stanford(where there is a policy of work hard and play hard) for an inspiration.

  56. Aman Jain says:

    Even I think it is high time MIT declares a Medal as an essential requirement in the app, I mean apart from them none gets selected from India ..!! no matter what

  57. Pete '79 says:

    ” It is clearly evident from the fact that MIT engineers team was ranked the fourth worst sports team in the nation. “

    What in the he double hockey sticks does this have to do with anything in this blog?, not to mention that I feel this is a gross misrepresentaion of sports at MIT! which is among the best in the nation for participation and student involvement. Almost everyone does it, vs some school where a few elite atheletes compete and everyone else watches them.

    As for the issue of trusting verifiable acheivements, that is only rational. It is very easy to create an entire resume of completely ficticious accoclades and awards that seems impressive, just read some resumes of people trying to get hired…but most are easily seen thru, or verified by secondary resources. As a senior member of a technology based company, I see this all the time.

    Some of those claims would be like an athelete claiming they ran a 3:50 (min:seconds) mile in practice, but just don’t happen to have any judged meet times available for posting. (Running 3:50 times would put you into the Olympics most of the time.) Just not credable. Someone with that level of achievement will get involved with sanctioned events and display it where others can judge and see and in this case time the performance.

    What I believe David is saying, is that the results of those various olympiads are easy to verify, and place a value on. That other claims need to follow the old mantra of trust but verify.

  58. Trinity says:

    The best advice I’ve read anywhere:

    “Recently, I have been putting my radical thinking into practice by regularly suggesting to potential applicants that they should avoid trying to get admitted.”

    Let’s not be bitter, please. I almost fear identifying myself as an Indian not because of what David wrote about manipulating the system, but because it’s inescapable human tendency to stereotype. My application has almost no big awards. I was active in school, and I won many second and third prizes. Someone read my application and said they seemed like “fillers;” as if it was almost bad on my part to mention such puny awards.

    The thing is, those awards mattered to me. The favorite award I won was at a 9th grade school declamation. Very unremarkable I’m sure, since I came _second_ out of _four_ participants. Talk about mediocrity. But I love that award because every single person that day, including the first prize winner, came up to me and said they couldn’t believe I hadn’t won the first prize. That was the first time I realized how fickle prize winning processes were. It was a very happy day.

    Aman, M_quinn, etc. Does it matter? MIT rejects so many applicants that ARE perfect for it. But going about trying to make MIT SEE that they need to take you is sad. They have the resources to see. They also don’t have unlimited resources. It’s only fair that people who’ve won international medals get admitted in high proportions. Those people had the drive. And more likely than not, the international medal part of their application is only limited to the awards section. More likely than not, they’ve talked about something that mattered to THEM in their essays, and not tried to highlight achievements, which are just byproducts of the things that are important to them.

    Sure, Indian schools are a lot less centralized than US schools. Most of us never get exposed to Olympiads. So what? I’d be ashamed if I enetered a competition for the sake of getting into a college.

    If you really think MIT is lying, it would be easy to not apply at all. You want to go there, but you’re bitter because you think you can’t. And you blame the system.

    Every “system” has its flaws. Gaming a flawed system, however, is a much bigger flaw.

    Let’s relax.

    And win medals in college and try again for Master’s at MIT, if it really means that much.

  59. Harsh says:


    Thank you for your timely reply Mr. David.

    That’s all I wanted to know smile



  60. vick says:


    last year almost 18,000 applicants applied. How many applications does an admission officer end up reading?
    Do you ever get bored reading so many applications? I mean its not fiction its just the same thing more or less.

    also is the reading process same for international students or different?

    Just for fun how many applications do you read in a day?

    Just for fun,really!

  61. Aman Jain says:

    @Trinity … We are not trying to persuade someone over blogs to give us an admission in MIT by talking over these things, you are crossing your own point. On one point you are like “we never got exposed to Olympiads” and next you are “It is only fair enough for them to take the Medal winners”. I don’t know much about cricket because I don’t see it much but I know that when the first set of rules were drafted the “wide ball” was considered a fair ball but the batsman was awarded run because “There could have been a run on that ball”, later on it was changed not to count the ball and still giving the run but because it was meant for penalizing the opposite team. That’s the same condition we are in. Many of us come from very poor households who are lucky enough to got to get to school and still excelled and many who had all the money and power never faced an Olympiad. It is not that only this year such people would be applying to MIT but i have never heard of anyone who got in without a Medal being Indian while there are many examples for the same from the International itself. What does it mean that MIT has set the standards too high for India ? or is that the strength of the pool itself ?

    It is very bad if someone fakes over their resumes or try to show fake records to get admission and even more absurd was you to tell that we are trying to do the same on someone’s blog !! … We are not desperate to get into MIT but think that we should be brought on the same level as others irrespective of their achievements to grant admission, a person who has grown up working here and there and still achieving Merits in National Olympiads is in every way comparable to someone who has had all the opportunities to win an International one whether he has or hasn’t !! It’s very easy to say that we blame the system but you are doing the same for the Indian schools. Please think over again before you actually comment on us over what are we doing over here.

  62. David duKor-Jackson says:

    I get the impression, that many still don’t believe me when I say that Indian students get admitted to MIT without an Olympiad Medal. I’m not going to run down the list of admits for you, but here is a clear example profiled recently in MIT’s SPECTRVM magazine.

  63. Shantanu says:

    Thanks iampositive.

    And Aman, while you are right about 1 thing you’re wrong in another. USApplicant on CC is used by my very trustworthy friend who postes on my behalf simply because he has more free time and 24*7 internet.

  64. Shantanu says:

    Hello everyone!
    I’m relatively new to these blogs.
    Since there is a discussion about medals for Indians I wanted to chip in as well.

    Firstly, hats-off to Srikanth. He has now really motivated me and if selected by MIT for class of 2016 I would want to work alongside Srikanth as it seems both of us share the same goal- improving the life of the disadvantaged(especially blind). While he wants to pave the path via education, I want to contribute by making equality for them in all other spheres, and the only difference that both of us have is that I am blessed with two “healthy” eyes.

    David sir, regarding your comment previously, I wanted to share a couple of links here for you and all to see and appreciate:

    I sincerely hope MIT provides me the oppurtunity to be a part of their class and fulfill my dream. Sir since you are one of the admissions officer I wanted to bring this to your notice.


  65. FenceSeater says:

    Quite often I ponder whether its logical for an institute of academic excellence to look for all-rounders instead of persons focussed in their respective acdemic fields. I learnt that Jean Paul Sartre abhored sports but was gifted with unparallel intellectual capacity. Its practically not possible for allrounders to excel in academic fields to the same level as their ‘focussed counterparts’. Since most of the great institutes have adopted this criteria for admission, I believe that there must be some logic which I am missing. Dear David, do you have any statistics of the great scientists and Nobel laureates who also did lots of community service during their high scholl days ?
    And that quickly raises another quick question : since we discourage child labor in one side, is it appropriate to encourage community services by these children ? Just sharing my thoughts in your great forum !

  66. FenceSeater says:

    By the way, I read your Esse Quam Videri…superb !

  67. Carfreak Gauve says:

    I am an international applicant from India. I wanted to know whther the international students are also to fill in the same css profile for financial aid?
    Thank you

  68. Aman Jain says:

    Shantanu Gangwar ?? .. so U r the USApplicant on CC … coooooolll let us have a word out friends …

  69. iampositive says:

    @Shantanu-Nice dude!It seems both of us are on the same boat only that i’m not Indian.

    @Aman-Learn to respect others identities & the world will respect urs. It seems you havent even been taught these basic values. You certainly dont deserve this. And speaking of CC, I was going through this page-Is this really true-
    everyone around you- MITChris, the mit alum mollie & current mit undergrads are all fed up of you.They are begging you to leave CC. Learn to respect others and then think of MIT.

  70. kanishk says:

    With all due respect sir,
    The person whose example you have given was blind and what he has done is more than winning an international gold medal.
    So if you select him it is completely understandable. But we cannot be compared to him. I have complete fate in you selection process but this was one point that really wanted to say.
    To the rest : It does not makes a difference if they are partial or not since they are going to evaluate us like they have been evaluating us for years. Comments on blog don’t change the process. Most importantly we do not have the complete know how of the selection process so we do not have any right to comment on the selection process. We guys have OUR BOARDS COMING UP. WE have done our job lets leave the rest to fate. smile