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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

Thanksgiving was a beautiful day here on the East Coast — I watched the Macy’s parade in a tee shirt. Actually, since that one snowfall, the weather has been quite mild — it was nice walking around today.

After a morning of reading, I had lunch at the Stata Center (or Building 32, or Building 100000 for you binary fans) and read, among other things, about how another of Frank Gehry’s buildings, Disney Hall in Los Angeles, might have its stainless-steel exterior sandblasted because the glare is too great, and has heated the surrounding sidewalks up to a temperature of 138 deg F. So far, no such problems with the Stata Center.

Across Vassar Street from Stata, the new Brain & Cognitive Sciences building is shaping up nicely (sorry, I didn’t have a camera with me). And across Main Street from Stata, the new Broad Institute building has broken ground and is moving quickly! All of this is good news for those of you excited about interdisciplinary research in the life sciences.

Now, I’m back in the office, giving my eyes a brief rest from all of the applications. Let me try to catch up on a few questions (while I’m still backed up nearly a week in email)…

Shabin asked, “Will my family’s finacial limitations be seen in negative while considering me for the admissions?” The short answer is, “No.” The slightly longer answer is “Absolutely not.”

Often I’ll get questions like, “If student A did thing Foo, and student B did thing Bar, but otherwise they were exactly the same, which student would you admit?” I never answer questions like that, because we don’t compare two applicants to each other. We evaluate each applicant on their individual merits. Maybe they’d both get in. Maybe neither would get in. And of course it’s never the case that two students are exactly the same except for one thing (maybe these people mean, the same SAT scores and GPA?) — each of you come to us with a different story, and that’s mhat makes this job interesting.

However, I once did answer a question like the A/Foo vs. B/Bar question above. The question was something like, “If two students had exactly the same qualifications, but one student came from a very wealthy background and good school, but the other came from a very poor family and a bad school, which would you take?” Well, of course this question is as ridiculous as any of the similar questions you could pose, but on this day I answered the question. I said that we would be more likely to take the poorer student, the one who has overcome more obstacles to succeed, assuming everything else was the same. I think most people don’t believe this — often times people will accuse me of lying, that we would never intentionally use more financial aid dollars. Honestly, I don’t care about how much financial aid we’ll have to give you — that’s Daniel’s job (and he’s darn good at it!). We would like more students from lower income backgrounds at MIT, more students who are the first in their family to attend college (like I was), more students who have overcome challenges in their life. If this isn’t you, don’t worry; we know that the best students come from all types of backgrounds, high schools, with all different life stories. We’re admitting the students who best fit MIT and MIT’s objectives, whoever you are.

Shabin also asked about fee waivers, and, as Prashant said, a letter from your school certifying that the application fee poses a financial hardship to your family is just as good as an Official College Board Fee Waiver. We are happy to waive the application fee for anyone who cannot afford it. But don’t try excuses like this one (paraphrased actual but ultimately unsuccessful attempt an excuse): “My family cannot afford the application fee because we are putting all of our money into building our vacation house right now.”

Jane asked, “Matt, when the committee meets and starts admitting people, do you send out the letter as soon as the decision is made to admit that person? Also, just wondering about the order the committee views the applications in, is it alphabetic or otherwise sorted?”

First question: I’ve received a bunch of questions regarding decisions, so let me tell you what I know. All decision letters for early action will be mailed at the same time; I don’t know what day that will be. Decisions will not be available online. If you don’t receive your letter in the mail for a week or so after it was mailed (i.e. “lost in the mail”), then you may call our offices and get your decision. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait patiently for the good ol’ US Postal Service, who were good enough to employ my father for so many years. I’ll keep you up to date as I know more.

Second question: Usually when I get asked about sorting, people want to know if we’re making decisions on everyone from the same high school together, or everyone who listed the same major together, or everyone from New Jersey together, or anything like that. The answer, though, is, as I alluded to above, we are evaluating each individual applicant on their own merits. So when we’re in committee, one applicant might be a Hispanic female from a good high school in California interested in Computer Science, while the next applicant might be a white male from a less well known inner-city Chicago high school interested in Economics. So, it’s mostly random, though I’ll have more to say about sorting in future posts.

Beastie Boy Mike D asked, ” How many people does MIT usually reject in the early application round?”

Well, my handy-dandy statistics tell me that last year:

2833 students applied early action
438 students admitted early
2169 students deferred to regular action

Using my amazing powers of subtraction, it seems that 226 students were denied during early action last year, which sounds right. I don’t know what the numbers will look like this year. For the most part, when we’re unsure and the applicant is competitive (which, as I’ve said, the vast majority of you are), we’ll defer the student for further consideration during regular action.

A long time ago (yes, I am way behind on answering questions), Diana asked: “This has nothing to do with MIT, but I was searching for info on Ryan Cabrera’s drummer and found your blog. Just saw them play tonight and was completely amazed by this guy? Can I at least get his name from you?”

Diana, I can do better than give you my friend’s brother’s name (yes, my friend’s brother is the drummer for the ex-boyfriend of the sister of someone who is actually famous), I can give you his name and his blog, Jordan Plosky’s Journal of Drums.

I should get back to reading applications now… hope you’re out of your Thanksgiving tryptophan sleepiness!

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