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)
This is a tricky one. Kind of. But we’re going to make it un-tricky. Let’s reverse the prompt, as far as your approach goes. Begin with identifying what your dreams and aspirations are. Focus less on the actual end, and more on the nature of it. To illustrate by example, you’d want to avoid saying “I want to be the CEO of Apple” and instead say “I want to lead a tech company that pushes the world to dream, daily.” That way you don’t box yourself into a narrow definition and you allow yourself to achieve that vision in a variety of ways. Once you have a vague sense, try to trace your influences (don’t skip ahead yet, for now just think about the few significant people or things that helped inspire these goals). This can happen in a variety of ways, by the way. There may have been people whose examples inspired you to follow in their footsteps and build upon things they’d already done. Or, it could be oppositional. Your influences may have been people doing things that drove you insane and inspired you to counteract them, as your life’s mission. Or anywhere in between. Try to “materialize” those influences though, in the form of a few bullets along a timeline that charts the evolution of your aspirations.
Great. This isn’t easy, by the way. And as a soon-to-be college student, you’re not expected to have your life mapped out. (In fact, the coolest kids are the ones just brimming with potential who have yet to discover their true callings.) Now… try something interesting. Imagine the world you come from. Family, clubs, school, community, city, town, all those things, and REPLACE IT ALL with a starkly contrasting alternate version. (Go with us here. Could be fun, could be tedious, but try it. Imagine it.) Now look at your list of bullets. Which of those disappear? Which of those would look COMPLETELY different now that all your “environmental” stimuli have changed? This may help reveal which environmental stimuli (in the form of people or things) helped to shape your goals. And allow you to formulate clear crisp explanations of exactly how that shaping took place… Walk us through a few great examples.
(Depending on your particular story, you can order this either way: start with your aspirations and then walk us through the influences. Or, start with the influences and lead up to your goals. Either can work, but you’ve got to find the version that makes your story pop the most.)
Check Out Admissionado’s Analysis of ALL FIVE of MIT’s 2015-2016 Application Essay Prompts
As the summer rolls on, we're starting to get a lot of questions from prospective applicants about what essay questions will be on our application this year. Although our application does not go live for another few weeks, I know many of you are eager to start thinking about how you'll answer these questions.
Our approach to application "essays" is not a single, longform essay, but rather five short-answer questions where we try to get to know different aspects of each individual. Here are this year's questions:
- 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)
- Although you may not yet know what you want to major in, which department or program at MIT appeals to you and why? (100 words or fewer)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
People often ask me, "How do I stand out in an essay?" or something to that effect. As MIT admissions officers, our primary goal in reading these essays is to get to know you, the applicant. It's not to be wowed, or feel like we need to read the most unique piece of writing we've ever seen. Over my ten years of working in admissions, I've probably read over 100,000 essays; after a certain point, there's just no such thing as a truly *unique* essay. So worry less about coming up with something we've never read before (because we most likely have anyways), and focus more on making sure your essays authentically convey who you are (or some aspect of who you are). If I, the reader, am able to learn something new about you, then you've written a great response and the essay has served its purpose.
There are many other posts on the blogs here with great advice about writing college application essays, so I won't bother repeating what they've said. You should check out this post by Petey, this one by Krystal, and this one by Chris S, among others. (Note that some of the older posts refer to old essay questions that no longer exist, so while some of the specific content may be outdated, the general advice still applies.)
Have fun, and good luck!