How to Get Into MIT: Essays and Strategies that Worked

How hard is it to get into MIT? Learn about MIT’s application process and successful approaches to MIT’s short-answer essay questions—which are not on the Common Appto improve your child’s odds of being accepted

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Introduction

If your child has the grades and tests scores to be competitive for the best Ivy League schools and Ivy Plus schools (e.g., Caltech, Stanford) and is interested in pursuing a career in a STEM-related field (science, technology, engineering, and math), you may want to encourage them to apply to one of the most prestigious Ivy Plus schools: MIT.

MIT—the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—is among the most prestigious, famous, and rigorous universities in the world (yes, in the same tier as its neighbor across the river, Harvard). In this science and technology-crazed world, a degree from MIT is sure to impress employers. Moreover, the years spent on MIT’s futuristic campus in historic Cambridge, MA can change the course of your child’s life. 

From years of helping students navigate MIT’s application and essay questions, we’ve put together key tips for how to get into MIT, including how your child can write standout essays to earn a place there. 

At MIT, your child can conduct research in the lab where the human genome was sequenced, intern at a tech company like Google in nearby Kendall Square, collaborate with scientists on cutting-edge research in aeronautical engineering (actual rocket science), pursue an interest in art and technology at the famous MIT design lab, and even take a creative writing course with a Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist. 

MIT students spend their summers pursuing research and prestigious internships thanks to MIT’s network and generous financial support for research grants. Some students may spend the summer interning in Silicon Valley at Facebook or on Wall Street at a top firm. They might even conduct research at NASA or design an innovative suspended bridge in Portugal. 

Because of MIT’s name recognition, students will stand out to recruiters in a variety of professions. 

And life after MIT? Alumni attend prestigious graduate schools, travel the world with Fulbright Scholarships, invent lucrative smartphone apps in Silicon Valley, design skyscrapers, enter politics, and much more—both in and out of the STEM fields. In addition to a strong network that includes Nobel Laureates, astronauts, and CEOs, a degree from MIT might make people believe that your child is, well, a genius. 

MIT Ranking

MIT routinely ranks as one of the best universities in the US:

  • Forbes: 4

  • Niche: 1

  • US News & World Report: 2

  • Wall Street Journal: 2

  • Washington Monthly: 3

  • QS Universities: 1

  • Times Higher Education: 5

  • CWUR: 3

Where is MIT?

MIT is located in Cambridge, MA, just a short walk away from Boston via the Longfellow Bridge or the Harvard Bridge. Take the Boston T (the subway) from Kendall Square to get to Boston in under 10 minutes. Population: ~100,000—a small yet densely populated city that is accessible to, but independent from, Boston. 4 million people live in the Boston metropolitan area. 

Setting

Semi-Urban. Composed of distinct “squares,” Cambridge offers tasty food, vibrant cafes, bookstores, record stores, vintage clothing shops, and much more.

MIT Undergrad Population

4,547

MIT Acceptance Rate

6.7% overall (Early action: 7.36% | Regular decision: 3.99%)

(Suggested Reading: MIT Admissions Statistics)

Cost of attendance per year (i.e., tuition, room, board, and fees)

$73,160

Average financial aid award

$51,752

Who gets into MIT? 

MIT emphasizes its holistic admissions process and does not publish the average GPA or class rank of its incoming class.

  • Test scores: MIT publishes its average ACT and SAT scores

    • MIT average ACT score: 35

      • 25th percentile: 34

      • 75th percentile: 36

    • MIT average SAT score: 1550

      • 25th percentile: 1520

      • 75th percentile: 1580

  • International students: 11%

  • Asian Americans and Caucasians make up the largest percentage of MIT’s population, about 40% each.

  • Most MIT students major in STEM-related fields. Among those who don’t, architecture, urban planning, and management (at MIT Sloan) are popular choices. The interdisciplinary program “Humanities and Engineering” is a favorite among students interested in engineering, literature, history, and the arts.  

  • Many students pursue minors in non-STEM fields, such as writing, political science, and comparative media studies.

MIT admission requirements

Like its peer institutions in the Ivy League and the Ivy Plus schools, MIT looks for ambitious students who demonstrate academic excellence and passion, especially in science and technology.

To impress MIT, your child will need to demonstrate great potential in the STEM fields. MIT admissions officers are looking for students who took advantage of the educational opportunities that they were afforded in high school. If your child attended a high school with a rigorous IB or AP curriculum, MIT will look for a successful track record in those courses.

If your child’s school doesn’t have the means or resources to challenge them sufficiently, you should help your child seek outside STEM material and coursework, through community college, online, or summer programs. It’s unlikely that someone without a fairly advanced background in at least chemistry, physics, biology, and calculus stands a chance at MIT admissions. Your child should take AP Calculus AB or BC (or the equivalent) by their senior year, at the latest.

But grades aren’t enough. MIT isn’t just looking to admit people who can ace science tests. Those people aren’t the ones who need access to cutting edge neuroscience labs, funding to conduct research abroad, and resources for launching startups. MIT wants to admit students who will utilize the university’s unparalleled resources. They are looking for students who take risks when designing robots and who take the initiative to create their own smartphone apps. 

They want to educate future leaders in STEM, meaning they’re also looking for intellectual creativity and curiosity, often demonstrated through extracurricular activities.

Has your child, for instance, taught themselves to code if their school didn’t offer computer science? Is she an advanced tinkerer who’s created a device to make solar energy more efficient in the school cafeteria? Are they a national robotics champion or a competitor in the Intel Science Fair? Has he excelled in his school’s math team by participating in competitions at the state or national level?

Here are the specifics.

MIT does not use Common App, Coalition App, or the Universal College Application. Instead, MIT uses its own application system and process, so your child will need to write new essays or reuse excerpts from the Common App Essay or UC essays:

  • MyMIT Application

  • ACT or SAT test scores, with or without writing. MIT superscores the SAT and ACT, so they’ll consider your child’s highest scores in each section across multiple exams. 

  • Required: one SAT Subject Test in Math (Level I or Level II)

  • Required: one SAT Subject Test in Science (Physics, Chemistry, or Biology)

  • 1 teacher evaluation from a STEM teacher (e.g., Math, Biology, Computer Science)

  • 1 teacher evaluation from a humanities/social science/language teacher (e.g., English, history, Spanish, government)

  • 1 counselor letter of recommendation (from the school college or guidance counselor)

  • Optional: your child may submit a third, supplemental evaluation. While most applicants do not submit this optional evaluation, it may be a good addition to your child’s application if he or she participated in an impressive internship, did research, or succeeded in an extracurricular activity. 

  • Coursework: MIT does not specify requirements for what students completed in high school, but to prepare for their rigorous curriculum, the MIT admissions team recommends one year of physics, one year of chemistry, one year of biology, math through calculus, two years of a foreign language, four years of English, and two years of history and/or social sciences.

Applying to MIT early action vs. regular decision

Your child can apply early to MIT by November 1 and receive a decision of either accepted, deferred, or denied, by December 15th. 

MIT follows an early action model (in contrast to early decision), which means that your child does not need to attend MIT if they are accepted at this stage. Your child can apply to other universities and make their final decision in April.

If your child receives a deferral, then they will re-enter the regular admissions pool and find out on PI Day (March 14) whether or not they have been accepted, waitlisted, or rejected. 

Unlike Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, or Yale, MIT does not have restrictive or single-choice early action. MIT simply asks that students respect other colleges’ restrictive early action policies, so your child cannot apply to MIT early action if they are applying restrictive or single-choice early action elsewhere.

However, your child can apply to schools with non-restrictive early action, like Georgetown’s early action program, or to early decision programs, such as Columbia’s early decision program. If your child is accepted to the early decision program, they must withdraw their application from MIT.

Your child can also apply regular decision, by January 1.

How do you know if your child should apply to MIT early? 

MIT early action might be the right choice for your child:

  • If MIT is one of their top choices

  • If there is no other school they’d like to apply to via early decision or restrictive early action

  • If your child is applying to their top choice early decision and is willing to withdraw their MIT application upon acceptance to the early decision school.

  • If their test scores and grades are strong by the end of junior year

MIT admits about half of their class early and half of their class in the regular decision pool. However, the regular pool is more competitive because it includes deferred applicants and regular decision applicants. 

Most importantly: MIT doesn’t offer preference to those who apply early.

2019-2020 MIT supplemental essays (examples included)

(Note: While this section covers MIT’s admissions essays specifically, we encourage you to view additional successful college essay examples.)

MIT is posing the following short essay questions for the 2019-2020 application cycle

  • 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)

  • A final, open-ended additional information text box, where your child can tell the Admissions Committee anything they need to know or explain some confusing aspect of their application (note: this is neither an essay nor required). Your child should treat this box like the Common App Additional Information Section.

MIT Essay #1

1. 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)

Much like the Stanford Roommate Essay, this prompt invites students to share a unique aspect of their personality that is not necessarily academic. 

To brainstorm for this essay, your child should choose an interest or a hobby that demonstrates creativity, a sense of humor, or perhaps an unusual passion that most applicants won’t share.  

Here’s what Van, an aspiring novelist and brain surgeon, decided to share with the admissions committee:

I love to write novels. The excitement I feel when I've finished my math problem sets, said goodnight to my sisters, and open my word document titled, “The Last Murder in Paris,” is unparalleled.

I take my laptop off my desk, sit on my beanbag with a cup of earl grey tea, and imagine I am in 1940s Paris. Occasionally I write a stream of consciousness that I edit later; other times, I invent new characters that my protagonist, Jean-Michel, must encounter. I set a timer to remind myself to return to reality before it’s too late. What bliss!

Here’s why Van succeeds in crafting this essay:   

  • She puts us in the moment while remaining concise. While Van does not have time to tell a story, she does detail her routine in a way that allows us to imagine her writing process. We almost feel as if we are watching Van write the novel ourselves. Her excitement is palpable to her readers.

  • She shares a passion that is both pleasurable and intellectual. Even though Van wants to pursue research in biochemical engineering, her interest in writing novels demonstrates that she is curious about the arts, even if she does not intend to be the next Ernest Hemingway or Toni Morrison. For Van, engaging in a creative yet intellectual process brings her pleasure, not the success of becoming a best-selling novelist.

  • She shows off her creativity. Perhaps the most striking part of Van’s response is that she spends substantial amount of time imagining what it was like to live in 1940s Paris. She tells us that her writing process is complex, as she uses stream of consciousness as a way to brainstorm for her novel.

MIT Essay #2

2. 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)

Like other “Why” essays, this prompt offers students an opportunity to show why they are excited about MIT. While students are not required to declare a major, this prompt offers a chance to show MIT that your has done their homework on their unique course offerings. 

Daniel, a Chinese-American who has conducted research on how mosquitoes transmit viruses at the university in his hometown, wants to use this essay as an opportunity to discuss how his autoimmune disorder influenced his career ambitions.

Ever since I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder at thirteen, I have been passionate about genetics. My hours spent in the doctor’s office taught me how vital it is to develop better affordable diagnostic technologies. To pursue this interest, I’d like to major in Course 7, which offers courses in human diseases, neurobiology, evolutionary biology, and other topics related to genetics. The field of genetics is going to explode with life-improving discoveries, and my dream is to make a difference in the world through research such as that being done by Eric Lander into the human genome. 

Here’s how Daniel captured the attention of the Admissions Committee:

  • He connects his interest in MIT’s academics to his personal story. Daniel does not simply say that he wants to major in biology and become a doctor. Instead, he draws on personal experiences to identify a problem in the medical field that requires innovative research in science and technology. 

  • He demonstrates an understanding of MIT’s unique course offerings. Unlike the students who responded by saying that they wish to major in math, physics, chemistry, or biology, Daniel chooses an academic program that is unique to MIT. He even lists the course offerings that excite him the most. Of course, if your child does wish to major in the more traditional sciences, they can still pull off what Daniel does by connecting to a particular branch or application of those sciences.

  • He states his goals for the future. Beyond simply stating what he hopes to accomplish at MIT, Daniel expresses his goals for the future. As a bonus, Daniel demonstrates an interest in a specific faculty member in his field of interest and an ongoing project in which he may participate. 

MIT Essay #3

3. 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)

If you’re applying to Stanford, you might use your Stanford Roommate Essay as inspiration for this prompt. Or, you might also draw from an essay on diversity or expand on a significant activity from your Common App Activities Section. Focusing on an activity or a situation where you made an impact is key for succeeding in this essay. 

Because Juan, a second-generation Mexican-American who attends a boarding school in Southern California, wrote about starting a bike-share program for his Common App essay, he wanted to recycle the beginning of that essay for his MIT application in order to highlight his unusual accomplishment.

My school has a major bike problem. When students graduate, hundreds of bikes are abandoned which, over the years, turn into piles of rust and broken parts. They adulterate the look of the campus, in addition to being a waste of money. Sadly, many students could use a bike but can’t afford one. Last April, I worked with four fellow classmates to solve this problem. Focusing on sustainability, we researched and wrote a detailed proposal that would bring a bike-share program to our campus. 

Aside from working with students, I had to enter into the world of school administrators and local business owners. While researching, I spoke with high school students and administrators across the country who had started bike-share programs at other schools. Our team worked with the school’s lawyer to draft a liability agreement. We spoke with our school deans about why previous endeavors failed. Our head principal was especially resistant to the idea, but after providing answers to her concerns, we received approval. After raising the funds, we began work on launching the pilot program, which is set to start this January. While we’re still drafting a helmet policy and need final approval of the school’s security team, it feels amazing knowing that we’re on the path to helping our fellow classmates by creating a desirable service for students that also addresses the campus’s needs. I call that a win-win.

Here’s why Juan’s essay stands outs: 

  • He selects and highlights an unusual extracurricular activity. Unlike students who write about leading the marching band, serving as president of National Honor Society, or volunteering abroad, Juan chooses an experience that is unique to his high school experience. The accomplishment comes off as more meaningful because Juan engages in a project that addresses a specific and unusual problem in his community.   

  • He depicts himself working with a team in a variety of unique settings. Juan and his fellow classmates do not treat this project like the typical class assignment. They engage with a variety of members in their community, both inside and outside of the school. Perhaps most strikingly, we find out that the team conducted research by speaking to other students and administrators who have implemented similar projects across the country. Juan’s community encompasses his classmates, his school’s administration team, business owners in the school’s town, and like-minded students and administrators across the country. 

  • He details the nuances of his team’s process without boring the reader with minutiae. We learn that this project began in April of the previous year and will be implemented in January of the following year, which shows how committed the author is to this project. Along the way, we discover that the team spent substantial time identifying the various obstacles to their project and discovering innovative solutions. 

MIT Essay #4

4. 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)

Here’s how Esther,  a Korean-American with an interest in the arts and physics, took on this tricky question, which requires a nice balance of abstract ideas and biographical facts. 

I come from a family that values arts, curiosity, and exploration. I love to sing, make ceramic sculptures, and write poetry. My dad, who is a photographer, has taken my family to unique locations across South America, Africa and Asia for his various projects. These adventures have challenged me by exposing me to cultures, customs, foods, and beliefs vastly different from my own, and have instilled in me a love for the unknown, which can be explored, as my mom tells me, through literature, art, and the imagination. 

My boarding school community has furthered my desire for exploration by allowing me to cohabitate and study with peers from 25 countries and 28 states. My best friend is from Japan, I lead a dance class with a friend from Switzerland, and my calculus study partner is from Kentucky. Discussions about French existentialism and the ethics of genetic engineering have helped me relate to my classmates on a more meaningful level. I care deeply about connecting with others and feel so lucky to be able to learn from classmates with different perspectives from my own.

When I am with my family or at school, I always let my mind wander in productive ways. I want to learn more about the world so that I can make a difference and help others. It’s immensely empowering to share a curiosity with my family and classmates. I know that this curiosity will allow me to leave my mark on the world.

Here’s how Esther surprised her readers:

  • She answers the prompt creatively, not simply with a list of facts. Counterintuitively, Esther used the prompt as a way to show that where she comes from is not limited to geography. There is no mention of geographical location or of her family’s ethnic background—both of which are fine routes into discussing diversity, but far from the only approach.

  • She focuses on one quality that she has nurtured because of her unusual background. Esther comes from a world that values something rather abstract: curiosity. Through the idea of curiosity, Esther brilliantly relates her family life to her school life. The essay succeeds because it leads the reader to believe that Esther will thrive on MIT’s diverse campus.  

  • She demonstrates interests that may not be present elsewhere in her application. Esther uses this prompt as an opportunity to tell us about her exposure to French Philosophy, genetics, ceramics, poetry, dance, photography, and travel. She seems like the type of student who would thrive in MIT’s many clubs and organizations. Esther also comes across as someone who takes risks and would venture into unusual course offerings.

MIT Essay #5

5. 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)

To tackle this tricky prompt, Benjamin, the class president and captain of his school’s robotics team, depicts the difficulties he faced during his homestay in Colombia while nonetheless remaining positive about his overall experience in the country.

I sat down for lunch during my homestay in Colombia. I heard my host sister say, “He looks horrible today. He didn’t shower again.” Although I was not totally fluent in Spanish then, I understood more than my host family realized. Their truths hurt. 

My host family was severe, often making me the focus of their jokes.  They tricked me into eating animal testicles and set me up to embarrass myself in front of their friends. It was a taxing experience, full of humiliating situations and put-downs. Though I’m usually confident and love embracing new situations, I never felt so alone and homesick than with this family. But I stayed strong. In broken Spanish, I spoke up for myself when I could and made the most of the opportunities afforded to me. Mostly, I became aware of how many children do not grow up in supportive families and face constant criticism from their own parents.  

My positive energy and my love for journaling about my feelings got me through the three months in Medellín. Despite my discomfort, I never let my host family paint a negative picture of Colombia and its people. Rudeness is not exclusive to any culture, and the Colombians I met outside of my host family were among the warmest, most generous people I’ve met in my life. In fact, Medellín is my favorite city in the world, and the amiable, selfless Paisa culture continues to inspire how I treat others in the United States. 

Here’s how Benjamin impressed the admissions committee:

  • He does not victimize himself. Whereas other students approach this prompt by addressing the most dramatic, tragic moment in their lives, Benjamin succeeds by highlighting an experience that is exasperating and distressing, not catastrophic.

  • He avoids being melodramatic. Because his homestay was frustrating as opposed to devastating, Benjamin shows that he is capable of thriving in awkward, unfavorable environments. After all, he still learns to love Medellín and Colombia, despite the poor relationship he had with his host family.

  • He shows that he is open-minded. Because he does not make generalizations about Colombians, Benjamin demonstrates maturity, patience, and critical thinking skills, all qualities that will impress the admissions officers at MIT. 

Conclusion 

Like other Ivies and Ivy plus schools, MIT is a reach for even the most brilliant students. Success in AP and IB science and math courses and top grades are the norm in the matriculating class. By making unique accomplishments in extracurricular activities or by developing a project that demonstrates passion, your child will be well on their way to exhibiting the qualities that the MIT admissions committee looks for in their applicants.