Approach to the Main Essay
This essay is especially important, allowing you to communicate why Carnegie Mellon University is the right fit for you. It is critical to be specific, demonstrating that you have an interest in individual programs, departments, and majors that attract you to Carnegie Mellon.
Like most other selective schools, Carnegie Mellon University essentially asks applicants, “Why do you want to attend our school?” While there are many qualified applicants applying to Carnegie Mellon, only a portion of the applicant pool will be able to articulate their specific and unique reasons for applying to Carnegie Mellon.
Make sure that this essay is one that is tailored specifically to Carnegie Mellon. You should not reuse content from other essays that could result in a nonspecific or generic response. Since this is a one-page essay, you will have room to tie in aspects of student life at CMU you find worthy of mention. Whether you want to write about the size of the university or its urban location in Pittsburgh, writing about this element of the college experience will help indicate that you are a good fit.
To help you during writing, here is a (short) list of what makes Carnegie Mellon unique:
- Following the Scottish traditions of its founder Andrew Carnegie, the university has a number of activities and academics related to its origins, including a major in bagpiping.
- The Spring Carnival is an annual three-day tradition at Carnegie Mellon. According to the event’s official website, students celebrate the occasion with “amusement park rides, adventures in booths, unhealthy snacks, and buggy races.”
- Carnegie Mellon boasts an expansive network of global education opportunities, including satellite campuses in Qatar and Silicon Valley. If you plan on utilizing one of these programs or studying abroad, the main essay below would be a good place to mention it.
In this essay, you want to introduce yourself, tie your interests into specific programs and activities at CMU, and demonstrate a fervor for the school in one page. The key, however, is to avoid making your essay sound blocky or unnatural. Though the essay prompt might seem dry or purely academic, there are many ways to be creative and artfully craft a response that is both unique and informative.
One way to showcase your personality, convey your excitement for Carnegie Mellon, and demonstrate your fit in the student body, is to use a parallel narrative arc.
By writing an anecdote about your supportive family and how it inspired you to pursue your passions (i.e., major subject areas), you can explain to adcoms how important community is to you. Opening the first half of the essay in this manner can lay the foundation for you to draw the same conclusions about Carnegie Mellon, a community that feels like family and drives you to deepen your interests in an intellectual area.
In addition to family, there are many other foundational elements of your early life you could use to draw parallels to your future college experience. Hobbies, interests, academic pursuits, or involvement with organizations in your community could also provide material to open your essay. You can begin by writing a personal anecdote followed by an explanation of how you will further pursue such activities or interests at Carnegie Mellon.
For example, if you want to write about the theater program as one of the reasons you chose to apply to Carnegie Mellon, do not just focus on the program offerings or professors. Begin the essay with a descriptive narrative of your first performance or a funny story about how you were cast as a tree in your middle school show. In the second half of the essay, you can transition into how such experiences impacted your future, influenced your passions, and instilled a desire to attend Carnegie Mellon University, now getting more into the specifics of academic offerings at the university.
With these methods, you can write a fluid essay that intertwines the major ideas the prompt asks for while conveying a captivating and lively message. The admissions committee will read many essays addressing this prompt, so taking a dynamic and creative approach will help your writing stand out from the rest.
Application Tips - "Why CMU?" Essays
The two essays I had the most trouble with was the "Why should we admit you to Carnegie Mellon?" and "What will you do for the school?" types. I'm going to tackle the first one here, and I'll follow up in the next coming days with the other types and what I did.
There is a fair amount of general advice out there for admissions essays, and I guess they seem to work. Have a solid, achievable goal, personalise the essay for the school, etc, etc. Not being someone in admissions I can't say what works or doesn't work, but I can provide insight on my own experiences.
CMU knows that people will, in a large percentage of time, choose a higher-ranked program if an applicant was admitted to CMU and to another school. This, from what I understand, is derived from a survey where they ask people why they declined to enroll. There is a lot of chatter and whatnot out there about how a program should be assessed for its strengths and that you should select carefully your school, etc, etc - but the fact of the matter is, applicants shotgun top schools because they're top ranking and hope for an admittance. (shotgun means that the applicant is sending applications out to multiple (i.e. more than 5) schools and hopes that one will "hit" - like a shotgun cartridge). CMU knows this also.
The piece of advice here is to really show how much you like CMU and have done your research and selected the school based on its merits - and therefore showing that you are not doing the shotgun approach for a top tier school. One of the criteria that I'm sure they use is "will the applicant actually enroll in the school if we admit them?"
What did I do? I focused on the analytical strengths of the program and compared that to both my background and to my future career goals. CMU has built a brand around analytics, so it's a point of pride. Tying it into both background and future, I think, solidified this statement - I wasn't saying "oh yeah, I love your xxxxx" but showing why I thought it was important.
I think I also I mentioned a couple of other items that appealed to me about the program, but nothing too much - the essay was split into background, short-term and long-term goals, and why CMU.
Other topics that could be mentioned that has a great chance of showcasing your research and differentiating yourself:
- The faculty. Gerard Cornejols taught me Probability and Statistics in Mini 1 and he just won the Nobel-Prize-equivalent for Operations Research, for example. Being taught the results of research done by faculty is an amazing experience.
- The specialised programs. CMU is very highly rated for it's entrepreneurship program and does a lot of work regarding this area, especially around technology products. The opportunity to collaborate across campus is also advantageous.
- The class size. I didn't recognize this as a benefit until I actually started the program, but having a very small class size is probably one of the best things of the program. Studies in networking have shown that the greatest benefits/leads on jobs are usually done by people whom you have small contact with - maybe once or twice a year. By being in a small class you get to know a large amount of the class, if not everyone, and everyone tends to friend each other on FB or LinkedIn, so those networking connections are built. It also creates a family atmosphere, almost, where everyone is willing to help each other out rather than being in constant competition. There are drawbacks to this setup also, but I'll get into that in another post one day and they aren't necessary for applications.