How to Write the Carnegie Mellon Supplemental Essays: Examples + Guide 2020/2021
This is a standard “Why Major” prompt. For a larger guide to “Why Major” prompts, click here. Below is a condensed version.
One possible approach:
Think of this as a quick origin story.
Step #1: Imagine a mini-movie of the moments that led you to your interest and create a simple, bullet-point outline.
Step #2: Put your moments (aka the “scenes” of your mini-movie) in chronological order, as it’ll help you see how your interests developed. It also makes it easier to write transitions.
For CMU’s essay, try one scene per short paragraph.
Step #3: For CMU, you’ll likely want to include a specific thesis that explicitly states your central argument—in this case, what you want to study and why. This thesis can come at the beginning, middle, or end of your essay.
Once you have those pieces, you have a few structural options:
A. A hook that thematically sets up where you’ll take us, and ideally shows an aspect of your intellect/personality. (If you do this, it can be stylistically effective to bookend—to end the essay by linking back to what you opened with.)
B. An initial moment that sparked your interest.
C. Your thesis.
The moments of your mini-movie, illustrating both the development of your interest and some of your core values.
One option: Go narrower—perhaps link to specific aspects of CMU that will help you continue on your path toward a future goal.
Another option: Go wider—name the road you hope to follow ahead (for example, career path, organizations you’d like to work with, the greater value/implications of studying what you want to).
It’s important to note that, unlike at many schools, at CMU, it can be difficult to change majors (some departments don’t allow you to switch into their programs at all).
And last, a quick tip: Be sure this essay is consistent with your personal statement if you’ve mentioned aspects of your major/career there.
Carnegie Mellon Supplemental Essay Example #1
At heart, I’m both regulatory bureaucrat and capitalistic entrepreneur.
Coming from a small business-owning family, I’ve grown up finding ways to one-up the competition, from boosting website search ranking with unconventional SEO to negotiating with book suppliers to cut costs. After all, our rent depends on our profits.
However, I also hold enormous respect for regulation. I vividly remember seeing my second grade classmate Nelson sprawled on the asphalt in front of the Chinese school we attended, accidentally run over by his teacher. I later discovered that afterschool was unlicensed: no safety training, no inspections, nothing. Years later, when my mother opened her own afterschool business, I filed the licensing documents and installed government-mandated guardrails. Though burdensome, regulation is crucial.
The afterschool industry taught me the inseparability of business and policy, but also sparked my curiosity concerning how political economics can leverage that relationship for maximal social benefit. In my Democratic Party internship, I examined how to incentivize below-market-rate housing construction without reducing overall supply. At FBLA Nationals, I delivered a presentation on management practices to reduce oil spills, increasing profits while meeting environmental standards.
CMU strikes me as surprisingly similar to the afterschool industry: an environment where learning occurs through doing and where business and policy can be explored in tandem. I’m excited by the new Economics and Politics degree, which would allow me to take Tepper’s and Dietrich’s classes concurrently. I’d love to attend the Washington Semester Program, applying my education to policy at a greater scale than I am currently. And I’m intrigued by electives like Coffee and Capitalism, using my favorite drink as a microcosm of commerce and geopolitics.
Whether I become a leader in the afterschool industry or an elected official regulating it, I know CMU will enable this Capitalist Bureaucrat to catalyze purposeful impact.
— — —
Tips + Analysis:
Hook the reader. Notice how the first line performs a few functions here. First, it pulls us in and makes us curious what exactly they mean by this claim. Second, it shows some of the author’s personality, as there’s a slight wry humor to the juxtaposition (both in the self-effacing nature of referring to themselves as a bureaucrat, with its cultural connotations, and in the joining of two things that tend to be viewed as diametrically opposed). You’ll notice that the other example essays for this prompt hook us as well, giving us a quick sense of who the author is.
Show the development of your interest through moments that connect to core values. Each paragraph provides details that show both intellectual and emotional links to the student’s chosen field, and that link to their core values (community involvement, integrity, etc). And they do a nice job of increasing the degree of the student’s interest and involvement (e.g. internship, FBLA Nationals), illustrating their dedication. Bonus points here for raising the stakes by mentioning their family’s rent is in part dependent on their work.
A narrower ending—how CMU can help with the next steps. Above, the student has clearly thought about how CMU can help them on their path forward. (If you choose this option, be sure to avoid repetition with the next prompt.)
Below are three more sample essays.
How would our world change if we could print any image or text onto any surface with just a small portable printing device and a mobile app? Designing walls, tunnels, roads– all these jobs would become effortless. To make my vision into reality, I created an Augmented Reality & Machine Learning app as well as a handheld printer prototype at Cornell’s Computer Systems Lab last summer. My application harnesses the motion detection data and on-device deep neural networks to determine the surfaces surrounding the smartphone camera’s view. Afterwards, the user can tap and drag an image on the camera screen of the smartphone to “prop up” an image onto any detected surface. Using the handheld printer, the user can print the virtually propped image onto the actual wall. I’ve grown more enthusiastic in my work every day because I’ve seen how innovative mobile apps can magically merge virtual objects into the real world for billions of smartphone users. The combination of data collection, analysis, and implementation of computer graphics and machine learning in my project has intensified my interest in Data Science.
From analyzing the refugee crisis in the Middle East to detecting tumors at an early stage, the benefits that three quintillion bytes of data every day can provide are endless. As a Statistics and Machine Learning student at CMU, I look forward to continuing my project with deep neural networks and mixed reality, as well as discovering other interdisciplinary applications. Courses such as Modern Regression and Statistical Computing will help me use scientific methods to draw meaningful insights from data.
As the unprecedented increase in scale and importance of data revolutionizes a multitude of industries, Carnegie Mellon’s groundbreaking Statistics & Machine Learning curriculum and research opportunities will support my ambition for making a genuine impact in the world.
— — —
When I was young, I drew planes almost everyday. Planes with three, four, or even eight turbines. Planes with multiple wings and two fuselages. My planes were impossible according to the laws of physics, but I tried to create them anyways.
In middle school, I became fascinated with building planes. After watching hundreds of hours of FliteTest on YouTube and building their kits, I was ready to create my own. My first idea started with a single wing. I drew up a 3’ 4” long wing on a sheet of foam board and, after drawing three more prototypes, I assembled it. Then, I wired the two servos and a single 2280kv Radial 2218 brushless motor. On its maiden flight, I threw it into the air and it went straight into the ground. Too much weight in the front, Kanishka. Back to the garage.
In high school, I became captivated with cars, more specifically hydrogen and electric cars. I created a Hydrogen Car team to compete in a hydrogen fuel cell endurance race. I learned how to make a fuel cell more efficient. Ambitious, I worked tirelessly to get to the world finals. I devised a way to use the motor’s thermal energy and convert it into electrical energy, making our car more efficient.
I am a creator. The laws of physics often hinder my creativity, but I keep trying to push the limits of what is possible.
In college, I hope to combine my research in hydrogen fuel cells and airplanes to design a new type of plane that isn’t electric or combustion based. I want to major in mechanical engineering to accomplish that. With a minor in AI, I’ll learn how to use neural networks to manage energy consumption in complex systems.
— — —
One question + two statements + three sounds = Success.
“Want to build a computer?”
“Pass me the screwdriver.”
“Configure the BIOS.”
That is how I built my first computer with my dad. I was 10.
Computers have been a part of my life from a young age, but it wasn’t until later that I began to realize the degree to which computers can be used to solve the world’s major problems. This past summer at the Beaver Works Summer Institute at MIT, we were asked to brainstorm a problem to solve. Because of my Keratoconus surgery and my knowledge that worldwide blindness is projected to expand exponentially by 2050, my goal is to create artificial sight for the heavily visually impaired. Currently, bionic eyes, which cost over $150,000, allow a person to see only bright flashes of light; I hope to create an affordable device that allows the blind to see as if they had natural 20/20 vision.
A fully functional artificial eye requires the melding of many different fields of knowledge, such as the ways in which neurological nerves interact with circuits, the precise robotics needed to install the functionality of a high-resolution camera into a small package, and the artificial intelligence required to understand the habits of a specific human being. I have begun to learn how to utilize artificial intelligence, and I know I will continue expanding my understanding of A.I. at the collegiate level by majoring in Computer Science.
Through my numerous difficulties with vision and my computer-centric upbringing as an engineer, I am determined to allow the blind to see again.
What problem in the world today can you solve?
Bionic eyes cost over $150,000.
I can make a difference.
One question + two statements + three sounds = [Student], Engineer
— — —