MIT, Grades and NASA

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  • #1
Fuz
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Hello guys, I have a few Q's

So I'm a sophomore in high school and I'm seriously thinking about my future, just like I have been for the past 4 years. I really want to get into a good college to study math or physics. My problem is that I got a 'C+' in my Honors US History class. I hate to give an excuse but my teacher is basically impossible. I talked to my counselor and he told me that students complain to him about my teacher, and he says that on recommendations he writes that a C is a good grade in his class and hes the hardest teacher in the school.

I'm kinda stressed out about this because I was thinking about, perhaps, applying to MIT. I get mostly A's, play lacrosse and am on the swim team. Will MIT just throw out the App?... Just afraid the C will destroy my script and chances with getting into a good college.

Just a few more questions. I'm pretty much really wanting to be an astronaut nowadays. Does NASA look at my high school grades? What field (physics, math, engineering) and degree (bachelor's, masters, phd) would give me a good chance at becoming an astronaut. Will there even be a demand for astronauts? Is the Air Force a good option?

Please forgive me for the broadness of these questions.

Thanks everybody,
Fuz
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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Your future is pretty much ruined. Perhaps you can study business administration at a non-accredited technical college, but that's pretty much about it. I would suggest you practice reciting the phrase "would you like fries with that?"
 
  • #3
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I applied to MIT back in my high school years, and I had the same problem (I had a couple C's in French).

My interviewer assured me that grades and standardized test scores are not a big part of the selection process. They look for a lower limit, just to make sure you can handle the rigorous coursework, but he said that the biggest thing in selection is in the essay questions you must write for the application.
 
  • #4
Fuz
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Are you being serious?
 
  • #5
Fuz
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I applied to MIT back in my high school years, and I had the same problem (I had a couple C's in French).

My interviewer assured me that grades and standardized test scores are not a big part of the selection process. They look for a lower limit, just to make sure you can handle the rigorous coursework, but he said that the biggest thing in selection is in the essay questions you must write for the application.

Thanks, did you get in? So will my dumb C+ get overlooked?
 
  • #6
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Regarding the NASA Astronaut question: Astronaut selection is EXTREMELY difficult. You need to meet a bunch of criteria. You need a degree in a hard science, math or engineering field (roughly), need to be of a certain physical stature, pass an extensive physical, pass a rigorous psychological evaluation.

You can take a look at this webpage: http://nasajobs.nasa.gov/astronauts/
Specifically read this: http://nasajobs.nasa.gov/astronauts/content/Astronaut_Selection_and_Training_2007.pdf [Broken]

And this is all just to get into the training program. You may still never get to space...

The question of whether there will be a manned space program in 20 years is difficult. Odds are there will be, but NASA is a governmental entity and survives on the whim of Congress, the President and the American public. Politics is not becoming any less volatile.

Does NASA look at high school grades? Doubtful.

Will you get into MIT... who knows? School admissions are kind of a crapshoot. You could have a perfect application and maybe one of the big named schools does pick you for admission for some weird, esoteric reason.
 
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  • #7
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Thanks, did you get in? So will my dumb C+ get overlooked?

No, I did not get accepted. It's a very hard school to get into. However, it was not because of my scores. I got deferred in the early application pool instead of rejected, so I at least met their requirements for admission.
 
  • #8
Fuz
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No, I did not get accepted. It's a very hard school to get into. However, it was not because of my scores. I got deferred in the early application pool instead of rejected, so I at least met their requirements for admission.

Thanks. What kind of SAT score did you get and were you really high in your class or anything. I appreciate your replys.
 
  • #9
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Thanks. What kind of SAT score did you get and were you really high in your class or anything. I appreciate your replys.

I was number 3 in my class (thanks to the French classes). Also, I elected to take the ACT with Writing instead of the SAT. I lived in a small town, so the closest place the SAT's were offered was almost a 2 hour drive. A 34 was my highest ACT score. They also require you to take 2 SAT subject area tests (I took 3 though, because that was the max amount you can take in one day, and I wanted to make the drive worth it). I don't remember my exact scores but they ranged from about 680-720.
 
  • #10
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I got accepted. Similar situation. High standardized test scores, lots of extracurricular activities, and A's in all of my classes except that I got a D in my AP Bio class because I wouldn't attend this particular teacher's mandatory 3-6pm after school sessions and the 6-hour Saturday sessions. What was hilarious is I got a 5 on the AP Bio test on my own while the rest of the students that met her demands failed, except for one who got a 3 if I remember correctly. That kinda proved the teacher was insane.

I recommend taking the AP US History test if you think you can get a 4 or 5.

Don't focus too much on the MIT brand. Lots of good people come from other schools for many reasons. Find a school that you think suits you, inc. the people, city, etc. You can always do your bachelors somewhere else and apply to graduate school at MIT.

Can't offer advice on the astronaut part, except maybe keep your options open...
 
  • #11
atyy
Science Advisor
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A friend of mine had a C in physics and got into MIT. He did get an A on a more advanced physics course he took later.
 
  • #12
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Are you being serious?

Yes. About grades being less important than the personal essay.

One other thing that plays a major role in admissions is geography. If you come from a state in which there have been few people applying, you have a larger chance.

Also don't count on getting into MIT. Even if you have straight-A's and a perfect application, there's a lot of randomness in the admissions process.

The other thing about MIT is that it's very, very good or very, very bad. The MIT style of education is lot like being taken to the middle of the ocean with a life preserver and dropped into the ocean to see if you can swim back. The reason grades are less important than the personal essay is that it's a very good place for someone that is self-motivated and has enough self-confidence to survive the process, but it can be a horrible and lonely place for someone that isn't. You have to be something of an intellectual masochist to thrive there. You will be made to work harder and feel more stupid than you've thought possible.

It's the academic equivalent of joining the Marines. Wonderful if you fit in. Awful if you don't.
 
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  • #13
Fuz
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A friend of mine had a C in physics and got into MIT. He did get an A on a more advanced physics course he took later.

cool, did he make many B's?
 
  • #14
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I hate to give an excuse but my teacher is basically impossible. I talked to my counselor and he told me that students complain to him about my teacher, and he says that on recommendations he writes that a C is a good grade in his class and hes the hardest teacher in the school.

If you apply to MIT, you might consider having him write a recommendation letter.
 
  • #15
Fuz
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If you apply to MIT, you might consider having him write a recommendation letter.

Im definitely planing on asking him to do that for wherever I go :smile:
 
  • #16
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Also MIT admissions is nervous about students that make straight-A's. What typically happens is that you have outstanding students come to MIT, and during freshman year for the first time in their lives, they end up struggling. It's a big shock if you are used to having all A's and then suddenly you are struggling to get a C in freshman physics and you find yourself near the bottom of the class. The MIT philosophy is to have everyone struggle, so if you are acing classes, they just push you to do more stuff.

If you have generally good grades, but a C or a B somewhere, that means that you can survive not being perfect.

The big thing that MIT admissions is terrified with new students is to make sure that they don't end up in the mental hospital at McLeans or worse.
 
  • #17
atyy
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cool, did he make many B's?

I don't know. One thing in his favour was he had to do two years of military service, so he didn't have to go to college immediately after high school, and could re-apply. He only got on the wait list the first time, but got in the second time.
 
  • #18
atyy
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It's the academic equivalent of joining the Marines. Wonderful if you fit in. Awful if you don't.

I'm willing to bet the Marines are much harder. Though MIT has ROTC, so there must be some who've done both.
 
  • #19
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I'm willing to bet the Marines are much harder. Though MIT has ROTC, so there must be some who've done both.

There are different types of hardness. One thing about Marine basic training is that is 70 days, whereas MIT is four years of continuous grinding pressure and stress. Something else that is interesting is that the drop out rate is rather low. The intro physics courses feel hard, but MIT doesn't have any weed out courses which means that people are rather supportive in getting you through the classes.

Also the admissions standards also changes the social dynamics. Undergraduate opinions are taken much more seriously at MIT than in most universities. For example, if you have a typical physics class in a state university, and the students complain about the class, it's hard to figure out whether this is to be taken seriously because it could be that the students are either unmotivated or unprepared. For MIT, if you are unmotivated or unprepared, you shouldn't have gotten an admission, which means that if you get in and you are complaining, those complaints are taken quite a bit more seriously. So you have students in all of the faculty and curriculum committees, and I think I learned more being part of academic politics at MIT than I did in the classroom.
 
  • #20
Fuz
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Yes. About grades being less important than the personal essay.

One other thing that plays a major role in admissions is geography. If you come from a state in which there have been few people applying, you have a larger chance.

Also don't count on getting into MIT. Even if you have straight-A's and a perfect application, there's a lot of randomness in the admissions process.

The other thing about MIT is that it's very, very good or very, very bad. The MIT style of education is lot like being taken to the middle of the ocean with a life preserver and dropped into the ocean to see if you can swim back. The reason grades are less important than the personal essay is that it's a very good place for someone that is self-motivated and has enough self-confidence to survive the process, but it can be a horrible and lonely place for someone that isn't. You have to be something of an intellectual masochist to thrive there. You will be made to work harder and feel more stupid than you've thought possible.

It's the academic equivalent of joining the Marines. Wonderful if you fit in. Awful if you don't.

I REALLY appreciate your replys, along with everyone elses. I live in the pan-handle of Idaho so that should increase my chances a little bit, like you said. This is a little bit off topic but what is kinda the average time it takes to get a masters degree in physics or math?
 
  • #21
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I REALLY appreciate your replys, along with everyone elses. I live in the pan-handle of Idaho so that should increase my chances a little bit, like you said. This is a little bit off topic but what is kinda the average time it takes to get a masters degree in physics or math?

Typically masters programs are 2 years. Some schools carry BS+MS 5 year programs. A lot of variables go into it, but the typical is 2 years after a BS.
 
  • #22
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Yes. About grades being less important than the personal essay.

This is absolutely false. If you look at the Common Data Set for MIT (http://web.mit.edu/ir/cds/2010/c.html) they say explicitly that grades are more important than essays. I wouldn't worry about a C your sophomore year though, especially if it's not in a math or science class. There are definitely people here with C's on their high school transcript, sometimes even in math and science courses.

One other thing that plays a major role in admissions is geography. If you come from a state in which there have been few people applying, you have a larger chance.

Okay, I don't think this works the way you think it does. I'm pretty sure the idea is that people from underrepresented states on average have less opportunities, so you can't expect their applications to be as colorful as someone from overrepresented states. But it doesn't always work this way. I'm sure that if you have two applicants with similar applications, but one went to the Mississippi School of Math and Science but the other went to high school in Compton, the latter would have a better chance of getting in even though Mississippi is an extremely underrepresented state while there are more people at MIT from California than any other state.
 
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  • #23
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This is absolutely false. If you look at the Common Data Set for MIT (http://web.mit.edu/ir/cds/2010/c.html) they say explicitly that grades are more important than essays.

They may say that on the form, but I don't believe it. If you have someone from the Office of Admissions make that statement then I'll change my mind, but since the form came out of a part of the Institute that has nothing to do with admissions, there's no reason to think that the person filling it out has better information than I do.

The basis for the information that I have is talking with other alumni that have been involved in admissions. There have been severally really, really bad traumatic events at MIT, and the number one concern of people looking at admissions is to make sure that you will not react badly to the MIT environment. Grades are one part of this, but essays give a better sense of whether someone will react badly.

I'm sure that if you have two applicants with similar applications, but one went to the Mississippi School of Math and Science but the other went to high school in Compton, the latter would have a better chance of getting in even though Mississippi is an extremely underrepresented state while there are more people at MIT from California than any other state.

Again this is something that I likely have better information than you do. Geography is quite important, and so someone from Mississippi would have a much better chance of getting admitted than someone from California because MIT tries to make sure that there is regional balance. Diversity is something that MIT takes very seriously, but people assume ethnicity is the only aspect of diversity when in fact regional diversity is also something that is very strongly considered. You don't want everyone from California or Mississippi.

The problem is that if you just look at the transcript you run the risk that everyone that gets admitted goes to a special math/science which leaves out people that couldn't get in because there *wasn't* a math/science school for them to go into. This may hurt you if you went to Bronx High School of Science or Stuyvasent, but if you graduate from Bronx High School of Science and you don't go to MIT, there is a pretty good chance that you'll end up doing something technological anyway, whereas if you graduate from a public high school in Mississippi, getting into MIT is likely to make a much bigger difference.
 
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  • #24
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Part of the reason that I'm interested in talking about MIT is that the biggest problem that I see with MIT is that it does not scale. It admits 1000 people, and there just are too many good candidates for the places available. One thing that I'm trying to do is to set things up so that you can get an MIT education even if you happen to lose the admissions lottery. One thing that you do have to understand is that it is a lottery and that despite everyone's best efforts, it's unfair, because a lot of the people that deserve to get in, just don't. If I had to apply again today, I'm not sure I'd get in.

At the end of the day, you have far more qualified people than spots, and so there is a lot of luck and randomness. Now what I'm trying to do to fix this is to give people enough information about what MIT is all about and how the system works so that people can build their own MIT if they happen to lose the lottery.

Something that is true is that MIT is not strong in classroom instruction. MIT primarily is a research institution and the Institute (IMHO) places classroom teaching skill below research ability. There are some excellent teachers, but there are teachers that are just terrible (and just because you have a Nobel prize doesn't mean that you can teach). The strong point of MIT is not the classroom instruction, but the culture and ideology that you end up absorbing.

Just to give you an example of how this works. Suppose someone tells you that you are stupid. You will have an outside reaction, but deep down you will also have an internal emotional reaction, and ultimately what you *feel* when someone tells you this is what you will do. What that emotion reaction is is not something that you teach in the classroom, but something you absorb by from the people around you. MIT teaches you to react emotionally in certain ways, and that's the important part (at least in my opinion) about how the Institute works.

One of the more important things that you learn at MIT is to hate MIT. MIT teaches you some very deep ideas about how the world *should* work (i.e. elitism is bogus), and after a while it becomes quickly apparent that MIT just doesn't meet its own standards of excellence. That's a good thing. If it did, you wouldn't be trying to improve it.
 
  • #25
gb7nash
Homework Helper
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Like others have said, don't put all of your eggs in one basket (MIT). You can be just as successful in your career applying to other decent schools, and there are a lot of them.

As far as what major to be an astronaut, I'm not really sure. With the number of space missions the US has had recently, I would put astronaut on the backburner and make yourself marketable in some other area.

However, if you would still like to work for NASA, Boenig, anything that has to aircrafts, look into aerospace engineering. There's a lot of need for efficient and safe aircrafts. You wouldn't believe how many flights are made in a single day! Safety is paramount if airline companies want people to travel with them.
 

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