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By Quora
April 7, 2015

Answer by Tom Stagliano, MIT Education counselor, on Quora.

While I currently still interview freshman applicants, this metric I am going to describe was used a number of years ago, and I believe that it is still used today in some format.

MIT would “grade” an application with two “grades”:

  • Quantitative from 1 to 10
  • Qualitative from 5 to 10 (I once asked why not qualitative from 1 to 10, and I was told that’s what we do, but anyone below a 5 is a “corpse.”)

So the Quantitative is based upon where the people fit on the overall standard of being able to do the work at MIT and be able to graduate within four years, based upon ranking of the high school, GPA (if available), transcript, test scores, recommendations, etc. The Qualitative is based upon what the person offers as a person to the MIT community based upon the interview write-up, the essays, other parts of the application (things they do), and the recommendations including the secondary school report on the individual.

As one can expect the applicants who are in the 10,10 grid all get an acceptance letter. And a 9,10 (where second is qualitative, the person) will get in over a 10,9. Indeed an 8,10 will probably be admitted over a 10,8. MIT, like all elite colleges, wants people who can contribute to the community more so that academic single-focus people. Those single-focus academics, if they can truly survive getting a bachelors degree at any college, will show up in graduate school.

In order to break “ties” or assist in moving someone from a 8,7 to an 8,8 (for example), MIT awards “bonus points.” Bonus points will come from:

  • Regional or national or international excellence. (For example I once interviewed the fifth best male figure skater in the U.S. and who was on the U.S. national team. That was worth bonus points.)
  • If there is an especially good fit with a club or organization or sport at MIT. Bonus points may be awarded for basketball or track or orchestra or drama, etc., where MIT believes that the person can and will come on campus and contribute to that group.
  • If the interviewer ranks the applicant a “one in million.” With appropriate justification, that person will get a bonus point.

Note: Things like National Science Fair or Math or Physics Olympiad medal will contribute to the Quantitative score, but not as a bonus point. So, an International Physics Olympiad gold medal winner could be a 10,5. Quantitatively excellent but barely a human being. MIT may not accept that person as a freshman and wait for that person to re-apply as a graduate student years later. MIT is very cognizant of the Qualitative score because high numbers there, especially with bonus points, mean the person has a high likelihood of surviving MIT’s intense academic fire hose without getting overly depressed or spiraling away.

I hope that helps to make people aware that the elite universities are looking for human beings who can do the academic work and contribute to the community and not academic automatons.

This question originally appeared on Quora: How do admissions officers rate applicants?

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