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The Ultimate Guide to Acing the MIT Supplemental Essays 2021/22

12 OCT 2021

MIT’s admissions application includes five short questions or prompts, each of which offers you the opportunity to stand out from the crowd and be sincere, authentic, and measured in how you describe yourself.

How to stand out in your MIT Supplemental Essays for 2021

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.


Need help with your Supplemental Essays? Crimson Education is the world’s leading university admission consulting company. Our expert admission strategist can help you narrow down your ideas and word choice to help you craft the perfect essay prompt response. Get your essay reviewed today!

What are the MIT essay prompts for 21/22?

Prompt
1Describe 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)
2Pick what field of study at MIT appeals to the most right now, and tell us more about why this field of study appeals to you. (100 words or fewer)
3We 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)
4At 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 most significant 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)
5Tell us about the most significant challenge you’ve faced or something important that didn’t go according to plan that you feel comfortable sharing. How did you manage the situation? (200-250 words)

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How to Answer Prompt 1

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)

This question may be the most open-ended one in the application. Begin by considering your dreams and aspirations. Do you want to start a company, write the next great American novel, earn a Ph.D., discover the cure to cancer, or maybe even find an effective solution to climate change?

Then ask yourself: How has your life up until now informed and developed those dreams and aspirations? Remember, you can have multiple goals and aspirations, and they can be similar or independent of each other.

Then consider your surroundings when you were growing up. Be honest but also generous with yourself. Be empathetic in your reflection and consider your surroundings honestly.

  • Did you have to help around the house a bit more than your friends?
  • Were your parents not native-English speakers?
  • Did you learn to translate or help them understand life in the United States?
  • Were you a member of your debate team?
  • Did you help your father or mother garden in the spring?
  • As a member of your family or school activity, how did your goals/responsibilities shift or inform your passions and interests?

Here you will want to be very specific in addressing the world you came from by drawing on both anecdote and general context.

Essay Examples

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.


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.

How to Answer Prompt 2

Pick what field of study at MIT appeals to the most right now, and tell us more about why this field of study appeals to you. (100 words or fewer)

Given the limitation on words here, indicating your academic or disciplinary interest will need to focus on the “why” of your choice, even if it is one you think you will change at a later point.

Research several departments and professors within each of those departments. If you want to focus on mechanical engineering, think about what a couple of professors are doing as part of their work. You could mention Professor David Trumper’s research on “Magnetic levitation for nanometer-scale motion control” and note that you are interested in the mechanical application of nanotechnologies around issues of improving computer processors.

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 into 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 a) did your research b) are capable of synthesizing together opportunities at MIT for your own use and c) are dedicated to exploring the wide range of possibilities open to you there.

How to Answer Prompt 3

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)

The first question speaks to who you are and what you enjoy doing. The emphasis here is on an activity or a set of activities that you do of your own volition and less on activities required of you, even if you enjoy your extracurricular activities.

Don’t worry about impressing an admissions committee with a description of your science fair experiments or even a description of how much you enjoy being the poetry editor of your high school newspaper.

Instead, recall a moment or a time in your life in which you felt peace, inspiration, contentment, or even awe. Help the admissions committee reader see the scene with you.

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 find yourself forgetting your worries or obligations and just enjoying the music? Do you get excited to discover new music, download the next album? Use these questions to consider what music might mean for you 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. Rather, talk about the band you started with your friends or the moments when you pick 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.

How to answer Prompt 4

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 most significant 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)

While essay prompt #4 provides you with more room, it’s still important to be specific. 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 the time that 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 is what 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 served as 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 in 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 to you how 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.

Each of these questions and examples illustrates the connections you should make between your volunteer experience and the world at large. 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.

How to answer Prompt 5

Tell us about the most significant challenge you’ve faced or something important that didn’t go according to plan that you feel comfortable sharing. How did you manage the situation? (200-250 words)

MIT is asking you one thing: to consider a challenge you faced and how you faced it. Adjusting to unexpected outcomes is a part of becoming an adult and professional in any field. MIT wants to see how you manage the unexpected.

You want to tell a story here that describes a challenging situation and your response to it. Address how this challenge was beyond common, daily life. Running out of gas on the road near your house won’t cut it. Instead, focus on how you overcame tragedy in the Greek sense of the word. That is, you didn’t receive the justice or outcome you might have immediately deserved but preserved anyway and met the challenge to the best of your ability. Be specific, and don’t be afraid to address a problematic situation honestly.

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 either 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. At the 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 again later that day.

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.

Crimson Education is the world’s leading university admission consulting company. Our expert admission strategist can help you narrow down your ideas and word choice to help you craft the perfect supplemental essay responses. Get your essay reviewed today!

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