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The Requirements: 1 page-long essay; 1 short answer; 2 essays of 500 words
Real talk: the CMU supplement is kind of a hot mess… but we still love it. And chances are you will too since you probably won’t have to write every single essay. Yes, you read that correctly. While we usually encourage applicants to respond to every prompt, optional or not, there are a few strategic instances where it can be in your best interest to leave it blank and carry on. Read our guide to pull together your personal to-do list.
Don’t be fooled by the inexplicably epic length of this prompt: it’s just a Why essay. If it helps, you can think of it as a Why essay with a checklist. CMU wants you to drill down from your general interest in the school to your particular interest in a subject area or department(s). In other words: Why study here? Why study this subject? And finally, why study this subject here? You’ve got this. Kick off your process the way you would for any other why essay, by doing your research. Spend some time learning about CMU’s student body, resources, and relationship to the city of Pittsburgh. Pore over a departmental website and soak up information about faculty, research, guest speakers, and special opportunities for undergraduates. And take notes! Jot down the details that appeal to you and by the end of your research station, you’ll have everything you need to plead your case. By weaving particular, personal details into your essay, you’ll teach admissions more about what you’re like as a person while also demonstrating a real commitment to the school. Be sure to answer the full question by addressing each program you are applying to (if necessary) and describing how a Carnegie Mellon education will help you achieve your future goals or satisfy your current curiosities.
Is CMU subtweeting you with that parenthetical “if any”? Probably not. More than anything, their little aside highlights the core of a good answer: honesty! Don’t copy and paste your AP English syllabus because you think it sounds impressive. And definitely don’t inflate your list with books you’ve never read (we know you wouldn’t dream of it anyway). When admissions asks a question like this, they’re looking for a genuine peek into your brain. What do you do for fun? What subjects or stories get you so excited you’d read about them in your spare time? If you’re a huge fan of YA fantasy, yell it from the rooftops! You’ll be able to plead the case for Twilight (if you must) in the sentence you write. But you’ve only got one sentence, so make it count. Pen a clear and specific sentence about the way a book has impacted your life or outlook. Did Edward and Jacob spark an interest in mythical creatures that made you want to major in Classics? Great! Even if you’re not a big reader, take a stab. If you can literally only think of one book, take this chance to write about it! What made it worth it for you to read that one special time?
This is one of those very rare cases where we’ll counsel most applicants to skip a question. An additional info prompt like this one is geared specifically towards students who have a blip — or in this case, a gap — in their academic record. If you’ve made it through high school with decent grades and zero academic drama, don’t waste your (or admissions’) time writing an essay about that time you got a B that should have been an A-. If, on the other hand, an illness or complicated family situation distracted you or pulled you away from school for a time, now is your chance to tell admissions the full story. This is your opportunity to reclaim your transcript and show admissions that you’re more than a lost semester or a couple of bad grades. As such, you’ll want to make sure your story centers on your resilience and ability to overcome challenges. How did you get yourself back on track? Whether you made a personal decision or sought outside help, your approach is valid and your essay will serve as the record of your maturity.
Okay, we know we said it was rare that we’d advise students to skip an essay, but it turns out the Carnegie Mellon supplement is one in a million. This is another prompt that you should only answer if you fit the exact criteria (i.e. you had an interview). You may be thinking, “But, CEA, I need to explain why I didn’t have an interview!!” Think again. This is another case where sticking to the script will serve you well, and failing to do so will count against you. “Does this person know how to follow instructions?” an admissions officer will wonder. “Why are they wasting my precious time with excuses?” Anyway, you get the idea.
For those of you that did have an interview, you’ve got another Why essay on your hands! So be sure you save any good tidbits from your interview for this prompt. (Oh, and pro-tip for any interview: prepare a few questions, take good notes, and refer back to them when you write your supplements.) Keep in mind that you can address any aspect of the interview, but the more personal the better. Go beyond the facts and figures and share something that surprised you or a common interest you shared with your interviewer. Maybe you both came from similar small towns and ended up having a heart to heart about the culture shock of living in a big city like Pittsburgh. It’s those moments of honesty and true connection to the school and its community that will grow into a memorable essay.