Physics Harvard Application Essays

Okay, so it's really 52, but who's counting?

So far I've been fairly serious with my entries about the college admissions process. I think that it's time for me to lighten the mood around here. So to all of you uber-serious folk... back away slowly and no one will get hurt.

As most of you know, I've been on an AWARD TOUR WITH MOHAMMED MY MAN. And everywhere I go, you want to know the skinny on how to get into MIT. The more I try to tell everyone that just showing your passion and being yourself is enough, the more I get the "yeah, r-i-g-h-t" look. So let's try another tactic. I know that you love numbers, stats and checklists, so here's a checklist for the ages.





  1. Don't refer to yourself in the 3rd person. It doesn't work for pro athletes and it won't work for you.
  2. Don't use the flashback essay. You know, the one that envisions you receiving the Nobel Prize in Biology and attributing all of your success to your admission to MIT. Yeah, that's about as original as the obligatory standing ovation at the end of an Ashante concert. (This is NOT an endorsement of Ashante or her inability to maintain pitch control, not lip-sync at live performances, or to write lyrics that use Boo as a pronoun.)
  3. Do not use words that do not exist... irregardless of how much you orientate the direction of your essay.
  4. Avoid slang. Use "street cred" on your own time. If you want to "keep it real" get an "A" in Calculus. That's hot!
  5. Never refer to your parents as Mommy and Daddy, your dog as your best friend, or your girlfriend as your "Ride or Die."
  6. In that same vein, if your mother really is your hero - you'd make your bed, refrain from calling your younger brother a mistake, and stop taking the cable box apart for poops and giggles.
  7. Do not quote Holden Caufield in your essay. (It's a good way to share A ROOM WITH MARK DAVID CHAPMAN.)
  8. Additionally, don't use quotes from Fountainhead or Jugghead.
  9. The "Every Important Lesson I Learned in Life, I Learned From Wolverine" essay has been tried. (Feel free the ask the author how he's enjoying his PG year.)
  10. There is no reason to use the word "nipple" anywhere on your application.
  11. Unless you work for Bad Boy Records, The death of Biggie and Tupac do not count as defining moments in your life.
  12. Under the section labeled Extracurricular Activities, do not list the following: Being a great boyfriend/girlfriend; 20 hours per week.
  13. Never quote the MasterCard commercial that ends with the word PRICELESS.
  14. Know what the hell you are talking about! Free radicals are atoms or groups of atoms with an odd (unpaired) number of electrons and can be formed when oxygen interacts with certain molecules. Their chief danger comes from the damage they can do when they react with important cellular components such as DNA, or the cell membrane. Cells may function poorly or die if this occurs. The New Radicals are a one hit wonder 80's pop band. (You only get what you give!)
  15. Refrain from cutting and pasting whole sections of our web site to use in your essay. (If you do cut and paste, please use quotation marks and change the font to match that of your document.)
  16. NEVER CUT AND PASTE BETWEEN COLLEGE ESSAYS. If we receive an essay that states, "...and that's why Harvard is my dream school" WE'LL TRY REAL HARD TO MAKE YOUR DREAM COME TRUE.
  17. Think carefully before quoting music lyrics. If you must do it, Gwen Stefani's chorus is "I ain't no holla' back girl" NOT "I ain't no Harlem Black Girl."
  18. The same goes with movies. Yes, Cool Hand Luke is steeped in allegory and I do believe that it is a modern parallel of Christ. No, I do not accept that Mean Girls is anything but a tween movie.
  19. Don't submit anything written or drawn with a Crayola or Sharpie.
  20. Don't use statistics as proof of your excellence if there were less that 10 others that you competed against. We TOO know the power of small numbers.
  21. No matter how tight your argument is, Halo groups are not extracurricular clubs and your mastery of said game is not a skill.
  22. Don't attend MIT Central Meetings and pick fights with the Admissions staff. You want us to remember you in good ways.
  23. Don't rely solely on your 2400 SAT/36 ACT scores to get you into MIT.
  24. Don't count yourself out if you have considerable lower scores than those listed above. (Ed. note: ...or if you spell like Bryan does.)
  26. If you are not a student of color don't fall into the trap of thinking you won't be admitted because of Affirmative Action. If you are admitted, it will be because of merit. If not, it wasn't because someone else took your spot.
  27. Don't spend your entire essay telling us about what you want to be after you leave MIT. Instead tell us what you want to do at MIT.
  28. Do not let the costs of MIT deter you from applying to MIT. We have this thing called Financial Aid. If you don't apply, you can't afford it.
  29. Don't take college advice from your crazy know-it-all uncle whose only experience with MIT was the time his car broke down on Mass Ave back in 1974.
  31. Don't let more than three people critique your essay. If you do, you'll get conflicting messages and your voice will be lost forever.
  32. Life is not like a box of chocolates.
  33. If you know who the Wiggles are - for whatever reason - keep it to yourself.
  34. Anything with the words "Graphic Novel" on the cover IS a comic book. Don't quote it.
  35. Don't apply to MIT solely because your best friend suggests it.
  36. Do you really think we'll be impressed by the poster that has your head superimposed on the body of Arnold and is titled: "I have the will, show me the way"? Use Photoshop responsibly.
  37. Don't call us repeatedly hoping that we'll give you a decision early. You'll know when you know.
  38. Do not have your parents call on your behalf. Enough said.
  39. NEVER question MATT McGANN. He is of the MIT Omnibus.
  40. Do not write to admissions officers using email addresses that contain lewd expressions. (Ed. note: I removed Bryan's example. It was that bad.)
  41. There is no way to convince me that the Designated Hitter rule is good for Baseball. Don't even try.
  42. In terms of your intended major, don't confuse "undecided" with "I don't know what I want". In other words, undecided means that you are struggling to decide between disciplines; not "I don't know".
  43. Don't blow off your interview or wait until the last minute to make an appointment.
  44. Don't use profanity in your essay, even if you're quoting someone.
  45. Don't spend your time looking for the Admissions back door. No matter what you read on College Confidential, it doesn't exist. There is only one entrance to the Infinite Corridor, and that's through the admissions committee.
  46. Don't use canned essays... if you do, we'll use canned rejection letters.
  47. Don't send a bejillion letters of recommendation. We know that most of you have only lived for 17 or 18 years. We don't expect you to have a ton of experiences. I'd say more than 5-6 letters is really pushing it. Remember, we'll read everything that you send us. Don't abuse this. If I read a letter from your milkman saying that you like strawberry yogurt, I'm gonna be pissed.
  48. NEVER EMBELLISH. I know that you are smart enough not to lie. Do not let your desire to attend MIT overshadow your integrity. This is an area that we see as absolute and black and white.
  49. Do not miss deadlines! Not for the CSS Profile or any part of the application.
  50. In that vein, don't wait until October 31st (early) or December 31st (regular) to apply, especially if you plan to apply online. If the server is down for some reason, you're screwed.
  51. Don't slack off academically or do something stupid that could put your admission in jeopardy. MIT giveth and MIT taketh away.
  52. Admission to MIT is like wearing spandex in public - it's a privilege not a right.

Tell us about the admission process in terms of the qualification tests?

Admission to U.S. universities is holistic, and admission officers review all the information you provide them before making a decision. Unlike in Indian universities, marks on a single exam do not decide admission. The pre-requisites are:

Standardised test scores from either the SAT or the ACT. The prep books available for these tests at the US-India Education Foundation (USIEF) seems good.

Most colleges in the U.S. expect scores from at least two SAT subject tests. These are exams that test in-depth knowledge of specific subjects. You can pick from a list of subjects like physics, chemistry, math, English literature, world history and foreign languages.

In addition to this, some colleges require TOEFL to ensure that you posses sufficient English skill. However, a good SAT score will waive this requirement, so check the college's website. You are recommended to take >AP or Advanced Placement Exams. You can also send additional material such as an arts supplement, research done, a resume or an extra recommendation letter.

When can one start preparing for admissions, how much time is required?

For most colleges in the U.S., the deadlines are in December. I started putting together my material and preparing for standardised tests right after Class XI, and before Class XII started. I would recommend starting earlier.

Students need not worry about SAT score. Anything above 2200/2400 is considered a competitive score, even for the Ivy League universities there. About a month of serious preparation is sufficient. Taking as many mock tests as possible is best for students.

How did you prepare?

I first acquainted myself with the format of the test and the different sections, and then tried to do one practice test a day from the prep books till the test date. I finally wrote my SATs in June. I understood the basic process of applying in the meantime.

I then spent the next couple of months researching the colleges that I would apply to, as well as looking at the CommonApp and its essay requirements. In October and November, I took my SAT Subject Tests.

The most important thing I had to do during this period was writing the essays that were to be submitted along with college applications, and filling in the CommonApp.

I started applying by the regular deadline, which was first week of January for most colleges. I would suggest that students start doing their essays ahead of time, because they play a large role in the admissions process and need a lot of preparation. It is better to apply for standardised tests such as the SATs early, because test centres fill up quickly and it's very inconvenient to travel to a different city in the middle of the application process and 12th grade.

Your tips for students in choosing the right university?

Brand name and prestige are certainly not everything. If you are willing to do a little bit of research, there are many community colleges, liberal arts colleges and public universities that provide great value for money and excellent undergraduate education. Make sure your college has the programme that you want to pursue, as well as extra-curricular activities that you are passionate about.

Is an essay submission necessary along with application?

Students are expected to write an essay and it is based on this that the admission officers assess the candidate — personality, talents and passions. Work on these essays meticulously and avoid last minute preparations. For essays that want to know why you wish to study at a particular university, details help — read through the college websites and figure out specific, distinct reasons that substantiate that you are applying because you know about the college and think it fits you well.

Scholarships and funding. How do you go about it?

Many colleges in the U.S. provide need-based financial aid for all students who are admitted, including international applicants. However, most colleges do take requests for financial aid into consideration while making admissions decisions, except for a few need-blind institutions such as MIT, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth and Amherst. In addition, merit-based scholarships are provided by a lot of colleges as well as other organisations.

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