What Is Your LΔ? by Bryan G. Nance
What about heart? What about determination? What about resilience?
One of the first things that I learned about MIT is that everyone here loves to use formulas as much as possible, and in every scenario possible. You can imagine how disconcerting this can be for a social scientist like me. (Then again, probably not. Chances are that if you read any of the MIT blogs you probably have an affinity for math.) In an effort to be included I have created a very simple equation: LΔ or Learning Delta. This simply means Learning Delta. Before you write in to challenge me, you need to know that my definition of LΔ is the following: (L) Learning = to acquire knowledge or skills and (Δ) Delta = a change in some quantity. For the purposes of this entry we will apply the concept of LΔ to the freshman application process.
What is an LΔ? It is all of the factors that help to give a clear understanding of what you have learned relative to your beginning knowledge base and your overall effort within the learning process.
One of my good friends is a professor and administrator at MIT. Whenever I speak to him about a student’s academic standing, he never gives me an arbitrary number or letter grade. Instead, he always responds by describing the student’s LΔ. This is such a beautiful concept because it allows me to view the student in a more appropriate context that is not just based on results, but includes effort and hard work. Many times when we ask how a student is performing academically, what we really want to know is how invested the student is, what has the student learned, and is the student really stretching to grow and to learn. LΔ acknowledges that not everyone starts from the exact same spot or the exact same knowledge base. By focusing on LΔ we can really zero in on YOUR individual growth.
The LΔ allows us to focus on the process, not just the outcome. Think about it this way – what if the Boston Marathon only had one start time and one finish time for all of its 20,000 participants? Instead, the starting times are staggered – thus allowing for individual race times that emphases individual Δ measurement. Do you have to be in the very front to win? No. (But you’d better be near the front real quick or have a breakout performance!)
Here’s another example. Let’s look at two students who we’ll call James and Etta. Let’s say that both are taking multivariable calculus at Georgia Military College, in Milledgeville, Georgia. Etta is a straight-A student. She walked into the class with a firm grasp of calculus concepts. At the beginning of the class she took an assessment test to determine her overall aptitude and preparation for the Calc class. Etta earned an A on the exam. Fast forward to the end of the semester and we see that she finished the course strong, earning an A for the semester.
On the other hand there is James. For whatever reason, James did not enter the calculus class with the same level of mastery as Etta. In fact, on the same placement exam he only earned a grade of D+. By the end of the semester, however, he was able to earn a B. So who was the “better student?” If we measured performance strictly by outcome standards, we would say Etta – because she finished with an A. What if, instead, we measured performance based on an LΔ assessment? Under these circumstances, James now comes alive. If we adjust for where they both began and ended, the accomplishments of James cannot be denied.
So – am I saying that we discount the student who has straight A’s in lieu of students with B’s? Absolutely not! Straight A’s are straight A’s, and they usually signify a mastery of the subject material. What about the ‘B’ students like James though? Should we discount his accomplishments simply because of final grade? If we mean what we say about not comparing applicants to each other, should not we measure students individually and according to their LΔ?
Blah, blah, blah. What does this mean in terms of you? What was your LΔ throughout high school? More importantly, what was your LΔ as an applicant to MIT? How did you grow during the high school years and even during the application process? Let’s say you applied EA to MIT and were deferred, what did you do? Did you do a realistic self-assessment? Did you view the decision as a speed bump and immediately look for ways to “show and prove” that you indeed are working from the point of view of a high LΔ? Or did you in fact, blame others or worse, blame yourself? What will you do now to begin or continue your upward LΔ?
MIT – and all schools for that matter – use traditional tools to gauge success. You know them as grades, rigor of courses, and standardized tests. Can we rely solely on these tools? I say no. None of the aforementioned specifically measures intangibles. What about heart? What about determination? What about resilience? Sure, grades and test scores are all good at telling us how you did, but do they really tell us how you will do?
To get a more balanced view we ask you to also submit essays that we hope will highlight who you are as a person. We ask you to SERIOUSLY consider having an interview – that will also help us to better know you as a person. And we also use tenants of LΔ. We don’t just want to know if you will survive at MIT; we want to know if you will thrive at MIT.
So if you have straight A’s in challenging coursework, is that good? Yes, but – as every blogger and admissions official at MIT has written ad nauseam – “You don’t have to be perfect to be admitted to MIT…” The LΔ is how we measure that which is hard to measure – concepts such as work ethic, stick-to-it-ness, how you overcome adversity. When we measure your growth specific to your learning situation, it makes it very easy to look at you as an individual, rather than in comparison to other applicants. Believe me when we say that we are savvy and seasoned admissions professionals. Thus, therefore, and ergo – we know that students who display a high LΔ are the very same students who are great at self-advocating and who are also very likely to be academic adventurers. In other words, we believe that the students willing to take sound academic risks are the very same students most likely to maximize learning and to have a high LΔ.
I’ll close with this. The concept of an LΔ is really important for all college applicants, no matter where you apply. Forget about LΔ and its effectiveness for college applications for a moment. Every attribute that contributes to a high LΔ and success in the classroom will also contribute to success in life. So remember to keep the LΔ concept in mind… we do.
Enough from me, what do you think?