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How To Answer MIT's Supplemental Essay Prompts for 2022/23

03 OCT 2022

MIT is one of the top universities in the United States. It has an acceptance rate of 4%, out of around 33000+ applicants. One way applicants get to showcase their personality and separate themselves from the other applicants which whom they are competing is through the MIT Supplemental Essay Prompts. The prompts offer a more holistic view of each applicant to admission officers, allowing them to make a more informed decision on whether to admit an applicant to the school. This blog serves as a guide as to how one may approach the MIT Essay Prompts.


A Day in the Life: MIT Student

What are MIT’s Supplemental Essay Prompts for 2022/23?

MIT's supplemental essay prompts have been updated from the previous application year. MIT asks students to answer the following questions in approximately 200 words.

  • 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.
  • Describe the world you come from (for example, your family, school, community, city, or town). How has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations?
  • MIT brings people with diverse backgrounds and experiences together to better the lives of others. Our students work to improve their communities in different ways, from tackling the world’s biggest challenges to being a good friend. Describe one way you have collaborated with people who are different from you to contribute to your community.
  • Tell us about a significant challenge you’ve faced (that you feel comfortable sharing) or something that didn’t go according to plan. How did you manage the situation?

How to Answer Prompt 1

We know you lead a busy life full of activities, many of which are required. Tell us about something you do simply for the pleasure of it.

It would be great for you to think about your source of pleasure in life. For example, it could be simple joys such as family and friends, your hobbies, your pets, hopes and dreams for the future, or perhaps even more abstract and philosophical thoughts. To humanize your application, you may even want to talk about something more personal or vulnerable to you.

There are endless possibilities to this essay prompt, and there is no “wrong” answer per se. One point to note is that you should try not to bombard your resume here, given that you would have already showcased that in your common application. Instead, focus on the thought process behind what gives you pleasure and joy, why it gives you happiness and joy, what you gain from it, and how you hope to continue pursuing it in the future.

To scope this essay when responding to it, you should first brainstorm as many ideas as you can and narrow it down to one compelling idea. To ascertain the most compelling idea, you should ask yourself which idea you can explain and demonstrate best your motivations and how you derive pleasure from it.

Essay Examples

Neighborhood Walk

Do you find that you enjoy listening to music while going on walks in your neighborhood? Do you find synchronicity in the music and what you see around you? Do you forget your worries or obligations and enjoy the music? Do you get excited to discover new music and download the next album? Use these questions to consider what music might mean and how listening to your favorite music enhances your life in different, subtle ways.

Playing an Instrument

If you play an instrument, you can talk about what it means for you outside of your curriculum. You don’t need to mention orchestra or band. Instead, talk about the band you started with your friends or the moments when you picked up your clarinet, guitar, violin, or saxophone to practice for the sheer enjoyment of it.

Drawing/Painting

Do you like to draw in your free time? Or paint? As an option, you can describe the value you derive from the satisfaction of seeing something both in progress and completed, the evolution of a project even if it is not something entirely artistic but more in line with your interests, whatever they may be.

Write about what you find fascination and contentment in so that you evoke a scene through a description of sensory and contextual details. Focus on what makes that voluntary project or interest fascinating to you and take a mental snapshot. Describe the photo’s contents and why they matter to you.

Be honest, be concise, be yourself, and be authentic.

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How to Answer Prompt 2

Describe the world you come from (for example, your family, school, community, city, or town). How has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations?

You can approach this question in multiple ways, but the central theme is environment vs. agency. Admission officers will want to see how you interact with your environment and how the environment has shaped your agency.

For the first part, it will be essential to illustrate your contributions to the community. For the second part, it will be necessary to show gratitude for how the community has helped you achieve your goals. After all, a single individual cannot do most things alone. Often, an individual stands on the shoulders of others to achieve what they have achieved in life, and it is essential to acknowledge that.

In approaching this question, you can consider the different environments you have been operating in your whole life. For example, this can be your family, religious group, neighborhood, school, or even a club/project in school. After identifying an environment, you should show the admission officers your involvement in this environment and how it has impacted you. It is best to choose something that has a formative impact on you and how you can bring this forward to campus at MIT. Ultimately, the admission officers are looking for someone reflective, grateful, and who can bring a positive impact to university life at MIT.

Be careful not to generalize. Instead of generalizing your interest in MIT by referencing what is common knowledge (it’s a great school, X or Y department/professor is great), be specific and tie your interests into long-term goals. Mention an extracurricular group or club that fits your goals and the department’s offerings. Maybe there is a robotics design club that you can reference alongside entrepreneurial competitions at the school to realize your long-term interest in developing a mechanical engineering consulting firm.

By triangulating your long-term interests with specific departmental/university offerings, and academic interests/research projects, as well as their course offerings (another specific contact point) in your response, you can show the reader you did your research, are capable of synthesizing together opportunities at MIT for your use and are dedicated to exploring the wide range of possibilities open to you there.

Essay Examples

Culture

Growing up in NYC, you realized that the world is dynamic with many cultures and languages. As a result, you knew you wanted to be involved in the dynamic processes leading to an increasingly urban society around the world. As a mechanical engineer at MIT, you believe that your experiences in NYC as a young kid can contribute to your passion for helping urban spaces become more streamlined and egalitarian.

Upbringing

Your father worked as a firefighter in Boston. Maybe when you were growing up, someone in your family had a dangerous job in the public service sector that involved late nights and irregular hours. You can draw on your reflections of these experiences to talk about how you realized how much the unexpected and tragic inform the human condition. At a young age, your empathy for the victims of fires started to motivate your interest in developing new resources and outfits for firefighters and fire prevention through chemical engineering.

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How to Answer Prompt 3

MIT brings people with diverse backgrounds and experiences together to better the lives of others. Our students work to improve their communities in different ways, from tackling the world’s biggest challenges to being a good friend. Describe one way you have collaborated with people who are different from you to contribute to your community.

MIT has a diverse university body, and students are expected to be open and inclusive to others. Hence, in the admission process, admission officers hope to identify students who embody open and inclusive values, aside from being academically intelligent. This question requires you to demonstrate how you relate to your surroundings and people of different backgrounds. It requires you to show a level of empathy towards others. You are not expected to talk about highly grandiose events such as impacting global climate change or solving world poverty. After all, they do not expect such achievements from high school students. Instead,  you are supposed to demonstrate your values from the day-to-day experiences you have accumulated in high school.

Some ideas for this question with regards to collaborating with people who are different from you can include people of different races/ gender/ sexuality, people with mental illnesses or disabilities, people with special needs, economically disadvantaged people, and marginalized individuals in society (e.g., HIV positive individuals), foreigners, etc. Importantly, you should be able to extrapolate learning and growth opportunities and lessons from your experience working with people different from you and explain how you can apply what you have learned in future diverse environments, such as studying at MIT, where people come from all over the world.

Use this essay as an opportunity to bridge your personal life with curricular and extracurricular opportunities at MIT.

This prompt requires an introduction, body, and conclusion. Aim to have 1-3 sentences in your introduction followed by 3-5 in your body and, again, 1-3 sentences in your conclusion. Don’t worry about being overly formal—simply pay attention to the mechanics around the beginning and end of your response. As a bonus, reference a community-oriented group at MIT that interests you and is similar to community volunteering/work you have done before.

Whatever you do, be honest. Admissions committees can sense if you are exaggerating. Humility and creativity are essential here.

Essay Examples

Neighborhood Helper

Do you help your neighbors by babysitting for free? Do you take care of your siblings? What about elders in your family or community? Do you work with at-risk children? Have you ever spent the summer working as a camp counselor? Talk about the time you helped a student learn how to swim or when you took a group of inner-city kids into the forest for the first time, their look of awe, and the sense of discovery they experienced at that moment. You can talk about how bringing discovery to more communities drives you to be an engineer since you want to engineer the next generation of infrastructure that makes carbon-free public transportation a speedy reality.

School Volunteer

Have you been a classroom volunteer or consistently volunteered with a group or community project? When have you felt a call to participate in your community, and how did you do that? You could talk about your motivation to help an afterschool group that volunteers with those who have Down Syndrome. You could talk about the summer you spent with them and the inspiration you felt working with people whose needs exceeded your own. You can talk about how you want to continue working within this community through technological innovation geared towards their educational needs and interests.

Humanitarian Worker

Have you ever spent a summer in Guatemala or Lagos? Have you volunteered abroad? Maybe you helped bring vaccines, food, potable water, or something else to a community in need? From that time abroad, you can talk about how your work in Guatemala helped Maya children learn English and revealed that linguistic interaction in the 21st century has a long way to go. Inspired by apps like Duo Lingo, you want to make the next generation of translation software for communities participating in the global marketplace.

These questions and examples illustrate the connections you should make between your volunteer experience and the world. In other words, even if you only help your friend get to school on time by picking them up, talk about why it takes a village to get something done. Show how your involvement in the community is fundamental to your academic interests at MIT through examples that creatively outline possibilities for your career.

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How to Answer Prompt 4

Tell us about a significant challenge you’ve faced (that you feel comfortable sharing) or something that didn’t go according to plan. How did you manage the situation?

Students applying to MIT come from all over the world, with varied experiences. Some teenagers have encountered far more challenges than others in their schooling years, depending on the country they are from, how affluent they are, their family structure, etc.

For example, one may come from a low-income family with a single parent and has had to fund his way through high school while taking care of a younger sibling. Others may have had mental illnesses or special needs disabilities while growing up. For more fortunate teenagers, a significant challenge may mean getting a low grade in their Mathematics course or not getting into the school team.

Nevertheless, challenges, pain, and growth are not relative; individuals can grow and learn lessons from their unique experiences. In illustrating your “significant challenge,” the challenge is meant to showcase your personality, character, and growth. Hence, the focus should be on what you have learned from the experience and how that has shaped you as a person currently and in the future.

You should aim to answer this in an emotionally compelling way that can show the admission officer how you have dealt with the challenge and what you have learned. After all, completing a four-year degree at MIT will be filled with challenges. MIT admission officers are trying to ascertain applicants with the tenacity to overcome challenges and thrive in the college environment.

Essay Examples

As a competitive chess player, you grew up attending tournaments and competed well in many of them. In one recent tournament, you were not permitted to play because of a change in the bylaws that rejected anyone under eighteen. In the face of outright rejection, you petitioned the competition organizers to reverse the rules, citing that your rank and skill were commensurate with the organization and that the rules were not in keeping with the national regulations or the culture of the game. In the end, the organizers relented and agreed that you were right. While you did not win the competition, you and your friends competed successfully to the quarterfinals and gained rank points to compete again.

At the Rhode Island Science Fair, you discovered one of your competitors sabotaged your presentation at the last hour. Instead of giving up and resigning yourself to defeat, you rewrote your script and salvaged your presentation. The judges gave you top marks for the oral presentation. While you did not win, you still came out on top of the person who had sabotaged your equipment. Without taking revenge into your own hands, you politely addressed their behavior and revealed how you could outthink them in a moment of stress and difficulty by performing creatively. In the end, your advisor told the judges, who reversed their decision and awarded you higher marks after allowing you to present later that day.

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How to stand out in your MIT Supplemental Essays?

It’s important to consider how you chart your responses. They need to be:

  1. Holistic/organic/authentic
  2. Tied together, unified, and focused
  3. Well-researched, without being over the top in their references to university offerings

At the end of each response, you should show a sense of growth through the reflections you’ve made, no matter how small.

Final Thoughts

MIT gives you plenty of opportunities to express your thoughts and feelings through these five essay prompts. Be thoughtful but don’t think too much. They don’t want to see your “polished” look, they want you to be honest and show how you’ve faced and overcome adversity.

Hopefully, this guide has provided you with some inspiration as to how you might answer the MIT Essay Prompts. Regardless of the results, enjoy the process and have fun writing!

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