Carnegie Mellon Essay Help

Carnegie Mellon University has just two required supplemental essays, one long and one short. You’ll also find two optional prompts that allow students to explain educational interruptions and discuss their CMU admission interview, if they had one.

Prompt #1: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.

Many universities have a “Why This College?” prompt, but they don’t all lay out so clearly what they want you to cover. CMU bluntly asks you to get specific about your major, department, and/or program, while also tying in these factors to your professional goals. They do this because, as the prompt points out, you’ll be evaluated in the context of your program choice, not just for general admission. That means this shouldn’t be a fluffy, “CMU has a vibrant campus, diverse student body, and an array of majors to choose from” piece of writing. Instead, get specific, not just by naming your major, but by explaining how particular components (courses, faculty, emphases, etc.) of the major fit your interests, and how these components will help you achieve your educational and professional goals. You can also mention related factors, like research, internship, and experiential learning options affiliated with your major.

Prompt #2: List the books (if any) you’ve read this year for pleasure. Choose one and in a sentence describe its impact on you.

CMU’s second required prompt asks you to list the books you’ve read this year for pleasure. I know it can be tough to fit outside reading into your life when you’re a busy high school student, but, let’s face it: avid readers often make better students, and universities want readers on their campuses. Don’t feel like you have to lie in order to impress admission officers; listing the complete works of Proust as your light summer reading won’t fool anyone. The most authentic lists I’ve seen are a mix of high-brow and low-brow—think a Pulitzer Prize winner or a historical biography juxtaposed with a young adult novel or a dragon-centric fantasy epic. You’re also asked to choose one of these books and write a sentence describing its impact on you. I’d go with whichever most deeply affected you, and be sure to stick to the single-sentence limit.

Finally, CMU has two optional essays which serve two very different purposes.

Optional Prompt #1: 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 is straightforward and should only be answered by applicants who have taken a gap year or who took time off in the midst of their high school education, perhaps due to illness or other challenging situations.

Optional Prompt #2: 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.

The final optional prompt should only be answered by applicants who interviewed for admission to CMU. If you did, I hope you took notes! This is your chance to talk about your fit for CMU on a personal level, based on the information you received from your interviewer. That could be in the academic sense (“I learned that being an English major won’t limit my ability to fulfill pre-med requirements and do scientific research.”) or a more personal sense (“The alumna and I connected so easily, and she spoke so passionately about her time at CMU, that I left the interview convinced it is where I want to spend the next four years of my life.”).

Best of luck on your CMU application! Just think, the sooner you get it submitted, the sooner you can get back to all that Proust you’ve been meaning to read.

Applying as a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Student

Carnegie Mellon welcomes applications from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students. Follow the instructions for either freshman or transfers applicants and review the admission requirements noted at the top of this page. We accept College Board or NACAC fee waivers for the non-refundable application fee. Students who need an application fee waiver should contact the Office of Admission. Also be aware of this additional information:

  • When completing the Common Application, DACA students should apply for either freshman or transfer admission as international students (by selecting “other (non-US)” as your citizenship status).
  • DACA students may be eligible for institutional financial aid and must apply for financial aid in order to be considered.
  • To apply for institutional financial aid, you must complete the CSS PROFILE and provide either federal tax returns or documentation of household income to College Board IDOCS. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) isn’t required for DACA students. Students who need a CSS PROFILE fee waiver should contact the Office of Admission.
  • At the time of admission, Carnegie Mellon may request DACA documentation to confirm your status in order to process financial aid accordingly.

Applying as a Non-Traditional Student

Carnegie Mellon welcomes applications from students with non-traditional academic backgrounds, including prospective students who are seeking a second bachelor’s degree or those interested in a first bachelor’s degree several years after graduating from high school.

To apply for a second bachelor’s degree if your first degree is from Carnegie Mellon:

  • Complete the Common Application.
  • Arrange to have a copy of your Carnegie Mellon transcript sent to the Office of Admission by February 15, if applying as a transfer, or by January 1, if applying as a freshman.

To apply for a second bachelor’s degree if your first degree is from another college or university:

  • Complete the Common Application.
  • Follow the instructions for transfer applicants.

To apply for a first bachelor’s degree from a non-traditional background:

  • Complete the Common Application.
  • Submit an essay explaining what you have been doing since graduating from high school.
  • Submit a recommendation from a counselor, teacher, colleague or advisor who can speak of your potential for success at Carnegie Mellon.
  • Follow the instructions for transfer applicants.
  • Campus housing is only available for traditional age college students.

Applying as a Home-Schooled or Cyber Student

Carnegie Mellon welcomes applications from students who have been schooled at home or online. Follow the instructions for freshman applicants and review the admission requirements noted at the top of this page.

Home-schooled applicants should submit the Common Application and academic portfolio/ transcript consistent with state guidelines and a list of all textbooks used for your coursework. You must also provide proof that you’ll have met, by the end of May of the year of graduation, all requirements for an official high school diploma and submit an official final transcript, a GED or a certificate of completion from your local school district or state board of education by the end of July of the year of matriculation.

To apply to the university, you must:

  • Submit a completed Common Application.
  • Submit a syllabus/course descriptions of the work you’ve completed prior to applying.
  • Submit a transcript of grades and/or evaluation of your work.
  • Submit a recommendation from a counselor, representative of the State Board of Education, your home school association or other person of authority.
  • Follow instructions for required testing based on the college/program you’re applying to


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