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MIT Axes the 500-Word Application Essay

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the you-call-that-long dept.

Education 441

netbuzz writes "No longer will those applying to MIT have to write the storied 'long' essay — long as in 500 words. 'We wanted to remove that larger-than-life quality to that one essay and take away a bit of the high-stakes nature of that one piece,' says the dean of admissions. Not everyone agrees with the bow to brevity, including a current MIT student who penned a scathing critique in The Tech and offers up her own essay as an example of what the form can provide to both MIT and the applicant." [125 words, including these.]

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441 comments

And why should they care? (0)

elashish14 (1302231) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666009)

It's not like you're going for a liberal arts degree there - grades and standardized testing scores are what matter at MIT. What you wrote in an essay's hardly going to influence what you do in a technical environment like that.

Save that space for things that are important - research abstracts, statements of interest, letters of recommendation, etc. Don't bitch around with the admission committees' time with a stupid creative essay.

Re:And why should they care? (5, Insightful)

Zackbass (457384) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666091)

Care to suggest how they differentiate between the thousands of applicants with both grades and standardized testing scores smashed up against the limits of the scales? Along that point, how do you pick the kid who's going to make MIT look good rather than hiding out in a room in Baker for four years? They need to lean heavily on the more subjective portions of the application like the essays and work portfolios in order to get any sort of meaningful picture of the applicant. That's also why this move makes perfect sense, splitting up the essay gets them a view from different angles without sacrificing any depth. After all, the 500 word essays didn't have any depth to begin with, and a 125 word essay is less likely to get polished to death by outside help.

Re:And why should they care? (4, Insightful)

jim_v2000 (818799) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666141)

If the scores are all the same, then it really doesn't matter who gets in. An essay is a shitty way to select engineering students and doesn't gauge anything other than their ability to make up 500 words of bullshit.

That said, a first come, first served system would be appropriate when determine who gets accepted when scores are identical.

Re:And why should they care? (5, Insightful)

phantasmagoric (1626559) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666223)

That is an absolutely silly idea, that identical test scores means identical potential. First of all, after a certain amount, the scores are nearly identical. With the way the tests are graded, one question can be the difference between a 760 and an 800 on the SAT. Can you really say that the person who got the 800 SAT is better? Too many qualities outside of a test need to be considered. What if the 760 grew up in an inner city neighborhood, and was working 2 jobs in highschool to support his single parent? An essay is a perfect opportunity to explain the circumstances of what makes you you and what you have to offer. Drive, ambition, ideals, character, motivation are all important characteristics in the admissions process at a place at MIT, and they look for people with more than just good test scores. They know that the same test scores can belong to two widely different people-maybe even one they want and one they don't.

Re:And why should they care? (4, Insightful)

ClosedSource (238333) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666277)

As in a job interview, the criteria for accepting an applicant for college isn't going to reliably measure potential, ability, or intelligence.

It's really a crap shoot hidden behind a facade of plausible but ineffective practices.

Re:And why should they care? (5, Insightful)

Fluffeh (1273756) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666519)

I deal with a lot of people coming and going here at my office (although I am not in HR, I am an SME in our business), and I can tell you that when we are looking at hiring potentials, the first thing we look at is the cover letter rather than their actual CV content. Once in an interview, sure, discussions about past experience and the like are valued, but just as valuable is the ability to communicate and to mesh into the current staff we have.

The grandparent post said that identical scores mean identical potential, and that is utter bollocks. Two people might both be intelligent and perform well with tests. One of these might get on well with others, have good listening skills while the other is only interested in their own opinion. One may may be liked and respected by his team the other resented and ridiculed. How are these two even remotely identical?

Re:And why should they care? (2, Insightful)

elfprince13 (1521333) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666381)

And of course while the college board may choose to cap SAT scores to within 3 standard deviations of the mean, that doesn't mean there AREN'T people who fall well outside that range.

Re:And why should they care? (0, Flamebait)

jim_v2000 (818799) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666539)

I don't think one's story telling ability is relevant at all when it comes to determining potential at a tech school. Besides, any asshole can make up a heart warming story about how they spent their spare time rescuing babies from fires and teaching English to migrant children, but test scores are more difficult to fake.

Re:And why should they care? (2, Interesting)

nine-times (778537) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666305)

An essay is a shitty way to select engineering students and doesn't gauge anything other than their ability to make up 500 words of bullshit.

Doesn't that depend on whether the person reading the application is capable of recognizing bullshit? Or are we assuming that any 500 word essay can only possibly be bullshit?

Re:And why should they care? (1)

jim_v2000 (818799) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666549)

I don't know if you ever applied for a scholarship or a school that wanted an essay, but let me tell you how it works:

Every one who's writing KNOWS exactly what the person reading it is looking for, and embellishes their life experience to fit that, thus making themselves look as good as possible. So you end up with the best bullshitters winning.

Engineering has nothing to do with the problem. (4, Insightful)

weston (16146) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666489)

If the scores are all the same, then it really doesn't matter who gets in. An essay is a shitty way to select engineering students and doesn't gauge anything other than their ability to make up 500 words of bullshit.

If there's any reason why these kinds of things tend to be bullshit, it has nothing to do with the fact that these are engineering students, or that engineers can't or shouldn't learn to use language as a tool (or, for that matter, that they shouldn't learn to bullshit).

The problem comes in the intersection of the purpose of the essay and the formation of the questions. It's an admissions essay, which means that whatever you're asked to say or whatever you're ostensibly saying, the purpose is to say whatever impresses admissions officers and get admitted to the college. Everybody knows this, and it reduces the ability of most people to speak authentically (and increases their tendency to bullshit). Particularly with essays that ask people to talk about themselves, because no matter how many distinct things there are about individual people, even smart people, there's an awful lot of sameness running through the human condition. Meanwhile, admissions officers are looking for distinction. Talk about cross-purposes.

Clare Bayley's suggestion "change the prompts, not the length [mit.edu]" is some clear thinking. Prompt the applicant away from a self-focus and you untangle the better part of the tension I describe above, while still allowing applicants to reveal expressiveness and distinctive thinking.

Re:And why should they care? (4, Insightful)

eggnoglatte (1047660) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666559)

Absolutely not. MIT's interest is not to find the most capable geeks, it is to find balanced individuals with a broad range of interests, who are are likely to become the leaders of tomorrow. Communication skills are essential for that.

Being technically strong is only one ingredient of success, even in technical disciplines.

Re:And why should they care? (3, Interesting)

turing_m (1030530) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666241)

Care to suggest how they differentiate between the thousands of applicants with both grades and standardized testing scores smashed up against the limits of the scales?

It's not as if there are heaps of these students. At the edges of the bell curve where the Ivy Leagues recruit from, there are only a relative few people produced every year. It's not as if MIT, Harvard et al can magically produce geniuses through their great teaching ability, they just select the cream of the crop.

If MIT wanted to differentiate some more, another standardized test would do just as well. The questions on average would need to be very hard, but with varying degrees of difficulty to distinguish accurately whether someone is IQ 135, 140, 145, 150, 155, 160... etc. Since SAT is just a proxy IQ test anyway.

In fact, this is basically a Microsoft style recruiting tool - AFAIK they use a few very hard questions to issue an IQ test. Since they are only after the very best, if you fail they weren't after you anyway, whether you scored 85 or 125, they don't care.

Re:And why should they care? (3, Interesting)

Alinabi (464689) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666259)

Care to suggest how they differentiate between the thousands of applicants with both grades and standardized testing scores smashed up against the limits of the scales?

Yes. Make the tests more difficult

Re:And why should they care? (3, Insightful)

fermion (181285) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666311)

How about open ended silly activities. Give them some dowels and have them build something. Select the most elegant design. Give them 50 words and have then write a story. At some schools, acceptance and scholarships are given on what a person can actually create, not what they can pay someone else to do.

The problem with all test is that they assess the rote knowledge, but not the creativity of the applicant. Even the GRE and tests like that test facts that can be recalled, albeit in an indirect manner, not ability to see solutions. This is why we have all these graduates from major colleges all saying that we can't possibly live without oil without severely impacting our standard of living. They can't see anymore than what is in front of them. They can't think of anyone that is not directly connected to their extremely myopic reality. Mostly they cannot imagine a world any different form what they were raised in.

Of course, since the people in charge are the exact same myopic people I speak of, the creative activity will be building a tower our newspaper. Something that looks creative but has little risk.

Re:And why should they care? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29666481)

University of Chicago does this (or at least did this) to some extent. When I applied the biggest essay question was "If you were walking on a tight rope, what would you want under you?" - it demands far more creativity and critical thinking than the usual personal statement.

Re:And why should they care? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29666345)

Easy. They pick some niggers with lower grades and let them in instead. Sure, they'll probably drop out and would be more successful in a school with lower standards, but we don't want to be racist here!

Re:And why should they care? (1)

Calsar (1166209) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666355)

How about a 500 word math problem? It makes more sense as an entrance criteria for MIT than creative writing.

Re:And why should they care? (1)

Macgrrl (762836) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666435)

125 words isn't an essay. It's a blurb. Let's face it, it's potentially one well crafted paragraph. Did you realise your response was 137 words long - thus exceeding the revised requirement.

You need a "dweeb whisperer" (1)

NotQuiteReal (608241) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666517)

Only that won't fly. I have to agree, at the end of the day, you need objective criteria (if only to stave off lawsuits).

However, I am saying, frankly, there really isn't anything all that wrong with the "because I said so" school of thought.

Picking a good candidate for for a school or a job or whatever, is a lot like porn or literature - I can't tell you, a priori, what "it" is, but I can tell you when I see it.

In my personal life, I am a cs major, and I have been married to a psychologist for many years. She tests children for special learning needs. Since we both work at home, I often see fleeting glimpses of her clients, and make snap judgments about them. Later, I'll say "there is something not quite right about that kid", or "you had a gifted one today, right?".

I am also not shy about my observations of "civilians" in general situations.

My wife is not too happy about my opinionated views, but, she does admit I am "always right". She is genuinely befuddled about this ability of mine, and I admit it is not of any commercial use, but it serves me well. So, I guess the only practical use would be to have a panel of judges to pick, based on "because". If you had a majority rules, and did longitudinal studies on picks, you could eventually weed out the "bad" judges... But I am just rambling now.

Re:And why should they care? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29666573)

I clicked through to the essay -- 447 words of mind-numbing drivel. I'd rather read "Lorem Ipsum". Good writers say more with fewer words, especially technically-gifted future executives. 125 MAX would be more differentiating.

Re:And why should they care? (4, Insightful)

b0r0din (304712) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666121)

It's not like you're going for a liberal arts degree there - grades and standardized testing scores are what matter at MIT. What you wrote in an essay's hardly going to influence what you do in a technical environment like that.

Which is incredibly short-sighted. The world needs more diverse, creative types who can communicate with everyone else - people who can write. They serve as a bridge between the fierce logicians of the world to whom everything is a computation.

I work in software, I am a tech writer. I find myself working with incredibly smart, talented people who often work next to each other and yet never talk to each other. So I end up acting as the catalyst in order to get anything accomplished. But it works.

I like to think good writers work as a creative lubricant between the anti-social and brilliant. Maybe MIT could use a few more of those types. Of course since I applied to MIT years back and wasn't accepted, maybe this is just the rejected ego talking.

Also, considering that more than 60% of the population are probably foreign, it might help to have a couple native English speakers there. Just my jingoistic opinion.

Also, 500 words is not a long essay. And standardized tests and grades are a poor judge of talent.

Re:And why should they care? (1)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666151)

Anyone who can't write a coherent 500-word (or thereabouts) essay shouldn't be allowed into a university such as MIT. Period. Requiring it is kind of like setting a minimum GPA or test score: an easy way to quickly cull a bunch of idiots from the applicant pool.

Re:And why should they care? (3, Insightful)

societyofrobots (1396043) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666211)

I re-read my old college entrance essay, and I'm horribly shocked anyone at all accepted me!

Especially Carnegie Mellon . . . must have been my technical skills =P

Re:And why should they care? (4, Funny)

mweather (1089505) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666375)

The world needs more diverse, creative types who can communicate with everyone else. - people who can write. They serve as a bridge between the fierce logicians of the world to whom everything is a computation.

And to invent the jump to conclusions mat.

Re:And why should they care? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29666407)

As someone who got an perfect SAT (and a perfect GRE), standardized tests mean nothing. I've met tons of people who are smarter, more motivated, and more capable than I am that didn't get above 600 on the SAT.

Re:And why should they care? (3, Interesting)

rastilin (752802) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666413)

Also, 500 words is not a long essay. And standardized tests and grades are a poor judge of talent.

As compared to a 500 word essay that you probably wrote with outside assistance? The problem with subjective examinations is that they depend on the mindset of the marker, so you could well be marked down if they're having a bad day, or up if they're feeling generous. This is the very definition of unfair.

Also, I know I'm splitting hairs here; but the University doesn't want 'talent' . They want someone who is willing to dedicate themselves and work hard. Talent is nice to have, but ancillary.

Getting help's a skill, most metrics are unfair (1)

weston (16146) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666565)

As compared to a 500 word essay that you probably wrote with outside assistance?

Arguably, the ability to seek good outside assistance says as much about your likelihood of success in a University context as any other ability you might have.

The problem with subjective examinations is that they depend on the mindset of the marker, so you could well be marked down if they're having a bad day, or up if they're feeling generous. This is the very definition of unfair.

If you depend entirely on standardized metrics, you're also going to be unfair: your metrics won't correlate perfectly and perhaps not even well with what you're trying to measure (particularly intelligence, the measure of which is itself somewhat subjective). And even to the extent they do, at some point, they will fail to distinguish between applicants, at which point you're back to using subjective or random criteria. And this is to say nothing about those with the resources to game any known system of metrics.

This doesn't mean that standardized metrics have no merit; there's a reason why higher education continues to use them even though everyone knows they have real limits. There's also a reason why there tends to a point in the process for subjective human judgments: it offers a chance to make distinctions where the metrics can't, it offers a chance for amelioration the the metrics may have blind spots, and finally, since at the end of the day it's pretty much unavoidable there will be some subjective and potentially unfair element, you may as well try to make the subjective part of the decision as refined and plain as possible.

Re:And why should they care? (4, Insightful)

eggnoglatte (1047660) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666575)

Also, I know I'm splitting hairs here; but the University doesn't want 'talent' . They want someone who is willing to dedicate themselves and work hard. Talent is nice to have, but ancillary.

Actually, they want people who are likely to be successful, and become leaders of tomorrow. These are the people that will go out and advertise their alma mater to the next generation. They are also the kind of people who end up making the big alumni donations.

Re:And why should they care? (1)

epine (68316) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666593)

As compared to a 500 word essay that you probably wrote with outside assistance? The problem with subjective examinations is that they depend on the mindset of the marker, so you could well be marked down if they're having a bad day, or up if they're feeling generous. This is the very definition of unfair.

I hope you're not planning to apply for a statistics degree with that little essay. It would be the definition of fair if they refused you. There's variability in which standardized questions any particular applicant is exposed to. The coverage of material is not exactly the same from test to test, and might impact one student differently than another. It's also possible to cross validate subjective appraisals, if one is willing to go to enough trouble. It's possible that the variability in the subjective appraisal is on roughly the same scale as variability due to test composition. That hardly strikes me as the definition of unfair. Usually we reserve the strong definition of "unfair" to systemic effects rather than random, impersonal, not every day is equal effects. Is the testing supposed to be less variable than life itself? In 500 words, explain how.

Re:And why should they care? (1)

story645 (1278106) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666527)

Also, 500 words is not a long essay

It is for the type of questions these essays are usually supposed to answer. I remember the 124/250 word shorts MIT required back when I applied (didn't get in, but because of grades) being perfectly reasonable. I'm a massive cheerleader for more writing in engineering (I'm a writing tutor/computer engineering student who constantly tells science/engineering kids why the skills they're picking up in an assignment will be useful later), but I thought the girl's critique (and essay) was a perfect example of the kind of pretentious purple prose that nobody, least of all engineers, needs practice in. Short answers force students to get to the point and be careful with their syntax and sentence structure, which are writing valuable skills for engineers and sciences. Good writers can be just as good with 125 words as 500, and horrible writers skill doesn't change with length requirements. I think the articles are blowing this up to be a much bigger deal then it actually is.

Re:And why should they care? (1)

shentino (1139071) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666605)

And to think that in the workplace, writing is actually the LEAST important skill.

Believe it or not, among skills needed in the work place, the most important is listening. Then comes speaking, then reading, then writing.

Completely BASS ACKWARDS to the way it's taught in school.

GP is overrated (1)

belg4mit (152620) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666149)

It wasn't creative writing, it was about what you wanted to do with your life, and how MIT might help.
And no, the numbers are not all that matter. The Institute is trying to turn out better rounded alums
than that, hence the numerous humanities and writing requirements.

Re:And why should they care? (1)

underqualified (1318035) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666187)

they have to be smart and they should be able to talk trash too. being smart is much more fun if you can rub it in everyone's face. just look at sheldon.

Re:And why should they care? (4, Insightful)

StreetStealth (980200) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666189)

It's not like you're going for a liberal arts degree there

Granted. But what good is a world-class education in research if one lacks aptitude in communication? The greatest insight is useless if its discoverer cannot appropriately convey it.

Re:And why should they care? (1)

ClosedSource (238333) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666315)

Gee, and I thought the primary communications medium in science and engineering was mathematics.

Re:And why should they care? (5, Insightful)

AdamHaun (43173) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666257)

What you wrote in an essay's hardly going to influence what you do in a technical environment like that.

Yeah, cause creativity and communications skills contribute nothing to technical accomplishments, right? I've worked with people who think this way. The smallest issue takes three emails and a face to face meeting to resolve because it never occurs to them that how they write actually matters. Having skills and interests outside of your field makes you smarter within your field, and easier to work with too.

Re:And why should they care? (4, Insightful)

johncadengo (940343) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666287)

Honestly. She's not that good.

On her blog she writes,

I liked my essay every bit as much as I remembered I did, so I thought I'd post it on here. I must say again, this is a piece I am awfully proud of... Word count: 447. Couldn't have done it in less.

Emphasis on the "Couldn't have done it in less."

Please. She starts her essay with a sentence reminiscent of a dark and stormy night,

The world I come from is full of oak trees and rain, warm cats on cold nights, and raucous college parties across the street.

And continues to non-inform us of anything but her ability to fill space,

The sky over my home matches the grey in my eyes; the barbed wire fence around Lake Sequoyah is commemorated eternally by the disfiguration of my left hip.

And she concludes her first paragraph with a phrase cleverly coined yet meaningless for all but one,

My world is eight friends in a bed meant for two, the hidden tunnels of the mall, and semi-weekly trips to ogle gadgets at Best Buy.

I could go on, but I've been terribly bored.

Her essay could easily have been summed up in 250 words. She has demonstrated that she can connect subjects and verbs and direct objects in an acceptably understandable way. Mission accomplished. But she certainly did not need a 500 word limit.

Re:And why should they care? (5, Insightful)

johncadengo (940343) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666307)

For concrete ways to downsize essays like hers, refer to the Elements of Style [bartleby.com].

My favorite quote from the book,

Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

Re:And why should they care? (1)

Cassius Corodes (1084513) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666399)

But does that not also result in boring and dry text? If the aim of your writing is to convey a message, and (at least for myself) boring bits of text are a lot harder to remember then mission failure. Think of metaphors and colourful text as multipliers. They are good when they amplify a high base score, but useless on their own.

Re:And why should they care? (5, Interesting)

story645 (1278106) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666589)

They are good when they amplify a high base score, but useless on their own.

That's the key to what Strunk and White were saying, that every word, sentence, etc. needs to have a function in the overall tale. Colorful words are great when they add nuance and flavor, but sometimes it devolves into filler. Most of this girl's essay was pure mood setting, which she didn't need 'cause that's not the story she's really telling. Since this is an MIT essay for an engineering spot, they essay could reduce down to:

My world is eight friends in a bed meant for two, the hidden tunnels of the mall, and semi-weekly trips to ogle gadgets at Best Buy. Widespread panic for Y2K made my father teach me more about system security than I ever wanted to know at the age of ten. I drooled the first time I saw a real G5, and put together my first circuit board when I was seven. The county fair gave me an addiction to funnel cake, the college nearby gave me my first look at a real milling machine, parties at my house gave me Dr. Pepper stains over a large percentage of my clothes, my neighborâ(TM)s dog gave me a hatred of anything smaller than a mailbox that can bark, and my introduction to broadband began a love affair with the world that has yet to die.
  As fuzzy logic becomes more and more obsolete (in humans, at least), boolean values have come to rule all. Precision, accuracy, the Styrofoam cup holding your coffee, and the microprocessor in your toaster oven are all a product of infinitely many zeros and ones, a concept I find both irresistibly ridiculous and intriguing.Barring world disaster or a dramatic cult revival, technology is my future.

There's still tons of personality 'cause of her writing style and the great personal details, but all that detail isn't lost in generic reminiscence of suburban/rural living. This is 210 words and could easily be edited down further.

Re:And why should they care? (2, Interesting)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666349)

What you wrote in an essay's hardly going to influence what you do in a technical environment like that.

Good point. Maybe they should have changed the requirement to an object of up to 1 kilogram.

Re:And why should they care? (1)

gregorgregorgregor (1438071) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666359)

It's not like you're going for a liberal arts degree there - grades and standardized testing scores are what matter at MIT.

Having worked with many people who made grades and passed standardized tests while maintaining a shockingly remedial actual understanding, and having met some brilliant mathematicians with no skill whatsoever in communicating their ideas, I can't agree. I also think that an essay gives a student with an inferior education but superior education a chance to distinguish him or herself even though s/he may not have been taught the tricks to taking standardized tests.

My honest opinion... (1)

Pollux (102520) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666361)

Anyone modding the parent insightful needs to go back to college, if they haven't been there in the first place.

What you wrote in an essay's hardly going to influence what you do in a technical environment like that.

I would assert that one's ability to craft a finely-tuned essay can directly correlate with how one writes code, expresses technical information, and pays attention to detail in the work that he or she does.

Save that space for things that are important - research abstracts, statements of interest, letters of recommendation, etc.

All easily bullshitted. Personally, I believe that any admissions counselor would be able to determine with a pretty good degree of accuracy how much effort a student would make in their collegiate studies based on how much effort they put into an essay. Letters of recommendation? Please. They are only what get your foot in the door, but otherwise have as much worth as the paper you wipe your ass with. Any college recruiting students with the hope that they eventually become successful academics whose works in turn inflate the reputation of the college should expect from them deep, well-reasoned thought, articulate with meaningful expression, and pay strong attention to detail. The best method to meter these characteristics is through creative essay.

Re:And why should they care? (1)

ajs (35943) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666555)

grades and standardized testing scores are what matter at MIT. What you wrote in an essay's hardly going to influence what you do in a technical environment like that.

Ah... no.

I interviewed with MIT, and they were quite clear: there are far more students with excellent (by MIT standards) test scores and grades. What they're looking for in an applicant is someone who they think will take the education they're given and run with it. Someone who will excel with or without MIT, but (they hope) moreso with than without.

My guess is that they're removing the essay in order to speed the process up and get more people in front of the interviewers, which is really where they do their selection. The interviewer is an alum who will size up the potential student on several different scales. Some of the people admitted aren't even traditional successful students (though these are a tiny fraction each year).

Re:And why should they care? (1)

RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666557)

Even IF you get a LibArts degree, the essay probably doesn't tell college admissions anything anymore.

NOt unless you fly completely off the handle and start ranting about New World Order conspiracies or the proper way to eat a Jalapeno.

The roblem with Math (0, Offtopic)

For a Free Internet (1594621) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666015)

Maths today are stagnant. The field was once full of Nobel-prize winning innovations and leaps of pure logic, but now it is dominated by imperialist spies and computer hackers. There is, however, a solution. The root of the problem, (pun intended) is that we have too many numbers. Now back in ancient Greek times, engineers might have needed the full complement of rational and irrational numbers all over the real/imaginary plane. But now with our massive telescopes, it has become clear to us that infinity doesn't even nearly exist. The biggest possible number is way less than infinity, and we don't even need an infinite number of prime numbers -- that just helps terrorists and other computer malefactors to evade justice.

So I say, limit the number of prime numbers to no more than 500, and witness a new golden age in mathematics!

Coming soon to MIT: Apply Via Twitter (5, Funny)

NYMeatball (1635689) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666021)

Because real applications should be measured in characters

word quota (3, Insightful)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666041)

Has anyone considered that requiring a minimum length for an essay does not improve the quality of the essay? If a student can't create a convincing and well thought out essay without such a restriction, then I would think that it shows a flaw in their writing ability.

Re:word quota (2, Informative)

konadelux (968206) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666083)

500 words is (was) the maximum length, not the minimum.

Re:word quota (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666289)

Right you are... I didn't notice that until your comment and found that the student's essay was 447 words in length. However, I got the distinct impression that mot of the opposition to the move by MIT in that article was out of resentment and not so much about the merits of keeping or removing the essay. As the article said, the major problem was the prompt for these essays. If the prompt in the article was indicative of a typical prompt, then I would say that it probably wouldn't be a very good way to select candidates for admission into MIT. As a prior poster noted, it seems to be geared toward writing skill and not so much toward engineering which is MIT's major focus.

Re:word quota (1)

BoppreH (1520463) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666131)

I think word quotas are a good thing. How many times did someone asked you about a certain subject, and you can't quite figure out how much you should talk?

It's a more precise way to ask for "something between a few lines and a short story".

Re:word quota (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666325)

My point was that if an essay is required, the focus should primarily be on the overall quality of the essay and not how well the writer can contort their essay to match the length requirements. If the essay is well written, nothing else should matter.

Re:word quota (1)

hahn (101816) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666167)

In fact, I think it would tell the admissions committee a lot more about their applicants if they were to just eliminate any rules from the essay. Just, "Write something about anything..."

Applicants could be a lot more creative if you let them be. Plus, it might give strong hints about the not-so-stable ones.

Quality, Not Quantity (1)

amasiancrasian (1132031) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666333)

Does anyone consider length an indicator of good writing? In many cases, no. Technical writing is already too long. As Mark Twain once said, "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead."

Re:word quota (1)

value_added (719364) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666525)

Has anyone considered that requiring a minimum length for an essay does not improve the quality of the essay?

Probably not, but who would expect it would?

Garrison Keillor once wrote "It is more worthy in the eyes of God ... if a writer makes three pages sharp and funny about the lives of geese than to make three hundred fat and flabby about God or the American people." How many people (high school students included) do you think there are that, if required to write something worth reading, would or could write anything other than "three hundred fat and flabby pages"? Or if brevity is indeed the soul of wit, how many of us can write or deliver a punch line sufficiently funny that an audience would laugh?

I figure 500 words is a fair compromise. If you can write as effectively as the next applicant using half of those 500 words, you're probably wasting your talents at MIT.

I had my two word essay planned, too (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29666057)

"Frist post!"

250 words takes a lot more skill than 500 words (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29666073)

You can write something meaningful in 250 words, but it takes a lot more skill than doing it in 500 words. Every word has to count for so much more. Give me a 500 word essay to write any day, because it is so much more arduous than writing a 250 word essay.

Hmm... (2)

Nemyst (1383049) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666079)

I'm ambivalent. On one side, it's true that this essay can show a lot about yourself, maybe even give insight to both the evaluators and to yourself. It's also true that 500 words is actually rather short in and of itself. I think it's enough to write something if you're succinct and after a lot of rewriting and synthesizing.

On the other hand, however, what they're trying to do here is to downplay the whole thing a bit. It might have been a nice tradition, but as a student who stresses a lot over somewhat negligible things, I can honestly say that doing this 500-word essay would be nerve-wracking. By shortening it and spacing it out in multiple bursts, you reduce overall tension. I can't tell how many times my stress has penalized my grades; maybe the MIT has realized that they could've been losing potential geniuses over simple things like that (I'm growing things out of proportions I know, but small things do stack up eventually) and they're trying to correct the course.

In any case, I just hope this doesn't announce a lowering of the MIT's standards.

This can go both ways. (5, Insightful)

MrCrassic (994046) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666105)

Word count was NEVER indicative of writing skill.

I have seen 15 page reports that were an eyesore to read through. On the other hand, some of the most touching and enjoyable writing I've had the pleasure of coming across were only a few words.

With that said, this change could be looked at from two angles. The first is more acute, in that essays will now be judged on a much higher level than previous ones. MIT was always known as the creative school, and its students are largely responsible for that title. Therefore, they should be able to meet this challenge, which really isn't any more challenging than a longer essay would be.

Conversely, it can be argued that MIT is lowering their standards to appeal to a more "fleeting" generation. "The kids" now have Twitter, and AIM is pretty well-saturated in their environment. 500 words in a world where txtspk (that's textspeak to you old farts :-p) rules the roost? Are you mad? Think of the children!!!

Either way, if a prospective student really wants to get into MIT (or any other prestigious institution, for that matter), they will find the way. This is hardly the deterrant to that.

By the way, 500 words is HARDLY lengthy. For some essays, that's a warmup. For some research reports, that's the introductory statement. Talk to me when we're at six page minimums, mmkay?

Re:This can go both ways. (1)

icegreentea (974342) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666291)

There are only so many people to read applications. I've recently (last winter) written a number of applications for engineering programs, and they all involved some non-trivial (more than a couple sentences) writing. Some of them (Cornell for example) asked for 500 word chunks. Others (like University of Toronto) had me answer a bunch of different questions with a paragraph, working out to roughly 500 words, and a whole mix in between. In my opinion, it really doesn't matter how the writing is broken up. If the applicant dislikes writing, it'll be annoying no matter what, because if you want to give a meaningful application, you usually have to do a lot of thinking (these questions usually revolved around why I wanted to be an engineer, or what I believed engineering to be/entail, or just writing about myself) and trying to magic these thoughts into the word limit.

In the end, as annoying as this writing is, I can see their utility. Just like how people yak on about how learning is more than just marks, judging if a person is qualified for a program is not just marks either. And as poor as written components are to determine a person's ability to communicate, character, or whatever, it's better than nothing.

On an aside, I was given the advice to make the writing as concise as possible. You don't need florid prose of any of that crap. Even if you're shit at at writing, if you can state your thoughts in a logical manner and give a defense to it, then you're probably golden. If you can write a catchy hook, even better. That example essay? That's just great. You don't even need anything close to that. Hell, the conclusion to that essay is shit. Country fair and funnel cake just appears out of no where. Shit like that happens whenever you try to 'concisely' make your experiences seem meaningful/standout. I can't blame her, most people's experiences are 'mundane' enough on average that you have to resort to 'fancy' writing to make it seem special (because when your applying for MIT, all you're trying to do is standout from the crowd). Ok, so I might have contradicted myself somewhere here. Oh well.

They can ... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29666107)

... axe me about my high school diploma.

US universities (0, Offtopic)

buchner.johannes (1139593) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666109)

How hard is it to get into a US university program as an international student, say for Computer science or Astronomy master/PhD?
(aside the paying-a-lot part, and English test)

Re:US universities (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29666269)

How hard is it to get into a US university program as an international student, say for Computer science or Astronomy master/PhD?

Depends on the university. MIT has a strict quota of 50 international students per undergraduate class (of ~1200). The competition for those slots is, needless to say, intense. Each of those students frequently has achieved high rankings in international competitions in multiple fields (math/debate/music/sports/etc)

That essay provided bugs me. (5, Funny)

SpazmodeusG (1334705) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666113)

Looking at the eassy provided in the last link i can only think to myself "geez i'm glad i didn't have to write bullshit like that to get into my university".

The world I come from is full of oak trees and rain, warm cats on cold nights, and raucous college parties across the street. The sky over my home matches the grey in my eyes; the barbed wire fence around Lake Sequoyah is commemorated eternally by the disfiguration of my left hip.

Am i the only one who puked at that?

I wouldn't have... (5, Funny)

XanC (644172) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666143)

Per tradition, I carefully avoided reading the fine article. And then you come along and toss that nauseous paragraph at me anyway.

Re:That essay provided bugs me. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29666147)

Am i the only one who puked at that?

No

Re:That essay provided bugs me. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29666171)

Oh god, I hated it. No better example of why they got rid of it could be offered. What a banal blather of trite niceties and arrogant self aware nerdy-talk. Made me sick.

That's not the worse part (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29666233)

Here's what the writer said. Note that she got into MIT.

"I still feel that it's one of the most creative, introspective, and thoughtful pieces I have ever written, and I sure couldn't have done it in 250 words."

WTF.

Re:That essay provided bugs me. (1)

icegreentea (974342) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666303)

The last paragraph is worse. It just appears out of no where. For all its worth, I've read essays for similar questions that are all perfectly readable without the pukage.

Re:That essay provided bugs me. (1)

slyn (1111419) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666317)

Looking at the eassy provided in the last link i can only think to myself "geez i'm glad i didn't have to write bullshit like that to get into my university".

The world I come from is full of oak trees and rain, warm cats on cold nights, and raucous college parties across the street. The sky over my home matches the grey in my eyes; the barbed wire fence around Lake Sequoyah is commemorated eternally by the disfiguration of my left hip.

Am i the only one who puked at that?

Nope.

Besides, its easy to make up a bunch of horseshit like what that girl wrote if you've got forever to say it. It's much harder to make up clear quick and concise horseshit.

Re:That essay provided bugs me. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29666369)

Good thing you don't work in admissions since you can't tell the difference between good writing and pretentious horseshit you probably spew.

Re:That essay provided bugs me. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29666363)

It's a fluff piece full of flowery phrases yet devoid of any substance.
447 wasted words.

Re:That essay provided bugs me. (4, Insightful)

turing_m (1030530) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666377)

Am i the only one who puked at that?

No. But I puked the most at this:

I'd spend a lifetime putting wilted lettuce on bacteria-ridden patties of dead cow.

In most places, they cook hamburger (which would destroy most vegetative bacterial cells); wherever this young lady is from they obviously must put the lettuce on the raw burger and then eat it. No wonder she wanted to leave there at all costs! Perhaps that's where she got the barbed wire scar from.

sickening (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29666115)

Good night. I just read the example essay and I think I puked in my mouth a little bit there. So much banal "I love life and I'm nerdy, tee hee" drivel, piled layer upon layer, with no coherent structure. Why is this student proud of it at all?

If anything, I would say it justifies the decision to remove the essay quite well.

Irony... (2, Interesting)

hahn (101816) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666139)

It's ironic that in her essay Ms. Bayley states, "As fuzzy logic becomes more and more obsolete (in humans, at least), boolean values have come to rule all. Precision, accuracy, the Styrofoam cup holding your coffee, and the microprocessor in your toaster oven are all a product of infinitely many zeros and ones, a concept I find both irresistibly ridiculous and intriguing." An essay, used as a factor in deciding admissions, is quite 'fuzzy' when compared to grades and SAT scores.

As for the essay itself, meh. It's not all that bad, but the wit sounded a bit forced and also a little too self-aware. I also get the feeling that she read and was influenced by the infamous I have not yet gone to college [about.com] essay.

Re:Irony... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29666337)

the infamous I have not yet gone to college [about.com] essay.

The author is... The Most Interesting Man in the World. He doesn't always drink beer, but when he does, he prefers Dos Equis.

Stay thirsty, my friends.

Essay (5, Insightful)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666153)

I read that essay, and I can't see what would a better examle for removing the essay requirement than that essay itself.

Full of artificial, decorative use of language, presenting trivial details as meaningful by using way too many words to describe them, expressing unoriginal, standardized opinions in a supposedly creative way. It's bad enough when a journalist pads his writing with such nonsense, I certainly don't want to work with another engineer whose primary outstanding skill is writing of such garbage.

If I was asked to write an essay on such a topic, my answer would be:

I was a nigger.

Fortunately where I studied the school has a proper admission procedure -- that is, a sequence of tests with complex problems in varios areas of Math and Physics, interview, and if I remember correctly, minimal essay designed to test applicant's ability to express things. That was, of course, not in US.

Is there any subjective criteria left? (1)

HockeyPuck (141947) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666227)

Atleast they're leaving something left besides SAT scores and GPA. I can see people asking for all subjective material removed from applications. Then it would come down to pure SAT scores and GPAs. Now highschools are going to have to be more focused on improving their ranking compared to some other school. Additionally, the old adages of schools looking for well rounded applicants would head out the window.

{rant}
As a side note since we're on the topic of removing some form of written material, I'm sick of working with engineers who write procedures, functional specs, test plans, white papers that are as if they never even bothered to read it over after writing it. I bet the average /. poster puts more effort into their 'All your bases belong...' comments than some engineers put into their documentation.

I've even worked with consultants who charged us $350k for a datacenter design; and while technically solid, the quality of the writing was on par with my 10year old and was about 2 steps away from the short hand notation one might use in an email, SMS or tweet.
{/rant}

small dogs (1)

the_Bionic_lemming (446569) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666251)

my neighbor's dog gave me a hatred of anything smaller than a mailbox that can bark,

If I can eat what you call a dog at one sitting, it isn't a dog.

Just applied to colleges last year.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29666273)

and all I can say is I believe this is a terrible idea. With most of the top tier schools in the nation getting upwards of 20k applications for roughly 1500~ spots in most cases, I don't see how making the application less unique is a good idea. You can hardly say anything in 250 words, let alone something of substance.

  If places like MIT only looked at grades and test scores, they'd have cut off points to ridiculous levels or make the application process even more of a shot in the dark.

Although, this change does further my theory on the current college admissions system: a bottle of scotch and some darts.

140 Characters anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29666281)

seriously, 140 chars should b enouf 4 ne1!

An un-level playing field (1)

yinmoneyhuang (1368661) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666329)

Students face a distinctly un-level playing field when it comes to the admissions essay. I don't mean to be cynical, but I've noticed that these essays often read like professionally written short stories. If anything, schools need to impose greater transparency on the essay-writing process. Otherwise, those who come from families that can afford to spend inordinate amounts on outside "help" will have a significant and unfair advantage over everyone else.

Well, there's more applicable tests..... (4, Interesting)

failedlogic (627314) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666331)

My father told me that as a graduating high-school student (Canadian) back in the 50's, a voluntary test was provided to all students to test your science and mathematics prowess. The intention was to draw attention to your knowledge in order to get a scholarship or admittance into a Canadian or US ivy-league school.

Questions on the test included "How would you land on Earth's Moon?" The answer they were looking for was totally open since it was intended to test your real knowledge of math and science.

One could probably just answer .... build a rocket, once it leaves Earth, position it to fly to the moon and wait a few days for it to get there. But, you won't attract much attention.

My dad recalled that one year - and he knew the student quite well - had probably gone as far as to detail the amount of fuel (and type of) to be used, some basic designs of the shuttle, accounting for the Van Allen Radiation belts, etc etc - all with the calculus equations/work to go with. I believe the kids' dad was an engineer but it went above and beyond what other HS students would know and showed the depths of his knowledge + his grades.

This was without calculators. And without computers/Internet back then, he would probably have spent some serious time reading books on the side - in the sciences/math naturally, to have explained his answers in as much detail.

I don't know all the details but he apparently had one of the best scores on the tests and had been accepted at Harvard or MIT.

At the least, it beats explaining how a 477 word essay in part discussing your eye color, provided enough information about your academic abilities to be admitted to an engineering program at MIT.

shortest on record (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29666335)

"Me? Oui!" Mohammed Ali.

That is s a sucky essay (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29666421)

I don't want to read that. It instantly formed my opinion of the writer as someone I would not like to meat and is hopelessly trapped in mindless conformity. Its not real, not honest, not good. If it eliminates essays like that, its a good policy.

Writing skills not required (1, Funny)

ubergeek65536 (862868) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666433)

In my career of twenty years as a software developer I have yet to be asked to write an essay. The closest I have come to that is a few comment blocks is source code that nobody reads. I'm not saying that reading and writing skill aren't useful, just not applicable to my job.

Re:Writing skills not required (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29666501)

so, what's the weather in India like this time of year?

Bill Sievert was right, perhaps (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29666523)

I went to MIT back in the late 70s early '80s and got a BSEE. One of the instructors in course 6 was well known for his opinion that engineering was too limited in scope and that in order to understand how to be useful in the world, students needed a much stronger liberal arts background. He argued for a 6-year undergrad program, the first 2 years of which were to be essentially non-technical.

At the time I thought I was some smart kid. Now I am in my 50s and I agree with him 100%. Honestly, the technical stuff was easy, and the people who really made an impact understood the human and emotional dimensions alongside the technical. Engineers dismiss this, and I believe they are poorer for it.

500 words is considered long? (1, Troll)

noewun (591275) | more than 4 years ago | (#29666569)

Suddenly I understand why so much sci fi written by engineers reads like someone reciting the minutes of that last IEEE meeting.
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