How to Write the Carnegie Mellon Supplemental Essays

Student writing Carnegie Mellon Essays on a notebook with a blue pen
April 26, 2024
6 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/26/24

Find out how to write stellar CMU essays in this complete guide, including tips, FAQs, and examples!

Carnegie Mellon University is an internationally recognized educational institution in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Since CMU is competitive, many applicants look for ways to stand out in their application. That’s where the CMU supplemental essays can come in handy.

The Carnegie Mellon supplementals are crucial to your application and provide an opportunity to showcase your personality, interests, and experiences. However, writing these essays can be daunting, especially if you're unsure what the university is looking for. 

We’ll walk you through the process of writing the Carnegie Mellon supplemental essays. We’ve included expert tips, examples, and FAQs to help get you started on your CMU supplemental essays and help you write something unforgettable. Let’s get started!

Carnegie Mellon Supplemental Essay Prompts 2023-2024

So, what are the Carnegie Mellon essay prompts? Let’s discuss! First of all, let’s talk about volume. In total, there are four CMU essay prompts. However, only three are required, while the fourth is optional. 

Although writing multiple essays can be intimidating, think of the positives. For one, you have many more chances to stand out as a candidate. Writing multiple essays also allows you to demonstrate various facets of your personality and experiences you may not have been able to share in your application. 

Male student writing essay on paper

Here are the Carnegie Mellon supplemental essay prompts

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)”

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)”

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)”

Prompt #4 (Optional)

When it comes to deciding whether to submit standardized test scores, occasionally applicants want us to better understand the individual context of their decision. If you’d like to take advantage of this opportunity, please share any information about your decision here. This is an optional question for those who may want to provide additional context for consideration. (150 words)”

Have any of these prompts sparked your inspiration? If not, no problem! Read on to learn how to answer the Carnegie Mellon essay prompts with examples. 

How to Write Each Essay Prompt for Carnegie Mellon

"How" on pink background

Here’s how to write each of the Carnegie Mellon essays. For each prompt, we’ve included an analysis of what the prompt is asking and tips on how to answer. 

How to Write Carnegie Mellon Supplemental Essay #1 + Analysis and Tips

Analysis of prompt #1: The first Carnegie Mellon essay prompt asks you to explain your choice of major in three hundred words or less. In other words, this is considered a “why this major” essay, a common question in the college application process. 

Let’s go over some tips on how to handle this prompt.

  • Choose One Anecdote: It’s not uncommon for students to have many reasons for choosing a major. “My parents did this, I like the subject, I want to learn more,” etc. However, you should choose to narrow in on your strongest anecdote before writing this essay to formulate one strong story around a timeline of events. 
  • Create a Timeline: Before you start writing, create a timeline of events to help guide you. In the beginning, share when you first became interested in your major. The middle should tell the story of how your interest became a serious commitment, and you can end your essay by sharing your goals. 
  • Write Now, Trim Later: Shorter essays may seem easier. However, it may be more challenging to get your point across in fewer words. So, focus on the writing first, then trim the fat. Ensure each sentence helps to tell your story and that every word serves a purpose. 
female student smiling at computer screen

How to Write Carnegie Mellon Supplemental Essay #2 + Analysis and Tips

Analysis of prompt #2: With this essay prompt, CMU is trying to understand what you hope to take with you from your education. A successful college experience is subjective, so there’s no correct answer. Ultimately, this is the place to outline what you intend to achieve during your college years and after. 

Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Speak From the Heart: Answer this earnest question honestly. Talk about your future goals, your passions, and how you intend to contribute to your chosen field. Consider what goes through your mind when you picture your graduation day. What are you proud of? What will you do next? 
  • Tie In Your Past, If Applicable: Opening this essay with an anecdote about your past that ties into what a successful college experience means to you can be impactful. You should only do this if it applies to your situation and ties into why you’re applying to college and your future goals.
  • Talk About the School: This shouldn’t be the main focus of your essay, but in general, colleges love it when you’ve done your research and know about the clubs and programs they offer. To answer this prompt well, you should get familiar with what you’d like to participate in. 
Student writing on paper with pen

How to Write Carnegie Mellon Supplemental Essay #3 + Analysis and Tips

Analysis of prompt #3: The third CMU essay prompt is an excellent place to pop in one more achievement you’re really proud of or haven’t been able to share yet. Consider what you’ve shared so far and if there’s anything else you’d like to tell the admissions committee. Many applicants use this space to write about an extracurricular interest.

Use these tips to help you approach your essay: 

  • Find Your Subject: There are various directions you could take here. You may choose to frame this as an adversity essay, where you tell the story of a challenge you overcame to achieve something. If you want to highlight a particular skill, you can write an extracurricular essay to delve into your passions
  • Make Sure Your Topic Is Relevant: With a broad prompt like this one, it can be easy to get lost. It’s important to stay on track and add value to your application. If you write about something you’ve briefly touched on in your application, ensure your story isn’t repetitive
  • Be Authentic: It’s important that you write about something you genuinely care about. Don’t tailor your responses according to what you think the school wants to hear. 
female student typing on laptop

How to Write Carnegie Mellon Supplemental Essay #4 + Analysis and Tips

For the optional fourth prompt, you need to first figure out if you should write this optional essay at all. This prompt targets students who have chosen not to submit SAT or ACT scores. If you have chosen not to submit scores, you should absolutely explain your decision through this essay. If not, there’s no need to write the essay.

Examples of Carnegie Mellon Supplemental Essays That Worked

If you still have no idea where to start with your Carnegie Mellon essays, don’t worry. Take a look at some of these examples, written by real, admitted students, to give you inspiration! 

Sample Essay #1

Prompt: “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)”

Read through this sample essay for some inspiration: 

“When I was younger, I faced a lot of negative emotions including anxiety and low self-esteem. For a long time, I felt alone and as if no one understood how I felt. My self confidence was at an all-time low when I started taking psychology. All of a sudden the negative emotions I was feeling started making sense. I was suddenly able to understand how people were wired and why others treated me a certain way. I was able to feel empathy for my aggressors after understanding that those who treated me negatively often faced struggles of their own. Most importantly, I felt as though something out there finally understood me. Because psychology offered insight into my own behavior and helped me to understand others, I was eventually able to overcome my insecurities.
In the future, I would like to help others do the same. No matter where I end up, understanding why people behave a certain way and being more considerate and empathetic for others will only help me thrive. Mental health is a growing issue in our society. The world we live in is a confusing place filled with pain, but psychology provides a way to determine the cause of this suffering and how to change it. I never want anyone to feel the isolation and sorrow I felt when I was younger. I want to help others become compassionate and unconditionally loving not just toward others, but to themselves. Even if I only make a small change in the world and affect just one person’s life, I would like to pursue that.”
two boys with arms around each other looking at skyline

Why Essay #1 Worked

In this example, the writer uses a clear timeline of events to convey the story of how they became interested in their major. What the student has done especially well here is demonstrate a developed passion and deeper meaning to their choice of program. 

Your story doesn’t have to start in childhood – for many applicants, it doesn’t! Whatever your story, just ensure your devotion to the study of your subject is apparent and your story is concise, easy to read, and moving. 

Sample Essay #2

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 essay provides a great example of how to answer this prompt: 

“My main goal in college is to attain a specific degree so I may pursue a stable career I’m happy with. However, the manner in which I achieve this is imperative since I will spend a considerable portion of my early adulthood in college. This is why I want to attend an institution that will teach me what to learn, how to learn, and why I should learn. 
When I leave college and enter the real world, I don’t want to stop learning about how the world works or how I can improve upon myself. I believe that to give up the pursuit of knowledge is to give up hope for true happiness. I don’t want to die knowing I could’ve achieved more through my time on earth but chose not to, especially considering the people in less fortunate circumstances who would’ve taken full advantage of the opportunities I was presented. I have a sense of duty to improve myself in some way each day so in the future, I may apply the lessons I’ve learned and experiences I’ve gained to make a positive impact on this world. I fervently believe that true education prepares students for the outside world by emphasizing this mindset. 
Therefore, a successful college experience to me is one that facilitates this kind of growth by providing bountiful opportunities for me to pursue my goals and even open my eyes to activities I never thought of attempting. This sort of environment is one that must be achieved through the collaborative effort of faculty and peers alike. I believe Carnegie Mellon-with its vast undergraduate and graduate majors, research programs, student organizations, and diverse campus culture-accomplishes this well.”
Carnegie Mellon students lying on grass with notebooks

Source: Carnegie Mellon University

Why Essay #2 Worked 

In this essay example from an accepted Carnegie Mellon student, the writer focuses on their passion for the pursuit of education and why learning is important to them. This is an excellent approach; it indicates that this student wants to soak up as much of the CMU learning experience as possible rather than simply get a degree and move on. 

This Carnegie Mellon essay briefly mentions what the school has to offer, why they’re attracted to it, and how attending will help them fulfill their goals. 

Sample Essay #3

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)”

Check out this sample essay to help you respond to prompt #3: 

“Haunted romanticism, ravaged gaze, desperation bordering on lunacy, Saturn Devouring His Son first caught my attention as a bored nine-year-old wandering around a museum, and once again as a high-school student, after catching a glimpse of it in a textbook. 
Because after looking at angelic frescos after more Church frescos, I could not stop myself from flipping back to the tiny printing of this unholy piece. I sought to discover the story behind it—what caused this artist to create something so raw and naked, in the age of staid royal family portraits?
I became immersed in unraveling each bit of the story, how Goya had long transitioned from a royal painter, to a harsh, but veiled critic of society, the desolation that occurred during the French occupation of Spain, the corruption of Charles IV— who was really only a puppet ruler to Godoy. I learned how kingdoms rose and fell—and rose again, how art is unafraid to capture the seditious attitudes of the common people, and how it has endured to teach us of past mistakes.
I fell in love with dissecting the messages from the past, and discovering how we still have not listened to them.”
Woman sitting looking at historic art

Why Essay #3 Worked

In this example from a similar Yale prompt, the writer chose to delve into their appreciation for visiting art museums beyond the classroom and discovering their curiosity for art history. 

The essay is particularly effective because it doesn't just list the paintings they admire but instead delves into the meanings and significance behind each piece. 

The key to a successful extracurricular essay is to showcase your enthusiasm for the activity. To transport the reader into your world, it can be helpful to include sensory details that create a vivid picture of your experiences. 

Consider including descriptions of the smells, sights, and emotions that surround your extracurricular interest. By doing so, you can help your reader feel as though they’re there with you, experiencing the activity alongside you.

Get More Sample Essays Here!

If you found it helpful to look at sample essays, good news! You can check out our college essay example database down below for tons of great essay examples. 

FAQs: Carnegie Mellon Essays

Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about how to write each Carnegie Mellon supplemental essay.

1. How Important Are Essays for CMU?

Supplemental essays are an important part of the application process for Carnegie Mellon University. They allow applicants to showcase their unique qualities, achievements, and perspectives that may not be evident from other parts of their application.

2. How Many Supplemental Essays Does Carnegie Mellon Require?

The CMU essay requirements vary depending on the program you are applying for. For most applicants, there are three required essays and one optional essay. 

3. What Is the Word Limit for Carnegie Mellon Supplemental Essays?

Each CMU essay must be 300 words or fewer, while the fourth optional essay word limit is 150 words or fewer. 

4. Are the Carnegie Mellon Supplemental Essays Required for All Applicants, Including Transfer and International Students?

Yes, all Carnegie Mellon applicants must write supplemental essays, including transfer and international students. 

5. Can I Reuse Essays That I Wrote for Other College Applications for Carnegie Mellon's Supplemental Essays?

You may be able to recycle content to an extent based on the essay you’ve previously written. For example, your description of why you want to pursue a particular major may not change, but the school-specific details you add will. 

Final Thoughts

Writing strong CMU essays is a critical part of your application. These essays provide an opportunity to showcase what makes you a fantastic CMU candidate. They also provide a platform to discuss personal achievements that may not be evident in other parts of your application. 

Because the CMU essays are relatively short, it's important to be concise while sharing your stories. It's also crucial to ensure that your essays are cohesive, flow smoothly, and make a strong case for you as a candidate. 

By following our tips, you’ll be able to craft memorable essays and increase your chances of standing out to the admissions committee at Carnegie Mellon University. Good luck!

Access 190+ sample college essays here

Access 190+ sample college essays here

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