Opinion guest column

Affirmative action: the perspective from admissions

Every student admitted deserves to be at MIT

In response to the recent discussions taking place in these pages, where a lot has been said about the admissions process, I want to take this opportunity to add to the conversation with a few comments.

First, I want to make clear that every student we admit we have chosen to join our community for their academic excellence and personal match with MIT’s mission. We have an extraordinary applicant pool, and have the luxury of being able to admit the best students from all backgrounds, with diverse interests and talents. Every student we admit deserves to be here, and was selected to create a student body that is uniformly excellent and that best serves MIT’s mission to educate leaders for the future. Indeed, we feel deeply privileged to have each of you on our campus.

Second, we consider many factors in our admissions process such as socioeconomic background, geography, personal interests, specific academic talents, and non-academic skills, as well as gender, race, and ethnicity. We do this because it is important for us to consider a student’s background when we are assessing their potential: we have to consider a student’s resources, opportunities, and context to understand what their potential might be. Indeed, we are not trying to assemble the best freshman class, but the best graduating class. And we see it all the time: students who grow up with the talent, but not the resources, excel once they get here to MIT. Furthermore, a diverse class serves the interests of all of our students. Every student’s education is enhanced in a diverse community.

Third, to offer a fuller description of what we do and why, I’d like to point you to our website, where we have not been shy about hosting these very discussions in an open way. These links are of particular interest:




MIT is indeed a special place, and it is so because of the people that make up our community.

Stu Schmill ’86 is the Dean of Admissions

Chewbacca about 6 years ago

"[W]e consider many factors in our admissions process such as...gender, race, and ethnicity."

So this means if you have two students who are identical in every variable except for one of the above--race/gender/ethnicity--this influences the admissions decision how, exactly?

Controlling for every other variable, please tell us how these three specifically influence the admissions process.

Please of course be honest about this and advise whether you are using soft quotas of some kind.

"We need X number of [ ] this year to round out the freshman class"--how is "X" determined for a given race/ethnic group/gender?

The admissions process is completely opaque when it comes to how affirmative action is actually applied in practice. That's unfair to all applicants. If MIT has the courage of its convictions then you should be prepared to honestly explain in a non-obfuscatory manner what exactly is going on in the decision-making process.

Sarah Hopp \'08 about 6 years ago


First off, why does this even matter? MIT is still the best. MIT students are still amazing. MIT is still changing the world. Have the average GPAs dropped lately? The publications coming out of MIT diminished in quality?

Oh, right. That's right. They haven't.

Why fix it if it ain't broken?

How would you suggest "Controlling for every other variable" in a process that isn't based on pure numbers but instead narrative essays? I know that the MIT community feels the need to tear apart the numbers, but it just doesn't work in a holistic admissions process.

Let's pretend that we could control for every factor, and that essays are ignored. That's quite a stretch. The admissions office relies on those essays. How would students be identical in every variable unless they copied applications? Grew up in the same home?

We're not living in a post-racial post-gender America. Simply being a person of color or female-identified can completely change the opportunities available to you, all other factors equal. In my middle school girls (even girls who were good at science and math!) were not given any attention during computer repair class - the teacher just worked with the boys the entire class. I didn't put that in my application to MIT, but it's an example of a systematic issue that the admissions office is aware of.

They don't need X number of anything to round everything out because they're paying attention to how students take advantage of what they have and not the numbers. I imagine that, naturally, everything evens out in the end without much effort.