Mit Essay Prompts 2012

Ahh, the application essay. Why is it so agonizing for students worldwide? Which topic shall be chosen, A or B? Can I impress those admissions staff? Is there such a thing as too personal?

I can't recall precisely when I decided to apply to MIT Early Action. Or precisely why. It was that dream in the sky that I think I wanted more than other dreams in the sky. And so my college application season began.

My interview was at the Cosi at 13th Street and 6th Avenue with a young recent graduate named Steve. I always get really nervous at interviews. I remember nothing else about Steve (was he Course 15? 14? did he even know NYC?), but he liked the drawing I'd made while waiting for him and seemed really impressed by my response to my upbringing and family situation. Like, about to pee his pants impressed that I'd climbed so high on the life ladder. I left more than an hour later feeling like that went pretty well.

Then there's the essay. Like a good hopeful applicant, I spent weeks thinking about and working on my essay. And reworking it. Over and over again. The online submission date was November 1. Shortly before then, something amazing happened.

The website crashed.
ZOMG THE SITE CRASHED

If I recall correctly, nothing was actually lost. But for the trouble, we were granted a few extra days to submit our applications. The due date was moved to Friday, November 4th 11:59pm.

WIN!

(Also known as, do you know how to procrastinate? You will soon...)

I sometimes wonder whether what happened next was a fantastic twist of fate. How much would have changed if the following had not happened?:

Early Friday evening, I decided I hated my essay. I hated it so much that I considered it broken beyond repair. So, with only a few hours before the deadline (maybe the site won't crash again?), I started my essay from scratch. The next two or three hours were a frantic night of keyboard-banging, friend-proofreading, and increasing panic. Wouldn't it have been safer to submit the overly-edited essay?

I gave MIT the new essay, and MIT gave me admission.

For those beginning their applications and perhaps working on their essays this very moment, and perhaps for those who were just curious as to what a decent college application essay is like, I share mine with you. You'll learn more about me in the process, which is really what the essay is supposed to do in the first place right? :)

(If Ms. Cleary happens to be reading this, um, well, hi. Look where I am now. :D)

Living in the graffiti-adorned projects of the Lower East Side, I’ve adjusted well to low-income living. Stuyvesant High School’s done a first-rate job on making me feel like an outcast for it.

“You can get a fee waiver once you give us a copy of your parent’s 1040 tax forms,” Ms. Cleary automatically explained.

“My parents don’t have tax forms,” I said pointedly. “They don’t fill them out.”

“Of course they file tax forms,” she shot back. “Everyone does.” After a few more minutes of fruitless discussion, I left the College Office, unsuccessful. I would pay for SAT II exams, again.

Even with fee waivers, applying to college is pricey. Sending test scores to more than 4 colleges cost money, AP exams fees are reduced but not obliterated, and I’d love to meet the genius who thought of charging a fee for applying for financial aid. When approaching Ms. Cleary for help with the CCS Profile - I didn’t know where to indicate welfare and food stamp income - she asked me which school I chose to apply to.

“M.I.T.,” I replied.

“Oh, M.I.T.?” she mused. “How ironic, that you’re applying to M.I.T. and yet you can’t fill out a form…” I don’t consider my school’s administration supportive or welcoming.

My family felt strained enough paying $57 for senior dues when I attended middle school. Being a senior at Stuy is much, much worse. So far, this year’s classes have demanded about $270 total in textbooks, workbooks, art supplies, and other expenses. When my teachers ask whether anyone will have trouble paying for their supplies, no one speaks up and an awkward silence ensues.

While academic costs have mostly been waived, high school memories are not priceless. Yearbook photos just came in, and packages cost from $86 to about $230. I’ll probably wear an old dress and take the subway to my senior prom, which will probably set me back another $160. I will not get a class ring.

Many of my friends carry $10 and $20 daily, while I get $5 on a good day. Most of their parents are middle to upper class, working as teachers, lawyers, programmers, doctors, writers, social workers, or scientists, unlike my mother who is excused from work because of illness. Some of my classmates come from private schools, and many buy prep books for exams and have been in expensive SAT prep courses since middle school. They seem unable to comprehend my situation; the blank, baffled looks on their faces upon learning I have no cable television, cell phone, or air conditioning shock me.

“We do it because we want you to be happy,” my grandmother had explained to me when giving me $60 to attend a discounted college trip. Even in a nation governed by socioeconomic class, I believe that happiness and perseverance are enough for success. Although I use second-hand paints and brushes in acrylic painting class, I know that my painting will look just as striking.

As the summer rolls on, we're starting to get a lot of questions from prospective applicants about what essay questions will be on our application this year. Although our application does not go live for another few weeks, I know many of you are eager to start thinking about how you'll answer these questions.

Our approach to application "essays" is not a single, longform essay, but rather five short-answer questions where we try to get to know different aspects of each individual. Here are this year's questions:

  • We know you lead a busy life, full of activities, many of which are required of you. Tell us about something you do simply for the pleasure of it. (100 words or fewer)
  • Although you may not yet know what you want to major in, which department or program at MIT appeals to you and why? (100 words or fewer)
  • At MIT, we bring people together to better the lives of others. MIT students work to improve their communities in different ways, from tackling the world’s biggest challenges to being a good friend. Describe one way in which you have contributed to your community, whether in your family, the classroom, your neighborhood, etc. (200-250 words)
  • Describe the world you come from; for example, your family, clubs, school, community, city, or town. How has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations? (200-250 words)
  • Tell us about the most significant challenge you’ve faced or something important that didn’t go according to plan. How did you manage the situation? (200-250 words)

People often ask me, "How do I stand out in an essay?" or something to that effect. As MIT admissions officers, our primary goal in reading these essays is to get to know you, the applicant. It's not to be wowed, or feel like we need to read the most unique piece of writing we've ever seen. Over my ten years of working in admissions, I've probably read over 100,000 essays; after a certain point, there's just no such thing as a truly *unique* essay. So worry less about coming up with something we've never read before (because we most likely have anyways), and focus more on making sure your essays authentically convey who you are (or some aspect of who you are). If I, the reader, am able to learn something new about you, then you've written a great response and the essay has served its purpose.

There are many other posts on the blogs here with great advice about writing college application essays, so I won't bother repeating what they've said. You should check out this post by Petey, this one by Krystal, and this one by Chris S, among others. (Note that some of the older posts refer to old essay questions that no longer exist, so while some of the specific content may be outdated, the general advice still applies.)

Have fun, and good luck!
 

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