September 20, 2019

MIT Essay 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)

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.

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