Interview with Samantha Burnell, SMASH Senior Scholar at Stanford
In this post Samantha “Sammie” Burnell shares her college application experience and how she gained early admission to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Early admission is a college admission plan in which students apply earlier in the year than usual and receive their results early as well. This benefits students by reducing the number of applications to be completed at one time and by providing results early. Most colleges that participate in early admission request applications by October 15th or November 1st and return results by December 15th. There are two types of early admissions: Early Action, which is not binding, and Early Decision, which is binding. (wikipedia)
Sammie (pictured left) with fellow SMASH scholars at 2013 Recognition and Exhibition event at Stanford
How did you connect with MIT?
MIT sent me an email inviting me to apply to their Weekend Immersion in Science and Engineering (WISE) .I believe they obtained my information from the college board website. WISE is a 3 day all-expense paid visit to MIT for high school students. During WISE, students have the opportunity to attend classes, meet professors, visit labs, participate in hands- on activities, attend workshops, and stay with a current MIT student. I attended the October session of WISE.
Why did you apply for early admissions?
I decided to apply Early Action to MIT because of WISE. Before WISE, I didn’t know much about MIT and was not planning on applying. It was like a name I couldn’t put a face to. I found that I loved being around the other people in the program and the teachers and current students. The students and teachers were all excited about what projects or research they were doing.
I also felt that MIT is a diverse school with an excellent reputation and an abundance of opportunities, whether I wanted to participate in research as a undergrad, implement a project in a developing country, or study abroad. It seemed like I could accomplish anything I wanted there while being surrounded by some of the brightest students in the world. Also, the location of the school is great; Boston/Cambridge is an exciting place filled with many other colleges.
When I discovered that applying to MIT Early Action would be non-binding that sealed it for me. I decided then and there that I was going to apply early. When I returned home, I had roughly 3 weeks to complete my application, schedule my interview and have my teachers and my counselor submit letters of recommendation.
How do you feel SMASH prepared you for the application process? SMASH helped me consider the types of schools I wanted to apply to (urban, suburban, big, small etc.) and they helped me brainstorm for my personal statement. We worked on personal statements over the summer during my second year in SMASH in the College Success class.
What were some of the challenges of applying to an elite school?
One challenge was completing the supplemental essays. Many elite schools have supplemental essays, usually between 100 and 500 words each, in addition to the essay for the Common Application. Some schools, like MIT, don’t use the Common App, so you have to use their application website. MIT had six essay questions and, for a few, I found that I could reuse bits and pieces of the common app essay.
Another challenge was preparing for and doing the interview. The last couple of days leading up to the interview I was nervous, as I am not usually a very talkative person with strangers and sometimes have trouble communicating effectively. However, the night before, I went over what kinds of questions I’d expect him to ask and what I wanted him to know about me. Feeling prepared helped ease my anxiety. Ultimately my worry was for nothing, because my interviewer was very nice, the conversation flowed easily and in thirty minutes it was over.
What one piece of advice would you give college applicants about the process?
One piece of advice is to start early. Make sure you prepare a list of colleges that you are going to apply to before the beginning of your senior year. That list can change as the year goes on, but it’s important to have a solid starting point. Start your Common App and UC essays during the summer. Although the Common App is not available until August, in spring or early summer you can find the essay question(s) posted on the internet. OK, I know you asked for one, but this is important as well — be aware that many colleges require one Math subject test and one Science subject test in addition to the SAT for engineering majors so plan your test preparation and schedule for the second half of junior year and first half of senior year carefully.
Help support young women of color like Sammie who are interested in pursuing STEM education and positively impacting the world around them by supporting LPFI programs like SMASH.