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MIT admission: weight of core subject grades

  • #1
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Main Question or Discussion Point

Hello and thank you for bothering to read this long mess .

I have just finished high school and after researching the best universities for majoring physics I've decided to try getting admitted into MIT (I don't live in the states and my country [Israel] has mandatory military service so don't worry about me not filing an admission yet).

I am aware how competitive the international admissions to MIT are and so there is a matter I would like to settle. Before showing what makes me unique and special (planning on doing some university research for that), in order to even be an option I need top grades from both my high school and the SAT (haven't taken the SAT yet).

I've studied all the "Sciency" subjects (Physics, Math, Chemistry, English) to the maximum depth my country's education system allows and got A+ grades in all of them. 100 in Math, 99 in Physics, 99 in Chemistry and 99 in English. In addition I expanded physics further by doing a nifty final's project that essentially doubled my Physics "expansion" with final grade 100. I also studied biology for 1 year with final grade 100 (Already expanded Chemistry and Physics, can't expand a 3rd subject). However I haven't had such luck in my country's core subjects and got A grades in most of them (96 in History, 90 in Literature, 90 in Hebrew, 97 in citizenship and 95 in Bible studies).

I know this may sound petty but I would like to raise my chances as much as I could. The thing is all those core subjects got dragged down from 100 by the finals, and I can do the tests again to try to raise them to be A+ as well. It's worth mentioning that with the way Israel calculates aggregate final scores, the core subjects have very little impact in comparison with the expanded subjects so raising the grade won't change that too much.

So my question boils down to: how much do MIT look at these grades? Will they see them as a sign that I'm not a top student? Do they calculate aggregate score by a simple arithmetic mean or do they adhere to the local way of doing it? Is it worth my time to study for all these tests to raise the score?

Again, thank you for reading this long post about a very simple question, and I really appreciate the help.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Vanadium 50
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First, you should read everything on MIT admissions web pages.

Second, MIT enrolls ~1 student from Israel every year. Is that student going to be you? Are you plausibly the top student nationwide?
 
  • #3
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First, you should read everything on MIT admissions web pages.

Second, MIT enrolls ~1 student from Israel every year. Is that student going to be you? Are you plausibly the top student nationwide?
I have read pretty much everything on the MIT admissions web page (aside from all the blogs), it didn't answer this particular predicament.

As for my own status, among all the students applying for MIT I have every intention of being the best. I'm planning on double 800 on the SAT and I will raise all my grades to 100 if need be. As far as I know, no Israeli student won a medal on an international Olympiad in my age group, even if they did I can count on them going to any other university (I mean the odds are in my favor in that regard...).

Are you saying that's what I need to do?
 
  • #4
verty
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Are you saying that's what I need to do?
Could you get History higher? If so, I would do that. I think with 98+ for History, you are in a very good place. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee you will get in.
 
  • #5
PhanthomJay
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If MIT must choose one out of several equally qualified applicants on paper, and you want to be that one, then the secret is to ‘nail’ ( do great on) the essay questions. And the same for an interview if they can arrange one in your country. Those will be the tie breaker. Good Luck!
 
  • #6
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Verty: Got it, i'll redo the history test at least, aiming at 100.

PhanthomJay: I'm aware, i'll try to think of answers that really make me stand out, and thank you :)
 
  • #7
Vanadium 50
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(aside from all the blogs)
You should read the blogs, especially "Applying Sideways"

As far as I know, no Israeli student won a medal on an international Olympiad in my age group
Have you?

I have every intention of being the best
Have you seen this?

 
  • #8
PhanthomJay
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Verty: Got it, i'll redo the history test at least, aiming at 100.

PhanthomJay: I'm aware, i'll try to think of answers that really make me stand out, and thank you :)
Well it was 55 years ago when my identical twin bro and I applied to MIT fresh out of high school. Neither of us got in, but I got on a waiting list, and he didn’t. Now
We both went to the same school, took the same courses, had the same extra curricular activities and hobbies, same grades, etc......we were carbon copies of each other. The difference was that I was more frank, open, and honest at the interview than he.

Now I do college grad interviews on occasion for entry level engineering positions in my company. A few years ago there were a couple of applicants for the lone job. One claimed that she had field experience on a construction job as part of her coursework, and said that she would direct the workers based on her engineering knowledge, and that she was already an engineer. The other candidate said he didn’t know much about the engineering world, but that he would work very hard everyday to gain experience and knowledge in whatever task that was assigned to him. If you guessed I gave the job to the first one, you guessed wrong.
 
  • #9
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Vanadium: I'll make sure to read the blog. I haven't won a medal (although I might have if I wasn't a complete idiot in my first 18 months of high school...), I was trying to say that if I went against someone who did it would decrease my odds significantly regardless of grades.
And I have saw the movie, loved it too :). I don't intend to present myself as a mindless grade-bot because I know that will kick me right out of the door, if that is what you wanted to say with that scene. I know that those are just the basis and I'll need to show why I'm unique.

PhanthomJay: So you're saying that if I try to present to them what I think they want to see rather than myself it will only work to my detriment. I'll be as myself as I can, then (I think Israel has MIT interviews but I'm not 100% sure, need to check on that). I'm guessing from your interview example that you valued resolve and ambition more than plain old "knowing how to do the job", and I should emphasize my positive qualities likewise (but not with faking myself, of course).

By the way, I know that MIT likes "hooks", special things that a candidate did that makes him stand out. Unfortunately I'm a very limited person with regards to my talents and hobbies, in fact they include sitting at home doing Physics and Math, and that's it (I live on the edge, I know). So I thought that for the hook I'll help out researchers at the Hebrew University (the 2nd most prestigious science University in Israel, it doesn't compare with the likes of MIT though) and put my name on a few papers. I did it once in high school and it was pretty damn fun. So do you think seeing a few serious physics publications (Quantum Sensing) with my name is a sufficient hook?
 
  • #10
My impression of the MIT grads I've worked with or under over the years is that 99% of them can tie their shoe laces, but can't think.

My impression of the grads from lousy state schools such as the one I'm at is that 99% of them can't tie their shoe laces, and also can't think.

Is having a fancy school on your resume going to make that much of a difference?
 
  • #11
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My impression of the MIT grads I've worked with or under over the years is that 99% of them can tie their shoe laces, but can't think.

My impression of the grads from lousy state schools such as the one I'm at is that 99% of them can't tie their shoe laces, and also can't think.

Is having a fancy school on your resume going to make that much of a difference?
I actually don't care much for my resume (at least not at this point). I want to be a theoretical physicist, explore the mysteries of the universe and such. So I want a school that would be able to teach me physics in the best way possible, make me really understand it and enjoy as much as I can from studying it. After seeing some OCW lectures I know MIT is capable of doing that (or at least has a higher chance of doing that). Plus I'll probably be a professor after I'm done studying, and the top schools tend to treat their professors best (and only really accept them from themselves or other top schools..)
 
  • #12
verty
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Is having a fancy school on your resume going to make that much of a difference?
If he knows what he wants to do and MIT is the school for it, then I think he simply must go there (if he gets in). Otherwise he'll have to go somewhere else. But why not try for it? There's no reason not to try.

@Adgorn, I won't comment on this hook idea except to say that if it is fake, I'm sure they will find out. It has to be a genuine interest, surely. I would do something to show my interest.
 
  • #13
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If he knows what he wants to do and MIT is the school for it, then I think he simply must go there (if he gets in). Otherwise he'll have to go somewhere else. But why not try for it? There's no reason not to try.

@Adgorn, I won't comment on this hook idea except to say that if it is fake, I'm sure they will find out. It has to be a genuine interest, surely. I would do something to show my interest.
Don't worry, I picked it precisely because it is a genuine interest. I really did have fun last time I did it and would like to do it again.
 
  • #14
PhanthomJay
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I can't of course speak for MIT now, especially after half a century gone by, but at the time they wanted not only top students coursewise, but also 'well rounded' students, with interests beyond academia. You need to do something besides reading Physics texts all of your waking hours. If you want to volunteer, try perhaps visiting a children's hospital and talking to kids, volunteering at the church/synagogue of your choice, visiting the elderly, the list goes on and on. Forget putting your name on a 'Quantum Sensing' paper, it doesn't mean squat.

Now let me share something with you during my MIT interview at the ripe young age of 16-a half. He asked me if I dated girls (I don't think they'd be allowed to ask that question nowadays). I said I was so involved with my studies that I had no time for dating. That didn't make him too pleased. Then he asked, that perhaps I was so close to my twin brother, that perhaps I had a sort of a 'homosexual' relationship with him ( another question that is not to be asked today). I answered that I didn't think so, but perhaps our closeness was a concern here. He liked it. My brother, when asked the same questions, about dating girls (too busy! ) or homosexuality , to which he answered, somewhat angrily, 'Of course Not!'!. Well I got the nod for the wait list, not he.

Now this may be a bit extreme, but do yourself a favor and get active in something besides Physics! (Even like dating or associating with someone, going to movies, concerts, theater, etc.).
 
  • #15
verty
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Now this may be a bit extreme, but do yourself a favor and get active in something besides Physics! (Even like dating or associating with someone, going to movies, concerts, theater, etc.).
I think he should finish what he started and get the marks he wants because he has spent so much time on that, it would be a crying shame to drop the ball right at the last hurdle. Anyway, he still has time to decide whether he goes to MIT, even if they accept him. It's not like everything is decided. My advice to him is to keep at it and the rewards will come.
 
  • #16
PhanthomJay
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My impression of the MIT grads I've worked with or under over the years is that 99% of them can tie their shoe laces, but can't think.

My impression of the grads from lousy state schools such as the one I'm at is that 99% of them can't tie their shoe laces, and also can't think.

Is having a fancy school on your resume going to make that much of a difference?
Back in the day we used to say that we had 2 choices of colleges for an Engineering degree: #1 - MIT and #2 - Any Other School. Actually, I have found some very promising BS and MS engineering graduates from the lo-cost State universities. They all come in with high grade point averages, which is good , but in the end, I'm looking for someone who is familiar with the simplest basic concepts and equations of engineering.
 
  • #17
StatGuy2000
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My impression of the MIT grads I've worked with or under over the years is that 99% of them can tie their shoe laces, but can't think.

My impression of the grads from lousy state schools such as the one I'm at is that 99% of them can't tie their shoe laces, and also can't think.
@Crass_Oscillator , have you met any grads from any school who can think?

If so, what kind of school did they go to?
 
  • #18
jasonRF
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When it comes to schools as selective as MIT, I believe it is impossible to predict what exactly will lead to acceptance. Even their own admissions blog tells you that there is no formula for admissions. The reality is that they have many more applicants that could succeed at MIT than they have room for, so once an applicant has good enough "numbers" (SAT, grades, class rank, etc), the other parts of the application become extremely important for determining whether they are admitted. Essays and recommendations matter, as do outside accomplishments, awards and extra-curricular activities. They certainly do not simply pick the applicants with the best numbers. I won't pretend to know how your profile would be viewed - publications before college are pretty impressive but only the people reading your application know if it is enough.

So I assert that none of us knows what would be the best use of your time if your objective is to maximize your likelihood of acceptance to MIT or any other extremely selective university. Improving your scores might (or might not!) be the best approach, but you might (or might not!) be better off improving the other portions of your application beyond just the numbers.

jason
 
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  • #19
Dr. Courtney
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Getting into MIT for graduate school is easier - and paying for it is much more practical, as most PhD students in STEM are on assistantships.
 
  • #20
@Crass_Oscillator , have you met any grads from any school who can think?

If so, what kind of school did they go to?
There is, in my experience, zero correlation between name of school attended, and capacity for thought.

Academia follows the Pareto principle pretty closely. Probably fewer than 20% of faculty are actually creative, productive, and useful to society. These faculty, sprinkled throughout the system, produce a dozen or more graduate students, most of whom are inferior clones of themselves, many of whom have an easier track to becoming a professor. Occasionally one or two of them can think, and the 20% expands, but of course, the other eight can't.

Why some people learn how to think in ten years of training and others don't remains a deep mystery. Clearly, it has little to do with the name of the school on your CV, seeing as the overwhelming majority of professors (i.e. the 80 and 20%) in physics acquired their degrees from fancy schools.

In other words, if fancy schools are mostly churning out mediocre people, hyper focusing on going to a fancy school is probably the wrong variable to be optimizing for your future career, assuming the OP intends to be one of the 20%. You'd be better off optimizing other parameters; why waste time and energy on MIT for undergrad when going to Technion will probably make zero difference on your career?

I certainly haven't figured out yet how to be in that anointed category, but the evidence is pretty damning that brand name undergraduate degrees have little to do with getting there.
 
  • #21
Dr. Courtney
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There is, in my experience, zero correlation between name of school attended, and capacity for thought.
This was not my experience at all. Odds that a given student at MIT (where I attended graduate school) can think are much higher than finding a student who can think at LSU (my undergraduate institution). Odds that a given student can think at Western Carolina University (where I taught physics and directed the Forensic Science Program) are very close to zero. In contrast, by the time they graduate, Most students at the Air Force Academy (where I served on the Math faculty) have demonstrated pretty good capacity for thought.

Schools that require demonstrated capacity for thought for admissions and coursework tend to have graduates who are better thinkers than those that do not.
 
  • #22
You're probably talking about shoe lace tying. Again, take a random top 10 undergrad and random 100-11 undergrad and put them in front of a PGRE and the latter might not even recall what the field between a parallel plate capacitor is.

But I can think of dozens of papers written by grads of fancy schools and faculty at fancy schools that range from irrelevant to nonsense.

Again, if the OP gets into MIT... great. But name brand schools are for the most part an irrelevant variable, and there are dozens of drones in academia and elsewhere without a single hair out of place on their head or vacancy on their CV who have contributed nothing useful to science.
 
  • #23
Dr. Courtney
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... there are dozens of drones in academia and elsewhere without a single hair out of place on their head or vacancy on their CV who have contributed nothing useful to science.
Of course. Out of thousands of graduates, there may well be dozens of drones with minimal to non-existent contributions. But your original claim was "zero correlation."

There is, in my experience, zero correlation between name of school attended, and capacity for thought.
Supporting the case for zero correlation requires more than anecdotal evidence of a few dozen light weights. You'd need a significant sample size and a suitable proxy variable for the big name school (like national ranking) and a suitable proxy variable for their contributions to science (perhaps citation count). I doubt any kind of real analysis would show zero correlation.
 
  • #24
StatGuy2000
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You're probably talking about shoe lace tying. Again, take a random top 10 undergrad and random 100-11 undergrad and put them in front of a PGRE and the latter might not even recall what the field between a parallel plate capacitor is.

But I can think of dozens of papers written by grads of fancy schools and faculty at fancy schools that range from irrelevant to nonsense.

Again, if the OP gets into MIT... great. But name brand schools are for the most part an irrelevant variable, and there are dozens of drones in academia and elsewhere without a single hair out of place on their head or vacancy on their CV who have contributed nothing useful to science.
@Crass_Oscillator, do you count yourself among those students who can think, or have contributed nothing useful to science? :-p
 
  • #25
Dr. Courtney
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Again, if the OP gets into MIT... great. But name brand schools are for the most part an irrelevant variable, and there are dozens of drones in academia and elsewhere without a single hair out of place on their head or vacancy on their CV who have contributed nothing useful to science.
I should also mention that my wife works at a large consulting firm and recent graduates from schools lower than Ga Tech are very unlikely to get interviews.
 

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