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How to Write Five Awesome MIT Essays: Piecing Together the Puzzle

MIT has five supplemental admissions essays. That’s a lot to write! This guide will help you write essays that complement each other and show off different sides of who you are.

We’ll review prewriting techniques to help you create a clear picture of yourself, like reflecting on your priorities, choosing focused topics, and varying your content. But, first, let’s review the five MIT essay prompts!


Why Major?

Although you may not yet know what you want to major in, which department or program at MIT appeals to you and why? (100 words)



Describe the world you come from; for example, your family, clubs, school, community, city, or town. How has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations? (250 words)


Overcoming a Challenge

Tell us about the most significant challenge you’ve faced or something important that didn’t go according to plan. How did you manage the situation? (250 words)


Contribution to Community

At MIT, we bring people together to better the lives of others. MIT students work to improve their communities in different ways, from tackling the world’s biggest challenges to being a good friend. Describe one way in which you have contributed to your community, whether in your family, the classroom, your neighborhood, etc. (250 words)


Activity of Choice

We know you lead a busy life, full of activities, many of which are required of you. Tell us about something you do simply for the pleasure of it. (100 words)


Now we’ll take a closer look at some strategies you can use to develop strong topics for your MIT essays.


A Focused Topic

These essays are short, so your topics should be very specific. Once you have a general idea of what you want to write about, look for ways you can narrow down your topic. This will allow space for you to add compelling details, so your reader can really get to know your values, interests, and goals.

Let’s look at the ways some example students narrowed down their topics.


For the Activity of Choice prompt:

Original topic idea: Writing and sharing poetry

Improved topic idea: Going to slam poetry open mic twice a month

Why this works: The original topic was pretty broad. The improved topic is more specific, which will help the student write a stronger draft.


For the Community prompt:

Original topic idea: Advocating for gender equality by organizing community events, attending protests, and running a mentorship program

Improved topic idea: Running a weekly mentorship group for elementary-age girls interested in engineering

Why this works: This student had a lot of different experiences where she advocated for gender equality in her community. The improved topic narrows it down to just one experience. This will allow space for details about the impact she made on her community.


Your Priorities

When you’re choosing topics for your MIT essays, be authentic. Don’t pick a topic just because you think it sounds impressive – talk about parts of your life that really had an impact on you.


You can read some MIT essays that worked here, in MIT’s student-run newspaper The Tech. You’ll notice that some of them are about “big” experiences like research projects, while others are about “small” moments that were powerful for the student - like pursuing a hobby or enjoying a poignant moment with family. What has made you the person you are today?


If you need more help developing the first prompt, check out our guide to the "Why Major" essay.


Choosing Topics that Complement Each Other

Your MIT application essays are like puzzle pieces: they all work together to create a picture of who you are. Your MIT admissions readers will be looking for clues about what kind of student and community member you will be, so try to vary your topics. Are you a dedicated student of classical music who also likes to sing parody songs with your improv troupe? Are you a bilingual world traveler whose life has been shaped by two different cultures? You contain multitudes, and you’ve got five essays to work with!

Let’s take an in-depth look at some of the ways your essays can complement each other.

Write about important parts of your life in and out of school. If most of your MIT essays focus on in-school accomplishments and activities, try to write at least one essay about something different. It could be anything from volunteering for a local election to teaching your sister to repair a bike.

Write about structured and unstructured activities. If most of your essays are about things you did in an organized group, try to write at least one essay about something you did without any external structure. For example, you might write about your love of updating your book review blog, your project where you taught yourself to program a Raspberry Pi, or speaking Hindi with your grandmother.

Write about independent and interactive experiences. If all five of your essays are about something you did on your own, your reader won’t get a strong sense of how you might fit into the MIT community. On the flip side, if all five of your essays are about group experiences, your reader won’t be able to tell how you explore your passions independently. Try to mix it up!

But let’s say you spend most of your free time on the same passion. Is it okay to mention the same topic in more than one essay if it’s really important to you? Yes, but make sure to discuss a different value, interest, or goal in each essay. Let’s look at some topics from example students who made this work!


Student interest: Aerospace Engineering

Topic for Why Major prompt: at MIT, the Aerospace Engineering major is available to undergraduates, and there are great research opportunities

Topic for Activity of Choice prompt: Sharing my love of science as a space camp counselor

Why this Works: Both of these topics connect to the same intellectual interest, but one focuses on the student’s academic interests, and the other is about her values


Student interest: Neuroscience

Topic for Overcoming a Challenge prompt: Living with epilepsy inspired my goal of becoming a neurologist

Topic for Background prompt: My Neurology Bowl teammates taught me the value of creativity in science

Why this Works: Both of these essays connect to the student’s interest in neuroscience, but one is about his career goals, and the other is about an experience that changed his values



Note: If you need more help developing your topics, you can check out our prewriting modules. We provide focused brainstorming questions for many common types of essays, including the "why major" and "activity" prompts.

Get started with our free brainstorming tools!

Prompt’s Essay Specialists reviewed 13,000 admissions essays in 2018, helping thousands of students submit their applications with confidence.

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