Massachusetts Institute of Technology


The MIT educational experience is like a series of “ah-ha!” revelations that students build into an arsenal for attacking problems—and it will happen to you no matter what you major in. Everyone—this includes philosophy majors as well as physics majors—must take a year of calculus, a year of physics, a term of chemistry and a term of biology. There are other institute-level requirements (such as eight humanities, arts, or social science classes and a laboratory course) but it’s really the science core that sets a quantitative ability standard for all undergraduates. This standard makes MIT students extremely attractive to graduate schools, professional schools, and potential employers. And it provides for an unusual sense of community—how many other schools can you name where everyone is able to solve a reasonably complex kinematics problem?

This doesn’t mean that the only people who belong at MIT are mathematicians, physicists, and engineers. Quantitative thinkers don’t necessarily manipulate equations for a living, and there’s certainly a need for more of them in policy-making positions. John Deutch, an MIT alumnus and professor, lamented the lack of technical literacy in the higher levels of government during his tenure as Director of the CIA:

…probably two people in the Cabinet could solve quadratic equations. If you include deputies, you might have four. And three of them will have gone to MIT.

If you’re still trying to figure out whether MIT is the place for you, consider the following two questions: Does “fuzzy thinking” bother you? Do you want to learn how to critically assess problems in whatever discipline interests you (whether it’s mechanical engineering or political science)? If you can answer both with an enthusiastic “Yes!” then there’s no better place for you academically than MIT.

Information Summary

Ranks 1st in Massachusetts and 2nd overall. See the entire top 2,000 colleges and universities list
Overall Score (about) 99.6
Total Cost On-Campus Attendance $70,240
Admission Success rate N/A
ACT / SAT 75%ile scores 36 / 1570
Student Ratio Students-to-Faculty 8 : 1
Retention (full-time / part-time) 99% / N/A
Enrollment Total (all students) 11,574


First, a general overview. MIT is divided into five schools: Architecture; Engineering; Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences; Management; and Science. Within those schools there are twenty-two academic departments (such as Brain and Cognitive Science, Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, Mathematics). Most departments offer several majors, all of which are variations on a theme. Students aren’t expected to declare a major until the end of their freshman year, so you don’t need to apply to a particular school or department as an undergraduate; when you’re admitted to MIT, you’re admitted to all of MIT. Here’s one student’s perspective on the importance of this:

This lack of bureaucracy pervades MIT’s entire approach to education. With the exception of a few humanities courses, students never have to deal with being lotteried out of oversubscribed classes. You can add a class as late as five weeks into the term and drop a class as late as five weeks before the end of the term. After freshman year, there are no limits on the number of classes you can take per term or the number of majors you can declare, as long as your advisor approves the decision (which is a rubber-stamp process for students who are performing well). Many students double major. Undergraduates can also register for graduate-level classes, which offer a very different type of educational experience: most graduate courses meet in a small room with very few students and one professor. The topics in these courses are usually closely related to the professor’s current area of research, and the class feels more like a discussion than a lecture.

It didn’t really occur to me that the lack of administrative hassle would turn out to be such a vital thing. I switched majors twice: from architecture to biology and from biology to chemistry, and each time all I needed to do was get a signature from my advisor. I was horrified to hear stories from friends at other colleges who needed to write a long petition to switch majors, or go through a mini-admissions process to get into another department. If I had been asked to choose a major straight out of high school, it would have been a random choice, at best.


As for the undergraduate classes, there’s a lot of variation in the presentation format. Most of the freshman science core courses consist of three lectures and two recitation sections per week. Lectures for these courses have between 200 and 300 students, but recitations are limited to about twenty students per instructor, giving a lot of opportunity for individualized instruction. Departments also offer variants on the basic core courses, so while the standard freshman calculus class has the format described above, the theoretical version of freshman calculus has far fewer students in its lectures. In addition to the other flavors of the science core classes, MIT has different versions of the freshman year program itself. Concourse, the Experimental Studies Group (ESG), the Terrascope Program, and the Media Arts and Sciences (MAS) Freshman Program, all offer alternative, innovative approaches to teaching the freshman curriculum. These programs are limited in size (between twenty-four and sixty students in each) and are first-come, first-served, so if you’re interested in learning more about them, do your research before showing up on campus.


The institute gives Advanced Placement credit for some classes if you score well enough on your AP exams, and in many cases will accept transfer credit from another college. Advanced standing exams are also offered by MIT, and if you pass them you receive credit. More than three-quarters of MIT’s enrolling freshmen receive some sort of advanced credit, but no matter how much credit you have, MIT does not offer sophomore standing to firstterm freshmen (although second-term sophomore standing is offered in the second term).


There is a limit on the number of classes freshmen can take and there is one other major difference between the first term of the freshman year and the remainder of the MIT undergraduate experience: Pass/No Record. This refers to the grading system used for freshmen. If you earn an A, B, or C in a course, it appears as a P on your transcript. Ds and Fs do not appear on the external transcript at all—it will simply look as though you had never even registered for the course. There are three reasons why MIT has this system of grading: to level the playing field for students from different high school backgrounds; to get students acclimated to the MIT way of thinking and problem solving; and to allow students to explore a little (academically or otherwise) without fear of receiving a bad grade.

Many prospective students want to know if the freshman year is difficult. “Different” would be a better word. Generally speaking, if you’re bright enough to be admitted to MIT, you’re more than bright enough to handle the material. For students with advanced high school preparation, most of the core classes will feel like accelerated versions of the material in high school with slightly more complicated homework, longer tests, and some interesting stories thrown into the lecture. If you’re truly bored with the standard fare, try one of the theoretical versions of calculus or physics; even the brightest, most academically prepared students find these courses to be quite challenging.

Seeking Help

Students with less rigorous background training might have more of a shock; if you’ve never seen a vector before, freshman physics might appear somewhat alien to you at first. Here’s a hint: If you don’t understand something after fifteen minutes, ask someone. More often than not, it will take a knowledgeable person five minutes to explain something that could take you hours to extract from a book. MIT does offer one-on-one tutors for the science core classes, but it’s usually easier to grab the first available upperclassman for help. In fact, upperclassmen often look for freshmen working on problem sets. That may sound bizarre, but there are a few reasons for this apparent selflessness:

  • All upperclassmen have taken the core courses, so they are familiar with the material.
  • There’s no freshman dormitory, so upperclassmen and freshmen occupy the same living space.
  • Realistically, all MIT students are a touch egotistical at heart; they enjoy being able to demonstrate their knowledge.

So even though they’re not necessarily altruists, the upperclassmen are a fantastic resource for the freshman class.

After freshman year, it’s difficult to make sweeping claims about academic life. What people choose as a major drastically affects their experience. Generally speaking, the classes become much smaller and more specialized. Engineering courses, design courses, and laboratory courses will be very different from anything you’re likely to have seen in high school. They’ll be more time consuming as well (some classes are notorious for this). One student had the following comment:

I had never touched a computer before coming to MIT, so the first time I took a programming class, I had a lot to learn: how to use a text editor, how to move files around—some really basic stuff. Many of the other students in the class had been programming for years, which was sort of intimidating, and on the first problem set, I spent all night (from 5:00 P.M. to 8:00 A.M.) in front of a computer and accomplished literally nothing. I was going to drop the class, but a friend offered to come in and show me the essentials, so I took her up on the offer. We spent about four hours working, and it was enough to give me an overview of what I needed to do. I stayed with the course, and ended up earning an A in it. Looking back, it’s hard for me to imagine why I thought it was so complicated at first, but I guess that’s because I actually learned something.

Engineering Contest and Other Projects

Some MIT courses are so different, they’re famous. One of the mechanical engineering design classes requires students to build a small robot, which they ultimately operate against other robots in a huge contest. This is a cult experience at MIT; many of the people who take the class are not even mechanical engineering majors! The contest itself is held in a large lecture hall in front of a packed audience, and it’s televised for the viewers at home. There’s an electrical engineering version of the same contest in which the robots must be equipped with an automatic controller. For one of the architecture design courses, students develop visual projects that they display publicly. So, for a few weeks during the term, sandboxes, statues, performance artists, and thought-provoking signs can be found everywhere on campus.

Nonengineering Classes

MIT is often thought of as primarily a science and engineering school, but in reality it’s more of an analytical thinking school. MIT’s economics, management, political science, and philosophy programs are all top-notch. In particular, economics and management are always ranked as one of the top three programs in the country. For some reason, math and music go hand-in-hand, so the music department is phenomenal; moreover, MIT students can cross-register for classes at both Harvard and Wellesley, so if you’re really dying to take a course in Sanskrit, that’s not an adequate reason to avoid MIT. h3. IAP/UROP

There are two other very unique elements to MIT academics: the Independent Activities Period (IAP) and the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). IAP takes place during January, and it’s like a miniature, optional, month-long term. Students can decide for themselves whether they want to be at MIT for those four weeks, but the vast majority of students stay. Some students choose to do a wide variety of one-day seminars and projects, some students take classes (often for credit), and others work. Here’s a small sampling of the noncredit activities offered during IAP: the 19th Annual Paper Airplane Contest, Basic Darkroom Techniques, Blackjack 101, Computers and the Human Genome Project, Hebrew Reading Literacy in Eight Hours, Intro to British Politics, Practical NMR Spectroscopy. For-credit classes included: Intro to Special Relativity, Special Problems in Architecture, IAP Japan Workshop (which included a three-week stay in Japan), Intro to Neuroanatomy, Experiencing Health Policy: A Week in D.C., Foreign Currency Exchange, Intensive German. There are hundreds of course offerings during IAP; for a complete listing of last year’s activities as well as detailed descriptions of the events, check out

The majority of students who work during IAP will probably do so through UROP, which is quite arguably one of the best things about MIT. In this program, undergraduate students work on a research project at MIT. UROP isn’t limited to a select few, nor are the projects watered-down pedagogical tools. More than eighty percent of all students choose to get a UROP at some point in their undergraduate careers. The projects themselves are ongoing research efforts, so undergraduates work together with professors, graduate students, and “postdocs.”

With a little motivation, undergraduates can even coauthor research papers with the group, and there’s no better way to cultivate a good faculty reference for later use. UROP enables students to interact with professors as colleagues, not just teachers; it also gives undergraduates an excellent sense for what graduate studies in a particular field would be like. On top of all this, students actually get paid for their work in UROP so they don’t have to choose between meeting financial need and doing undergraduate research. For a listing of current UROP openings and their descriptions, look at

The summer after my freshman year, I got a UROP with the Communications Biophysics Group working on a speech aid for deaf-blind people. We built a device that decomposed sound waves into different spectral regions, and then mapped each region to one of twelve buzzers. When you strapped the device on your forearm, you were able to ‘feel’ people talking. The engineering was cool, but working with the deaf-blind test subjects was probably the most interesting part. They had been deaf and blind since birth, yet could speak pretty well and were able to ‘hear’ me talk by placing their hand across my face. Listening to their perceptions of the world was absolutely fascinating.

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From the time Early Action applications arrive in early November, until Regular Action decisions are made in early March, each admissions staff member will have read close to 950 applications. It seems that most MIT applicants have high standardized test scores and very good grades. Our pool is very self-selecting, so a lot of the applicants are quite similar. We turn down a surprising number of straight-A students.

The take-home message is that you need to be distinctive. MIT is fortunate enough to be able to pick and choose from a very large pool of academically superior applicants. Distinction comes in many forms; athletes, musicians, chess players, and debaters are all distinctive if they achieve at a high level. Applicants who work on a farm for thirty hours a week and still manage to get straight As are distinctive. Students who have gone out of their way to take college courses or participate in independent research are distinctive. And of course, extreme academic talent or achievement is distinctive.

A word about how MIT defines “extreme” for academics—straight As and 800s on your SATs are not enough to guarantee admission (more than a third of MIT applicants have at least one 800). MIT is far more likely to admit a student with scores in the 700s, a few Bs in English classes, and an Intel science fair project that made it into the semifinals. Why? Because the Intel applicant has demonstrated initiative, a passion for learning, and a degree of competence in a very competitive field. That last bit is important. No matter how brilliant you are, if the Admissions Committee can’t see your brilliance, then it won’t help your application one iota. And the SATs alone are not enough to prove brilliance.

So, if you’re truly gifted academically, make sure that the committee has some way of knowing that you

  • Participate in the American Mathematics Corporation
  • Get into an academic competition or science fair at the state (even better, national) level.
  • Find a local university professor and get involved in independent research. It helps if you include a letter of recommendation from that professor with your application.
  • For those of you who spend a solitary forty hours a week hacking on the internals of some compiler, please make sure that you have some way of providing verification of this work in your application.
  • Get your independent programming projects supervised by teachers at your high school and then choose these supervisors to write your letters of recommendation.

This touches nicely on another point: how to present yourself in the application. Pick teachers who know you well (preferably, ones who like you) to write your evaluations. Ask them to relate some anecdote that they think captures you as a student. It’s very difficult to get a feel for an applicant from a list of adjectives; “intelligent,” “motivated,” and “curious” all have different meanings, depending on who is using them. A story, on the other hand, provides context for the reader of the application, and has the nice side effect of making you appear more of a living, breathing, human being.

Description of Activities

Also, when you list your extracurricular activities, be very descriptive. The Admissions Committee probably doesn’t know a lot of specifics about your high school, so if you write that you are the president of the National Honor Society, the reader doesn’t know if there are five people in the NHS or 500. Detail is good. Detail is also important in writing your application essays. Expounding on some formative event in your life is a reasonable start, but remember that you’re not just telling a story—you’re trying to convince the reader why you belong at MIT more than 12,000 other students. Show off your creativity. If you choose to take a humorous route, be witty, not just funny. Above all, try to display some element of intellectual curiosity in your writing. Speak to the reader.

The Interview

As for the interview, it can be a mixed bag. In most cases, the interview lasts for about an hour and consists of fairly low-stress questions. The questions will probably be reasonably vague (as in, “Why do you want to go to MIT?”), so it helps to think about these types of questions in advance. You should also come up with a set of meaningful questions to ask, something beyond “How good is the food?” because it will indicate to the interviewer that you’re serious about your decision to apply. Questions turn the interview into a two-way conversation, which will help to make it less stressful. In reality, a negative interview report is unlikely to hurt your application very much, but a good interview can give you an extra edge in gaining admission.


There are a few more highlights you should probably know about the MIT admissions process.

  • Of the 13,396 applications received in a recent year, 1,589 students were admitted, so competition is tough.
  • MIT is Early Action, not Early Decision (if you’re admitted early, you don’t have to enroll).
  • MIT admissions are need-blind, so the admissions staff has no idea how much your parents make or whether you’re applying for financial aid.
  • MIT is looking to build a diverse class, including diversity of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, geography, and interests—both academic and non-academic.
  • Finally, international applicants go through a more competitive admissions process.

All of this factual information, plus a lot of other detail, can be found in the MIT admissions literature.

Financial Aid

By now you’ve probably realized that MIT is expensive. Fortunately though, we’re not cheap. In fact, this year, MIT will award $74 million in undergraduate aid. That’s one of the highest amounts per enrolled student in the U.S. Because MIT is dedicated to finding the best students in the world, we follow a need-blind admissions policy. This means a student’s ability to pay has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not he or she is admitted.

And once you’re admitted we want to make sure you can get here. Financial aid is widely available and is provided in a need-based fashion to any student who needs assistance. Approximately two-thirds of our students receive scholarships based on need. And for low-andmiddle- income families earning less than $75,000 per year, MIT will cover the full cost of tuition with scholarship. And believe it or not, the amount of financial aid we give students is rising faster than tuition rates. Students at MIT today pay 15% less net tuition (tuition after MIT scholarships) than they did 10 years ago—inflation included.

Bottom line: we’re not after your money. So even though many students do find it necessary to seek outside loans, there’s a good chance you won’t have to. Or, if you do, you’ll have no trouble paying them back. In the most recent class, half of the students graduated with no debt whatsoever. For undergraduates who do borrow, the median debt upon graduation currently totals $11,500, which is 51% less than it was ten years ago, and less than a quarter of the cost of one year at MIT.

As an MIT grad you’ll literally have the potential to change the world—and companies know it. The job placement rate for MIT students is incredibly high compared to other universities and the average starting salary for students graduating with a bachelor’s degree is $61,260. Basically we’re determined to make sure that what you get from MIT (and we’re not just talking money) is a whole lot more than what you pay for.

Student Financial Aid Details

Ranks 1412th for the average student loan amount.
Secrets to getting the best scholarships and financial aid in Massachusetts.



MIT’s housing system has a lot to offer: a diversity of experiences; a place truly to call home; active communities, with opportunities to connect with undergraduate students of all years, as well as faculty and graduate students. But most of all, it offers the freedom to choose housing most appropriate to you and that best suits your personality and lifestyle.

All freshmen are required to spend their first year at MIT living in one of MIT’s eleven undergraduate residence halls. However, this doesn’t mean that the decision of where to live is going to be simple or boring—in fact, quite opposite is true. MIT has an amazingly diverse residential community. Each residence hall has a different flavor, and most floors within these houses have distinct cultures. For example, there is a brand new residence hall; an all-women’s residence hall; a residence hall that is world famous for its architectural significance; a residential hall that wired its laundry and bathroom facilities to the Internet. There are also five cultural houses that celebrate the languages, foods, and customs of different cultures. On-campus housing is guaranteed for freshmen and for upper-class students for eight consecutive semesters. After the freshman year, many students will take the opportunity to move into one of MIT’s many fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups (FSILGs). Today, there are twenty-seven fraternities, six NPC sororities, five living groups and four NPHC fraternities and sororities. Each fraternity, sorority, and living group has its own unique characteristics. However, each group’s primary purpose is to foster brother/sisterhood and camaraderie, and provide a supportive and healthy environment for its members. Loyalty to one’s living group is common at MIT. Undergraduates find that the residence halls and FSILGs are a great support network, academically, socially, and otherwise.

Student Activities

There are more than 430 student activities at MIT, including cultural groups, student government, journalistic organizations, performance groups, and clubs for people interested in games. Getting involved at the institute is very easy—just ask. MIT students are about as anti-elitist as people can get; they’re usually thrilled to find someone else who’s interested in what they do. They’re also enthusiastic teachers, so even if you know nothing about a particular game or skill, you’ll probably be able to find someone who will spend hours showing you the ropes. Free of charge.

MIT students are famous for the elaborate practical jokes, or hacks, that they manage to pull off. Cars, telephone booths, makeshift houses, and plastic cows have all appeared on the tops of MIT buildings at various points throughout MIT history. While many hacks require what seems to be a small miracle of engineering, others are just really good ideas put into action. The history of MIT’s hacks is chronicled in three books and on the web at

Student Enrollment Demographics

Student Graduation Demographics


MIT has an amazingly large athletics program—there are forty-one varsity teams at the institute. In many of these sports, MIT is quite competitive, even by national standards. Athletics at MIT are accessible; it is not uncommon for a person with no rowing experience to join the crew team as a freshman and then stay with it at the varsity level for four years (the Charles River is literally across the street from MIT). Club and intramural (IM) teams are also very common; at last count there were more than 1,000 IM teams participating in thirty different sports. D-league ice hockey is a great example of the IM spirit. It’s hockey for people who don’t necessarily know how to skate. The A-league teams, however, are considerably less forgiving.


Many extraordinarily bright people have attended MIT. The institute has had more than its share of Nobel Laureates, National Medal of Science recipients, and the like. Rattling off a long list of MIT’s all-time stars would be interesting but probably wouldn’t tell you much about how the average graduate fares.

MIT students have very high acceptance rates into postbaccalaureate programs, and more than fifty percent of graduating seniors choose to go directly to graduate, medical, or law school. Industry and government employers heavily recruit students seeking jobs after graduation. A nice side benefit of MIT is the name recognition—simply saying you’re a graduate commands a certain level of respect. Of course, it also sets a pretty high expectation level for your abilities. MIT prepares its graduates to be more than just cogs in the machine, unless you like being a cog, in which case that’s your choice. In 1997, the BankBoston Economics Department prepared a report titled “MIT: The Impact of Innovation.”

MIT graduates excel at whatever they choose to do, primarily because they can often think circles around people with less quantitative backgrounds. While they’re here, students may complain about the work load, but it’s unlikely that you’ll ever hear the phrase “I regret getting an MIT degree.”

Prominent Grads

  • Richard Feynman, ’39, Nobel Prize Winner in Physics
  • I.M. Pei, ’40, Architect
  • Sheila Widnall, ’61, Former Secretary of Air Force
  • Shirley Jackson, ’68, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
  • Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper ’84, Astronaut
  • Alex Rigopulos ’92, CEO of

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