How to Write Carnegie Mellon University’s Essays 2017-2018
Carnegie Mellon University is a selective private institution located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Founded by Andrew Carnegie in 1900, the university has risen to prominence as a Top 25 institution. Carnegie Mellon University is most known for its programs in technology, science, and the performing arts. In fact, the university has produced thousands of successful alumni across a variety of industries including 19 Nobel laureates and 114 Emmy award recipients.
The university is made up of seven different colleges:
- College of Fine Arts
- Dietrich College of Humanities & Social Sciences
- College of Engineering
- Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy
- Mellon College of Science
- School of Computer Science
- Tepper School of Business
With an overall acceptance rate of 13.7% last year across all of the university’s unique colleges, a stellar application is a necessity for applying. If you are beginning your application for Carnegie Mellon, this essay guide is a detailed resource for addressing each essay prompt.
If you need more help, look into our Application Guidance Program for personalized assistance. In the following post, we will dive deeper into how to address each individual essay.
Carnegie Mellon University Application Essay Prompts
A. Main Essay
Please submit a one page, single-spaced essay that explains why you have chosen Carnegie Mellon and your particular major(s), department(s) or program(s). This essay should include the reasons why you’ve chosen the major(s), any goals or relevant work plans and any other information you would like us to know. For freshmen applying to more than one college or program, please mention each college or program to which you are applying. Because our admission committees review applicants by college and program, your essay can impact our final decision. Candidates applying for early decision or transfer may apply to only one college and department.
Approach to the Main Essay
This essay is especially important, allowing you to communicate why Carnegie Mellon University is the right fit for you. It is critical to be specific, demonstrating that you have an interest in individual programs, departments, and majors that attract you to Carnegie Mellon.
Like most other selective schools, Carnegie Mellon University essentially asks applicants, “Why do you want to attend our school?” While there are many qualified applicants applying to Carnegie Mellon, only a portion of the applicant pool will be able to articulate their specific and unique reasons for applying to Carnegie Mellon.
Make sure that this essay is one that is tailored specifically to Carnegie Mellon. You should not reuse content from other essays that could result in a nonspecific or generic response. Since this is a one-page essay, you will have room to tie in aspects of student life at CMU you find worthy of mention. Whether you want to write about the size of the university or its urban location in Pittsburgh, writing about this element of the college experience will help indicate that you are a good fit.
To help you during writing, here is a (short) list of what makes Carnegie Mellon unique:
- Following the Scottish traditions of its founder Andrew Carnegie, the university has a number of activities and academics related to its origins, including a major in bagpiping.
- The Spring Carnival is an annual three-day tradition at Carnegie Mellon. According to the event’s official website, students celebrate the occasion with “amusement park rides, adventures in booths, unhealthy snacks, and buggy races.”
- Carnegie Mellon boasts an expansive network of global education opportunities, including satellite campuses in Qatar and Silicon Valley. If you plan on utilizing one of these programs or studying abroad, the main essay below would be a good place to mention it.
In this essay, you want to introduce yourself, tie your interests into specific programs and activities at CMU, and demonstrate a fervor for the school in one page. The key, however, is to avoid making your essay sound blocky or unnatural. Though the essay prompt might seem dry or purely academic, there are many ways to be creative and artfully craft a response that is both unique and informative.
One way to showcase your personality, convey your excitement for Carnegie Mellon, and demonstrate your fit in the student body, is to use a parallel narrative arc.
By writing an anecdote about your supportive family and how it inspired you to pursue your passions (i.e., major subject areas), you can explain to adcoms how important community is to you. Opening the first half of the essay in this manner can lay the foundation for you to draw the same conclusions about Carnegie Mellon, a community that feels like family and drives you to deepen your interests in an intellectual area.
In addition to family, there are many other foundational elements of your early life you could use to draw parallels to your future college experience. Hobbies, interests, academic pursuits, or involvement with organizations in your community could also provide material to open your essay. You can begin by writing a personal anecdote followed by an explanation of how you will further pursue such activities or interests at Carnegie Mellon.
For example, if you want to write about the theater program as one of the reasons you chose to apply to Carnegie Mellon, do not just focus on the program offerings or professors. Begin the essay with a descriptive narrative of your first performance or a funny story about how you were cast as a tree in your middle school show. In the second half of the essay, you can transition into how such experiences impacted your future, influenced your passions, and instilled a desire to attend Carnegie Mellon University, now getting more into the specifics of academic offerings at the university.
With these methods, you can write a fluid essay that intertwines the major ideas the prompt asks for while conveying a captivating and lively message. The admissions committee will read many essays addressing this prompt, so taking a dynamic and creative approach will help your writing stand out from the rest.
B. List of Books
List the books (if any) you’ve read this year for pleasure. Choose one and in a sentence describe its impact on you.
This prompt offers the admissions committee yet another way to meet you and gather a better understanding of who you are and what you enjoy.
For clarification, a “pleasure” book is likely one that was not assigned to you by a teacher or in a class. Instead, these books are ones selected by you. It makes sense — Carnegie Mellon does not care what your teacher assigned you. They want to know what YOU have picked up and read, which provides a much more genuine picture of who you are.
Of course, some books assigned to you might have also been pleasurable, and in this case, there could be some overlap. In the end, be honest. If you have not read a book for pleasure in the past 365 days, it is time to start reading. Grab a (preferably short) book of literary merit and begin reading with this prompt in mind: How is what I am reading impacting me?
For the one-sentence response, be sure to pick a book which had an impact on you that you can effectively articulate. Be sure to be detailed and make sure the entire sentence serves a purpose.
- Do not write: “John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath gave me a fuller understanding of society.”
- Instead, write: “While reading John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, I recognized the negative impacts of selfishness and greed on society, helping me appreciate the positive effects of my own volunteering at the local food pantry.”
C. Interruption Essay
If there was an interruption during your secondary school or collegiate experience or between your secondary school and collegiate experience (gap year(s)) when you were not enrolled and as a result, not making normal academic progress, please explain the reason for the interruption.
This prompt is straightforward and most applicants will leave this section blank.
If you have taken a gap year, or if your previous education was broken up for some reason, the admissions committee might wonder why your education took a pause. You will need to be sure to illustrate why your interruption occurred with full transparency to quell potential fears of the admissions officers.
Did you have a medical emergency that required withdrawal from school? Did you take a gap year to study the roots of yoga in India? Be sure to expand upon these circumstances in detail.
While this response will vary heavily on a case-by-case basis, just be sure to indicate the positive nature of your interruption or why it was required. In the case of a gap year, be sure to include specific details of what you learned or how you grew during your time away from a formal academic institution. Explain what you took away from your experience, and if applicable, how the time made you better suited to attend Carnegie Mellon University.
For example, if you took a gap year to intern on a local political campaign, talk about the new people you met, the communication skills you developed, and the parts of your state you visited for the first time. Then tie this into the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon and how this gap year influenced your future field of study.
If your time away from a formal academic institution is not so easy to justify, write about how your view of education has changed in a way that encouraged you to apply to an institution of higher education. Any situation can be presented in a way that shows the admissions committee growth in your character as long as you pose it in such a way.
As this essay has no specified word count, just be sure to completely answer the question, provide context for your time away from school, and address all potential causes for concern.
D. Interview Essay
While not a requirement, have you been interviewed by an alumni or on-campus representative prior to applying for admission? If so, indicate the name of your interviewer and tell us how it impacted your decision to apply. (500 word maximum)
A quick note on interviews
While interviews for CMU are not required, go ahead and do all things within your power to get an interview. Carnegie Mellon offers on-campus interviews, often times with students, “Hometown Interviews” with admission staff, and local alumni interviews. Detailed information on how to schedule interviews can be found on Carnegie Mellon’s Undergraduate Admission website. Of course, students who are unable to schedule interviews, especially those abroad, will not be heavily penalized for not doing so.
If you have already interviewed with Carnegie Mellon, write about your experience in this essay. 500 words is a fair amount for such a prompt, so be sure to get specific, including any interesting exchanges between you and the interviewer. Remember, the admissions committee will have access to an interview report filed by your interviewer, so it is imperative that you are honest in your account of your interview experience.
In this essay, you should include any new details about Carnegie Mellon you learned during your interview, whether it pertains to student life (clubs, organizations, etc.) or academics (programs, classes, professors, etc.).
For example, if your interviewer talked about how much they enjoyed their human-computer interaction major, be sure to explain how this sparked a curiosity in such a field of student and how it may influence your academic experience at the university. After your interview, consider writing down the major takeaways, as well as specific details, so that the information is fresh in your mind for writing this essay.
The Bottom Line
In the end, your main goal is to provide Carnegie Mellon with a thoughtful and genuine application. The main essay will likely take several drafts before you reach a finished product, so the earlier you start the better.
As CMU is selective and receives many applications, it is important to set yourself apart from the rest. Whether you have a passion for app design, costume design, or anything in between, write about why Carnegie Mellon’s academic offerings are a complete match for you. Be convincing and let the admissions committee know that your heart is in your work. After all, it is their motto.
Good luck on your application to Carnegie Mellon University!
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