Top of the Class

#7 How I Got In - MIT Admit Shares Her Essays, Extracurriculars and How Crimson Helped

June 04, 2021 Crimson Education Season 3 Episode 7
Top of the Class
#7 How I Got In - MIT Admit Shares Her Essays, Extracurriculars and How Crimson Helped
Chapters
Top of the Class
#7 How I Got In - MIT Admit Shares Her Essays, Extracurriculars and How Crimson Helped
Jun 04, 2021 Season 3 Episode 7
Crimson Education

Sophie is heading to MIT, ranked #1 in the world by QS Top Universities.

Hailing from Puerto Rico, Sophie shares with us her science focused extracurriculars as well as the role dancing and meditation played in her application.

She talks about her SAT, the different essays required by MIT and what role her Crimson team played in helping her to secure admission.



Show Notes Transcript

Sophie is heading to MIT, ranked #1 in the world by QS Top Universities.

Hailing from Puerto Rico, Sophie shares with us her science focused extracurriculars as well as the role dancing and meditation played in her application.

She talks about her SAT, the different essays required by MIT and what role her Crimson team played in helping her to secure admission.



Alex 

Hi, Sophie. Welcome to the How I Got In podcast. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?


Sophie

Hi, everybody. My name is Sophie Lou and I'm looking forward to doing my undergraduate studies at MIT.


Alex 

What was your original ambition to go to MIT?


Sophie 

Ever since I was in middle school, I've heard about all these amazing universities and how they're fermenting these talented people. And so, in my case, when I was in sixth grade, there was this graduating senior that got into MIT. And we both did Math Olympiad, and so you know, my parents talked to his parents, and they're just talking about how he really liked MIT, particularly because of its emphasis on things like science and technology, but also the collaboration in the university. And so from that point on, I was really interested.


Alex  

And when did the reality of how hard it is to get in to MIT really hit home?


Sophie

I would say that I was in 10th grade, because, as I mentioned before, I knew about MIT, but I never was like, ‘Oh, I have to focus on undergraduate admissions’. Like, during that time, I just wanted to have fun discovering myself and doing all the things that I was passionate about. And then in 10th grade, I moved school and everybody was really motivated and so I just just heard about their experiences applying and how much effort they had to put into. So that’s when I did a little bit more research, and I saw how hard it was to get in because the percentages are really, really low, like 6%. So seeing that and how many people applying just kind of registered in my mind.


Alex 

Then you were like, ‘Okay, this needs a lot of work, what work am I going to put in to help me put my best foot forward through the application?’


Sophie 

So, for me, I didn't really think that much about applying to colleges early on. However, I always did activities that I was really interested in. So whether that be Math Olympiads or anything like that, I just wanted to pursue my interests, and in 10th grade, since I moved to a new school, they had a lot of these opportunities to do scientific research. And so in that year, I decided to take advantage of the things that I really liked, and try to do really well on them so I can maximize my chances of gaining admission into whether it was MIT or any other good school. And in September, I started reaching out to Crimson. I heard about how they would guide students so I really wanted to take that chance and see with the help of the Crimson community, and of course, my parents and the school, how that could help me reach my goal.


Alex 

So you've had a long history of being involved in the sciences. What was your particular area of focus?


Sophie 

So I really like to do research in machine learning. So the project that I took to ISEF (Intel Science and Engineering Fair) was on machine learning and learning recommendation systems with matrix completion, which is, if I put it into simple terms, imagine like, you know, you're on Netflix, right? And you want to find movies you like, and then you scroll to see which ones you like, and then the algorithm kind of picks up your likings. And it’s similar to Tik Tok and Amazon, all these big brands have these recommendation systems, my product kind of focused on the machine learning process behind that.


Alex 

How did you even start the journey into machine learning?


Sophie

Okay, so my dad is a professor at our local university, and he teaches computer science. So I feel like he brought a lot of the concepts that I know today. And just searching up online, seeing what things interested me, I put them all together.


Alex 

Fantastic. So when you applied to MIT, what did your activity list look like? Was that ISEF machine learning project top of the charts, or was that elsewhere in the ranks?


Sophie 

I definitely put that there because it was something that I was really proud of and humbled to be able to have that achievement. I also did a little bit of research with agriculture. So in 10th grade, one of my teachers chose me to be part of this team where we got to cultivate lettuce plants and grow them in a microgravity environment. So, we had to find new organic fertilizers to be able to cultivate them in the International Space Station and then send all that data. And it was a really pivotal moment for me. I learned more about the scientific process during that experience. And then, I would say, the other parts that I focused on were my Math Olympiad and my research. Other than that, I also focused on non academic extracurriculars that I had. So I did a bit of dancing, I did cross country, and all these aspects, and I feel like for MIT or any other college, they don't want the student to be just solely focused on academics. You have to have some other components that specifically tailors to you. I also put meditation, which is really important to me, like all of these things just highlighted what I valued.


Alex 

That’s a fantastic tip for students who are listening, that it's not just about all your achievements and your science background, it’s about who you are as a person. And if you feel like dance, and meditation is something that helps to identify you, then that's something you should definitely include. But it must be a very odd thing when you’re applying to this top STEM university and yet you're mentioning dance and meditation etc. Is there any hesitation when you are putting that on your application and you're thinking, ‘is this actually what they want to hear?’


Sophie 

Of course but I feel like you shouldn't tailor yourself to an expectation that these universities or these admissions officer think the perfect package is. Like when I approached the application process, I thought to myself, I do not want to create something that isn't true to who I am or put something that may sound good on paper, but it's not actually who I am. And so with that in mind, I just took the most important parts of my life, and then, like, regardless of whether the admissions officers cared or not, or thought it was important or not, it was who I am. And if they couldn't accept that, then that means I obviously belong in someplace else, right? And so that was the type of mentality that I went into with this application. And so yeah, don't worry what other people might think is good for you, you know yourself better than anybody else. And then what are the things that you like, even though it might not seem as academically rigorous.


Alex 

Universities want to know that you've got this raw potential that they can help mold over the next couple of years, right, and that's what you saw with MIT.


Sophie

Yeah, definitely. I feel like the parts of MIT that really captivated me was not only the academic component, but there's this vibrant community of people who are there to help you and guide you and I just really, really love MIT for that.


Alex

And that's a key thing when an admissions officer is looking at an application. They're like, ‘How involved is this person going to be in the wider MIT community?’ or any university community, right? Are they just going to sit in the labs and do math or are they actually going to go out there and take part in the dance club or ice skating or whatever, right? They want to see that you're going to be an active member of the wider community and not just a person who's there to do science all day.


Sophie

Exactly, yeah. Like when I started the application, I read this article written by one of the admissions officers, and the title of it was ‘Applying Sideways’. Don't think of fitting a specific mold because in reality, everybody is so unique and different that now all of these things that make us different is what's special in the community. It's like climbing a mountain. You want people with a variety of thought processes in order to be able to overcome that challenge. Instead of having 1000 people with the same type of personality.


Alex

Yeah, you're absolutely right. From your perspective, what was the strongest element or your application?


Sophie

Of course. So in terms of the essays, I focused less on the academics, and just instead wrote about all the things that made me, me/ Like, if a complete stranger wants to know about me, I took those parts and then put them in my essays. And I feel like that part was the strongest point. Like, there's so few parts where you can really showcase your personality, and I made sure to take in everything of my life, and just put it in there. So I feel like that might have been a strong reason why they considered me. And before I got accepted, I wasn't really sure if my extracurriculars were on that level, because I mentioned earlier, like, everybody is so good at what they do, you never really know where you stand. I just put everything that I did and hoped for the best.


Alex

I'm sure everybody has some doubts when they submit their application. Now, I'm interested in the essays, so talk me through that process.


Sophie

Okay, so it does work differently to the Common Application. We have five required essays, and each one focuses on different things. So you would talk about what you do for fun or something that you've done for the community and in some of them I was more laid back, I wanted to bring out the fun, creative side. So one of them I talked about dancing with my sister in the living room, because I go to boarding school, I don't spend that much time with my family during the week at all. And so every time that I could come home, I would just go to the living room, play some music and just dance. In other parts, I wrote about multiculturalism and how it affects me and for the community service essay, I wrote about how meditation guided me through this tough year and how I used meditation to help my classmates and community.


Alex

Well, yeah, that does start to paint more of a picture of who you are. And in terms of the standardized tests for the US, did you take either the SAT or ACT?


Sophie

Yes, I did take the SAT, however, I took it twice, actually. I self-studied for it and the first time I got a 1380 and then the second time, I got a 1520 and I submitted that. I know 1520 is not as high as other people might think but I feel like there's a cutoff score for each university and once you reach that score, I feel like it doesn't really matter that much. And you focus more on other personal things such as the essays or extracurriculars. So yeah, my goal was to reach 1500 and then I did so I felt really happy.


Alex 

Well, it's interesting you say that, because I remember meeting a student in Sydney, who was sitting the SAT for the fourth time, and she had had a 1540 as her previous score. And she was sitting it again to try and get a higher score. And we were like, ‘Stop! You're good!’ So in Australia, we are very exam focused, because that's the main reason you get into universities here but in the US, as you said, once you reach a certain threshold, they know you're smart, you can go and do other bits of your application. Now, talk to me about where Crimson came in for you. What was the main focus that you were working on when you decided to get Crimson’s help?


Sophie

Okay, so the main goal was to have help with my application. So like how to format all the extracurriculars in such a way that was presentable and captivating for the admissions officers. And I feel like that was where help was most needed and was given. And they helped me with the essays and advising me on word choice and grammar and everything like that. So yeah, I really, really needed their help , like without their help, I probably wouldn't have gotten it. So I'm really grateful for meeting them and just having their support throughout this whole journey.


Alex 

Yeah, well, it's interesting because the Crimson team thinks the world of you as well.


Sophie

Yeah, if you're listening to this, I love you guys so much. My life just became so much better with you guys.


Alex 

Yeah, it's one of those things that it's very difficult to look at all those pieces of an application as a student who's never actually put all of these elements together, in a way that presents to an admissions officer. So yeah, what was that conversation like and how did those sessions go for you?


Sophie

It went super well, like, at the beginning, Crimson does this matching process and I feel like they did a wonderful job. The sessions felt like I was just talking to a friend.


Alex 

Fantastic. Well, it's really good to hear. Now let's talk about what you're most looking forward to at MIT.


Sophie

I'm really excited to move in. I was actually accepted to this program called Interface Edge, which is for freshmen to go there in June and start taking classes and getting exposure to the MIT environment early on. And once freshman year starts, I'm interested in learning more about the neuroscience department or the joint departments of electrical and computer science and neuroscience. And then obviously, I'm thinking of joining a dance team, learning how to manage a stressful workload, like, that's something that I really want to be able to dominate. I want to not only get good grades, but also develop healthy schedules in my life.


Alex

And what are you hoping to do with the MIT degree or network after you graduate?


Sophie

I really want to do some internships during my undergraduate years. And then I want to use my degree to help benefit others, like I really want to become a scientific researcher, and hopefully, a professor. But before that, I would love to do service in different parts of the world, getting that exposure and learning about all these cultures, and then implementing their thought processes in order to provide our society with the best technologies. And yeah, I just like to get like the best parts of our current lives and then bring that so that everybody can benefit from that.


Alex 

And finally, Sophie, any advice you would give to students who are going down this path aiming for these top universities? 


Sophie

I would say just breathe because I know this process can be very stressful at times so just be sure to just take a moment for yourself. Truly just reflect on what brings you motivation at this point, or maybe like, throughout all this, like during that you've looked through, and know that your family or the Crimson community or your school, they're here to help you. And specifically for colleges, I did a lot of research before even considering applying. Like, it doesn't matter if your dream school is top five or top 20 or top 50 or top 100. Find a place that you can thrive and that they're there for you. For me, personally, I applied to three universities, one was MIT, one was in Florida and one was UT Austin. So whether that is reading the blogs, or just looking at small details, like you want to just try to find a university that truly speaks to you, and actually tries to get the best out of you. And then once you have that down, as I mentioned before, you want to find a supportive community, which I definitely found at Crimson and couldn't have done it without you guys.


Alex 

One thing I forgot to ask about was, did you apply Early Decision to MIT?


Sophie

Yeah, I did since I really wanted to get the application done as soon as possible and maximize my chances of getting in. So if you know that you want to go there, just go for it.


Alex

And what was it like when you heard the news that you had gotten in?


Sophie

A few days before my dad was like, ‘I don't know. Don't have your hopes high.’ Because basically nobody gets into MIT and a few hours before, I started cleaning the entire house. I was just meditating and cleaning and everything. And when the decisions came out, I was facetiming a friend. And we were just so nervous. And then I opened it, and I was screaming and crying. My dad would ran to the living room and I’ve never seen him so happy. It was just like the best day. Oh my god.


Alex 

Yeah, I bet. Sounds like an incredible moment for everybody. I think one of the things that a lot of students probably don't realize is that it's such a family thing. It's not just a student applying by themselves, it really is everybody on this journey, particularly aiming for these top top colleges. So what did your family give you that was irreplaceable through this whole process?


Sophie

Yeah, I wanted to say that without my family, without my mom, or my dad or my sister’s support, I don't think I would have gotten here. My family has always been very open to anything that I do. So during this cycle, they were like, ‘You know, if you want to ask for help, whether it was through the Crimson community or through any other means, we support you.’ And I feel like that's really underrated. And for example, when I was like writing my essays, mom would come to my room and bring a bowl of fruit. And the sentiment was there and I really appreciate her.


Alex

Sophie, it's been awesome chatting. Thank you so much for sharing your story and your insights and your wisdom for not just me, but for all of our lovely listeners.


Sophie

I'm really appreciative that you invited me and I hope that my story inspires other people to pursue their dreams and that it can come through and you just put in the effort and go for it.