Chances of Getting into MIT as an International Student from India

In summary, the speaker is an 11th grader who is interested in majoring in physics and engineering and is specifically interested in attending MIT, Harvard, or Caltech. They are an international student from India and have been doing research on the admissions process but are still unsure about their chances. They have strong academic achievements and extracurricular activities, including studying Carnatic Music for 8 years, participating in debates and MUNs, and winning a state-level debate competition. They have also taken subject tests and are planning to take the SAT and TOEFL. The speaker believes that their chances of getting into MIT are higher than getting into an IIT in India, but recognizes that acceptance to MIT is still very competitive. They
  • #36
Vanadium 50 said:
I don't think that premise holds. I don't think you believe it does either, because taking it to its logical conclusion, your advice would be "Relax. There's nothing you can do. It's random."

If we make the assumption that the different applicants to the elite universities in the US are more or less equal in terms of the quality of their applications (something which I explicitly stated, and would exclude legacy applicants, under-represented minority groups who may possibly benefit from affirmative action programs, and sports scholarship recipients where applicable, among others), then of course the logical conclusion would be that the probability of their getting accepted would be essentially random.

I fail to see what part of my statement is at all false.
 
Physics news on Phys.org
  • #37
StatGuy2000 said:
First of all, getting admitted ... as an undergraduate student is a random process, if we make the additional assumption that all applicants are more or less equal in terms of qualifications.
This is just a tautology, isn't it? "If all applications are identical, then selection must be random." So what? All applications are not identical.

I imagine everyone who is involved in admissions has certain reasons for giving any specific application the nod. They may be obscure reasons ("this one plays piccolo; and my dear aunt who passed last week just loved piccolo..."). But these are more like hidden variables, and they do not imply the process is random.
 
  • #38
StatGuy2000 said:
If we make the assumption that the different applicants to the elite universities in the US are more or less equal in terms of the quality of their applications (something which I explicitly stated, and would exclude legacy applicants, under-represented minority groups who may possibly benefit from affirmative action programs, and sports scholarship recipients where applicable, among others), then of course the logical conclusion would be that the probability of their getting accepted would be essentially random.

I fail to see what part of my statement is at all false.
* Your assumption is that the overall quality of the applications at elite universities is so equal that the only remaining factor in candidate selection is randomness (with the exception of special categories such as legacy applicants, under-represented minority groups, and athletes). In which case, all you would need to do is verify that the applicants satisfy the minimum criteria, assign each applicant a lottery ticket, and choose the candidate pool via a lottery. Why go through the sham of supposedly evaluating applicants?

* But this assumption is false. Very roughly, applicants are evaluated on both quantitative criteria and qualitative criteria.

* The quantitative criteria are the usual suspects, such as GPA, class rank, and entrance exam scores. It is true that an elite university can set the bar so high on the quantitative criteria that there is little to distinguish among applicants on that basis (with the exception of special categories).

* But that still leaves a large host of qualitative criteria; and here there is far more variation. Sure, if the parents shell out $$$ for an applications advisor to check off the boxes, the applications outwardly will look the same: sports (check), music (check), volunteer work (check), ...

* What no applications advisor can do (short of fraud), however, is generate real evidence, personal stories, of dedication, excellence, self-motivation, leadership, resilience, sacrifice, sincerity, genuine (not merely professed) passion ... all those qualitative intangibles that do distinguish certain applicants from the pack. There is a substantial difference (both in terms of personal essays, letters of recommendation, and interviews) between Applicant A, who’s played on the school hockey team for the past two years, and Applicant B, who’s been taking figure skating lessons at 6 am for the past twelve years. There is a substantial difference between Applicant C, who’s volunteered for Habitat for Humanity for 4 hrs every weekend for the past two years, and Applicant D, who took a 6-month leave to go down with her parents to New Orleans to help victims rebuild after Katrina. And there is a substantial difference between Applicant E, who writes eloquently of his passion for physics, and Applicant F, who’s represented his school at the State Science Fair for the last 4 years.

* Is there an element of randomness (or luck)? Yes. When I was touring prospective colleges with my daughter, the Director of Admissions at Yale was candid, with words to the effect (paraphrase), “We’re proud of the excellence of our orchestra. We find ourselves in the unfortunate position of having only one harpist left, and she’ll be a graduating senior. So, if you’re an excellent harpist, I strongly urge you to apply.”

* But is randomness dispositive? No.
 
Last edited:
  • #39
CrysPhys said:
* Your assumption is that the overall quality of the applications at elite universities is so equal that the only remaining factor in candidate selection is randomness (with the exception of special categories such as legacy applicants, under-represented minority groups, and athletes). In which case, all you would need to do is verify that the applicants satisfy the minimum criteria, assign each applicant a lottery ticket, and choose the candidate pool via a lottery. Why go through the sham of supposedly evaluating applicants?

* But this assumption is false. Very roughly, applicants are evaluated on both quantitative criteria and qualitative criteria.

* The quantitative criteria are the usual suspects, such as GPA, class rank, and entrance exam scores. It is true that an elite university can set the bar so high on the quantitative criteria that there is little to distinguish among applicants on that basis (with the exception of special categories).

* But that still leaves a large host of qualitative criteria; and here there is far more variation. Sure, if the parents shell out $$$ for an applications advisor to check off the boxes, the applications outwardly will look the same: sports (check), music (check), volunteer work (check), ...

* What no applications advisor can do (short of fraud), however, is generate real evidence, personal stories, of dedication, excellence, self-motivation, leadership, resilience, sacrifice, sincerity, genuine (not merely professed) passion ... all those qualitative intangibles that do distinguish certain applicants from the pack. There is a substantial difference (both in terms of personal essays, letters of recommendation, and interviews) between Applicant A, who’s played on the school hockey team for the past two years, and Applicant B, who’s been taking figure skating lessons at 6 am for the past twelve years. There is a substantial difference between Applicant C, who’s volunteered for Habitat for Humanity for 4 hrs every weekend for the past two years, and Applicant D, who took a 6-month leave to go down with her parents to New Orleans to help victims rebuild after Katrina. And there is a substantial difference between Applicant E, who writes eloquently of his passion for physics, and Applicant F, who’s represented his school at the State Science Fair for the last 4 years.

* Is there an element of randomness (or luck)? Yes. When I was touring prospective colleges with my daughter, the Director of Admissions at Yale was candid, with words to the effect (paraphrase), “We’re proud of the excellence of our orchestra. We find ourselves in the unfortunate position of having only one harpist left, and she’ll be a graduating senior. So, if you’re an excellent harpist, I strongly urge you to apply.”

* But is randomness dispositive? No.

First of all, if you take a look at the "macro" level, if you look at the pool of applicants to elite universities in the US, one would suspect that all of these students would have very similar quantitative criteria that you talk about (GPA, entrance exam scores, class rank, etc.).

So our disagreement would amount to the variability in the qualitative criteria. But the qualitative criteria by definition (as you yourself state) is highly varied, and which qualitative criteria would be deemed to be worthy for admittance would, in the aggregate, would approach randomness, since no single qualitative criteria would give a given student a clearly recognizable advantage over another student.

So the end result would be that a given application for admittance to an elite university would end up being a lottery system in all but name.
 
  • #40
StatGuy2000 said:
First of all, if you take a look at the "macro" level, if you look at the pool of applicants to elite universities in the US, one would suspect that all of these students would have very similar quantitative criteria that you talk about (GPA, entrance exam scores, class rank, etc.).

Where did you find the info for this?

Zz.
 
  • #41
ZapperZ said:
Where did you find the info for this?

Zz.

It stands to reason given the nature of elite schools, I think it would be fair to say that the base threshold in the quantitative areas (e.g. grades, SAT scores, class rank, etc.) for an application to have merit would be very high (I am specifically excluding legacy applications, sports scholars, & affirmative action recipients, as mentioned earlier).
 
  • #42
ZapperZ said:
Where did you find the info for this?

StatGuy2000 said:
It stands to reason

I don't think this answers Zz's question.

If it were just a lottery, why do colleges spend millions (per university) on admissions? Wouldn't it be simpler and cheaper to just hold a lottery?
 
  • #43
StatGuy2000 said:
It stands to reason given the nature of elite schools, I think it would be fair to say that the base threshold in the quantitative areas (e.g. grades, SAT scores, class rank, etc.) for an application to have merit would be very high (I am specifically excluding legacy applications, sports scholars, & affirmative action recipients, as mentioned earlier).

For someone who calls himself a "statguy", you certainly are lax with the statistics on this. What you just said here is pure speculation without any hard evidence, the same way politicians blame violent video games for mass shootings. After all, that also "stands to reason" for some people.

Zz.
 
  • #44
StatGuy2000 said:
First of all, if you take a look at the "macro" level, if you look at the pool of applicants to elite universities in the US, one would suspect that all of these students would have very similar quantitative criteria that you talk about (GPA, entrance exam scores, class rank, etc.).
no, I wouldn't expect all the applicants to be similar. anyone that pays the fee can apply. I'm sure MIT gets hundreds of applications with 580 SAT and 2.0 GPA.
I think it would be fair to say that the base threshold in the quantitative areas (e.g. grades, SAT scores, class rank, etc.) for an application to have merit would be very high
Now that's different, "for an application to have merit." But that just means it's hard to get in. We knew that.

These schools are hard to get into because there's more (way more) applicants than spots. But beyond that, they're hard to get into because they're hard to go to. The classes are hard because the students are good. Alot of the students find out what it's like to not be the smartest guy in the room. The admissions people don't want to enroll kids who might flunk out, or who just can't take it.
 
  • #45
ZapperZ said:
For someone who calls himself a "statguy", you certainly are lax with the statistics on this. What you just said here is pure speculation without any hard evidence, the same way politicians blame violent video games for mass shootings. After all, that also "stands to reason" for some people.

Zz.

@ZapperZ, I was proposing a hypothesis (speculation, if you will) regarding the quality of the applications to elite schools. The only way I could test such hypotheses would be to look at the data on GPA, SAT scores, and such among 2 populations:

(1) All high school students (both domestically in the US and internationally) who apply to such schools.

(2) All high school students (both domestically in the US and internationally) who are accepted to such schools.

I don't know if the elite schools make such data publicly available (I frequently see reports of the mean GPAs of students accepted to such schools, so I presume the data exists)
 
  • #46
gmax137 said:
no, I wouldn't expect all the applicants to be similar. anyone that pays the fee can apply. I'm sure MIT gets hundreds of applications with 580 SAT and 2.0 GPA.

Perhaps, but how many of those applications would MIT discard immediately because the applications don't meet the base threshold that they set? And how many students would even bother applying to MIT with such low SATs or GPA, even if they (or their parents) can afford the fees?

When I consider the pool of applicants, I am already assuming that those who don't meet base requirements would not even be considered (and thus not part of the pool of applicants worth examining to begin with).

Now that's different, "for an application to have merit." But that just means it's hard to get in. We knew that.

These schools are hard to get into because there's more (way more) applicants than spots. But beyond that, they're hard to get into because they're hard to go to. The classes are hard because the students are good. Alot of the students find out what it's like to not be the smartest guy in the room. The admissions people don't want to enroll kids who might flunk out, or who just can't take it.

My whole point is that there are way more applicants than spots (and thus there is a random component toward whether any specific applicant would end up being accepted).

Whether the classes at, say, Harvard (or other elite universities in the US), are "harder" than those taught in other universities around the world is a difficult thing to gauge, because the levels of difficulty vary depending on the subject matter and the specific professors involved.

I'm a graduate from the University of Toronto (U of T for short, for those not from Canada) who studied mathematics. Are the math classes at, say, Harvard or MIT really that much harder than the math classes I took at U of T back in the '90s? Or today? Maybe, maybe not.
 
  • #47
StatGuy2000 said:
@ZapperZ, I was proposing a hypothesis (speculation, if you will) regarding the quality of the applications to elite schools. The only way I could test such hypotheses would be to look at the data on GPA, SAT scores, and such among 2 populations:

(1) All high school students (both domestically in the US and internationally) who apply to such schools.

(2) All high school students (both domestically in the US and internationally) who are accepted to such schools.

I don't know if the elite schools make such data publicly available (I frequently see reports of the mean GPAs of students accepted to such schools, so I presume the data exists)

That's fine. But you are making such definitive and dismissive conclusions based on something that you have very little concrete data on! I would think that you'd pay more attention in establishing FIRST the validity of what you are using BEFORE you go on to make such conclusions. Is this not a rational expectation?

A lot of people make conclusions based on something that has not been established to be valid. And worse still, they ACT upon such conclusions with such conviction! I attribute a lot of our social and societal problems to such irrational acts. I was expecting people engaging in discussions on here to be a lot more sensible than that.

Zz.
 
  • #48
@StatGuy2000 said:
My whole point is that there are way more applicants than spots (and thus there is a random component toward whether any specific applicant would end up being accepted).
If you follow postings on College Confidential's Parent's Forum by those in the know, especially in regards to the lawsuit brought against Harvard for their admissions practices, they will tell you that admissions to elite universities is not in fact a lottery. While the process may be occluded to applicants and may appear random, these schools are looking for very specific things, and those things can change from year to year based on institutional need (e.g. orchestra needs a new oboe player etc.). The "holistic" criteria will be institution specific so what MIT is looking for will be very different than what Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or Stanford are looking for. Contrary to popular belief Harvard's mission is not to enrol the academically best and brightest. They are looking for students who will help perpetuate Harvard's prestige and funding into the future. The biggest hook for getting into Harvard is being a recruited athlete. Now I'm not saying that athletes recruited at Harvard are dumb, but as the lawsuit revealed as a whole they have lower academic credentials to the unhooked admits. MIT on the other hand is looking for the best and brightest, but even for them admissions is holistic and that's not enough to be admitted. It's in part because there are far more academically qualified applicants than spots that these schools use holistic admissions (though there are other institutional goals that are met through the process as well) but that doesn't mean that admissions are a lottery. That would mean that the holistic component didn't matter, but once you pass a certain academic threshold they are the only thing that matter (unless you have parents who can buy you a seat).

With regards to the difficulty of the classes at these schools, for Harvard specifically it is stated that while it is very hard to get admitted, once in, the chances are that you will fail out are very slim. Part of that is due to the academic ability of the students they admit, but Harvard goes to great lengths to ensure their students graduate. There is a reason for the term "Gentleman's C". The reality is that these schools are so well funded that the resources that exist to support their student bodies is very high such that most will not have a difficult time graduating.
 
  • #49
As to the OP, by all means apply, but understand that admissions is holistic. It's not just about grades. These schools are looking for very specific characteristics in their admits. I would recommend going on to their admissions pages and see what you can glean from them as to what they are looking for. You should understand that admission to these schools is a very long shot for American students. As an international applicant your chances are even slimmer. If you want more targeted advice on your admissions chances I would recommend you check out College Confidential's International Applicant's page. You should also be able to get advice on what other schools you could consider applying to that are need blind and provide financial assistance to international students. Good Luck.
 
  • Like
Likes preachingpirate24
  • #50
ZapperZ said:
That's fine. But you are making such definitive and dismissive conclusions based on something that you have very little concrete data on! I would think that you'd pay more attention in establishing FIRST the validity of what you are using BEFORE you go on to make such conclusions. Is this not a rational expectation?

A lot of people make conclusions based on something that has not been established to be valid. And worse still, they ACT upon such conclusions with such conviction! I attribute a lot of our social and societal problems to such irrational acts. I was expecting people engaging in discussions on here to be a lot more sensible than that.

Zz.
Throughout my posts on this thread, I have always tried to make clear that I am engaging in speculation with regards to the chances of admittance to elite American universities.

At no point have I ever claimed that my speculations were definitive, and am genuinely surprised that people interpret it that way here on PF.

In response to @gwnorth -- I am well aware that various universities in the US employ "holistic" approaches in their admissions criteria, and thus strictly speaking acceptance is not a lottery. Even so, there is still a random component in terms of the chances of admissions, since the holistic criteria differs between institutions and can vary from year to year.

Let me give you a hypothetical example. Suppose you have 2 students -- we'll call her Kelly and Lisa.
Suppose both Kelly and Lisa both are white Americans who come from upper-middle class households.

Suppose both Kelly and Lisa are outstanding students -- 3.9 out of 4.0 GPA, SAT scores in the 99-th percentiles, both in the highest ranks in their respective (elite private) high schools. Suppose both of them are actively involved in school extracurricular activities (sports, music, debating teams, etc.) and both engage in volunteer activities (e.g. Habitat for Humanity, local food banks, etc.)

Suppose both Kelly and Lisa have applied to Harvard, and there is only 1 spot remaining.

On paper, both Kelly and Lisa are equally qualified to be admitted to Harvard (or to any other university), whether by quantitative measures or more holistically. But since there is only 1 spot remaining, the probability that Kelly or Lisa would be admitted to that 1 spot is ~0.5, or ~50%. This is where the random component factors in.

[Final note: this is my last post in this thread, as I feel I have explained my views to the best of my ability, and I have nothing more useful to say on this topic.]
 
Last edited:
  • #51
@StatGuy2000 nope still not 50/50. There are additional criteria to take into consideration - letters of recommendation, personal essays, and interviews. The likelihood of 2 applicants, even with identical stats and comparable ec's, scoring identically on those additional factors is unlikely. Even so admissions officers provide just a preliminary screen. Their recommendations still have to go through to the admissions committee where each candidate under consideration is reviewed and debated by the committee as a whole. It is highly unlikely that at the committee level they could not come to a decision to accept one applicant over the other based on quantifiable or subjective criteria such that they needed to resort to a coin toss. If it really came down to that I suspect they would just accept or reject both of them.
 
  • #52
@gwnorth do you have knowledge of how the admissions process actually works or is this conjecture?
gwnorth said:
If it really came down to that I suspect they would just accept or reject both of them.
This is exactly what I guessed, but I don't really know how the process works. It makes sense, too, because (I imagine) the admissions people have a target number for class enrollment, but they don't know exactly what proportion of admissions will enroll. So there is an acceptable "slop" in how many acceptance letters they send out.
 
  • #53
@gmax137 I can't claim to be an inside expert but from what I've heard from those who are in the know this is how the process works at Harvard at least. Other elite schools will have their own process which may be different.

With regard to how many offers are made, yes they make more offers than available spots because even at elite institutions not everyone who receives an offer will decide to matriculate there for a variety of reasons (including cost).
 
  • Like
Likes gmax137
  • #54
gwnorth said:
@StatGuy2000 nope still not 50/50. There are additional criteria to take into consideration - letters of recommendation, personal essays, and interviews. The likelihood of 2 applicants, even with identical stats and comparable ec's, scoring identically on those additional factors is unlikely. Even so admissions officers provide just a preliminary screen. Their recommendations still have to go through to the admissions committee where each candidate under consideration is reviewed and debated by the committee as a whole. It is highly unlikely that at the committee level they could not come to a decision to accept one applicant over the other based on quantifiable or subjective criteria such that they needed to resort to a coin toss. If it really came down to that I suspect they would just accept or reject both of them.

From the applicant's point of view when making application decisions, I can't see how the difference between "apparently random" due to unknown criteria and "truly random" really matters.

Due to the opportunity costs in applying for lots of different schools, I tend to advise students I mentor to focus their application efforts on the 4-5 schools for which they have a good chance of admission, 50-70%. And I do my best to use all the available information to accurately estimate their admission chances for each school on their short list.

I don't think "truly random" is a factor when I estimate admission chances of a given student to a given school. The lack of clarity is due to "apparently random" due to unknown criteria in the human decision making processes on the other end (and occasionally the unknown factors in a students' recommendation letters.)
 
  • Like
Likes StatGuy2000
  • #55
Dr. Courtney said:
I can't see how the difference between "apparently random" due to unknown criteria and "truly random" really matters.

If it's apparently random, the number of less qualified applicants doesn't matter. If it's truly random - like a lottery - it does.
 
  • #56
Vanadium 50 said:
If it's apparently random, the number of less qualified applicants doesn't matter. If it's truly random - like a lottery - it does.

That's a good point if the applicant knows the number of less qualified applicants. But if an applicant knows the number of less qualified applicants (not usually knowable) together with the total number of applicants (easy to find typical numbers) and the number of admitted applicants (also easy to find typical numbers), then there would be far less speculation regarding whether the applicant will be admitted.

So your observation is not really helpful in deciding which schools a student might apply for with a reasonable chance of admission. Not only do applicants not know the number of less qualified applicants, they also don't know how things like diversity, legacy, and athletics are factored in. It's a crap shoot. Some advisers may be able better at predicting a given student's odds of admission at a given school, but without inside information, the eventual outcome can't be predicted with certainty any more than the odds of rain a week from now or the measurement outcome of a quantum system. With all the inside info, many an applicant's fate at many schools may be somewhat deterministic. But the more committees are involved, there is not even a consistent definition of "more qualified" and "less qualified."

Without a rigorous, objective definition of "less qualified" one can't really predict outcomes in a deterministic manner even with all the inside information. Probabilistic predictions is the best that can be done. Now the pool of students in the "lottery" is probably limited to those on the "bubble" in the decision making process. But having seen how different committees decide "bubble" cases differently, the lottery randomness is apparent on the bubble, though not every student necessarily has the same number of tickets.
 
  • Like
Likes preachingpirate24 and StatGuy2000
  • #57
Just putting out my 2 cents here. @Vanadium 50 I think you're misinterpreting OP's intentions in some of these posts with no fault of your own.

You mentioned that being coached for a single exam is easier than developing yourself to be a good fit for a school like MIT. This may appear so-but having been through the process of preparing for IIT's myself and knowing friends who have gone to pursue their undergrads at MIT and Harvard who have prepared for IIT's as well I can say that it is a much greater ordeal than someone outside of India realizes.
It's 8-10 hours of studying a day for three years straight (includes weekends) for the average student to be able to enter IIT Bombay in a preferred field and even with this amount of preparation-I know someone (who is now at Harvard studying engineering) who did not get into his preferred branch at IIT-B. It is ridiculous and counter-intuitive that this happens since their world rankings are far apart but it does happen and this is the bleak reality of competition in a vastly overpopulated third world country.

A vast majority of people in India don't think about the US or MIT even if they're more talented than some of their western counterparts because if they focus on that and lose out on precious days of preparation for the IIT- while their chances of being admitted to those top schools in the US are a gamble in the first place; then they're essentially left with nowhere to go. The other institutes in India are a sad joke, and the other institutes in the US aren't affordable for most of us even with scholarships unless it's MIT/Harvard/need-blind.

This is the reason that people who've been through this immense pressure often manage to shine after leaving their home country. But apart from all those discussions (which aren't very helpful or practical), OP should note that the current google CEO is someone who despite his hard work wasn't able to get into what would be considered a reputed branch in an IIT, the current Microsoft CEO wasn't even able to get into an IIT in the first place. The options aren't limited to IIT or MIT, like @StatGuy2000 and others have tried to say-just do your best, consider Canadian universities (these may still be too expensive) but one university in Canada (Memorial University of Newfoundland) actually has an amazing engineering program with the lowest tuition in Canada with lots of scholarships if you do well in your 12th grade (which should be easy if you've prepared for JEE). It's not MIT, but the opportunities they provide are on-par with IIT's (don't go based on world rankings-they aren't always a good indicator of a lot of important things).

Even if you don't get into anything decent at all (which I know we Indians are trained to obsess over, for survival reasons) the truth is you still have great opportunities if you just keep learning whatever you're passionate about and at the end of the day that's what will count. Never mind what happens.

I admit that I've way less knowledge about these things than @Vanadium 50 or @Dr. Courtney but I'll say this-The struggle back home is real but just keep your focus on doing your best. There's already plenty written about the questions you have and it's best to just look at them instead of sparking too much debate over these things.
 
  • Like
Likes sahilmm15, preachingpirate24, StatGuy2000 and 1 other person

Similar threads

  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
5
Views
167
  • STEM Academic Advising
2
Replies
66
Views
9K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
27
Views
3K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
2
Views
1K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
8
Views
2K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
12
Views
3K
Replies
23
Views
960
Replies
4
Views
1K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
4
Views
1K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
18
Views
2K
Back
Top