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MIT student blogger Mitra L. '07

You Can’t Make MIT Love You If You Don’t… by Mitra L. '07

my advice on application essays (updated 7/29)

So on the MyMIT Admissions site, the 2005-2006 undergraduate application has been posted. You can request a paper copy, download a PDF, or view an online version. I sent my printed-out-PDF application via snail mail, but that was back before MIT had the technology in place for online applications. (What???)

I’m hesitant to dole out reams of application advice, but there is one thing that I am confident in recommending to you. (And you just thought I was quoting yet another song ruined by American Idol for fun.)

“You can’t make MIT love you if you don’t [write a good essay]
You can’t put on your resume things that you don’t [do]
Here in 3-107, in these final hours
They won’t like your essay if they don’t feel the power,
But you won’t
No, you won’t…”

What do I mean?

Well, first, there are the basic things:
+ use correct grammar, spelling, punctuation
+ make it legible (neat handwriting or “normal” font)
+ address the topic
+ stay reasonably within the word limit

+ write about something that truly matters to you, no matter how nontraditional it may seem
+ take risks
+ be truthful
+ be fearless
+ you are awesome! be yourself

And with a wheelbarrow full of salt, I remind myself of the wise words of My So-Called Life‘s Angela Chase:

“People always say how you should be yourself, like ‘yourself’ is this definite thing, like a toaster or something. Like you can know what it is, even. But every so often, I’ll have like, a moment, when just being myself in my life, right where I am, is like, enough.”

So go forth, ’10 applicants, and best of luck!


(My sincerest apologies to Bonnie Raitt, Tim Berners-Lee, and Marshall Herskovitz. It was for a good cause.)

———– 7/29 EDIT

I don’t think the admissions office has a strict rule about word limits. When I applied, I made sure all of my essays were within word limits, and yeah, it wasn’t great to cut out phrases or clauses just to save on words, but I did it and felt like my essays were still meaningful. I know other people who didn’t want to sacrifice meaning for a word limit, so they went over — some by 5 words, some by 105 words. Unfortunately, there’s no “real” answer to this question, but if you think it’s too long, it’s probably too long.

As for the relative importance of the essay, there’s no exact answer, but in my opinion, we care *a lot.* MIT doesn’t assign each component of the application a specific weight, and then calculate your “grade.” Rather, we consider an entire application at once, which helps us evaluate you as a person and not just the sum of your parts. I personally feel the essay is the most important part of your application, since you have the chance to open up about something that matters to you. Also, you can share with us something special that would add to your application file but wouldn’t fit or would be under-explained otherwise.

Don’t stress out about your essay, since we don’t have a standard type or model that we look for when reading them. Yes, the essay is important, but it’s hard to make your writing more heartfelt and personal if you revise it to death. Be yourself (the toaster, remember?) and let the words flow.

37 responses to “You Can’t Make MIT Love You If You Don’t…”

  1. Laila Shabir says:


    erm.. the applicants wud for class of 2010!!! (not 09′)

    Seeya around smile

  2. Mitra says:

    Whoops, I’ll fix that.

  3. Sam says:

    Wow, that’s gotta be one of the greatest songs ever written for a blog entry, ever. I mean, not just on mitblogs, but on any blog. I think my favorite line is, “They won’t like your essay if they don’t feel the power”–it’s so personal and heartbreaking. Although, it doesn’t diminish the quality of the rest of the song just because that one is so good.

  4. I’ll second what Eric said. Thanks for the great blog, Mitra.

    -Antti Hallavo

  5. Mitra says:

    Ugh, not another mistake. Can anyone catch a third?

  6. Brian Burg says:

    Well, one error might be your usage of +’s as bullets for an unordered list. That’s not semantically correct for a page layout (and somewhat ironic with the W3C being based at MIT). But, you did apologize to Tim Berners-Lee, so I guess it all evens out.

    Thanks for the tips!


  7. aaron says:

    I still get this message: ” The Freshman Online Application for entry year 2006 will be available in mid summer.”


    or did i misunderstand anything?

  8. Faye V. says:

    wow… So be myself…hmm I guess it is pertinent to find out who that individual is 1st…lols

    Thanks for the tips though…”Be me… a toaster” YAY


  9. Faye V. says:

    lols…uncle Sam is scaring me…almost saying “You must be what MIT whats you to be….” lols Ima ’bout

    to call him Mitra Auntie..seemz more suiting since this is your blog n all…Ok it is way past my bed time

  10. Mitra says:

    Hey Aaron,

    Go to, log in, and click the light green “how to APPLY” square on the top left. Then, on the left, click “Download Paper Application.”

    Hope that helps.

  11. MJ says:

    well… what can i say? good luck ’10s!

  12. Stephanie says:

    Hey Mitra,

    I’m pretty sure they actually did have online applications. At least for part of the application. Because I remember submitting my application online about 3 hours before it was due!

    Close call, and look where I am now!

    Hope your summer is rocking, see you in the fall!


  13. Hmmm… It’s a great piece of advice, Mitra. I’ve been reading your blog for quite a while, and so thanks for all the great entries you’ve written! It’s given me another perspective to look at my ’10 application to MIT.

  14. Jane says:

    Hullo. I’ve been lurking around the blogs for a little while. I’m applying to MIT for 2010. Great number really. Bet people are already planning hacks based on the 2010 Space Oddessey…

    Anyway, I have recently discovered that I am quite a worrier. I know I am unneccessarily worrying about application essays. I’m so nervous about it that I’m having trouble writing them, which makes me even more nervous.

    I was wondering…any of you hardworking people have advice on how to stop worrying so much about essays?

  15. rAnDom says:

    Are you still looking for designs for your blog?

  16. Bryan says:

    Great entry, Mitra.

    To all you MIT 2010 hopefuls,

    I echo all of Mitra’s advice. Like she said, be yourself. Take a minute/hour/day/week to think about what it is you want to say in your essay, and then write about that.

    Best of luck,


  17. Is 30 words over reasonably within the word limit?

  18. To jane: I’m not so worried about my essays, but perhaps it’s becoz I talk to my form teacher a lot about it. You could try that too.

  19. Sulinya says:

    Hey Mitra

    Thanks for the advice- though how much does MIT care about the essays relative to the other parts of the application?

  20. Sulinya says:

    Hey Mitra!

    Thanks for the advice! How much does MIT value essays relative to the whole application package?

  21. Diamond says:

    Hi guys! Yep, 2010 is good but we want to apply earlier. Is there anybody wishin’ to apply 2005 or 2006? Sure we’ll make a deal, and help each other!

  22. Mitra says:

    Hey guys,

    Good questions about essay length and relative weight. I’ll edit my entry to address these points.


  23. Omar says:

    Hey, it’s been a long time since I don’t visit the blog, and now I come while getting ready to start filling my MIT Application, to find out that you’ve just answered one of my questions. Thanks! I really hope that you keep up the great work. Hopefully I’ll see you later wink

  24. Omar says:

    PS: I want you to know that I am really… not scared, but kind of anxious because I’m not good at writting essays, and well, I am concerned about the fact that I know how important it is to write an essay, but I don’t know how to write an essay that address one topic and at the same time makes the admission staff know who I am. It’s something really complex for me that I am better with numbers than words.

  25. What’s with the Online Applications and Tracking link? Every time I click on it, I get this message:

    An application error occured at approximately Sat Jul 30 18:13:14 EDT 2005 (java.lang.NullPointerException).

    The date obviously keeps changing whenever I try to click on it another date.

    Anybody knows what’s going on?

  26. it still happens?

    I had been working on my application and received no error. Have you tried changing the PC or the internet browser?

  27. Yeah, I’ve been trying on all sorts of computers. At home, at school; all of them don’t work. Sigh… Okay, I think I’ll change browser. Seems like IE refuses to work. Thanks Omar!



  28. wudake says:


    As a undergraduated student, in my opinion,EE is better than CS.

  29. rizat says:

    hello mitra,

    i would like to introduce myself.iam rizat and iam from india.i would like to get admission in mit .i am a student in pune and would like to come over there.i don’t have any frens who reside there but that my dream where i would like to study for my futher study.i come to know your e-mail add in ur seem like u are an indian ur name and other thing.can u plz help me in my undergraduate.i don’t know how to apply and how can i prepare myself .if there is other thing also i would like to come to know it.

    i pray that u can help for me .

    thank you,


  30. wudake says:

    A good student,must be noble-minded,learned and healthy.

  31. sran says:


    I already posted this question on Matt’s blog, so please disregard it if it is considered spam. I also apologize for any rambling; I’m a bit tired right now.

    You mention that the word limits are not rigid and dependent on the essay itself. I’m in a bit of a bind. I wrote short (the 100-word) essays that I thought reflected my own character, gave details, were mildly entertaining to a reader, and showed how much I researched and loved MIT (Over the course of RSI I started to love it more and more). Problem: One essay comes to 151 words, another to ~183 words. I can hack maybe a few tens of words from each, but after that, I start losing content. 1) How bad is this, 2) What are acceptable essay length bounds, and 3) What should I scrimp on first? Details, research into + love for MIT, what?


  32. Yimin says:

    What is interview like?


  33. Rachael says:

    Thank you for the tips! They will definitely be kept in mind when I apply for class of ’11.

  34. Thanks, I’m glad to hear that I am awesome!

    Not that I didn’t already know that… wink. After all, I am the Emperor of the Moon.

  35. ragahv says:


    i am from nepal and want to contact you

  36. mohamad reza says:

    Hello Mitra Iam study electerical enjineering now in Iran.I would like to get admission in MIT please help me.I cant complete my admission for 2006.thanks