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First, some background. I got my degrees, SB, SM and PHD, all from MIT 1964-72. My freshmen advisor turned into my PHD advisor. I am grateful to MIT for getting me out of Kansas and helping me get where I am today. I love the place and care for it a great deal. My son is presently a Junior at MIT. From listening to him over the last nearly 3 years, I don't get the impression that MIT pays much attention to undergraduates. There seems to be a lot of bureaucratic inflexibility that does not support education. However, although I could run on about that, I'd rather focus on one issue that I think could really help MIT: admissions.

I wish MIT would decide admissions purely on the basis of academics and stop trying to be social engineers. Just take the best students. Professors will be happier, students will be happier, and better prepared. As Caltech says, "we try to make an orchestra out of students, not students out of an orchestra." Get over this fetish with round students and just take the best. If we want the next cure for cancer or the next Nobel prize winner, we just take the best students. Let MIT be a school for nerds and think it is a good thing instead of a bad thing.

I have seen truly special students get turned down by MIT (and have to go to Caltech and flourish). I think this is part of MIT ignoring its undergraduates. MIT students do contribute to the reputation of the institution, if not while they are students, later in life when they are successful. This issue of ignoring undergraduates, especially by the admissions, dilutes the fame and fortune MIT gets from its graduates down the line.


Education & Facilities, Educational experiences, admissions


Confusion and/or misinformation

I think you've been misinformed about some things. MIT doesn't accept any substandard students, and the "bar" gets higher --- not lower --- every year. If MIT accepted every student who was skilled enough to thrive there, then the freshman class would be 5-10 thousand people, but there's only room for 1100. That's why brilliant students get turned away: not because admissions values champion bassoonists over math olympians, but because the talent pool is really deep. That's a common misconception. Why would people think that getting rejected means that they were found lacking? Anyway, the "orchestra" has many fewer seats than there are qualified players. So, given the pool of people who are good enough, Admissions makes offers to the subset of them who would each make the others into the best team together. That doesn't mean that of the 5000 qualified people, you try to pick out the 1100 most bookish nerds with the 1100 highest SAT scores; it means you take the 1100 people whose talents are most important to the group (which is exactly what your orchestra quote means, and is what MIT, Caltech, and every other elite institution already does) ... I'm not sure if that's what you meant by "just take the best students", but this is such a common misunderstanding of how elite college admissions "should" be done, that I thought it was worth commenting on. (PS: no, I'm not an admissions person, but I pay attention)

Lottery amoung qualified students

During the time I was an MIT educational counselor I always told students that part of getting into MIT was luck. Given the depth of the talent pool there is no meaningful difference between someone who gets in and someone who is rejected. The same application file would be scored differently by another reviewer.

Given this, consider selecting twice the available class size by the traditional grades/scores/essay/recommendations process then make the final cut by a true random lottery. That why those who get in will know that luck played a part in their success (just as being born in the right year and right country to the right parents makes a lot of difference).