How to Write the Carnegie Mellon Supplemental Essays 2020-2021: A Great Guide
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Carnegie Mellon University has an acceptance rate of 17% and is enamored with big, bold ideas, as well as “a whole lot of robots.”
While their website might be playful, their admissions application is no joke. You can tell from the tone of the writing supplements that the university is interested in serious and goal-oriented students.
A participant in the Common App, Carnegie Mellon University requires additional writing supplements that are tailored to their school.
Carnegie Mellon Supplemental Essay Requirements
Specifically, CMU requires three 300 word essays in addition to the main Common App essay. This is in the mid-range for length on a supplemental essay. For a visual, imagine writing half a page single-spaced.
The supplemental essays are broad in their topics. They focus on the following elements, respectively:
- Essay 1: The College Experience
- Essay 2: “Why This Major”
- Essay 3: Something Personal
The essay topics are fairly general, leaving a good deal of room for digging into the ideas that matter most to you. Stay creative and open-minded.
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).
General Tips for the CMU Supplemental Essays
Since you don’t have much room to work with, it’s important to get straight to the point.
- Starting with a small anecdote or hook is OK, but you need to get to the point of your essay right after finishing the anecdote.
- Your anecdote, should you choose to include one, should comprise less than 30% of your essay or in this case, a short paragraph. Spending too much time on the story means you’ll spend less time on key takeaways, lessons learned, and personal themes.
It’s also critical to stick to one or two key points in each essay. No matter how tempting it is, don’t provide a laundry list of your accomplishments, since this is ineffective and reads like a resume.
Your narrative is critical. When you’re sticking to those one or two key points, keep in mind that you should be sticking to new elements and telling a story or painting a picture. Don’t discuss something that you’ve already expanded on in your Common App.
Carnegie Mellon Supplemental Essay 1: The College Experience
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?
This question is broader than it may appear at first. Though learning is critical to the college journey, and the admissions committee certainly wants to hear about that, there’s more to it. They want to know if you’re a good cultural fit for Carnegie Mellon, and what you want from your personal development as well.
An easy way to start this essay might be imagining your graduation day and working backwards, or describing your ideal first day on campus. Think creatively.
- What about Carnegie Mellon’s learning environment appeals to you? How do you see those elements being essential to your learning experience?
- What about Carnegie Mellon’s social environment stands out to you? How do you see it contributing to your personal development and future?
- How do you see yourself having changed by the time you graduate college? Why?
- What will you have achieved at Carnegie Mellon when you leave that you could not have achieved elsewhere?
Make sure you keep this essay specific to the school without making it a “why Carnegie Mellon” essay. Your essay should reflect the values and spirit of the school while keeping it personal.
Above all, avoid making this an essay about why college is educational or fun without bringing in any level of detail. This is not an essay about why you want to go to college.
Carnegie Mellon Supplemental Essay 2: Why This Major?
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?
We strongly recommend you begin this essay by explaining your personal connection to your intended major.
It’s perfectly fine to not know your major. If you’re having trouble picking something, choose a niche major that relates to your interests. Don’t spend too much time on this. Choose something Carnegie Mellon offers and move on to writing the essay.
The safest way to write this essay is to pick an experience from your life – perhaps an extracurricular activity, outside-the-classroom project, or internship experience – and connect it to your major.
It’s important to write about what you did during this experience. Again, mention the action steps. Show that you pursued this interest with fervent desire and passion.
- We encourage you to reuse themes and pieces of other essays that answer a similar question, but do not simply copy and paste another supplemental essay.
- You’ll be missing out on the chance to specifically express why you want to be admitted to and belong at Carnegie Mellon if you use the exact same sentiment written in another one of your essays.
Instead, brainstorm the following questions:
- What is it that you are passionate about?
- How is it that you want to mark your place in the world?
- What drives you? What motivates you?
- What topic(s) do you spend hours researching?
- Which courses and experiences will best prepare you to accomplish your ambitions?
- Is there a global or community problem you want to solve? How are you personally attached to this problem?
- What are your favorite subjects in school? Why?
- Connect that passion to a program.
Your discussion of “why” might naturally lead into outlining your academic and career goals.
- For example, if you have big dreams of becoming a political leader or writing a best-selling novel, do not forget to recognize the steps and smaller roles you will have to take to get there.
- Admissions officers will want to see that you are reasonable and methodical in reaching your goals.
Since you don’t have much room, there’s a strong chance you’ll finish your essay right after you connect your action steps to the desired major.
Here’s a preferred breakdown of this essay, in no particular order:
- 10% explaining your passion or field of interest.
- 60-80% discussing your action steps and how you pursued your passion.
- 20-30% extrapolating how you’d use your expertise in this field upon graduating. What problem would you try to solve, and how would you solve it?
Carnegie Mellon Supplemental Essay 3: Something Special About You
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).
You have the utmost flexibility when writing this essay. Just remember, what you write about should not be directly mentioned anywhere else in your application for Carnegie Mellon University.
This essay should introduce something new that is neither explained nor is a topic in your Common App or other CMU essays.
This essay is your chance to throw the admissions officer a curveball, so to speak.
Ultimately, you want your essay to tell a story. You can discuss…
- …the guiding themes, values, and lessons of your life
- …a critical aspect of your upbringing
- …perhaps a dire or inspirational formative moment from your past
For example, you might have taken an engineering fundamentals class in high school, as well as a programming course. This might have sparked your interest in participating in FIRST robotics at school, getting you involved in the hands-on aspect of design principles and software integration. This naturally led to you performing research on pursuing robotics at different universities.
Then, Carnegie Mellon’s robotics research into soft robotics could have piqued your interest. After all, Baymax was inspired by the research out of the soft robotics lab at Carnegie Mellon. Your motivation might be to eventually contribute to the advancements in the field or work on effectively translating the research into the industry to disseminate advancements throughout the rest of the world.
Finally, you can also use this essay to explain a gap in your study history or circumstances that interrupted your education:
- Therefore, include what you were able to learn and gain from your experience.
- Also, consider including what you did to ensure you were on track with your “regular” education, like online classes. This is particularly important if your interruption occurred in high school.
- Perhaps you were offered an apprenticeship that didn’t allow you to pursue school at the time.
It could also be the case that your education was interrupted for reasons such as failing classes or dropping out and re-enrolling in high school. If that’s the case, you might be groaning on the inside.
- Try thinking about this prompt in a positive light – Carnegie Mellon will have already reviewed your transcript, which only shows hard numbers.
- This is an opportunity to share your story, struggles, and growth.
- Some students decide to drop out so they can work full-time to provide additional income for their family, then return to school when there is better financial stability.
- What would you like Carnegie Mellon University to know about your experiences during this time that led to an interruption?
Clearly, you are in a better place and ready to continue your education.
- What changed?
- How did you work toward your goals?
- What characteristic(s) did you gain from this interruption?
- What perspective can you bring with you to Carnegie Mellon from this experience?
Answering this question honestly might just say more about you as a student than your transcript does.
Conclusion: The Carnegie Mellon Supplemental Essays
As with any writing supplement, review your responses for mistakes. Print out your essays and read them aloud.
Ask a friend or family member to check for clarity. You might know what point you are trying to get across, but someone without 24/7 access to your brain might ask you a question that you hadn’t thought to address.
Finally, read your writing for passion.
- Do you reflect your past in addition to lessons learned?
- Are you excited about your academic goals and future career opportunities?
- Are the essay responses written in your own voice?
Universities care deeply about their schools. They want to ensure they are great places to learn and grow. Reflect that image back to them by using the advice we provide.