Priya Desai 13 min read 12th Grade, College Application Tips

Complete Guide to the MIT Application

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, better known as MIT, consistently ranks among the top five universities in the country, if not the world. This year, it tied for the US News and World Report’s #4 spot in National Universities, and received Times Higher Education’s worldwide #1 ranking for economics and business. 

 

MIT is located in Cambridge, MA, alongside its famous neighbor Harvard University. Due to its name and reputation, many people think of MIT as a specialized school for the STEM fields. It’s true that most students are drawn to its science and technology programs, with nearly half enrolled in the School of Engineering, and the School of Science accounting for many more. But the school offers a wide range of other programs as well, ranging from business and humanities to public policy and gender studies.

 

Of course, with so much to offer, MIT isn’t easy to get into. For the class of 2024, applications totaled over 20,000. Ultimately, though, only 1,457 acceptances were extended. This resulted in an overall acceptance rate of just 6.7%, putting MIT’s selectivity on par with top Ivy Leagues such as Brown and Yale.

 

Lucky for you, though, we at CollegeVine have helped countless students towards their MIT acceptances and we know what works. In this guide, we’ll give you a comprehensive, detailed outline encompassing the MIT application process, and what you can do to maximize your shot at an acceptance.

 

MIT Application Platform

 

The first thing you should know is that MIT does not accept the Common Application, Coalition Application or any other general applications. Instead, it has its own online system for applications called MyMIT. The application fee is $75, but if needed, applicants can request a fee waiver to reduce the price. 

 

Furthermore, MIT is also affiliated with the QuestBridge National College Match program, which is geared towards helping low-income students attend top American universities. To learn more about the QuestBridge program and if it’s a viable option for you, check out CollegeVine’s article on QuestBridge eligibility

 

Although the idea of an additional application process might be intimidating, the MIT application asks for much of the same information as the Common Application, including biographical information, a list of your activities and accomplishments, teacher recommendations, and essays. Many students find that they are able to cut and paste most of the demographic information straight from a Common App into MyMIT.

 

MIT Application Deadlines

 

MIT has two application deadlines, Early Action and Regular Decision. Early Action is open to all applicants and is not single-choice or binding in any manner. This means that you could turn in your application early and not be obligated to the school in any way. 

 

Many people think that it is easier to get accepted if they apply Early Action, and for a lot of schools, this is true. For example, at Harvard the overall acceptance rate is 4.7%, compared to an acceptance rate of 13.9% for Early Action applicants.

 

At MIT, though, this doesn’t hold true. The acceptance rate for its 9,557 Early Action applicants was just 6.9% through the Early Action program. More than 6,000 hopefuls were deferred to regular decision. If you’ve prepared an early application that you feel is strong, you can definitely submit it under EA, but don’t expect this timeline to increase your chances of acceptance.

 

MIT Application Components

 

 

Now that you have the background information, let’s break down the application itself into its relevant components. To apply to MIT, you’ll need to submit following:

 

  • Part 1: Biographical Information
  • Part 2: Essays, activities, and academics
  • Evaluation A: Math or science teacher
  • Evaluation B: Humanities, social science, or language teacher
  • Secondary School Report (SSR), including high school transcript
  • Standardized tests (although this admissions cycle is test-optional): SAT or ACT; and two SAT Subject Tests, one of which must be Math I or II, and the other of which must be Physics, Chemistry, or Biology
  • Optional Interview
  • February Updates & Notes Form (including midyear grades)

 

Now that we’ve listed out what the requirements are, let’s delve into how the admissions committee will weigh all the information from these materials. 

 

What Does It Take to Get Into MIT?

 

MIT has a holistic approach to the application process, meaning in lieu of grade and score cutoffs and required extracurriculars, the admissions process takes many different factors into account, including the interaction of your life experience and the more objective academic data. 

 

However, because the admissions process at MIT and other top universities is so competitive, all applications are not weighted the same. There is a difference between the minimal admissions requirements that are stated openly and those that are left unsaid. 

 

Selective college admissions involves several key factors. First, there are minimum academic qualifications that must be met at all costs. This includes the requirements listed on their website, such as subjects and courses that you must take. It also means meeting the minimum within the range of implicit standardized test scores and GPAs for students of your background. 

 

You also need to have good teacher recommendations and a balance of extracurriculars that demonstrates leadership and positive character traits in a way that fits the school’s culture. 

This article will give general guidelines, but if you want an assessment of your personal profile, try CollegeVine’s free chancing engine to see how you measure up against other applicants. 

 

Standardized Testing

 

Let’s start by tackling how MIT approaches standardized testing. In the past, MIT required students to take either the SAT or the ACT, but due to the recent pandemic, the school is now test-optional. Test scores can still be reported and will be considered, so you might still want to consider submitting them depending on your score. Check out CollegeVine’s blog article Should You Apply Test-Optional for the 2020-2021 Cycle? to learn more about what decision is right for you. 

 

If you do choose to send them in, know that MIT superscores the SAT and ACT, meaning the admissions committee will only consider your highest test scores on each section of each test, regardless of whether those scores occurred on the same test. This admissions cycle is also self-reported, with verification only occurring after enrollment, so feel free to hold off on sending subpar scores and only report those you wish to. 

 

In the past, applicants were required to submit two SAT subject tests, one of which had to be Math I or II, and the other of which had to be Physics, Chemistry, or Biology. However, during this admissions cycle, MIT will not even consider subject test scores. 

 

On the Reading and Evidence-based Writing section of the SAT, the middle 50 percent of accepted students at MIT scored between 730-780. On the Math section of the SAT, the middle 50 percent of accepted students scored between 790-800. This makes for an ultra-high average composite SAT score of 1520-1580. On the ACT, the composite score range is equally impressive, at 35-36. 

 

While these ranges make up the 25th – 75th percentile, keep in mind that if you’re applying with special circumstances or a hook of some sort, being on the lower end of these ranges may be more acceptable. This includes under-represented minorities, low-income students, or those with extremely rare accomplishments.

 

High School Academic Profile

 

As far as your high school coursework, MIT doesn’t require a specific course load. That being said, it does recommend the following classes:

 

  • One year of high school physics
  • One year of high school chemistry
  • One year of high school biology
  • Math, through calculus
  • Two years of a foreign language
  • Four years of English
  • Two years of history and/or social sciences

 

These courses are self-reported, but the school also receives your transcript, so this section is an opportunity to delineate subject areas and use non-abbreviated terms to optimize clarity. Give each class only one entry and separate semester grades by commas. We recommend you use your transcript as a reference to avoid any accidental errors. 

 

Regardless of MIT’s suggested classes, you should strive to take as rigorous a course load as you’re capable of succeeding in. The specifics will depend on your unique interests and profile, and MIT does not release admitted students’ average GPA. That being said, 97% of admitted students were in the top tenth of their graduating class, so your grades need to be excellent, and you should take plenty of AP or IB and honors courses (if they’re offered at your school).

 

A Note About Stated vs. Unstated Requirements

 

Now that you’ve gotten a look at the academic standards for getting into MIT, let’s take a look at the other factors that come into play. After all, tens of thousands of students meet these academic standards, so there are other factors weighed to separate the 1,500 accepted students from the 10,000+ academically-qualified applicants.

 

These more nuanced facets of the application include the strength of your extracurricular accomplishments, the quality of your essays and writing, and your alignment with what MIT is looking for on a cultural and skillset basis. You get a chance to highlight these in your teacher recommendations, extracurriculars, and essays. Let’s take a closer look at each of these, starting with teacher recommendations.

 

Letters of Recommendation

 

MIT requires one recommendation from a teacher in math or science, and one from the humanities. 

 

It can be hard to choose who writes your recommendations. Consider these questions as you think back on all the teachers you’ve had in high school:

 

  • Which ones did you know well? Which ones knew you the best?
  • Were there a few teachers whose classes you really excelled in?
  • On the flip side, was there a class that you struggled in but took the initiative to seek help from the teacher and improve your performance?
  • Who is the most reliable and invested in your success?
  • Which teachers did you have recently, or which ones remember you best?

 

To learn more about letters of recommendation, don’t miss our blog post about how you can get a great recommendation letter.

 

Extracurricular Profile

 

Another opportunity for showcasing some of your personal skills and qualities comes in the extracurricular section of your application. MIT only gives you the space to list four activities, so  you need to make them count – depth is much better than breadth. 

 

Here, you have a chance to really show alignment with MIT’s culture of deep academic inquiry and theoretical foundations. It’s not about STEM alone; that’s a misconception many people have about MIT. Anyone at MIT who pursues disciplines such as English and History approaches the field with that ethos of theoretical inquiry. Another common archetype is the tinkerer or researcher, someone who pursues projects on their own and shows initiative. If this describes you, it must come across in your extracurriculars. 

 

This is especially relevant during the current pandemic, where it can be hard to stay involved in your current sports and clubs. But don’t worry – you can take this opportunity to revamp or add onto your extracurricular involvement. 

 

CollegeVine measures extracurriculars using a multi-tiered system. Tier 1 contains activities that demonstrate exceptional achievement or leadership, and the fourth involves the most common, yet valuable general involvements. 

 

Achieving Tier 1 is the most rare because it is difficult to achieve. These usually involve recognition at the national or even international level. Examples of this could be winning first place at the Science Olympiad National Tournament, or winning an Intel Award. 

 

You can also attend a prestigious summer program through a renowned university, and MIT has its fair share of these. During the Research Science Institute (RSI), students experience an intensive introduction to the research cycle and complete individual projects that they present at the end of the program. MIT’s Women’s Technology Program (WTP) is a four-week course for female students in engineering. Students can choose to focus on mechanical or electrical engineering and engage in labs, hands-on classes, and team-based projects. 

 

The next tier, Tier 2, involves activities that are more common than those in tier one but still show leadership and a high level of achievement. An example could be holding a high rank, such as president or chair, in a well-known club such as Math Olympiad, academic decathlon, or Key Club. Achievements like making an all-state selection in a sport or through playing an instrument, or winning a regional competition like your state Spelling Bee, are also good Tier 2 activities.

 

Tier 3 activities are a step below Tier 2 in that they show depth of involvement, but to a lesser extent. This could be being secretary or treasurer of a club, or making it to the city-level League Championships in a sport. These positions still show commitment to an activity and could potentially include leadership components.

 

Finally, Tier 4 encompasses the most common activities that admissions committees come across in student applications. This usually involves membership or participation in a club, sport, or community service organization. While Tier 4 doesn’t carry the same weight as its higher counterparts, it still offers admissions staff some insight into your life outside of academics.

 

For more information on CollegeVine’s extracurricular ranking methodology, check out this article that breaks the tier system down and provides more examples.

 

On your MIT application, you should try to aim to have at least a couple Tier 2 activities, and maybe even a Tier 1 activity. At highly-selective schools, the best way to stand out is to have one or two highly-developed interests, rather than multiple above-average activities. 

 

Another type of extracurricular you should consider is the self-driven activity. MIT is home to innovative and creative people, so your path to the school might need to take unconventional means in order to stand out to admissions officers. Brainstorm what your interests or passions are and how you can pursue them safely during these unprecedented times. 

 

For MIT, you might want to take on some technical pursuits, such as coding your own website or even creating an app. You could also do a more research-based project such as creating a YouTube series about different sustainable agricultural methods around the world. For community service, you could create a pandemic response organization or work with your local charitable organizations to keep your community informed about local needs. See our article on remote extracurriculars for more ideas.

 

Essays

 

The final component of your application is one most students struggle with – the essays. Essays are a chance to let your voice shine through and to highlight areas that might otherwise go unnoticed on your application. In lieu of a personal statement, MIT has five short answer essay questions. Even though they are all under 250 words, this is still no easy feat. Here are the prompts:

 

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? (250 words or fewer)

 

This prompt asks students to describe one of their communities and how it has impacted them. This can be misleading because the wording might make students feel inclined to overshare about a specific community they are a part of. However, the community is merely the lens through which the admissions committee wishes to learn more about you and your personal growth. Thus, focus mainly on your personal pursuit of your dreams and aspirations and ground your anecdotes and narrative within the context of a community you are a part of.

 

Pick what field of study at MIT appeals to you the most right now, and tell us more about why this field of study appeals to you. (100 words or fewer)

 

This prompt has the smallest word maximum out of the five, so you’ll have to be succinct. The purpose of a “Why This Major?” essay is to gauge your interest in an academic subject and learn more about your past and potential future pursuits in the subject area. For more information on this essay prompt, check out CollegeVine’s guide to the “Why Major?” essay

 

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. (200–250 words)

 

This question is asking about an extracurricular activity outside of what is mandated or even structured. For example, an essay about joining the track team would not be appropriate but an ode to your love of running could be. When you write about this activity, give tangible evidence as to how you have pursued it outside of the classroom. 

 

For example, if you’re a history buff, don’t just tell admissions officers about topics that have interested you; rather, show them how you’ve researched them outside of the classroom. Maybe you started a podcast where you reenact historic battles as if they were set in the 21st century. Or maybe you make your younger cousins costumes of famous historical figures to teach them autobiographical histories of renowned individuals. 

 

Whatever your spin is on your passion, make sure it is creative and uniquely you. The more detailed you are about your pursuit of this activity, the more genuine your voice will sound as it shines through your essay to underscore your passion. 

 

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)

 

This essay prompt asks individuals to recount how they have improved their environment, whether it be addressing a global issue or touching the life of one person. Whatever you choose to write about, do not lose focus of the subject admissions officers want to learn most about – you! 

 

If you’re writing about a worldwide issue, don’t zoom out too far, but rather, detail your personal contribution to creating awareness for and combating the problem. If you’re speaking about helping an individual, make sure that the essay is still your narrative and not a biography of their life. Though it may seem paradoxical to focus on yourself within an essay about being selfless, giving specific details about your contributions to a community is key in helping admissions officers learn more about your fit at the university. 

 

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)

 

This is a classic example of the overcoming challenges essay. Colleges ask about the obstacles you’ve faced because they want to gain a better understanding of how you have overcome them. The multiple years you spend on campus will no doubt be full of changes and challenges, and your previous life experience can help colleges better fathom how you will fare in response to adversity. This is also a means of learning more about you and your leadership qualities without you explicitly telling colleges what your traits are. Take this opportunity to show how you personally dealt with an issue and what tangible, specific steps you took on in order to ameliorate a situation. 

 

There’s a lot more we could say here about how to optimize your essays for MIT, but your best bet is to head over to our ultimate guide to college essays and check out the many posts we already have written. In particular, don’t miss our post How to Write the MIT Application Essays 2020-2021. In our post, we will walk you through each of the prompts specific to MIT’s application and talk about the best strategies for approaching them. If you’re applying to MIT, you definitely don’t want to miss these tips.

 

Interview

 

In addition, MIT encourages an interview with members of the MIT Educational Council whenever possible. These can last anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours. Due to COVID-19, all interviews will be held virtually, although they have been in-person in the past.  An educational counselor from MIT will contact you to schedule the interview after you submit the first two parts of your application. 

 

While this step in the application process is not technically required, we highly recommend that you make every effort to complete it. An interview gives you a unique chance to tell admissions officers more about yourself and your interest in MIT. 

 

To prepare, MIT recommends that you speak with people from previous admissions cycles and read MIT blog posts about the interview. You should be prepared to share stories about your goals and passions with your interviewer using specific examples. While MIT says you do not have to dress up, we recommend dressing at least business casual to put your best foot forward.

 

Final Thoughts

 

That wraps up all of our tips for the MIT application. Now that we’ve discussed all of the relevant components, we hope you have a better idea of what the school is looking for in prospective candidates, and that you feel better equipped to navigate the nuances of the application process! 

 

If you want to know your chances of getting into MIT, check out CollegeVine’s free chancing engine. It’ll let you know how you stack up against other applicants, and it’ll also give you tips for improving your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account to get started!

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Priya Desai
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Priya has been working at CollegeVine for two years in various capacities, including mentoring students, editing hundreds of essays, and creating blog content. She has also interned in healthcare consulting. She is extremely grateful for all the help she received as an applicant and wants to pay it forward by demystifying the admissions process for others.