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Regular Decision Deadline: Jan 5
MIT Requirements: 3 essays of 200-225 words each, 1 essay of 150 words, 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 five short essays. Don’t worry, though, you’ll also get to show off your counting skills thanks to each essay’s tight word count. 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.
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!
Admissions wants to know how your background, whether it was full of opportunity or obstacles, has shaped your dreams and aspirations. So, tell them a story, the more specific the better, that demonstrates your journey to your current goals. Maybe you watched your parents struggle to make ends meet, which is why you hope to pursue a degree in Economics, so you can teach financial literacy to communities in need. Perhaps you grew up solving relational and logic puzzles with your grandpa every weekend, which led to a love of complex problem solving and a dream of a career in engineering. Whatever your story is, use this opportunity to give admissions a clearer picture of the goals you’re striving to achieve and how they came to be in the first place.
This question asks for a specific story: a collaborative one in which you either sought to learn from others or contributed to your community together. This is a great opportunity to write about a professional experience (your first time working in the kitchen as a line cook!) or community service (delivering meals to families in need!). Ideally, you should describe an experience that spans a decent amount of time—a few weeks or even months—so you can describe the phases of your collaboration and the end result. You should be driving at a lesson that you will be able to carry with you into the future (e.g., there’s something to learn from each person you meet or the power of local organizing). In other words: a takeaway that will positively impact your collaborative contributions at MIT.
We’ve all had curveballs thrown our way, and admissions wants to hear about a time when you adjusted your sails. The situation or challenge you discuss here can really run the gamut, from covering for a colleague and taking on new responsibilities at your after-school diner job to dealing with a serious injury, though you’ll want to avoid topics that may seem trite (a pop quiz you didn’t study for!). Once you explain the situation or challenge to admissions, focus on what you took away from your experience. Maybe you learned that you work well under pressure (and can hold three milkshake glasses in one hand!) or that you are more resilient than you realized and capable of the hard work required to heal and rehabilitate after surgery. Give yourself time to brainstorm for this prompt, because we’re willing to bet you have a few stories to choose from here.