Admissions FAQ

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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?
The first SES class started in September 2016, and so we are several years away from being able to provide data on alumni placements. However, we do have a lot of collective experience working with MIT doctoral students and graduates. So our informed guess, as well as our goal, is that SES graduates will populate academic departments in various fields (engineering, management, operations research, and others), serve in the public sector (from research labs to regulatory agencies), as well as pursue careers in the private sector (from industry to consulting).
As of October 2020, our two SES graduates have gone on to start successful careers in industry.

How do students fund their programs?
Most students will be funded by a graduate assistantship: either a research assistantship or a teaching assistantship. In particular, SES students have priority for teaching assistantships in the IDSS MicroMasters Program in Statistics and Data Science.
Most students will also be awarded a fellowship, typically in their first year. In addition to external fellowships, IDSS will nominate candidates for MIT’s competitive internal fellowships, administered by the Office of Graduate Education, and for Hammer Fellowships awarded by IDSS. Funding typically includes tuition, stipend, and the MIT Student Extended Insurance Plan (health insurance). We are careful to only admit students we believe are fundable for the duration of their programs. IDSS administration is proactive in securing financial support for all students, especially for the student’s first year. Once an admitted applicant accepts their offer of admission, their advisors as well as the IDSS administration will work with students to find funding. In most cases, a student’s initial funding is arranged before they start their program in September.

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:

In March and early April, admitted applicants will be matched with an academic advisor. Additionally, applicants who are new to MIT will also be matched with a student mentor. Along with the academic advisor and student mentor, the IDSS Academic Office is also available to help address questions about student life.

Can I visit?
Unfortunately not at the moment. As MIT and IDSS start to re-open, we expect this will gradually change. However through mid-October 2021 at least, our focus is on gradually increasing the on-campus presence of current students, faculty, postdoc, and staff. We look forward to welcoming you to campus once our community is more comfortable with the ‘new normal.’ Start an application (once applications open on September 15) to stay up-to-date on events, virtual or in-person.

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 within your statement of purpose. 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 in industry, if you can demonstrate (a) academic excellence in a relevant area (engineering or applied mathematics, or social science) from a strong program, (b) motivation to solve concrete and complex societal problems with technological aspects, and (c) an interest in fundamental research on 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 bachelor’s 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. Work 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 EST 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. The application site uses cookies to maintain a session identifier while you are actively using the site, but does not use cookies for any other purpose.The software we use to process credit card payments uses secure encryption technology (SSL) to reduce the possibility of theft, manipulation, and other alteration of information that you provide to us. Any changes to our policy will be posted on this page.

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 alternate administration as necessary), etc.

What supplemental materials are required?
A complete application includes:

  • A Statement of Objectives that indicates the areas of SES research that (potentially) interest you, as well as your career objectives. You are encouraged to discuss the overlaps you discover between IDSS faculty members’ research interests and your own research interests.
  • 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.)
  • GRE general examination scores sent to MIT reporting code: 3514. GRE scores will not be required or accepted for September 2021 applications.
  • 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 for applications for admission in September 2022?
No. In order to assure equal consideration for applicants variously impacted by COVID-19, GRE scores will not be required or accepted for the September 2022 admission cycle (that is, for applications due 15 December 2021). GRE scores should not be included anywhere 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. They 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.
  • Taking the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam, academic format. The minimum IELTS score expected is 7.5. It is possible to arrange accommodations for test-takers with documented disabilities or health needs.
    • For September 2021 applications, applicants who are unable to sit for the IELTS due to COVID-19 related disruptions may instead submit IELTS Indicator scores. As with the IELTS, the minimum expected score is 7.5.

TOEFL is not accepted.

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 IELTS Indicator 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 (official or unofficial), 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. Note that all versions of your transcript that you upload remain available to the Admissions Committee, so append a short summary/explanation to the end of the English version of subsequent transcripts about the update. E.g.:

Now includes final grades for the Fall semester.

Or “Instructor found a grading error in my ECON-101 final and increased the final grade from ‘B’ to ‘B+’.

Admitted applicants will be required to send official, final transcripts to:

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

Include certified translations of non-English transcripts. Admissions decisions are considered provisional until the grades reported in the application are verified by an official transcript.

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 the Dean for Graduate Education (ODGE) offers a limited number of fee waivers. You can check eligibility requirements and apply for a fee waiver here.

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 by the end of February. In cases where decisions are not available then, applicants will receive a substantial update on their application status by February 28. 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?
Admissions practices vary across the globe, but the standard we’re aspiring to is a fair and competitive 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 are still stumped, let us know! We’ll answer as we’re able and within the constraints of a fair and competitive process. You can get in touch: here.

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