How to Get into MIT: The Ultimate Admissions Guide

MIT is a private university research institution located in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

It is separated from another prestigious school (Harvard) and Boston by a river.

While MIT is not an Ivy League institution, it is often heralded as a true bastion of intellectualism. The school is less interested in pomp and status than in the pursuit and application of new knowledge.

This means that MIT approaches admissions differently from Ivy League schools.

  • To be admitted, high school students should differentiate their application strategy and should not use the same methods they used for other schools.

This guide will look at MIT’s admission statistics to provide you with data and facts about what types of grades and test scores boost your chances of being accepted.

It will also analyze surveys of MIT’s freshmen students (provided by the International Research Office of the Provost) to make recommendations regarding extracurricular activities and skills you may want to cultivate during your high school career.

By the end of this guide, we aim to give you a robust guideline for how to gain admission to one of the most renowned universities in the world.

How difficult is it to get an acceptance from MIT?

In 2018, 21,706 high school students applied to MIT and 1,464 were admitted.

  • This puts its admission rate at 6.7%

For comparison, the lowest admission rate for an Ivy League school in 2018 was 4.6% (Harvard) while the highest admission rate was 10.3% (Cornell). Yale University shares a very similar rate of 6.3%.

  • From 2012 to 2018, MIT’s acceptance rate remains relatively stable, never dipping below 6% and never rising above 7.8%.

These admission rates make MIT one of the most difficult schools to get into.

If you know that MIT is your top choice, we recommend that you apply for Early Acceptance.

Comparisons between Early and Regular admissions throughout the years indicate that there are slightly betters odds of getting in when students apply for Early Acceptance (although the gap between the two has been closing).

What test scores and academic scores are necessary for MIT?

These are the middle 50% test scores for the class of 2022:

SAT Math Section780 – 800
SAT Evidence-Based Reading & Writing720 – 770
ACT Math34 – 36
ACT English35 – 36
ACT Composite34 – 36

Out of the students who were accepted in 2018, 1,122 students enrolled.

This means that about 561 students from the class of 2022 received SAT Math, SAT Reading & Writing, and ACT Composite scores in the ranges shown above.

  • About 281 received scores below those ranges.
    About 281 received scores above those ranges

This is a very impressive range of scores. For your best chance of getting into MIT, you should aim to get top scores in both the ACT and SAT.

  • If test taking is not your forte, we recommend that you definitely seek out a preparation course for each test and start your preparations earlier than the usual timeline.

We would also like to call attention to one particularly influential section for admission – the SAT Math.

This is not surprising given that MIT is most well-known for its science and engineering academic programs (math is an integral part of all of that).

It is even more telling when you look closer at the distribution of scores of admitted students.

Here is a summary of the data.

Distribution of SAT Math Scores:

ScoreNumber of Admitted Students who scored in that range
750 – 8001,077
700 – 74046
650 – 6900
600 – 6401
< 6000

About 96% of admitted students scored in the top range, and 4% received scores of 700 – 740.

  • And all of one person was admitted with a score below 700.

All the other sections of the SAT and ACT were more forgiving in terms of admitted students.

  • It is essential that you do exceedingly well on the SAT Math section.
  • You can get yourself ready by taking the most advanced math courses allowed to you.
  • Then, continue with your math knowledge by selecting courses that will expand and challenge your thinking.

While specific SAT test prep material may help, you should not rely solely on it to achieve high scores; you will still need a strong foundation that only a robust, comprehensive, years-long education can give you.

You should also aim for a GPA above 4 – this is true for MIT, Stanford, and the Ivy League.

Need college application help? Check out our College Application Boot Camp. Your first session is free.

What test scores are not necessary for MIT?

Now, we know we just spent the last section stressing the importance of test scores and academic GPA – so this may sound like a contradiction – but perfect test scores will not guarantee admission.

The great thing about MIT admissions is that its admissions process is truly holistic, which means they prioritize admitting individuals over test scores.

What does this mean about strategizing for MIT?

  • You should aim to test into or near the middle 50% range of scores, but do not obsess over your test scores.
  • Once you attain a high enough score – say, a 780 – do not fret that it is on the “lower end” of the middle 50%.
  • Just move onto to more important parts of your application.

If you need further convincing, here is what Matt McGann, who has served as an MIT admission officer for more than 10 years, says:

People make a big deal about test scores. No one seems to believe me when I tell them that when I’m reading an application, I just glance at the test scores to get a sense of them before moving on to the more important parts of the application — that is, who you are… it didn’t really make an impact on me that the student had “the magic 1600.” Yes, scoring a 1600 is something that you, your school, your parents, and your guidance counselor can be very proud of. But it’s not something I’m going to bust out my highlighter for, circle in big red pen, make it the focus of your case.”

What should you do in high school?

By far, the most difficult part of MIT’s application is cultivating a robust, interesting high school profile that accurately reflects who you are.

These two things must also align with MIT’s mission. In this section, we will outline what MIT looks for in an applicant and what that means for you.

Then, we will analyze its surveys about students’ high school involvements and activities to make suggestions for what you should do in high school.

On the “applicant and the Institute” section of its admissions page, MIT lists these qualities:

  • Alignment with MIT’s mission
  • Collaborative and cooperative spirit
  • Initiative
  • Risk-taking
  • Hands-on creativity
  • Intensity, creativity, and excitement
  • The character of the MIT community
  • The ability to prioritize balance.

Let’s break each quality down.

1. Alignment with MIT’s mission.

For this point, it is important to consider MIT’s motto, which is “mens et manus” (mind and hand).

  • Its site states that this motto reflects the “education ideals of MIT’s founders who were promoting, above all, education for practical application.” MIT follows this mission very closely.

It is evident in the sheer number of inventions that are created on campus and the number of companies MIT grads go on to found.

This means that your educational attainment should not exist in a void.

Whatever you are interested in, find a way to demonstrate it – make it tangible, practical, with real-world applications.

2. Collaborative and cooperative spirit; The character of the MIT community.

We group these two together because MIT’s description of the two are similar in nature.

MIT recognizes the value of collaborative and sharing ideas with one another.

It is how innovation builds on innovation and becomes something very special.

  • Be a student who can do this – who works well with, and even thrives off, other people.
  • Do not be afraid of sharing your thinking or, worse, selfish about your ideas.

MIT is not a “cut-throat” school; they are looking for individuals who “uplift and inspire” their peers.

3. Initiative; Risk-taking.

In short, innovation does not come for those who wait for it.

You have to take charge of your own learning and pursue knowledge even when it is not easily available or convenient.

Do you have list of failed inventions? Great. It shows that you started projects on your own and put yourself out there.

4. Hands-on creativity, Intensity, creativity, and excitement.

Be invested and interested in your pursuits.

MIT is not simply about theory. It’s about taking your theories and applying them to making, creating, building, and affecting the world with them.

5. The ability to prioritize balance.

MIT wants you to become intensely engrossed in your learning and education.

But – they also want you to be more multifaceted than that.

  • They understand that great work cannot be achieved without some play, so cultivate some other interests, too.
  • You don’t need a dozen interests. Instead, pick a few and genuinely pursue them.

We suggest that you consider the list of qualities we described above.

Are you truly that kind of person? If you are not, you may not appreciate or enjoy MIT even if you get admitted and decide to enroll.

If you are, read on to see a list of suggested high school activities.

What activities should you pursue?

To compile this list, we analyzed surveys of freshman from MIT.

There were some high school activities with significant engagement and involvement levels. We will use data from 2018 (which had an 80% response rate) to discuss these activities.

Note: Many of these activities’ prominence is consistent through many survey years.

  • 94% of the students who responded had a “leadership role in a student, group, club, or team” and “54% of respondents had a ‘leadership role in a community group, club, or team.’

If it is in your nature, we suggest that you join a club that aligns with your interest during freshman year of high school and work your way up into a leadership role.

You could even start earlier if it is a community club!

Although it is not a necessity to write your own computer program, this high percentage rate suggests that it could be helpful if you at least take some programming courses.

  • 51% of respondents played one or more varsity sports.

Again, this is not a necessity. But if you are not involved in a sport, we suggest that you be closely involved with another non-academic hobby or activity.

To the last point in MIT’s listed qualities, you should cultivate a hobby that is separate from academics and that you really do love.

  • Carve out time to engage in it; use it as a break from your academics or as a way to cope with stress.
  • Joining a sport may help you practice and engage with your chosen hobby since practice and games are structured into your daily life.

Lastly, whatever you choose, you do not have to become a master in it; you simply have to genuinely appreciate and enjoy it.

If you have the time, we recommend that you work in one or more internships.

Summer is the perfect time to find one.

Internships go hand-in-hand with MIT’s “mind and hand.” It is where you could demonstrate practical, real-world applications of your knowledge.

General Advice for the Essays

One last place for you to make your case and show admission officers who you are is in your application essays.

  • MIT takes this part seriously – so much so that they actually have their own application portal for applicants to fill out.

This is one way they filter out people who would be applying to their program out of convenience rather than true interest.

Our advice for these essays is that you leave any pretentions behind and show them your genuine and unabashed self.

Focus on…

  • your role as a citizen of the world (how will you make an impact for the better?)
  • contextualizing your personal story and history in a relatable yet unique way
  • how you respond and reflect proactively to challenges, and not necessarily what makes you different from other people, but what makes you you (and what that means for your interactions and collaborations with others.

For more specific guidelines, check out our in-depth essay guide here.

A Checklist for the MIT Application

The MyMIT application opens up in August:

  • Part 1: Biographical Information
    Submit by Nov 1 for EA; submit by Jan 1 for RA
  • Part 2: Essays, activities, and academics
    Submit by Nov 1 for EA; submit by Jan 1 for RA
  • Evaluation A: Science or math teacher
    These are MIT’s equivalent for Recommendation Letters
    Submit by Nov 1 for EA; submit by Jan 1 for RA
  • Evaluation B: Humanities, social science, or language teacher
    Submit by Nov 1 for EA; submit by Jan 1 for RA
  • Secondary School Report, including high school transcript
    Submit by Nov 1 for EA; submit by Jan 1 for RA
  • Standardized test scores
    November testing date for EA; December testing date for RA
  • February Updates and Notes Form, including midyear grades
    This is a form that all applicants must fill out, and it is where you may update  MIT on any additional information about your high school progress since you submitted the original application; Submit by February 15 for both EA or RA

Conclusion: How to Get Into MIT

MIT is a difficult school to get into, but you can get in with a balanced application that demonstrates your dedication to a particular field.

While you’ll need strong test scores, numbers are not the end game. You need to show interest in one or a few things. Don’t aim for well-roundedness.

Aim to show expertise.

Good luck! We know you can do it.

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