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With its culture of scholastic achievement and its major-specific application process, Carnegie Mellon University is perfect for highly motivated applicants who want to get started on their chosen academic path right away, alongside classmates who are just as dedicated.
Incoming students at Carnegie Mellon are introduced to a world of research, scholarship, and innovation that stretches across the globe. With the graduating class of 2015 included, there are now over 100,000 living Carnegie Mellon alumni scattered around the world, creating an exceptionally large network that students can tap into during and after their time at the university.
Ready to dive into the Carnegie Mellon application process? Read on for brianowens.tv’s advice on understanding Carnegie Mellon’s admissions and financial aid policies, putting together a competitive application, and keeping track of what to expect from the application process.
Want to learn what Carnegie Mellon University will actually cost you based on your income? And how long your application to the school should take? Here’s what every student considering Carnegie Mellon University needs to know.
Introducing Carnegie Mellon
The school that would become Carnegie Mellon University was founded in 1900 by Andrew Carnegie, an influential and extremely wealthy industrial magnate. His original intention was to create a trade and craft school for the working-class residents of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where the main university campus is located.
From these humble beginnings, Carnegie Mellon has become a highly-regarded university with multiple schools, degree programs, and research partnerships throughout the world. While the urban Pittsburgh campus remains the Carnegie Mellon headquarters and the site of undergraduate study, the university has since expanded to additional campuses in the United States and abroad. Currently, the university is ranked 23rd in the National Universities category by the popular U.S. News and World Reports ranking system, and is also highly ranked in a number of specific graduate and undergraduate fields.
Carnegie Mellon, sometimes abbreviated as CMU, has been through a few name changes in its history. When the institution was originally founded, it was known as the Carnegie Technical Schools. In 1912, when it began granting four-year undergraduate degrees, it changed its name to the Carnegie Institute of Technology. Finally, in 1967, the college joined forces with the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research, a nonprofit institute that was once part of the University of Pittsburgh, to form the Carnegie Mellon University that we know today.
Nowadays, a total of approximately 13,650 students call Carnegie Mellon home. 6,309 of these students are undergraduates, who are spread across seven undergraduate programs within the university: the College of Fine Arts; the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences; the College of Engineering; Heinz College, which operates the Information Systems program; the Mellon College of Science; the School of Computer Science; and the Tepper School of Business.
Carnegie Mellon is particularly highly ranked and regarded for its undergraduate programs in business, computer science, and various subfields of engineering. However, harkening back to Andrew Carnegie’s original ambition to create a school that would teach various craft skills, the university also has competitive programs in the visual and performing arts.
By the numbers, the most popular undergraduate majors are computer science and electrical engineering, but across the various schools at Carnegie Mellon, students study a bewildering range of different subjects— over 90 in total. Special interdisciplinary programs and majors are available for students who feel the need to cross intellectual boundaries, and a few students even develop their own majors. Double majors and academic minors are also options for students.
While Carnegie Mellon is known for its academic rigor, students do have free time, and they use it to participate in over 280 student groups and organizations. These include cultural and religious groups, fraternities and sororities, performing arts groups, and some activities that are just for fun. Athletics are also an option, whether in the form of varsity sports or more low-key club and intramural teams and recreational activities.
Carnegie Mellon Admissions Information
On the whole, admission to Carnegie Mellon is very selective. For the class of 2020, Carnegie Mellon received 37,313 applications for undergraduate admission. 5,143 of these applicants were accepted, making the overall acceptance rate 13.8%. However, because of the way Carnegie Mellon handles its admissions process with regard to its different schools and programs, this is far from the whole story.
At Carnegie Mellon, acceptance rates depend heavily on the school and program to which you’re applying. For example, here is a screenshot from the university’s website, showing the acceptance rates for each college within the university.
As you can see, acceptance rates for the different schools that make up Carnegie Mellon range from 6% to 23%, which represents a considerable difference. The number of applications submitted to each of these schools also varies highly, from a low of 1,180 to a high of 9,819.
As if that wasn’t complicated enough, students applying to the College of Fine Arts must specify which school within the CFA they’re applying to, and each of these schools has a different acceptance rate, as shown below in another screenshot from the admissions website.
What is Carnegie Mellon looking for in its applicants? It’s almost impossible to come up with a general answer to this question, since every college and school at Carnegie Mellon is seeking somewhat different skills in its potential enrollees. Portfolios and auditions, for example, are especially important factors in admission decisions in the performing or visual arts. The admissions office tries to look at each student individually, and no single factor can guarantee an acceptance or rejection.
However, a few qualities stand out as important for all applicants. Carnegie Mellon values students who are passionate, ambitious, and eager to go out and change the world. These students are hard workers and high achievers who show a distinct interest in Carnegie Mellon specifically. The university is looking for students who will be successful within the Carnegie Mellon environment, and who will also bring something positive to that community.
In addition to first-year admission applications, Carnegie Mellon also accepts transfer applications. The overall acceptance rate for transfer applicants to Carnegie Mellon is around 10.3%, but as we discussed earlier, this doesn’t necessarily reveal much. Just like first-year applicants, transfer applicants are required to indicate which specific program they’re applying for, and application policies and acceptance rates vary among the different programs.
Students who are potentially interested in transferring to Carnegie Mellon can find a full description of the university’s transfer admissions policies and procedures on the Carnegie Mellon transfer admissions website.
Paying for Carnegie Mellon
The estimated cost of attendance at Carnegie Mellon for the 2016-2017 school year is approximately $67,980. Tuition accounts for $51,196 per year. This cost of attendance will vary for individual students based on whether they live on campus and what subjects they study. About 50% of first-year students end up receiving need-based financial aid, and admissions is need-blind for domestic applicants, meaning that their ability to pay for college is not a factor in their admissions decisions.
Carnegie Mellon uses a unique approach when allocating financial aid: the “strategic tool” of statistical modeling. This approach takes into account not only the applicant’s demonstrated financial need, but their “intended college major, academic and artistic talents,
The effect of this policy is that Carnegie Mellon awards financial aid based on a combination of merit and need factors. Unlike some schools, the university does not guarantee to meet the full demonstrated need for all (domestic) students, and not everyone who applies for aid will receive aid. Prospective applicants can use the Net Price Calculator or Carnegie Mellon’s own Financial Aid Estimator form to get a rough idea of how much aid they might be eligible for.
Another special feature of Carnegie Mellon’s financial aid policy is that the university is openly willing to reconsider its financial aid awards for students who have received better aid offers from certain other private colleges. This means that if your financial aid award from Carnegie Mellon is not sufficient for your needs, but another college has offered you more aid, you may be able to get Carnegie Mellon to increase your award. While some other colleges are willing to do this as well if requested, the option is frequently not advertised to applicants.
To apply for financial aid, domestic applicants will need to submit the FAFSA, the CSS Profile, and their families’ tax documents. They’ll also need to read and officially agree to statements known as “attestations” on the “Where Am I in the Process” website, a website where Carnegie Mellon applicants can track the progress of their submitted admissions and financial aid applications.
If you’re applying to Carnegie Mellon on the university’s Early Decision timeline, which we’ll discuss below, your financial aid application will be due by November 1st, and you can find more detailed submission instructions here. If you’re applying on the Regular Decision timeline, your financial aid application will be due by February 15th, and you can find more detailed submission instructions here. Any additional information regarding special family circumstances must be submitted by these dates as well.
Financial aid at Carnegie Mellon may include grants or scholarships, known as “gift” aid, provided either by the government or by the school. As mentioned above, the distribution of these funds depends on both need and merit factors. Student loans and/or work-study may also make up part of the financial aid award. A brief guide to the aid offered by Carnegie Mellon can be found here.
Carnegie Mellon does not offer need-based financial aid for international students, though international applicants can compete for merit-based scholarships. The admissions policy for international applicants is need-aware, in the sense that admissions officers may use information about whether you’re seeking a merit scholarship in making their decisions. In addition, international students are not eligible to receive application fee waivers or to use the university’s payment plan to spread out their tuition payments. The bottom line is that if you’re an international student who wants to attend Carnegie Mellon, you and your family will need to be prepared to shoulder the full cost of attendance.
Domestic transfer applicants, like other domestic applicants, are eligible to apply for financial aid. Detailed instructions for applying for financial aid during the spring and fall transfer timelines can be found here. Fall transfer financial aid documents must be submitted by either February 15th or March 1st, depending on the program you’re applying to. Spring transfer financial aid documents must be submitted by November 1st.
The Carnegie Mellon Application
As you’ve probably realized by now, applying to Carnegie Mellon—or, rather, to one or more of the undergraduate programs within Carnegie Mellon—can be a complicated process. The specificity of the application process means you’ll need to know right from the beginning which program you’re applying for, and tailor your application to that particular field.
A very helpful booklet that explains the Carnegie Mellon application process for the 2016-2017 application season in great detail is available online here. We can’t fit every detail of applying to every school and program at Carnegie Mellon into this post, but we’ll go over the highlights and general guidelines below.
All undergraduate applicants to Carnegie Mellon, regardless of what school or program they’re interested in, will apply through the Common Application. Broadly speaking, applicants can submit their applications according to either of two different timelines: the Early Decision (ED) timeline and the Regular Decision (RD) timeline. Not all of Carnegie Mellon’s programs accept applications on the Early Decision timeline, and due dates may vary, so it’s important to thoroughly read the directions and make sure that you’ve completed all the requirements for your particular program.
ED applicants must submit their applications to Carnegie Mellon by November 1st. The admissions office strongly prefers that standardized testing be completed by this date as well; if you’re planning to take or retake a test in November, you’ll need to inform the Carnegie Mellon admissions office and rush-report your scores.
Prospective ED applicants should keep in mind that the ED program is binding; in other words, if you apply to Carnegie Mellon using the ED timeline, you are obligated to attend Carnegie Mellon and withdraw any other college applications that you have already submitted. Applying ED is only an appropriate option for you if you’re absolutely sure that Carnegie Mellon—namely, the specific program you’ve chosen at Carnegie Mellon, since you’ll need to choose only one— is your first choice.
RD applicants must submit their applications to Carnegie Mellon by December 1st for the drama or music programs, or January 1st for all other undergraduate programs. Applicants will be notified of their admission decisions between March 15th and April 15th.
If you’re planning on applying to a program within Carnegie Mellon’s College of Fine Arts, you’ll need to submit additional information, such as a portfolio, and/or complete an audition, depending on the program. This submission process occurs outside of the Common Application. You can find more specific application requirements and deadlines for each CFA program on the CFA admissions website.
Transfer applicants to Carnegie Mellon will also use the Common App system to submit their applications. The due dates for transfer applications vary based on which program you’re applying to and whether you’re applying for spring admission (which only some programs offer) or fall admission. If you’re interested in applying as a transfer, visit the Carnegie Mellon transfer admissions webpage for the specific dates for your program.
Below, you’ll find an overview of how to apply to Carnegie Mellon through the Common App, including a breakdown of the school-specific questions you’ll find in the Carnegie Mellon supplement.
Common Application Supplement
To apply to Carnegie Mellon, you’ll first need to create a Common App profile online and add Carnegie Mellon to your list of colleges, then complete the basic Common App questions that are asked of all applicants. For more information and advice on how to navigate the Common App, you can refer to the brianowens.tv User’s Guide to the Common App, as well as our targeted posts on how to fill out the sections about your demographics, citizenship, academics, activities, awards, and more.
After you’ve completed the body of the Common App, you’ll also need to complete your school-specific questions and writing supplement for Carnegie Mellon. To get to this supplement, navigate to your My Colleges tab and click on Carnegie Mellon. You’ll see the following screen, as illustrated by the brianowens.tv sample applicant’s profile that we’ve created:
On the left side, under Carnegie Mellon’s tab and the heading that says Application, click on the word Questions. You’ll see the following:
You’ll see five sections: General, Academics, Activities, Contacts, and Family. Click on the header for each section to access the questions within it. Below, we’ll go over the questions that you’ll find in each section.
For the General section, you’ll answer the following questions:
Preferred start term: Choose Fall 2017 from the drop-down menu. (If you’re a transfer applicant, you may have different options for this question; choose whichever answer applies to you.)Separate from need-based financial aid, which of the following programs are you interested in pursuing to help fund your education at Carnegie Mellon University?: If you’re interested in pursuing merit-based scholarships at Carnegie Mellon, select that option from the drop-down menu. Otherwise, select Not Applicable. Please identify any supplementary materials you are submitting via Slideroom.: If you do plan to submit supplementary materials, click on the text box to choose the options you wish to pursue. If you don’t plan on submitting supplementary materials, you don’t need to answer this question.
Carnegie Mellon University is committed to making our campus an inclusive and welcoming environment for all students. If you’d like to share additional information related to your gender identity that will inform our support, we invite you to share with us below.: This question is totally optional. If you feel that you’d like to answer the question, take a look at the options presented in the drop-down menu, and choose one if you wish.
For the Academics section, you’ll answer the following questions:
I have taken the AMC 10 Test (optional). I have taken or plan to take the AMC 12 Test (optional).I have taken or plan to take the AIME Test (optional).
If math is not your field, you may be a little confused by this section. Don’t sweat it- you only need to answer these questions if you have taken these tests. The AMC 10, AMC 12, and AIME tests are part of the American Mathematics Competition program, in which high-school students take timed math tests and compete for high scores. If you’ve taken any of these three tests, you can enter your test date and score in the spaces provided. If not, you can ignore this section.
For the Activities section, you’ll respond to the following prompt:
Optional One Page Resume
Carnegie Mellon doesn’t require you to submit a resume, but it’s a good idea to upload one here, as doing so can give you more flexibility to describe your background than the standard Common App activities and honors pages allow. Remember, though, it all has to fit on one page, so you’ll probably have to pick and choose about what to put on it.
Before you upload, be sure that your resume is correctly formatted, proofread, and professional-looking. For more information on submitting a resume, check out our brianowens.tv brianowens.tv post on why you should send a resume to colleges.
For the Contacts section, you’ll answer the following questions:
Have you previously applied to Carnegie Mellon College?: Select yes or no. If you select yes, you’ll be prompted to provide the month and year you previously applied to Carnegie Mellon. If you wish to be contacted via mobile phone, please provide your phone number. Contact methods may include phone calls generated from an automated telephone dialing system or text messaging.: If you’re comfortable with and interested in receiving communications from Carnegie Mellon via your phone, you can enter your phone number here. Providing your phone number is optional.
For the Family section, you’ll answer the following questions:
Are any siblings also applying for undergraduate admission to Carnegie Mellon University this year?: Select yes if you have one or more siblings who are applying to Carnegie Mellon this year; otherwise, select no. If you select yes, you’ll be prompted to provide their names and relationships to you. Have any relatives ever attended Carnegie Mellon University?: Select yes if you have any relatives who have attended Carnegie Mellon; otherwise, select no. If you answer yes for this question, you will be prompted to enter additional information about these relatives. Have any relatives ever worked for Carnegie Mellon University?: Select yes if you have any relatives who have been employed by Carnegie Mellon; otherwise, select no. If you answer yes, you will be prompted to enter additional information about these relatives. If you indicated that one of your parents/legal guardians/step-parents is employed at a Carnegie Mellon university campus, please indicate which campus.: If you fit into this category, you can enter the name of the campus at which your parent, guardian, or step-parent works. Otherwise, you don’t need to answer this question.
Finally, all applicants will need to complete the Carnegie Mellon writing supplement for the Common App. To get to this writing supplement, again, navigate to your My Colleges tab and click on Carnegie Mellon. On the left side, under Carnegie Mellon’s tab and the Writing Supplement header, click on Questions.
The questions you’ll be asked on this supplement are shown in the two screenshots below:
“Please submit a one page, single-spaced essay that explains why you have chosen Carnegie Mellon and your particular major(s), department(s) or program(s). This essay should include the reasons why you’ve chosen the major(s), any goals or relevant work plans and any other information you would like us to know. For freshmen applying to more than one college or program, please mention each college or program to which you are applying. Because our admission committees review applicants by college and program, your essay can impact our final decision. Candidates applying for early decision or transfer may apply to only one college and department.List the books (if any) you’ve read this year for pleasure. Choose one and in a sentence describe its impact on you.If there was an interruption during your secondary school or collegiate experience or between your secondary school and collegiate experience (gap year(s)) when you were not enrolled and as a result, not making normal academic progress, please explain the reason for the interruption.
While not a requirement, have you been interviewed by an alumni or on campus representative prior to applying for admission? If so, indicate the name of your interviewer and tell us how it impacted your decision to apply.”
For a detailed breakdown of how to answer these essay questions, you can refer to the brianowens.tv brianowens.tv post, How to Write the Carnegie Mellon Essays 2016-2017.
One extremely important thing that all applicants need to remember about this writing supplement is that the first question, which asks you to describe what you want to study, is not just any essay prompt. It’s also the way in which you specify to Carnegie Mellon which undergraduate program(s) you’re applying to, which is an extremely important factor for this particular university.
While your response here does not necessarily write your future in stone, it is often quite difficult to change majors at Carnegie Mellon, and some departments, such as computer science, do not allow any undergraduate students, except those who apply to that department from the beginning, to major in that department. This is something that you should think long and hard about before you put together your application.
Interviewing at Carnegie Mellon
Applicants to Carnegie Mellon are encouraged to interview with the Office of Admission if possible as part of their application process. These interviews allow applicants to make more informed choices about applying to Carnegie Mellon, and also become part of the applicant’s file for later evaluation.
An important difference between interviews at Carnegie Mellon and interviews at some other colleges is that Carnegie Mellon’s interviews take place before applications are submitted— all interviews for both admission rounds must be completed by the November 1st ED deadline. You’ll need to be prepared early and well to snag an interview at Carnegie Mellon.
If you’re wondering whether this means that Carnegie Mellon is collecting information about interested students before they even apply to the university, the answer is yes. As we mentioned earlier, your demonstrated interest in and enthusiasm about Carnegie Mellon is taken into account when admissions decisions are made, and this is one of the ways in which the university keeps track of your interest.
Carnegie Mellon applicants have two choices in terms of scheduling an interview, and in either case, you’ll need to proactively reach out to request an interview. Applicants who are able to visit the campus in Pittsburgh can schedule an on-campus interview with the Office of Admissions as part of their visits. Interviews are available until November 1st, and students who intend to visit can schedule an interview on the Carnegie Mellon admissions website.
While on campus, you may also be able to participate in other activities, such as departmental tours and information sessions. Some of these activities must be arranged in advance. You can learn more about the activities available in your department(s) of interest by checking the admissions website here.
Carnegie Mellon also offers a limited number of “Hometown Interviews,” which take place in several cities around the United States and occasionally in other countries. If you’re able to make it to one of these events, you’ll have the option to interview with admissions staff without having to actually come to campus. Applicants can view this fall’s scheduled Hometown Interview sessions and register for an interview slot on the admissions website.
Additional Carnegie Mellon Application Requirements
Applicants to Carnegie Mellon will need to submit the following in addition to the Common App with Carnegie Mellon-specific questions and the writing supplement. Note that some of these requirements will vary based on what department you’re applying to.
Official transcript(s) that show you have completed the courses required by your department. Applicants who were homeschooled must submit additional information about their academic plan and the textbooks they have used.
In addition to the admissions application, financial aid applicants must submit their financial aid documents by the deadlines mentioned earlier in this post. Accepted applicants must also submit proof of high-school completion and final transcripts once they graduate.
Hearing Back from Carnegie Mellon
If you’re an applicant who used the ED timeline, you should hear back from Carnegie Mellon about your admissions decision by December 15th. Since the ED program is binding, if you are accepted at this point, it’s expected that you will enroll at Carnegie Mellon and withdraw any other applications to other schools that you may have submitted. You’ll be required to confirm your enrollment and submit your deposit by February 1st.
Applicants may also be rejected at this point, in which case your application will not be reconsidered and you’ll need to move on to another college plan. (You may be able to reapply to Carnegie Mellon later as a transfer student.) However, there’s a third option: deferral. If you’re deferred, your application will be reconsidered with the RD pool of applicants, and you’ll have another shot at admission. See below for more advice about how to handle being deferred.
RD applicants, as well as ED applicants who were deferred, will hear back about their admissions decisions by April 15th. If you’re accepted in the RD round, you’ll need to make your decision about whether to attend by May 1st, on which date your response and enrollment deposit (if applicable) are due. (Students who were deferred from the ED round but accepted in the RD round are no longer contractually obligated to attend Carnegie Mellon.) If you’re rejected at this time, unfortunately, you’ll need to make other plans.
Some applicants are not outright accepted or rejected when RD decisions come out, but instead are placed on the waitlist. These students may be reconsidered for admission later on, after the May 1st response deadline, if open spots remain in the first-year class. We’ll address the waitlist process in greater detail below.
All students who are accepted to Carnegie Mellon in either the ED round or the RD round must submit an $800 enrollment deposit by their response deadline in order to secure their place in the class and in university housing. This is true even if you’re receiving financial aid, and no extensions of the deadline are granted, but the full amount will be credited to your first term bill. Applications should take note that they are only permitted to confirm enrollment and submit a deposit at one school; if Carnegie Mellon finds out that you have also made a deposit at another school, it may be grounds for rescinding your acceptance.
Deferrals and the Waitlist at Carnegie Mellon
Students who apply to Carnegie Mellon in the ED round may receive word in December that they’ve been deferred, and will be reconsidered in the spring with the RD pool of applicants. As with acceptance rates at Carnegie Mellon, deferral rates— and the rate at which deferred students are eventually admitted— may differ greatly among the different undergraduate program, each of which has its own goals and restrictions to work with in terms of class size.
If you’re deferred by Carnegie Mellon in the ED round, you’ll definitely want to focus on your applications to other colleges in other admissions rounds, but you can also put in some work to keep your Carnegie Mellon application competitive. It’s generally a good idea to write to the admissions office stating your continued interest in the program you applied to, and you can include in this letter any ways in which you’ve improved as an applicant, such as higher grades and test scores you’ve received or new awards and honors you’ve won.
In the RD round, being waitlisted is a very real possibility for Carnegie Mellon applicants. In one recent admissions cycle, the university placed 4,843 applicants on the waitlist. Of these applicants, 1,864 responded by electing to remain on the waitlist, and 87 were eventually accepted to Carnegie Mellon. This means that the acceptance rate for applicants who were offered spaces on the waitlist is a rather intimidating 1.8%. Of course, the rate at which applicants are waitlisted and the rate at which waitlisted applicants are admitted will differ from school to school within Carnegie Mellon.
While being admitted off the waitlist is unlikely, it’s still possible, especially at a large school like Carnegie Mellon. Also, since the number of applicants who can be admitted in this way depends on how many spots end up being available in the matriculating class, the waitlist acceptance rate will vary from year to year.
Like deferred students, waitlisted students are advised to move forward with plans to attend other colleges. They should confirm their enrollment with and submit an enrollment deposit to another school. However, if you elect to remain on the waitlist, you’re welcome to inform the admissions office of your continued interest and update your file with any exciting new information about yourself that might have come along since you initially applied.
Applying to Carnegie Mellon is certainly a process that takes some grit and endurance, but for the students who gain the chance to benefit from the university’s great wealth of resources, it’s well worth the effort. If you’re considering applying to Carnegie Mellon, be sure to take a look at their undergraduate admissions website, as well as the websites for the individual programs you’re interested in applying to, in order to get a full understanding of how the admissions process works. Don’t forget to take a look at our own brianowens.tv brianowens.tv post on how to prepare your Carnegie Mellon-specific essays for the Common App.
Whether you’re applying to Carnegie Mellon or to any other competitive college or university, it’s totally normal to need some help. The admissions experts at brianowens.tv can help you understand the application process, navigate the world of college admissions, and craft an application that helps you stand out to admissions officers. Fill out the form below for a free consultation!
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