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And now - MIT's freshman decisions get (almost) 'hacked'

At around 1 AM India time today, someone on the MIT forum on College Confidential posted a way to list the names/cities of all international admitted students to MIT class of 2009. It was trivial, and all it involved was putting in MIT's reference number, shipment date and zip code on DHL's tracking site.

Many people followed the steps and presto - before them appeared the list of all international students accepted to MIT!!

This was unethical without doubt, and the worst part was, that people were posting names of accepted students on CC, and the MIT shipment reference number and other steps were posted on Matt McGann and Ben Jones' blogs (both official admissions information blogs).

Matt McGann acted farily quickly, deleting the post and adding a blog entry about how unethical it was. First, many people reported the thread to CC's moderators; but the thread was not deleted even after an hour. By 2 or 3 AM, close to a thousand people had seen the thread. Of course the damage was done, but to prevent further damage, we decided upon a strategy. We started bumping old threads frantically so as to get the "forbidden" thread off the first page (so far fewer people would look at it).

However, just when the thread was going to get off the page, someone posted a message on it, and it got bumped up to the top! Back to square one, we started again. This bumping frenzy continued up until now (4 AM). The thread was finally off the first page, and then a good person gave the CC mods a call to alert them. The thread is now gone.

This development has raised a lot of issues about the ethics of finding out decisions before time (especially in light of the recent ApplyYourself hack). It is perfectly fine to find out your decision (many people did that mere hours after the letters were mailed, by calling DHL to find out if there was any packet for them from zip code 02139). MIT sent notification via DHL to international students who got admitted, on Friday, March 11th 2005.

However, to access a list of all admitted students worldwide is gross. I'll have more to talk about it later.

For now, I may mention that I was much too scared to call DHL earlier, and still am to look at the list...

The hero of College Confidential...

our heroic deeds be known to the world lol good job merc!

Good Job!

Good Job

Hello, I have read your postings in several places requesting advice on what you might do to get into MIT, given that you have been refused admission once already.

As an MIT alum may I offer the following observations:

Accurate and inspiring presentation of oneself during the admissions process is not just one half or one quarter of the battle, it is the entire battle, if I may observe so. I am not aware that the admissions officers also look at your web sites and your other mailings on the internet to make their evaluations - seems like they ought not to, and only use the information you provide them in the application. Let's assume that this is indeed the case.

Based on your various postings everywhere, a picture is forming in my mind - a picture of one who is very motivated, very eager to learn, and very passionate about MIT. In addition, another less fortunate picture is also forming - I hope you will forgive me for being blunt - one of a technician or systemadmin rather than a bright potential engineer or a scientist.

Please don't ask me how I came to this impression - it is as subjective as the admissions officers assessment of your application would be. And I am not saying that this is a correct perception, it may be entirely false, I may be on dope, but it is indeed my perception. More I look at the details of your resume and your current scholastic record, as a hiring manager in a company which also hires very passionate people to do the technicians job, I might hire you.

As competitive as admissions are, and primarily as a math/science/engineering institute, I would be surprised if they also did not look at "future potential" of the applicant. Did you perchance give such a "technicians" impression to MIT and to other colleges - perhaps inadvertently?

Okay - just per chance that I am not smoking dope - what can you do to alter this perception if for one tiny moment you buy into this crazy thought.

Excell in math and science - I see that there is a lot of room to grow in your scholastic record even at the high school level.

If you want to enter MIT media lab because of your interest in music, it's not music that you should be excelling in at this time, it is math and science - with music your hobby at best - do you see what I mean? This principle applies to all your areas of interest.

Take programming, it does nothing for an application - you could program in ten languages and develop great code and yet be quite illiterate in computer science (I am course 6 and I can assure you I knew no programming when I went to MIT - had not even laid eyes on a computer, and graduated from MIT knowing only arcane languages like Algol-68, Lisp and Clu, and yet within one day, and at most two, of being assigned a programming job in a real world language, was programming like a pro - the only investment of time was in learning the syntax and getting a clear picture of some of the wierder semantics in the language. This of course is one of those prized benefits of getting an MIT education).

Ability to program in itself is not such a great academic credential as an undergraduate applicant to MIT, especially these days where everyone and their brother are expert programmers in many application domains. Again, I would advise, excell in math and science - leave programming as a hobby.

Hobbies do not make one a qualified applicant on their own - only demonstrate passion and personality - of which you have plenty.

Now demonstrate scholastic achievements as the applicant pool is very competitve - and you are applying to a school that values math and science achievements substancially.

Do not be deceived by those other kids posting their stats with lower scholastic records than yours who got in - there may be such extenuating circumstances in their background which only the admissions officers are privy to, that you cannot assess your own weaknesses that way.

May I also suggest you take the application you sent to MIT along with your letters of rec (if you can get a copy from your school), and your transcripts, basically the entire packet to a teacher/parent/uncle whose opinions you trust and who knows you intimately, and who might also be knowledgeable about MIT and american education system, and ask them what image about you shines through. Then you can yourself decide if the image is as you perceive of yourself. It is quite likely that you have accurately described yourself - see what that person is. But in either case, technician or scientist, improving your academic scholarship, doing more math/science contests, taking and excelling in A level courses, etc. can only help you.

Furthermore, I do not advocate people spend a year off just so that they can try again as a Freshman - I can also assure you that if you did that, and gave that impression to MIT, they will likely again reject you - they have said time and again - do not do things only to get admission into college. Improving math and science credentials however do not fall within the purview of that spirit - nor do making up deficiencies in knowledge and scholarship. Thus if you can actually enroll in a junior college and study hard the first two years and apply as a transfer student - you have understood the proper spirit of what I am saying here, as well as the proper spirit in which MIT evaluates applications.

As for difficulty of admission as a transfer student, let me assure you that I went to MIT as an international transfer student, your famous movie producer Mansoor Khan transfered to Cornell from IIT (I think it was Kanpur) and then again to MIT as a junior (he was my class fellow and good friend), and each year I met many new transfer students from many countries.

And Finally, we can not alwasy get what we want in life - a strong emotional resiliency is a requirement to overcome disappointments and setbacks. I have to confide in you, your attitude of MIT or nothing, to me does not bode well. Emotional as well as pragmatic resiliency is perhaps also what admissions officers look at, as do employers, as do anyone in a position of authority over you (whether or not you may know it) - and by you creating an impression on the web as you are now doing of MIT or bust (I am taking literary license here) may actually come back to bite you - it may impact your future job prospects as well. You really should be aware, that many employers these days frequently look up an applicant name on Google, some hire outside agencies to create prospective employee profiles, and you want to be careful what impressions you are leaving behind - the web has eternel memory.

Just pick up your pieces, get back on the road, take an alternate path to education (which really ought to be your primary goal - not MIT), and you may find yourself at some point in your academic career, happily at MIT. This is what I would do if I were you, and this is what I would advise any youngster in your shoes.

My 0.002 micro cents worth.

I hope you find these comments useful - they are offered in the spirit of guidance - and I appologise for the blunt language - and of course all this might just be entirely me on dope. But I did take the time to type this, and I hope you will reflect on it.

Best wishes,
a well wisher.

One last thing, about this post of yours - "And now - MIT's freshman decisions get (almost) 'hacked' " - would you like me to share what impression I get of you from it?

Okay I assume you are saying yes - it tells me that you do not have a proper sense of priority, seem to have ample time on your hands chasing down issues which are/should be irrelevant to you, and gloating over something that is entirely misplaced priority - solving MIT's problem for them gratuitously at 4:0am instead of focussing on your own studies and your own scholastic achievements and interests leaves an impression of an easily distracted person by what does not concern him.

Surprised? Not the impression you wanted to create is it?

If you applied to me for a job and I saw the above post in a google search on you, I would not hire you. I may be an egghead and a moron and you might go away cursing me - but that will not change the reality that you did not get a job in my lab. The reason would be - unable to discern priorites and easily distractable by what does not concern him - can't count on him to deliver on time - this is the comment I would write on the rejection.

I hope by showing you these things, I am helping you understand the law of unintended consequences, as well the implications of subjective evaluations that entirely rely on "impressions". These impressions may be false - but such impressions can decide your future. I hope you get the point.

well wisher


That was some awesome advice - exactly what I am looking for right now. I post so much on the internet because where I live, I'm on my own on applying to unviersities abroad, and the net is the only source of information for me.

Such a candid assessment has helped me more than you thought it would. Of course I do realize that MIT is not the ultimate haven, and I do have alternate plans. I have now been advised enough times against this, and have decided not to take another year off. Instead, I will enroll in a college and work on improving my science/math skills. I knew this while applying, but perhaps got blinded by all the talk about MIT "admitting people, not scores".

It is very true that I am passionate about learning, and you can't deny this. It is also true that I am not an academic superstar, and I can't deny this. My folly was not realizing that all admitted students are first and foremost exceptional academic performers; then comes the "personality, passion and initiative" part.

Though you are right that programming in itself is nothing to be proud of, I'm not all about writing payroll software. My inherent aptitude is in creating new things - and the reason it appears that I program in 10 languages and nothing more, is because I never had the resources to do anything more than that. Of course science/math skills are important, but I took the "school" stuff as an obligation (catalyzed mainly by the exam-driven teaching pattern - "ok kids, cross this next paragraph out, it's not important for the exam").

But I have now realized this mistake :-)

I really thank you for your valuable comments.

Oh, I forgot to add the bit about your second comment.

I never intended to "create an impression" so whatever impression this post left on people is totally theirs. If you believe a Google search reveals more about a person than what is apparent from a personal contact, I should add that for most of us, posting on the net or similar activities is something done at leisure, mostly as a pastime. Obviously you would not expect me to write a blog entry "gloating" about this incident and what we did, at 4 in the morning, if I had better things to do!

I advise you to do a Google search on me (if you haven't done it yet!), and see what you come up with. :-) That is obviously not a sampling of my priorities!

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