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MIT Requirements: 4 essays of 200-225 words each, 1 essay of 100 words
There’s an old cheesy joke that goes like this: A college student is standing in the “10 items or less” checkout lane at a grocery store in Boston. When she finally gets to the register, it turns out she has 12 items. The cashier rolls her eyes and says, “Okay, so either you’re from Harvard and you can’t count or you’re from MIT and you can’t read.” (Badum-chhh!) Sadly, you will be expected to read and write in college—even at MIT! In fact, MIT admissions cares so much about your writing that they’ve concocted their own separate application with four required essays. Don’t worry, though, you’ll also get to show off your counting skills thanks to each essay’s pretty tight word count: 200 words. (Though the application will accept up to 225.) So the real challenge of this application is crafting tight, incisive essays that tell focused stories about your life. Got it? Okay!
Alright, now let’s dig in!
MIT is explicitly asking you to back away from the resume, and forget your structured activities. It’s not about proving what you can do, but revealing what you love to do. Put another way, this prompt is about self-care: What always, without fail, brings a smile to your face? What helps you recharge your batteries? What do you do and where do you go when you’re feeling down? When you start to think of things that feel a little silly or personal, you’re heading in the right direction. The activity you choose should be informal and unique to you.
Although MIT invites you to be honest, we also suggest you balance your honesty with specific details and storytelling. You might want to try to come up with something a little more original than sleep, read, or hang out with friends, but if these are your options, then you have to commit. If you like to spend time with your friends, what sorts of things do you do together? If you like to sleep, have you perfected the art of the power nap? What are your favorite things to read and how do you organize your personal library? Let your personality and tastes shine through! And before you start to say, “But I really do love volunteering at the soup kitchen during my spare time,” don’t worry. There’s a community service essay a little later in this supplement.
The fun thing about community essays like this one is that the word “community” can mean anything. It could be something traditional like your church or extended family, but it could also be any other group you consider yourself a part of. Maybe you found an important group of friends and mentors once you got into breakdancing. Or perhaps there’s an online community of writers that you rely on for honest feedback. If you’re drawing a blank, try to list out a few individual people who have impacted your life for the better. Then try to fit them into a larger community. If you picked your grandpa, think about how your extended family has shaped who you are today. How have your family traditions or fishing trips given you a lens through which to see the world? How can you lead admissions to a new way of understanding the person you are today?
We recommend working your way backward through this prompt, because the last sentence really says it all! Your community can be any size or scale, from your theater club to your entire city. You likely already have a specific community service experience in mind, but before you dive in, we encourage you to take a moment and brainstorm some smaller, more informal options. You’ll also want to keep in mind how your work relates to “the world’s biggest challenges,” but starting small could lead you to a more unique and thoughtful essay. Think of a moment when you collaborated with people who are different from you and felt like you made a change in your local community. It can be something small, but it should mean a great deal to you. Perhaps you invited your new neighbors over for dinner to make them feel welcome in a neighborhood where they are the racial minority. Did you learn things about them you may never have known otherwise? Did that dinner lead to carpools and Sunday barbeques? Maybe, as the president of the Black Student Union, you joined forces with the Environmental Club to plant street trees in a historically underserved neighborhood. Did you make new friends you likely wouldn’t have met otherwise? Do you take pride every time you see those trees standing tall? No matter what, make sure you choose to write about a story or experience that is meaningful to you.
You can check out our guide to Common App Prompt #2 for a full rundown on how to tackle this kind of prompt, but in summary we’ll say this: a question about failure or struggle is really a question about resilience and success! Also, if you chose to write about prompt #2 for your Common App personal statement, we’ve got some extra good news for you: MIT isn’t on the Common App! You’ll need to cut your essay down to size, but other than that, you’re home free on this prompt. Good for you!
This is MIT’s version of a classic “Why Essay.” Even if you’re not completely sure what you want to major in yet, MIT wants to both learn about your academic interests, and see how their offerings will suit your passions. If you can build a bridge between your own interests and the resources available at MIT, you’ll be well on your way to demonstrating your fit. So set aside a few hours and commit to some hardcore research on the MIT website. (Sorry, there’s no way around this, folks!) Beyond the basic departmental listings, look up information about news and research coming out of your department of interest, the kinds of courses available, and the opportunities other undergrads have had studying in your area of choice. Even if you have a wide array of interests, consider explaining how two or three departments might complement each other or foster your interest in a larger theme or cross-pollinating kind of way. Your ultimate goal is to show that your interest in MIT (just like your intellectual curiosity) runs deep!