How to Get Into Carnegie Mellon: Admissions Data and Strategies
Over 27,000 high-achieving teens applied to be part of Carnegie Mellon’s Class of 2024—17% were accepted. The vast majority of successful applicants had pristine transcripts and SATs of 1500 or better. Selectivity at this school, which is named after two famous/infamous Captains of Industry/Robber Barons is nothing new, but it has reached previously unimaginable levels in recent years. In the 1980s, the acceptance rate hovered between 42-46% and the average SAT was just a shade over 1200. By the year 2000, the school received over 14,000 applications each cycle and admitted 36%.
In addition to the rise in selectivity, CMU also has a somewhat complex application process and also a greatly varying degree of difficulty depending on which of the university’s seven undergraduate colleges/programs you are hoping to enter. To assist you in this quest, we will provide those considering applying to Carnegie Mellon University:
1) An in-depth and realistic understanding of what you are up against.
2) More data on which to accurately assess your chances of admission.
3) Advice for how to get your Carnegie Mellon application to stand out, even against other top-of-the-class students.
To accomplish these goals we will touch on the following topics:
- Carnegie Mellon’s ED acceptance rate
- Carnegie Mellon’s Class of 2024 acceptance rate
- SAT, ACT, and class rank of accepted Carnegie Mellon applicants
- Admissions trends from the Class of 2024
- Carnegie Mellon’s system for rating applicants
- A look at the demographics of Carnegie Mellon undergraduates
- The percent of accepted students that attend the university
- Tips for applying to Carnegie Mellon
- How to assess whether applying to Carnegie Mellon is even worth the $75 application fee (for you)
Let’s begin with an examination of the most recent admissions data.
Carnegie Mellon: Early Decision Acceptance Rate – Class of 2023
Carnegie Mellon accepted 19% of ED applicants into the Class of 2023 versus 15% of regular decision applicants. This represents less of an advantage than at many other elite institutions where rates can be 2-3 times higher for ED applicants. The deadline for early decision at CMU is November 1 and decisions are made by December 15.
Carnegie Mellon Acceptance Rate – Class of 2024
Out of 42,962 applications (from 27,000+ applicants—as some submit separate applications to various colleges) submitted for a place in the 2020-21 freshman class; just 17% were accepted. This is a bit more favorable than the 15% acceptance rate for the Class of 2023. Results by school/program were as follows:
|College of Fine Arts||· Architecture: 34%
· Art: 23%
· Design: 11%
· Drama: 4%
· Music: 31%
|Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences||26%|
|Mellon College of Science||22%|
|School of Computer Science||7%|
|Tepper School of Business||23%|
Carnegie Mellon Admissions – SAT, ACT, and GPA
The SAT and ACT middle-50% ranges as well as average GPA, by college, for the Class of 2024 are as follows:
|College of Fine Arts||700-740||730-780||33-34||3.77|
|Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences||740-770||790-800||34-35||3.87|
|Mellon College of Science||740-770||800||35-36||3.92|
|School of Computer Science||770-780||800||36||3.95|
|Tepper School of Business||730-760||790-800||35||3.88|
Admissions Trends & Notes
- The Class of 2024 included 9% first-generation college students.
- 14% of the Class of 2024 were Pell Grant recipients.
- The average financial aid package for freshmen entering in 2020-21 was $47,171.
- The College of Engineering received the greatest number of applications with 8,329.
- The two most competitive programs remain the School of Computer Science and the School of Drama with the College of Fine Arts.
How Carnegie Mellon Rates Applicants
There are seven factors that Carnegie Mellon ranks as being “very important” to their admissions process: rigor of secondary school record, class rank, GPA, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, volunteer work experience, and paid work experience. NOTE: Like many other institutions, Carnegie Mellon has gone test-optional for the Class of 2021 only. Essays, recommendations, first-generation status, legacy status, character/personal qualities, race/ethnicity, and talent/ability are “important” to the admissions committee.
According to the school: “No single grade, factor, score or activity will automatically gain or deny you admission to Carnegie Mellon. We treat every applicant as an individual, taking great care to make our admission decisions fair, thorough and sensitive. We’re interested in students who can be successful at Carnegie Mellon, while taking full advantage of all the university has to offer and enriching our campus community.”
Carnegie Mellon is not going to be impressed that you filled the ten spaces on the Common App Activity List; they are looking for genuine excellence in one or more activities. For example, you placed in a prestigious international science or mathematics competition, you coauthored original research, you to develop an app, or you used your skills to help a charitable institution.
Who Actually Gets Into Carnegie Mellon?
Let’s look at the demographics of current Carnegie Mellon undergraduates.
Geographically, we know the following about CMU students.
- In-state students: 14%
- Out-of-state students: 86%
- 39% come from the Mid-Atlantic Region.
- Students come from 80 countries around the world.
Competition is stiffest among those hailing from states with endless streams of qualified applicants (the entire Northeast & the West Coast). If you hail from a less populated state like Alaska, North Dakota, or Montana, your location is more likely to provide a boost to your admissions chances.
Looking at ethnic identity, the breakdown for the freshmen entering in fall of 2019 was as follows:
- White: 22.3%
- Asian: 38.0%
- Hispanic: 9.3%
- African American: 3.4%
- Two or more: 4.4%
- International: 15.9%
The countries sending the greatest number of students to CMU are:
- China (40%)
- Qatar (11%)
- South Korea (10%)
- India (9%)
- Canada (6%)
- Singapore (3%)
The breakdown by gender is as follows:
- Male: 50%
- Female: 49%
- Non-Binary: 1%
Women enjoy a much better acceptance rate than men, as the university receives far fewer applications from female students. Women are accepted at a 21.4% clip while men gain acceptance at just an 11.6% rate.
Carnegie Mellon’s Yield Rate
Carnegie Mellon’s yield rate—the percentage of accepted students who elect to enroll, divided by the total number of students who are admitted is 37%. This number is over 40 points lower than Harvard and Stanford but in the same ballpark as many other selective private universities. Carnegie Mellon sports a similar yield rate to schools like the University of Michigan (42%), Amherst College (41%), and Tulane University (34%).
Tips for Applying to Carnegie Mellon
If you plan on joining the 27,000+ CMU hopefuls for the next admissions cycle, you should know the following:
- Carnegie Mellon does not offer any type of in-person or alumni interviews for incoming freshmen. As a result, one of the best ways for admissions officers to get to know on a personal level is through your two required recommendations—one from your counselor and one from your teacher Applicants are also permitted to include an optional third letter of recommendation. For tips on which teachers to target and how to ask, revisit our blog on the subject.
- Carnegie Mellon does not officially consider “demonstrated interest” so you won’t be judged on whether or not you made a campus visit (in non-pandemic times), contacted an admissions officer, etc. However, given the school’s lower yield rate (compared to some other elite schools), it is never a bad idea to reach out to admissions officer with a question, attend a virtual session, or engage with the school on social media.
- To apply to more than one college you will need to fill out a separate application and submit an additional application fee. CMU does allow you to select a second-choice school on a singular application.
- Make sure to dedicate sufficient time and effort to three 300-word supplemental essays required by Carnegie Mellon. In the 2020-21 cycle, they are as follows:
1) 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?
2) 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?
3) 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).
The key to tackling these 300-word essays is to dig deep and reveal to the admissions committee what drives you, what passions keep you up late at night and greet you first thing in the morning, and where you see your dreams and talents taking you in your adult life. Be sincere in sharing your vision of the future and a complete picture of what you want to college experience to look/feel like. The more personal you make these essays, the better, as your goal is to make your words leap off of the page and forge a human connection with an admissions reader.
Should I Apply to Carnegie Mellon?
If you bring strong academic and extracurricular credentials to the table, there is no harm in filling out a Carnegie Mellon application, but—as with all highly-competitive colleges in 2020—even the best and brightest teens need to have an appropriate college list, containing a complement of “target” and “safety” schools. Those that will fare best in conquering this admissions gauntlet will boast a transcript of straight ‘A’s in an exceptionally rigorous program of classes, superior standardized test scores (typically 97th percentile or better), and at least one or two talents and passions outside of the classroom.
Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent educational consultant. He is a co-author of the books The Enlightened College Applicant (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and Colleges Worth Your Money (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).