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MIT admissions dean discusses incoming class

Stu Schmill
Stu Schmill
Photo / Donna Coveney

Ben Gulak is just one of more than 1,000 students headed to MIT in the fall. In this interview with the MIT News Office, newly appointed Dean of Admissions Stu Schmill '86 shares more details about the students who have accepted MIT's offer--including a full set of quadruplets--and discusses why the selection panel's work was tougher than ever this year.

Q. What can you tell us about the Class of 2012 by the numbers (i.e. total size, gender split, countries and states represented)? And on that same topic, how did our yield this year compare with previous years?

A. For the Class of 2012, which will number 1,040 students, we received a record number of applications, an 8 percent increase over last year. We admitted fewer than 12 percent of the 13,396 applicants, our lowest admit rate ever.

Due to changes in other school's early application programs and financial-aid programs, this year was the most competitive climate ever in the yielding of top students. Despite this, MIT's yield held strong at 66 percent, only a small drop from last year and our third-highest yield ever.

We are planning to go to the wait list for a small number of students, but as of right now the class is 46 percent women, 25 percent under-represented minority (10 percent African American, 14 percent Hispanic and 1 percent Native American), 18 percent who are first generation to college, from 49 states and 56 countries.

Q. Are there any interesting anecdotes you can share with us about the students who accepted MIT's offer?

A. We are enrolling what, as far as I know, is our first set of quadruplets. We have a student coming from Gaza, who has thrived despite a severe lack of opportunity; a woman who won a gold medal at last year's International Math Olympiad, tied for No. 7 in the world.

There is a student who, after helping his grandmother in her tomato garden, completed a two-year study of the long-term effects of exposure to pyrethroids, commonly found in household and agricultural pesticides. He won second place in the Intel Science Talent Search (STS) for his project. The third-place Intel STS winner, whose project involved developing new types of solar cells, is also enrolling at MIT.

There is a student who owns a company that has built 300 houses for low-income families in Guatemala using "green cement" and schools he has built in China have reached 1.5 million students. Another student created a community-based microfinance program for transgendered individuals and intravenous-drug users in Delhi.

Coming to campus in the fall will be a DJ, a leader of Future Farmers of America who raises goats and pigs and a 6-foot-11-inch basketball player who has taken multivariable calculus.

I could go on and on.

Q. Were there some things about the applicant pool this year that surprised you?

A. What stood out to me this year was the increased depth of the applicant pool. While we have always had strong students applying to MIT, this year there were more of them. It made our decisions in selection committee extremely difficult and I would say more difficult than ever. And so the increased size of the applicant pool was not just more numbers--it represented a lot of really talented high school students, many of who would be great to have on campus. The entire admissions staff is very excited about the students who are in the Class of 2012.

Q. Are there any new trends that have become clearer as you wrap up this year's admissions cycle?

A. What we see more of in our current applicants is an extension of the trend of increased volunteering. There are more students who are interested in truly making a difference in the world. For example, more students are interested in energy and the environment. This transcends course of study--students who may be interested in a variety of majors are interested in making a difference in these areas. We also see more students interested in pursuing bioengineering. I would say that students across the world have become more interested in these areas as their visibility has increased recently, but also that MIT has major initiatives in these areas may well be attracting more applicants, as well.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 14, 2008 (download PDF).

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