What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

5 Carnegie Mellon Essay Examples

What’s Covered:


Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) is a school with both impressive technical programs and outstanding creative programs. Because of the university’s multifaceted academic success and the tremendous opportunities students have after graduation, CMU is highly renowned and boasts a low acceptance rate.


In this post, we will go over essays real students have submitted to Carnegie Mellon. We will also share what each essay did well and where they could be improved to inspire your writing. Names and identifying information have been changed, but all other details are preserved.


Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized. 


Read our Carnegie Mellon essay breakdown to get a comprehensive overview of this year’s supplemental prompts. 


Essay Example #1 – Computer Science


Prompt: Many students pursue college for a specific degree, career opportunity, or personal goal. Whichever it may be, learning will be critical to achieving your ultimate goal. As you think ahead to the process of learning during your college years, how will you define a successful college experience? (300 words)


Day #115


7:30 am… As I open my eyes, I look at the pinboard in front of my bed. Written in red block letters are two of the many goals of my life: “Make life better and more independent for the Visually impaired; Inspire kids to explore the field of STEM, making them the future problem solvers.”


9:00 am… Keeping these goals afresh in mind, I freshen up and get ready for the first class of the day, 16-385 Computer Vision, with Professor Ioannis Gkioulekas. As he explains the Applications of Neural Networks in Object identification, a light bulb sparks in my mind: I can modify the head contraption of SPECULUR to identify objects in peripheral vision and alert the wearer via an earpiece using Text to Speech (TTS). 


1:00 pm… After class, I find myself at the CI2CV Lab for Computer Vision, where I brainstorm ways to implement my idea successfully. Frustrated after repeatedly getting bugs in my algorithm, I am surrounded by problem-hungry tartans ready to collaborate with me in no time.


3:00 pm… After lunch, I head off to the Gates and Hillman complex to meet up with Gavin Deiss, an executive board member at Teknowledge, as we discuss ways to open teacher positions for high school students. I propose, “We can include students from AiGoLearning India and teach them a global coding curriculum.”


For me, a successful college learning experience at CMU comprises many things like exploring the unparalleled curriculum, innovative labs, and facilities. However, above all is the resource of people, including my fellow tartans and scholarly professors. The diverse experiences and unique backgrounds they bring cannot be found anywhere else; hence I want to assimilate all the insights I can gather from them, during my time at CMU.


What the Essay Did Well


If you are looking for a way to play with the structure of your essay, this is a great way to go! By describing their ideal day at CMU, we get to see this student’s interests, motivations, aspirations, and drive. Not only that, the essay flows nicely and effortlessly transitions to new ideas by jumping ahead in the schedule.


When students try to employ this schedule-style of an essay they often just discuss their class schedule and maybe an extracurricular activity. This is good, but this student goes above by starting the essay in their dorm and clearly showing us what motivates them with their sticky notes: “Make life better and more independent for the Visually impaired; Inspire kids to explore the field of STEM, making them the future problem solvers.” They also include them working at a lab outside of class, which is a nice bridge between their academic and extracurricular interests.


Although they only highlight three opportunities at CMU, the level of detail and elaboration for each one is infinitely more important than a long list of classes and clubs. When they discuss the class, the student incorporates key topics from the class and explains an original idea they develop as a result of being in class. Notice how that’s a bit different than simply name-dropping the course and professor? We also get told about them finding bugs in the algorithm (a common experience that humanizes the student) and we get snippets of a conversation they have at their meeting.


What the Essay Did Well


The structure this student chose serves this essay very well until the final paragraph. Breaking from the established pattern of following a daily schedule abruptly disturbs the flow of the essay and makes the ending more mundane than the preceding paragraphs. To fix this, the student should have kept the same style throughout their response.


They don’t need to tell us “a successful college learning experience at CMU comprises many things like exploring the unparalleled curriculum, innovative labs, and facilities,” because we saw that in each paragraph. The important aspect of their conclusion is the “resource of people,” as they say. This could have been highlighted in a paragraph like this:


8:00pm… Squished between friends from my Biomedical Engineering class and my badminton club on the couch in the common room, I take in the diverse perspectives all coming together to settle the argument of East Coast versus West Coast once and for all. Where else but here would I be a part of such a colorful community?


11:30pm… I drift off to sleep, excited to do it all again tomorrow.


Essay Example #2 – Healthy Self-Definition


Prompt: Consider your application as a whole. What do you personally want to emphasize about your application for the admission committee’s consideration? Highlight something that’s important to you or something you haven’t had a chance to share. Tell us, don’t show us (no websites please). (300 words)


I will never forget the feeling I had in Kindergarten when I received a failing grade because I couldn’t answer the question “where do you live?” It was a simple question, one that my classmates answered with ease. I was, however, struck by the recounting of my private home life. The 2009 recession left my family homeless and broke, living in the basement of a close friend. While we were fortunate to have somewhere to sleep, my family, especially me, internalized the negative sentiments from everyone we knew at the time. While my Kindergarten teacher didn’t mean any harm, the question reinforced my feeling of inferiority. No matter what I said, there were serious diminutions to my character: being honest about my homelessness or being dishonest about my own circumstances. I ultimately responded with the latter, saying “I don’t know.”


That day, I accepted the failing grade, and this moment became a stepping stone to a now valuable trait: healthy self-definition. Healthy self-definition relies on improving the objective truths of myself and fixing lacking characteristics into better ones. Lying to my Kindergarten teacher wasn’t healthy nor ethical to do, but the action of choosing who I wanted to be sparked the desire for healthy self-definition throughout high school. For example, I redefined myself from a dispassionate pianist to an authentic music producer. I used track and field to redefine my lack of athleticism growing up and eventually became a top-three sophomore 400-meter hurdler at my school. I had extreme social anxiety, so I used the Tech in Music Club to redefine my social ability and practice leadership and public speaking skills. In all weak aspects of my character and identity, I improved and continue to improve through these healthy redefinitions. Like Kindergarten me, I refuse to be defined by my circumstances.


What the Essay Did Well


This essay’s main strength is its content. At its core, this essay tells a beautiful story where a student transformed tragic circumstances into tremendous self-growth. That is exactly the kind of student that a university wants to admit!


The prompt here is very open-ended. From the point of view of admissions, it asks “what else do you want to tell us?” To a student, this can be read as “what additional information will help us get to know you and want you?” This student identified their ability to see weaknesses as opportunities for improvement—which they label “healthy self-definition”—as something CMU would want, then used a specific anecdote to show that ability.


In addition to the content, this student followed a tried-and-true essay structure that allowed for an engaging, yet reflective essay. Opening with an anecdote, looking back on the experience, explaining the broader implications, and then tying the conclusion back to the anecdote is a simple, but effective, structure to use for your essay.


What Could Be Improved 


While the anecdote/reflection structure can facilitate an engaging essay, this student falls flat with their static writing. Essentially, the story is engaging, but the way the student writes it doesn’t do it justice. It’s repetitive, confusing, and a bit boring at times.


For example, in the first paragraph, the following phrases and sentences are all getting at the same idea and could be condensed into one concise sentence:


  • “I was, however, struck by the recounting of my private home life.”
  • “…my family, especially me, internalized the negative sentiments from everyone we knew at the time…”
  • “…the question reinforced my feeling of inferiority…”


With regards to the second paragraph, the student introduces a value that they call “healthy self-definition.” When describing “healthy self-definition,” the student is simultaneously repetitive and unclear. The current writing requires too much energy on the part of the reader to parse through what is being said. If the student provided a concise definition of “healthy self-definition” before giving the examples from their life, this paragraph would work better. 


With some simple reorganization and more dynamic writing, the paragraph could be as follows:


“That’s when I established a personal value that I now call “healthy self-definition”—of course, it took about a decade for five-year-old me to figure out the name for my value. Healthy self-definition, at its core, means that I take time to identify my weaknesses, then redefine them as strengths. I acknowledge who I am, then find opportunities for improvement. 


I’m a dispassionate pianist, turned authentic music producer. I’m a struggling athlete, turned “top-three Cedar High hurdler.” I used to nervously linger at the back of club meetings, but now I run the very same meetings. No one could dare call me weak when I’m constantly redefining my weaknesses as strengths. Just like Kindergarten me, I will not be defined by my circumstances.”


Essay Example #3 – Future Business Major


Prompt: Most students choose their intended major or area of study based on a passion or inspiration that’s developed over time – what passion or inspiration led you to choose this area of study? (300 words)


In fifth grade, my mother arranged a business for me and some friends. We must support a local business and donate our profits towards a good cause. Three ten-year-old kids, with money borrowed from our parents, purchased handmade crafts and ornaments made by disabled workers to resell. I led the operation. Scheduled for several weekends at a public market square, the commerce commenced. Despite my excitement running my first ever business, as the night arrived and the market awoke from its peaceful slumber, surging stranger anxiety stumped me. With adults swamping the space, my body unconsciously cowered. Embarrassment overwhelmed me, and I stood only able to stare at passing customers with my lips sewn shut. After the first night, three kids on the verge of tears sold two knitted dolls. My mother, sensing a crumbling business as its workers became paralyzed by fear, advised me, “As a leader, your job is to accomplish your goals not by yourself, but with your team.” Though not the typical cheers, my mother’s words roused the leader from within me. Wiping away my tears, I reconvened the team and restrategized. We assigned responsibilities: attracting customers, advertising, and collecting payments. Writing out our sales pitches and practicing with each other, we reunited with the sight of profits. The second weekend started: to every corner of the streets, we asked every possible customer. Our efforts paid off. At the end of that night, we sold out. Next weekend, us businessmen along with our parents went shopping using our profits. Looking at the Barbie dolls, stuffed animals, and model cars neatly wrapped, I proudly dropped the Christmas gifts at the local children’s cancer hospital. My first business endeavor taught me a crucial purpose of entrepreneurship: the ability to strengthen networks of people and make positive social changes.


What the Essay Did Well


This essay prompt is the classic “Why This Major?” essay, which asks you to detail your interest in the field and your professional goals. The writer elaborates on their motivation to pursue entrepreneurship through a fitting anecdote about their first time leading a business.


The author shares genuine reasons that make entrepreneurship exciting to them, such as developing leadership skills and making positive social change. These are authentic reasons for pursuing their major that stay away from the superficial motives for pursuing a major such as money or prestige.


Additionally, throughout this entire essay the writer keeps their audience captivated by employing strong use of imagery. It almost feels as if one is right in the middle of the market with the writer as they struggle to navigate the chaos of the market. The line “Embarrassment overwhelmed me, and I stood only able to stare at passing customers with my lips sewn shut” makes the reader feel just as anxious as the author is in the moment. And it feels even better to the reader when the author sells out the entire stock of crafts and ornaments the following night and donates the money to charity. 


As the essay progresses, it’s hard not to wonder what is going to happen next, and the story strings together very nicely, despite having a limited word count. By the end of the essay, the reader has a better understanding of why this student has chosen to pursue entrepreneurship, because they have shared an exciting lived experience that captures the ups and downs of a fast-paced, turbulent major.


What Could Be Improved 


All in all, this essay was well written and the author’s point came across well. However, a few items could be slightly improved, including a few syntax errors, poor transition statements and slight thematic inconsistency. 


The second sentence of this essay “We must support a local business and donate our profits towards a good cause” appears a bit out of place and may be better suited in quotes as the mother appears to be speaking these lines. Alternatively, the writer could have rephrased to something like “We were tasked with supporting a local business…”


Similarly, in the last sentence, the author says their motivation for pursuing entrepreneurship is the “ability to strengthen networks of people,” when it may have been more succinct and less clunky to say something along the lines of “the ability to bring people together.”


Another area of improvement for the essay comes in the middle, when the author’s mother “roused the leader” within them. The author could have expanded on why their mother’s words roused them to overcome the daunting obstacle, but instead missed the opportunity to explain why they felt inspired to continue selling ornaments at the marketplace. The author may have even suggested that by overcoming their challenges at the market, they would accomplish their ultimate goal of donating their profits to charity, highlighting their sense of altruism.


The final sentence even states that the author intends to pursue entrepreneurship to make a positive social impact. However, in a thematic sense, this idea is not consistently present throughout the essay. If the author were to include more details about their desire and motivation to donate their profits to charity throughout the essay, this point would have been much more understandable.


Finally, the essay is hard to follow because it’s only one paragraph. The flow would’ve been improved if the author broke the essay up into a few shorter paragraphs.


Essay Example #4 – Future International Relations Major


Prompt: Most students choose their intended major or area of study based on a passion or inspiration that’s developed over time – what passion or inspiration led you to choose this area of study? (300 words)


At 8 years old, I learned that Democrats were donkeys and Republicans were elephants. By 11, I had decided which one I wanted to be. By 14, I discovered I didn’t have to be an elephant or a donkey—the political world was not black and white, but instead multifaceted with many moving parts. As I explored programming through high school, I learned how politics and computer science could be intertwined to enact change exponentially. For the Congressional App Challenge, I developed the winning app, which allows parents to sustainably trade outgrown children’s clothing. Everything in this process, from surveying real families with this need to perfecting the front end design, showed me how coding could easily be geared toward social progress. 


Beyond programming, interning for a state non-profit encouraging Muslims to participate in politics showed me the real potential of computational politics. Big data analysis was a common skill I utilized when encouraging people to vote in the 2022 general election. What furthered my interest was attending a Kode With Klossy event in New York City: I not only spent the day workshopping with Swift and iOS app development, but also heard the stories of activist Sofia Ongele, a pioneer for young women in STEM. 


Discussing sanctions and China’s Uyghur Muslim crisis with U.S. Representative Jim McGovern was my first look into the workings of international conflict resolution. The power systems behind diplomacy became a point of fascination for me. Whether it was marching miles chanting “No Justice, No Peace” in June 2020 or debating as Elizabeth Warren in my ninth grade mock democratic primary, I have taken every stride to involve myself politically. Majoring in international relations and politics and minoring in science, technology and society at Carnegie Mellon is the next step in furthering my involvement.


What the Essay Did Well


This essay is another great example of the “Why This Major?”archetype. The author shares why the intersection of technology and politics is the perfect fit for her, through her unique experiences and background.


The introduction is a captivating one, which follows her evolving understanding of politics. Starting with a simplistic view of “Democrats as donkeys and Republicans as elephants” at a young age, the writer matures and recognizes the complexity of the political landscape as she enters high school. This progression implicitly showcases her thoughtfulness and willingness to challenge existing beliefs which are critical to any career in politics and international relations.


Additionally, the essay adeptly integrates the realms of computer science and politics. The author provides a unique combination of academic interests that most applicants would otherwise shy away from. The writer’s successful development of an app for the Congressional App Challenge exemplifies her ability to utilize coding for social progress. By mentioning the process of surveying real families and refining the front-end design, the writer illustrates her comprehensive approach and shows how coding can be harnessed as a tool for enacting positive social change.


Finally, the author provides more unique experiences that reveal her true passions for politics and technology. She references her experiences during the 2022 election and Kode With Klossy events which each relied on bringing together both her academic interests. In the final paragraph, the author provides even more evidence to her experience in the political realm which drive home the point about her interest in her major as well as show accomplishments in a specific area which are hard to come by for most students.


What Could Be Improved 


From initial impressions, this essay is great at providing sufficient evidence as to why this author is pursuing international relations and politics with a minor in technology. However, one suggestion for this author, and general advice for any applicant, is not to fall into the trap of simply recapitulating all of one’s resume in an essay. This author has unfortunately used most of the 300 word count to list out her experiences and qualifications, but misses out on key opportunities to expand upon how these experiences have shaped her perspective and developed her interests over time.


In general, there is a lack of reflection on the lessons learned from the various experiences mentioned. While the writer describes her involvement in protests, debates, and internships, there is limited discussion of the personal growth and insights gained from these activities. The author has experiences including winning the Congressional App Challenge, to marching miles chanting ‘No Justice, No Peace’ in June 2020 or debating as Elizabeth Warren in [her] ninth grade mock democratic primary,” which could all be powerful standalone experiences for a 300-word essay. Adding a reflective element to the essay would provide a deeper understanding of the writer’s development and demonstrate their ability to learn from their experiences.


For example, the author could remove a few activities from her essay and  expand upon the experience of winning the Congressional App Challenge, discussing her thought process and emotions during the development of the app, or the impact it had based on feedback from families. Here’s an example of an excerpt that would’ve made this section stronger:


“I decided to use the app for myself to clear out the bags of my younger brother’s baby clothes in the basement. A young immigrant mother responded to my post, saying that she hadn’t been able to afford properly-fitting baby clothes for her toddler son. A week after she picked up the bags, the mother returned with her giggly son in his ‘new’ clothing. The mother was full of gratitude, and I was just as grateful for this experience as it showed me the direct impact coding could have on improving real lives and making social progress.”


By incorporating specific examples and adding reflective elements, the essay would become more compelling, allowing the reader to better understand the writer’s experiences and their personal growth. These adjustments would enhance the overall quality of the essay and provide a vivid and engaging narrative.


Essay Example #5 – Politics


Prompt: Many students pursue college for a specific degree, career opportunity or personal goal. Whichever it may be, learning will be critical to achieve your ultimate goal. As you think ahead to the process of learning during your college years, how will you define a successful college experience? (300 words)


At Carnegie Mellon, I see myself defining a college experience in which I can widen my career goals in politics and learn from real-world experiences. D.C. is where I hope to work following college, as there is no place better than our capitol to explore the inner workings of decision-making in government. Through CMU’s Washington Semester Program (WSP), I aim to intern with a member of Congress to expand my understanding of the legislative process and gain experience in the nation’s center of politics. This orientation into Washington and chance to meet leaders and alumni at top think tanks would allow me to connect with all the working parts of public policy, encapsulating everything I wish to take from college. 


Immersing myself in the relevant and multifaceted courses at the Institute of Politics and Strategy is how I plan to take my learning to the next step at CMU. Electives like “Implementing Public Policy: From Good Idea to Reality” and “In the News” intrigue me; they tie in law and journalism with politics, contextualizing it in a realistic and applicable sphere. 


I hope to conduct research to delve deeper into what I’m passionate about and ripen my goal of effecting change. Under esteemed criminologist and public policy expert Professor Daniel Nagin, I see an opportunity to conduct actionable research on race and incarceration. I want to discuss the disparities in Pennsylvania’s fast growing prison populations itself and develop my paper “Slavery is Flourishing Under the U.S. Prison System.”


Expanding my learning doesn’t end with academics, however. I am eager to explore the diverse community at CMU, and start a cultural literary magazine for all students to share their lived experiences about their heritage through art, writing, and overall self-expression.


What the Essay Did Well


This prompt is basically the Why This College?essay presented in a different way. The goals of the prompt are the same, however: it’s asking you what makes CMU the perfect school for you, and how you will make the most of its resources to have a successful education.


This student clearly has an interest in politics, detailing specifics such as their hopes to pursue an internship, undertake course work, and do research to further their education. They show that they’ve done their research on why CMU is a fit for them, by mentioning unique resources at the college.


Furthermore, the author does a great job of providing additional information as to why they would like to pursue the activities they’ve researched. They explain how CMU’s WSP will teach them about the legislative process, how their classes will tie in law and journalism, and how their research will deepen their understanding of race and incarceration. Providing this level of detail helps admissions officers understand what this student values and is hoping to learn through their education at CMU.


Writing-wise, the student also makes sure to use varied sentence structure and smooth transitions, making the essay easy to read.


What Could Be Improved 


The objective of this essay is two-fold: 1) what do you hope to accomplish in your undergraduate degree program, and 2) how CMU is uniquely equipped to help you realize your goals.


The essay does a great job in answering question #1, but could do more to address the latter. We know why the student is interested in the resources they mention, but we don’t know how those things will help them reach their overarching academic and career goals. 


In fact, we don’t even know what those overarching goals are: does this student want to become a political journalist, politician, or something else? It’s okay if you’re undecided, but you should at least share some potential options, rather than simply saying that you’re interested in a broad field (like “politics”), which feels unfocused.


The student should also move the section about CMU’s program in D.C. to later in the essay, as having it right at the beginning makes it seem like they’re more interested in spending time in D.C. than on CMU’s campus in Pittsburgh.


Additionally, the final paragraph, about the student’s hope to start a cultural literary magazine,  feels unrelated to the rest of the essay, which is focused on their political interests. If they wanted to include this detail, they should’ve introduced it earlier, to give themselves time to connect it to their other ideas.


Where to Get Your Carnegie Mellon Essays Edited


Do you want feedback on your Carnegie Mellon essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 


If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

Short Bio
Our college essay experts go through a rigorous selection process that evaluates their writing skills and knowledge of college admissions. We also train them on how to interpret prompts, facilitate the brainstorming process, and provide inspiration for great essays, with curriculum culled from our years of experience helping students write essays that work.