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Last updated March 8, 2023

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How to Write the MIT Supplemental Essays

Key Takeaway

We show you all the MIT supplemental essay prompts and give you advice for writing effective responses.

At 200 words each, the MIT supplemental essays seem innocent enough. But they’re deceptively difficult.

By this point, you’ve hopefully meandered your way through our MIT Common Data Set post and How to Get into MIT guide. Suffice it to say: getting into M-I-T is H-A-R-D. Your essays are crucial.

Without the support of a longer personal statement, each of your MIT essays has a big job to do.

In this guide, I’ll break down each of the prompts and walk you through how to answer them successfully.

Let’s dive right in.

Does MIT have supplemental essays?

Yes! Well, kind of. Since MIT doesn’t use the Common App, their own application is a little bit different than most of the other places you’ll be applying.

Instead of writing a longer personal statement and a couple of supplemental essays, you’ll be writing four shorter essays for MIT and no single personal statement. Each of your essays should be around 200 words long, so you’ll be writing about 800 words in total. Altogether, that’s quite a bit of writing, so make sure you plan accordingly.

MIT Essay Prompts

In this section, I’ll go through each of the prompts and touch on a few key tips that will help you write them.

Before we jump in, I want you to think a little bit about how your MIT admissions officer will read your essays. Will they read them one at a time over the course of a couple weeks? Of course not! They’ll probably read them all in one sitting over the course of a few minutes. If you’re lucky, they might come back to them, share them with a colleague, or discuss them in a committee meeting.

All this is to say that your essays will be read together, so you should write them with that in mind. Don’t go too heavy on one topic across all your essays—that’d be a waste of valuable space. Instead, spread your application narrative strategically across all four to create a robust picture of who you are. Figuring out how to disperse your narrative is especially important for your MIT essays since you don’t have a central personal statement to anchor your admissions officer.

With that preface out of the way, let’s get to the prompts.

Prompt #1: 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.

Uhh, is this a trick question…? Should you say you love picking up litter “for the pleasure of it” or doing extra physics problems every night just “for the pleasure of it”?

If those statements are true, then sure—write about them!

But this isn’t a trick question. You don’t need to take one of your hobbies or leisure activities and covertly wrangle it into something admirable about you.

We’ve already gone over how hard it is to get into MIT in our other MIT guides. You’re up against the best students in the world. One of the ways you can stand out is by being yourself. Remember that “character and personal qualities” is the only (!!!!) admissions factor that MIT ranks as “very important” in their Common Data Set. This prompt is an opportunity to show off some of those personal qualities.

Embrace it and write about something authentic. Whatever you do, make sure to draw out the personal meaning behind your activity.

Prompt #2: Describe the world you come from (for example, your family, school, community, city, or town). How has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations?

At its essence, this prompt is a community essay. Depending on how you approach it, it could also take the shape of a diversity essay. But you’ll notice that it’s not just any ole community or diversity essay. It asks you to write specifically about how your background has influenced your goals.

Sounds simple enough, right?

Like most things in college admissions, it’s much easier said than done. In this essay, you’ll need to juggle a description of your world with an explanation of your goals. You’ll also need to tie the two together seamlessly. It’s a lot to ask.

You can probably break your essay into two sections: one that describes your background and another that explains how your background shaped your dreams and aspirations.

In this case, “your world” may be a single group, or it might be a combination of groups. If you choose a combination of groups to write about, know that your job will be a little more difficult. In reality, 200 words isn’t much space to fit a couple of long descriptions, so choose wisely.

The specific “dreams and aspirations” you choose are a key place to be strategic. Consider a few questions: Are your dreams or aspirations academic, cultural, values-based, or something else? What dreams or aspirations can you choose to subtly convey your academic or cultural fit for MIT? How can you demonstrate that you’re already working towards those goals and aspirations?

By the end of your essay, your admissions officer should have a clear picture of the context from which you come and the places you’re hoping to go.

Prompt #3: MIT brings people with diverse backgrounds and experiences together to better the lives of others. Our students work to improve their communities in different ways, from tackling the world’s biggest challenges to being a good friend. Describe one way you have collaborated with people who are different from you to contribute to your community.

We’ve got another community-meets-diversity essay. This is a complex prompt, so let’s skip the two introductory sentences and start by diagramming the main ask:

  1. Describe one way you have collaborated
  2. Specifically with people who are different from you
  3. In a way that ultimately contributed to your community.

Okay, perfect. Now let’s go back and look at those first two sentences. What do they tell you?

I’ll give you a hint: values.

MIT gives you a helping hand here by signaling what is most important to them. We have values like the act of coming together, making the lives of other people better, and improving our communities. More specifically, MIT doesn’t expect you to have completely overhauled your community. Even a simple act like being a good friend is enough.

With those values in mind, you can think about areas of your life where you’ve collaborated with people who are different from you in a way that contributed to your community. Your actions don’t have to be groundbreaking, but they do need to be genuine. Choosing an area of diversity like “they all have siblings but I’m an only child, so we had to figure out how to work together” can come across as inauthentic. Dig deep!

Prompt #4: Tell us about a significant challenge you’ve faced (that you feel comfortable sharing) or something that didn’t go according to plan. How did you manage the situation?

This prompt is all about what our fellow Redditor u/AdmissionsMom calls “more phoenix, fewer ashes.” The key to success is all about what you give the most attention to.

When reading this essay, MIT admissions officers don’t want you to linger on every gory detail of something challenging you’ve been through or of a time when something didn’t work out. That’s not the point of the essay.

The point of the essay is to give you space to acknowledge a challenge or obstacle while also giving you the opportunity to demonstrate your resilience, perseverance, and problem-solving abilities.

The bulk of your essay should be on answering the central question: How did you manage the situation? Your answer should focus on action steps, outcomes, and forward movement.

Also notice that the prompt doesn’t say “write about the worst thing that’s ever happened to you.” If you feel comfortable doing so and are able to stay focused on the outcomes, then you might consider it. But if not, then feel free to choose a less high-stakes challenge that was still genuinely difficult.

Heck, you don’t even have to write about a challenge. If you haven’t faced many challenges or would rather not go into them, you can also write about a time “something didn’t go according to plan.”

Some example topics might include:

  • Moving forward after a challenge or disappointment
  • Overcoming an instance of discrimination
  • Finding hope and momentum after a personal loss
  • Learning resilience after a personal failure or setback

This is your chance to show MIT admissions officers that you’re mature and capable of handling whatever challenges come your way.

Key Takeaways

It’s tiiiime! You’re ready to get to writing. Just remember: keep your application narrative in mind, think about the application strategy you developed in our How to Get into MIT guide, and don’t forget to be yourself.

If you’ve gotten through all of this and could still use some more support, we’ve got you covered: the Essay Academy is a comprehensive digital course that walks you through writing every kind of college essay. It’s a video course, so we’re able to go into even more depth.

Happy writing!

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