When applying to a school like Carnegie Mellon that receives 26,000+ applications each year, it’s important to keep in mind that around 22,000 of this group will ultimately be denied admission. Many of these 22,000 rejected individuals will have straight A’s in high school and/or SATs in the 1500s. Those applying to certain programs—computer science, for example—will face even more harrowing odds. We don’t bring up this harsh reality in an attempt to crush your dreams or deter you from applying. Rather, we want to impart to prospective CMU applicants, the need to maximize every component of your application with the aim of ultimately shining just a touch brighter than your well-qualified competition.

(Want to learn more about How to Get Into Carnegie Mellon University? Visit our blog entitled: How to Get Into Carnegie Mellon: Admissions Data and Strategies for all of the most recent admissions data as well as tips for gaining acceptance.)

The three 300-word essays required by Carnegie Mellon give applicants the chance they need to separate themselves from the throngs of other extremely talented and deserving CMU hopefuls. Below are CMU’s supplemental prompts for the 2021-22 admissions cycle along with tips about how to address each one.

Carnegie Mellon Essay #1:

Required – (300 word limit)

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?

There’s a lot to unpack in this prompt before you even enter the brainstorming phase of the essay-writing process. First they want to know a bit about your goals in earning a CMU degree. These goals could be:

  1. Degree-oriented
  2. Career-focused
  3. Personal
  4. A combination of two or all three of the previous options.

Given that CMU requires you to apply to a particular college within the larger university, you likely already have a reasonably strong notion of what discipline you hope to study. You’ll definitely want to share everything you already know about the degree you aim to earn and how that fits into your larger life plans.

Next, you’ll want to take note of the fact that “learning” is mentioned twice in this prompt, a solid indicator that CMU is sincerely interested in how you will take advantage of the unique learning opportunities available to you at their instruction. While not required, you should consider discussing items such as:

  • CMU-specific academic programs, professors, or course offerings.
  • Undergraduate research opportunities.
  • Study abroad programs.
  • The classroom environment at Carnegie Mellon—class size, laboratory settings, etc.
  • Campus organizations that will help you continue your learning outside of the classroom.

In short, generic thoughts about how you envision engaging in the learning process throughout your collegiate experience are perfectly fine, but school-specific detail can take an essay from good to great.

Carnegie Mellon Essay #2:

Required – (300 word limit)

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?

Here, CMU is asking you to share your story of how you became interested in your selected discipline. You can structure the narrative of this essay as a soup to nuts chronicling of your entire journey toward your discipline of interest or you could share one or two vignettes that illustrate your burgeoning passion for engineering, history, French, computer science, business, psychology, etc. As you begin the pre-writing phase, you may want to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is your first strong memory relating to your future area of study?
  • What fills you with wonder?
  • What books have you read on the subject?
  • Do you consume podcasts or documentaries related to your passions?
  • Have certain online or print publications helped to fuel your interests?
  • What subtopics of your prospective discipline most intrigue you?
  • Did a teacher excite you about this topic or was it parent/relative or outside mentor?
  • How did you seek our subject-relevant opportunities outside of the high school classroom?

Carnegie Mellon Essay #3

Required – (300 word limit)

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).

After completing your main Common App essay and the first two CMU essays, is there anything that you have yet to share that is absolutely elemental to who you are as a person/student? Without the benefit of an in-person interview, it may feel like you never fully had a chance to connect intimately with a Carnegie Mellon admissions officer. You have a burning sense that you have not communicated the full you, your true essence, your je ne sais quoi, your…you get the idea. If you feel something important about yourself has yet to be communicated elsewhere in the application, then CMU Prompt #3 is the answer to your prayers.

Consider that the admissions reader is already familiar, at least in a cursory sense, with your academic history, activities, and awards. What don’t they know, or, what could they understand on a deeper level? This could be a particular skill or talent, or something about your character or personality. This one is intentionally open-ended, so use this space to share your most cherished accomplishments or most winning attributes. The university itself is inviting you to “brag” here, so we recommend obliging, by presenting the equivalent to a “closing argument” at the end of this admissions trial.

One example of what not to do would be to say, “I work as a camp counselor in the summer” if that was already listed in the Activities section. Another no-no is deciding that the admonition regarding linking to websites doesn’t apply to you, because, well…they simply have to see your art exhibit or performance on stage in Oklahoma! last year. We promise that it is better to take CMU at their word that they prefer that you describe it, no matter what “it” is.

How important are the essays at Carnegie Mellon University?

CMU rates the essays as being an “important” factor in their evaluation process alongside recommendations, talent/ability, character/personal qualities, first-generation status, and race/ethnicity.

The only factors ranked above the essays as being “very important” are: GPA, the rigor of high school coursework, class rank, extracurricular activities, work experience, and volunteer work.

Want Personalized Essay Assistance?

If you are interested in working with one of College Transitions’ experienced and knowledgeable essay coaches as you craft your Carnegie Mellon supplements, we encourage you to get a quote today.