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What is Carnegie Mellon University Known For?

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Carnegie Mellon is perhaps best known for its computer science program. That said, it is the rare school that is both a top-notch technical school as well as a leader in the arts. Both mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr. (whom the movie Beautiful Mind is about) and artist Andy Warhol are CMU grads. All of this adds up to a school that is consistently ranked in the top 30 national universities. 


Keep reading to learn about what makes CMU special and how to improve your chances of acceptance.


Overview of Carnegie Mellon Admissions


Location: Pittsburgh, PA 

Undergrad Enrollment: 6,500

Acceptance Rate: 17% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1460-1560

Middle 50% ACT: 34-35


Acceptance at Carnegie Mellon for non-STEM majors is comparable to other top 20-30 colleges; STEM majors, however, will find entrance exceedingly competitive across academics, extracurriculars, and the essay. The CMU essay features similar prompts and structure to the Cornell essay, albeit slightly shorter, allowing students to rework a single strong essay and use it at both schools. 


For STEM majors, getting into Carnegie Mellon is just a step in difficulty behind the HYPSM schools, Columbia, and UPenn. This is especially true for Computer Science majors. In 2020, the School of Computer Science admitted only 7% of its applicants, an incredibly small percentage when compared to the 26% acceptance rate of Carnegie Mellon’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. The second most challenging school to gain admittance to at Carnegie Mellon is the College of Engineering, which accepts just 20% of applicants. 


Unique Aspects of Carnegie Mellon




Andrew Carnegie, the founder of Carnegie Mellon, was known for many things, including his motto: my heart is the work. Students today still live that maxim and are expected to meet exceptionally high academic standards, perform rigorous research, and strive to meet their dreams and goals—whether it’s developing technological innovation, bringing about a societal change, or creating a ground-breaking piece of art. 


Carnegie Mellon is divided into seven undergraduate schools:


  • College of Fine Arts
  • Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Science
  • College of Engineering
  • Information Systems
  • Mellon College of Science
  • School of Computer Science
  • Tepper School of Business


CMU is famous for its School of Computer Science—we at CollegeVine rank the school #6 on our list of best colleges for computer science. The founder of the programming language Java received both an M.A. and Ph.D. from CMU’s School of Computer Science. It’s the collection of talented, innovative young minds at CMU that has led companies like Google, Intel, Uber, and GE to locate operations in Pittsburgh. 


Carnegie Mellon’s College of Engineering is another notable program, which is #8 on our list of best colleges for engineering. Engineering is also the school that receives the most applicants; almost 10,000 people applied for admission in 2020 and only 20% were accepted. 


It’s not just STEM fields that Carnegie Mellon is known for, though. The Hollywood Reporter ranked CMU seventh on its list The Best 25 College Drama Programs Around the World. Alumni and current and former faculty have racked up an impressive 10 Academy Awards, 44 Tony Awards, and 116 Emmy Awards. Notable CMU grads include Ted Danson, Ethan Hawke, and Holly Hunter. 




Carnegie Mellon fields 19 varsity athletic teams that compete in the Division III University Athletic Association. The CMU Tartans have had particular success on the soccer pitch—between 2001 and 2005, the men’s soccer team won five consecutive UAA championships, and claimed two more in recent years (2009 and 2012). The women’s soccer team also won back-to-back UAA championships in 20014 and 2015. 


Both intramural and club sports are incredibly popular on campus and offer something for every type of athlete. Popular intramural sports include common sports, like soccer and flag football, along with some oddities such as inner-tube water polo and dodgeball. There are 23 club sports at CMU, including ultimate frisbee, rugby, and crew. 


Greek life is also popular on Carnegie Mellon’s campus and a hub for social activities. A total of 25 different fraternities and sororities call CMU home and Greek organizations have had a presence since 1900. A little under 20% of undergraduates participate in Greek life.  

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CMU founder Andrew Carnegie’s Scottish heritage permeates campus culture from the school’s Tartan sports teams to its mascot, Scotty the Scottish terrier, to its traditions. Carnegie Mellon is one of just two schools in the U.S. to offer a 4-year degree in the art of Bagpipe Performance, and it is common to hear the sound of pipes playing on campus. The Kiltie Band, or “Band Without Pants,” is a little less serious (no audition is required) and has been a feature on campus for over a century. 


Painting “the Fence” is a long-standing tradition at Carnegie Mellon. CMU lore has it that in the 1920s, a fraternity painted the fence to promote a party with fantastic success and a tradition was born. The original wooden fence was in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “world’s most painted object” before it collapsed in 1993. Today, a steel-concrete fence stands in its place. 


Spring Carnival is Carnegie Mellon’s longest-running—and one of its most beloved—traditions and includes everyone from students to alumni to faculty to staff. This four-day-long experience is also when some of the most popular events of the year occur, such as Buggy, Booth, and Mobot




CMU is a residential college and believes that a lived experience is part of a well-rounded education—all incoming first-year students are required to live on campus and, in an average year, about 65% of undergraduates call CMU’s campus home. There are a number of themed housing options; some are invite-only (academic-based), others follow a selection process, while others are open to anyone. CMU also offers gender-inclusive housing. 


Financial Aid


Carnegie Mellon practices need-blind admissions, meaning they do not take a student’s ability to pay for their education into consideration when making admissions decisions. CMU is committed to meeting the demonstrated need of its students but falls just short of meeting it 100%—according to U.S. News, Carnegie Mellon University meets 97% of its students’ financial aid needs.




Carnegie Mellon’s Washington Semester Program is one of the more interesting resources available to students. The semester-long program is run by the university’s Institute for Politics and Strategy, but is open to all undergraduates regardless of their field of study. Participants spend roughly 24 hours interning in a sector or field of interest while also taking courses three or four afternoons/evenings a week and earning 48 units for the semester. 


Although not officially affiliated with the CMU, the Carnegie Museum of Art is within walking distance of its campus and CMU students enjoy free admission. The museum is thought of as the first contemporary art museum in the country; it started collecting the “old masters of tomorrow” in 1896. 




Pittsburgh, home of Carnegie Mellon University, is a quietly great city. It’s home to signature professional sports teams like the Steelers (football), Penguins (hockey), and Pirates (baseball), while also being rich in cultural opportunities—the Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and the Andy Warhol Museum all call the city home.  


The website WalletHub ranks Pittsburg 17th on its list of Best Big Cities to Live in, earning high marks for health, education, and quality of life. College graduates are excited to hear that LinkedIn named Pittsburg seventh on its list of the top 15 U.S. cities to launch your career


One thing worth noting for students with an interest in attending CMU is that winters are rough, especially if you’re coming from a location with a mild climate. 


What Are Your Chances of Acceptance at Carnegie Mellon University?


CMU is known for its challenging admissions. STEM students generally have it the hardest, but entry into all of CMU’s programs requires an exceptional college profile. In fact, the hardest program to get into at CMU is the School of Drama, which accepted just 4% of its nearly 3,000 applicants in the fall of 2020. 


If you’re curious about your chances of getting into Carnegie Mellon, CollegeVine can help. Our free chancing engine can estimate your odds of acceptance at CMU and roughly 500 other schools, using data like your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and demographics. It will also highlight areas with room for improvement to increase your odds of getting into your dream school.


Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.