How to Write the MIT Application Essays 2020-2021

Advocate by CollegeVine

Want a free essay review?

Improve your essay and impress admissions officers with our free Peer Essay Review. Submit your essay now to get fast feedback.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, colloquially known at MIT, is known as one of the world’s most prestigious research universities with top programs in STEM. Ranked at #3 (tie) by U.S. News and World Report, MIT draws in accomplished students from across the globe.

 

Located just outside of Boston in Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT affords students the opportunity to explore their intellectual and extracurricular passions in a thriving urban setting. Beyond STEM, MIT also offers students an equally prestigious business and entrepreneurship program, making its urban environment all the more conducive for both business and engineering opportunities.

 

With only 1,457 students gaining admission out of an applicant pool of 20,075, MIT’s admission rate for the class of 2024 comes in at 7%, putting MIT at the same level as many Ivy League schools.

 

Keep in mind that MIT does not use the Common Application, and instead uses its own system called MyMIT. To those seeking admission, MIT requires students to complete 5 additional essays, all of which understandably appear intimidating to approach. However, CollegeVine is here to help and offer our guide on how tackle MIT’s essays! Want to know your chances at MIT? Calculate your chances for free right now.

 

Want to learn what MIT will actually cost you based on your income? And how long your application to the school should take? Here’s what every student considering MIT needs to know.

 

MIT Application Essay Prompts

Prompt 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)

 

Prompt 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)

 

Prompt 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)

 

Prompt 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)

 

Prompt 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)

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)

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? (100 words or fewer)

Although not explicitly stated, MIT is using this prompt to combine two commonly asked questions: “Why This Major?” and “Why This College?” 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 This 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. (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:

 

 

  • Tutoring a Teammate – One of your cross country teammates said that she was struggling in her Algebra 2 class, and was worried about failing. She didn’t see the point of math and thought she was just “bad” at it. You volunteered to tutor her for free on a weekly basis. After just a month of your tutoring sessions, your teammate got her first A on a test. This sparked your interest in teaching math, as you were able to get your teammate to not only understand math concepts, but also appreciate them.

 

  • Food Waste Campaign – You noticed your school cafeteria was generating tons of daily food waste, so you created a campaign to implement a compositing system and encourage students to reduce their waste. You gathered a team to research different composting services, contact your principal and the school board, and create educational materials on how to compost correctly. The program was successful at your school and diverted several tons of food from the landfill weekly. You’re currently working on getting the system implemented across the district.

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. Ask yourself: How did you grow from this experience? What changes did you see?

Want to see current examples of college essays?

Improve your own essay and gain exposure to other students' essays with our free Peer Essay Review. Sign up now to get started for free.

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)

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 especially 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? (200-250 words)

While it seems like this prompt is giving you two options to respond, the idea is relatively the same: discuss overcoming 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. The most common mistake students make is to focus too much on the challenge, rather than their thought process, emotions, and their growth.

 

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 (thoughts, emotions)?
  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.

 

You should also try to avoid challenges that are cliche, such as:

 

  • a sports injury
  • working hard in a difficult class
  • adjusting to a new culture or school
  • facing tragedy (death, illness, abuse)
  • romantic relationships and breakups

 

These tend to be very common experiences that have a predictable outcome, often focus too much on the challenge instead of your growth, or are simply inappropriate topics for your essay. Of course, you can still choose to write on a common topic if you feel that you can write something especially meaningful, but it’s better to find a more original experience to share.

 

You can, however, “spin” a cliche topic. For example, the “sports injury” essay tends to go: you get injured, can’t play, have to go through rehab, and you eventually get back on the field and succeed. A more unique approach would be to talk about how your injury led you to start a blog while you were recovering, and that became a big passion. Or, how your injury made you realize that you actually liked the strategy of the sport more than the actual sport, which led to your interest in competitive chess.

 

Here are some good examples:

 

  • You had to switch positions last-minute on your Model UN simulation of the Nuremberg Trials. You’d researched and prepared your arguments for months, but a delegate showed up late, so you needed to represent the opposite side you’d prepared for. Instead of panicking, you gather as much info as you can in a short time to argue the other perspective. When it’s your turn to speak, you blank out, however, and the Committee Director says they’ll come back to you. You take a deep breath, refocus, and re-outline your notes. When it’s time to speak again, you present a confident and articulate argument. The experience teaches you the importance of both preparation and adaptability.

 

  • 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. While you didn’t ultimately win over the school board, you discovered your talent for persuasive speaking in the process, and decided to join the Debate Team. You’ve since won several awards and even got to give a local TED Talk. 

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 with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.

Want more college essay tips?

We'll send them straight to your inbox.


Short bio
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.