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2 Carnegie Mellon Essay Examples

 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 two 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


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 Could Be Improved


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


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.


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!

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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.