In MIT’s admissions overture, calculated hints at life to come

By Tracy Jan
Globe Staff / March 18, 2010

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Last Sunday afternoon, in the year’s third month and on its 14th day, at precisely 1:59, MIT applicants worth their salt migrated to a computer and logged on to a special admissions website to check their fates.

Just 1,611 students got in, a record low admission rate of 9.7 percent.

But a weightier number filled students’ minds: 3.14159 . . . , or pi, the Greek letter symbolizing the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.

Yes, in true geek fashion, MIT released its admissions decisions at a time that would hold a deeper meaning for only those mathematically inclined enough to apply, on Pi Day, March 14, 1:59, as an homage to the mathematical constant.

“We thought it was pretty neat and fitting,’’ said Stuart Schmill, dean of admissions and a 1986 graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Pi is a special number. And this is one way for us, as a science and technology centered place, to celebrate it.’’

It’s MIT’s version of March Madness. Applicants were e-mailed a clever note last Thursday, instructing them how to check the status of their applications “a minute before 2 p.m.’’

“Receiving your decision on-line is as easy as pi,’’ the message said.

Though there was no explicit reference to Pi Day, Schmill said, “Most of our applicants are clued in.’’

This is the second year in a row that the university has been able to release its decisions on Pi Day (coincidetally, the birthday of Albert Einstein). But MIT is not making Pi Day admissions and rejections a tradition just yet. It lands on a Monday next year. And, Schmill said, “We won’t release decisions when our applicants are in school.’’