How to Write the MIT Supplemental Essays: The Elite Guide

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The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, more commonly known as MIT, has an acceptance rate of 7.9%.

It is a private research university best known for its programs in engineering, science, and technology. The university has fueled technological advances and scientific breakthroughs, like GPS and the concept of the expanding universe.

If that sounds like something you’d like to be a part of, you’ll first have to complete MIT’s application (MyMIT) and successfully make it through the university’s competitive admissions process.

Luckily, we’ve got all the tips and info you need to rock one of the most challenging parts of the MIT application: the essay questions.

Let’s get started!

MyMIT Essay Questions

MIT doesn’t accept the Common Application. Instead, the university has its own application system, called MyMIT.

Even if you’re not applying to colleges soon, it’s a great idea to go ahead and create an account! The account automatically subscribes you to monthly admissions newsletters from MIT. Applicants also receive emails about upcoming dates, deadlines, tips, and more.

Now, let’s get to the essays.

Instead of asking you to write one long essay, MIT asks five short-answer essay questions. Currently, the five questions are:

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. (100 words or fewer)

2. 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)

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)

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? (200-250 words)

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)

General Tips for Answering MIT’s Essay Questions

Let’s start with a piece of advice from the university itself:

“Remember that this is not a writing test. These are the places in the application where we look for your voice—who you are, what drives you, what’s important to you, what makes you tick. Be honest, be open, be authentic—this is your opportunity to connect with us.”

As you respond to MIT’s questions, try not to overthink it. Tell the truth, write in your own voice, and let the admissions officers get to know you.

The advice you’ll find in this article is meant to give you some inspiration, but it’s most important to be yourself. Don’t try too hard to impress or to say what you think the admissions officers want to hear.

Remember, it’s better to try your best while being authentic and risk rejection than it is to fake a persona and get rejected. Always succeed and fail based on your own authenticity.

A few other tips to keep in mind:

  • Write in first person (“I”).
  • Be yourself, but avoid any inappropriate information, slang, or overly informal language.
  • Give admissions officers new information as you answer these questions. Don’t repeat information that can be found elsewhere in your application (or in your responses to the other essay questions).
  • Proofread, edit, and revise to ensure that you’re using correct grammar and spelling. This isn’t a writing test, but you want to present yourself intelligently and make a good impression.
  • It’s a good idea to have family members, teachers, or trusted friends look over your essays to see if they notice any glaring errors. You can also ask them if the essays “sound” like you. If not, you might want to revise!

Now we’ll take an in-depth look at each of MIT’s five essay questions.

#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 (100 words or fewer).

You only have 100 words here, so there’s no need for an introduction (or a conclusion). Instead, jump right into answering the question.

You do still have space to include vivid details or an anecdote that shows admissions officers what you do in your free time. In fact, we recommend this approach. Try using sensory descriptions to paint an engaging picture for admissions officers.

Of course, the first step to answering this prompt is deciding what activity you’re going to write about.

Select an activity that’s fun and informal. MIT wants to know what you genuinely like to do in your free time. You don’t need to try to impress with an essay about conducting scientific experiments or volunteering at the local soup kitchen.

What activity always makes you happy? Maybe you like playing the guitar or writing songs, bird watching, baking, taking long walks, or experimenting with photography.

While you should be open and honest, you may want to avoid answers like, “Snapchatting” or “binge watching Netflix.”

Also steer away from answers that are sure to be extremely common, like spending time with friends or reading.

If you do choose more common answers, make sure to include specifics. What do you and your friends do together? What books do you read? How do you decide what to read next?

And, remember, that it should be something you haven’t already mentioned in your application. So, if it’s clear that you’re the captain of your soccer team, don’t write an essay about how you love to kick a soccer ball around for fun.

Share something new with MIT’s admissions officers.

#2 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)

While Question #1 lends itself well to a creative response, Question #2 requires a more straightforward answer.

Start by considering the following questions:

  • What are your long-term goals?
  • What career(s) are you thinking of pursuing?
  • Based on this info, what major might be a good fit for you? (Or, if you already know your major, what are you planning to study?)
  • What department or program at MIT will help you pursue your interests and reach your goals?

Even if you don’t have a concrete answer to all of these questions, try to choose one or two major areas of interest to focus on for this essay. After all, you only have 100 words.

Once you have a clear idea of what area(s) of interest you’ll discuss, you need to connect your interest(s) to the resources MIT can offer. With this question, admissions officers really want to know if you have a genuine interest in MIT. They want to know that you’ve already spent time picturing yourself on campus, and that you’ll be a good fit.

Before you can write your essay, you’ll need to do some research. Beyond just basics about MIT’s departments, explore:

  • Available courses
  • Professors
  • Research opportunities
  • Accomplishments, projects, or other news related to your department of choice

The more specific you can get, the better.

Avoid general statements like, “MIT is one of the most renowned universities in the nation,” or, “MIT’s Biological Engineering department has spurred innovation in the field.”

In short, try to follow these guidelines:

  • Briefly introduce your aspirations, interests, and MIT department of choice.
  • Then provide some specifics about courses you’d love to take, professors you’d like to work with, organizations or opportunities you’d love to take part in, specific accomplishments or research that got you excited about this department, etc.
  • You can talk about your ambitions and career goals. That’s fine, but make sure to demonstrate your knowledge of MIT and how you’re a good fit with the school.

Your goal here is to indicate that you’re both informed and excited about MIT, and you’re confident that the school can help you further your interests and reach your goals.

#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)

Here, you’ve got a bit more space: You can now write up to 250 words.

This does give you enough room to include a brief introduction and conclusion (a couple of sentences each), but you still need to focus on being concise and using specific details.

But first things first:

What “contribution” should you write about?

  • Think about times that you’ve been selfless.
  • It could be something formal, like volunteering at a homeless shelter or a pet rescue.
  • Or it could be something as simple as comforting a friend during a time of need or helping your teacher grade papers.
  • Sometimes writing about smaller gestures can lead to a more personal and memorable essay.

If you select a more informal contribution, try to connect it to the bigger picture.

  • Did this motivate you to help others on a grander scale, or raise your awareness of a social issue?
  • Did you learn something about yourself or discover a new skill/interest?

Whatever you write about, be sure to demonstrate how your actions had a positive impact.

  • What were the results of your contribution to others?

You may also wish to write about your motivations. Add this to your essay to add details about your journey:

  • What made you decide to take action and help your community, family, or friends?
  • And what did you learn along the way?
  • How did you grow or develop as an individual?

As you answer these questions in your essay, remember to use concrete, specific details instead of generic platitudes or clichés.

#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? (200-250 words)

MIT wants to know how your community has shaped you into the person you are today.

Since this is a fairly open-ended question, “community” can mean almost anything: your basketball team, your school, your chess club, your family, your church, your neighborhood, etc.

With so many options to choose from, it might be helpful to start backward.

  • What are your dreams and aspirations?
  • What would you like to achieve?

Then, consider how your experiences, family, friends, or places you’ve lived have influenced your goals.

Perhaps growing up around a parents’ workplace inspired you to pursue the same career, or maybe an issue your neighborhood or city experienced made you want to gain the skills needed to help people through similar challenges.

Start by describing the community you’ve selected. Use as many vivid details as you can to give admissions officers a glimpse into your background and why this particular community is so meaningful to you.

Then, try to provide an anecdote that demonstrates how this community has “shaped your dreams and aspirations.”

  • Was there a moment of realization?
  • A specific conversation or incident that inspired you?

#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)

With an essay topic like this one, it’s best to focus more on solutions than on problems. Your goal is to demonstrate your resilience, problem-solving skills, determination, etc.

Briefly introduce the problem or challenge you’ve faced, providing insight into why this challenge was significant to you.

You’ll want to choose a challenge that’s fairly significant, so avoid topics like earning a “B” on a paper or getting a bad haircut. Very common issues addressed for essays like this one include divorce, death of a pet or family member, and an athletic injury.

If you want to write about one of these common topics, try to highlight a specific anecdote or provide personal, meaningful details to make your essay stand out.

Once you’ve introduced the challenge, the majority of your essay should focus on how you solved the problem or responded to the obstacle.

  • What steps did you take?
  • What was the ultimate outcome?

Finally, you should reflect on the experience.

  • How did you mature as an individual?
  • What lessons did you learn?

Remember to focus on the positive. You experienced a challenge or hardship, but you took specific steps to address it, and you learned and grew as a result.

Conclusion: How to Write the MIT Supplemental Essays

To gain admittance to MIT, you’ll first have to answer five short-answer essay questions.

As you craft your responses, the most important tip is to be yourself. MIT wants to learn more about you, beyond what they can find in the rest of your application.

Provide specific, meaningful details, and be sure to proofread and edit!

Use the inspiration and follow the tips provided here, and your essays just might push your MIT application into the “Yes” pile.

And if you’re interested in gaining an edge in college admissions essay writing, check out our college essay boot camp.