written by
Arina Khotimsky

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Essay Guide 2020-2021

Essay Guides 7 min read
Image courtesy of Massachusetts Institute of Technology

In this Massachusetts Institute of Technology Essay Guide, we will cover how to approach the 2020-2021 MIT supplementary essays. For more guidance on personal essays and the college application process in general, sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.


Applying to Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is one of the world’s leading science and technology research universities. Unlike many universities in the US, MIT does not use the Common App or the Coalition App for college admissions. Instead, MIT has its own dedicated application portal (MyMIT), with its own set of essays.

There is no long, 650-word essay. Instead, MIT offers multiple shorter essays, which allow you to highlight various aspects of your interests, aspirations, and character, ranging from a 100 to a 250 word maximum.

General Tips

MIT does not look for an exact profile amongst its applicants. That’s what makes the student body so diverse — everyone has unique, inspiring interests and passions. As such, you shouldn’t feel pressured to match some idea of an “ideal” MIT student. Do your best to let your own voice and personality shine through, because that is what will stand out most to the admissions committee.

Nevertheless, there are some general traits that can set your MIT essays apart. These are traits that MIT looks for in its applicants: motivated, curious, genuine, innovative, passionate, team player (success at MIT is ALL about collaboration), contribution to community, and desire to make the world a better place. Each of your essays should reveal something about you. If someone can read your essays and the above adjectives come to mind, you are on the right track.

Another general tip (for any university you apply to) is to try to understand the founding values and mission of the school (see this link). If you can mirror these in your essays, this can show the admission staff that you are someone that belongs at MIT and will personally contribute to the mission statement.

2020-2021 Essay Questions

Here, I will guide you through each essay question individually.

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? (200-250 words)

Attending a large university such as MIT, you will find that one strength of the student body is the diversity of backgrounds that everyone comes from. This question is incredibly flexible, so you can really choose something that speaks to you: cultural celebrations, family traditions, a hobby that you’ve been involved in for years, the geographic location of your hometown, that cafe down the street where you spent every afternoon after school, etc.

With choosing your topic, make sure that it can showcase your personality and your way of seeing the world. Again, be specific and true to yourself. Show, don’t tell. Think of how you can connect this essay to MIT’s values without stating them explicitly (such as demonstrating a community bond, an example of teamwork, a sense of curiosity or adventure, and more).

Also — and this goes for some of the other questions as well — you can think of adapting your longer Common App or Coalition essays for these prompts, as long as they don’t overlap with something that you have already written about. It might be difficult to cut down from 650 to 250 words, but you might actually find that you are able to make your message clearer and more impactful than it was before.

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

As an undergraduate university, MIT’s primary purpose is to educate and prepare its students to make a difference in the world. What do you want to study, and what will you use that knowledge for? In this essay, showcase your curiosity, intellectual drive, and passions.

For this question, I would recommend researching the majors and programs that you’re interested in. By naming particular programs, you can both show the admissions staff that you are genuinely interested in the school, and further stress the particular academic interests that make you unique. You can cite MIT-specific research grants, labs, professors, initiatives, etc.

Are you considering a minor? This is the place to mention it. Also, don’t feel like you have to stick to naming hard science majors and programs in answering this question. Yes, it’s the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but there are so many humanities classes to explore (for the record, you’re required to take at least 8 of them, too).

Another way to approach this question is to ask yourself what you want to get out of your education, and look into which programs at MIT would give you the chance to do so. Want to become involved in research as soon as possible? Check out the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). Or perhaps you want to learn another language and spend a summer working for a company in a foreign country, in which case the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives program (MISTI) may be what you are looking for.

In the end, this is another short essay question, so you won’t be able to list every single thing that interests you about MIT. However, make sure to still convey your voice and personality when mentioning why these programs/majors interest you, and how they will allow you to make an impact in the world.

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. (100 words or fewer)

This is a short essay, so try to stick to one activity or pastime in particular, and highlight a specific moment or feeling. Most importantly, be genuine and sincere. This activity should be something you deeply care about — don’t invent something, and approach the essay with an angle that uniquely applies to you. For example, as an avid piano player in high school, I wrote about my love for sight-reading music to relax and take my mind off the world.

At the end of the day, the admissions team is just trying to see that you won’t come to MIT and spend all day studying, and that you have interests outside of academic achievement. So have a little fun here.

At Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 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 biggest 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)

This question specifically highlights a number of the traits listed above that the admissions officers look for in potential students: collaboration, community service, determination to make the world a better place. Don’t feel like what you write about has to be the next Nobel Peace Prize-winning idea. Instead, think about what you’ve done that has had the most personal impact on both you and others. Try to speak specifically about your personal impact and why you care about that particular issue.

As the essay prompt mentions, what you write about can really be anything. Don’t take this flexibility to create a list of volunteer activities, however (the main application is for that). Instead create an anecdote that can “show, not tell” the moment/story.

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

Failure is an inescapable part of life. At Massachusetts Institute of Technology, you will likely run into moments when nothing is going right. What’s important in these moments is managing to piece together the situation, learning from what occurred, and being able to take what you learn into your future endeavors. With this question, the admissions staff is really just trying to see if you possess this skill, because without it, MIT would be a near-impossible environment to survive.

You can choose any moment of failure/difficulty for this prompt, but try to choose one from which you were able to draw new conclusions about yourself or your world view.


This essay guide was written by Arina Khotimsky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Class of 2023. If you want to get help writing your MIT application essays from Arina or other Bullseye Admissions advisors, register with Bullseye today.

MIT massachusetts essay guide
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