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How to Respond to the 2023/2024 Carnegie Mellon Essay Prompts

By Ginny Howey

Ginny Howey is a former content writer at Scholarships360. Ginny graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in May 2022 with a degree in Media and Journalism (Advertising/PR focus) and minors in Entrepreneurship and Spanish. Ginny’s professional experience includes two summers as a writer intern at global creative consultancy BCG BrightHouse. More recently, Ginny worked as a content marketing intern for Durham-based software engineering bootcamp Momentum, where she gained SEO skills. She has also written freelance articles on emerging tech for A.I. startup Resultid.

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Reviewed by Bill Jack

Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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Edited by Maria Geiger

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Updated: October 10th, 2023
How to Respond to the 2023/2024 Carnegie Mellon Essay Prompts

Carnegie Mellon is one of the nation’s top universities. With a 14% acceptance rate, CMU surely gets top applicants each year. If you want to rise above the rest, the Carnegie Mellon supplemental essays are your chance. Carnegie Mellon’s prompts touch on different aspects of your background, interests, and goals. They are a great way to show off more of your personality and enthusiasm for the school. Planning strong examples to weave throughout your essays is key to success.

We will walk you through each prompt and offer tips on how to craft stellar responses for each of the Carnegie Mellon supplemental essays!

Also see: How to write an essay about yourself

Prompt #1

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 words)

Say you are interested in Computer Science. Well, you would not be alone, given it is Carnegie Mellon’s top major. Fortunately, this question invites you to back up your chosen area of study with a reason that is distinctly yours. For example, you could discuss your obsession with Guitar Hero as a kid and thus how video games are made. This inspiration for why you want to study programming makes this response personal and unique. 

Note that this prompt says a passion or inspiration that’s developed over time. Talk about the origin of your interest, then trace the ways you have further cultivated it. What started as a Guitar Hero fascination then led you to take a summer coding bootcamp. Now, you spend hours viewing YouTube videos on game development. Whatever your major is, try to get to the core of what intellectually excites you about it and what sparked that curiosity. This will ensure your sincerity and voice shines through. You can close with your long-term aspiration in this field or conclude more specifically with how you plan to pursue this interest at CM. 

Questions to consider: 

  • Is there a role model you look up to whose career you’d like to emulate? 
  • Have you taken a class that piqued your interest in this major?  
  • Are you drawn to a particular field of study because of the positive impact it can make in the world? 

Prompt #2

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 words)

This question can be tricky for some students because there are many directions to take your response. There is no one right answer for what you’d like to achieve in college and what constitutes a successful experience. After all, learning takes place both in and out of the classroom. Instead of being scared of this freedom, embrace it. Before writing, take a moment to really envision yourself in four years. How do you hope to grow personally and academically at Carnegie Mellon? If one goal does not dominate, make a list of all the things you want to achieve and find a way to summarize them into an overarching theme. 

One example could be how the prospect of meeting new people energizes you. You might discuss how you grew up in a small, southern town as an only child. Moving to Pittsburgh to live with peers of diverse backgrounds will be a big shift. Studying abroad could be another related wish for your time at CM. Talk about how these experiences will fulfill your ultimate goal of expanding your worldview. This avenue is a great way to discuss CM’s values and how you hope to align them with your own, as well.

Some students approach this question by discussing college as the key to unlock their dream profession. If you take this route, be sure you are not repeating information you discussed in prompt #1. You could go at it from a more abstract lens, like discovering how to engage both your creative and analytical sides. You could talk about an interesting major/minor combination, clubs you’d like to be involved in, or a research project you wish to explore. 

Questions to consider:  

  • What would you change about your high school mindset? For example, do you want to do a better job taking risks, or make community service a weekly priority?
  • In what ways will college enrich your character? 
  • What academic benchmarks do you hope to meet? 

Prompt #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). (300 words)

Similar to prompt #2, this response is incredibly open. You can choose to write literally anything about yourself here. Of all the prompts, this is perhaps the best way to differentiate your essays.  It is helpful to look over your application as a whole. What have you already shared with admissions, and what have you left out?

Is there something meaningful to you that you could only briefly mention in your activities section? For instance, you may have been in the improvisation club in high school. You could describe how you used to be incredibly shy, but this form of theater let’s you discover a whole new witty side to yourself. It may have taught you humility and the value in stepping outside of your comfort zone. These are terrific qualities to take with you to CM. 

In a whole different vein, you could use this space to be vulnerable. Maybe remote learning was especially hard on you and resulted in a semester of lower grades. You could explain the obstacles you overcame and how it made you realize the importance of prioritizing mental health. This showcases your resiliency and informs admissions about an inconsistency on your transcript. 

The admissions team wants to know what makes you, you. They also are curious about your road to get to this point. So, anything is fair game. Trust your gut, and choose something that you feel is genuinely important to paint a whole picture of yourself and your experiences. 

Questions to consider: 

  • What have you been involved in that has shaped who you are today?
  • Are there any red flags on your application that require explaining? 
  • Do you have any unique hobbies or stand-out personality traits?

Final thoughts

After these deep dives, we hope you feel inspired to tackle each of the Carnegie Mellon supplemental essays with ease. Use our tips to organize your responses, then get all your thoughts down. You can cut out the fluff and revise for grammar and writing quality later. Be genuine in sharing what matters to you, not what you think admissions want to hear. You are well on your way to crushing these essays!

Also see: Top scholarships for high school seniors

Additional resources

As you continue in your college application process, make sure to check back with us for other useful resources! We can help you decide how many schools to apply to, how to write a 500 word essay, and how to get a college application fee waiver. We’ll also help you decide whether you should send your ACT/SAT scores to test-optional schools. Good luck!

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