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How does an average kid get into MIT?
My son attended MIT. We are an average middle class family. I am a public schoolteacher and my wife is a home day care provider. My son grew up as a normal kid. He played neighborhood sports, guitar, and enjoyed school. Even though we recognized his passion for learning, we never thought of him as a genius and neither did he, even though he graduated valedictorian from both middle and high school.
I recognized his drive early in life, to see how things worked and his ideas of improving them, tinkering with them, etc. He decided he wanted to major in some form of engineering so, when he was in his Junior year of high school, we started visiting many of the local and regional colleges that specialized in this. After visiting Worcester Polytechnic and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institutes (among others) I suggested we visit MIT. He agreed but asked me if we were wasting our time as he then added “… because I’ll never get in …”
We chose a day for our visit and, as we were touring the campus, he looked at me and said “I could see myself here.” I suggested we pick up an admissions application so we stopped at the admissions office. When he saw that it would cost $50.00 to submit the application (and knowing finances were tight due to bills I had incurred as a result of a spinal cord injury which rendered me a paraplegic) he said “Dad, don’t waste your money. I’ll never get in here.” I told him to think of it like placing a bet in a casino. Take a shot because you don’t know what the outcome will be.
He filled out the application and took his SATs scoring (at that time) in the low 700s out of a possible 800 (low by MIT standards). He passed his interviews and settled in for the wait. He soon received the news by email that he had been wait-listed. I could see his disappointment as he showed me the letter and said “Well, I tried. I told you they wouldn’t accept me.” I told him that there was one more thing he could try if he really wanted that school. He could send an email to admissions thanking them for considering him and telling them that if he was removed from wait list and accepted in the second round that he would definitely attend MIT. Meanwhile, I sent in a non-refundable $500.00 deposit to his second choice school, Worcester Polytechnic.
Two weeks later, he calls me to come in and look at the computer. I told him I was busy and he said, “Dad, you really have to see this.” I wheeled in to the room to see an e-mail posted on the screen which stated in part, “Congratulations, you have been accepted to MIT.” He printed a copy to show my wife as we both stood there shocked. I tried my best not to cry as I hugged him and told him “See, I knew you could do it” (even though I, too, had privately had my doubts).
He said “Dad, don’t waste your money. I’ll never get in here.” I told him to think of it like placing a bet in a casino.
He now started to get scared. He voiced such concerns as what if he couldn’t make it, what if the work was too hard, if he was MIT material why didn’t he make the first cut, what about the $500.00 deposit I would lose at Worcester Polytechnic, etc.
I told him both his mom and I believed in him and if he wanted different perspectives, perhaps he could talk to his high school teachers (who all encouraged him not to pass up the opportunity). I told him that if at any time he felt he just could not do it, to come to me and we could consider another school of his choice. After a week of soul searching, he decided to go. His first year was hard and he thought about leaving several times, but he persevered and saw it through. MIT has a mantra which states “Work, Sleep, Party … pick 2.” He somehow rotated through all 3 and survived.
He graduated 3 and 1/2 years later with a degree in mechanical engineering. He had the highest average in his major and won the Presidential Award which, together with work study, enabled him to attend MIT a second time to secure his Master’s degree at little cost. A professor with whom he had worked during his 6 years of attendance rewarded him a free ride to obtain his doctorate, again at MIT. I still get a lump in my throat thinking of him graduating in his Doctoral robes.
His first entry level job, chosen for its opportunities and not solely for it monetary rewards, started him at over $100,000 annual salary. He has been published numerous studies and articles and now works on various projects, for both private companies and individuals as well as for the government. If a child needing heart surgery is able to have it performed without the doctor having to crack open his/her chest, thank my son. One of his first important inventions was the development of a device to do this arthroscopically.
I say this to every teenager who reads this. If you are MIT material, they will know when you apply. If you really want an MIT degree, seize the moment and believe in yourself. It is a powerful experience you will never forget (nor will your parents, I still get emotional every time I relate this story) and you will make friends that will influence your life from all over the world. I still remember the time my son took a Princess from India home to spend the Christmas holidays with us and she and my wife made pizza together in the kitchen. Many times our dining room would be filled with students from all over the world but when they talked about their subjects in school they lapsed into a common language that my wife and I seldom understood. We used to say they were talking in tongues.
Yes, MIT is an opportunity many wish for and few get. Make the most of it and don’t let it pass you by.
(By the way, I never did get back that $500.00 deposit from Worcester Polytechnic though, in retrospect, I consider it money well spent.)
Michael DiBlasio is a writer and father. Read more from Quora below: