Many MIT students remember writing their long essay on the freshman application. The class of 2014 will not. The application’s 500 word long essay has been replaced with three short essays between 200 and 250 words in length.
“We want to learn more about the students and what motivates them; how they react in certain situations,” said Dean of Admissions Stuart Schmill ’86. Admissions officers felt they could do that better with the short essays than they could with the long essay, said Schmill.
The problem with the long essay was that students were revising the essay to the point where it lost the personal touch, said Schmill. “It was becoming so stylized that we didn’t get to really see the student.”
The shorter essays are meant to allow students to answer questions in a more relaxed way. Admissions officers also get to see the student from three angles instead of just one.
The prompt for one of the required essays asks the student to describe how they have used their creativity. Previously, this essay was optional, but quite a number of applicants ended up filling out that section, so the Admissions Office decided that they would add it to the list of required essays. That way, they could hear about students’ creativity directly instead of only through their teachers.
Some MIT students will miss the long essay. Kelley V. Determan ’13 said she thinks the “long essay is a necessary part of the application,” since “it is the one place for the student to really develop a personality, to really get their person and ideas across, without being worried about word count.”
But others are in favor of the short essays for the very reasons that the Admissions Office has decided to use them. “It’s a good thing because it allows students to express themselves in a more personal, more informal fashion to the admissions committee,” said Eduardo Archilla ’12. “However,” he said, “it could lead to students taking the application less seriously.”
For those students who really feel like they cannot fully express themselves through the short essays, the optional essay still exists. Schmill says, “If you feel like there was something you couldn’t express in the other essays, you still have the opportunity to do that.”
The hope of the Admissions Office is that, using the shorter essays, they will be able to learn more about the student. “That’s what we want to do: learn whether they’ll be a good match for MIT. Ultimately, that’s what it’s about.”