Need help on your college applications? Learn how our College Apps Program can help. 

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology — abbreviated as MIT — is often regarded as one of the world’s best private research universities. Excelling in the physical science and engineering disciplines, MIT boasts a noteworthy alumni network featuring 85 Nobel laureates, 45 Rhodes Scholars, and 52 National Medal of Science recipients.

 

Beyond STEM, the university exudes a strong sense of entrepreneurship with its excellent programs in economics and management. Located on the outskirts of Boston in Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT offers students the opportunity to explore their intellectual curiosities in an urban environment. This metropolitan area gives students access to the city’s best corporations and research centers, making the school a top choice for both science and business.

 

With a U.S. News & World Report ranking of #7 and an acceptance rate of 7.1% for its class of 2021, it’s no wonder that MIT shares the same prestige as most Ivy League schools. To those interested in applying, the school does not accept the Common Application and instead uses its own unique system called MyMIT. Applicants are required to complete 5 short essay questions, all of which ask about your personal experiences and preferences.

 

While these prompts may seem intimidating at first, we here at CollegeVine are here to help you tackle MIT’s 2017-2018 application to the best of your ability!

 

MIT Application Essay Prompts

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. (Response required in 100 words or fewer)

One of the first things to note is the brevity of the response; with only 100 words, there’s no room to be too detailed. Even so, 100 words should be just enough for a few vivid sentences that really show the admissions officer what you do in your spare time. There’s no need to try to squeeze in an introductory or concluding sentence. For this prompt, it’s better to get straight to the point.

 

Next, remember that the prompt is asking for an activity that isn’t required of you. If you’re the captain of your school’s varsity basketball team, then don’t write about basketball (even if you do play for pleasure outside of school). MIT wants to know something about you that they can’t already find elsewhere in your application, something outside of your academic and extracurricular responsibilities. Essentially, MIT is asking you: “What do you do in your free time?”

 

A great way to approach this prompt is to construct a brief anecdote to illustrate your passions. Do you love reading because you enjoy imagining yourself in fictional worlds? Do you find peace in painting natural scenery? Now is a great time to describe these experiences.

Here are some examples:

 

  • Photography – Sitting on the pier, you watch as the sky transitions from blue to yellow, and from yellow to orange. With your camera in hand, you capture the exact moment that the sun touches the horizon, the moment that the colors begin to fade into a gradient. Perhaps the sound of your camera’s shutter acts as an instant stress reliever. Or perhaps you love the ability to capture nature’s wonders from a different perspective. Either way, the vivid imagery here makes writing an anecdote a very powerful approach.

 

  • Baking – Do you love the aroma of homemade baking? Do you love experimenting with new recipes and creations? Maybe you love the meticulousness of measuring out ingredients and combining them to form one cohesive unit. If this sounds like you, write an anecdote about how you use baking as an outlet for your creativity. Use sensory details to briefly go through the process of that new cupcake recipe you came up with, sharing with the reader your passion for innovative baking. You’ll definitely make the admissions officer drool a little bit with this one.

 

  • Rubik’s Cube – You love the thrill of solving a challenging puzzle. Starting with no instructions, you figured out the secret behind solving the cube and how to move each square to the right place. After a few more tries, you can now solve it in just a few minutes, a reflection of your ability to quickly learn and master difficult puzzles. While this may be a “nerdier” example, don’t be afraid to let your inner nerd shine (this is MIT after all). 

What makes each of these examples strong is the employment of imagery and sensory details. Although the response must be brief, you want to make the admissions officer interested in what you love; appealing to the five senses is an excellent way to do so. Don’t tell them that you love photography, show them that you love it by transforming your answer into a story.

 

Be honest — don’t lie for the sake of sounding more impressive. While volunteering at the local homeless shelter may sound very humble, don’t write about that if it isn’t what you actually do in your free time. MIT can spot essays that try too hard and lying about humanitarian efforts is definitely one of those instances.

 

While it’s important to be honest, make sure to also use good judgement when articulating your response. Generally, anything goes for this prompt and you can essentially write about anything you’re passionate about. But if your favorite activity is “looking at memes,” it might be better to choose something else (especially after the Harvard incident).

Essay #2

Although you may not yet know what you want to major in, which department or program at MIT appeals to you, and why? (Response required in 100 words or fewer)

Although not explicitly stated, MIT is using this prompt to combine two commonly asked questions: “Why X Major?” and “Why MIT?” As with the previous essay, there’s no room to provide too detailed of an explanation, but you must still briefly justify your response. The key word here is “why.”

 

If you’re interested in chemistry but are also looking into a career in pharmaceutical manufacturing, you might write about your interests in MIT’s chemical engineering program. Or if you’re interested in economics, you can praise MIT’s Sloan School of Management, analyzing the ways in which the school will help you hone in and develop your leadership skills. If you want to conduct research in a STEM field, mentioning the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) and citing some specific projects can be a great way to highlight your interests.

 

For those looking to study EECS, you can discuss the appeal of MIT’s new curriculum, which offers more flexibility and independence for undergraduate students. Perhaps when compared to other campuses, you find that MIT offers a stronger entrepreneurial culture, a quality that you find necessary for your academic success. If you have hopes of one day launching your own startup or designing your own program, now would be a great time to mention the program’s emphasis on entrepreneurship.

 

Writing about your long-term goals and connecting them back to MIT’s academic culture (demonstrated through EECS example) is a very strong way to approach this prompt, as it answers both “Why X Major?” and “Why MIT?” Avoid vague answers such as “MIT is known for its excellent STEM programs” or “the Sloan School of Management is among the best in the nation” — these types of answers do not answer the prompt nor do they highlight your interest in the school.

 

No matter what major you intend on studying, remember to show admission officers how you plan to take advantage of MIT’s academic programs. Is there a specific professor you want to conduct research under? Is there a specific course you’re really excited to take? If so, mention it! There’s no need to write a creative response to this prompt; the best approach is to be straightforward and specific.

Essay #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. (Response required in 200-250 words)

As opposed to the previous two prompts, essay #3 gives you a little more room with 200-250 words; this should be just enough for an introductory sentence, one or two short body paragraphs, and a few concluding sentences.

 

For this prompt, MIT wants to see your selfless side by looking at the strategies you take to help those around you. Don’t panic if you haven’t saved hundreds of lives or discovered the cure for cancer; as the prompt suggests, helping your community can be as simple as lending a shoulder for your friend to cry on.

 

Whether big or small, think of a time that you made a positive impact on one or more people. Maybe you have experience volunteering at the Red Cross or at your local retirement home. Or maybe you founded a club at your school with the goal of bringing education to children in need. No matter what the cause is, show the admissions officers your generosity and willingness to make a difference in your community.

Here are a few more examples:

 

 

  • Canned Food Drive – During the holidays, you organized a canned food drive to help feed the homeless in your community. Using your high school as a collection site, you set up donation boxes in front of each classroom and advertised the cause to your classmates. In the end, you were able to collect over a thousand cans, all of which were donated to local homeless shelters. With this, you contributed by bringing a little holiday joy to those less fortunate than you — seeing those people smile was enough to make you feel like you created a positive impact.

 

  • House Fire – One of your friends lost his house to an unfortunate fire accident. Seeing that he was displaced, you opened up your home to him and his family, giving them the shelter and comfort that they needed. Since his family struggled financially, you created a GoFundMe page to raise money and help cover the fire damages. Soon, your kind gestures were recognized by the entire neighborhood, making your act of friendship seem much more large scale.

 

  • Humanitarianism in a Foreign Country – Last summer, you traveled to West Africa on a mission to bring vaccines to underprivileged children. Witnessing the torn state of the continent, you now make it your goal to engineer medical devices for those who have limited access to health care. Your efforts to benefit the African community is what inspired your desire to study Biological Engineering at MIT, as you hope to continue your humanitarianism. 

What each of these examples succeeds in doing is describing the impact that an action has on others. Whether it be putting a smile on someone’s face or preventing a child from contracting a deadly disease, remember to show the reader what the outcome of your efforts were. Tying in your personal development is another great way to heighten the magnitude of your contribution, as it gives your actions more significant personal meaning (humanitarianism example). Ask yourself: How did you grow from this experience? What changes did you see?

Don't Worry — We'll edit your admissions essay in a few hours.

Submit your essay and we'll get it back to you with helpful edits.

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? (Response required in 200-250 words)

Out of the 5 questions, this one is the most open-ended. MIT is asking this question to see how you have adapted to your environment and how this environment has shaped you as an individual. A great way to start brainstorming for this prompt is to think about your dreams and aspirations first; what do you hope to achieve in your lifetime?  

 

Next, reflect on your surroundings (your upbringing, your neighborhood, your school, etc.) and evaluate how this environment factored into your individuality. Perhaps you were a member of your school’s Model United Nations, and this fueled your desire to work in politics. Or maybe your childhood love for building Lego masterpieces contributed to your goal of becoming a civil engineer. Either way, remember to reflect on your past (or present) and use this reflection to analyze your future.

Here are a few more examples:

 

  • You spent a few years of your life living in Beijing, China. Living in a city where the sky is rarely blue and pedestrians wear masks to avoid breathing in the smog, you realized the dire state our environment is in. Living in these conditions made you realize the need for green energy technologies and sustainable practices, inspiring your desire to study environmental engineering.

 

  • Your mother working as a pediatric nurse meant you spent a significant amount of time watching her at the children’s hospital. The hospital was almost a second home to you, as you grew to love observing and learning, eventually earning a chance to volunteer there alongside your mother. While it pained you to see the suffering, you were touched by the amount of hope and joy the staff was able to provide the patients. Seeing this motivated you to pursue pediatrics and spread even greater amount of hope to those who need it the most.

What each of these examples succeeds in doing is analyzing the “world” that led to a specific realization. The key here is to demonstrate some sort of personal growth or moment in which you discovered your aspirations.

 

For the first example, this could be the juxtaposition between traditional blue skies and the thick smog in Beijing; this was an eye-opening moment and made you look at the world from a different perspective, eventually influencing your career choice. For this prompt, it’s important to be specific.

Essay #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? (Response required in 200-250 words)

While it seems like this prompt is giving you two options to respond, the idea is relatively the same: discuss a challenge. Whether it is a personal struggle or a challenge you faced at school, MIT wants to know how you handle difficult situations and what you learn from such experiences.

 

You want to construct an anecdote that goes through both the challenging situation and your thought process. When crafting your response, start by briefly describing the challenge, making sure to answer the question, “What was so significant about the challenge?” Next, go into detail about the steps you took to tackle the obstacle and how you went about this process. Make sure to discuss the outcome of the situation and show the admissions officer how you matured from this experience.

 

As you brainstorm and begin drafting your response, here are some guided questions to get you thinking:

 

  1. Why was this challenge so important to you? What is the significance?
  2. In that moment, what was your reaction to the situation? How did it affect you?
  3. Were the steps you took to manage the situation successful? Why or why not?
  4. How did this challenge allow you to grow and mature as an individual?

 

Try to avoid “challenges” that are too trivial; although you may be upset that you got a B on that one calculus test, this is not a significant enough challenge to analyze. For this prompt, it’s important to demonstrate personal growth and maturity, as this shows your capacity to adapt to difficult environments.

Here are some good examples:

 

  • You are a tennis player and have been ever since you could remember; playing tennis has become a part of your identity, and you couldn’t imagine a world without it. However, you experienced a tragic car accident, leaving you with a shattered right hand, your dominant playing hand. Rather than giving up the sport you love, you learned to adapt by training to strengthen your left arm and readjusting to accommodate your new circumstances. Although you slowly regained mobility and control over your right hand, you knew you would never be able to play the same way again. Despite this, you transformed your weaknesses into strengths and made the most out of an unfamiliar situation.

 

  • You are passionate about robotics and wanted to start a competitive robotics club at your school. You gathered a group of interested students and began the process of getting the club approved by the administration. To your disappointment, your club was rejected. Instead of accepting defeat, you and your peers petitioned the school in hopes of having the board members reconsider their decision. After exhausting all possible measures, the school reversed its decision and funded your club; today, Robotics Club is one of the most popular student groups on campus.

Final Words

Overall, there are no secrets or gimmicks to any of these essays. MIT is simply trying to get to know you better, whether it’s by asking you about your interests or your personal experiences. For each of these essays, remember to ask yourself: What do I want MIT to know about me? Don’t try to write something you think the admissions officer wants to hear; be yourself and be honest. Remember to show and don’t tell, and highlight the reasons you think you would be a great fit for MIT.

 

Happy writing!

 

Want help on your MIT application or essays? Learn about our College Apps Program and Essay Editing Program.

Want us to quickly edit your college essay? Submit it to our Rapid Review Program, and we’ll get it back to you quickly with comments from our expert team.

Need help with your apps?

We've helped thousands of students write amazing college essays. One of our students was featured on Business Insider for the essay that got him into 7 Ivy League schools.  Learn more about how our Apps Program can help your chances of admission.

Want more college essay tips?

We'll send them straight to your inbox.




2017201820192020202120222023Other


Ivy League SchoolsTop 20 SchoolsTop 50 schoolsTop 100 schoolsOther schools

CollegeVine College Essay Team

CollegeVine College Essay Team

Our college essay experts go through a rigorous selection process that evaluates their writing skills and knowledge of college admissions. We also train them on how to interpret prompts, facilitate the brainstorming process, and provide inspiration for great essays, with curriculum culled from our years of experience helping students write essays that work. Learn more about our consultants
CollegeVine College Essay Team