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!
Update: this list is no longer accurate as of 8/18/2015. But the underlying philosophy remains the same.
The Common Application opened today, effectively inaugurating another college admissions cycle.
Now, as readers of this blog likely know, MIT does not use the Common App. Instead, for a variety of reasons, we use our own application, hosted locally at MyMIT.
One of the differences between the Common App and the MIT application is that we don't prompt for a single, longform essay. Instead, we ask our applicants to provide short (100-250 word) answers to five questions.
They are very simple, very straightforward, and this year, they go something like this:
- 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.
- Although you may not yet know what you want to major in, which department or program at MIT appeals to you and why?
- What attribute of your personality are you most proud of, and how has it impacted your life so far? This could be your creativity, effective leadership, sense of humor, integrity, or anything else you’d like to tell us about.
- 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?
- 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?
Now, I'm on record as saying that the college essay is often one of the most overthought components of an application, so please don't spend too much time (over)thinking these questions or your answers to them. However, I also know that many of you will be very busy with your academics and activities this fall, and you may want to start thinking about the answers to these questions with the comparative free time you may have during the summer, so I wanted to share these with you.
When and how you work on these essays is up to you! My only advice is to read Chris S. '11's excellent post Show, Don’t Tell! (the College Essay, Pt. 2) from a few years back before you do so. It's a terrific guide to expressing yourself well in our essays.
Good luck - and happy writing!