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MIT student blogger Keri G. '10

Thoughts on Removing the Long Essay from the Freshman Application by Keri G. '10

So long, extraneous passages of florid prose.

Brevity is wise.

…but I’m not the one being affected here. What are your thoughts?

38 responses to “Thoughts on Removing the Long Essay from the Freshman Application”

  1. VAL ('14?) says:

    Best idea ever.

    With one long essay, I can only discuss so many aspects of myself without sounding scattered. With three shorter essays, I feel that I can express more facets of my life with the admissions committee. Plus, I find shorter, more concise essays easier to write. smile

  2. Anna says:

    I like them both actually. This is how I see it.


    We already have to make one long essay for all the Common App universities. So an MIT long essay wouldn’t really be much of a stretch. In fact, it would be one less thing to worry about.

    Short answers can give so much more background and personality of a person than a long essay without sounding scatterbrained or jumping from topic to topic. With the limit on words, one can really see how well a person can write and express his/her thoughts in a concise setting.


    With the long essay, one can only talk about a specific topic/facet of their life when there is so much more. It can develop a narrow view of the applicant’s personality. Adding other long essays or short answers that would fit into what MIT wants is possible and doable but a bit more hassle.

    With the short essays, it takes a lot of time and effort to think of a topic answer for each question, write them and then shorten/elongate each one. Finally, editing can also eat up at one’s time, making sure it sounds just right and gives all the info the applicant wants to give.

    There are other reasons we can all think of but really, in the end, it’s the college (or say supplier) who has the final decision and control over the situation. We the students (or say consumers) just have to adjust ourselves to the supplier’s will if we really wanted to get in.

    And just a note, the captcha for this post is “scarred public”. Lol. Just thought it was a bit amusing.

  3. Mike ('14?) says:

    Funny how I checked saw this as I was working on my MIT essays. smile

    I personally am having an enjoyable experience writing the shorter essays. Writing within the word limit is a challenge, and I’ve heard a few compaints about how “removing words from my essay would ruin its meaning,” but I’m all for it, as good writers can write with both flair and within a limit. I cut a 330 word draft down to 250 words while keeping its meaning entirely. All of the essays I have written so far are uniquely me, and I feel that a single long essay could not equally reflect the persona I am trying to show to the admissions office.

    Good luck to all those applying in the final stretch leading up to the EA deadline.

  4. F-13 says:

    I actually prefer the long essay. Just works with me, I don’t know why.

  5. Oce (London) says:


    I think this might be in keeping with MIT’s traditions and ethos as an analytic, science-based institvte.

    I think it has to do with the elements of scientific writing – which one has to do a lot of @ MIT.

    Writing which does not emphasise rubric, for the sake of it, but rather clarity and conciseness.

    It seems like this is what the shorter essays are meant to test…

    For us students considering applying for transfer, it does seem a bit harsh, though.. One essay too many and the application just seems a bit “unfriendly” and impersonal.

    Oh, wishing for the days of Marilee Jones>> (sob, sob).

    No offence intended. Just expressing my own point of view (POV).

    Btw, the spam check is [sic] reallly good…it means we don’t get to post in error, nor is one likely to generate more random messages

  6. Craig ('12) says:

    I’m in favor of the one longer essay (plus one optional shorter essay) rather than the three shorter essays. My reasoning is simple: The purpose of the essay is not to show off talents and skills. It does not exist for applicants to prove to the admissions office that they have the qualifications of an MIT student. That’s what the resume is for. The purpose of the essay is to give the applicant a chance to show that he/she is a true, genuine person with emotions and the ability to learn and change. To give him or her a chance to speak from the soul–not from the brain.

    The applicants don’t need three short chances to describe three different aspect of their lives. What they need is one long opportunity to show to the admissions office who they are. With a larger word limit, applicants can fully express themselves, and go into deep detail about who they really are–what makes them tick as people.

    Unlike analytic essays or scientific papers, cutting down on word count does not make the essay more concise or cogent. The admissions essay does not convey facts and information (like an english paper or movie review). Rather is opens to the reader the world of the applicant. A smaller word limit takes away from the full depth that the applicant can go into.

    With the three shorter essays, I feel the admissions office cannot gain as full an insight into the applicant’s life. With the three shorter essays, they’ll only see shallow facts and information about the applicants. It is my belief that this will not better differentiate the applicant, but instead will make the applicant pool less heterogeneous.

    However, I do believe that, as Stu Schmill wrote in The Tech a few weeks ago, this is MIT and we are a school with the spirit of experimentation. Accordingly, the admissions office’s “science experiment” of changing the longer essay into three shorter ones could yield interesting and positive results. Yet, after this round of applications, if the admissions office finds that it is harder to differentiate applicants with three shorter essays, I sincerely hope that they will choose to revert back to the longer essay format.

  7. Mike says:

    I am in favor of the longer essay. You may be able to pack more information into a shorter essay, but you cannot demonstrate the same depth of character. As the point of the essay is to show who you are as a person, I think elaborating more on one topic would give a better picture of who you are.

  8. Beowulf? says:

    I consider myself to be a fairly skilled writer. I can convey what I want to say in (a little over) 250 words, with at least some magnitude of depth (albeit not as much as I would prefer). However, plenty of other applicants probably find it difficult to paint an adequate picture of themselves as people when confined to such a word limit. For this reason, these people will be at a disadvantage in the admissions process. Personally I don’t think this is fair, because MIT isn’t about being a skilled writer.

  9. anonymous says:

    Please remember that the essays are only one portion of the application in which the admissions office will learn about you.

    Your E.C. who conducts the interview has the ability to write about you in depth based on what they learned about you during the interview.

    Your teacher recommendations should also enlighten the admissions office with the insights, personality traits, passions, work habits, talents, etc. they have observed while teaching you during high school.

    Add to that your guidance counselor’s recommendation (though they may not know you very well) and you have three or four other avenues in which to let the admissions office get to know the real you.

    You won’t be the only one telling them who you are; the recommendation letters and interview report will tell them a lot as well. Your “voice,” the person you are – will shine through in all of those. When you add them all together, you get the whole picture!

  10. C2 says:

    YES! Please do!

  11. anonymous says:

    The problem with the long essay is that it sounds too forced. I’ve been helping friends proofread their long essays for other schools and every time, there is a point where it’s painfully obvious that they ran out of ideas and just started rambling. With the short essays, there is no need to make up anything just to reach a word limit.

    Also, for both of the short essays that I have done, I woke up in the middle of the night with an awesome idea for what to write. I doubt I could literally dream up an idea for a 1000 word essay (or however long the long essay needs to be) as easily as I can with the short essays.

    And ironically, writing this gave me an idea for my last essay raspberry

  12. Oce says:

    @ anonymous above

    But for TRANSFER admissions, the Admissions Committee depends on the individual to provide: a lively and detailed history of their development for the benefit of the Ad Com.

    I am assuming you are referring to Freshman admissions

  13. Oce says:

    I meant anonymous @ 9.40 AM

  14. Working on my essays, I’ve discovered that I can barely squeeze the full story I want to tell into 250 words, even when I take out the unnecessary details. This leaves no room for reflection. For the “significant challenge” essay, I know they’re more interested in how I reacted to the situation than in the situation itself, but if I cut parts of the story to fit in my thoughts about it, the whole thing makes less sense. I can still make it work, but not as well as I could with 100 more words. For me, writing three short essays means that the admissions office will learn more about what I do and where I come from, but less about how I think.

    I suspect that the reason why there’s so much debate is that some people can represent themselves better with a long, detailed essay, and others are represented better by a few smaller pictures. When writing essays for school, my style is always to pick a very specific topic and expand on it with details, while some of my friends like to explore different aspects of a broader idea. Ideally, neither of these styles should have an advantage over the other, but realistically, any application of a reasonable length will end up favoring one approach.

  15. Anonymous says:

    anonymous @ 9:40 mentioned the interview report as another way MIT can get to know you. For some people, this may be true, but the interviewer is assigned based on all sorts of random factors. I personally was very disappointed with my interview, as my interviewer hardly asked me any questions. He seemed more interested in telling me things about MIT that I already knew. So I don’t think anything about me shone through in the interview report, and I suspect that the same is true for many other people. As for counselors, in many (most?) schools, counselors hardly know their students at all. Teachers are often helpful, but many students may not have any teachers who really understand their interests. So it really is very important to allow students to really represent themselves on the application.

  16. Oce says:

    Anonymous 11.06 AM,

    What you said couldn’t be truer.

    I am thinking of making a transfer application to MIT, but I have to believe the EC would be someone who understands my interests and who asks questions.

    And yes, there are students who can’t find teachers who know and understand them well enough to write about them.

    As regards counselors, I am certainly hoping I do not get a generic letter of rec from a college official.

  17. Zizi says:

    @ Anonymous 11.06 AM & Oce,

    Sometimes, finding teachers who are able to WRITE SOMETHING is a problem for students every year…

  18. C2 says:

    After reading all these comments, I have 1 conclusion: writing more words mean more ideas and details…

    Yes, detail is what we need alright. That tells us why people need an essay to express them… But, instead of an essay, have anyone ever thought of increasing the maximum word in each short answer? This suits you “writing-applicants” and us “non-writing-applicants”. Oh almost forgot, those who want long essay applications are being selfish. How come? Maybe you should ask people who registered for early action… November the first is their dead line for submitting their application, which is… let’s see…um…8 days and 11 hours. Do you really want those early action applicants who wrote short essays to make up a long essay, in 8 days!? I don’t because I believe that those who apply for MIT are top students in their school and they must be very busy.

    So, my idea is: to suit those who want to write a long essay, MIT should extend the maximum word allowed in each section.

  19. Oce says:


    A flaw in your argument is that MIT applicants might also be perfectly capable of producing a long essay in HOURS, to say no more of MERE DAYS…simply because they are talented!

    I can write several admissions essays in a couple of hours and I believe I am by no means that special…

    And I am enrolled, and also have been accepted, somewhere actually…

  20. Anonymous says:

    I also agree with Miriam. 250 words is too little space to introduce your true self thoroughly. It is only enough to answer the question briefly…

  21. Anna says:

    Just a thought but what if there was an option instead to do either/or and end a short explanation why you chose that option?

  22. Justin L. says:

    I agree with Miriam(’14?) above.

    My personal opinion is that different people will always have different views on how the application should be shaped in order to let them expound on their amazing achievements. But the truth is, unless MIT comes up with a customizable application or something along those lines, there’s just no one-size-fits-all, like my awesome shirt.

    Knowing how the applicant think and responds to something that is a ‘significant challenge’, imo, is going to take more than 250 words. But above all, please remember that the admission committee’s time, and workforce, is limited, even though it *is* MIT.

  23. BakedBean says:

    Basically, we all should (disturbingly?) notice that admissions to competitive colleges boils down to how well one can write.

    I think this greatly disadvantages technical types (like me) who are just o.k writers. Excellent writers can, through their writing/essays, easily emulate what MIT wants to admit. (When they know what they should emulate that is)

    Bah. This is off topic I guess.

  24. Anonymous says:

    @ all applicants,

    We could all meet up there.

  25. Anonymous says:

    now *this* is the freebie blog post you were talking about last time…. jaime wonders whether you are just trying to be funny, but i think you’re just failing at being keri.

    jaime also says that maybe you are trying to be polite. or, “maybe it’s like that one time at band camp, with the triangle.”

  26. C2 says:

    @ Oce

    Wow, that’s very interesting that you can write up an essay in an hour… Let’s just say that English is not my best subject… and I believe there are other applicants who are the same. Anyways, Instead of making it into a long essay, I think the best option here is to extend the limit of words in each section… Essay gives me the feeling of … work load…

  27. Mike ('14?) says:

    @ BakedBean

    MIT has a holistic admissions process, and the essays are just a part of each applicant’s resume. MIT looks for passion in extracurriculars and outside activities, and essays aren’t going to whip those up in words. You don’t need to be a great writer, you just need to show the admissions officers who you are.

  28. Oce says:

    @ Craig (’12)

    You are missing the point.

    Expressing one’s self in fewer words yet retaining all the cogent points in the discourse is a learned skill.

    Whether a scientific project or an analysis or an admission essay for that matter.

    Admission essays, by their nature, still contain points of references, drawn from a candidate’s experience, so it is still a concrete piece of writing that can be made precise. The only exception here may be poetry or other creative writing, where one may not have to stick to a strict word limit.

    That cutting out words won’t necessary make a piece of writing concise is like saying you can cut out the ingredients for making a cake and still have a great pastry. Obviously, you still do need to include the important parts.

    In other words, you would still need to bring all the NECESSARY values into the essay and of course, keep it brief, in context, if you know what I mean.

    I think that is where conciseness comes into the matter.

  29. Linda says:

    I would rather have the longer essay, it’s harder to think of so many different ideas and its difficult to keep them brief yet still say all that you have to say

  30. anon e moose says:

    most of the criticism here of the long essay centers on the difficulties some claim to have in communicating all the numerous and disparate facets of their experiences and personalities in a cohesive, readable essay. well, duh. that’s the point isnt it? Life’s not easy and neither is MIT. if you can’t find a way to say what you need to say about yourself in an essay and make it readable, you dont belong at MIT [or any other comparable school] IMO. does everything have to be dumbed down?

  31. C2 says:

    @ Mike(’14?) & John (’14)

    I agree!

  32. Timothy says:

    I love it. It really shows that MIT has a unique way of looking at students, and in doing so they get the bigger picture. Not to mention, it’s much nicer to write more small essays than just one big one. Now only if I can get a topic about technology and video games…

  33. John ('14?) says:

    I am all in favor of the new short essays. MIT is known for having being different (in a good way) from most other colleges, why should the application process be any different. Multiple short ones gives a fairer comparison between applicants, while still allowing students to show personality and creativity.

    Also, the questions asked are relevant to life at MIT. Creativity is something vital to MIT, just look at the website, the blogs, and I believe the Academics require Creativity. The next about background is Important, because MIT students come from every background possible. The essay lets applicants express how their background makes them unique. And the third essay about when you face something that doesn’t go according to plan, is something that MIT students will face in their academic and professional endeavors.

    The 250 word limit I see as a challenge. Limiting words makes essays stronger. In long essays we have the tendency to add fluff. small concise essays give the admission officers a better idea of who you are by your most important experiences and ideas. It’s just like the activities section limits to the top 5 activities.

  34. Anonymous says:

    I like the shorter essays and I don’t think that the word count was that big of a hurdle. The shorter essays allowed me to show different sides of myself without feeling forced. And 250 words is definitely enough space. It’s only meant to be a paragraph or two.

  35. Zane '14? says:

    I’m a fan of the shorter essays, but as I tend to rant, mine have to be cut down significantly to fit into the limits. I’m not saying the limits should be expanded, but that I need to learn to be more concise and less sporadic.

  36. Yixing says:

    but if the MIT essay were to be long, wouldn’t it essentially just mirror the common application and wouldn’t it be easier in that case to just use the common application instead of using a separate application?

  37. Wpg says:

    I like the shorter essays not because of multiple questions to write about, but the chance to write about multiple topics about myself. To take each essay and write on a topic that covers a certain facet of my character and life instead of one essay on one subject makes me feel like the application describes me much better.