MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is one of the most sought-after universities in the world. Its admit rate (meaning the percentage of applicants who are accepted) is extremely competitive: only 7.3% of students who apply are accepted each year.1 And as more students apply each year, that number is only getting smaller, as MIT has a limited number of slots available. (Keep track of your MIT application and all the rest with Occam's new app, Vitae Me (download here for iOS and Android), designed to help you stay on track with your applications!)
So what does the average person who gets accepted to MIT look like? What do they do in secondary school to prepare? Today, we’re going to profile Andrey, a fictional student who has been accepted to MIT. Let’s take a look at some of the things he did during high school, including coursework, activities outside of schools, and exams.
His ACT score is very high
With an ACT Math score of 35, an English score of 33, a Reading score of 31, and a Science score of 35, Andrey’s composite score of 34 was sufficient to get him into MIT. On top of that, his optional Writing score of 10 gave him an even more competitive application.
However, Andrey’s English score placed him in the 25th percentile of all admitted students who submitted ACT scores. Essentially, this means that while his English score was excellent, most other students scored higher (75% of them, in fact).2
He has excellent grades
Andrey was in the top 10% of all of his peers in high school who were graduating at the same time. He has only ever received two marks that were less than "excellent." (In the US and UK, "excellent" grades are denoted as "A.") A handful of students admitted to MIT at the same time Andrey was had considerably lower grades, but the chances of getting admitted with average grades are very small.
One of these admitted applicants with average grades (we’ll call this person Alex) had a composite ACT score of 36. She also scored 36 on each of the individual ACT sections. This is the highest possible score you can receive on this exam, which is needed to make up for her lower grades.3 (I think you want to note the number of students that are rejected each year with perfect scores and are top of their class.)
However, Alex, like Andrey, did several other things during high school to increase her chances of getting accepted to MIT. Let’s look at some of these things.
Andrey took several AP courses
Andrey was not able to attend a private or IB secondary school. This makes it a little more difficult for some international students to reach the level of rigorous study that schools like MIT, Oxford, and Harvard look for in their applicants.4 However, he was able to work with tutors and take several AP courses outside of his normal classes.
Doing these things not only helped him raise his ACT and TOEFL scores, but they helped him meet the minimum coursework required in order to get accepted to MIT. These requirements for international students are:5
- Four years of English language study - American students are also required to study at least two years of a single language other than English. Three to four years’ worth of study is usually preferred.
- Mathematics, at least to the level of calculus
- Two or more years of history / social science
Andrey wants to study Biological Engineering during college, so to prepare, he took AP Biology, AP Calculus, and AP Computer Science courses. He is also an accomplished piano player and enjoys studying languages, so he took AP Music Theory and AP French.
The fact that Andrey took a variety of challenging AP courses did impress the admissions committee for a couple of reasons. The first is that he is clearly willing to challenge himself. The second is that, since he did well in these courses, it helps show universities that he is truly ready for college-level work.
He participated in extracurricular activities
During the school year, taking classes and doing homework were not the only things that Andrey was doing. He was involved in the orchestra throughout high school, and he received awards at several national piano competitions. He also served his school on the student council, helping to plan many student events and community outreach activities.
During the summers, Andrey attended a variety of institutes, including one geared toward research in the biological sciences at the University of Chicago, which requires students to excel in mathematics and biology. However, he also took plenty of breaks to do things he was interested in, like taking a pottery course.
Many times, students who want to apply to MIT worry that they are not doing the "right" things to get in. (In other words: things the admissions committee wants to see.) However, competitive schools are not interested in contrived résumés that were written based on what applicants assume the school wants. They are interested in applicants who are driven, engaged in life, and most of all, authentic. Andrey decided to include the pottery class on his application, even though it wasn’t directly related to his Biological Engineering major. Combined with internships and focused academic work, admissions committees really like to see students who pursue other interests.6
He was ready to apply in the Early Action round
As MIT was Andrey’s first-choice school, he made sure he was ready to apply in the Early Action round. This means that he applied to MIT before most other applicants, and before any other school.7 In order to do this, he first had to make sure all of his test scores were ready to submit, and were taken during the November dates or before. The tests he took included:
- The ACT
- The TOEFL (recommended, as he started formally studying English right before he started high school)
- SAT Subject Tests (required for MIT admission): Math 2 and Biology
Next, Andrey started writing his admissions essays in the summer so he would have plenty of time to work with a tutor. His tutor helped him make revisions and refine his ideas so that the essay best reflected who he is and what his career plans were. He also contacted his French and mathematics teachers for letters of evaluation on the first day of school. This way, they would have plenty of time to write and submit their letters before the November 1 deadline.
In October, Andrey scheduled his admissions interview. Although this is a small task, he believed it was important to set it up on time so that he didn’t forget about it later. Finally, he worked with his parents and tutors to make sure all the small details of his application were ready to submit on time.
Andrey had plenty of time to finish his applications for other schools after finishing and submitting his MIT application. He hardly thought about the others before November, but he did spend a bit of time outlining his personal essays. If your dream school is as selective as MIT, you need to devote the majority of your time to that application.
All of this information may be leaving you feeling behind or overwhelmed. Most students feel this way when applying to colleges! Occam has created the Vitae Me app (iOS and Android) that can help you stay ahead of deadlines, give you advice on when to get things done, and give you the steps needed to get your applications in order.
- This number is even smaller for international students. In 2020, only 3.4% of all international applicants were accepted (See MIT Admissions, "Process and Statistics.") ↩
- According to MIT’s process and statistics data, 90% of all admitted MIT students in 2020 received ACT scores of between 34-36. ↩
- Even out of those applicants who scored top marks on their exams, only 10% were admitted in 2020. (MIT Admissions, "Process and Statistics.") There is a near-zero chance of getting accepted with any ACT score below a 24. (MIT Common Data Set, 2018-2019) ↩
- The University of Oxford actually lists country-specific information, and notes whether a diploma alone is sufficient, or if additional coursework will be required. (See Oxford, "International Qualifications.") ↩
- See MIT Admissions, "Grades and Coursework." ↩
- MIT admissions staff note that "Some students feel so much pressure to get into the "right" college that they want to make sure they do everything "right" – even do the "right" extracurricular activities. Fortunately, the only right answer is to do what’s right for you – not what you think is right for us." (MIT: "What to Do in High School.") ↩
- According to MIT Admissions data from 2015, 11.1% of applicants (including deferrals) who applied in the Early Action round were accepted. In comparison, only 5.2% of applicants were admitted after the regular decision deadline in January. ↩