As many of the anxious prefrosh know, MIT has delayed the grand release of this year's application for another week or so, leaving many prefrosh empty-handed. Originally, I intended for this post to be released concurrently with the application, but being the fickle man that I am, I obviously posted it now, hoping to partially satisfy the thirst of prefrosh everywhere by giving them a small taste of what their life will be like for the next few months. Essentially, at the heart of this post is a hodgepodge of advice - and ravings - from an application year veteran. Use the coming week to learn from this and prep for the MIT application.

With all the hype and excitement over this year's applications, I've been having nostalgic flashbacks about my own experience applying. There was that one night in Pittsburgh during my family vacation when I lay sprawled out on the coach until 1 a.m. fervently filling out the activities section in MyMIT. There was the five hour drive back home when I impetuously scrapped two essays and finally hit upon the one for MIT. And then of course there was October 12th, when I finally clicked the submit button and saw 65$ leave my pockets. Oh the good times.

As I sat musing about these memories, I realized there was one important thing I wished I could have had that would have meant the world to me: a simple guide for applying to college! So like any good engineer (soon to be engineer?) I decided to fix this problem for posterity sake by sharing what I have learned from my experiences. What follows is a list of some pointers that will help you prefroshies this year and hopefully for many years to come.

Caution: Use at your own discretion. Tailor to fit your needs.

1) Be Yourself

I'm not a fan of overused, contrite statements like "Be yourself and you'll live a happier life," but in this case you really, really do need to be yourself. Many think that the holy-like MIT admissions committee are looking for a certain type of person, you know the MIT stereotype. These people have 2400s, develop new math theorems for fun, and can secretly program AI robots, but secretly don't because they all belong to a clandestine consortium of programmers protecting the world form robot destruction. Fortunately, this is far from the truth as the admission people desire an eclectic class and thus look for special quirks, the things that make you you. Why? Because otherwise every student at MIT would be clones and life would be dull (aka Communism). Admission to top-tier colleges is not random, even though a thorough examination of the numbers may make you believe otherwise. MIT looks for a "match," a set of general guidelines that indicate how well suited you are for MIT. Does that mean you should present yourself in a different light, stretching the truth to be in accordance to the "match"? No, because you don't want to artificially match to a school and then find you are not enjoying the atmosphere of the place. I know many people, some who have even transferred, because they landed themselves in their dream school, but then discovered it was not for them. So my words of wisdom are, read up on your colleges, show them the qualities that demonstrate why you are a match, and all the while be yourself.

2) Know when to be serious and know when to let loose

Think of the application process as preparing for marriage. You can go wild, unleashing your darkest uncharacteristic behavior at your bachelor party, but for the most part, I'd recommend staying faithful and serious - and maybe even subservient - to your loved one. Despite somewhat of a bad analogy, most parts of the application require thoughtful answers so keep the writing relatively formal. Use profound language here and there to highlight certain parts, and even throw in some humorous anecdotes. Definitely have some fun, just not too much fun. Talk about your deadly fear of shower curtains or how you still play with Legos (umm...yes that's me). Make yourself stick out in the minds of the admissions officers by telling them something that will distinguish you from the rest and earn you some extra points.

As a side note, keep in mind that the "what do you do for pleasure" question for MIT really means "what do you do for fun." Don't talk about how you nurse stray baby kittens back to health just because you want to impress the admissions committee. Unless you truly do that for fun, talk about how you love playing Rock Band, how you only form scientific words in scrabble, or how cricket is an addiction of yours.

3) Answer the Optional Essay

In this game, optional = mandatory. Yes, there are many stories of people being accepted without the optional essay, but statistically you have a better chance of getting in by answering it. Don't you want to do everything in your power to convince the admissions committee of your worthiness? Ok, in most cases I'd recommend doing the least work possible to excel, as my Physics teacher always said, the first tenet of Physics is laziness, but for this, writing an optional essay allows you to express more about your passions and dreams. It gives the admissions people more to chew on. In my case, the optional essay provided an additional outlet to express myself. One essay felt too restricting. The word limit stifled me and relegated my full writing potential to a cage. The optional essay, on the other hand, has no rules. It's the "Joker" essay (The Dark Night ftw), the essay where you can unleash your writing talents for hours on end until you have a literary masterpiece.

4) Edit, Revise, Rethink, Consult, Rinse and Repeat

The essay portion of the application is by farthest the most important part in my opinion because it's MIT's only chance to see inside your head and see what's really rolling around in there. Luckily for you it's the part you also have the most control over.

While I wish writing the essay was as simple as pressing the "Easy Button" and walla, it's not and will require time, patience, and an open mind. I suggest writing whatever comes to you at first, just to get your gears turning. Think long and hard - even spending multiple afternoons pondering - about what you want to convey and take risks. Write about stuff you wouldn't normally write about. Write about stuff you may have never told anyone before. Show MIT how much you are into them and why. Above all, don't be afraid to scrap a well-written piece because you have a better idea. In fact, I suggest you write intending to only use your third or fourth draft. It took me two essays, one about my middle eastern heritage and one about how tennis changed me, before I landed on talking about my childhood and how my biomedical engineering interests developed through various events in my life. When all is said and done, have people read and edit it. You yourself should at least read it 15-20 times, editing, revising, rethinking, until there's nothing left, but a pristine essay ready for submission.

Add an extra touch to your essays by showing, not telling. Don't just tell MIT that you built a social networking website for your school, show them. Describe the long, frustrating nights it took you before your algorithms worked or how Monster cans lay piled up all over the floor. Grabbing the reader's attention through detail is a surefire way to form a lasting impression. Going this extra mile will make all the difference.

5) Activities... which to choose?

One of the many difficulties you'll encounter during the application process is which of your activities you should include. I will first advise you not to attach a laundry list of your activities because in actuality colleges only care about the activities that mean the most to you, not everything you participate in. So, yes, unfortunately you must limit yourself to the top 5 or so activities you love. Remember, order matters here.

I will add that the only exception to my "no laundry list" rule is if you truly spend a respectable amount of time in more than 5 activities. Under these circumstances, you may attach something that describes the activities you couldn't fit on the application, but don't just list them.

For activities, it's crucial for you to convey your passions to colleges. Pick an activity - maybe two for you risk-takers - and just discuss every possible aspect of why you love it. In my optional essay, my feelings about research drowned the page. I told them how research impacted me and why it is I did it in the first place. Show them what drives you to reach such amazing heights.

6) SAT, worries!

Try not to worry about your numbers when writing up your application. Just list everything as it is and leave the rest up to the colleges. Don't look back. Don't worry one bit. Colleges, especially MIT, care about the perfect "match" and not numbers based off of long, grueling tests. Being a match for MIT transcends any numbers and even grades (well probably not D's unless there's a good excuse).

7) Emphasize Your Love for the School

Don't be afraid of sucking up. In the classroom, being the teacher's pet may have earned you your classmates' snickers (pssh, I loved all the brownie points I racked up), but in the application, it's the best course of action. Schools hate nothing more than just being applied to for the heck of it. I'd recommend inserting school-specific comments here and there. In my optional essay, I mentioned the infinite corridor, the great dome, the ball pit in Simmons, and other random snippets about MIT. Showing a college that it is your number one choice and emphasizing your undying desire to have a home there is truly to your benefit. Let your gut, your heart, and your dreams guide you in choosing the perfect words to express your emotions.

8) Craft a Story

You're more than just an applicant. You are a person with one amazing story to tell so don't look at each piece of your application as a means to an end separate from the whole. Rather, try to weave your wacky and crazy experiences together into a "quilt". Each thread stands on its own, speaking for itself, but together you have a picture, your whole life story. The essays, short answers, recommendations, and grades are ingredients. Make sure that each has its own special flavor while still fitting into the bigger picture.

9) Arrogance, it's not a virtue

Tell it as it is, but don't show haughtiness in your writing. There's an incredibly fine line between discussing your achievements and bragging about them. Don't cross it. At the same time, however, don't be afraid to talk about yourself, your accomplishments, your goals. We all like to talk about ourselves - me more than most - and essentially that's what an application is for, so as long as you don't boast arrogance, you'll be perfectly fine. Be confident. Readers like that. Overconfidence, however, is frowned upon.

Keep in mind that while it may seem easy to rest your entire case on your crowning moments in high school, you must not rely too much on them as after all, they're still one piece of the pie. Weave them into your story to your advantage. Talk about how excited you are about the opportunities awaiting for you in college. While colleges will want to hear about your victories, they will want to know even more about how you plan to succeed at their school. For example, I raved about how excited I was to jump into the research "world" at MIT and how MIT would propel me forward to achieve lengths I never thought possible.

10) The rest is history

After you've completed the application, you're ready for the hardest part of all. Share with others what you've written. Make use of teachers, friends, and especially your parents. My mom and dad were invaluable throughout the entire process. We had many fights over what works, what doesn't, but after the dust settled, everything turned out perfectly. Double check, triple check. Keep checking! There's no extra points for submitting months early. Ask questions. Go to your counselor if you are unsure of something. Venture forth into the uncharted waters of college confidential and ask for help. The people there are tremendously helpful. Even if you don't have a question, go there and read, soak in the advice, and learn from people's mistakes.

Once you feel that you've represented yourself to the fullest, your essays are in tip-top shape, and all around you've written a story that flows from start to finish, you're ready to submit. Before you seal the envelope or hit the submit button, ensure that you are addressing the correct school. Lastly, I suggest, if it at all can be helped, to not wait until the last minute. Servers may crash, electricity can cut out, or life just happens, so plan to submit at least a week in advance. Trust me, it's not healthy staying up until 3 am three days in a row because of procrastination - or perfectionism for many of you.


Luckily, I survived the application process to live another day - and share my fanatic lessons. This is what I've learned from suffering through the application process. For you, I hope it makes the months of hard work less distressing.

I enjoy sharing my war stories so please don't hesitate one bit to contact me. Let me know if you have any questions. I'll be glad to help.

On one last note, I officially apologize for the length of this guide. I realize many of you skim these posts, but if this advice applies to you at all, I encourage you to carefully breathe it in and follow it. There's no 100% guarantee that you'll be accepted, but there is my guarantee that this advice is the best I can possibly come up with and will aid you tremendously during what is sure to be a tumultuous application season.