MIT Supplemental Essays 2023-24 – Prompts and Tips

September 8, 2023

MIT supplemental essays

When applying to MIT, a school with a 4% acceptance rate where a 1500 SAT would place you below the average enrolled student (seriously), teens should be aware that it takes a lot to separate yourself from the other 26,000+ applicants you are competing against. While trying to be among the 1 in 25 who will ultimately be accepted sounds like (and is) a rather intimidating proposition, every year around 1,300 individuals accomplish this epic feat. We’ve worked with many of these students personally and can tell you one thing they all had in common—exceptionally strong MIT supplemental essays.

(Want to learn more about How to Get Into MIT? Visit our blog entitled: How to Get Into MIT: Admissions Data and Strategies for all of the most recent admissions data as well as tips for gaining acceptance.)

There are few schools that offer as many essays as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. All applicants are required to respond to five prompts as they work through the MIT application. Your mission is to write compelling, standout compositions that showcase your superior writing ability and reveal more about who you are as an individual. Below are the MIT supplemental essays for the 2023-24 admissions cycle along with tips about how to address each one.

MIT Supplemental Essays – Prompt #1: 

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)

There are many different ways that you can approach this prompt, but the first step is to take MIT at their word that they are sincerely interested in what you do “simply for the pleasure of it.” While this may be something that also happens to be high-minded and/or STEM-oriented in nature, there is no expectation that this will be the case.

In essence, you want to ask yourself, what brings you great pleasure and happiness? Universal experiences of joy like family, a beautiful sunset, smiling children, or your cat or dog curled on your lap are perfectly acceptable answers here. However, you could also talk about dreams for the future, more bittersweet moments, abstract thoughts, moments of glorious introversion, or even something semi-embarrassing and vulnerable. The only “wrong” answer to this question would be an insincere one. As you enter the brainstorming phase, just make sure to turn off your “resume mode” setting. Instead, allow yourself to embrace the limitless possibilities of this essay.

Essay Prompt #2 

What field of study appeals to you the most right now? Tell us more about why this field of study at MIT appeals to you. (Note: You’ll select your preferred field of study from a drop-down list.) (100 words or fewer)

Generally speaking, we all have a story of what drives us to pursue a certain academic pathway and career. How did your interest initially develop? What was the spark? How have you nurtured this passion and how has it evolved over time? If you desire to go into engineering, this is a chance to talk about everything from your childhood fascination with how things work to your participation in an award-winning robotics program at your high school. Share a compelling (and, of course, true!) narrative about how your love of your future area of study has blossomed to its present levels.

In other words, this essay should show evidence of intense hunger for knowledge that extends well outside of the classroom. How do you learn about your favorite subjects? What books have you read on the subject? Which podcasts have you listened to? What museums have you visited?

You can also tie your passions into specific academic opportunities at MIT including courses, professors, hands-on research programs, or any other aspects of your desired major that appeals most to you.

MIT Supplemental Essays – Prompt #3 

MIT brings people with diverse backgrounds together to collaborate, from tackling the world’s biggest challenges to lending a helping hand. Describe one way you have collaborated with others to learn from them, with them, or contribute to your community together. (225 words)

How you interact with your present surroundings is the strongest indicator of what kind of community member you will be in your future collegiate home. This prompt asks you to discuss how you have collaborated with others (in any setting) in order to learn from them or contribute to a particular community. This could mean how you’ve collaborated with others during a group project, internship, extracurricular opportunity, sports event, or service project, to name a few.

Some words of warning: don’t get too grandiose in explaining the positive change that you brought about. Of course, if you and your team truly brought peace to a war-torn nation or influenced climate change policy on a global scale, share away. However, nothing this high-profile is expected. Essentially, MIT wants to understand how you’ve worked with other people—in any capacity—to expand your thinking or reach a common goal.

A few potential ideas for areas where you may have worked with/alongside others include:

  • Racial injustice
  • Assisting those with special needs
  • Climate justice/the environment
  • Making outsiders in a group feel welcome
  • The economically disadvantaged
  • Mental health awareness
  • Clean-up projects
  • Tutoring peers or younger students
  • Charitable work through a religious organization

This is, of course, by no means a comprehensive list of potential topics. Most importantly, your story should be personal, sincere, and revealing of your core character and developing values system.

Essay Prompt #4

How has the world you come from—including your opportunities, experiences, and challenges—shaped your dreams and aspirations? (225 words or fewer)

This essay encourages you to describe how your world has shaped your aspirations. We all have any number of “worlds” to choose from, and MIT is inviting you to share more about one of these worlds through the lens of how that has shaped your dreams and aspirations.

Take note of the wide-open nature of this prompt. You are essentially invited to talk about any of the following topics:

  1. A perspective you hold
  2. An experience/challenge you had
  3. A community you belong to
  4. Your cultural background
  5. Your religious background
  6. Your family background
  7. Your sexual orientation or gender identity

Although this prompt’s open floor plan may feel daunting, a good tactic is to first consider what has already been communicated within on other areas of your application. What important aspect(s) of yourself have not been shared (or sufficiently discussed)? The admissions officer reading your essay is hoping to connect with you through your written words, so—within your essay’s reflection—be open, humble, thoughtful, inquisitive, emotionally honest, mature, and/or insightful about what you learned and how you grew.

You’ll then need to discuss how your chosen “world” has influenced your future, and in what ways.

MIT Supplemental Essays – Prompt #5

How did you manage a situation or challenge that you didn’t expect? What did you learn from it? (225 words)

Note this prompt’s new wording: How did you manage a situation or challenge that you didn’t expect? Can you think of a time when you felt surprisingly overwhelmed? When something out-of-the-ordinary occurred? When you were caught off guard? Basically, MIT is trying to discover how you deal with unforeseen setbacks, and the important thing to keep in mind is that the challenge/story itself is less important than what it reveals about your character and personality.

Of course, some teens have faced more challenges than others, potentially related to an illness or medical emergency, frequent moving, socioeconomic situation, natural disaster, or learning disability, to name a few. However, you don’t have to have faced a significant challenge to write a compelling essay (and even if you have faced a significant challenge, you don’t have to write about it if you’re not comfortable doing so). Writing about a common topic like getting cut from a sports team, struggling in a particular advanced course, or facing an obstacle within a group project or extracurricular activity is perfectly fine. Any story told in an emotionally compelling, honest, and connective manner can resonate with an admissions reader. The bottom line here is that there are no trite topics, only trite answers.

Given the 225-word limit, your essay needs to be extremely tight and polished. In all likelihood, getting this one precisely right will involve a round or two of revision, ideally with some insight/feedback from a trusted adult or peer in the process.

Some tips to keep in mind include:

  • Firstly, make sure you share what you were feeling and experiencing. This piece should demonstrate openness and vulnerability.
  • Additionally, you don’t need to be a superhero in the story. You can just be an ordinary human trying their best to learn how to navigate a challenging world.
  • Don’t feel boxed into one particular structure for this essay. The most common (which there is nothing wrong with), is 1) introducing the problem 2) explaining your internal and external decision-making in response to the problem 3) Revealing the resolution to the problem and what you learned along the way.
  • Lastly, don’t be afraid that your “problem” might sound “trite” in comparison to those of others. This essay is about you. Your job is to make sure that your response to the problem shows your maturity and resilience in an authentic way. That matters far more than the original challenge itself.

Essay Prompt #6 (Optional)

Please tell us more about your cultural background and identity in the space below. (150 words)

Unlike other optional essays, this one truly is optional. You don’t need to respond unless you have something significant to share about your cultural background and identity that hasn’t already been shared elsewhere on the application.

How important are the MIT supplemental essays?

There are 8 factors that MIT considers to be “very important” to their evaluation process. They are: rigor of secondary school record, class rank, GPA, standardized test scores, recommendations, extracurricular activities, and most relevant to this blog—the MIT supplemental essays.

Moreover, character/personal qualities are the only factor that is “very important” to the MIT admissions committee. Of course, part of how they assess your character and personal qualities is through what they read in your essays.

Want personalized assistance with your MIT supplemental essays?

In conclusion, if you are interested in working with one of College Transitions’ experienced and knowledgeable essay coaches as you craft your MIT supplemental essays, we encourage you to get a quote today.