How to get into MIT as an international student

How to get into MIT as an international student

“It’s a living lab.” That’s what the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is to its very own proud students. When Barack Obama visited MIT in October 2009, he used a few more words to describe the institute’s awe-inspiring culture of innovation, and entrepreneurship: “It is the legacy of daring young men and women . . . willing to take risks on an idea that might fail, but might also change the world.”

The reason for MIT’s is simple: it is the world’s best educational institution on several counts, a fact attested by reputed educational surveys time and again, including those of QS, Times Higher Education, and US News. The QS Top Universities List 2018 put MIT at the very summit in a comparison of over 950 institutions from 84 countries. Stanford came second, Harvard third, Caltech fourth, and the UK’s University of Cambridge fifth. The criteria were academic reputation (40 percent weight), employer reputation (10 percent), faculty-student ratio (20 percent), citations per faculty (20 percent), international faculty ratio (5 percent), and international student ratio (5 percent).

Founded in 1861, MIT admitted its first batch of freshmen in 1865, as part of an effort by reputed natural scientist William Barton Rogers to establish a university that would help industrialize the US. The quality of academics, student selection, professors and students, and research and labs, and the academic flexibility offered to students, make its campus, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a dream educational destination.

Popular culture tributes to MIT include films, TV series, books, and comic strips, which have motifs inspired by the institute or references to its culture of meritocracy. The films include Good Will Hunting (winner of two Oscars) and Blown Away, TV series Arrested Development and The Big Bang Theory, books include those by Kurt Vonnegut and Isaac Asimov, and comic strips include Doonesbury and Dilbert.

But MIT’s USP is its tradition of transforming ideas born in its labs into hugely successful businesses. MIT students have launched so many companies that Bill Clinton described it as “the best technology transfer program in the country.” The revenues of companies founded by MIT put together would make up the 11th biggest economy in the world. And it is a growing economy: students continue to launch start-ups by the dozen after entering an MIT competition and winning $100,000 seed money.

In 2011 alone, 694 inventions were born at MIT. Over the years, the inventions out of MIT have included microchips, ethernet, email, GPS, computer games, OpenCourseWare, transistor radio, fax machines, solar power, spread sheet, refined oil, nuclear fission, artificial skin, and disposal razor, to name only a few. About 20 research centers on the campus explore topics from cancer research to ocean engineering and nanotechnology.

Many of MIT’s professors alumni are legends in their fields: Tim Berners-Lee, the man behind the World Wide Web, was once a professor at MIT. Alumni include Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Nobel Laureates Richard Feynman and Paul Krugman, GM CEO Alfred Sloan, and Amar Bose of Bose Corporation. As of 2017, 88 Nobel laureates have been affiliated with MIT.
 

How to get into MIT as an international student

 

How difficult is it to get into MIT? Selectivity statistics

According to statistics of the class entering in the fall of 2017, there were 20,247 freshmen applicants, but only 1,452 admits (acceptance rate 7.2 percent). Applicants included 15,594 US citizens or permanent residents, and 1,317 (8.4 percent) were admitted. As many as 4,653 were international applicants, and 135 (2.9 percent) were admitted.

The student body composition as of December 31, 2017, was 4,493 students in undergraduate courses (including 470 international students, or 10.46 percent), and 6,797 students in graduate courses (2,868 international students, or 42.2 percent).

Of the total students of 12,950, international students comprised 3,941, or 30.43 percent. Of the international students, 947 (24.03 percent of international students) were Chinese, 368 (9.34 percent) Indian, 277 (7.03 percent) Canadian, 226 (5.73) South Korean, and 123 (3.12 percent) French.
 

Mind your language

The admissions process is the same for all students, including international students, with the exception of a language requirement, which varies from department to department.

Applicants whose first language is not English must provide proof of their ability to study in English. Qualifying applicants must take TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or the IELTS (International English Language Testing System).

Waiver of the English language requirement may be given to students who have done their primary and secondary schooling in English, and to students who have been in the US for four years or longer and have received a degree from a US institution.
 

Master’s degree requirements

For master’s degrees at the MIT, a minimum of one academic year of study is necessary, and for engineering degrees, two years. The application process may vary between departments. However, all graduate-level applicants must apply online to MIT through the online portal.

Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree from a reputed university, and submit their CV/resume, letters of recommendation, a statement of objectives, GRE score, TOEFL/IELTS score, and transcripts. The application fee for MIT master’s degrees is $75; it is between $75 and $250 for the MIT Sloan School of Management. Information on the limited financial aid available and details of passport and entry requirements and visa options are available on the website gradadmissions.mit.ed.

Most departments demand past good work not only in the applicant’s specific area of interest but also in mathematics and the physical sciences. Some of them accept applicants with just one year of college-level study in these two areas. Applicants interested in more than one department need to submit separate applicants.

Applicants’ academic and professional acumen is gleaned from their academic records and from letters of recommendation from persons who are familiar with the applicant’s work. Top academic scores do not guarantee admission but indicate to MIT whether the candidate can meet the demanding graduate academic requirements.

An applicant’s performance on standardized tests such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), TOFEL, and IELTS is an important criterion for admission. A few MIT management programs accept GMAT scores. TOEFL/IELTS may be waived by a few departments for applicants from English-speaking universities. No GRE waiver is available.
 

Student bloggers’ tips

Getting into MIT requires many months of preparation, says a blogger, Dishita T. (Architecture) student from Mumbai, in the “Being International” section of MIT’s graduate admissions blog. Most graduate applicants would be employed, and it requires some effort to prepare for student life once again. They would have to prepare for GRE and at the same time compose an academic and professional portfolio, reach out to professors from a distant past for recommendation letters, and look at funding options. And then there is the statement of purpose to write.

Statement of purpose is an important part of the application, points out Amanda C. Biological Engineering) in her blog post. An applicant should show that he/she is qualified by quantifying and interpreting experiences, she says, giving examples.

Instead of writing “I am intelligent and hardworking,” which may invite the question, “OK, so what?” try “On top of a full semester course load, I committed to at least 15 hours a week of research to complete a bachelor’s thesis, which was recognized with distinction.”

Along with quantifying, interpreting is also important. Instead of saying “I served as a TA [teacher’s assistant] for three years, and I learned how to manage students and provide one-on-one instruction,” say “I provided one-on-one instruction for about 20 students . . . and I enjoyed interacting with my students because it challenged me to come up with different approaches for thinking about the same concept.”

Once you have shown that you qualify, you need to also show that you match MIT’s objectives and mission, says Amanda. In your personal statement, include only qualifications that are relevant. You could go by key words and phrases in the institute’s/department’s mission statement to know which of their qualifications are relevant. Additionally, make sure to stress your values that match the philosophy of the institute.

Giving her recipe for getting in, Lauren S. (Biological Engineering) says in her blog that she had a strong research background prior to coming to MIT. She says she identified professors she wanted to work with and explained why in her personal statement. That two of her recommenders had personal connections with MIT helped. Like many other successful candidates, she felt lucky to get in, she writes.

Lauren says your application should show that you are motivated, present your research experience, do some “name dropping,” and add a “dash of personality and honesty.” Her department is running a program to help students improve their graduate applications.
 

Student expenses

Studying at MIT is hard on the pocket as well. The cost of living in the Cambridge-Boston area is among the highest in the US. Health care plan, child care expenses, and housing depend on the size of families of attending graduate students. The admissions office needs to be convinced that an applicant has the financial resources to meet these expenses, which are typically highest in the first few months after arrival, with temporary accommodation in hotels, meals in restaurants, advance payment of rent, and deposits for phone and power.

The nine-month graduate academic year (2017-18) expenses were estimated at a total of $77,000-$92,000 (including tuition $50,000, housing $8,000-$18,000 for three-bedroom shared suite to two-bedroom private apartment). Students continuing their research over the summer benefit from the summer tuition subsidy but need to pay for any additional classes and on-campus housing.
 

Funding

Academic departments provide most of the funding to MIT graduate students. Support can be in the form of research and teaching assistantships, fellowships, traineeships, scholarships, and grants, and is provided based on merit or need or a combination of both.
 

MIT Sloan requirements

As for business management studies, MIT Sloan offers a two-year, full-time MBA, its flagship program. Sloan also offers Master of Finance, Master of Business Analytics, Master of Science in Management Studies, System Design in Management program, and a doctoral program. Executive programs are also available: the Sloan Fellows Program (12-month, full-time executive MBA program), Executive MBA (20-month executive-schedule program for midcareer professionals), and nondegree executive education programs (see link at Ref. No. 27, below).

The MBA application requirements include a cover letter and resume, optional essay or video statement, two letters of recommendation, transcripts, and GRE/GMAT scores. TOEFL/IELTS scores are not required. The application fee is $250. Interviews are conducted by the admissions committee.
 

Tips for Sloan

MIT Sloan places emphasis on diversity while admitting students, points out Marina Pustovalova from Kazakhstan in a YouTube video. She points out that the most overrepresented group is Indian male with an IT background, and that applicants from overrepresented groups need to have a strong application, including a high GMAT score (above 700; the average for the Class of 2019 was 722, and the range 690-760). Because Sloan is very selective (7 percent acceptance rate), it makes sense to apply to up to six schools, she says.

Pustovalova says the admissions office takes a holistic approach to deciding on admissions. For example, if you have a lower GMAT, you can compensate that by a higher GPA, etc. Pay attention to every detail of your application. For example, the recommendation letters: remember that the best letters are ones that come from the heart of your manager or supervisor and your professor giving his/her experience of communicating and working with you.

About funding the MBA program, Marina says students shouldn’t be afraid to take loans, because 95 percent of Sloan students find jobs within three months of graduation with salaries over $100,000 (for the Class of 2016, the mean salary was $125,000 and the range $40,000-$200,000).
 

Life through students’ eyes

First the weather. For students used to sunnier climes, Cambridge. MA, may provide the jitters. But on the bright side, you will learn to appreciate a good day, writes graduate student (Materials Science and Engineering) Patrick Y.

But the weather does nothing to dampen the fun and flavor of a unique culture. For example, MITians believe that 4 am is a good time to go on a trek on long winding paths to “explore the highest of buildings and the darkest of tunnels.” The exact time may be 4.05 am, as traditional MIT Standard Time seems to be always running five minutes behind local real time, whether it is classes or games, Patrick remarks.

The Telegraph quotes PhD student Brian Spatocco as saying that it is MIT’s “creative irreverence” that sets it apart. An example of this irreverence is the tradition known as hacking. Students are encouraged to use their engineering skills to pull pranks, often at the expense of the institute. Among the most famous include a police car placed atop the university’s Great Dome in honor of 9/11 victims. The students involved are not punished nor are credits given, and they have to remain anonymous.

Diversity is the slogan, and it can be seen even in the dorms, says former PhD student Rishab Jain in his Quora post. It is not just about admitting international students but in the campus attitudes, values, and culture. Grad and undergrad students mingle during research programs. Sloan is also very well integrated with the rest of the campus, he says.

Another PhD student, Todd Anderson, recalls MIT’s support after he was mugged near his apartment and suffered a serious head injury. He was given the best medical care possible, his family was flown in, and even his diet was closely supervised, all at no cost to him.

Jeffrey Scott Poore, another MIT student, says the institute’s reputation as being hard and nerdy is only partially justified. True, everyone is smart, but there are introverts and also the most outgoing people. Fun activities around the campus range from baseball games and sailing to beach strolls and walking tours. Students learn to do things at their own pace instead of trying to keep up with the geniuses. They realize that you don’t have to be in a competition all the time.
 

Careers

According to a survey by MIT’s career development office in 2017, about 54 percent of bachelor’s degree holders and 81 percent of post-graduates took up full-time employment, and 37 percent and 11 percent, respectively, went on to graduate/professional school.

Graduates received an average of 1.8 job offers. For bachelor’s graduates, internship (34 percent), career fair (27 percent), on-campus recruiting (25 percent), networking (21 percent), and direct application to employers (15 percent) helped find jobs (the total is more than 100 percent as graduates could choose all methods that applied to them). For postgraduates, networking (27 percent), on-campus recruiting (23 percent), internship (15 percent), direct application (13 percent), and returning to previous employers (10 percent) were the most successful paths to employment.

The top industries for June 2017 bachelor’s graduates were computer software, consulting, aerospace, financial services, and engineering, and for master’s graduates consulting, computer software, industrial and consumer manufacturing, military, and engineering.
 

Recruiters, salary

Among the top recruiters of bachelor’s degree holders were Google, Microsoft, GM, Accenture, Facebook, and Amazon, recruiters of master’s graduates Amazon, McKinsey, US Military, Deloitte Consulting, Facebook, Apple, and Google. The top MBA recruiters included Amazon, McKinsey, Bain, BCG, Deloitte, Facebook, IBM, and PwC.

The median salary for 2017 SB (or BS, Bachelor of Science) graduates was $85,000 (median bonus $10,000), for SM (MS) $85,000 (bonus $10,000), for Master’s of Engineering $115,000 (bonus $25,000), and MBA $130,000 (bonus $25,000).
 

‘Best in Cambridge, MA’

The Telegraph recalls that Barack Obama, addressing an MIT gathering in 2009, started his speech saying that it was a dream come true to visit the most prestigious school in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There was thunderous applause. “Hold on a minute,” the President said, and then corrected himself, “Certainly the most prestigious school in this part of Cambridge, Massachusetts.” The unstated reference was to MIT’s giant neighbor, Harvard University, just over 3 km away.

Today, after securing the numero uno ranking from QS for the sixth consecutive year and top ratings from other evaluators, MIT might now persuade Obama to leave out any reference, stated or unstated, to its great rival during his next visit.

ALso read:
16 things every MIT Sloan MBA student should know
MS from MIT on full scholarship with average GRE score
How I got into MIT
MIT Sloan MBA: Admissions Director Interview
MIT SCMr vs Ross MSCM with scholarship: An admit reviews two top SCM masters degrees
Sloan Fellows Program Review: MIT vs LBS vs Stanford – MBA after 30
 
References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27 | Image credit: Sangam @ MIT


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5 Comments

  1. Nivedan says:

    Hi,

    I heard getting the ‘USA’ visa is hard when we have work experience of more than 2 years as the embassy assumes that such people are already quite self sustaining in life and would want to migrate.

    How true is this?

    And do you recommend doing an MBA right after UG if the above statement is strongly agreed?

  2. ThePaddler says:

    Regards,
    Sir, I’ll be completing my BTech in IT Branch from Government College with 8.2 CGPA in 2K18. Would it be good for me to apply for Harvard’s or not, in this very year only till December. But the major point is that Sir, I don’t have any experience of working in any of the industry.

    *But I do have the knowledge about the SAP ERP, its BI module, Hadoop and Spark. Would it be helpful is anyway.

  3. Sangmesh H says:

    Sir My 10th Percentage is 63%,12th percentage is 66% and Graduation (B.Com)82%

    And I have experience of 4 years in Banking industry(Public sector Bank)

    About my GMAT preparation I am doing it well and I am hoping 750+ in GMAT exam

    Sir my question is does my 10th and 12th Percentage stops me to get in IIM B?

  4. shiwani says:

    respected sir,
    will you tell me scholarship criteria ?on what basis we get scholarship ?and on what score we can get ?and how much they provide us scholarship?

  5. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Nivedan: Not true. The top bschools get applicants who have around 5 years experience, and quite ‘self sustaining in life’ to use your qualifier. An MBA immediately after UG is a bad idea though.

    @ThePaddler: You can consider the HBS 2+2 program, but it’ll be too early for the regular Harvard MBA. Having some technical knowledge won’t go far. Read how you can get into harvard: https://www.mbacrystalball.com/blog/2016/01/18/how-to-get-into-harvard-business-school/

    @Sangmesh: Your 10th and 12th grades won’t matter. Read what admission officers look for: https://www.mbacrystalball.com/blog/2015/11/23/what-admission-officers-in-business-schools-want/

    @Shiwani: Here’s all you need to know about GMAT scholarships: https://www.mbacrystalball.com/blog/2013/02/02/gmat-scholarships/

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