“We want people who are academically curious and passionate, people who will bring their various talents to MIT and share them with others, people who will be good roommates, good mentors, good friends. We do not admit test scores. We admit people.”
The MIT admissions interview has long been a staple of the application process. It’s the school’s opportunity to put a face and a personality to some of the thousands of applications they receive, so it’s important to put your best foot forward. It’s also your chance to discuss your goals and aspirations to be sure that MIT is the right fit for you.
In this article, you’ll find helpful tips on getting an interview, an explanation of the interview process, a list of sample MIT interview questions with advice on how to best approach them, and a list of frequently asked questions about the process.
The first step to rocking your MIT interview is getting an interview in the first place. With a 4.1% acceptance rate, the competition is stiff. However, there are many ways to ensure that your application gets rocketed to the top of the list.
In brief, you want to show MIT the best that you have to offer. High test scores can carry you some of the way (check out their breakdown of admission statistics for comparison), but they’re far from the most important element on the application.
In fact, Matt McGann, former admissions director, said that when reading applications, he would “glance at the test scores... before moving on to the more important parts of the application.” This is not to say that grades don’t matter, but with thousands of applicants, the vast majority of whom score highly on their tests, it’s not the only factor.
MIT wants to see how well you fit with their mission. It emphasizes that it wants to make the world better, so it wants to attract students who aspire to do the same. It looks for qualities such as leadership skills, a willingness to take risks, creativity and curiosity, and community orientation.
Above grades and test scores, MIT wants to see that you’ve spent your time focused “on becoming your best self by pursuing your interests, your aptitudes, and your education.” If you can emphasize these qualities in your essays, the admissions team will look upon your application far more favorably.
One way to highlight these qualities is through an explanation of your extracurricular activities. There is no list of extracurriculars that look better on an application than any others—what’s important is that you can showcase your qualities that align with MIT’s mission.
Beyond this, make sure you’re hitting the deadlines and requirements with lots of time to spare and monitor your email closely. The interview offer will come through the email address you provided on your application, and it will be your responsibility to schedule it from there.
If you’ve been offered an interview, take it.
If the interview is waived, it won’t affect MIT’s final decision, but it’s not a good look to turn down an interview offer. Educational Counselor (EC) Chris Su’s primary piece of advice is, “please do it. We like talking to you. Really!”
If you’ve been selected for an interview, you’ll get an email from your EC. This is where the relationship starts. Be prompt in responding, and be friendly and respectful throughout any further correspondence. First impressions are very important, so you’ll want to show them the best of who you are from the beginning.
The interview won’t be too formal an affair, so there’s no need to wear your best dress or a three-piece suit. As long as you’re looking professional and feeling comfortable, you don’t need to worry too much about what you’re wearing.
You can expect the interview to last approximately an hour, although it could range anywhere from thirty minutes to 2 hours. Whatever the length, don’t take that as a good or bad sign. As long as the conversation flows smoothly, the length of the interview isn’t an indicator of how you’re doing.
MIT suggests that you “think through stories or examples that will give your interviewer a vivid sense of your passions and aspirations.” What are your ambitions? What drives you? Passion and excitement are contagious, so if you come prepared to talk about your favorite things, you’ll be setting yourself up for success.
What’s important is to avoid one-word answers. You’ll shine in the interview when you answer their questions in a genuine, thoughtful way. You don’t need to follow a script, but you’ll do well if you show that you’re engaged in the process and excited to talk about it.
Come prepared with questions of your own. EC Kim Hunter says she loves answering questions about her experiences at MIT. It’s a two-way conversation, after all, so she’s always happy to provide information. She emphasizes, though, that the questions should be intelligent.
“Just like you wouldn’t go to a job interview and ask what the company does, don’t come to your MIT interview and ask overly simplistic questions,” Hunter says. She wants to see that you’ve done your research and that you know what you’re looking for in a school.
Try not to be too nervous. Of course, that’s easier said than done, but they don’t want to put you through any undue stress. There are no “correct” answers to the interview questions. Every interview is unique because at its core it’s just a conversation between two individuals.
Chris Su’s main advice is to be sincere, punctual, and polite. If you’re hitting those notes, you should be absolutely fine. It’s a conversation, he emphasizes, not an oral exam.
The interviews are conducted by alumni, so there’s a ton of diversity among the pool of ECs. The Alumni Association has a series of profiles on notable alumni who run the gamut of entrepreneurs, engineers, research scientists, and data analysts, to name a few.
You’ll know who your EC is when they reach out to schedule the interview. At that point, of course, you can Google them—Kim Hunter says that she isn’t put off by this, but you shouldn’t rely too heavily on what you find. She cautions against trying to connect with them on social media before the interview, as this will seem unprofessional.
“The interview is about you,” says Chris Su, so while it never hurts to “be inquisitive,” you should come prepared to talk extensively about yourself. He wants to advocate for the prospective students whom he interviews, but he can only do that if they first advocate for themselves!
MIT values wellness and a balanced life, and so does former admissions director Matt McGann. He once advised a student who was concerned about her test scores to “have a picnic” instead of retaking the SATs.
The most important thing to remember is that ECs are people too. They’re not sitting in the room with a secret checklist, nor are they waiting for you to say the wrong thing so they can reject you. They’re invested in your education, and they want you to succeed.
To prepare for your interview, here are some of the most common questions and some tips for approaching them.
This is by far the most common interview question you can expect to hear. With this question, the interviewer wants to know that you’ve done your research into the school and that you’ve come to an informed decision. Be precise about what MIT has to offer and what you hope to learn if you attend.
This is another incredibly common question. Be prepared to give a concise but well-rounded answer—Chris Su suggests a one-minute response with key details about your upbringing, your interests, and your goals. This is to establish a foundation that you can build upon for the rest of the interview.
Extracurricular activities can showcase your connection and engagement with your school, and can emphasize your leadership skills, initiative, and ability to collaborate. These are all qualities MIT looks for in their applicants.
Limit your answer to three things. You don’t need to give a long list of all your accolades, you’ll just want to let them know what you care about and how you spend your time.
Community engagement is important to MIT. Again, limit your answer to three things. Your interviewer wants to understand your passions and the ways that you connect to the wider community. This is a great way to show you have a balanced life, which is important to MIT.
This is your opportunity to show yourself off! While humility is generally a virtue, in this question you can highlight what makes you shine. Think about some things you’ve done worth bragging about and frame them to relate to what MIT looks for in a successful applicant.
This is always a tricky question to answer. Don’t talk about something that’s actually a strength (i.e. “sometimes I can be too organized!”). Your interviewer will see right through this. Instead, try to be honest, but not overly self-deprecating. When was the last time you failed at something and what did you learn from the experience? Start there.
Still feeling nervous about the MIT interview? Here are some FAQs to put your mind at ease.
If you’ve been selected for an interview, your interviewer will reach out via email. Monitor it closely, because it’ll be your job to schedule the interview from there. Check your spam or junk mailbox, too, in case the email gets blocked.
MIT wants to get to know who you are beyond your grades and test scores. The interview is an opportunity to get to know you as an individual to see how you fit into the larger MIT community. It’s also your chance to talk to an alumnus about the school to see if you really want to go there.
Somebody from the MIT Alumni Association will interview you. You’ll know who it is once they reach out to schedule the interview.
Firstly, don’t bring your transcripts, test scores, or recommendation letters. The ECs aren’t supposed to have that information.
Kim Hunter suggests bringing something cool, something that showcases an interest or a talent so that a portion of the interview can be akin to show-and-tell. This isn’t mandatory, but it’ll give you something to connect over, and can help you stand out from the rest of the interviewees.
Finally, bring your questions! This is your chance to talk to somebody who’s been there—they want to answer your questions about student life, classes, picking a major, or whatever else you’re curious about. Chris Su says that if somebody asks him something he doesn’t have an answer for, he’ll look it up and get back to them.
You’ll want to look professional, but feel comfortable. Don’t wear pajamas, but don’t dress for the opera either. You should feel confident going into the interview, so your choice of outfit should be whatever makes you feel your best.
Your EC will write a report about the interview. The report goes into your application folder for the admissions committee to review. You don’t have to do anything else at this stage. Your application is complete!
You’re not required to accept the interview, but you should take it if it’s offered. It’ll show the school that you’re serious about attending. In 2010, for example, they admitted 15% of applicants who either interviewed or had it waived, but only 5% of applicants who turned it down.
That’s okay! Even with over 5,000 volunteer ECs from the Alumni Association, there aren’t enough people to interview each applicant. Don’t stress if you don’t get offered an interview—it won’t adversely impact your application.
The MIT interview can seem daunting, but remember, the ECs genuinely care about you. Ben Jones, former Director of Communications for the MIT Office of Admissions says, “I have a list of all the applicants whose stories really changed my life.” The connection you form in the interview can last a lifetime.
If you take one thing away, let it be this: the MIT admissions interview is not an interrogation. It’s a conversation with a person. Come prepared, certainly, but don’t overthink it. According to MIT’s own website, the most important thing is to be yourself!