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Education

MIT Axes the 500-Word Application Essay 441

Posted by kdawson
from the you-call-that-long dept.
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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MIT Axes the 500-Word Application Essay

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  • by NYMeatball (1635689) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @11:24PM (#29666021)
    Because real applications should be measured in characters
  • word quota (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wizardforce (1005805) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @11:28PM (#29666041) Journal

    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: (Score:2, Informative)

      by konadelux (968206)
      500 words is (was) the maximum length, not the minimum.
    • by hahn (101816)
      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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @11:31PM (#29666057)

    "Frist post!"

  • by Nemyst (1383049) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @11:33PM (#29666079) Homepage
    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.
  • by MrCrassic (994046) <deprecated AT ema DOT il> on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @11:38PM (#29666105) Journal

    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?

  • by SpazmodeusG (1334705) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @11:40PM (#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?

    • by XanC (644172) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @11:45PM (#29666143)

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

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Hurricane78 (562437)

        Your fault, for still reading the comments. While nowadays everyone else just reads the subjects, and then post an answer. But we're planning to also change the comment language to perl, and make it write-only.

        Keep up with the times!

    • by turing_m (1030530) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @12:23AM (#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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ajs (35943)

      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 went into why the lake/hip bit was important above, but I'd like to take on the start of that bit as well:

      She's attempting to establish character, here, and that's hard to do. She can't simply say, "hey, I've seen college life done UofState style, and that's not for me," because it doesn't convey anything that gives a sense that she understands what that means. By describing the things she enjoys and the fact that she takes her joy from her environment rather than from partying, she's establishing a fulle

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by CxDoo (918501)

        You're reading too much into it.
        Your explanations are sound and logical, but the piece still looks, walks & talks like gazillion other flowery wordfests devoid of substance all of us who ever had a crush on a pretentious girl had to read through (and appraise!).

        Cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Menard,_Author_of_the_Quixote [wikipedia.org] by Borges for more than 500 words on the subject of reader response.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ajs (35943)

          I wrote a longish reply, but lost it to a "[tab][backspace]." Anyway, the short of it is that I'm not reading into it. There are some points made about college parties and trespassing that are clearly targeted at an MIT sensibility. This is a carefully crafted essay whose audience is MIT admissions.

    • by vxvxvxvx (745287) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @05:02AM (#29667521)
      The fact that this essay is of an accepted student shows that they dropped the essay requirement a long time ago. At least in practice. They may as well make it official.
  • Irony... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hahn (101816) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @11:44PM (#29666139) Homepage
    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... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bitrex (859228) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @02:11AM (#29666885)
      I've met my fair share of "nerdy girls" who write in similar manner to the example essay cited above. It's been my experience that in addition to being bright they're self-absorbed, easily offended, and absolutely won't ever be interested in having sex (with you, that is.) Probably a fan of Babylon 5 too. I imagine they all come off the same assembly line somewhere.
  • Essay (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Alex Belits (437) * on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @11:46PM (#29666153) Homepage

    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.

    • Re:Essay (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Rogerborg (306625) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @05:49AM (#29667739) Homepage
      You'll note that the essayist manages to finagle in the implication that she's disabled, but I admir your far less ambiguous demand that MIT discriminate against people who aren't you.
    • Re:Essay (Score:4, Interesting)

      by dasunt (249686) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @09:34AM (#29669029)

      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.

      What is "The reason I turn off NPR?"

      (Not normally a bad radio station, but damn, the slice of life observations they occasionally have are annoying as hell.)

  • by SEWilco (27983) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @12:14AM (#29666323) Journal
    Who did they axe about this?
  • by failedlogic (627314) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @12:16AM (#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.

  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @12:22AM (#29666371)
    Do you get extra points if your essay begins with the phrase "It was a dark and stormy night." [bulwer-lytton.com]?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @12:57AM (#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.

    • No, he wasn't. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Bozdune (68800) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @07:03AM (#29668049)

      I went to MIT during the same time period. I wrote well when I arrived, so guess what? I wrote well when I left. The Humanities courses were a total waste of time for me. Thirty years on, I can't recall a single inspiring thought or insight that was transmitted to me by the unhappy and unpleasant faculty in the MIT Humanities Department.

      You may have been some kind of weird-ass nerd genius ("the technical stuff was easy"), but please don't assume that everyone else requires two years of remedial training in order to become a human being. We don't.

  • Good riddence (Score:3, Informative)

    by ChaosDiscord (4913) * on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @01:38AM (#29666711) Homepage Journal

    "My inner cynic wants to say 'tough, it's their fault if they produce some bland over-processed generic drivel,'" says the woman who wrote this bland, over-processed, generic drivel [clarebayley.com] for her own essay. "Word count: 447. Couldn't have done it in less." What an amazing coincidence that her essay needed 447 out of 500 words. It didn't need 505 and she had to make it worse by cutting good stuff, and she didn't need 200 but felt obligated to pad it out. Truly amazing.

    College admission essays are bullshit. Ones that ask for biography are doubly so. Like the interview question, "What is your greatest weakness?", responding with honesty is usually the wrong policy. Instead you build up a carefully honed lie designed to impress the interviewer. There is no benefit to this for anyone involved.

  • by adolf (21054) <flodadolf@gmail.com> on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @02:23AM (#29666945) Journal

    This article cannot be left to stand with out a link [mit.edu] to one of the most entertaining essays I've ever read. Now, unfortunately, it's not an MIT essay (instead, it's for NYU), but it's at least hosted at MIT, and therefore I feel that it is contextually meaningful.

  • by dario_moreno (263767) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @03:45AM (#29667231) Homepage Journal
    that no one seems to have reposted, yet : I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice. I have been known to remodel train stations on my lunch breaks, making them more efficient in the area of heat retention. I translate ethnic slurs for Cuban refugees, I write award-winning operas, I manage time efficiently. Occasionally, I tread water for three days in a row. I woo women with my sensuous and godlike trombone playing, I can pilot bicycles up severe inclines with unflagging speed, and I cook Thirty-Minute Brownies in twenty minutes. I am an expert in stucco, a veteran in love, and an outlaw in Peru. Using only a hoe and a large glass of water, I once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon Basin from a horde of ferocious army ants. I play bluegrass cello, I was scouted by the Mets, I am the subject of numerous documentaries. When I?m bored, I build large suspension bridges in my yard. I enjoy urban hang gliding. On Wednesdays, after school, I repair electrical appliances free of charge. I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, and a ruthless bookie. Critics worldwide swoon over my original line of corduroy evening wear. I don?t perspire. I am a private citizen, yet I receive fan mail. I have been caller number nine and have won the weekend passes. Last summer I toured New Jersey with a traveling centrifugal-force demonstration. I bat .400. My deft floral arrangements have earned me fame in international botany circles. Children trust me. I can hurl tennis rackets at small moving objects with deadly accuracy. I once read Paradise Lost, Moby Dick, and David Copperfield in one day and still had time to refurbish an entire dining room that evening. I know the exact location of every food item in the supermarket. I have performed several covert operations for the CIA. I sleep once a week; when I do sleep, I sleep in a chair. While on vacation in Canada, I successfully negotiated with a group of terrorists who had seized a small bakery. The laws of physics do not apply to me. I balance, I weave, I dodge, I frolic, and my bills are all paid. On weekends, to let off steam, I participate in full-contact origami. Years ago I discovered the meaning of life but forgot to write it down. I have made extraordinary four course meals using only a mouli and a toaster oven. I breed prizewinning clams. I have won bullfights in San Juan, cliff-diving competitions in Sri Lanka, and spelling bees at the Kremlin. I have played Hamlet, I have performed open-heart surgery, and I have spoken with Elvis. But I have not yet gone to college.
  • I agree with that (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Edmund Blackadder (559735) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @04:17AM (#29667345)

    The essay should be axed as should be pretty much all essays for all major colleges.

    The problem with essays is not that they are a negative or a positive indicator of whatever they are supposed to be indicating, its that they cannot be graded properly they are not graded properly so presently they are a cruel joke perpetrated on poor applicants that work their asses off to write an essay that will be read for 4 minutes by some professional grader and graded on some completely random basis.

    Essays are a relic from the time when classes are small the applicants were few and a single person could read all the essays and at least attempt to grade them on a common basis. Right now colleges receive tens of thousands of essays that are graded by multiple professional graders that can only spend minimal time reading each essay and there is really no way to ensure that the same standards are kept from grader to grader.

    So even if the essay is a wonderful way to differentiate applicants it should be scrapped everywhere because it simply cannot be graded properly.

    I mean how could you possible ensure that your grader will like your essay? There are some people out there that dislike even Shakespeare's writing. How can you be sure that your grader will like yours?

  • by ihavnoid (749312) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @04:56AM (#29667493)

    There may be a point of removing the essay, but what will they replace with?

    Ten years ago, when I seeked for university admission in Korea, a country which has extremely competitive university admission procedures, we had essay exams. They give you approximately 500~1000 words of whatever text (it can be some literature, news article, textbook text, or whatsoever), followed by a short question which has to be answered in a 1,600 character (around 500 wordsessay. With something like 2 hours time limit.

    With only two hours, students had only something like 10 minutes to read the text, 5 minutes to think, 10 minutes to plan the structure of the essay, and about an hour to write 500 words on a piece of paper, including making correceionts. In other words, if you cannot understand the text and figure out what to write within 20 or so minutes, you are doomed.

    Back then, and for many more years, I thought it was unfair. I wanted to do engineering, but the essay looked ridiculous. However, after ten years, I found that preparing for the essay exam had greatly enhanced my writing skills (which I find really important - sometimes more important than math or physics), and it forced me to read a lot of books of all sorts of topics.

    I think these kind of essay exams (with tight time limits) may help, but unlike Korea, United States is a fairly large country, and it may be too difficult to have all the students seeking admision in one place.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Arabani (1127547)
      You've basically just described the written portions of the AP history, language, and literature tests given in the US. It should also be noted that AP scores are often used as "extra fluff" to distinguish between similar SAT scores/GPAs.
  • In Germany, they "fixed" things, by simply modifying grammar to be closer to the most common errors students made in the last years. So now "they are no errors anymore". Wait for nature to invent even bigger idiots, and for them to "fix" the language again.

    The rule is: If the students are becoming too dumb (500 words is "larger than life"?? hello? do they mean "mentally challenged life"?): Lower the bar.

    It worked well for evolution of humanity, so it will work well for education too. Oh, wait...

  • by argStyopa (232550) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @08:05AM (#29668353) Journal

    What I got from the essay?... apparently MIT isn't rejecting people based on their narcissistic views of their own preciousness.

    God, that was horrible.

    Don't get me wrong - I agree with her in principle that it's NOT excessive to ask 18-yr-olds to express themselves cogently in a 500 word essay. I think that's a good hurdle for top schools.

    But her essay wasn't a good example, it was drivel. Self-obsessive, whiny, emo drivel.

"If truth is beauty, how come no one has their hair done in the library?" -- Lily Tomlin

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