I've been reading around a lot lately about MIT admissions and the application. One thing I've noted is that the interview is an extremely important part of the application, for reasons I'll discuss in a bit. And after visiting countless pages of the MIT blog, reading around on CC's MIT forum and paying close attention to ECs’, admissions officers’, alumni's, and current MIT students' posts and advice, I've compiled a list of tips to help with the interview. The interview isn’t that complex and requires minimal preparation beforehand, but there are some things you should know going in, especially since for many this will be a first-ever interview. As someone who's been reading up a lot about the application/interview and is also an upcoming applicant, I thought I'd share. Here it is: Contents
General What’s the purpose of this guide?
- Interview Questions
- About the ECs
- Interview Tips
- Closing Advice
Very simply, it’s a compilation of interview advice from various reliable resources, meant to help you know what you need to going into the interview. A sort of guide/FAQ, if you will. This thread is also meant to be the official interview thread of 2010. Why is the interview all that important?
Well, as far as I can gather, this question has two answers.
-From the admissions officers'
perspectives, this interview shows your interest in MIT. This is both because it's optional, meaning you’d be showing initiative by taking it, and because it’s a chance to almost directly talk to the admissions officers. The interview is there for these reasons - it shows how good a match you are for MIT, your interest in MIT, and to some extent, the initiative you'd take in order to get into the school. It's "highly recommended" by admissions officers, which is code for: Do it.
-From an applicant’s
perspective, it's important because - and this is a simple answer - statistically, those who do
take the interview [or have the interview waived, more on that in a bit] have a much higher chance at acceptance than those who don’t.
In fact, of students who had an interview [or had the interview waived], 12.5% were accepted. Of those who didn’t, only 2.8% were accepted. Those aren’t exactly encouraging statistics if you’re choosing not to interview.
Another reason it’s important is that you can discover more about the college. You’re likely to find out something you never knew before from your EC. Some students decide on the college just after the interview, even.
The interview is a chance for you to show who you are as a person – your personality, your qualities, your quirks – everything that doesn’t show on the application [disregarding the essays]. For admissions, it's a chance for them to ask you questions they otherwise couldn't. It usually reflects very favorably on an applicant, so do try to take it. Does the advice in this post apply only for MIT interviews?
I read several ECs’ posts on here, and not all were from MIT. However, what I write in this post is MIT-related, so not everything I've written applies to other schools' interviews, but a lot of it does – especially for other American
universities, including the Ivies. Different colleges, though, ask different questions, look for different things
, and treat the interview in a different way, so your experience will vary with each interview... You said American. So this information doesn’t apply to international universities?
In short, no. I can’t vouch for it applying to any schools outside the US, and it’s likely completely wrong for universities such as Oxford and other international colleges. Logistics Interview How-To
After registering for MyMIT, your EC [educational counselors - essentially MIT alums who are kind enough to conduct the interviews] contact information will show up on the MyMIT page. Your EC will be matched to you based on location, so they’ll be living somewhere nearby – no traveling or cross-country trips just to take it. In some cases the EC might be a long way away, so perhaps you can agree on meeting somewhere in the middle for convenience.
To set up the interview, you’ll contact him/her, usually through an e-mail [in the subject field, fill out: ‘MIT Interview Request’ to make it easier for the EC, especially in case it goes into the spam folder], and ask to set up the interview, which will take place at a place to be set. Make sure to be rather formal in the first e-mail you send, but not sycophantic. Don't let them get an e-mail describing the glorious history of the interview in admissions, as one EC on here did. Just be formal, direct, and polite. The EC may take up to 2 weeks to reply, but will usually only take a few days. After they agree to the interview, you should agree on date, time, and location. If they don’t reply after a few days, it’s fine to contact them again, but give them as much time as you can before you do so. Contact the e-mail at the bottom of this thread if your EC fails to reply after your second contact attempt [this’ll probably be a rare occurrence though.]
If you choose to contact your EC by phone, the process is pretty similar – just call him/her up, and if leaving a message, leave your full name and number and state clearly that you’re calling about setting up an interview for your MIT application. Speak slowly and clearly. Interview Waiving
For those without EC information, it's likely that there is no EC in your area, in which case your interview will be waived and have no negative effect on your application. You'll have to make sure to note that in the interview info part of the application. Do I have to finish the rest of my application before contacting my EC?
No, you don’t. In fact, you should probably contact your EC as soon as you feel you’re ready for the interview.
There are, however, deadlines for contacting your EC that you’ll have to follow. Deadlines
There are deadlines for contacting your EC to set up an interview, so make sure you do so by the set date. Contacting the EC early won't necessarily score you bonus points, but it's probably better - no rush for you or him/her, and you're not stressing anyone out this way. The EC's program generally gets more hectic as the deadline approaches. So when are the deadlines?
If you’re applying EA, the deadline to contact your EC is October 20, 2010.
If you’re applying RA, the deadline to contact your EC is December 10, 2010.
You’ll likely want to be done with the interview by those dates, though. Try not to wait til the last minute to contact your EC. First thing to note
Now, the first thing you should know about the interview is that it's not much like a job interview. It's more of a two-way conversation, with some emphasis on your story rather than the EC's. As such, there's no reason to treat it like a Q&A session. Be relaxed, be genuine, be yourself. Interview Day
-Dress Code: The interview is not necessarily a formal gig [depending on the place you're meeting] but usually an appropriate dress code is - anything you're comfortable in. Seriously. You probably shouldn't show up in above-the-knee shorts and a fishing hat, but you get my point. Wear something casual, but on the lower end of the formal scale at the same time. Some black/kakhi pants and a polo/buttoned shirt would be fine, but so would some nice jeans and a shirt - provided you're comfortable in them. Don't look too casual, but not too dressy either. As for suits: Generally, you want to be relaxed in your clothes, and the EC will want you to be relaxed, so don’t go in a suit unless it actually puts you at ease. Here’s an informative post on how to dress: What To Wear
-Turn your cell phone off. Or at least put it on silent, in every way possible. Don't answer it during the interview, don't text, don't open up the net. It's discourteous. And definitely don't get it [or your laptop] out and open Facebook or Twitter. This has actually happened with one EC.
-Be early. Like at least 5 minutes early, preferably 10. Upon first meeting the interviewer, introduce yourself and say something like "Nice to meet you." A firm handshake won't hurt you, and neither would a smile. Interview Questions Will all the below questions show up on my interview?
The short answer is no. You might get all of these questions on your interview, and you might only get 2 of them with others having nothing to do with what I posted. But some of the below are of the more frequent ones. The interview doesn't have a set amount/list of questions. Each interview is different in its questions, and the EC might choose a question right on the spot based on your previous answers. Therefore, the exact questions that will come up are impossible to predict. There are between 2000 and 3000 ECs, and your mileage will vary a lot – and not just in terms of what questions are asked.
Remember: the EC’s job is to find out more about your personality. Since this is the case, you don’t really need much preparation for questions he/she may ask. Just keep in mind that they’re trying to get a picture of the real you. What questions will my EC ask me?
ECs have guidelines for questions, so they will have to cover some points. Very few questions will consistently show up, and there's a great variety and range of questions, as well as a great number of interviewers, so your interview (and its questions) might unfold in an infinite number of ways. I'll try and cover some of the more important and frequent questions that I've found:
-Why MIT?/What drew you to MIT in the first place?
Expect this question of some variant of it in your interview. It'll definitely show up somewhere. It's one of the few questions [and it well might be the only question] that will show up without a doubt. Try and avoid cliché's like "It's a good school" or "Prestige", or, even worse, "My parents are making me apply, but I don't want to go, really." They know it's a good school and that its name is out there, avoid telling them that. These are actual answers that have been given previously. The purpose of this question is to see if and how much you’re really enthused about the college.
-What other colleges are you applying to?
It’s fine to answer this honestly, they know that just about everyone applies to more than one college and a safety. You won’t ‘lose any points’ by saying you’re also applying to Harvard or Yale.
-Where do you see yourself in 10 years?/What do you aim to do later in life?
You probably won't see this in the conventional ways I've phrased it above, but some variant should be in there. Reflect on this before going in - how will going to MIT help you achieve what you want to do or reach where you want to be later on in life?
-What do you plan on majoring in and why?/What interests you most at school?
I'm not sure if this question pops up regularly, but it should be an easy one for most if it does. Yes, MIT admits you without looking at what major you're interested in, but in the interview, it's different. It reflects your personality and interests. They're not asking this question to see if they need more/less of your major at the institute.
-Tell me a bit about yourself./What are your interests?
This question will come up in some way. Maybe not in as general a form as I wrote it but something of the sort will be in there. This is a chance to talk about yourself and set yourself apart from others. Talking about your interests in math or tech is fine, but perhaps set some time for some other, non-study related interests like hobbies.
-Tell me something that you do for fun.
An occasional question that is asked in some form, usually to show how you’d relax because at MIT you’ll need to blow off steam in some way due to the stressful nature of the college.
-Any concerns about going there?
May or may not show up. Reflect on it anyway, as it might. Be truthful.
-Describe an experience you had while working on a group project
This or some question about teamwork - is very likely to pop up. At MIT there's a noticeable collaborative spirit for a variety of reasons – for one, being as rigorous a school as it is, students need to help each other out, and they can't work alone at all times. In fact, some problem sets given to students are designed to be worked on in groups. Science in itself is basically collaborative, and this is emphasized at MIT. So your capacity to work with others will likely be questioned somehow, perhaps in the shape of past experiences in the field.
-Describe an experience in which you used your creativity/something related to creativity.
Some indirect questions aimed at knowing more about what you like and what you don't [these might be science-based but nothing quiz-like such as "What's the result scientists hope to find by using the Large Hadron Collider?", just things that test your interest a bit]. This might not come in an obvious form, and you don't necessarily have to reply with a science-related answer. For example, if they ask what your favorite magazine is
, and it's - say - Empire, say it's Empire. You don't have to say something like "Technology Weekly", it's fine. Remember: they're looking for a genuine, well-rounded personality that would be a good fit for MIT.
-Describe a problem you pursued for days to find a solution for/Give an example of how you solved a complex problem in little time
- or some problem-related question.
Definitely reflect on this. It shows how you’ll be able to overcome difficulties at MIT and whether you learn from mistakes/experiences and such.
Here are some that just show you what kinds of questions come up. You’ll likely see something of the sort, but probably not the same questions:
-How do you challenge yourself out of class?
-Do you have any ethical concerns regarding the use of modern technology?
-If the government gave you a team to assemble for a project, how would you assemble it?
-Something as random as "Last book you read"
or something similar. No reason to prep for this obviously, but thought I'd slip it in here.
-Is there anything else you want to tell us about yourself?/Is there something you wanted to work into the conversation but couldn't?
Try and answer that with something other than "no." It shows you have a personality that doesn't quite show in less than an hour. Try highlighting one of your more interesting traits, something unique that grabs their attention or sets you apart from countless other applicants. Get creative in this part, it's an opportunity.
-Do you have any questions for me?
I'll come back to this one in a bit, it's important. [The short answer is: yes.] How should I use these questions?
The reason I’ve posted these questions is that you’ll need to know what sorts
of questions come up. Note however, that I'm not giving this information for you to rehearse the interview. You should probably read the post once or twice, think over the things to think about [mostly in regards to the possible questions] but don't rehearse. It's painfully obvious when you do, it affects you negatively, and the EC can pull something out his/her sleeve that you might not like. They could drop the whole 'rule/questionbook' and go for something on-the-spot. Here's a quote from Mikalye:
On those rare occasions when the student seems too rehearsed, I throw the playbook out the window and ask a wild variety of completely random questions.
The questions I note above, especially, are just so you don't go in unprepared. It's important what you say sounds on-the-spot, direct, and - this one is important - genuine. Think over general topics and experiences that may relate to your wanting to go to MIT, and you’re all set. So you’re saying that if a question I don’t know the answer to comes up, I’m doomed?
No. First off, there’s no right or wrong answer, and there are no ‘yes or no’ questions. As the EC is trying to get a picture of your personality, questions will be about you. So you can’t really ‘not know an answer.’ For the more difficult questions, your EC will expect you to take the time to think during the interview anyway, and if you answer directly, it might even look suspicious. Take the time to gather the words after the question is asked, then reply. Don't take too long, but pausing to think won't reflect negatively on you. It's a positive note, if anything.
Most importantly, don't prepare, memorize, or rehearse anything. The questions were hard and I thought my interview didn't go well at all. What should I do? Can I ask for another one?
Well you can, but I doubt they'd give you one. Interviews rarely go 'badly'. Just going to the interview is a good thing. ECs report information about you, what they gathered about your personality, your interest in MIT, and so on. There isn't a 'bad' interview report. It's just there - it reports who you are, and you're either fit for MIT or not. So it's unlikely your interview 'didn't go well'. You might even think it didn't go well when your EC gave you a glowing report [and by glowing I mean one that admissions officers decide shows you're compatible with MIT.] About the ECs Who are the ECs?
Again, ECs are MIT alumni who volunteer to interview applicants to the university to get a better idea on their personality. They send in interview reports covering what they observed in the interview. The admissions officers then use this interview report as part of your application. How many ECs are there?
As stated previously, there are between 2000 and 3000 ECs spread over the globe. What should I know about them going in?
Well for starters, they went to MIT, so they’ll know all about it. They’re generally really nice people [remember, they’re taking countless hours to conduct interviews and send in reports – and for no charge – they’re doing this because they love their college] and welcome any questions you’ll have about MIT. It’s possible – even probable – that you’ll have a lot [or at least some things] in common with your EC due to the common grounds relating to MIT. They were once in your seat, in you may someday be in theirs. What do they know about me going in?
Three things. Your name, your school, and what parts of the application you submitted if they decide to check that. Note however that they don't know what
you submitted in your application and at no time can they open it up and see it. What is an ECs job?
Their job in conducting an interview is to get to know you, and report it back to admissions officers. There a sort of liaison between the admissions office and you, asking you questions that admissions officers otherwise couldn't. They try to get a complete picture of your personality and fit for MIT, and report it. They also try to help an applicant with any question he or she may have, in order for him/her to get a better picture of MIT. What do ECs note or look for?
ECs note lots of things, generally based on what you answer to each question [and they’re not afraid to go in-detail about what you say about your various experiences and endeavors]. They’ll cover what you felt was important to you and why, how you contribute to group projects, or a difficulty you overcame and what you learned from it. They’ll even cover if/why you’re a good addition to the MIT class and community, and if/why you’ll fit in with them [based on what MIT looks for and the community they already have]. Remember, they’ve been students at MIT, and will know this in detail. They might even say they’d have liked to be your roommates/friends had they attended the same year as you, and whether they can envision you walking the floor of the Infinite Corridor, sitting in front of the dome doing p-sets, working in a lab, and maybe even playing frisbee. Yeah, they can get pretty detailed.
What an EC looks for, though, varies a lot based on the EC. One thing that generally impresses most interviewers is that subject that makes you light up – one that just shows your passion so easily. This is especially noteworthy. This goes for both what you love to do or a project you love, and your passion for MIT. It goes for practically anything, really – passion is a strong point in a character.
Most generally also look for unique traits that would work well at MIT – they like to diversify their class in some ways, even though a lot of students are very similar in a lot of ways.
What an EC doesn’t
note in the interview report are your grades, if you happen to mention them. These are already on the other parts of the application so admissions officers already have access to them and don’t need them repeated in the interview report and the ECs know that. In fact, anything that you’ll have filled out on the rest of your application won’t be in the interview report, no matter how much you talk about it in the interview – unless you add something worth noting, but I can’t think of anything here.
They also won’t add an opinion on whether or not you should be accepted. Their opinion on this goes as far as saying whether or not they think you’re a good fit in the community. It’s the admissions officers’ jobs to decide if you should or shouldn’t be accepted, though – and one of
the factors they look at to decide that is the interview report. Key word: one of. If the application is a sort of puzzle, then the interview is just a piece. Interview Tips
-Don't memorize/rehearse, simply reflect. You may notice I've said this several times already. It's one of the more important points, and I don't want the purpose of this post misunderstood :]
-While reflecting, go over your successes/failures in life, lessons, how you enjoy spending your time, things you learned, and try and remember anything you think is relevant to MIT and/or will help in the interview.
-Make sure you've done a background check on MIT. Don't ask things like "What state is MIT in?" At the very least, read some of the Wiki page. Everyone knows the MIT name. Not everyone [few, in fact] knows the real parts of MIT and specifics about it.
-Again, it's a 2-way conversation, so don't be afraid to treat it like one.
-It's fine if you're nervous. In fact, being too laid back might prompt some interviewers to ask themselves if you even care about the interview/college. Being relaxed is always a [very!] good thing, but show interest.
-Try not to speak in slang, whether it's when e-mailing the EC or actually talking. This might seem like a no-brainer but I thought I'd say it anyway. Be formal-ish in how you're addressing and talking to your EC.
-If you get stuck on a question, think before you answer. Don't blurt out a random answer, don't answer to something else, and most of all - don't make anything up. Just pause for a bit, think, and then answer.
-Different colleges look for different things, whether in the interview or the application as a whole. You might want to check up on what each college looks for, to have background knowledge and to know what to highlight most while talking.
-In the last part of the interview, when they ask for your questions, don't be afraid to get specific. It's best that you don't ask anything that can be found using Google or the MIT website. Ask for specific experiences, what their favorite/least favorite thing was at MIT, what they'd change, how it helped shape them, etc. Questions about personal experience at the college are welcomed by most ECs.
Oh and - forget all stereotypes/claims you've read. Yes, there are women at MIT. No, MIT doesn't have the highest suicide rate of all US colleges. Don't ask these types of questions in the interview. And definitely don’t ask what they think your ‘chances’ are. Even with a full picture they couldn’t know – no one can, really.
-Read the last 3 again.
-Seriously, I can't stress them enough. ECs are generally nice people who were kind enough to volunteer to interview applicants. They'll be happy to get to know you, answer our questions, and enhance your application [provided you deserve it.]
Just relax and try to enjoy it
And again, really don't fake anything. Being yourself, no matter how cliché'd it may sound, is extremely important in admissions and interviews. They relate to your human side, not your numbers. Especially ECs, who have no knowledge whatsoever of your grades/SATs/rank going into the interview. There’s also no reason to mention your grades and other points that’ll show up on your written application – the interview’s there for you to show everything other
than those, so there’s no point anyway, and if you do your EC will neither report it nor be more impressed, so it’s pretty pointless.
-Send a thank you note after the interview. It's a nice gesture - they did take the time after all - and as a plus it helps you stand out in the EC's eyes. Closing Advice How should I treat the interview?
The interview is really nothing to be worried about. Quite the contrary, in fact. If you truly believe that you’re a good match, both intelligence and personality-wise, for MIT, then the interview is likely something you can look forward to – it’ll shed some light on what sort of people have attended MIT, what sort of people you’ll meet there, and it’s a chance to get to know the college a lot better. It’s also a chance for you to have an interesting conversation with someone with many similar interests – if you’re both a fit for MIT [remember, your interviewer is an MIT alum] it’s more than likely the conversation will be interesting and fun. Don’t be afraid to talk as you normally would with a friend, laugh, exchange stories, or show your EC that you’re enjoying the interview. The part where you can ask questions to the EC, especially, is a great part for discussion. You’re likely to enjoy getting to know the college more, and if you ask about their experiences you’re likely to find out something about the college you never knew before. They’ve studied there, lived there, been in clubs, overnighted, discovered Boston, and maybe even participated in a hack or two. Don’t miss out on the opportunity. Remember, if they didn’t care about MIT as much as or more than you do, they wouldn’t be there.
Just enjoy it What else should I consider in terms of the interview and application?
MIT [and other colleges] look for a lot of things in an applicant, things that show he/she is a good fit, both academically and personality-wise [I won't go naming the things they look for, because I probably couldn't - they don't look for a set number of traits that if you fulfill you'll be in]. Note that academics are still extremely important - last year no one below the top 15% in their class was accepted. Median SAT scores are in the mid-700's. Generally, the trend on here is to remind people that the application isn't just numbers. This is definitely very true, but I think people emphasize that point so much that some lose sight that numbers are still extremely important. I think like 51% of the entering MIT class were valedictorians. 94% were in the top 5% of their class. [Your school performance matters more than your SAT grades, probably, but those are still very important.] It's still a very competitive applicant pool, both objectively [numbers] and subjectively [essay, recs, interview, etc.]. You need the numbers, make no mistake in that - but it's the subjective part that ultimately decides if you're in, once you have the academic qualifications. The admissions officer's job is to consider all applicants in the pool of applicants and see which are - and I quote - "best matched to an MIT education."
Fun fact: while we're on the subject of statistics, 76% of accepted applicants chose to enroll at MIT. That's - if I'm not mistaken - tied with Harvard as the highest yield in the country. So, given all this information, what’s the best way to prepare for the interview?
Very simply put, the best way to prepare is to reflect on your experiences and plan to talk about them – and about yourself and what you like. Not much more is necessary. Other posts to read
I recommend you read this post [and make sure to flip to page 2 as there's some supplementary info by the OP on there] before interviewing as well: Interview Tips by a College Interviewer | College Admissions Forum | CC
And the following CC links to previous years' interview threads, which contain further possible questions and advice: 2014 Interviews | MIT Forum MIT: Master Interview Thread | MIT Forum
And a blog link that you should definitely read to get a better idea about MIT's 'mission': MIT Admissions | The Match Between You and MIT
Thanks to: Mikalye [MIT EC], MITChris [MIT admissions officer], molliebatmit [MIT alum], other ECs whose posts I've referred to, and the wonderful CCers, of course, especially those on the MIT forum. All this info is due to the amazing MIT reps on here and on the web, and how much they've been willing to share with us. Special thanks to Mikalye and Mollie, who were kind enough to go over and review the post and the information it contains.
Questions, discussion, and experiences about the interview are of course welcome in this post. In some cases, for questions, you may need to contact MIT directly at this e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org