How to Write the MIT Application Essays 2023-2024
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, colloquially known as MIT, is known as one of the world’s most prestigious research universities with top programs in STEM. Consistently ranked in the top 5 national universities, 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.
Keep in mind that MIT does not use the Common Application, and instead uses its own system called MyMIT. For the 2023-2024 application cycle, MIT is requiring students to complete 5 additional essays, all of which, understandably, can seem quite intimidating upon first glance. However, CollegeVine is here to help and offer our guide on how to tackle MIT’s essays!
Read these MIT essay examples to inspire your writing.
MIT Application Essay Prompts
Prompt 1: What field of study appeals to you the most right now? (Note: Applicants select from a drop-down list). Tell us more about why this field of study at MIT appeals to you. (100 words)
Prompt 2: 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. (150 words)
Prompt 3: How has the world you come from—including your opportunities, experiences, and challenges—shaped your dreams and aspirations? (200 words)
Prompt 4: MIT brings people with diverse backgrounds together to collaborate, from tackling the world’s biggest challenges to lending a helping hand. Describe one way you have collaborated with others to learn from them, with them, or contribute to your community together. (200 words)
Prompt 5: How did you manage a situation or challenge that you didn’t expect? What did you learn from it? (200 words)
Prompt 6 (optional): No application can meet the needs of every individual. If there is significant information that you were not able to include elsewhere in the application, you may include it here. (Many students will leave this section blank—and that’s okay.) (350 words)
What field of study appeals to you the most right now? Tell us more about why this field of study at MIT appeals to you. (100 words)
This prompt is classic “Why This Major?” question that asks you what you want to study and why you want to study it. Most importantly, it asks you why you want to study this major at MIT. Ultimately, the most compelling response to this essay prompt is one that:
- Demonstrates your passion for the major that you have chosen.
- Integrates your past and present studies and interests seamlessly with your future at MIT and your long-term academic and professional goals.
- Addresses specifically why MIT―the campus, resources, faculty, programs, and opportunities―is the place where you need and want to study.
MIT has a unique list of distinctive majors. Before you start brainstorming and drafting a response to this prompt, spend ample time exploring the various courses on the MIT website. You should pinpoint a few courses of study that appeal to you and then dive deeper into what the curricular emphasis is of each course of study, what resources and opportunities are available, and which faculty might you be interested in studying with or whose research you find compelling.
The key phrase in this prompt is “right now,” which many schools don’t include in their “Why This Major” essay prompt, but which all schools imply. This key phrase means that if you matriculate at MIT, you will in no way be required to major in the field of study that you write about in response to this prompt. You are free to choose and change your major, and most students change their major at least once during their college career.
For anyone who has many interests, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to choose just one major to write about. It is completely fine, and even expected, that you may be undecided, but spend time condensing your list of potential majors to one or two that you are truly interested in pursuing further.
This straightforward prompt requires a concise response since it has only a 100-word limit. While specificity is still important, there is less space for detail than in the other 200 word prompts that MIT asks you to write.
Once you have introduced the field of study that most appeals to you, you will need to discuss why this field appeals to you. The reasons that you give need to be authentic reasons; they should be based on pure intellectual curiosity, personal goals, and strongly held values. Avoid listing prestige, post-graduation salary, or your parents’ desires as reasons for choosing your major or MIT. The admissions committee wants to know what you are genuinely passionate about and why.
Here are some key questions to consider before writing:
- What past experiences of yours have influenced your decision to study this field at MIT?
- What coursework or independent study have you pursued in this field?
- What classes are you interested in taking at MIT?
- Who are the teachers that you have had, thought leaders in this field, or other role models that inspire you to pursue this course of study?
- Who are the professors or researchers at MIT that you would want to learn from or work with?
- Who are the people that you wish to serve, or whose lives you hope to improve, through working or doing research in this field?
- How did you first discover this field of study?
- How do you engage with this field of study inside and outside of the classroom?
- How do you envision yourself using this field of study in your future career?
- Why is this field of study personally meaningful to you?
With these ideas in mind, you should be able to write a concise response about why you have picked your major of choice and why MIT will be the perfect fit for you.
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. (150 words)
First, 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 judgment 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.
How has the world you come from—including your opportunities, experiences, and challenges—shaped your dreams and aspirations? (200 words)
Out of the many prompts, this one is the most open-ended. MIT is asking this question to see how your environment has shaped you as an individual. When thinking about your “world”, think about the unique culture, community, and people you have interacted with and consider how they each have contributed to the person you are today. Consider how they have shaped your value systems and the way you view the world.
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 specific opportunities, experiences and challenges that you have faced in your community and evaluate how these factored into your individuality and personal goals.
Perhaps you grew up on a Native American preservation and were a central figure in the tribe’s pow-pow committee but faced backlash from park rangers for planning rituals in public areas, and this fueled your desire to work in politics to defend indigenous land-rights. 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.
What each of these examples succeeds in doing is analyzing the “world” from the lens of challenges, experiences, and opportunities that led to a specific dream or aspiration.
MIT brings people with diverse backgrounds together to collaborate, from tackling the world’s biggest challenges to lending a helping hand. Describe one way you have collaborated with others to learn from them, with them, or contribute to your community together. (200 words)
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. Your community can be practically any group from family, neighbors, classmates, sports team, etc.
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 both of these examples succeed at 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?
How did you manage a situation or challenge that you didn’t expect? What did you learn from it? (200 words)
The idea of this prompt is similar to the archetypal “Overcoming a Challenge” prompt. Whether it is a personal situation or a challenge, MIT wants to know how you handle difficult situations that suddenly arise and what you learn from such experiences.
You want to construct an anecdote that goes through both the situation and/or challenge and your thought process. When crafting your response, start by briefly describing the situation or challenge, making sure to answer the question, “What was so significant about this event?” Next, go into detail about the steps you took to approach the unexpected event 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, specifically identifying what you have learned from this experience. The most common mistake students make is to focus too much on the situation or 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:
- Why was this challenge so important to you? What is the significance?
- At that moment, what was your reaction to the situation? How did it affect you (thoughts, emotions)?
- Were the steps you took to manage the situation successful? Why or why not?
- 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.
No application can meet the needs of every individual. If there is significant information that you were not able to include elsewhere in the application, you may include it here. (Many students will leave this section blank—and that’s okay.) (350 words)
This is your typical “Additional Information” prompt, and while we usually recommend that you fill out all optional prompts, this is an exception. As MIT says themselves, many students won’t need this space to complete their application.
However, if you have unusual circumstances or a significant experience you weren’t able to address, you should write about it here. Some potential topics include:
- Family responsibilities that prevented you from taking on traditional extracurriculars
- Financial hardships
- Death of a loved one
- Unique extracurricular that can’t be fully explained in the Activities section
While your other essays should have a more narrative quality, your response here can be more straightforward, and you also don’t need to take up the full 350 words.
Just avoid using this space for topics that may be deemed trivial, such as explaining that B on your transcript when you otherwise have straight A’s. Significant dips in grades for reasons out of your control are certainly fine to explain, but make sure that anything you cover here is actually a major part of your high school experience and development.
It’s important to note that in light of the Supreme Court striking down the use of affirmative action in college admissions, many colleges have added open-ended prompts that give students the opportunity to discuss their racial background. Because the ruling allows colleges to consider race on an individual basis, essays are the prime place for you to reveal your racial background and its effect on you. If you feel that your racial background has impacted you significantly, this is the place to discuss that.
Where to Get Your MIT Essays Edited
Do you want feedback on your MIT essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!