How to Write the MIT Supplemental Essays 2020-2021: The Elite Guide (Examples Included)

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The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, more commonly known as MIT, has an acceptance rate of 6.7%.

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, known as 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!


Click above to watch a video on MIT Supplemental Essays.

The MyMIT Application

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. These are useful, as applicants will receive emails about upcoming dates, deadlines, tips, and more.

Beyond receiving material from the MIT admission’s office, signing up for a MyMIT account will also let you examine some of the eccentricities of the application. One of the biggest ones is that MIT only allows you to list four activities. You’ll have a larger word count than the Common App, but you’ll also need to be more selective. When deciding what activities to include, consider asking yourself the following:

  • What do I enjoy doing the most?
  • Is there an activity I haven’t mentioned elsewhere in my application but that is key to understanding me?
  • Is there an activity I mention in an essay that really needs a few more words to explain properly?

Remember, the goal of every application is to create a holistic picture of who you are, and that involves every step of the process. Now, let’s get to the essays.

MyMIT Essays

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

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)

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. (No word limit on admissions website.)

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)

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)

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 them. 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.

Beyond general advice that is applicable to any essay, here are some tips specific to MIT:

  • MIT’s motto is “mind and hand” because they value doing just as much as intellectual capacity. When you’re brainstorming ideas for your essays, always try to highlight this connection when possible.
  • All of the MIT essays are short. This is partly because they recognize that MIT students are often less skilled writers. Use this to your advantage, as the format encourages getting straight to the point rather than finding the perfect anecdote.
  • MIT cares about being able to transform good ideas into actions, so it is extra important that you show in these essays, not tell.

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

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MIT Essay 1: Describe Your World

The first question asks you to talk about something in your life that has shaped your dreams. This can literally be anything, but I would encourage you to consider the mundane. It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention, and this is the type of thinking that MIT encourages. What everyday problems have you encountered? How have you thought about them? Did any of them influence my choice of career or activity I’m interested in?

As with the other essays, you only have 250 words, so there’s no need for an introduction or a conclusion. Instead, jump right into answering the question. One of the best ways to do this is with vivid details or an anecdote that gives the admissions officers a peek into who you are. After all, that’s the main goal of all the essays!

MIT Essay 1 Example Essay

One of the reasons I like this essay is that it’s about fixing a toilet. Unremarkable, yet remarkable because of how mundane it is.

Walking down the hall, my 6-year-old ears hear the unmistakable sound of gushing water. Skidding on the now wet floor, I race into the bathroom and see a fountain burgeoning from the toilet tank. My Grandfather is steadily getting soaked as he attempts to plug the leak. Seeing me in the room, he beckons me over, gently guiding my tinier hands to cover a hole he can’t quite reach. With the cascade of water stilled, he impresses me with the importance of staying still while he gets his tools. Up to my ankles in water, I am delighted to be helping and learning, all at the same time.

A farmer, my Grandfather spent his entire life relying on his ingenuity to solve problems with his own hands. Despite being pulled out of school in 8th grade, he is one of the cleverest people I know, yet he always welcomes help and input. (Even when his grandchildren became klutzy teenagers!) Because of him, I aspire to be the type of person who can solve problems with duct-tape and a shoestring, yet always humble and willing to accept help, recognizing the individual strengths of others.

MIT Essay 2: Pick a Field of Study

While the first question lends itself well to a creative response, this question 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, 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. While the official MIT admissions website didn’t list a word count, keep it short, as the other essays are all limited to 250 words.

Once you have a clear idea of what area of interest you’ll discuss, you need to connect your interest to the resources MIT can offer. The admissions officers are trying to gauge if you really have a genuine interest in MIT, so don’t disappoint them. 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 department of choice
  • Provide specifics about courses you’d love to take, professors you’d like to do research with, or organizations or opportunities you’d love to take part in
  • If you talk about your ambitions and career goals, make sure to connect this to MIT and why 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.

MIT Essay 2 Example Essay

Not everyone knows what they want to study when applying to college. This essay embraces that uncertainty and uses it to explore a variety of different ongoing research projects, all the while being specific about what is attractive about MIT.

For me, there is nothing more satisfying than getting my hands dirty solving problems. As I progressed through high-school, I realized this paired with my love of mathematics and physics, which is why I’m interested in becoming an engineer. In the long-term, I haven’t decided if I’m going to design quantum computers, ion drives for spaceships, or widely-accessible medical equipment, but I know that I want to spend my life learning and creating.  

This is why I long to attend MIT; it’s the perfect place for me to explore different aspects of engineering. Whether joining Dr. Jarillo-Herrero in studying twistronics, which looks at the quantum-mechanical effects of 2D crystals, working with Dr. Barrett to create a plane that uses electroaerodynamic thrust, which is a form of ionic propulsion, or building an inexpensive ventilator with the E-Vent team, I can delve into a variety of projects at MIT that will aid me in finding the area I am most passionate about, even as I build a unshakable foundation of engineering knowledge.

MIT Essay 3: A Fun Activity

This is another opportunity for you to showcase who you are, not as a student, but as an individual. Ask yourself:

  • Do I have an activity that is unusual for a high school student?
  • When am I most relaxed?
  • What activities do I do because I want to, instead of checking a box?

Again, this doesn’t need to be building nuclear reactors in your garage. Being a decent human being capable of collaborating with others is hugely important to MIT, so don’t be afraid to talk about something “normal” to demonstrate this point. However, you may want to avoid answers like, “Snapchatting” or “binge-watching Netflix,” as these are difficult to write about while showcasing an interesting quality.

If possible, this shouldn’t be something you haven 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.

Above all else, have fun with this essay. It’s only 250 words, but that should be plenty of time to talk about whatever it is that you enjoy. It could be one of the few activities you selected or something else entirely: neither is incorrect.

MIT Essay 3 Example Essay

Pay attention to the descriptions present in this essay:

The wails of a two-year old relentlessly beat against my eardrums. Despite the gentle rocking motion and my attempts at a lullaby, the little girl is desperate to be away from strangers and back with her mother. I don’t mind; I’m used to it. 

I started learning how to ride a horse when I was 10. Now, 7 years later, I’m perfectly comfortable riding bareback, keeping myself on the horse only using the strength in my legs and long years of practice. However, the toddler I’m holding in place in front of me is downright terrified, creating an arm work out I wasn’t expecting! To an outsider, it would probably appear like psychological torture, but there is a purpose: helping the girl learn how to walk.

Hippotherapy was developed in the 1960’s, but I had never heard of it until the small farm where I learned to ride began looking for volunteers to start their own program. My instructor explained that the walking gait of a horse actually strengthens hip muscles, which is perfect for children who can’t walk. Spending time with the graceful, empathic animals is one of my favorite activities, so I couldn’t resist the opportunity.

While most people wouldn’t consider a fun activity to involve the cacophony of small children bawling, I do. With the breeze on my face, a random tune on my lips, and the steady rhythm of the horse on the dirt, I can’t imagine a better way to start off my weekend.

Nothing starts my Saturday mornings off quite as well as the breeze caressing my face, a cacophony of small children bawling as they are placed on horses, and the feeling that I’ve done started my weekend off right: helping someone. 

While this essay lacks words like “exciting, playful, or entertaining” the author does a marvelous job of contrasting an inside and outside view of a hippotherapy program, illustrating why the writer enjoys it, rather than telling.

MIT Essay 4: Contributing to Your Community

This is a more serious essay, requiring some thought. So, what contribution should you write about? Ask yourself:

  • What are your most selfless moments?
  • Where do you volunteer?
  • What challenges are most prevalent in your community? Have you addressed any of them?

It could be something formal, like volunteering at a homeless shelter or a pet rescue. It could also be something simple, like 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, so don’t shy away from those.

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. You may also wish to write about your motivations. Consider:

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

As you answer these questions in your essay, remember to use concrete, specific details instead of generic platitudes or clichés. Remember, MIT is trying to get to know you.

MIT Essay 4 Example Essay

Not everyone has something to brag about, and that’s okay. One of the reasons this essay stands out is because of its use of imagery, all centered around the sea.

Helping an elderly woman reach the top shelf in a grocery store. Dropping off cookies at random houses along the street. Sorting cereal into boxes at the food bank. None of these actions are earth shattering, yet each changes an individual world. 

One of my favorite stories was originally told by Loren Eisley. Adapted many times over the years, there are always at least two figures set against a beach of starfish, dying as they lie on the shore, desperate for water. The first character is steadily throwing them back into the ocean, while the second questions the practicality of the action, since the first person has no hope of saving all the starfish. The first character usually acknowledges this point, but continues anyway, noting that it makes a difference to each starfish that ends up back in the ocean.

When I think of my life, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the ginormous problems that are swirling around humanity, creating a riptide that threatens to drag us all under. While I aspire to work on the figurative lifeboats that will save us, it’s equally important to not let the needs of the individual drown. That’s why I don’t let the little opportunities to assist others pass me by. 

In a world that can be so divided, I want to always be ready to aid the starfish I find around me, because that attitude is what transforms a group of people into a community.

In describing a life philosophy, the author demonstrates their view of the world. More than an action, the essay describes an approach to life that makes you want to be friends with them, or at least have them around if you’re ever in trouble!

MIT Essay 5: Describe a Significant Challenge or Failure

With an essay topic like this one, it’s best to focus more on solutions than problems. Your goal is to demonstrate your resilience, problem-solving skills, or determination. Start by briefly introducing the problem or challenge you’ve faced, then provide insight into why this challenge was significant to you.

The prompt asks about a challenge that’s significant, so avoid trite topics like earning a “B” on a paper or getting a bad haircut. Many people talk about a divorce in the family, the death of a pet or family member, or an athletic injury. While these definitely can cause long-term impact, if you choose a common topic, you’ll need 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 and what you learned. Consider:

  • What steps did you take to create a solution?
  • What was the ultimate outcome? Don’t be afraid to talk about a failure; sometimes those stories are more meaningful than a success.
  • How did you mature as an individual?
  • What, if anything, would you do differently next time?

Remember to focus on the positive, rather than whining about life. Whatever you talk about, the structure should be the same: you experienced a challenge or hardship, took specific steps to address it, and learned and grew as a result.

MIT Essay 5 Example Essay

This essay does a great job of setting up the challenge with only a few sentences. It also spends time showcasing the author’s reaction and how it motivates the writer to make changes. 

As I approach my temple for Friday night services, I am appalled by what I see. The familiar Star of David is marred by a swastika, the red spray paint dripping down the mosaic. Beyond simply vandalizing the property, it was difficult for me to comprehend the amount of hate necessary to draw a symbol charged with such terror and antisemitism. 

I wish I could have interrupted the individual who drew the swastika, asking what caused his or her hate. I wish I could have prevented the deaths of the thousands killed in temples, churches, mosques, and other holy places around the world. Yet, neither is within my power. I cannot change how history has unfolded, nor restore the dead to life. 

However, I do have the power to shape the future. I intend to advocate for legislation that will make bias awareness programs mandatory for elementary schools across the nation. Within the classroom, especially at a young age, more is learned than just math and social studies. Rather, our childhood experiences develop the morals that serve as the basis for our lives. If we can teach the young to celebrate and embrace diversity, we can begin to eliminate the hatred surrounding race, gender, and religion. 

Both now and in college, I want to embody and spread the message that differences are what make us unique and, when unified, we are stronger.

Conclusion: How to Write the MIT Supplemental Essays

To gain admittance to MIT, you’ll have to answer five short-answer essay questions. As you prepare to hit the submit button, here are a few items to double-check:

  • Did you write in first person, which means using words like I, me, and my?
  • Did you avoid using passive voice, inappropriate information, slang, or overly informal language?
  • Were you true to yourself?
  • Did you give admissions officers new information in each essay? Were there specific details in the essays to help them get to know you?
  • Have you proofread, edited, and revised your essays, checking for correct grammar and spelling? While this isn’t a writing test, you want to present yourself intelligently and make a good impression.
  • Have you asked family members, teachers, or trusted friends to look over your essays? Do they say your essays sound like you?

If you follow the tips provided here, your essays just might push your MIT application into the “Yes” pile.  Good luck!

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