College Admissions - Please Read

Dear Chief Delphi high school seniors, and/or transfer students applying this year,

Many of us have spent months writing our applications, stressing over our recommendations, and staying up late in the night to make sure things were perfect. We have applied to schools ranging from small local schools to engineering powerhouses like Caltech and MIT. Some decisions are already out, and others are not.

I myself did not gain admission to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a school that I considered my top choice since before I even started high school. I found that decision online on March 18, coincedentially during the Boilermaker Regional.

It has been an intensely painful week, but I want to share something with all of you that has helped me look at the decision from a new perspective, in the hopes that you will have a gentler experience than I did. Juniors, you will be doing this in about 6 months, and I hope it will help you as well.

This is a weblog entry written by one of MIT’s admissions officers, Ben Jones, on the eve of the decision. Though it applies to MIT, I think you could put any school in that blank and it would apply. Please enjoy this letter. Congratulations to all of you who have gained admission to your top choice schools, and to those of you who haven’t - please don’t be afraid to ask for support, and know from this that the Admissions officers really do care. I am not too embarressed to admit that I was sobbing after this - it was an oasis of hope at the end of a week of second-guessing my own potential.

It’s More Than A Job

In response to an earlier entry of mine, this post appeared on College Confidential:

You know, I get sick of college admissions officers saying how they couldn't accept so many wonderful people. While it's supposed to be comforting, obviously, I just find it really insincere. I mean, either you're accepted or you're not. There is no grey area... so they shouldn't try to sugarcoat the harsh reality.

I’m thankful to whomever posted this, because it really made me think. It’s certainly a fair post, and I imagine a lot of our applicants share these sentiments. A million years ago when I was applying to college, perhaps I would have felt the same way.

I’ve written before about how the class is selected, but I’m too tired to dig up the post so I’ll give a quick recap. First you apply. Your application is read by a senior staff member who will look for deal-breakers (like a bunch of D’s, for example). Assuming you’re competitive, your application is then read by a primary reader who will summarize it at length for the committee. Then a second reader (and sometimes a third) will read and write their own summaries. Then it will go to selection committee, where multiple groups of different admissions staff and faculty members will weigh in on it. Assuming you’ve made it that far, the senior staff will then review it again, and then finally Marilee will spend some time with it before it gets put definitively into the admit pile. Approximately 12 people (give or take) will significantly discuss and debate your application before you’re admitted. This is all very intentional; committee decisions ensure that every decision is correct in the context of the overall applicant pool, and that no one individual’s bias or preferences or familiarity with a given case has any chance of swaying a decision unfairly.

With that in mind, let me tell you a little bit about what my job is like from November through March. Three days a week, I take a random bunch of applications to the public library, find a quiet corner, and immerse myself in your lives.

I read about your triumphs, I read about your dreams, I read about the tragedies that define you. I read about your passions, your inventions, your obsession with video games, dance, Mozart, Monet. I read about the person close to you who died. I read about your small towns, your big cities, the week you spent abroad that changed your life. I read about your parents getting divorced, your house burning down, your girlfriend cheating on you. I read about the car you rebuilt with your dad, the championship debate you lost, the team you led to failure, the performance you aced. I read about the people you’ve helped and the people you’ve hurt. I read about how you’ve stood tall in the face of racism, homophobia, poverty, injustice.

Then I read about the lives you’ve changed - a math or science teacher, a humanities teacher, a counselor. I read the things that they probably don’t say to your face for fear of inflating your ego: that you’re the best in their careers, that kids like you are the reason they chose to be a teacher in the first place, that they’re better people for having known you.

If you’ve had an interview, I get to read about how you come across in person to someone you’ve just met - how your face lights up at the mention of cell biology, how you were five minutes late because you had an audition, how your smile can fill a room, how you simply shine.

(Your grades and scores are clearly competitive or your application wouldn’t be on my pile in the first place.)

By now I’m fully invested in you so I write a gazillion nice things about you in your summary and I’m smiling the whole time. I talk about your depth, all the ways you’re a great match to MIT, all the things I know you’ll contribute to campus. I conclude with phrases like “clear admit” and “perfect choice.” In my head I imagine bumping into you on the Infinite Corridor, asking you how your UROP is going, seeing your a cappella group perform.

I come home each night and tell my wife over dinner how lucky I am, because I never seem to pick boring applications out of the pile. In fact, I tell her, I’m inspired enough by the stories I read to think that the world might actually turn out to be okay after all.

In March I go into committee with my colleagues, having narrowed down my top picks to a few hundred people. My colleagues have all done the same. Then the numbers come in: this year’s admit rate will be 13%. For every student you admit, you need to let go of seven others.

What? But I have so many who… But…

And then the committee does its work, however brutal. It’s not pretty, but at least it’s fair. (And by fair I mean fair in the context of the applicant pool; of course it’s not fair that there are so few spots for so many qualified applicants.)

When it’s all over, about 13% of my top picks are offered admission. I beg, I plead, I make ridiculous promises (just ask the senior staff) but at the end of the day, a committee decision is a committee decision.

Of my many favorites this year, there were a few who really got to me, and when they didn’t get in, the tears came. Some would call me foolish for getting this wrapped up in the job, but honestly, I couldn’t do this job if I disconnected myself from the human component of it. It’s my job to present you to the committee; if your dream of being at MIT didn’t become my dream on some small level, then really, why am I doing this at all? Others would disagree, but then, others aren’t me.

To the 87% of you who have shared your lives with us and trusted us with your stories over the last four months, please know that they meant something to me, and I won’t forget you. When I say that I share the pain of these decisions with you, I’m not lying. I’m really not lying.

To the person up there who said “while it’s supposed to be comforting, obviously, I just find it really insincere” - you have it backwards. I don’t expect it (or anything else) to be comforting at this moment. But insincere? No. Not that.

Just got confirmation that the USPS picked up the mail (for real), so it’s on the way. I’ll be thinking about all of you.

That is a very interesting article. I never looked at the admissions counselor like that…I never realized how much work it took to select students for admissions. It makes me realize that even though I may not have been accepted to a school, I still was a competitive applicant…I just didn’t stand out quite enough. I am glad my decisions will be coming in soon and I will keep this in mind with each letter I open. Good luck to all the seniors!

That was posted by Ben Jones, right?

I read Ben’s article, and it is extremely wise and insightful. (Ben Jones is a really cool guy, if you ever go to any of the MIT roaming presentations and get a chance to talk to him, do so). There are plenty of opportunities in life, and if one doesn’t work out for you, you just have to look around and find something else.

FIRST has really shown me this. When I joined my school’s team last year, it was because I heard they needed a new programmer. What I found was so much more than that. I became interested in lots of different aspects of the team, and I learned a lot about how science and technology are used in the “real world” that I never would have gotten out of my high school education otherwise.

Because of FIRST, I applied to a number of engineering schools (and it certainly didn’t hurt my odds of getting in). Who knows where each of us would be if we hadn’t been affected by this program?

Life isn’t a set track: you have to go out and make your own path.

Wow Genia. I’m glad you sent this to me and posted it on CD. After watching my four older siblings go through the same gauntlet I’m going through right now, it’s always enlightening to see the other side of the wall.

Basically, Genia this post says it all about this thread, I recently got rejected by a college as well and was feeling really bad about it. However, this has shown the other side of the story which is never really seen or mentioned. Also I must meet this Ben Jones who is quite the insightful person himself on the subject.

Excellent post,
:] Drew :]

Hey guys,
As someone who has gone through undergrad, currently getting my MS and applying to business schools to hopefully get my MBA, I’ve learned one thing about applying and searching for schools from my buddy Frost: life goes on.

If you don’t get into your top choice school, it’s a good chance that you’ll still get a very high quality education from another institution. Just make sure that you apply to several schools, spend the proper amount of time writing your essays to give the best impression of yourself, and just keep up the good work with your daily grades. If you do all of that, you’re doing the best you can do and it’ll show come time for admissions.


Ah Genia,
Big hug headed across cyberspace to you.

I’ve got one son in college and another in high school. What you all are going through is insane.

Not that I am by any stretch of the imagination, any sort of a role model, but what I was convinced I wanted to do “when I grew up” changed so much from when I first entered college. I transferred 3 times, dropped out to take one of the best jobs I ever had (washing dishes in the White Mts.), and finally got an undergraduate degree after 8 years. I also have earned a graduate degree.

You are going to do fine and be fine at any school you go to. And if you don’t like where you end up, transfer! The hurt will fade, you will move on. You are so full of life and spunk; you are going to end up making a difference in the world and I predict in ways you haven’t even thought of yet.

Like many above have said, moving on is best. I spoke to my parents, I spoke to my friends. I posted the admissions decision on a public forum, and I accepted it :). Good luck to everyone applying, and I will post when I find out my next 3 decisions over the next two weeks.

Great Post!

I’ve watched my two kids and getting close to 50 FIRST students going through the college admissions process. It can be a lot of work and an emotional roller coaster. It does seem to work out in the end, wherever they end up at. Since they started as great kids, they do well as long as they keep applying themselves.

I’d also like to recommend the College Confidential website as a resource for anyone trying to figure our the ins and outs of college selection and college life. My wife and daughter participate and highly recommend it.

Good luck to all the seniors as they go through this!

It could be worse. You could get accepted to Caltech and Harvey Mudd and still not be able to (sanely) afford to attend cause of how silly their financial aid policies are… Not that I know anyone (else) that has happened to. As Tim said, big name schools are really neat, but your higher education is what you make of it. There are still lots of opportunities to do great things at other engineering schools. You’ll just have to seek them out more than you would otherwise.

Ugh…the double-edged sword that is collegeconfidential. I haven’t browsed the site itself but the forums…they can be great- post a question about admissions or what the school is like and you’re likely to get a great, accurate reply from current students. At the same time, sometimes it gets overrun with SAT score obsession and the like. So it’s worth a try but be careful not to get too addicted to it, or sometimes it can drive you crazy. =)

And Ben Jones is really cool. =D

Nice post genia, I really liked reading this.

Exactly. Regardless of what school you go to, it all comes down to the effort you put into your studies, the opportunities that you pursue, and the friends you meet that make up your college experience. While the name on the diploma can seem important, it’s what you learn and how you grow personally that matters.

And, I might sound a hair biased on this one, but have you considered WPI? MIT was my dream school earlier on, but I wanted (and I mean no offense to anyone in love with/going to/graduated from MIT) a more well rounded education from a smaller school. WPI provided all of that as well as the ability to see the world. I did two overseas projects, one in Reykjavik, Iceland and another in London, England. I liked it so much, I’m now getting my MS in ME there part time. Plus, they have a decent FIRST team. :wink:

I think the college decision process itself is somewhat ridiculous. I applied to 3 safety/matches (PU, U Mich, Northwestern) and 4 hard/reaches (Cornell, Stanford, Yale, MIT). Knowing that the last 4 were reaches kept me more grounded than some of the people I saw posting on the MIT blog site.

I’m watching 2 friends in my neighborhood struggle with rejects right now. They each have learning disabilities. Cool kids. They’ve grown up with me, blowing up things, putting wires together to make noise, bringing me loads of geckos and toads - their mother sends them over…

Always asking w-h-y. They fit all the criteria in the letter you posted except they can’t make those incredible grades…no way. Ever.

I’ve encouraged them to think about Jenny’s road. It is rock solid. They are making alternative decisions now and I’m hoping those decisions include fun. Photography, drawing, welding along with the academics.

And The Beatles. Never discount The Beatles. No matter the road, the choice, be it MIT or GIT, Harvey Mudd or CalTech - or hey, down here at UT - The Beatles - they’ll get you through. ‘good day sunshine, bumpadump, good day sunshine…’ :slight_smile:

Thanks for the post!

I too was rejected from MIT after dreaming about it for 6 years now. But, like many here have said, I managed to move on, and realize that all isn’t lost. It’s an emotional time for all college-bound high school students, as I’ve learned in the past few weeks. After some good, hard thought, I came to the conclusion that it’s best not to put too much love into one school - atleast not until they accept you anyways.

I’m here with you on the craziness that is the college application process. I don’t know that we’ve talked of much else other than college for most of the year. Since the day I started receiving letters (those scary small ones that you are afraid to open, and it turns out that they are just writing to tell you about an open house.) opening the mailbox has been an exercise in my emotional strength that is not over yet. (still waiting on one) At this point my goal in life is to make my final decision and send my deposit before I leave for nationals.
So I’m with you on the absolute craziness of this process. I just try to remember that I’ve applied to amazing schools and I will be happy wherever I go. I’m sure that the same goes for any of us. :slight_smile:

I hate mail decisions, i just check online :smiley:
all the colleges i applied to had 'em online

Genia I’m really sorry to hear about that. But as alot of people has said it before, moving on is the best. I myslef applied to MIT, and got waitlisted (sigh). Looking at the facts from the previous years, i only have a 5% chance to get in. But i myself is looking on the bright side and is moving on to my other options. Almost 11000 people applied and only 1100 got in.
The main point is that it doesn’t matter where you are what you do… its all about doing the right thing on the right time and at the right place as my dad said. I’m not sure as of now which college i’m going to attend, but i did get excepted at BU, WPI, V-Tech and George Mason.

Good luck to all of you with your college admissions.

You guys come visit me at WPI and I’ll give you a free tour. Possible food included, depending on how many meals are left on my card. :wink: