The Quad

No essay nightmares for MIT applicants

Harvard has hired an arborist to determine why trees planted along Western Avenue died. Replacements will be planted in the spring. Harvard has hired an arborist to determine why trees planted along Western Avenue died. Replacements will be planted in the spring. (Harry Mattison)
By Tracy Jan
Globe Staff / October 4, 2009

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The college that once told high school seniors to stop cramming so many extracurricular activities on their resumes has taken another step toward making applications less stressful - MIT has done away with the traditional, and much fussed-over, long essay.

The 500-word essay has been replaced by three short answers between 200 and 250 words. The change was made for this year’s applicants as a way to elicit more candid answers to questions such as how one approached a significant challenge, said Stuart Schmill, MIT’s dean of admissions.

“We wanted to remove that larger-than-life qualify to that one essay and take away a bit of the high-stakes nature of that one piece, ’’ Schmill said.

The hand-wringing that went along with the long essay, which has become the icon of the college application, has spawned a cottage industry of consultants, companies that edit students’ essays, and overnight camps where students can seek help.

In addition to the life challenge question, this year’s applications will be asked to write about something they have created and to tell admissions staff about their worlds. To those who lament the sudden space constraint, Schmill said, “We’re not asking them to send us a text message.’’ Or a tweet.

Wilting on Western Avenue
Winter has yet to arrive but already the leaves have fallen from many of the trees along Western Avenue in Allston.

Of the more than 100 pin oaks, red maples, and London planes that Harvard planted two years ago as part of a neighborhood agreement for the construction of a state-of-the-art science complex, at least 38 have died.

But neighbors, already frustrated by the delay in the completion of the science complex when Harvard’s endowment went south, should not fret about Harvard abandoning them with a street of wilting trees. The university has hired an arborist to uncover the cause of the deaths and should have a new landscaping plan in place by the end of the month, said Lauren Marshall, a Harvard spokeswoman. Replacement trees will be planted next spring.

The future of the science complex is a more complicated matter. Harvard remains uncertain whether construction will be indefinitely postponed after the foundation is completed in December. The site is still a 5-acre crater, though the towering cranes have been removed and 50 workers are now waterproofing the walls of the foundation, Marshall said.

“We continue to assess our options,’’ she said. “We are assessing the project’s scope and pace.’’

College students count, too
College students, Secretary of State William F. Galvin is begging you to stand up and be counted. Even if you hail from overseas or out of state, you should fill out the federal 2010 Census as a Massachusetts resident. It’ll be good for the Bay State.

The higher the count, the more federal dollars will flow into the state for transportation, health care, and other public services. A high number could also keep Massachusetts, whose population is dwindling compared with Southern and Western states, from losing a congressional seat.

“A key part of our strategy is to get our maximum population count,’’ Galvin said. “We would like to make sure that our delegation remains at 10 and our electoral vote remains at 12, but it’s really about money and not being shortchanged on federal funds.’’

The Boston metropolitan area has the highest concentration of colleges in the nation, boasting more than 360,000 students from around the world at its more than 80 colleges and universities.

Yeah, you might be registered to vote elsewhere and root for the Yankees instead of the Sox, but you go to school here, ride the T, and use other municipal and state services, Galvin argues. Plus, federal rules say people should be counted where they live and sleep most of the year.

Census forms will be distributed in April.

The Quad is a collection of doings on local campuses. For online updates, go to and click on The Quad category. To submit tips, contact Tracy Jan at