What should I do to get into MIT, CalTech, etc?

  • #1
I'm probably thinking about this too early, but what do you think I should focus on in the years to come so I can get into a top notch college (like MIT or CalTech)?

I'm an eighth grader this year. I've skipped some grades in various subjects: I'm in Pre-Calc (the prereq for Calc), AP Chem 2, and French II this year. I got an 80 on the Math PSAT when I last took it, and I hope to get a 75ish on the Writing this year (last year I got a 63). Reading I'm not so great at; my score was a 62. I do Science Olympiad and am working with some professors at a nearby college to learn how to use a CFD program. I intend to be an aerospace engineer when I grow up.

Thanks for the help!
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
fss
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You should concentrate on getting good (if not perfect) grades given your course constraints in high school, achieving leadership roles in school organizations, and continuing with your out-of-school research.

Even then it's still a long shot.
 
  • #3
You should also realize that it doesn't matter that much where you do your undergrad and there are a lot of great school outside of MIT and Caltech.

To be honest being in the top tier in high school basically just puts you into the lottery to be accepted to someplace like MIT, there is no guarantee.
 
  • #4
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You should work hard, particularly on the courses you find difficult. If you are doing relatively poorly in English, strive to excel there.
 
  • #5
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Look into the different high schools available to you in your state. Here in NC, we have NCSSM. Schools like NCSSM offer classes way beyond those of a normal high school and just the name carries weight. Judging by the fact you're in Precal and AP Chem in the eighth grade, you could easily get into NCSSM, but I don't know if there's an analogous school in your state or how competitive their standards are.

Here's a list of schools modelled after NCSSM: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nation...chools_of_Mathematics,_Science_and_Technology
 
  • #6
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Stellar GPA, many high AP scores, high ranking (valedictorian, etc.), strong SAT, unique extracurriculars. For the application itself, you also need great teacher recommendations (maybe you can find some professors or teachers to get to know over the next four years), and unique/interesting essays. It's really subjective, but this is the minimum. Just make sure you know every category that colleges base their admissions on, and perfect each one as best as you possibly can over these 4 years.

Beyond your stats (GPA, AP scores, SAT), what truly makes you stand out an as applicant are your extracurriculars, recommendations, and essays. You're on a great start, but it is only a start. You still have a long way to go to perfect your application.
 
  • #7
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zombie thread alert
 
  • #8
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Whoa... I didn't notice it's 2 years old; I came to it from the list of similar threads, but forgot to check the date. Sorry.
 
  • #9
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I've been looking at MIT applications and I've considered applying. I will do likewise for the other colleges offering need-blind admissions.

Now, what is this big fuss about extracurricular activities? I don't any flippin' fencing or horse riding. I never had to work three jobs to support my family. We're not very rich but we get by. I didn't organise a fashion show to help raise money to get water to a couple of villages in India nor did I build wells in Somalia. Sure, I can understand that some of these actually do matter and it's really nice that some of these kids managed to do that but I find it ridiculous that there is such emphasis on them. Anyone agree with this?

http://www.mitadmissions.org/topics...mmittee_and_decisions/applying_sideways.shtml

Check this out. I've been reading through lots of pages on their admissions website and all I can say is that it's been very encouraging. And it seems to me that no one really gives half a dead rat's behind about what they say. At least, not many on CollegeConfidential. There is this thread there where applicants list their grades and what it is they've done and what not. I see lots of people with perfect 4.0 GPAs and SAT scores who also have a gazillion amount of extra curricular activities who get rejected. From what I gather, they get rejected from the MIT because they specifically do the opposite of what they're told. It seems that they don't do what they like but they do whatever they can to "fill up" their college application forms...unless they actually like filling this stuff up for its own sake. In which case, tough luck.
 
  • #10
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Sure, I can understand that some of these actually do matter and it's really nice that some of these kids managed to do that but I find it ridiculous that there is such emphasis on them. Anyone agree with this?
1) How else are you going to figure out who to admit?

2) Extracurriculars are actually quite useful. One thing that's a generally useful skill is to be able to organize people to get something done. One of the hidden (actually it's not so hidden) agendas of MIT is to brainwash young impressible students into becoming agents of the institute, then have them get into positions of power in the global military-industrial-academic complex, and then change the rules of global power to insure that MIT has an important role in running the planet.

Having someone that can organize a Latin Club, means that you might be able in two or three decades to organize a Fortune 500 corporation, and by extension help MIT maintain global domination.

Check this out. I've been reading through lots of pages on their admissions website and all I can say is that it's been very encouraging.
Don't get too encouraged.

People tell you to do X, then you do X, and then you find that you end up *not* getting admitted because you do X. Twenty years ago, I had similar people tell me that I should focus on learning the material, broaden my horizons, and not stress out about grades. I did that, and I found out that I couldn't get into my top choices of graduate schools.

Now it turns out, that they were right for telling what they did.

And it seems to me that no one really gives half a dead rat's behind about what they say.
And there is a reason for this. At the end of the day, if you take their advice and do what some people in MIT want you to do, that reduces your chances of getting into MIT. People that are hyper-obsessed with social climbing have figured this out.

At that point, I think the right attitude is screw MIT.

From what I gather, they get rejected from the MIT because they specifically do the opposite of what they're told.
Nope. They get rejected because you have 1000 spots and there are too many good applicants. There is a huge amount of luck and randomness. Also people at MIT have different views about what is the ideal education, and what people should do.

It seems that they don't do what they like but they do whatever they can to "fill up" their college application forms...unless they actually like filling this stuff up for its own sake. In which case, tough luck.
There are some weird paradoxes. If you do what MIT tells you to do, because it's the right thing, that might radically decrease your changes of getting into MIT (or not).

If you think that what is in the MIT admissions website appeals to you, and that's how you want to run your life (GREAT!!) Just don't be surprised if it bites you in the rear end. However, at if you take their advice and then find that you don't get into MIT will then screw MIT.

But on the other hand, it might be a good thing. It means that you have to think about what you really want to do with your life.
 
  • #11
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I'm probably thinking about this too early, but what do you think I should focus on in the years to come so I can get into a top notch college (like MIT or CalTech)?
Nothing fancy. Take hard courses, push yourself, and do your general best to learn stuff.

You must realize that because the places are few enough so that you could end up doing everything and you still don't end up in a big name college, but some things are worth doing for the sake of doing them.
 
  • #12
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It's really hard for me to read that sort of stuff, because the people that are giving this sort of advice sound a lot like the people that I knew when I was at MIT, and it's really hard for me to read that advice without being rather emotional, and mostly angry.

Part of it is because that seems a little detached from the "real world." People have really good reasons for trying to be obsessive competitive, and I think it's more useful to look at those reasons and try to figure out what to do next.

The basic problem is that MIT is just too small. You have a thousand places, and as we get better and better at producing smart people, it becomes harder, probably impossible to come up with a rational way of selecting those places.

The other social problem is that we are in a "winner take all" society. People believe if they don't make it into the right schools and meet the right people, that they are doomed. The problem is that I can't say that this belief is incorrect.

Personally, I think the whole system is going to blow up. I'm not sure how or when, but as admission rates go down, and you have more and more smart people outside the system, something is going to happen.
 
  • #13
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1) How else are you going to figure out who to admit?
My first guess is something along the lines of decentralising "excellence." What is it that makes everyone think going to MIT, Stanford, Columbia or Yale is THE thing to do? What makes people think that not going there is going to screw things up?

I'm applying to MIT and another 3-4 schools only because they have need-blind admission and give out financial aid to anyone who's admitted. I do have a slight bias towards MIT because I have an idea of how living and working there is going to be like and it's something that I like the idea of. I'm bored here. I don't want to be bored. I want to do useful stuff with **** loads of awesome kids. I'd also like to live elsewhere. Living on campus seems nice, really nice. If I don't get in anywhere though, screw it. I don't NEED that to be happy. I can fill the gaps with other things and other people. Maybe it won't be as good but if I don't go, I'll never know and I'm absolutely fine with being content with what I can get. Actually no, I'll probably always try to get more out of things but that's another story.

2) Extracurriculars are actually quite useful. One thing that's a generally useful skill is to be able to organize people to get something done. One of the hidden (actually it's not so hidden) agendas of MIT is to brainwash young impressible students into becoming agents of the institute, then have them get into positions of power in the global military-industrial-academic complex, and then change the rules of global power to insure that MIT has an important role in running the planet.

Having someone that can organize a Latin Club, means that you might be able in two or three decades to organize a Fortune 500 corporation, and by extension help MIT maintain global domination.
To hell with world domination. Heck, judging by the way you talk about them, I wouldn't be surprised if they already have a big influence on things going on. I remember smiling at the X-Files reference you once made. I think it's hilarious. Why is there the need for "power"? Why does MIT even think they should have "global domination"?

Don't get too encouraged.

People tell you to do X, then you do X, and then you find that you end up *not* getting admitted because you do X. Twenty years ago, I had similar people tell me that I should focus on learning the material, broaden my horizons, and not stress out about grades. I did that, and I found out that I couldn't get into my top choices of graduate schools.

Now it turns out, that they were right for telling what they did.
I thought you did the extra learning because you wanted to? The thing with advice is, it's just advice. No one is forcing you to do anything. It's either a word of warning or some kind of subjective insight into something. What you do with that information is your responsibility and yours alone. But yes, thank you for pointing this bit out - I will keep that in mind.

And there is a reason for this. At the end of the day, if you take their advice and do what some people in MIT want you to do, that reduces your chances of getting into MIT. People that are hyper-obsessed with social climbing have figured this out.

At that point, I think the right attitude is screw MIT.

There are some weird paradoxes. If you do what MIT tells you to do, because it's the right thing, that might radically decrease your changes of getting into MIT (or not).
Why would that reduce them? What has that got to do with social climbing?
Screw them? Well, while it does look like a lot of work figuring out how this organism called MIT works and what I can do to penetrate its walls, I think it might very well be worth the effort *IF* it works out. They *sound* like they *genuinely care* and not many places are like that. Or even sound like that. Or maybe that's what they want me to think...Might be too much of a cynical thought but I think my cynicism is healthy, for me at least.

If you think that what is in the MIT admissions website appeals to you, and that's how you want to run your life (GREAT!!) Just don't be surprised if it bites you in the rear end. However, at if you take their advice and then find that you don't get into MIT will then screw MIT.

But on the other hand, it might be a good thing. It means that you have to think about what you really want to do with your life.
The way I see it, there's only so much they can do for me or anyone else. If I already have some of that, why should I torture myself mentally about not being there? :)
Maybe I'll find myself or make myself a better deal because I got accepted elsewhere.
 
  • #14
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Part of it is because that seems a little detached from the "real world." People have really good reasons for trying to be obsessive competitive, and I think it's more useful to look at those reasons and try to figure out what to do next.
Some people do. Some other people don't. But by whose standards is a reason a good or a bad one? Who is fit to judge these reasons? Some kid, because of his family's financial hurdles might be convinced that an education at a big college is the way out, the way to happy things and he gets uber competitive because of that. Another might be under the pressure of his parents to go to Harvard because his brother and Dad went there. And his Dad's Dad. And so forth. In my opinion, it's "wrong" to consider one reason being better than the other.

Personally, I think the whole system is going to blow up. I'm not sure how or when, but as admission rates go down, and you have more and more smart people outside the system, something is going to happen.
Outside the system? Well, how about a NEW system for smart people? It could be anywhere.
 
  • #15
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What IS this deluge of people who are obsessed with MIT/CalTech/whatever big name school? I will tell you two things that you probably need to hear but don't want to listen to.

1. It is not the place that makes you excellent. Going to MIT does not magically mean you will get stellar grades and do mountains of research and become a quadruple doctorate. I see people at my own university that are convinced their life will be over if they don't get into MIT for graduate school and then half-*** homework assignments and labs. If you want to be a top-notch scientist, it's not as easy as gaining entry into a particular school. There are many more (and arguably, more important) things you must do to be excellent that you can do at ANY decent school.

2. It is absolutely pointless to bend four years of your life to the sole goal of gaining admission to a particular college. This is not to say that you shouldn't get good grades and do some relevant activities, but joining debate because you think it will impress an admissions committee is pointless. Go read some books, help out in a lab, learn to code, build a forge, whatever; there's a million things that are better for your long-term education than hand-wringing and pearl-clutching over the 'system'.
 
  • #16
What IS this deluge of people who are obsessed with MIT/CalTech/whatever big name school?
Well personally, I'm interested in their grad school aerospace programs (both MIT and CalTech) because they have done some interesting things in the field of propulsion research, and the program options reflect that. MIT's is especially interesting because of their work in ion propulsion systems.

But that's grad school :) I can't imagine why anyone would want to go to MIT for undergrad. I'm happy at UT Austin, and I'll get my entire education there for less than a year's cost at MIT/CalTech without sacrificing any of the academics.
 
  • #17
Pengwuino
Gold Member
4,989
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Some people do. Some other people don't. But by whose standards is a reason a good or a bad one? Who is fit to judge these reasons? Some kid, because of his family's financial hurdles might be convinced that an education at a big college is the way out, the way to happy things and he gets uber competitive because of that. Another might be under the pressure of his parents to go to Harvard because his brother and Dad went there. And his Dad's Dad. And so forth. In my opinion, it's "wrong" to consider one reason being better than the other.
There's an easy way to judge whether someones reasons are right are wrong and people are absolutely right in making such judgements. Is the persons reasons correct and/or fully thought out and does it conflict with other things?

For example, if someone says they want to go to Columbia University and it's going to get their family out of poverty, well that's all nice and well. What's that? You're going to take out $200k in loans and get an art degree? Well sorry, your reasoning was extremely poor in that sense because you're actually going to make things worse most likely. Has the person considered going to a much cheaper university and thought over what REALLY makes one University better than a cheaper one?

For your second example, if the person lives in a family where money is no object and he has no reason to consider other universities, than going to a school where your family has gone makes as good of sense as anything else. However, if money is important and you want to go to another school for whatever reason, then I'm pretty sure any sane person would agree that going to Harvard because your family went there is a bad reason to go there.

When reasons give rise to actions that have consequences, it is absolutely prudent to judge such reasons as right or wrong. Bring your logic further and would you dare allow the leaders of your country to do things based off reasons not open to scrutiny?
 
  • #18
847
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I'll get my entire education there for less than a year's cost at MIT/CalTech without sacrificing any of the academics.
Yes, YOU. Not international students. That's where the "big schools" come in. I honestly couldn't care any less about an Ivy League school or what anybody thinks of it. If the University of Alaska offered good financial aid (and had a degree in Physics) I would have applied there as well. It so happens that not every school is willing to spend that much money. Not every school has that much money to spend. If I don't get in any of those places, I'll go to my local university. I wanna give elsewhere a shot because I'd like to live elsewhere.
 
  • #19
Yes, YOU. Not international students. That's where the "big schools" come in.
That confuses me, because I've often heard how incredibly rare it is for MIT to accept students from, say, India. Perhaps it's just India though...
 
  • #20
847
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There's an easy way to judge whether someones reasons are right are wrong and people are absolutely right in making such judgements. Is the persons reasons correct and/or fully thought out and does it conflict with other things?
I agree wholeheartedly with the bold part. As for judging though, I don't think it's fair for others to do that (in general), in certain cases. One can't always know underlying reasons. There could countless reasons that could make somebody choose to do this thing or think that way and I don't think it's fair to judge these persons based on that.

On another note, I think Columbia give financial aid (as in, you pay only the amount that you can) for US citizens.

I'll make this quick. I gotta leave in a few minutes. There is this guy I heard of. He used to live in my village. He studied medicine in China. He was only able to go there because of a scholarship he got. His study time was whenever he was in the fields, feeding cattle. darn. gotta go

When reasons give rise to actions that have consequences, it is absolutely prudent to judge such reasons as right or wrong. Bring your logic further and would you dare allow the leaders of your country to do things based off reasons not open to scrutiny?
Interesting. :)

My thought process didn't even reach there. It's funny how if I were arguing with somebody else, I'd have instinctively tried to find something wrong. I guess that sucks. (trying to "beat" the other man) Maybe I'm not as self critical as I'd thought or I just don't cover enough possibilities. Anyway..
 
  • #21
Pengwuino
Gold Member
4,989
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I agree wholeheartedly with the bold part. As for judging though, I don't think it's fair for others to do that (in general), in certain cases. One can't always know underlying reasons. There could countless reasons that could make somebody choose to do this thing or think that way and I don't think it's fair to judge these persons based on that.

On another note, I think Columbia give financial aid (as in, you pay only the amount that you can) for US citizens.
Yes and really, in the grand scheme of things, who cares who judges who for what.

Also, there are a few (and growing) universities that have a rule where if your family doesn't make something like $150k or $200k a year, your tuition is waived. I think Columbia is actually one of them so you may not pay period (outside of living expenses which must be hell in their own right).
 
  • #22
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My first guess is something along the lines of decentralising "excellence." What is it that makes everyone think going to MIT, Stanford, Columbia or Yale is THE thing to do?
Clever marketing. Big name universities have billions of dollars and have money to spend on marketing themselves.

I do have a slight bias towards MIT because I have an idea of how living and working there is going to be like and it's something that I like the idea of. I'm bored here. I don't want to be bored. I want to do useful stuff with **** loads of awesome kids. I'd also like to live elsewhere.
That's good. The one thing that MIT is not is boring. If your experience is anything like mine, you will have moments of shear frustration and terror. But that's better than being bored. The other thing that is nice about MIT is that MIT doesn't really try to mold students to an MIT-type, so you can usually find some group of people that you fit in with.

To hell with world domination. Heck, judging by the way you talk about them, I wouldn't be surprised if they already have a big influence on things going on.
They actually do. There are a relatively small number of people that run the planet, and a lot of them come from MIT.

I remember smiling at the X-Files reference you once made. I think it's hilarious.
It's also not coincidential. One thing that was really weird was how the people and situations seemed like MIT. Now I don't think that MIT has a weird conspiracy with space aliens to enslave humanity, but I think that if it did it would be like the X-files. The weird thing is that some of the specific people that were in the X-files seemed like people I knew at MIT. I knew a professor there that seemed exactly like the Well-Manicured man or the Cigar-smoking Man.

I later found out that this wasn't an accident. It turns out that the producer of the X-files Chris Carter has a brother that is a professor at MIT. So I'm pretty sure that MIT provided some inspiration for the X-files.

Why is there the need for "power"? Why does MIT even think they should have "global domination"?
My parents grew up in Japanese-occupied China, so their interest in science and engineering was to kick out the Japanese army, and make sure nothing like that happens again. It stinks if you don't have power.

Part of what made MIT what it is is simply the fact that in the 1950's, people in the US were terrified of waking up one morning with Russian tanks in the streets and pictures of Lenin everywhere.

As far as why global domination is useful. It's good to be the king. The fact that the United States is the most powerful nation on the planet benefits Americans in a thousand different ways that people don't quite realize (for example the fact that we are having this conversation in English and not Chinese or Russian).

MIT is an essential part of US global domination, because if North Korea and Iran could build H-bombs and the US couldn't then we would be looking at a very different world.

Of course, we aren't in 1955, and if people in the US come to the conclusion that this global domination thing isn't worth the bother (which is what the Great Britain concluded in the 1920's), then the world changes. It wouldn't surprise me if by 2025, the US decides "let EU, China and India run the world, we are exhausted", but we aren't at that point yet.

Again, MIT is pretty critical for this. One way of keeping a country from getting tired is to use robots. The fact that we can use MIT-designed robot drones to bomb Libya and we don't have to send actual live US soldiers changes the picture.

They *sound* like they *genuinely care* and not many places are like that.
Some people do. Some people don't. Also even the people that do genuinely care may not be able to do anything to help you.

One thing that has been highly controversial is "what is MIT?" For example, there are people in the admissions office that say "we'll we didn't admit the guy that built the nuclear reactor, and we care a lot about personality."

On the other hand, there are people in the physics department that complain about how this sort of thinking is causing MIT standards to go to crap. (You mean we are passing over people that can build nuclear reactors over someone that has better personality??? This is crap.) Now people that think like this don't control undergraduate admissions, but they do control graduate admissions and promotion and hiring in the departments.

I should point out that one *good* thing about MIT is that students get involved in these sorts of debates more so than in other school. In a lot of other schools, the administration make these decisions and the students just get ignored, but one good thing about MIT is that there is this attitude that if you were good enough to get in, that your opinions on what MIT should be really do matter.
 
  • #23
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1. It is not the place that makes you excellent.
It would be nice if this were true, but I don't know if it is or isn't.

Also, in some sense, I know this *isn't* true for a lot of people. I have relatives that are just as smart and hard working as me, but because I happen to have grown up in the US, I got a lot further than they did.

The other thing is that one good thing about MIT is that they don't have weed out classes for physics. I have seen students that I think would do decent at MIT get weeded out at UTexas Austin. Pretty sad.

Go read some books, help out in a lab, learn to code, build a forge, whatever; there's a million things that are better for your long-term education than hand-wringing and pearl-clutching over the 'system'.
And then you find that it may not matter. You work hard, learn to code, and then some idiot MIT/Harvard graduate screws up the world economy, and you are in the unemployment line.
 
  • #24
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I see people at my own university that are convinced their life will be over if they don't get into MIT for graduate school and then half-*** homework assignments and labs.
I've seen people at MIT that aren't that interested in homework assignments and labs, but then either get excite about some area of research or else muddle through and get decent engineering jobs.

Some of the people in my living area were members of the "square root club", that's when the square root of your GPA was higher than your GPA itself. The motto of the "square root club" was "my degree will look like your degree." There are people that manage to muddle through MIT getting barely the grades to pass, and curiously they tend to do OK in the end.

The people that tend to have serious problems at MIT are people that come in obsessed with grades, and then totally freak out freshman year.

Something about MIT students are that they tend to be very self-motivated. If anything the students are *too* self-motivated.

If you want to be a top-notch scientist, it's not as easy as gaining entry into a particular school. There are many more (and arguably, more important) things you must do to be excellent that you can do at ANY decent school.
Don't know if this is true or not. Also the most important thing that you must do if you want a career in physics is *DO NOT BURN OUT*.

2. It is absolutely pointless to bend four years of your life to the sole goal of gaining admission to a particular college.
One thing to remember. What happens if you win? Let suppose you go through hell, and you end up at MIT. OK, lets suppose you go through more hell, and you end up at Harvard graduate school. Then there is post-doc hell, junior faculty hell, senior faculty hell, and then you die. The odds are at some people you will fail. But suppose you don't. You spend your entire life fighting to get ahead, and then you die.
 
  • #25
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One thing to remember. What happens if you win? Let suppose you go through hell, and you end up at MIT. OK, lets suppose you go through more hell, and you end up at Harvard graduate school. Then there is post-doc hell, junior faculty hell, senior faculty hell, and then you die. The odds are at some people you will fail. But suppose you don't. You spend your entire life fighting to get ahead, and then you die.
Hahaha, my mother always looks at me and sighs whenever I say this. :)
 

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