MIT Essay Prompts and Tips
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 33,000+ 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 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 which requires applicants to respond to five prompts as they work through your 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 MIT’s essay prompts for the 2021-22 admissions cycle along with tips about how to address each one.
MIT Essay 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 and allow yourself to embrace to the limitless possibilities of this essay.
MIT Essay 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. (100 words or fewer)
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.
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? What 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, hand-on research programs, or any other aspects of your desired major that appeals most to you.
MIT Essay Prompt #3
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)
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 define contributions within a community—your high school, your neighborhood, your family, or even a club or sports team. Some words of warning with this one: don’t get too grandiose in explaining the positive change that you brought about. Of course, if you truly brought peace to a war-torn nation or influenced climate change policy on a global scale, share away; but, nothing this high-profile is expected. This is more a question about how to relate to others, your value system, your charitable/giving nature, and how you interact with the world around you.
A few potential ideas for areas where you may have made a contribution in your community 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. Your story should be personal, sincere, and revealing of your core character and developing values system.
MIT Essay Prompt #4
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? (250 words or fewer)
This essay encourages you to describe how a community has shaped your aspirations and community can be a “community” in any form: an ethnic, religious, family, or neighborhood community, or a group of individuals who gather for a club, sport, or service project. Pretty much everyone applying to MIT is deeply involved in a number of communities. You are the captain of a team, the editor-in-chief of your school paper, the president of a club… but don’t just rest on those laurels—instead, bring your involvement to life. Use your writing ability to show the admissions officer the impact your role as a community member has had on your dreams rather than merely telling them.
You can also discuss how you have engaged with your high school local/community and what you have learned from interacting with people of a different ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual identity, etc. Draw on past evidence of your commitment to being a positive force in your community and speculate how that is likely to manifest on MIT’s campus. Research and cite MIT student-run organizations, local nonprofit groups, or anything else you are drawn to. At the end of the day, the MIT admissions committee now desires to understand precisely how you will contribute to their campus community of 4,300+ undergrads. Drawing the link between your past efforts and future aims is critical here.
For example, if you dedicated many volunteer hours teaching STEM topics to younger students from low-income backgrounds throughout high school, it will be most impactful if you express your commitment to joining MIT’s dynaMIT group which provides free summer programs for underserved middle school students.
MIT Essay 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)
Of course, some teens have lived more challenging lives than others—some applicants come from affluence, others from low-income households. Some have two supportive parents; some have more difficult family relationships. Some have dealt with mental/physical or learning/attentional challenges while others have enjoyed smooth sailing in all of those areas. 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.
Even if you end up writing about a common topic like getting cut from a sports team or struggling in a particular advanced course—that’s 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 fairly tight 250-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:
- Make sure you share what you were feeling and experiencing; this piece should demonstrate openness and vulnerability.
- To continue the last thought, you don’t need to be a superhero in the story, just 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, but 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.
- Again, don’t be afraid that your “problem” might sound “trite” in comparison to those of others. This essay is about youand 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.
How important are the essays at MIT?
There are 8 factors that MIT considers to be “very important” to their evaluation process: rigor of secondary school record, class rank, GPA, standardized test scores, recommendations, extracurricular activities, and most relevant to this blog—the application essays.
Character/personal qualities are the only factor that is viewed as “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 Essay Assistance?
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Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent educational consultant. He is a co-author of the books The Enlightened College Applicant (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and Colleges Worth Your Money (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).