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Carnegie Mellon University 2018-19 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide 

Please note: the information below relates to last year's essay prompts. We are going to update this guide with the prompts for 2019-20 as soon as they become available. Check back soon!

Carnegie Mellon University 2018-19 Application Essay Question Explanations

The Requirements: 1 short essay of 250 words; 2 short essays of 200 words

Supplemental Essay Type(s): Collaboration, Why, Topic of Your choice, Short Answer

“When we‘re connected to others, we become better people,” said Carnegie Mellon University‘s Randy Pausch, author of The Last Lecture. At Carnegie Mellon you‘ll have the opportunity to collaborate with a diverse community of scholars, artists and innovators. Given the students, faculty, staff and resources that have been available to you as a student, how have you collaborated with others, in or out of the classroom? Or, what lessons have you learned from working with others in the past, that might shape your experience in the future? (250 word maximum)

Although this question asks for a story in a specific situation (namely: a collaborative one), it leaves almost every other element up to you! Any time you worked with others is fair game, so don’t restrict yourself merely to a science fair project or your time on the JV soccer team. This could be a great opportunity to write about a professional experience (your first time working as a server!) or even community service (getting trained to volunteer at the animal shelter!). Ideally, you should describe an experience that spans a decent amount of time — a few weeks or even months — so you can describe the phases of your work and the end result. What challenges did your team face? Were they internal, organizational issues? Or were there larger, external problems that you had to face as a single strong unit? In what ways were you a leader, but more importantly, how did you allow others to lead and teach you? It’s all well and good to say that you spearheaded your group history project, but remember, this question is about collaboration. A more reflective and honest essay will consider how each person’s unique contribution set the course for your team’s success (or failure). If you’re talking about a large group (singing in a 100 person choir!), perhaps you’ll want to focus on the values or goals that are strong enough to unite such a large group of people. In the end, you want to make sure you address how the experience you’ve chosen to share will shape how you interact and collaborate with others in the future.

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? (200 word maximum)

This prompt sounds simple enough: describe what you want to study and why you like it so much so that you’re willing to dedicate four years of your life to it (at the very least). While you might be tempted to get technical or poetic in your response, your reader will expect you to connect your intended major with some prior experience and/or passion. In other words, tell a story. Lucky for you, we would have advised you to start with an anecdote anyway. The most personal, memorable essays spring from concrete descriptions of your lived experience. What excites you and why? When was the last time you got drawn down a Reddit rabbit hole – and what was the topic? While you don’t need to drill to the origin of your interest in a given topic, try to zero in on some formative experience: the best TED Talk you ever watched, the first time you spoke to your new friend in ASL, that one time when you shadowed an EMT and saw what it’s like to help people in need! Your story should showcase your unique connection to your chosen course of study. And don’t forget: CMU asks what passion OR inspiration led you to choose this area of study. You can also talk about a particularly powerful book you read or a life-changing experience that set you on this path. Just make sure to use details to bring your story to life.

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). (200 word maximum)

This prompt is a kind of free for all opportunity. Much like Common App’s prompt #7, CMU is giving you free reign to write about any topic under the sun. If you’re overwhelmed by all the potential possibilities, don’t fret. Instead take a breath and ask yourself: What doesn’t admissions know about me yet? What do I wish I’d had more space to write about on my resume or activity list? If you’ve written a supplemental essay for another school about a particularly rewarding activity, this is an excellent place to tweak and recycle that essay. Almost any essay that you have already written in response to supplemental essay prompts for other schools will be applicable here, as long as it doesn’t address what you want to study or how you work with others. If you haven’t already drafted any others supplemental essays that would fit here, feel free to seek inspiration in the prompts for other schools (ideally the ones on your list). Worst case scenario, revisit your personal statement brainstorming notes and think about the topics that you almost wrote about. Can you write about any of those memories or stories in 200 words?

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