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More Short Essays Say More About Applicants

I appreciate the interest and the concern expressed recently regarding the Admissions Office’s decision to change our freshman application essay requirements by replacing one 500 word essay with three 200–250 word short answer questions. I thought it might be helpful to offer our thinking in making this change.

Writing is important, and the ability to communicate is one we value and seek to develop in all of our students. But the point of the freshman application is to learn as much as possible about our applicants, and this change serves that purpose. Rather than getting an answer to one question, we’d prefer to get answers to three. What students fear, perhaps, is that they cannot communicate in 250 words what they might in 500. Having read many thousands of short and long essays, I’m certain they can. If applicants feel they have not told us their full story, they are welcome to submit whatever else they want.

The essay has become the icon of the college admissions application. And with that comes all the baggage associated with a larger-than-life entity. Changing the format may change this dynamic, and I believe it has the potential to change the high-stakes nature of the essay that can lead an applicant to over-think or over-stylize, and ultimately lose their voice.

While I respect traditions, I also like change and experimentation. We’re the MIT Office of Admissions, after all. Like good scientists, we will remain open-minded and learn from our experience this application cycle.

Stu Schmill ’86

Dean of Admissions