SES Admissions

SES seeks applicants with diverse backgrounds, preparation, and experiences. An ideal candidate will demonstrate academic excellence in engineering, applied math, or a quantitative social science. They will be motivated to solve concrete and complex societal problems with technological aspects, and they will have sought out research or applied work with these types of systems. Master’s degree and work experience are not required.

Applications open September 15 and are due December 15. In addition to the material available here, the SES Admissions Webinar provides a thorough overview of the doctoral program.

Frequently Asked Questions about Admissions

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Get to Know Us

Where can I learn more about the research being done by faculty and students?
Here are some websites to explore:

Where can I learn about the program requirements?
An overview of the program requirements is available here.

What will the SES program prepare me for? What do alumni do when they graduate?
An overview of graduates’ prospects and placements is available here.

How do students fund their programs?
An overview of how students fund their SES programs is available here.

Can I pursue my program virtually?
The SES Doctoral Program is a full-time, residential program.

How can I learn about student life?
Here are some resources to get you started:

Additionally, admitted applicants who are new to MIT are matched with a student mentor who can provide first-hand insight about student life.

Can I visit?
You are welcome! Prospective students may visit MIT by arrangement. Note: between December 15 and the end of February, IDSS does not host prospective student visits (sorry: we’ll be too busy processing and reviewing applications to properly greet you). Visits are self-arranged, but here are some suggestions for making the most of your visit:

  • Schedule a meeting with the SES Admissions Coordinator, Arlyn Hertz, by writing to idss_academic_office ‘at’
  • Schedule a campus tour with the MIT Undergraduate Admissions Office.
  • Attend an Admissions Virtual Q&A session. These are a follow-up session for the pre-recorded SES Admissions Webinar.

Can you put me in touch with an IDSS faculty member? I'd like to discuss my application with them.
Through the admissions process the IDSS faculty receives a thorough introduction to your goals and research interests. However, many individual faculty members do not encourage other interactions (meetings, calls, or correspondence) with individual applicants before an applicant is admitted — in some cases this can be a matter of principle, in others it is just a necessity of time-management. In any case, IDSS’s admissions process will routinely admit external applicants who do not have prior MIT experience or contacts. You are encouraged to familiarize yourself with the research being done by IDSS faculty members by investigating their websites. You are encouraged to discuss the overlaps you discover between IDSS faculty members’ research interests and your own research interests in your essay. However, if you have never met the faculty member you are seeking to contact, and the faculty member’s website does not invite contact from applicants, then we do not encourage you to try and get in touch.

My Background

What's the profile of 'an ideal candidate'?
Whether your most recent experience has been an undergraduate or master’s program, or professional, if you can demonstrate (a) academic excellence in a relevant area (engineering or applied mathematics, or a social science discipline that utilizes quantitative analysis) from a strong program, (b) motivation to solve concrete and complex societal problems with technological aspects, and (c) an interest in researching complex systems, we encourage you to apply.

What type of undergraduate background will prepare me for the program?
We are expecting to see applicants with two different types of undergraduate preparation:

  • Students with a background in engineering or applied mathematics.
    These applicants should be interested in learning about the social sciences and translating their skills to a particular domain, or interested in incorporating the social or economic aspects of their research problem into their work.
  • Students with a background in social science – particularly those with a background in quantitative analysis.
    These applicants should be interested in learning advanced quantitative methods, and in applying their skills to domains of interest, while also taking into account engineering aspects.

Is a bachelor's degree expected? Required?
A bachelor’s degree is required. Many SES doctoral students are admitted directly from an undergraduate program.

Is a master's degree expected? Required?
A master’s degree is neither expected nor required. Many SES doctoral students are admitted directly from an undergraduate program. A master’s degree may be useful for providing applicants with a significant research experience if their undergraduate program (or their professional experience, if any) hasn’t included a substantial exposure to research. It may also be useful to applicants whose undergraduate preparation did not include some of the prerequisites for high-level graduate work in this area.

How does the MicroMasters Program in Statistics and Data Science impact my application?

The MicroMasters Program in Statistics and Data Science is a separate, stand-alone, professional certificate offered by MITx and delivered by edX.

While the MicroMasters program is not required to apply to SES, it can be beneficial for applicants who do not have previous, substantial coursework in statistics and data science at the undergraduate or graduate level. The MicroMasters program credential demonstrates preparation in the statistics and data science fundamentals expected of SES students. MicroMasters learners admitted to SES can expect that their MicroMasters program coursework will be recognized with credit for corresponding SES core classes and requirements.

Note that the MicroMasters program is not a degree-granting program and therefore cannot satisfy the SES requirement for a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field.

How is work experience viewed?
Work experience is neither expected nor required. Professional experience can be useful at focusing career and research objectives, and providing relevant context in an application domain. We expect most SES students will be motivated by solving the complex problems that occur at a systems-scale, at the interface of human activity and technology: problems that incur unnecessary human and economic costs; problems that require a multidisciplinary skill-set to address. That motivation and perspective — however a student arrives at it — is invaluable, and we expect most applicants to have some sort of track record of seeking out opportunities to work with these types of systems, whether that’s through coursework, internships, research, or work experience.

How is research experience weighed?
The admissions committee is looking for evidence of an applicant’s potential to thrive as a researcher. The goal is to find junior researchers who can focus on a problem intensively and exhaustively over a period of years; who benefit from instruction, guidance, and critique; and who, over the course of their preparation, can progress to a level where their work is furthering the state of knowledge.

What additional preparation should I have?
  • computer programming
  • ability to communicate technical material
  • for social science backgrounds: preliminary experience in engineering and/or quantitative methods is desirable
  • for engineering backgrounds: preliminary experience in social science is desirable

I have already completed relevant coursework. Can I transfer those credits?
There is no mechanism for “transferring” credit to SES. It is distinctly possible that some graduate, doctoral-level classes can be counted toward SES program knowledge-requirements, but SES students must still take a minimum of about 7 regular classes (or, more precisely, 72 “units” in the MIT sense) while enrolled in the SES program. In addition, the qualifying exam is never waived.

The Application

Where is the application?

When does the application open?
September 15

When is the application deadline?
Applications are due by 11:59PM ET on December 15.

I have been impacted by a (natural) disaster. Can I have an extension?
If a disaster is impacting your ability to apply or meet the application deadline, please write to idss_academic_office ‘at’

What is the Privacy Policy for the application?
MIT is committed to protecting the individual privacy of applicants and students by restricting the use of all collected information as specified by Institute policies. In accordance with these policies, the information in your application may be used by MIT officials only for appropriate administrative and research purposes.

My academic transcripts, etc., have been impacted by COVID-19. Is that an issue?
It is not an issue. MIT policy is to account for disruptions caused by COVID-19:
MIT Graduate Admissions Statement
In response to the challenges of teaching, learning, and assessing academic performance during the global COVID-19 pandemic, MIT has adopted the following principle: MIT’s admissions committees and offices for graduate and professional schools will take the significant disruptions of the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 into account when reviewing students’ transcripts and other admissions materials as part of their regular practice of performing individualized, holistic reviews of each applicant.
In particular, as we review applications now and in the future, we will respect decisions regarding the adoption of Pass/No Record (or Credit/No Credit or Pass/Fail) and other grading options during the unprecedented period of COVID-19 disruptions, whether those decisions were made by institutions or by individual students. We also expect that the individual experiences of applicants will richly inform applications and, as such, they will be considered with the entirety of a student’s record.
Ultimately, even in these challenging times, our goal remains to form graduate student cohorts that are collectively excellent and composed of outstanding individuals who will challenge and support one another.
Questions or concerns about this statement should be directed to the academic department or program to which the prospective student has applied.
March 26, 2020

If I apply early does that improve my chances? Will I get my decision more quickly?
Applications are reviewed in one pool, once a year (i.e. an early application will not result in an earlier decision). That said, the advantages to preparing your application in advance are significant. You will have more time to track down missing letters, obtain transcripts, handle standardized testing (including arranging for accommodations as necessary), etc.

What supplemental materials are required?
A complete application includes:

  • Essays on:
    1. Research Interests: (500 words max) Explore one or two areas of overlap between your interests and IDSS-related work. You are encouraged to mention specific research and researchers whose work interests you.
    2. Purpose: (300 words max) Describe your motivations and goals for pursuing an SES doctoral program.
    3. Background: (300 words max) Relate how your personal background has influenced your choice to pursue SES and how your experience and perspective would enhance the IDSS community.
  • Transcripts from all the universities, colleges, junior colleges, and other institutions of higher-learning that you have attended.
  • Three letters of recommendation from persons who know you and are in the best position to evaluate your research and academic potential. (When possible, it is recommended that at least two of these are from faculty members.)
  • Proof of English proficiency. (see ‘How do I demonstrate that my English is at the required level?’ for details below.)
  • A curriculum vitae or resume

Who should write my letters of recommendation?
Your evaluation letters should be from the persons who know you and are in the best position to evaluate your research and academic potential. A secondary consideration may be providing an evaluation of your domain experience, your leadership potential, and character. When possible, we recommend that at least two of your letters are written by faculty members.

Are GREs required?
No. GRE scores should not be included in your application materials.

How do I demonstrate that my English is at the required level?
All applicants must demonstrate that their command of English is sufficient to participate fully in the regular research and academic activities of an SES student. Nonnative English speakers can do this by:

  • Completing their entire secondary education (e.g., high-school), or four consecutive years of post-secondary education (university, college, junior college, etc.), at an accredited school where the official language of instruction is exclusively English. or
  • Taking the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam, academic format. The minimum IELTS score expected is 7.5. Online exam administration is OK. Accommodations can be arranged by test-takers with documented disabilities or health needs. or
  • Taking the Cambridge English Qualification, C1 Advanced Exam. The minimum score expected is 191. Accommodations can be arranged by test-takers with documented disabilities or health needs.


  • Only if IELTS and Cambridge English Qualification are not accessible, will TOEFL iBT scores be accepted. The expected minimum is 100. Accommodations can be arranged by test-takers with documented disabilities or health needs. MIT reporting code: 3514. Please briefly explain the constraint in the ‘Additional Information’ essay. E.g., ‘IELTS and Cambridge English are not available in [my country].’
    • IELTS or Cambridge English Qualification are strongly preferred when possible.

Electronic score reports are preferred. Where electronic reporting is not available, paper score reports may be sent to:

77 Massachusetts Ave., E17-375
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307

Should I report unofficial scores?
Yes please! To speed-up the processing of your application, we urge all candidates to self-report IELTS or Cambridge English Qualification scores within their applications. Candidates must arrange with the testing institution to have official test scores sent to MIT by December 15. These will be checked against the self-reported scores.

What are the requirements for transcripts?
Transcripts are required for all post-secondary (university, college, junior college, etc.) coursework. Applicants must upload legible transcripts (unofficial is OK), and as up-to-date as possible, with their application. The initial pages of your upload should be the English version of your transcript, but (as applicable) also include an original transcript in the institution’s official language of instruction. As applicable, upload your current Fall-term grades as soon as they are available. You will be able to upload updated transcripts even after you submit your application.

Once an applicant is admitted, only then will they be required to send official, final transcripts (with certified translations, as applicable) to:

77 Massachusetts Ave., E17-375
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307

I'm already at MIT: how do I apply?
MIT students apply using the same application.

What is the application fee?
The current application fee is $75.00 USD.

Are fee waivers available?
The MIT Office of Graduate Education (OGE) offers a limited number of fee waivers. You can check eligibility requirements and apply for a fee waiver here.
After reviewing the OGE fee waiver eligibility, applicants who are not eligible for an OGE fee waiver may request a fee waiver from SES. The SES fee waiver must be started by 1 December and submitted by 23:59 ET on 10 December. Availability of fee waivers is limited.

Can I send you copies of my publications, awards, etc.?
Publications, awards, etc., can help demonstrate your strengths and skills. However, please do not send or upload these additional materials. Instead, link to supplemental materials in your CV and in the “Test Scores / Experience” portion of the application. For a more curated format, consider hosting these materials on your personal website, google scholar page, etc.

May I check the status of my application?
Once you submit your application, you will be able to check the application page for your application status and for updates on the status of any materials arriving from independent sources (evaluations, test scores, transcripts). Once your application is designated “complete,” then in all likelihood the next update you will receive from us is your admissions decision. Given our lean admissions staffing, we cannot field individual requests for status updates. Your patience ultimately helps us get you your application decision sooner.


What is the review process?
Applications are reviewed individually and as a pool. Information about MIT’s admissions-related policies is available here.

Who is reading the applications?
IDSS faculty and affiliates review applications in a process administered and overseen by the IDSS Admissions Committee.

Decisions and Beyond

When and how will I hear if I've been admitted?
Most admissions decisions will be available at the end of February. In cases where decisions are not available then, applicants will receive a substantial update on their application status by the end of February (28th or 29th). In those cases, final decisions will be available around March 15. Notification will be made via email.

If I’m not admitted can I reapply?

When do I start?
Students are admitted for September.

What special considerations apply to admitted international students?
International students must be responsive to visa requirements. The MIT International Students Office will work with admitted students to navigate these processes.

I have more questions: how do I get in touch?
The standard we are aspiring to is a fair and competitive admissions process. The only way to be admitted to an IDSS program is by submitting a thoughtful and carefully constructed application. Please carefully read this FAQ as well as instructions embedded in the application itself. If you need further clarification, let us know! We will answer as we are able and within the constraints of a fair and competitive process. You can get in touch: here.


Next section > SES Program and Resources

MIT Institute for Data, Systems, and Society
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307