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Can I get into a BS Physics program at MIT?

  1. Jul 23, 2013 #1


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    Okay, so I am an international student (i.e not a citizen or resident of the U.S or Canada), and will probably need some financial aid. That makes it a lot harder to get into MIT from what I've heard. Anyway, is MIT even a possible goal for me, or am I being over-ambitious? Here are some of the things I did in high-school (I am home-schooled).

    • Cambridge GCE O' Levels: A* in Maths and Physics. A in Biology, Chemistry and English
    • Took the SAT Reasoning Test. Got a 2100/2400 (730 in Reading, 710 in Math, 660 in Writing).
    • Intend to take the SAT Subject Tests in Math Level 2, Physics and Chemistry
    • Intend to take my A Levels in Oct/Nov, this year in Maths, Physics and Chemistry
    • Got A+ in Maths and Physics, and A in Chemistry and Biology all through grades 9, 10 and 11 in high-school.

    • Self-learnt Computer programming, achieved proficiency in C and Python, along with working knowledge of C++, Java and C#
    • Learnt a bit of Web Development with HTML/CSS and worked with Java Applets
    • Own a blog, in which I wrote a few educational posts.

    Do I have what it takes to get into MIT? I am really passionate about Physics, and intend to study it at the best university that will take me.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 23, 2013 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    Canada is not the same country as the US, and therefore Canadians are international students at MIT.

    This is not true. Admissions for international students are need-blind. This is right on MIT's web page and it took Google 0.40 seconds to find that page.

    MIT is not going to be impressed by students who believe incorrect things, and who don't bother to use ubiquitous tools like the internet to check them out.

    What would you do differently if we - a bunch of strangers on the internet - said "yes"? What would you do differently if we said "no"?

    The sort of student MIT is looking for knows that if (s)he doesn't apply, (s)he won't get in. Also, that student knows that MIT is very selective and it would be foolish to only apply to a single school. So what different action will you take based on the response?
  4. Jul 23, 2013 #3
    @ Vanadium I get what you are trying to say here and you have made some very strong points. Perhaps the OP is just concerned with getting a general opinion from various people who have more experience than they do in these regards at an informal level. Although, this doesn't account for the lack of quick Googling, it is a typical thing for a keen but nervous student to do. I just wouldn't want to scare anyone away from asking questions, I hope they take to heart and mind the core ideas of your point and aren't scared away by intimidation is all!
  5. Jul 23, 2013 #4
    As a fellow student myself, I would be taken aback if you don't believe you have a chance to study at MIT. Those are incredible academic achievements, and your blog posts shown that you are quite passionate enough with science. In fact, I read that you have applied to 11 universities, surely even if you can't study yet at MIT, others will be happy to receive you with open hands.
  6. Jul 24, 2013 #5


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    Vanadium, your response is as useful as it is tersely heavily handed. One must wonder if a few more moments could have been spent making your post less harsh.
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2013
  7. Jul 24, 2013 #6
    Your SAT reasoning score is significantly below average for students at MIT. You also don't have any wow extra-curriculars or super impressive competition scores.

    I didn't apply to MIT because I wanted a liberal arts experience (as well as physics, I'm super interested in politics, foreign languages, economics and women's rights). I got into Harvard, Yale and Princeton as an international student. My application included graduating with the highest possible grade in my country, having received my first professional diploma (in music) when I was 15, representing my country in international science olympiads and doing statewide policy work, among other things. My resume is not unusual for international students who apply and are admitted to schools which are similarly competitive to MIT. Remember that international admissions are capped (either with a hard cap or with a soft cap, depending on where you apply).
  8. Jul 24, 2013 #7

    Vanadium 50

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    If you think this is harsh, try four years at MIT.
  9. Jul 24, 2013 #8


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    I see. Guess I was wrong, there. I'm sorry.

    I meant it is more difficult to get in as an international student, not because I'm applying for financial aid. Where did I get that idea? From MIT's website:
    I see. Guess I need to learn to confirm things before posting them. Thanks.

    Yes: Get a bit more hopeful. Feel a bit better about myself.
    No: Analyse past mistakes. Understand that I am not doing enough.
    In both cases: Try even harder.

    I'm applying to eleven.
  10. Jul 24, 2013 #9


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    I see. The low SAT score is definitely my fault. The unimpressive extra-curricular activities are due to the fact that I live in a very small town with no good schools or opportunities. I home-schooled myself and did the best I could. I intend to mention this in the application. So, can this be acceptable considering my circumstances?
  11. Jul 24, 2013 #10
    Colleges claim and try to consider how you performed given your circumstances. However, the demographics sometimes do not represent this. I don't have any hard numbers, this is just my assessment of meeting the students in the "top 10 college" community.

    All of the international students (about 50) that I have met have one or more of the following: wealthy parents, accomplished professors as parents, or ranked top in some internationally-acclaimed arena (whatever discipline it may be).

    Whether this is fair or not is another discussion, but these are my personal observations.
  12. Jul 24, 2013 #11


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    Sigh, I fulfill none of the three conditions. Especially the wealthy parents part, my parents find it difficult to make ends meet. Ah, well. It's a sad, sad world we live in. -_-
  13. Jul 24, 2013 #12
    I don't think you have to fulfill any of these requirements at all.
  14. Jul 25, 2013 #13
    I think that it is wrong to call them conditions, and I agree with Theorem. But I think that it is even wronger to conclude that if you aren't privileged, you can't be successful. Look at the life of Sergey Brin, co-founded of Google, an immigrant who faced discrimination in his home country and studied at UMaryland (not MIT).
  15. Jul 25, 2013 #14
    I think people give the wrong idea by assuming what they hear from a few people represents all cases. If this is how math and science works then no progress would ever be made. Of course there are some politics involved. Unfortunately that seems to be unavoidable. Certain people will get into good schools that don't necessarily deserve it more than others based on position in society, wealth, family prestige. I think it is obvious that not every mathetmatician, physicist, or scientist alike got into a good school based on these things. It is a poor assumption to believe this. Many people never take part or compete in a form of "Academic Arena' before high school, or aren't even aware of such things. That is not to say they cannot be influential, simply that there can be many much more important factors to consider. I mean especially before an undergraduate, many people have no idea what they want to do and accordingly haven't taken part in tests or competitions related to the field they end up studying... does that mean they will be prohibited from going to a school. God no. If that was (or IS!) the case then there is a serious problem here.
  16. Jul 25, 2013 #15

    Vanadium 50

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    Here are some facts, which will probably be considered "harsh".

    MIT accepted 148 international students out of 4513 applicants.
    95% of their admits had math scores above 700, and 75% above 740.
    Half had reading scores above 750.
    90% had writing scores above 650.
    This is all on the web.

    In addition, a home schooled A+ is not the same as a A+ issued by a school district.
    Being able to program is not something that distinguishes one from many applicants.
    Anyone can say "I'm passionate!" and everybody does. It's actions, not words, that they are looking for.

    That said, nobody knows if you will be admitted if you apply. But if you do not apply, you will not be admitted.
  17. Jul 25, 2013 #16
    That seems reasonable. Harsh, but realistic.
  18. Jul 25, 2013 #17


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    Thanks. This gives me a realistic idea of my standing and accomplishments compared to those of other applicants. It might be harsh, but it is pretty helpful and enlightening, too. I guess I definitely need to work harder if I ever intend to get into MIT. Thanks, again. :smile:

    In addition to all the other improvement measures, I'm planning to take another O' Level in Additional Mathematics. If I supposedly get an A* in it, do you think that will raise my chances slightly? I was unable to find any good statistics on this online.

    Also, will teaching middle-school mathematics to impoverished children in a non-profit social welfare school for a month for free be good for my application?
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2013
  19. Jul 25, 2013 #18
    I am not quite sure about that Further Maths, especially considering it is an O level. Aren't the materials covered less advanced than AS Level one? Having said that, I'm not sure either what US Universities think of British certificates in general as most of their application process consider only SAT. Certainly they will consider everything, but to what extent will they consider O and A Level?

    I hear a lot of people stating that Further Maths are generally more difficult and can take many of your study time if you're not so to say "very good" at it from the beginning. It is not something I'd' say rigorous either, as it is basically a clever computational-mathematics styled question.

    I see you have done O levels, but have you done A levels? I think in general A levels will be considered as being higher in difficulty to O levels, as they are examined at the end of British "high-schools". You can also perhaps consider British universities, the Oxbridge and others as well.

    Maybe you can ask MIT itself on this British certificates, so that if they don't consider it highly, as to be a decisive part of your application, you can focus on retaking or increasing your SAT grades.

    I don't know enough of what other MIT applicants do to judge your application chance, but I can say it for sure, that it would be good for yourself in any case, and for those children in needs. It is certainly a good deed to help others, that anyone capable should do if possible. Just make sure you can actually do all of these side-jobs and voluntary works without hampering your study.
  20. Jul 26, 2013 #19

    Vanadium 50

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    If you're doing it solely to make your application look better, no. If you're doing it because you truly want to, it might, but then I would ask why you aren't doing it already?
  21. Jul 27, 2013 #20
    Vanadium 50 is correct.

    As an international student, your odds of being accepted are incredibly low. Not just at MIT, but anywhere in the US...assuming you need financial aid. At MIT, this is not an issue, because they are need blind and provide full need (only 5 other schools do that). Elsewhere, it is.

    Understand that the 150 spots for international students at MIT is actually quite large when you compare it to the number of spots for international students at other schools offering financial aid, which are not need blind. After the ivy league universities, the likes of UChicago, MIT and Stanford, the next colleges in line with *substantial* international aid for international students are liberal arts colleges. And they too, have incredibly low acceptance rates for international students. Expect them to be below 25% - most likely below 10% - for international students, even if they have an *overall* acceptance rate that is far above that.

    If you absolutely want to go to the US, then you should be prepared to take some loans. I wouldn't, but that's the way it is if you can't afford it. (who would've thought!) I really think it's not worth going into debt if you're looking at going for doctoral studies, as it is likely that you will be low on cash for most of your PhD. Actually, I don't think going into massive debt for university is even worth it all. But it is your responsibility to decide how much value you want to assign to a US education, or rather, US education at one of their most selective colleges.

    Europe is an avenue worth considering. If you start learning German, you can go to Germany, Austria, or Switzerland, where tuition is rarely above 1500 euros per year. That is if there is any tuition at all. Most places in Germany only charge "semester fees", which are at around 200 euros. And you get to travel for free in the surrounding areas, get other student discounts and access to university facilities. And you get a top notch education too. You won't be spoon fed. It will be hard. But you can still succeed there. And the other good thing is it makes no difference if you do physics in Munich v/s Hamburg, at the bachelor's level. German universities tend to be of a similar standard, and it's only at the postgraduate level, where this matters, as some universities will have stronger research groups and/or industry connections in a limited number of fields.

    Back to getting into a US college. Whether it's at UChicago or Macalester, your application needs to be able to *convincingly* answer the question "What's in it for us?" They know why you want to go there. Why should *they* want *you*, interhacker, running around campus?

    The gist of it is you should be impressive. If you're faking it, they may or may not know. But ask yourself this: do you want to attend so badly that you will "fake" interest into one or two activities, and take it to the very top level? In all likelihood, you won't even have the motivation to take a "faked interest" that far. Which brings us back to what Vanadium 50 said: "If you're doing it solely to make your application look better, no. If you're doing it because you truly want to, it might, but then I would ask why you aren't doing it already?"

    Also, your grades are fine. Most schools don't really care about the writing section, but it's incredibly easy to score above 700 on it. Look up Erica Meltzer. And take Math II, and make sure you get as close to 800 as you can on it. Same with physics. Most international students tick those boxes. Your grades just get you through the first round. What wins the round is how convincingly your application answers "what's in it for us?"

    For e.g: if you're winning powerlifting competitions in your weight class, on top of being an excellent sprinter (for e.g 5-6 second 40 yard dash), this screams "potential football player". And it's also strange, because powerlifters are usually portrayed as those fat strong dudes (not entirely true). And it also shows that you've taken something as far as you can possibly take it: you like being stronger, you've trained hard and dedicate a lot of time to developing that strength, and you're now at the point where you're winning national competitions.

    Just to put this out there: I once PM'd a girl from the UK (elsewhere) who got into lots of top schools, including Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, I believe. She had A*s in the 5-6 A-Levels she did, and was in the Olympic rowing team. That sounds very impressive, and it is.

    But there are other ways to be impressive. For e.g, Cal Newport talks about a kid who got into Stanford (in his book How to be a High School Superstar - haha) by writing one or two game programming manuals which sold extremely well. He also made a "Pi Day" at school....where he just got people to bake pies and give them away or something.

    He also talks about a guy who while doing the MUN at NYC I think...somehow ends up working from home for a big NGO and he did great there.

    Of course you don't need to be that awesome. Not everybody there is like that, though every other kid probably has some kind of distinguishing attribute.

    But the bottom line is that you are the one who gets to assign value to this. You're starting university next year. Do you really think a US education is that valuable? If you answer yes, then you better work for it. Also: MIT has a helpful guide for writing recommendations. Use it.
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