Admission to MIT: Application Tips and More!
Written by Corban Swain Edited by Stewart Isaacs
BGSA Members have compiled a non-exhaustive list of tips for applying to graduate programs.
Letters of Recommendation
Think about mentors, teachers, professors, and advisors that you have had the chance to build a relationship with. If you are in high school and cannot think of anyone, think harder! Think outside of the "academic box" if you have to; I'm sure you have mentors from church, sports teams/programs, friends of your parents who have seen you succeed, etc. reach out to these people. If you are in college and cannot think of anyone, now is the time to form those relationships! Go to professor's office hours even if you don't have questions, go just to listen so that the opportunity to get to know them is there. Schedule meetings with the advisors for extracurricular programs that you are a part of (most programs have one); ask for advice about how to better that student group or learn more about their experience. Meet with your academic advisor more than twice a year for registration. Colleges are an incredible place with many, many opportunities and connections; do all you can to maximize them.
Once you have identified potential letter writers, ask if they can write you a STRONG letter of recommendation; if they suggest that you ask someone else—take their word for it, the last thing you (or they) want to do is prepare letter based on a weak, non-existent, or even negative, relationship. Also, be sure to ask for letters at a MINIMUM 3 weeks before the application deadline. Once you have asked, tell them more about your plans for upcoming applications and your longer term goals. If possible, prepare a personal statement and resume for them to reference when writing your letter. Continue to keep up with these relationships, thank your recommenders for their time, and as you get accepted to/enroll in programs and move forward in your career keep them up to date.
Letters of Rec play an important part in nearly every application that you prepare, if you take time to invest in relationships and learn from mentors now, finding letter writers won't be a stressor in the future.
Demonstrate Passion and Interest
When applying to programs you want to explain why your are invested your area of interest, ways that you have lived out that interest previously, and goals for the future. This comes out mostly in the application essay and application info info about classes, activities, and interests. Take time to think about why you are pursuing _______ (be that "college" "or "science" or "medical school" or "art history" or "helicopter engineering"). As broad or as specific as your goals currently are, lay out WHY they are important to you and the things that DRIVE you to pursue them. It's important to not just say that
"I enjoy learning about math"
but to say
"Math has opened my mind to a new way of thinking and communicating ideas. When I was able to make the connection between derivatives in calculus and the acceleration in a car it showed me that mathematics is not just a subject, but a tool…"
OR not to say
"I want to use my summer to prepare me for college"
But to say
"Going to college is not just a small step toward my goals, it is a milestone; I hope to be one of the first people in my family to make it to college, so it is incredibly important for me to prepare myself for success in college in every way that I can. …"
Notice that in both of these examples I don't just demonstrate a goal or an interest loosely, but ground that idea with a specific experience. Be sure to use your experiences (of all different types) to show why you have the goals that you do and ways you have already begun to pursue them.
Highlight Program Match
In the application essay spend a paragraph or so to discuss how the specific program you are applying to is a good match for you. Read about the program online (talk to administrators and past participants if possible, too) and look for a "Mission Statement" or "Program Goals." From these statements, draw parallels between your experience and goals and the program's. If there are specific people (faculty, mentors, etc) in the program you hope to meet as well, highlight them and their work and how it relates to you.
Emphasize Ways that You Contribute
It's often much easier to think about the opportunities and value that a program brings to you, but remember that you bring value to the program. Take a few sentences to emphasize how you, your experience, and your talent will contribute you the program and the experience of others in it. For example, when applying to graduate schools I would usually have a statement that showed how my interests in photography and art brought creativity to my thinking and helped me to inspire creative thinking in others. This creative thinking would help me to ask better scientific questions and develop new methods and technologies.
1) Attend conferences: Attend those in your fields and minority focused conferences like ABRCMS, NSBE, NOBeChEE where many schools, MIT included (in some cases) sent representatives to recruit students.
2) Apply and attend summer research programs: Programs such as MSRP, MSRP Bio, AMGEN, give students an opportunity to produce research and meet prominent professors in one’s field. They can help one better understand their interests and can be helpful when asking for Letters of Recommendation in the future.
3) Apply to graduate fellowships in your senior year: NSF, Tau Beta Pi, Ford and company specific fellows
4) Apply to and attend special graduate student preview weekends in your Jr and Sr years: These are usually in Oct or Nov before apps are due. Michigan, MIT, etc
5) Apply to your school’s MARC program: “Minority Access to Research Careers” to have funded research during undergrad
6) Don’t be afraid to reach out to current students (like us!)