How I Got Into MIT & Six Steps to be Accepted to ANY School

Have you ever noticed that in nearly every movie, the smart hero has graduated from MIT, Harvard, Yale, or some other well known and prestigious school? Or maybe you’ve been in a room when someone mentions that they’ve graduated from one of these schools, and suddenly everyone in the room is interested in what they have to say?

I have, and there’s a reason: these schools are the best of the best.

Having attended two different universities for a total of three degrees, I quickly learned how these “top” schools worked. In fact, as a student leader in various clubs, organizations, and faculty groups, I quickly discovered what it was that schools look for in prospective students.

Schools are looking for people who they think will be successful. Why?

Because a successful student will obtain a job, and in the process, will earn money. A high job placement post-graduation for students improves the school’s reputation and begins the upward cycle that leads to prestige and recognition. As a pleasant bonus, a successfully placed, money earning graduate is often grateful to their alma mater, and as such is much more likely to donate money to the university.

Therefore, it is in the best interest of schools to select students that they feel will be successful. With this in mind, the following steps will outline how you can convince the power school you are dreaming of attending that you will be a perfect (and successful) candidate that they can’t help but to accept.

6 Steps to Get Accepted to Any School

1) Score High on Standardized Tests

This is perhaps the hardest thing to do in order to be accepted to a high-class school.

Standardized tests include the GMAT, the LSAT, the SAT, the ACT, and many more. These tests are designed to measure reasoning skills, mathematical prowess, general intellectual capability, logic skills, reading comprehension, and overall intelligence. However daunting this may sound, every one of those tests can be passed through study and careful preparation.

I personally recognized my weakness in vocabulary, and so in preparing for the GMAT, I studied 5 vocabulary words a day for 90 days. By the end of that time, I had learned several new words such as obsequious and disingenuous, and was able to obtain a score that was apparently acceptable for MIT’s programs. It isn’t easy, but it can be done.

I would recommend having a friend or coworker help, or even taking a prep course for the test.

The moral of this story: learn what test you need to take, and then study, prepare, and work to score high on that test.

2) Keep up Your Grades

Notice that I didn’t say get perfect grades. Grades are an indication of how well you perform in an academic atmosphere.

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Many people will tell you that you need perfect grades in order to get into a good school. This is simply not true.

Particularly with inflated grades becoming more and more common, grades are playing a progressively smaller role in prestigious university acceptance. Even in online college degree programs, acceptance is often dependent on grades, but not made or broken by them.

An additional point to note in achieving good grades is to learn how to divide up your time. Often, a class gives 90% of the credit for 10% of your effort. The last 10% of the grade then requires 90% of your effort. This is what I call the 90/10 rule. Some may call this being lazy, but in reality, it’s learning how to correctly allocate your resources.

If you try to get 100% in every class you take, you will end up doing poorly in most of them, unless you are far more intelligent than most people on this planet. Conversely, if you are able to get an A- in most of your classes, with an A in the remainder, you may bring your overall GPA up by a considerable amount.

Again, I cannot stress enough that getting a 3.90 rather than a 4.0 will NOT mean you won’t get into a good university. I had a GPA of 3.78 when I graduated, and yet that was sufficient to net me a spot at MIT, arguably the most prestigious technical school in the world.

Get very good grades. Don’t spend all your time trying to get perfect grades.

3) Write a Good Entrance Essay

This is one of the most important parts. A high quality application essay can mean the difference between success and failure in both applying to schools (online schools or physical campuses) and in applying for financial aid. In addition, this is how the university can get to know YOU.

Often times, universities receive thousands or more applications each year. They have to sort through each application one by one, and often times, the only thing that pierces the veil of monotony for those going through applications is the essay.

Through the essay, you can let your personality shine, and really go a long way in persuading the one reviewing applications (and thus the university) that they can’t live without you!

Many people misunderstand the purpose for such essays and make mistakes, and often for good reason: schools and academic institutions often obfuscate the purpose, role, and specific requirements for such essays.

Instead of giving clear directions that lead the students to know what to write, they give vague statements such as “describe why you would be an ideal student at Harvard University.” This is not a set of instructions that will lead everyone to the prize of student status or free money.

Again, this is in part to keep their valuable resource (a degree and education) valuable, and honestly, in part, it is so that they can allow the applicant free-reign in demonstrating creativity and drive coupled with their intellectual capacities.

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4) Demonstrate Depth

No one likes to be around a person that can only do one thing for long… it gets boring, and fast.

Remember how I talked about not getting perfect grades?

It’s not because I want you to “coast” by, or to cheat the system; I recommended getting great and not perfect grades because that will leave time for you to develop other attributes that will round out your character and make you a very desirable candidate indeed.

We’ve all seen the movies where the perfectionist is trying to fill her or his resume with every possible activity, service, and position so that they can get into a good school. This is often played up for comedic effect (Jesse from “Saved by the Bell” comes to mind) but as with many good jokes, there is a grain of truth in the punch line.

Schools want to select candidates that will be successful, and often success requires many skills and traits that rarely all come from academic pursuits.

One example is my musical background. I learned to play the violin when I was in junior high. This may seem like a silly hobby, but what it taught me was how to make and keep goals, how to work with a team (a violin alone is not nearly as beautiful as a full orchestra), and how to perform in front of a crowd of people (can anyone say public speaking). So even though it seems to be a silly hobby, learning to play the violin naturally instilled in me characteristics that quite thoroughly prepared me to accept and overcome challenges encountered in my schooling and beyond.

In short, take the time to find hobbies, develop skills, or become an expert at something (besides video games). It can be a fun experience, and at the same time, it can lead to your getting into the school of your dreams! It rarely matters what you do, but what does matter is that you take the time to practice, achieve, and become the best you possibly can be at something other than your schooling.

5) Work Hard at Work

This may seem like an unimportant step, but it is vital in two ways:

First of all, if you have already graduated, and are working full time, often your work performance will be a more important factor in acceptance decisions than your grades. Grades are important when you graduate, but often your “caliber” based on grades fades, and your value is based instead on your work accomplishments. I knew several business students at MIT who didn’t do very well in their undergraduate coursework. However, they went on to become ridiculously successful wall street traders, and they subsequently had no difficulty being accepted into MIT’s Sloan School of Business.

The second reason that I recommend striving for high quality work on your job is the subject of references. You will need other people to back you up when you tell the universities that you are wonderful, and who else to do this than the people who have worked with you every day for the last several years of your life? Even better if a boss can vouch for your dazzling character.

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When I was attending my undergraduate school, I worked for one of my professors for a couple of years. At the end, I asked him for a referral for my MIT application. Much to my surprise, he told me, “I’d love to, and I’ll make it a spectacular recommendation.” I said, half-joking, “You don’t have to do that!” He then got a very serious look on his face and said, “I know, but you deserve that.” It wasn’t that he was playing favorites, but I worked very hard for him when I was at work and helped to progress his research.

Do not miss this important aspect of university acceptance: WORK HARD at your job. One way or another, hard work WILL pay off.

6) Be Your True Self

Finally, and most importantly, be honest.

Don’t try to be someone you aren’t; someone will eventually find out. Don’t give in to the temptation to pad your resume “because everyone does.” It will only hurt you in the end.

Don’t try to convince a university that you are strong where you are really weak, because if they accept you on that falsified strength, what will happen when you are called upon to contribute using that strength?

It may seem like a quick and easy fix to pretend to be something you aren’t in your application, but this will only lead to a terrible end eventually.

Don’t be afraid to let the university know how good you are, but don’t exaggerate even in the slightest any of your accomplishments. Be yourself, but be your best self.

There you have it.

Six steps that will ensure you the best chance at getting into a prestigious, accredited university; it’s not guaranteed, but these steps will give you a real fighting chance! It takes some time and preparation, but following these steps will help you to reach for the stars.

These steps can also help you get financial aid or a scholarship. Even if you’re not sure if you want to attend college, these steps will help you to achieve whatever goal you are seeking because they are easily translatable to other aspects of life.

These are really steps to success.

Good luck with learning and incorporating them into your daily life!

Dr. Gray