How To Get Into Carnegie Mellon

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Carnegie Mellon is a private research university in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It’s ranked the No. 22 university in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. Nearly 15,000 students attend Carnegie Mellon, including over 7,000 undergrads.

Each year, more than 38,000 high school students apply to the university. They’re drawn to its top tier academic programs—especially in computer science, business, and engineering, abundant internship and research opportunities, renowned undergraduate teaching, and more.

If these qualities appeal to you too, don’t let the competition for a seat at Carnegie Mellon deter you. We’re here to help with all the data, information, and advice you need on how to get into Carnegie Mellon. In this guide, we’ll share exactly how to increase your chances of becoming a future “Scotty.”

About Carnegie Mellon

Located in Pittsburgh, a city known for its entrepreneurship and foodie culture, Carnegie Mellon provides a wealth of opportunities for its students. The university is well-connected to many organizations and industries, and it’s ranked in the Top 20 nationally for student internships by U.S. News and World Report. It’s also ranked in the Top 10 for undergraduate research.

In the classroom, Carnegie Mellon students benefit from 7,000+ major/minor combinations, a 10:1 student-faculty ratio, and an innovative, interdisciplinary curriculum. In fact, the university is ranked the nation’s No. 3 Most Innovative and is in the Top 30 for Undergraduate Teaching. Carnegie Mellon boasts a top-ranked computer science program, along with the nation’s fifth-ranked business program and seventh-ranked engineering program. It also offers renowned facilities, including its theatre and science laboratories.

Carnegie Mellon students describe themselves as “academically focused,” “quirky,” and “passionate.” Although studious, they enjoy participating in the university’s “sensational” extracurriculars, with over 400 clubs and organizations to choose from. They also head into Pittsburgh for restaurants, clubs, museums, and local parks.

Zany traditions at Carnegie Mellon are another popular pastime for students. The annual Spring Carnival, a four-day festival, is the school’s oldest tradition. One of the carnival’s highlights is the “Buggy Sweepstakes,” in which students race buggies they’ve designed and built. Both the sports teams (the Tartans) and the band (The Kiltie Band) have a distinctly Scottish flavor, a nod to founder Andrew Carnegie. Nicknamed “Band Without Pants,” the university’s marching band performs in kilts.

Is It Hard to Get Into Carnegie Mellon?

Carnegie Mellon has an acceptance rate of about 14%. For every 100 students who apply, 14 are accepted. The other 86 receive a rejection.

In Fall 2021 , only 4,453 students were accepted from a pool of 32,896 applicants. 35 additional applicants were later admitted from the waitlist.

In comparison to other universities, this acceptance rate makes Carnegie Mellon extremely competitive. It’s not as hard to get into Carnegie Mellon as it is to get into the Ivy Leagues, but admission is more selective than most other universities.

GPA and Test Scores for Carnegie Mellon

Students admitted to Carnegie Mellon have an average GPA of 3.84. This means you’ll need to earn nearly straight A’s to be a competitive applicant. You should also take AP and/or IB classes. If you perform well in these classes, they boost your GPA and show that you’re prepared for rigorous college coursework.

Carnegie Mellon is test-optional through at least Fall 2023. This means that you aren’t required to include SAT or ACT scores with your application. In 2021, just 47.7% of Carnegie Mellon applicants submitted test scores. So, if you don’t submit test scores, it won’t count against you. And if you do, your scores will be evaluated as part of your application.

Still, we highly recommend submitting test scores unless you feel your test scores will hurt your application. It’s always helpful to have another data point showing that you’re a strong student and a competitive applicant to Carnegie Mellon.

The average ACT score for students admitted to Carnegie Mellon is 34. The 25th percentile score is 33, and the 75th percentile score is 35.

Now, we’ll look at an SAT score breakdown for students admitted to Carnegie Mellon.

Section Average 25th Percentile 75th Percentile
Math 780 760 800
Reading 730 700 760
Total 1510 1460 1560

When applying to an extremely competitive school like Carnegie Mellon, your chances increase if you have scores in the 75th percentile. Based on the data we’ve shared, this means you should aim for a:

  •         GPA of at least 3.84
  •         ACT score of 35, OR
  •         SAT score of 1560, with an 800 in Math and a 760 in Reading

Of course, these numbers aren’t easy to achieve. And the data shows that students with slightly lower numbers can still get into Carnegie Mellon too. That’s because the admissions team doesn’t only look at numbers. The numbers give important insight into your academic ability, but Carnegie Mellon considers many other factors when reviewing your application.

What Other Qualities Does Carnegie Mellon Look For?

Carnegie Mellon’s admissions page says the university is “calling all what-iffers, why-notters, and difference makers.” They’re interested in students who are “furiously curious,” “deeply driven,” and “want to make life better for all humankind.”

The admissions committee treats every applicant as an individual, using a thorough process to identify students who can succeed at Carnegie Mellon while “taking full advantage of all the university has to offer.”

When reviewing your application, Carnegie Mellon looks for:

  •         Academic and creative potential
  •         Motivation and high aspirations
  •         Willingness to challenge yourself
  •         Leadership
  •         Passion
  •         Perseverance
  •         Social responsibility
  •         Alignment with Carnegie Mellon’s values and core competencies: collaboration, communication, diversity, equity, inclusion, community engagement, concern for others, self-directed learning, and critical thinking

Carnegie Mellon receives a large number of highly qualified applicants—many with top-tier GPAs and test scores. So, if you want to know how to get into Carnegie Mellon, note that it’s not all about numbers.

To stand out from the crowd, you’ll also need to demonstrate qualities like passion, social responsibility, motivation, intellectual curiosity, and more. The admissions committee wants to know that you’re capable of success, but they also want to know who you are as a person and how you’ll contribute to the campus community.

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What Should You Do in High School?

Now that we’ve shared data and information, it’s time to talk strategy. What can you do in high school to increase your chances of getting into Carnegie Mellon?

Excel in Challenging Classes

To earn an acceptance letter from a highly competitive school like Carnegie Mellon, you must take and excel in the most challenging classes available at your school. The university’s website states, “We pay close attention to your curriculum rigor, the grades you’ve earned and the work you’ve accomplished. We’re interested in seeing that you’ve challenged yourself within your secondary school environment.”

Typically, challenging classes include AP and IB courses, or dual enrollment programs. If your school doesn’t offer these classes, Carnegie Mellon won’t hold it against you. Try to find other opportunities to continue learning and challenging yourself (in your community, at a local college, online, etc.).

The average applicant admitted to Carnegie Mellon has a GPA of 3.84, meaning you’ll need to earn nearly straight A’s in your classes. By excelling in tough classes, you’ll show the admissions committee that you’re academically prepared for a rigorous school like Carnegie Mellon. That’s important, because the admissions committee is ultimately looking for students who will succeed in college (and into the future).

Earn High Test Scores

Earning high test scores is another way to showcase your academic preparation for Carnegie Mellon. Although the university is test-optional through Fall 2023, we encourage you to take test prep seriously and aim for the highest score possible.

If your GPA isn’t as high as you’d like it to be, exceptional test scores can help balance out your numbers. And even if you have a high GPA, strong test scores can help set you apart from similarly qualified applicants.

Begin preparing for the SAT/ACT a few months in advance, using the following test prep process:

  •         Take timed practice tests for both the ACT and SAT to determine which test is best for you. (You can also take official ACT and SAT exams to get a feel for test conditions, but the exams are pricey, so timed practice tests are a solid alternative.)
  •         Once you’ve decided on an exam, use information from the practice test to build a customized test prep plan. Note your strengths, weaknesses, and the question types or skills that are most difficult for you.
  •         Consider buying an ACT/SAT test prep book to help guide you through the process. Block time each week to drill practice questions, read high-level texts, and brush up on the skills that challenge you the most.
  •         Continue taking practice tests to work on your pacing and track your progress. Adjust your test prep plan as needed.
  •         When your test is a month away, shift your focus to improving your area(s) of weakness.
  •         If your test score is lower than you’d like, use data from the score report to create a plan for improvement. Repeat this test prep process with your updated study plan before retaking the exam.

If you don’t get a score you’re happy with, remember that you aren’t required to include it in your application to Carnegie Mellon. Do your best to earn a test score you’re proud to share with the university, but don’t feel too discouraged if it doesn’t work out. Take the test up to three times, then focus on polishing other areas of your application.

Pursue Your Passions

Carnegie Mellon’s website emphasizes that they want to “build a class with Tartans of all kinds.” When reviewing your application, they want to get a sense of your personality, passions, and the unique experiences and perspectives you could bring to campus.

So, when it comes to extracurricular activities, they aren’t looking for identically “well-rounded” applicants. They want to know who you are and what you genuinely enjoy. Instead of collecting impressive activities that don’t necessarily spark joy, you should let your passions guide you:

  •         When you have free time, what’s your favorite way to spend it?
  •         What topics can you think about and talk about for hours?
  •         What’s your dream job, and what relevant activities and experiences are available to you?

Find a few extracurricular activities you love, and commit to them long-term. Try to take on leadership roles (whether it’s an elected position or an informal role, like introducing creative ideas or spearheading a new initiative). Aim to earn awards and recognition that show how talented you are in your area(s) of interest.

Throughout high school, keep a record of your extracurricular participation. Record when you started each activity, the contributions you made, and any related accomplishments. This will make it easier to share a thorough, accurate report of your participation with Carnegie Mellon, and it may even spark a brilliant college essay idea.

Serve the Community

Carnegie Mellon’s website features multiple mentions of “social responsibility,” “community engagement,” “concern for others,” and “making life better for all humankind.” Each of these phrases point to the importance of community service.

The best way to demonstrate that you’re a socially responsible, empathetic person who wants to make a difference in the world is to serve your community. High school students who make a positive impact on their communities are likely to become college students (and eventually adults) with the desire to drive change. And that’s exactly the type of applicant Carnegie Mellon is looking for.

So, make a positive impact in your school, community, or society in ways that are meaningful to you. Ask yourself:

  •         What issues in your school or community matter to you the most?
  •         What social justice issues are closest to your heart?
  •         And what can you do about it?

This could mean joining an existing service organization or community initiative, or it could mean starting one of your own. Successful applicants to competitive schools like Carnegie Mellon often launch their own nonprofits or lead social justice movements in their community. Whatever you do, it should not only help people around you, but also inspire and energize you on a personal level.

Along the way, keep a record of your community service involvement, just as you should track your extracurricular participation. What did you do and why? How many hours did you dedicate to community service? How did your actions make a positive impact on others? Did you receive any recognition for your service to the community? Highlighting your dedication to improving your community and the wider world shows your potential as a future Carnegie Mellon Tartan.

Carnegie Mellon Application Process and Checklist

To apply to Carnegie Mellon, you must complete the Common Application. You will apply directly to a college, program or school of your choice.

Your application will include:

  •         Official high school transcript
  •         SAT/ACT scores (optional)
  •         Activities/achievements list
  •         Secondary school counselor recommendation
  •         Teacher recommendation
  •         Common Application essay
  •         Carnegie Mellon Writing Supplement

The university no longer offers interviews, but alumni counseling sessions are available to help applicants align their interests with Carnegie Mellon’s programs. Additionally, Carnegie Mellon does not accept supplementary submissions of materials, including resumes, writing samples, research abstracts, or portfolios.

However, you will need to complete a few additional steps if you apply to the College of Fine Arts.

Carnegie Mellon Supplement

In addition to writing the Common Application essay, Carnegie Mellon applicants must respond to three short-answer prompts. Your responses should not exceed 300 words.

The three short-answer questions 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?
  •         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?
  •         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).

These questions give you the chance to share more information about your passions, goals, and anything else you want the admissions committee to know about you. For your final short answer, you should focus on something that isn’t already covered in your application. What else is central to who you are as a person and why you belong at Carnegie Mellon?

Tips for the Carnegie Mellon Supplement

Carnegie Mellon’s website says, “While there’s no such thing as the perfect essay, the best essay you can write helps us learn about you!” The admissions committee wants to “gain a deeper understanding of who you are beyond your transcripts.”

With that in mind, follow these tips when writing your short-answer essays (and your Common App essay):

  •         Write in your authentic voice. Your essays should “sound” like you. You won’t get a chance to sit down and talk to admissions officials, but your essays should come close to creating that experience for the committee.
  •         Be genuine. Similarly, be true to who you are in the essays. Instead of aiming to show off, aim to show who you are and why you’re a great fit for Carnegie Mellon. The most memorable essays are personal, authentic, and true to your personality and values.
  •         Talk about yourself. Carnegie Mellon’s website specifically mentions, “While role models, mentors and family members may have played a critical role in your life, don’t forget to write about you.” You only have 300 words for each short-answer question, so focus on talking about yourself, rather than how much you admire your grandfather or which historical figure most inspires you.
  •         Share information about your academic interests and goals. You apply to a specific school or program when you apply to Carnegie Mellon, so it’s important to get specific about your academic interests and goals. Your response to Question #2 should align with the college/school/program you’re applying to.
  •         Stick to the topic. Because your word count is limited, it’s essential to stay on topic and answer the questions provided by the admissions committee. Avoid lengthy introductions and unnecessary tangents; get to the point and make the most of your word count.
  •         Use specific, vivid details. Applicants often worry about how to write a “unique” essay. While your topic(s) might be similar to someone else’s, details bring uniqueness to your essay. Use vivid, specific details to write responses that only you could write.
  •         Do your research. Research Carnegie Mellon, and especially the college/school/program you’re applying to. You don’t want to write about a passion or goal that Carnegie Mellon can’t help you pursue. See what Carnegie Mellon offers that excites you, and sprinkle references to these qualities (and why they appeal to you and align with your interests and goals) throughout your essays.
  •         Proofread carefully. Before you submit your essays, proofread carefully for spelling, grammar, capitalization, usage, concision, and clarity. Eliminate repetition and unnecessary information so your essay is clearly organized and easily understandable. Then, have a parent, teacher, or trusted friend proofread your essay too. Do they see any errors? Anything that can be cut? Is the essay engaging? Does it sound like you?

Should You Apply Early to Carnegie Mellon?

Carnegie Mellon offers Early Decision 1, Early Decision 2, and Regular Decision. The table below represents deadlines and decision dates for each application plan.

Application Plan Deadline Decision
Early Decision 1 November 5 December 15
Early Decision 2 January 3 No later than February 1
Regular Decision January 3 No later than April 1

(Note: If you’re applying to the Schools of Drama and Music, the Regular Decision deadline is December 1. Early Decision 1 is not available for acting, directing, dramaturgy, music theater or the School of Music. Early Decision 2 is not available for the Schools of Drama, Music, Design or Art.)

Early Decision at Carnegie Mellon is binding. That means if you’re admitted, you are committed to attending Carnegie Mellon and must withdraw any applications to other schools. If you apply Early Decision to any other schools, you can not apply early to Carnegie Mellon. So, you should only apply Early Decision if you’re certain that Carnegie Mellon is your top choice.

As you can see, the deadline for Early Decision 2 and Regular Decision is the same. Early Decision 2 gives you the opportunity to classify yourself as an “early” applicant even if your application isn’t ready in time for Early Decision 1 (or if you need more time to decide whether Carnegie Mellon is your top choice).

But will applying early give you an advantage in the admissions process? Carnegie Mellon accepts about 20% of Early Decision applicants, which is only slightly higher than the Regular Decision acceptance rate of 14%. Still, at a highly competitive university, every percentage point counts. You’ll be compared to a smaller pool of applicants, clearly demonstrate your commitment to Carnegie Mellon, and receive a response much sooner.

Applying early to Carnegie Mellon may not give you a significant advantage, but it’s worthwhile if you are 100% committed to attending Carnegie Mellon if accepted.

Final Thoughts: How to Get Into Carnegie Mellon

Carnegie Mellon is an extremely selective university, accepting only about 14% of applicants. The ideal applicant is motivated, passionate, socially responsible, academically talented, and a leader with strong communication and collaboration skills.

Here’s how to get into Carnegie Mellon (or at least increase your chances of acceptance):

  •         Take challenging classes and earn a GPA of at least 3.84.
  •         Score a 35 on the ACT, OR a 1560 on the SAT. (Students with slightly lower scores can still get into Carnegie Mellon, and the school is currently test-optional, so you don’t have to submit your scores if you aren’t happy with them.)
  •         Pursue extracurricular activities you’re passionate about. Aim to take on leadership roles and earn relevant awards and recognition.
  •         Serve your school, community, or the world in impactful ways that you find inspiring and meaningful.
  •         Write authentic essays that sound like you and speak to your passions, goals, experiences, and overall fit for Carnegie Mellon. Stay on topic, do your research, be genuine, and proofread carefully.
  •         If Carnegie Mellon is your first choice, apply Early Decision 1 or Early Decision 2.

Combine these tips with your academic talent, and you’ll show the admissions committee why you would make an excellent Carnegie

 [AC1]Similar data for Fall 2022 not listed

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