MIT admits 7% of students every year. If you want to be one of them, you'll need to write some killer MIT essays as part of your own Massachusetts Institute of Technology application.
In this article, we'll outline the MIT essay prompts and teach you how to write MIT supplemental essays that will help you stand out from the thousands of other applicants.
What Are the MIT Essays?
Like most major colleges and universities, MIT requires its applicants to submit essay examples as part of your application for admission.
MIT has its own application and doesn't accept the Common Application or the Coalition Application. The MIT essay prompts you'll answer aren't found on any other college's application.
There are five MIT supplemental essays, and you'll need to answer all five (none more than 250 words) on various aspects of your life: a description of your background, what department you're interested in at MIT, what you do for fun, a way that you contribute to your community, and a challenge that you have faced in your life.
The MIT essay prompts are designed specifically to get to the heart of what makes you you. These essays help the admissions committee get a holistic picture of you as a person, beyond what they can learn from other parts of your application.
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2020-21 MIT Essay Prompts
The MIT supplemental essays are short, and each one addresses a different aspect of your identity and accomplishments.
You'll submit your essays along with an activities list and a self-reported coursework form as Part 2 of your MIT application. MIT structures its application this way because they rely on a uniform application to help them review thousands of applicants in the most straightforward and efficient way possible.
You need to respond to all five of the MIT essay prompts for your application.
Here are the 2020-21 MIT essay prompts:
- Describe the world you come from; for example, your family, clubs, school, community, city, or town. How has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations? (200-250 words)
- Pick what field of study at MIT appeals to you the most right now, and tell us more about why this field of study appeals to you.
- We know you lead a busy life, full of activities, many of which are required of you. Tell us about something you do simply for the pleasure of it. (200-250 words)
- At MIT, we bring people together to better the lives of others. MIT students work to improve their communities in different ways, from tackling the world's biggest challenges to being a good friend. Describe one way in which you have contributed to your community, whether in your family, the classroom, your neighborhood, etc. (200-250 words)
- Tell us about the most significant challenge you've faced or something important that didn't go according to plan. How did you manage the situation? (200-250 words)
Now that we know what the prompts are, let's learn how to answer them effectively.
MIT Essays, Analyzed
In this section, we'll be looking at each of the five MIT essays in depth.
Remember, every applicant must answer every one of the MIT essay prompts, so you don't get to choose which essay you would like to write. You have to answer all five of the MIT essay prompts (and do so strongly) in order to present the best application possible.
Let's take a look at the five MIT supplemental essay questions and see what the admissions committee wants to hear from each.
MIT Prompt #1
Describe the world you come from; for example, your family, clubs, school, community, city, or town. How has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations? (200-250 words)
Don't repeat information that the committee can find elsewhere on your application. Take the time to share fun, personal details about yourself.
For instance, do you make awesome, screen-accurate cosplays or have a collection of rock crystals from caving expeditions? Think about what you love to do in your spare time.
Be specific—the committee wants to get a real picture of you as a person. Don't just say that you love to play video games, say exactly which video games you love and why.
MIT wants to know about your community—the friends, family, teammates, etc. who make up your current life. All of those people have affected you in some way—this prompt is your chance to reflect on that influence and expand on it. You can talk about the deep bonds you have and how they have affected you. Showing your relationships to others gives the committee a better idea of how you will fit in on MIT's campus.
All in all, this MIT essay is a great opportunity to have some fun and show off some different aspects of your personality. Let yourself shine!
MIT Prompt #2
Pick what field of study at MIT appeals to you the most right now, and tell us more about why this field of study appeals to you
This question sets you up for success: it targets your area of interest but doesn't pigeon-hole you.
This essay is where your formal education will be most important. They want to know what kind of academic life you may lead in college so keep it brief, but allow your excitement for learning to drive these words. You are, after all, applying to MIT—they want to know about your academic side.
You should demonstrate your knowledge of and affinity for MIT in this essay. Don't just say that you admire the MIT engineering program—explain exactly what it is about the engineering program that appeals to you.
You can call out specific professors or classes that are of interest to you. Doing so helps show that you truly want to go to MIT and have done your research.
MIT Essay Prompt #3
We know you lead a busy life, full of activities, many of which are required of you. Tell us about something you do simply for the pleasure of it. (100 words or fewer)
This MIT essay prompt is very broad. The structure of the prompt indicates that the committee is interested in learning about your curiosity inside and outside of the classroom, so don't feel like you have to your work to what you love about academics and school.
This MIT essay is your opportunity to show a different side of your personality than the admissions committee will see on the rest of your application. This essay is your chance to show yourself as a well-rounded person who has a variety of different interests and talents.
Choose a specific activity here. You don't need to present a laundry list of activities—simply pick one thing and describe in detail why you enjoy it. You could talk about anything from your love of makeup tutorials on YouTube to the board game nights you have with your family. The key here is to pick something that you're truly passionate about.
Don't feel limited to interests relating to your potential major. MIT's second prompt is all about that, so in this first prompt forget about what the school "wants to read" and be yourself! In fact, describing your experience in or passion for a different field will better show that you're curious and open to new ideas.
If you love playing games, the third MIT essay prompt is the time to talk about that passion.
MIT Prompt #4
At MIT, we bring people together to better the lives of others. MIT students work to improve their communities in different ways, from tackling the world's biggest challenges to being a good friend. Describe one way in which you have contributed to your community, whether in your family, the classroom, your neighborhood, etc. (200-250 words)
This MIT prompt is by far the most specific, so be specific in your answer. Pick one experience that's meaningful to you to discuss here. The prompt doesn't specify that you have to talk about something academic or personal. It can be anything that you've done where you have contributed to any community—your dance troupe, gaming friends, debate team teammates. A community can be anything; it doesn't just refer to your hometown, scholastic or religious community.
The trick to answering this prompt is to find a concrete example and stick to it.
Don't, for instance, say that you try to recycle because the environment is meaningful to you, because it won't sound sincere. Rather, you can talk about why picking up garbage in the park where you played baseball as a child has deeper meaning because you're protecting a place that you've loved for a long time. You should talk about something that is uniquely important to you, not the other thousands of students that are applying to MIT.
Pick something that is really meaningful to you. Your essay should feel sincere. Don't write what you think the committee wants to hear. They'll be more impressed by a meaningful experience that rings true than one that seems artificial or implausible.
MIT Prompt #5
Tell us about the most significant challenge you've faced or something important that didn't go according to plan. How did you manage the situation? (200-250 words)
The most important thing to remember with this essay prompt is to be specific. The committee doesn't want you to wax poetic on how you try to keep a positive outlook on life; they want to see how a real-life example has affected you.
The example you pick doesn't have to be large or earth-shattering. In fact, it can be small—maybe you forgot your notes for your debate and were worried about how you would let your teammates down. Maybe you broke your leg right before the final game of the season and had to sit on the sideline. The experience you choose doesn't have to be universally seen as difficult; it just has to feel that way for you.
Make sure that you show how you overcame the problem. Your strategy doesn't have to be perfect. In fact, the prompt specifically asks you how you managed things that didn't go according to plan.
You'll want to show that you are flexible, quick on your feet, and open to new situations. You can talk about how you were frustrated or angry or scared as the events were unfolding, but you ultimately want to show that you were able to emerge on the other side with a lesson learned.
How to Write a Great MIT Essay
Regardless of which MIT essay prompt you're responding to, you should keep in mind the following tips for how to write a great MIT essay.
#1: Use Your Own Voice
The point of a college essay is for the admissions committee to have the chance to get to know you beyond your test scores, grades, and honors. Your admissions essays are your opportunity to make yourself come alive for the essay readers and to present yourself as a fully fleshed out person.
You should, then, make sure that the person you're presenting in your college essays is yourself. Don't try to emulate what you think the committee wants to hear or try to act like someone you're not.
If you lie or exaggerate, your essay will come across as insincere, which will diminish its effectiveness. Stick to telling real stories about the person you really are, not who you think MIT wants you to be.
You're the star of the show in your MIT essays! Make sure your work reflects who you are as a student and person, not who you think the admissions committee wants you to be.
#2: Avoid Cliches and Overused Phrases
When writing your MIT essays, try to avoid using cliches or overused quotes or phrases.
These include quotations that have been quoted to death and phrases or idioms that are overused in daily life. The college admissions committee has probably seen numerous essays that state, "Be the change you want to see in the world." Strive for originality.
Similarly, avoid using cliches, which take away from the strength and sincerity of your work.
Your work should be straightforward and authentic.
#3: Check Your Work
It should almost go without saying, but you want to make sure your MIT essays are the strongest example of your work possible. Before you turn in your MIT application, make sure to edit and proofread your essays.
Your work should be free of spelling and grammar errors. Make sure to run your essays through a spelling and grammar check before you submit.
It's a good idea to have someone else read your MIT essays, too. You can seek a second opinion on your work from a parent, teacher, or friend. Ask them whether your work represents you as a student and person. Have them check and make sure you haven't missed any small writing errors. Having a second opinion will help your work be the best it possibly can be.
#4: Demonstrate Your Love for MIT
MIT's five essay prompts are specific to MIT. Keep that in mind as you're answering them, particularly when you attack prompt two.
Show why MIT is your dream school—what aspects of the education and community there are most attractive to you as a student.
MIT receives thousands of applications, from students who have different levels of interest in the university.
The more you can show that you really want to go to MIT, the more the school will be interested in your application. Your passion for MIT may even give you a leg up on other applicants.
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Your MIT essays are just one part of your college application process. Check out our guide to applying to college for a step-by-step breakdown of what you'll need to do.
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Hayley Milliman is a former teacher turned writer who blogs about education, history, and technology. When she was a teacher, Hayley's students regularly scored in the 99th percentile thanks to her passion for making topics digestible and accessible. In addition to her work for PrepScholar, Hayley is the author of Museum Hack's Guide to History's Fiercest Females.