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September 20, 2019

MIT Essay 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)

This is a tricky one. Kind of. But we’re going to make it un-tricky. Let’s reverse the prompt, as far as your approach goes. Begin with identifying what your dreams and aspirations are. Focus less on the actual end, and more on the underlying nature of it. For example, you’d want to avoid saying “I want to be the CEO of Apple” and instead say “I want to lead a tech company that pushes the world to dream, daily.” That way you don’t box yourself into a narrow definition and you allow yourself to achieve that vision in a variety of ways.

Once you have a vague sense, try to trace your influences (don’t skip ahead yet, for now just think about the few significant people or things that helped inspire these goals). This can happen in a variety of ways, by the way. There may have been people whose examples inspired you to follow in their footsteps and build upon things they’d already done. Or, it could be oppositional. Your influences may have been people doing things that drove you insane and inspired you to counteract them, as your life’s mission. Or anywhere in between. Try to “materialize” those influences though, in the form of a few bullets along a timeline that charts the evolution of your aspirations.

Great. This isn’t easy, by the way. And as a soon-to-be college student, you’re not expected to have your life mapped out. (In fact, the coolest kids are the ones just brimming with potential who have yet to discover their true callings.) Now… try something interesting. Imagine the world you come from. Family, clubs, school, community, city, town, all those things, and REPLACE IT ALL with a starkly contrasting alternate version.

Go with us here. Could be fun, could be tedious, but try it. Imagine it. “Try on a different race. Or socioeconomic status. Or neighborhood, or size of house you grew up in, or what your parents did for a living.” Imagine it all differently. A good way to do this is to swap out your material circumstances with a friend’s, or someone you know. Someone who grew up with different influences.

Now take another look at your list of bullets from earlier. Which of those disappear? Which of those would look COMPLETELY different now that all your “environmental” stimuli have changed? Which ones stay the same, meaning, no matter WHAT the circumstance would be exactly as they are cuz they are not vulnerable to environmental stimuli? This may help reveal which stimuli (in the form of people or things) helped to shape your goals, and allow you to formulate clear crisp explanations of exactly how that shaping took place. Walk us through a few great examples. Struggling to come up with examples? You can consider getting guidance from our admissions consultants.

(Depending on your particular story, you can order this either way: start with your aspirations and then walk us through the influences. Or, start with the influences and lead up to your goals. Either can work, you’ve just got to find the version that makes your story pop the most.)

You can also read through our team’s analysis of the rest of MIT’s application essays.

Learn more and explore each step of MIT’s undergraduate application process here.

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September 20, 2019

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)

Only a few of you will have the natural instinct to be 100% honest here and let loose. The REST of you are likely going to ask yourselves some version of the following: “what can I say here that will impress the admissions committee the most”? Dear, dear applicant… this is your opportunity to unclench, and let loose. If your answer here is boring, guess what that says about you. If your answer here feels overly manufactured, guess what that says about you.

MIT has the luxury of picking out, from among the smartest candidates on planet Earth, the individuals who ALSO have a vibrant personality that will synergize well with other geniuses. So they get to take 100 over-qualified candidates, and find the 5 or so that light it up for them the most. Don’t blow these opportunities to be cool and likable. The way to be likable is to make honest admissions here, and prove that you’re unafraid to do so.

So, what stuff actually gives you pleasure? What stuff lessens stress? What stuff makes you smile? What stuff makes you giddy? What stuff makes you feel alive? Make a list. Aim for ten items. Ten things that no one around you necessarily knows about. Maybe they do, but maybe they don’t. Maybe these things that you do for the pleasure of it are private or hidden escapes that don’t appear on any bulletin boards in your school. Doesn’t matter. Make a list of ten.

Okay, phew. Hopefully, that was fun. In fact, hopefully, it became MORE fun once you started to get into the groove a bit. But now, you have a list of ten things. Which of these things do you think someone else MIGHT write about? Cross it out.

How many items are left? (If you have zero items left, we have another plan for you which we’ll get to in a minute.) Of these remaining items, which one feels the most unusual, or the one that is most “you”? Which one has a unique story behind it? Which one CONTRASTS with your profile the most? Let’s say your resume is chock full of science awards… imagine how boring it would be to learn that in your spare time, you like to experiment with growing plants. Good lord. It would be much cooler if instead you talked about how you are obsessed with costumes. Costumes in movies, theatre, Halloween… anything involving a costume, you’re all over it. (Weird! And cool!) Or, that you are determined to make a new flavor of soft drink, and in your spare time, you combine different fruit juices and vegetable extracts and other ingredients. Or, you’re extremely obsessed with Asian pop music, and you’re a blond-haired blue-eyed Alabaman with an uncomfortable history of not-so-open-minded grandparents.

Conflict is interesting. Clashes are interesting. Surprises are interesting. Think about what your “resume” says. And then see if anything on your list of genuine hobbies or interests somehow draws a contrast to it or “adds dimensionality.” It’s boring when everything you do feels predictable. Think about the best books or movies. Did any of them lack conflict?

Oh, and as promised, for those of you who lined-out all ten possibilities, fret not. Either you can take another swing with an additional five. Or, you “un-cross-out” those ten and look at them another way. Instead of asking whether someone else may talk about these, ask yourself if your particular relationship with any item on your list is somehow unique. For example, yes, I’m a Marvel comic book geek just like a million others, but… not in the same way. My obsession is with … {insert unusual twist that dismantles the possibility that someone else will write about the same thing}. This way, you can write about something someone else might, but in a completely different – and surprising – way.

Once you lock the thing or things you’re gonna write about, here’s a way to structure it:

  1. Two options for opening this sucker. You can either tell us about the thing straight away: What it is, what you do, how you got into it, why you like it, etc. Or, you can set up what kind of stuff your “busy schedule” is chock full of, and what’s MISSING that’s CRUCIAL TO UNDERSTANDING YOUR SOUL. This will SET UP your reveal for “the thing you do purely for pleasure.” Either way will work just fine. [40-70 words]
  2. For Part II, you’ll wanna make mention of how this activity fits into your overall picture. Does this fill a void? Does it counterbalance something else? If you took this AWAY, what do you think would happen to your state of mind and emotional balance? Hopefully… something. This is your chance to identify what that something is, and explain it to us. [30-60 words]

You can also read through our team’s analysis of the rest of MIT’s application essays.

Learn more and explore each step of MIT’s undergraduate application process here.

September 20, 2019

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)

For this sucker, spend less time extolling the virtues of a department and certain professors and all that jazz and spend MORE time (all of your time, actually) examining what aspects of the anticipated “learning” connects best with you.

One cool way to look at is this: imagine someone said “Congratulations! You get to go to MIT, but only through this bizarre roulette system where you’re gonna end up in one random department that you won’t get to choose, but you’ll have to stick with it for four years.” And let’s suppose that you ACCEPT that offer, for argument’s sake. What do those paths all look like? Do they fulfill more or less the exact same thing for you? Do you like each potential option equally? We certainly hope not! Hopefully, among the options, one or two stands out as being part of your overall future plan, fitting in with your skillset, desires, and goals… better. What are the elements that make that so?

“This is the subject matter that sends a bolt of lightning through my system, here’s why, here’s what I hope to do with it, and here’s why this particular department is the one that’s gonna combine with my passion, and vision, in the most meaningful way…” essentially.

See how that argument goes? It’s not quite as strong when you start by praising the department itself. Those arguments will be weightless without the more important context of what YOUR nature is, what your GOALS are, and therefore how and why this particular environment at MIT will help you fulfill those.


  1. First, establish what you WANT in a program. And what you NEED. Be specific.
  2. Now, explain why one or two SPECIFIC aspects of a specific department/program at MIT MEETS those wants and needs better than (or differently from) other schools/programs.

You can also read through our team’s analysis of the rest of MIT’s application essays.

Learn more and explore each step of MIT’s undergraduate application process here.

September 20, 2019

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)

Be careful not to do the humblebrag thing here. Don’t talk about the way you improved the lives of others, based on some amazing quality of yours (if this were a business school application, that WOULD be how you’d want to approach it – kind of).

But here, your focus has to be on what it was that made you act in the first place, and it should be the case that not everyone would have sprung into action at all, or in the same way. If a nearby child fell onto train tracks, presumably ANYONE AND EVERYONE would quickly leap into action to rescue the child, no? So, to claim that as a time when you “stepped up” and did something (brave) for the betterment of the community, falls a bit flat. “Who wouldn’t have done that?” The cooler version is the one where others, if given the same circumstances, might have either NOT THOUGHT to help, or would have thought about it but not acted. And perhaps you fought some demons in the middle of it as well, the more conflict the better. But ultimately you decided to do something. Walk us through it. Why was it difficult? What made it “questionable” or “not an obvious” thing to have done?

It should be clear that you didn’t NEED to do this. That no one was looking, and that you didn’t do it out of obligation, or guilt, or because you knew you’d be measured by others in this moment. That you “acted, even though no one was looking, and no one might ever even know” … is the truest evidence of genuine morality.

  1. So, to structure this, you’ll first wanna establish the status quo, the way things were BEFORE you did whatever you did. Take yourself out of it, what would have continued to happen? What was the normal way of things? Set it up. Establish the normal. [50 words]
  2. Next, lay out the choices you felt you had. One of those choices MUST have been not to act at all. And surely there were other options available to you as well. Walk us through what the tricky ones were, and why it wasn’t an obvious/easy decision. Explain what might have caused another otherwise ” decent” human being NOT to have acted in the way YOU ultimately did. What were the stakes? What would happen if you didn’t do anything? Who would care? [75 words]
  3. Walk us through what you did, whom it affected, how it all went down, the impact of it (so far as you could tell/measure). [75-100 words]
  4. And finally, why did you think about THIS moment in particular? What’s the significance of it in a bigger sense? [25-50 words]

You can also read through our team’s analysis of the rest of MIT’s application essays.

Learn more and explore each step of MIT’s undergraduate application process here.

September 20, 2019

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)

One key word to consider here: vulnerability. We need to hear about a time when you were knocked off balance. A time when you were absolutely uncertain of the outcome. When you doubted yourself. Maybe even when you lost faith in yourself. Certainly, a time when you felt like you didn’t know the answer. Or a time when you “did” know the answer… and you were wrong. The more willing you are to admit any of these, the more likely you are to seem like someone who has the ability to grow, and to play in the big leagues.

Your first challenge is to pick one example of when you made the biggest miscalculation of your life, or felt the most unsure of yourself… list a few examples that come to mind, and then focus on the one that represented the biggest “belly-flop.” The biggest blunder. The worst mistake. The most vulnerable moment, etc. Extremes are our friend here.

Take us quickly through your initial objective, and the challenges that were in your way, and your reasoning for pursuing whatever actions you initially took. Tell it to us in real time as though you were recording your thought process while it was happening; in other words, back when it all seemed like a good idea, or the correct way forward. This is key.

Then explain what went wrong. Don’t dwell on the details much, just give us the gist. More importantly, reveal how you PROCESSED this twist. This is the part where you talk about feeling weightless, disappointed, angry, no longer confident, whatever the cocktail of emotions was… we want to know it all. Take your time, be honest and admit to it all, fully.

Now, walk us through the “pull yourself up and fix it” plan. Perhaps you didn’t fix it, and that’s okay. But presumably, you attempted to rectify it somehow. Explain the internal (and/or external) conflicts. Walk us through those complicated emotions. And explain how it ended, remembering that a positive result isn’t the goal, but rather, a solid “life lesson” that made YOU stronger somehow.

This essay is all about “can this kid handle major curveballs”? And not just can you handle em, but maybe… have you learned from enough curveballs in the past that now you CRAVE them because that’s how you grow and develop the best? We hope you’re familiar with curveballs and know how to hit em, because your first year MIT (or any college, frankly) is going to be one giant curveball.

You can also read through our team’s analysis of the rest of MIT’s application essays.

Learn more and explore each step of MIT’s undergraduate application process here.

September 20, 2019

There is also one final, open-ended additional information text box, where you can tell us anything else you think we really ought to know.

The only thing that should go here is a FACET to your overall profile that’s utterly MISSING from your application. Or, a red flag in your profile that needs addressing (bad test scores, a blip in your grades, something that you believe doesn’t represent you properly). Other than those two things, don’t just flesh out something that they’ve either “gotten” already, or worse, doesn’t advance their understanding of you in any way.

If your application is ridiculously lop-sided in ANY direction, and there’s MORE dimensionality to you that absolutely MUST be conveyed, find a coooooool way to convey it. This is gonna vary from candidate to candidate, but this extra thing MIGHT be the kind of thing you can just state outright and it’ll work beautifully. Or, you’ll need to package it ever-so-carefully (like in a humorous or creative way, or something), to make it WORK. Impossible to give examples because it’s all part of a complex, holistic assessment of what the REST of the application sums to say about you, and what’s missing, and therefore… what to include and how to include it.

You can also read through our team’s analysis of the rest of MIT’s application essays.

Learn more and explore each step of MIT’s undergraduate application process here.

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