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MIT student blogger Mollie B. '06

Value added by Mollie B. '06

You are not the same person you'll be at the end of undergrad, and your undergrad school will change you, whether for better or for worse.

People sometimes say that it doesn’t matter where you go for undergrad, as long as you go somewhere spectacular for grad school.

I have several problems with this logic:

  1. Not everybody wants to go to grad school.
  2. You shouldn’t spend your undergraduate experience thinking ahead to grad school.
  3. You are not the same person you’ll be at the end of undergrad, and your undergrad school will change you, whether for better or for worse.

Tonight I am highlighting the differences between me as a 17-year-old undergrad applicant and me as a 21-year-old grad school applicant. I’ll tell you right up front that I attribute my success in grad school applications (particularly in getting into my perfect program) to my education at MIT. I’m smart, okay, but I’m not, and never have been, one of those knock-your-socks-off genius whiz kids. My education at MIT turned me from your typical bright, well-rounded kid into a real scientist.

Test scores
2001: Pretty good, but nothing really outstanding in the applicant pool.
2005: Excellent, and better than the majority of people who were applying to my programs. (I got a better score on the GRE than I did on the SAT. I’m pretty sure that’s not supposed to happen.)

Grades and coursework
2001: To be honest, I don’t remember what my high school GPA was. I don’t even remember what it approximately was. I got a few B+’s and a handful of A-‘s, and I took lots of honors classes and three AP’s. (None of my AP’s were in science! That’s a true story.) I was ranked 11th in my class of 530, because I didn’t want to play the “take all AP classes and study halls” game.
2005: I had a 3.4(/4.0) when I applied, including a C in 8.02x (Physics: E&M) from freshman year. I had a lot of classes, since I was a double-major, and I’d taken a ridiculous number of upper-division biology electives.

2001: Oh, lots! I was captain of the band’s 40-member color guard (my senior year, we marched in the Macy’s Parade!), played the lead in six school plays and musicals (I was chorus in the two my freshman year), and was the only girl to make the show choir junior year. I was on the varsity quiz team, which went to the state quarterfinals. I did winter drum line for two years and winter color guard for the other two. I sang first soprano in the Ohio all-state choir. I kept little kids off drugs and helped orient freshmen and new students to my school.
2005: Well, grad schools don’t care about extracurriculars, but I still wrote about cheerleading for my diversity essays (“As a college cheerleader, I a member of a group that is shockingly underrepresented in science PhD programs…”). I wrote that I tutored my entire entry through intro biology and that I served as my dorm’s rush chair junior year; I also mentioned that I did “prospective student outreach through a web-based medium” for Admissions. (Doesn’t that sound so slick?) I ended up talking with a lot of professors about cheerleading during interviews, which was fun and silly.

Research experience
2001: None. I totally didn’t even know you could do research in high school.
2005: Three years of experience, including a summer finding candidate genes for alcoholism at the NIH and 2.5 years studying protein-protein interactions in neurons at MIT. I had my name on an abstract/poster at the Society for Neuroscience conference and on a paper in Cell. I’d worked on an independent project for a year, using an arduous screen that even grad students like to avoid.

2001: None. I was too shy to sign up for an optional interview.
2005: I was confident and relaxed at my interview weekends, and I actually really enjoyed meeting with faculty and discussing my research. I was very comfortable with the details of my project, since my lab treated me like a scientist, not a baby, and was able to discuss my project with humor and poise.

2001: I got what I’m sure were very good recommendations from my favorite biology teacher and my (only, but still favorite) theatre director.
2005: I got what I know (because they told me at interviews!) were absolutely fabulous recommendations from my UROP supervisor (famous for being hard-driving and demanding quite a bit of his students), my favorite professor (famous for doing great research), and my NIH supervisor (famous, but not in my subfield).

In the end, MIT was the right place for me, and the education I got here really changed the course of my life. That, I think, is what you really want in an undergrad school — a place that will bring out the best aspects of you, even if they’re not totally obvious at the time you apply. You have to know what kind of environment will support your learning and blooming; for me, that place was here.

11 responses to “Value added”

  1. Chris says:

    I love hearing about your success, Mollie! smile You’re so inspirational.

  2. Aja says:

    Hi, Mollie.

    This is not related to your post, but I was wondering if you can help me. I posted the same thing to Matt, but it seems that he might is busy with orientation and etc. So, can you please help me? I copied below what I wrote on Matt’s Blog.

    To be at MIT, I heard that the applicants have to passionate about attending MIT, about helping the world improve, and about learning. What if you know you are passionate about all of these things, but don’t have anything to back you up on it?

    I really love MIT. I’m sure you hear that a lot from all the applicants, but I don’t know how to make MIT know I want to attend. To me, it would be heaven on earth. A very hard heaven, but it would be my heaven (if I were to attend MIT) because of the people, the classes, the sports, the UROP, and all the other things MIT can offer.

    I am smart, but not smart on standardized testing. I fooled around my freshman year afraid to take chances because I let my family tell me what would be hard for me, but during Sophomore year, I began to have confidence in myself and took chances. I challenged myself in Honors, but I haven’t taken a lot of AP courses because there are only 3 at our school. All the AP classes are for Seniors, and I’m taking 2 out of the 3.

    I am not a person who took many AP classes and got 4s or 5s. I am not a person who is number one. I am not even near that percentage, but I am above the top ten percent. In fact, I’m 29 out of 595. I am not the best writer in high school. I haven’t taken a lot of Honors. I have ever since Sophomore year, but only two in Freshman year. I am not involved in sports, but I love tennis, volleyball, and badminton. I have made stupid mistakes in my past.

    So how I make myself shine in MIT’s eyes? How I can show them how much I really really want to attend MIT no matter how incredibly hard it is? I know MIT doesn’t only look at stats., but still, they are important in college admission. I know it’s more of a match between the two.

    I’m even afraid to apply or submit the application because I have so many negative things on my record. (Not illegal or crimal things. Just dumb foolish mistakes.) I don’t dwell on the past, but after reading what MIT is looking for, I’m afraid I don’t even have a chance compared to other applicants who have done science fairs and attended summer programs.

    It’s like all the applicants are showing how much their “metal” can shine, and all the negative points in my past are raining on my “metal” making me rust and dull. I highly doubt MIT will pick rusty dull metals. I am afraid to send in the application. I love to dream, but sometimes, it’s better to be realistic. After all, a person with a 1000 on the SAT can’t get accepted into MIT, right?

    If you could offer me any kind of advice on this, I would really appreciate it? Every night, I get the courage to work on the application, but in the end, I don’t do anything but stare at it. I just keep staring at the computer screen asking myself “What am I doing? There is no way I can get accepted. Even the people on CC agreed that MIT is a big big reach. So why am I trying to finish? Why do I still want to apply? I am setting myself up for a big heartbreak…”

    So please, if you can offer any advice, I would really appreciate it. Thank you.

  3. Yeah says:

    This comment is to reiterate what has already been implied on this blog. If you will be applying to college soon and you’re absolutely sure that you want to go to grad/medical school later…do not for one minute believe that going to a state school or an otherwise “easy” school is a good idea.

    I was led to believe that and I enrolled in a state school around 5 years ago even though I had offers from some top-notch schools. What a horrible decision it has been……I won’t go into the particulars but the main point I want to get across is that if you’re talented and hard-working, schools like MIT will present you with the most wonderful opportunities.

    During my undergraduate years, I had to literally go begging for a volunteer position to gain exposure to research….well, I’ve finally gained a significant amount of research experience but am having trouble getting into a good grad school…despite the fact that I’ve published twice as first author and that my GPA is 3.9-something. As a faculty member put it at one of my interviews, “well, a 3.9 from your school really does not mean much to me, frankly”

    I’m sorry if this seems like a rant from a disturbed person, but I’d just like to emphasize that REGARDLESS of whether or not you want to grad/medical school, pick the more competitive college.

    A lot of people who dont know any better will try to tell you that medical schools dont care what college you went to as long as you have a high GPA….the admissions committees are not stupid, just remember that!

    Also keep in mind that your peers are going to have an enormous impact on you. I did not believe that but let me assure you that regardless of the kind of person you are, you will definitely be significantly impacted by your fellow students. If you’re at a top-notch college, you will most likely be surrounded by kids who have a great work-ethic and that will keep you motivated to do your best. If you’re surrounded by mediocrity, you will come to develop an ego that will be bashed to pieces the moment you step out into the real world.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for that post! Its made a lot of things clear for me.

    Even the comment by yeah was very helpful

  5. Harrison says:

    So there really is a place for theatre people at MIT! If I end up going to MIT (which I want to do in the most desperate of ways), then I probably won’t have a hard time finding another theatre-centric person around campus. Not that I’m an actor though… we techies prefer to do it in the dark smile

  6. Ying Fei says:

    Hi, Mollie. Can you tell me the general atmosphere of New House? and do freshmen usually get singles?

  7. HI

    My story is similar to Aja’s but I don’t have so many negatives. My only negative are my SAT (1860/2400)scores and my essays!!!!

    I know I want to attend MIT but I don’t know why!

    I also need help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Oh and by the way congrats for ur wedding!

    And for ur med school also!!! which med school u goin?

    Ankit Chandra

    Gaborone, Botswana

  8. Colin says:

    Aja — Mollie will probably be able to give you better advice on this than I can, but I think the most important thing you can do is to show MIT just how passionate you are. You don’t have to have a lot of experience with science competitions or research to make them realize you truly do care about being here.

    I had good standardized test scores, but I had absolutely no research experience; I only had two AP test scores at the time of my application; and my worst grade in high school was in a physics course. But I made sure to emphasize — at every opportunity — that I couldn’t see myself anywhere but at MIT because it was the campus whose students showed the most dedication to learning and to progress. Do all of the optional essays, and make sure to convey just how important MIT is to you. Never, ever be discouraged from applying to your dream school. My sister talked all her life about going to Columbia, and when the time came, she didn’t apply.

    If MIT is your dream, don’t take yourself out of the running. Nothing is a guarantee, but you’ll regret it FOREVER if you don’t try. At least this way, even if you don’t get in, you’ll know that you tried your best, and you won’t spend the next four years at a school you might not like as much, thinking “what if?”

  9. Mikey says:

    Nice post Colin – I agree. What I tell prospective students is, the easiest way to guarantee you WON’T get into MIT is to not apply. It’s that simple. You truly will never know unless you apply!

  10. Mikey says:


    One caveat to remember though, is that in all honesty, it IS difficult to get into MIT. That’s the harsh reality of it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a try. It’s always good to remember the balance between reaching for that big dream, but also keeping in mind the realities of the world.

    As my parents always tell me, “just do your best.” If you do your best and things still don’t work out, well, at least you did your best and the rest was out of your control. So just put your best foot forward, and leave the rest up to fate/God/whatever you may believe. Things will all turn out okay.

  11. Robbie says:

    Quite the contrast. It sounds like so much fun. But hey you can do independent research in high school. I’ve been building models for turing system symmetry breaking… I can’t wait to visit MIT again. Cool.