MIT is one of the most extraordinary institutions in the world, and key to MIT’s educational success is the exceptional caliber of its students. Not only are these young people outstanding academically — high school valedictorians make up nearly 40 percent of the class of 2008 and nearly 60 percent scored at least one 800 on their SATs — but they bring with them other remarkable accomplishments.

For example, last year’s freshman class included Adam Madlinger, who at age 15 launched a video production company which now has eight employees; Carter Jernigan, who at age 12 started a company which provides information technology services to individuals and businesses and now has 200 clients; and Nicki Lehrer, a classical guitarist who has released three CDs and once was awarded a U.S. patent for a device she invented for kids to carry their books by a handle.

Education is about dreams. And a scholarship provides the financial support to help the brightest and most committed young people not only to receive a top education but also to realize their dreams.

Many MIT students will go on to design technologies of the future. Some will help revitalize the economy, protect the environment, or find cures for diseases. Some will design the commercial enterprises and residential communities of tomorrow, while others will educate the next generation of students or be artists, diplomats, leaders in business and government, or explorers of oceans and space.

Thirty-five years ago, MIT made a commitment to provide adequate financial support to all students who meet our highly competitive admissions standards and enroll at this institution. Today, more than 75 percent of our undergraduates receive financial assistance through a combination of scholarships, grants, low-interest loans, and term-time jobs.

Admitting students on a need-blind basis allows the Institute to admit individuals based solely on their academic potential, not on their ability to pay. It also creates an atmosphere of scholastic excellence. Unlike other universities, which may admit up to a quarter of their students based on non-academic criteria like, for example, athletic abilities or family connections, MIT is a true meritocracy.

To give top students the chance to study in this exceptional environment, we form a partnership with them: We ask their families to contribute a fair share of the costs, then students help themselves by taking on loans and working during the school year. MIT awards the remainder as a scholarship.

Today, more than 55 percent of our undergraduates receive MIT scholarships, averaging $23,000 per year. For the year 2004-2005, such grant assistance for undergraduates will total nearly $63 million; $52 million will be provided by MIT, and the remainder will come from federal, state, and private sources.

Despite the costs, MIT remains committed to need-blind admissions and need-based aid because great talent, creativity, enthusiasm, and love of learning are qualities exhibited by students from all financial backgrounds. If MIT admitted only those who could pay full price, the quality and diversity of the student body would drop significantly.

Students say that a scholarship can change your life. It gives you the chance to attend a world-class institution with world-class faculty and students, and gives you a shot at realizing your dreams.

But a scholarship can yield rewards not only for the student but also for the donor. Alumni say they often give a scholarship to express appreciation for the help they received when they were undergraduates at MIT. Others give to honor a family member or friend, to help young people from a particular community, or to make the seemingly impossible attainable for a gifted student from anywhere across the country or the world.

Frequently, though, donors say that what they receive most from funding a scholarship is a great feeling, the satisfaction of helping some of the most remarkable young people on the face of the planet, and the knowledge that they have made a gigantic difference in the lives of students year after year.

A scholarship is a great way to invest in the future — because these young men and women are our future.