You have to somehow stand-out in a way that is meaningful to MIT's culture. Just excellence in academics won't do it because of the competition. From my personal experience as an EC it is becoming more and more like being selected for "X-factor". That X-factor can be any number of things, awards, outstanding ECs, achievements in difficult circumstances, some unusual passion for science... If the application is just bleh... you will be cut!
I can't always put my finger on the key determinant, but I can often sense right away if the candidate I meet stands a chance for admission. I see too many candidates with ten APs, 2300+ SAT scores who eventually don't make it. Others, potentially less accomplished on paper, just have that spark and I can tell instantly they are the right fit. My personal analogy is comparing the candidate with a satellite sent into orbit. The satellite may have just been launched but if the trajectory looks like it is going to reach a high orbit, chances are good. If the satellite is already well into its launch but may not reach that high an orbit eventually, chances of success are less. The short is: during the admission process, trajectory is more important than absolute position!
MIT cares more about what you may accomplish in the future than what you have done so far. Admission to MIT is not another merit award; it is more an educated guess about your potential contribution to society through science and engineering.
Last edited by cellardweller; 11-04-2011 at 02:30 PM.