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MIT Essay Prompts 2017: Understanding Them and Writing Powerful Essays

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MIT is one of the most prestigious universities in the world, attracting bright and talented students from around the globe. For these students, the application journey begins with the essay prompts. These prompts are designed to give MIT admissions officers insight into the applicant’s personality, values, and unique qualities. In this article, we’ll explore the MIT essay prompts for 2017 and provide some tips for crafting powerful essays that stand out.

First Things First: What Are the MIT Essay Prompts?

Before we dive into the essay prompts, let’s take a moment to understand why they’re so important. MIT’s admissions process is competitive, with thousands of applications for a limited number of spots. The essay prompts are one way for the admissions team to differentiate between applicants and get a better sense of who they are.

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In the 2017 application cycle, MIT required applicants to answer five essay prompts:

Essay Prompt 1: 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.

Essay Prompt 2: Although you may not yet know what you want to major in, which department or program at MIT appeals to you and why?

Essay Prompt 3: 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.

Essay Prompt 4: 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?

Essay Prompt 5: 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?

Understanding the Essay Prompts

To craft powerful essays, it’s essential first to understand what each prompt is asking for. Let’s break down the 2017 prompts and discuss some strategies for approaching them.

Essay Prompt 1: Pursuing Pleasure

This prompt is deceptively simple — it’s asking you to write about something you enjoy doing. However, the real goal is to give the admissions team insight into who you are outside of your academic achievements.

Some tips for approaching this prompt:- Choose an activity that reveals something about your personality, skills, or values.- Be specific — describe the activity and why you enjoy it in detail.- Showcase your writing skills by using vivid language and sensory details.

Essay Prompt 2: Choosing Your Department

In this prompt, MIT is looking for applicants with a genuine passion for a particular department or program. Your goal is to convince the admissions team that you’ve done your research and that you’re a good fit for the department you’re interested in.

Some tips for approaching this prompt:- Research the department you’re interested in thoroughly.- Be specific about what attracts you to the department — is it the curriculum, the faculty, the research opportunities?- Show, don’t tell — use concrete examples to illustrate your reasons for choosing the department.

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Essay Prompt 3: Contributing to Your Community

MIT values students who are committed to making a positive impact in their communities. In this prompt, you’ll need to describe a way in which you’ve contributed to your community.

Some tips for approaching this prompt:- Don’t be afraid to choose a “small” way you’ve contributed to your community — it’s the impact that matters.- Be specific — describe the community and the impact you’ve had in detail.- Reflect on what you’ve learned from your experience and how it’s shaped you as a person.

Essay Prompt 4: Your Worldview

This prompt is all about giving the admissions team insight into who you are and where you come from. Your goal is to show how your background and experiences have shaped your dreams and aspirations.

Some tips for approaching this prompt:- Focus on the specific people, places, and experiences that have influenced you.- Be honest — don’t be afraid to talk about challenges and struggles you’ve faced.- Show how your background has prepared you to succeed at MIT.

Essay Prompt 5: Overcoming Challenges

This prompt is an opportunity to showcase your resilience and problem-solving skills. The admissions team wants to know how you’ve handled adversity and overcome obstacles.

Some tips for approaching this prompt:- Choose a challenge that’s significant but not overwhelming — you want to show how you’ve grown and learned from the experience.- Be honest about your emotions and how you felt during the experience.- Show the admissions team how you’ve used the lessons you’ve learned to become a better person.

Tips for Answering the Essay Prompts

Now that we’ve discussed the essay prompts’ nuances, here are some tips for crafting powerful essays that will impress the MIT admissions team:

  • Be authentic: The essays are a chance to showcase who you are as a person, so don’t try to be someone you’re not.
  • Be specific: Use concrete examples and vivid language to illustrate your points.
  • Structure your essay: Use a clear introduction, body, and conclusion to organize your thoughts effectively.
  • Show not tell: Use detailed anecdotes to show your values and character traits instead of just describing them.
  • Reflect on what you’ve learned: The prize is in the journey, not the destination. Reflect on the lessons you’ve learned from your experiences.
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Common Mistakes to Avoid

Crafting a powerful essay can be challenging, and there are some common mistakes you should avoid:

  • Don’t be too general: Use specific examples to illustrate your points.
  • Don’t recycle your resume: The essays are not the place to list your achievements. Instead, focus on your values and character traits.
  • Don’t plagiarize: It’s essential to write in your own voice and avoid copying and pasting from other sources.
  • Don’t forget to edit: Grammatical errors and typos can detract from the power of your essay.

Key Takeaways

  • The essay prompts are essential for differentiating between applicants.
  • The prompts are designed to give insight into the applicant’s personality, values, and unique qualities.
  • Understanding each prompt’s nuances is essential for crafting powerful essays.
  • The essays are a chance to showcase your values, character traits, and achievements authentically.
  • Common mistakes include being too general, recycling your resume, plagiarizing, and forgetting to edit.


Crafting a powerful essay is no easy feat, but it’s an essential part of the MIT application process. By understanding the prompts’ nuances, showing off your authentic self, and avoiding common mistakes, you can write a powerful essay that showcases your values and unique qualities. Good luck!


Q. Do I need to answer all five of the essay prompts, or can I choose which ones to answer?

A. For the 2017 application cycle, applicants were required to answer all five essay prompts. However, check the MIT website for specific requirements for the current application cycle.

Q. Can I reuse an essay from another college application?

A. It’s not recommended to reuse essays from other applications. The essay prompts are designed to get insight into who you are as a person, and it’s essential to tailor your essays to the specific prompts and requirements of each school.

Q. Should I use the same writing style for all five essays?

A. Your writing style should remain consistent across all five essays, but the content will likely vary significantly. Each essay prompt requires a unique approach and may require different anecdotes or examples.

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