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Am I on track to MIT?

  1. May 12, 2014 #1
    Hello all,

    I am currently a tenth grader. My question is: what should I be doing (or continuing) in order to be a successful candidate for MIT admission? I plan to major in physics/minor in CS or EE. I have been taking all posssible advanced classes at my school. I have been self-teaching calculus and programming as well as some tinkering with the Raspberry Pi. I am also president of my school chess club and am in BSA (life scout). I have been participating in math and science competitions. If any of you know about it, I am on track to go to NCSSM; what should I do there?

    Thank you in advance for responses.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 12, 2014 #2
    Nobody is guaranteed to get into MIT. I know some insanely genius people who didn't get in. So no matter how strong your application is, it will always be a bit of a risk. Be sure to apply to other schools as well!

    Self-teaching calculus and programming means very little. Everybody can say that. Enrolling in a community college on the side and passing math, physics or CS courses should be more meaningful, since you'll actually prove you know your stuff. But even then, I don't know how much it means for MIT.
  4. May 12, 2014 #3


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    Gotta agree with micromass on this. You can improve your chances, but there are no guarantees.

    That's good. But you really want to take classes in things that interest you. Are you an advanced class taking machine, or are you a person with genuine interests?

    Again, if this is due to genuine interest, that's great! If you're just doing it because of some kind of theory you have that that's what people who get into MIT do, then you want to think again.

    I can't agree here with micromass that community college is necessarily better. Their quality is all over the place, and MIT admissions mostly won't know what to do with the results. If you want to do outside study and are good enough, aiming for RSI would give you an advantage in MIT admissions.

    Great if you're genuinely interested in these things.

    Again great if you have genuine interest. Also great if you win awards as that's one way to demonstrate exceptional ability.

    Do stuff you enjoy. Work hard at it. By the time it's time to apply to colleges what you really want to know is if MIT is the right place for you. Figuring out what you like to work hard at is a big part of that. The big difference between college and high school is that in college you will be much more in charge of your own education. Success there does not come from just doing what you're told to do and working hard at it -- you need to set your own direction.

    One other thing. If you are finding any of the academics in high school hard, then it's unlikely you are MIT material. To know whether MIT is the right place for you, you have to find something you enjoy, work hard at it, take it to a level where it's really hard for you, and keep working at it until you succeed in understanding it. That's the sort of person MIT is meant for. Doing well in high school classes, even "advanced" high school classes, won't tell you if that's the sort of person you are.

    Hope this helps.
  5. May 12, 2014 #4
    Thank you for your responses. Yes, of the things I listed, I have genuine interest in especially the math and science competitions. At NCSSM, a good work ethic is essential as many of the classes there are college level and above. The emphasis there will be on hard work and independent study. Hopefully it will present well to the admissions committee at MIT. Also, would MIT look favorably upon more classes and lower grades or less classes and higher grades? Say if I take 5 classes and get an A in all or take 6 classes and get B in most of them.
  6. May 12, 2014 #5
    Getting something less than A is something to avoid at all costs.
  7. May 12, 2014 #6


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    Exactly this but I'll go even further. You know MIT is crammed full of learning, every course is a weed-out course and finals count only 30-40% of the grade, there's no slacking and catching up. Their approach seems to be all about reaching a point of knowing every week. By the next week you must know what was taught the last week. Like an infinite ladder, each week is a step and eventually you reach the clouds.

    I have no specific advice but you'll know if you're the right person for that school. It doesn't mean you'll get in but not just anyone can get there.
  8. May 12, 2014 #7


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    This is one avenue that could set you apart, although aim to have something more to say than just this.
  9. May 12, 2014 #8
    Nobody is on track to be a successful candidate. You may be on track to be a competitive one. I suggest you check out their Common Data Set, which will tell you that most successful applicants have a very high SAT/ACT score and GPA. What it won't tell you is that you literally need outstanding extracurricular activities to have even a good chance of being accepted. Programming, hardware interfacing and being the president of a club likely are not enough. Being a president shows leadership, but in your case your extracurricular activities are actually too few. Of course, too many is a bad thing. The best case scenario is you have a few more extracurricular activities and have a very big commitment to them (e.g. programming for 4 years). Also, when you say math/science competitions, did you just participate in them or do well (and what level: AIME, USAMO etc)? And you are taking the most difficult courses which is good.
  10. May 12, 2014 #9
    Every science competition for the last three I have done were at regional levels and I have gotten within the top three as well as extra awards such as Naval Science Award. I have done a regional math competition where I placed first in my county. Should I look into the national and international competitions?
  11. May 12, 2014 #10
    Regional level and awards are a good sign that you are competent at them.

    If you have to ask to look in to national and international competitions, you shouldn't do them because it shows you do not have a genuine interest (I am making a presumption - correct me if I am wrong). If I am wrong, then of course you should participate in them. Note that they are significantly more difficult and will take more hard work, practice and passion to do well on them.
  12. May 12, 2014 #11

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    By merely asking the question, the answer is "no". MIT is not looking for students where attending MIT is an end to itself. They are looking for students where MIT is one step on the path to their goals. A very common trait of MIT students is that if they didn't end up at MIT, they would still turn out fine.

    You should be thinking about where you want to be, and then think about whether and how MIT should be a part of it.
  13. May 12, 2014 #12
    I think that most people just use MIT as a placeholder as it is one of the most popular top schools, when they actually mean any school with a lot of prestige (even though they are pretty different).
  14. May 12, 2014 #13

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    If that's the case, let the OP make that point, rather than have us try and guess what he really means.
  15. May 12, 2014 #14
    Here's my two cents, Danya: I was in a similar situation to yours about a year ago (I'm a high school junior now). I really wanted to get into MIT; I was passionate about science and math. I also did a few competitions, etc. Now, though, I'm not really worrying too much about it. I'm just doing whatever I'm interested in, and I'm doing it passionately. If MIT finds those things good, that's nice for them. But mostly I'm just trying to have fun and do things that interest me. I'm currently learning general relativity and starting up with topology (as well as reviewing some linear algebra, and learning some ODE's. Tons of fun stuff). Is MIT gonna care about that? Probably not. But I'm still doing it because it's what I *want* to be doing right now. My ultimate goal isn't to get into a specific university, or anything like that. I just want to spend my life doing physics. If MIT can help with that, that's great. But I'm not gonna get too worried if I don't get in; there's tons of other great places to do physics, and math, and whatever you might want to do. So don't get too focused on getting into MIT- just try to do things you're passionate about, and you'll most likely get into a good school later on.

    Ps. Now, I'm not even sure if I'll apply to U.S. colleges (while about a year ago, I was sure I *needed* to go to MIT. That's just to tell you that things can change). I think I might just do undergrad here in Chile and if I do well, I'll see if I can get into a good grad school in the states.
  16. May 12, 2014 #15
    For a while, I thought I would apply to MIT, but earlier this year, I decided it wasn't the best school for me, so I appplied elsewhere. In general, there is no guarantee of being accepted to a top university, especially with admissions rates steadily declining, but I can tell you how to maximize your chances. The first step is to realize that you should choose activities and interests because you have a passion for them, not just to fluff up your resume. Now, this doesn't mean you shouldn't explore new activities, but you should get something meaningful out of your choice of activities. The college essays will ask you about these things, and someone who absolutely loves what they do and learned valuable life lessons will clearly stand out. Another thing to be aware of is taking full advantage of your resources. It's not very impressive if you are surrounded by opportunities but fail to act on them. Also, get involved in something like comunity service or research over the summer; trust me, they will ask about it. In my particular case, I actually had only 3 or 4 extracurriculars, but I was extremely involved and was usually in charge of hundreds of students (leadership is very good). I never did anything that would be considered extraordinary, but I was willing to work hard to accomplish even a little since I was greatly restricted by poverty and conditions at home. Best of luck in your college applications, and keep up the hard work!
  17. May 13, 2014 #16
    This isnt true. Every course isnt a weed out course (8.01 isnt a weed out course. 18.01 isnt a weed out course. 14.01 isnt a weed out course). More often than not a course isnt a weed out course except for 6.001 or whatever organic chemistry is.
  18. May 13, 2014 #17


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    I realize now that when people hear weed-out class, they think of professors who try to fail students, this isn't what I meant and does that even happen? I just meant that it's a tough place to get into and the standard is very high.
  19. May 13, 2014 #18
    The average GPA at many of those institutions has been increasing since the 80's. Either grads from the 80's are idiots compared to the current graduating class or something with the standards is changing. If you mean the admissions rate are lower than ever that is correct but has little to do with the classes given that avg gpa's are increasing while admissions rate are decreasing. The pool of applicants to colleges has increased as more and more HS across the country emphasize "college readiness" in their curriculum.
  20. May 15, 2014 #19
    I have not gone to university yet and do not live in the USA so please feel free to ignore my comment. I have come to learn that it is not worth going through undergraduate mathematics much further than any of the basics that inspire interest such as Multivariable Calculus or Linear Algebra as you will study these at University anyway and you will just have to do it again.

    Instead, why not explore mathematic and physics in more depth. Train for the national olympiads, which you said you are which is very good but I would focus more on this than any further study or ranking in scouts(i think thats what it means but I am from the UK so am unsure). Try to go to the national camps because they show you can work in a high pressure environment and learn quickly, think logically and attack problems in the right way, of course there are many right ways :).

    Also, why not explore the programming more. Do not just learn it but try to contribute to something or compete in programming competitions. I am forming a startup (have formed) and it has taught me a lot about thinking laterally, keeping my cool under tricky situations and working together to solve problems that could have a major role. Also, learning about taking risks and all the other challenges you deal with she starting a new project. I would imagine, obviously I don't really know, that MIT would look upon that favourably and understand some of what is involved so it helps you show some great core skills and you have proof it!

    Just my thoughts. Good luck.
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