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How to Write the Carnegie Mellon Essays 2016-2017

Founded in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1900 by none other than Andrew Carnegie himself, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) is one of the top 25 universities in the country. It is home to the world’s first degree-granting Robotics and Drama programs and one of the first Computer Science departments.


Admissions are competitive, with 16.2% of applicants admitted to the class of 2019. Their most selective undergraduate college is the School of Computer Science, with acceptance rates consistently in the low single digits. In addition, 15.6% of students are international, and the university has satellite campuses in Silicon Valley and Qatar.


Though CMU offers a wide range courses, it is most renowned for its Computer Science, Finance, Performance Arts, and Engineering programs. CMU is also a leading research facility, regularly receiving funds from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense. The university spent $315 million on research in 2006 alone.


Various traditions (such as buggy vehicle racing, mobile robots and Greek life) ensure a convivial environment for students on campus.  Finally, a sprawling network of over 100,000 living alumni give students an edge when applying for jobs and internships. In this blog post, we’ve compiled a guide to answering CMU’s 2016-2017 application questions, to give you the best shot at getting accepted.


Carnegie Mellon Essay Prompts


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 admissions 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.


This prompt is essentially asking you to write a “Why X?” essay for Carnegie Mellon. Because so many students apply to CMU, the admissions officers are interested in accepting only the students who are genuinely interested in attending. Therefore, you should do some research to find specific examples of resources you would like to take advantage of as a potential CMU student.


For some, this might mean going online to read more about CMU’s Fine Arts resources; for others, you might want to ask your close friend who attends the university about the engineering facilities. Either way, the goal is to have some details at hand for when you go to write your essay.


When you actually answer this question, your best bet is to cover three topics:


  1. What you are interested in studying and why?
  2. What relevant past experiences do you have related to this field?
  3. Why CMU specifically?


If you can answer all three questions in a smooth manner, then you will have an effective essay. 


List the books (if any) you’ve read this year for pleasure. Choose one and in a sentence describe its impact on you.


There’s no “trick” to this question — the adcoms literally just want to know what books you’ve read this past year. You should have some books to list, but be as truthful as possible. If you are unsure which book you want to choose to describe in one sentence, then ask yourself, “Is there anything I want to tell the admissions officers about myself that I haven’t already?”


If you have a clear answer to this question, then you can strategically choose a book that will allow you to convey that message when you describe its impact on you. For example, if you haven’t yet told the adcoms about your deep love of philosophy — specifically, when it comes to morality — then you might accordingly choose Justice by Michael J. Sandel, and describe how the book allowed you to examine various case studies and develop a new perspective on what morality really is.


If there was an interruption during your secondary school or collegiate experience or between your secondary school and collegiate experience (gap year)) when you were not enrolled and as a result not making normal academic progress, please explain the reason for the interruption.


The majority of students will not have to answer this question; however, if you are a student who fits the description above, then your best bet is to honestly describe what occurred. If you feel that your reliability or character is called into question when you only objectively describe the situation, then succinctly explain yourself at the end of your description and — if appropriate — express that things will be different in the future.


For students whose interruptions were due to taking a gap year (or something similar), then describe your experience and explain its impact on you briefly. For example, maybe you volunteered in Africa for 6 months and now you are a more mature individual. Finally, if you took time off due to a family occurrence or illness, then — once again — explain the situation and leave it at that.


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.


This question is pretty straightforward. If you did not get interviewed before applying to CMU, don’t answer it. If you did receive an interview, then hopefully you remembered to record your interviewer’s name.


When describing how it impacted your decision to apply, it’s best to recall specific details from your conversation — for example, maybe you and your interviewer share a love of Quidditch, and your interviewer mentioned to you that Carnegie Mellon has a strong Quidditch team. Mentioning small yet specific details about either the university or your interviewer’s experience with CMU will go a long away in showing that you were impacted by your interview.


With these tips, you should be well on your way to writing the perfect CMU supplement. Best of luck from the CollegeVine team!


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