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How to Write Every Carnegie Mellon Essay 2020-2021

Carnegie Mellon University requires you to answer three different questions to supplement your Common App personal statement. With these short Carnegie Mellon essays, CMU hopes to gain a fuller understanding of just how you’ll fit in at the school, both as a student and as a valuable member of the campus/university community.

Let’s look at all three Carnegie Mellon essay prompts. Then we’ll explore how to make your responses work together to give a comprehensive view of who you are!

  • 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? (300-word maximum)
  • 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? (300-word maximum)
  • 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). (300-word maximum)

What do the Carnegie Mellon essays have in common? Each one asks for information that goes beyond what you cover in other parts of your Carnegie Mellon application. Although hopefully your personal statement gives them a glimpse of your personality, here you have the opportunity to show even more of what makes you tick.

You can use these three essays together to tell a sort of story, a story that begins with your pursuit of one of your overarching passions and that leads to...well, acceptance at CMU! (We hope!)

First, think of one or two pivotal moments that inspired your main academic interest. Perhaps you saw a film, heard an expert speak, read a transformative book, or witnessed an event that changed your worldview forever. Then, consider the key steps you took that drew you further into your...dare we say, obsession? Also, since you’ve obviously spent countless hours researching CMU (right??), you’ll be able to briefly mention any resources within your chosen department that seal the deal for you and make CMU the ideal place for you to pursue your major.

The “process of learning” prompt can be part of the same story. Brainstorm a list of the times you’ve felt most engaged by learning, whether in the classroom or outside of it. Perhaps you enjoy learning most when you’re programming a robot alongside your peers. Or maybe you feel energized when discussing Supreme Court precedent in your government class! Then, you’ll tell the reader how you’ll pursue similar opportunities in college. For you, a successful college experience might include hands-on labs, seminar-style discussions, or the opportunity to conduct original research. However you answer the prompt, you’ll want to demonstrate self-understanding regarding your learning style and show the reader how you’ll engage with the process of learning at CMU and beyond.

The final prompt lets you conclude your “three-essay story.” You’ve shown why you’re such an intrepid and passionate student, and why you’ll be an invaluable addition to any and every study session, seminar course, research group, dorm suite, or ultimate frisbee team throughout your college career; what vital details haven’t you yet shared anywhere in your application? This might be the aspect of your personality that you think of as “the real you”; it’s the side of you that connects the various elements of your personality—your academic prowess, your group dynamism—and brings them all together under the banner of Joan, or Pavel, or Tuan, or Rebekkah, or whatever the heck your name is! It’s the ultimate “why,” the “why you,” the force that makes you do the things you do. You might elaborate on something you’ve only hinted at elsewhere in your application.

Think of your response here as a ribbon that ties a pretty bow on the rest of your application. It’s not the most important part of the application by far, but it can help hold everything together!


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Prompt’s Essay Specialists reviewed 13,000 admissions essays in 2018, helping thousands of students submit their applications with confidence.

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