Carnegie Mellon University Application Q&A

Nobel Prize Winner, Hebert Simon, was a Professor of Computer Science and Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University

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General Questions

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Hi! I’m Ian Quah, a 21-year-old sophomore (2nd-year student) in Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). I was an International Baccalaureate (IBDP) student in Taylor’s College Sri Hartamas.

2. What was included in the application process to your university?

The materials I included in my application to CMU were the usual application materials that are not much different from other students’. I submitted 3 letters of recommendation:

  • A recommendation letter from my Chemistry lecturer,
  • a recommendation letter from my English lecturer, and
  • a recommendation letter from my Theory of Knowledge (TOK) professor. (TOK is part of the IBDP assessment)

3. How did you write your essay?

I included some very personal information about why my major interested me. I’m interested in Cognition as well as modelling the brain because of brain diseases in the people near me. There really isn’t any point in me sharing anything more because my essay really is personal. I guess that one piece of advice that I can give is to dig deep and ask yourself why. Just keep asking “why?” and hopefully you’ll hit gold eventually.

4. What are some of the activities that you participated in that you think helped your application?

Honestly, I just did things that I loved. Schools will know if you’re trying to pad your application, especially if you suddenly start doing something that is commonly considered to be desirable like MUN or Debate near the time of application, and I think that if anything, that will work against you. If you’ve been doing ECAs already, just continue with them.

5. Did you have to take any tests?  How did you prepare for the tests?

I took the SAT reasoning test as well as the SAT Subject Tests. I don’t have any tips regarding preparation. I just studied hard and smart. The biggest thing that did help, however, was good time management.

6. Was there an interview?  How was it?

I did not have an interview with Carnegie Mellon, however, I did have an interview with another school. I think that the main difference between what the interview actually is and what people think it is, is that the interview is more of a chance for you to get to know them, and for you to get an idea of whether you fit into the school. From what I’ve heard, most interviews do not actually make a huge difference to your application, unless you come across as very different from what you’ve made yourself out to be in your application (either in a good or bad way).

7. What do think helped your success of your application?

I honestly don’t know and I think that a majority of students don’t know either. Unless you’re an IMO or IPO gold medallist, or the winner of a gold medal in the Olympics or something, you really don’t know.

8. What advice would you give to future applicants?  What are some of the useful resources you used?

The best advice that I can give is to start your application early. Not just in terms of the essay, but in terms of the ECAs, getting a feel of the schools, as well as pushing yourself to be the best that you can be.

US-specific Questions

1. Does your college require you to submit any supplements? If yes, how were they?

Yes, my college required me to submit a supplement, which wasn’t too difficult.

2. We know that the US places a focus on ECAs too. If a student wasn’t too involved in secondary school, is it too late to start now, and where would be the best place to start?

This is my personal opinion, but yes, I do think that it is too late. As I’ve mentioned earlier, they know if you’re trying to pad your resume. If you were doing things that were related that would be fine. For example, I used to be a member of the animal humane society or something back in my secondary school. So, when I went into the IB and shifted towards tutoring students there was an obvious link.

3. Any advice on how to ask for recommendations from your teachers/lecturers?

My best advice on this topic is to choose a lecturer who knows you well, and knows how to write well. I’ve heard many stories of students whose applications were brought down by a weak recommendation letter. I gave my lecturers a copy of my resume, as well as a rough outline of what I was hoping for them to convey in the letter.


Carnegie Mellon International Student Admission Requirements –

Letter of Recommendation – How to Ask for It, Peterson’s –


Ian Quah the guy in the middle

Ian Quah is a mediocre student who will be pursuing his hipster degree in Cognitive Science along with a minor in Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. When he’s not working or sleeping you can normally find him in the gym or on his laptop coding. He may be contacted at for any questions.


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