Mit Essays Undergrad

I had never considered a PhD until late in my undergraduate degree. Most students in my program were either grabbing one-year master's degrees or becoming entry-level grunts at consumer goods or biomedical device companies. I remember a career fair where I talked to a recent graduate who was working as an entry-level engineer at Proctor & Gamble. He discussed at length about how riveting it was working on improving the "absorptivity of tampons at the molecular level.” 

Really, dude? That’s riveting?  

No, no. That was not for me. So… PhD?  

Unfortunately, I didn’t know a single other person applying to a PhD program — so I applied to 13 of them (because nobody told me that was an absurd number). The last application I sent in was to MIT, on the last day, because I didn’t think I had a shot. I remember hovering my finger over the submit button, weighing the $75 application fee against 75 one-dollar beers at my favorite college bar. Senior year priorities…  

So, how did I land at MIT? In all honesty, I probably got a little lucky. But I also had a strong research background, I identified professors with whom I wanted to work, and I articulated why in my personal statement. In addition, two of my recommendation writers had personal connections to MIT. Those connections count, a lot.  

It’s really hard to write a strong application, for almost anything, if you don’t have an idea about what is supposed to be included. For graduate schools, the information just isn’t available on application websites. If your school doesn’t have institutional knowledge about how to be a strong grad school candidate or rarely sends students to PhD programs, how can you expect to compete?   

When I became a writing fellow at the Biological Engineering (BE) Communication Lab last year, I got a more formal introduction to the ingredients that make a strong application. It’s actually a recipe: 1 cup of your motivation, 3 cups of research experience, a teaspoon of name dropping, and a dash of personality and honesty. In the end, you really need to show you are qualified, and that you are a match for the program. As a Communication Lab fellow, I continue to conduct workshops for MIT undergraduates on how to write personal statements, and I offer one-on-one coaching. I also edit essays of friends that are applying. 

This work has fueled a broader interest of mine in the graduate admissions admission process for my program. Traditionally, students have not been a part of the decisions, but thinking we could have an impact on the stack of applications that the committee reviews (and knowing that some other programs like this existed already at MIT), I co-developed the Biological Engineering Application Assistance Program (BEAAP). BEAAP is a simple addition to BE’s application website where current students help review prospective applicants’ personal statements or answer questions about the department or application process — a “friend of a friend” for those who don’t have one.  

Our hope is that this begins to level the playing field. We can’t change how much research experience or publications an applicant has, or the name recognition of their letter writers or university, but we can help them mold their essays to address self-identified gaps and highlight why they are a match for the program.  

We rolled out BEAAP this year: 36 students applied to the program, and 30 enthusiastic graduate students volunteered to help. Excitingly, a majority of students who participated in BEAAP reported that participating strengthened their graduate application. Next year, we are planning more targeted outreach to underrepresented groups and colleges, and would love to see other departments create similar programs.

Cambridge, MA has more than just one powerhouse university. Not too far from Harvard is also Massachusetts Institute Technology, which is more commonly referred to as MIT. For those dreaming for a career science and engineering, MIT is bound to be on the top of the list. But with an acceptance rate of just 7.8% for the most recent Class of 2020, how can you one of the lucky few with the winning ticket? Take a look at the following essay intros from MIT students on AdmitSee:


Class of 2020

If my life were a play, there would be two sets, two acts, and two sets of characters. Like many first-generation Americans, I was born in the US to immigrant parents who spoke a foreign language, cooked foreign foods, and lived a foreign lifestyle in a crime-ridden community on the “wrong side” of the SEPTA tracks. But, unlike my neighbors, I was shipped away. Keep reading. 



Class of 2019

Numerous elementary and middle students my age were looking forward for the school day to conclude with the final bell. I, however, did not represent the typical student as I dreaded the end of the school day. While my classmates welcomed the afternoon by playing outside and enjoying the day, I would arrive home only to aid my family in our restaurant. Read on. 


Class of 2020

The blare of the buzzer reverberates throughout my living quarters at 05:00 every morning.

Today’s uniform: faded red sweater and my favorite pair of knock-off vans. “Time to head out,” but before I leave, I check to see if my guardian is awake to continue the morning procedure. At 06:01 exactly, I start my 2 hour and 14 minutes commute to school. View full profile. 


Class of 2018

I recite ancient Chinese poems, but adore Jane Austen. I devour spicy chicken feet, but drool for ballpark franks. I dream in Chinese, but think in English. 10 years ago, my family moved to China from the US, and bridging these two cultures has  become part of my identity. Every morning, I take the bus to an American school next to a fishing village in the outskirts of Shanghai. As I step off the bus, uniformed guards greet me with a bright-eyed “Goo-da morning!” To the school, they are local employees who ensure the safety of our community. But to me, they are optimistic students, motivated learners, and the highlight of my week. Keep reading. 


Class of 2019

There is a hefty blue book in my bookcase that is older than any other book in the house. Across its spine are emblazoned the words My First Encyclopedia. For others this book might have served as a passing interest or an occasional point of reference; for me, it was the quiet, unremarked, yet vastly monumental introduction into a life shaped by the tenets of science. Read full essay. 

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About The Author

Frances Wong

Frances was born in Hong Kong and received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University. She loves super sad drama television, cooking, and reading. Her favorite person on Earth isn’t actually a member of the AdmitSee team - it’s her dog Cooper.

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