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Undergraduate Admission

Application and Financial Aid Support

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The University Community 

The Carnegie Mellon community is made up of creative and curious students, faculty, staff and alumni from all over the world. As individuals, we’re creators and makers at the core — the brilliant kind, the daring kind, the caring kind — all looking to make the world a better place. We collaborate across disciplines, the movers and the makers working with the what-iffers and the why-notters to innovate solutions to critical societal challenges.

Attracting and retaining a diverse community remains a significant focus for Carnegie Mellon. We continue to work to recruit and retain students from underrepresented backgrounds, including those who seek to be the first in their family to graduate from a four-year institution. The university is also focused on inclusive policies and practices that build a sense of community among people with many backgrounds, skills and strengths.

First generation CMU students are pictured outdoors on campus

We're Here to Help

Applying to highly selective colleges can be an unfamiliar process. Carnegie Mellon is committed to supporting you and your family.

The college application process is filled with special terms, forms, deadlines, requirements, standardized tests and more. Below, we offer a list of terms and definitions that students, parents & guardians, and community mentors may encounter along the way. We’ve also put together a suggested timeline to guide your college search.

We encourage you to reach out to our office or our admission officers so we can assist you throughout the admission and financial aid process.

Continue the Conversation

Preparing for College While You're in High School

Freshman Year

Select Coursework & Get Involved

Select courses that will challenge but not overload you. Most of the preparation for college happens daily through your classes. A good start makes everything else run much more smoothly.

Begin to investigate ways to get involved in something outside of class. Many times, it’s not necessarily what you do, but how committed you are to the task. This could include things like school clubs, athletics, community service and part-time jobs.

Commonly Used Admission Terms and Definitions

Admission Interview: A personal interaction between an admission applicant and an institutional representative (admission officer, alumnus, faculty, etc.). Interviews are rarely required. Carnegie Mellon does not offer interviews.

AP (Advanced Placement) Tests: Standardized tests designed for students who have completed a college-level Advanced Placement course in high school. The AP exams are graded from a 1 (lowest) to a 5 (highest) and are used to determine if a student may gain advanced standing in college and/or college credit. Learn more via College Board.

Campus Visit/Tour: Information sessions, campus tours and other visit opportunities offered by the college admission office for prospective students, allowing them to see various campus buildings, hear from faculty and staff and get a glimpse of campus life. Explore Carnegie Mellon's visit opportunities here.

College Application Essay: A brief writing on a single subject required by many colleges as part of the application process.

College Fair: An event that allows students (along with their parents or guardians) to speak with representatives from different colleges and universities. These events can be in-person or virtual.

College Rep/High School Visit: A visit to a high school or community site by a college admission representative used to recruit students for admission.

Common Application: An application system also known as the Common App that makes it possible for students to use a single admission application to apply to any of its member colleges and universities. Learn more via

Demonstrated Interest/Fit: A measure of a student’s desire to attend a particular college shown through campus visits, contact with admission officersand other actions that show engagement with the college. Carnegie Mellon does not consider demonstrated interest in our admissions decisions.

Early Action: An application plan under which a prospective student applies by an early deadline and receives notification earlier than the standard admission decision date. Early action is non-binding, and the applicant is not required to accept an offer of admission. Carnegie Mellon does not offer early action.

Early Admission: An application plan that allows qualifying high school juniors with outstanding academic records may forgo their senior year in high school and enroll in college early if admitted.

Early Decision: An admission plan designed for students who know a particular college is their number one choice. Early decision is binding, meaning applicants commit to enroll if admitted.

Enrollment Deposit: The amount of money you must submit to formally reserve your spot at a college. Most colleges require you to submit an enrollment deposit within a certain amount of time after you're admitted.

Extracurricular Activities: Activities such as athletics, a part-time job, involvement in clubs and organizations, volunteer work, community and family commitments, and more that complement a student’s classroom experiences.

First-Generation College Student: At Carnegie Mellon, a student whose parents or guardians didn't complete a bachelor’s (four-year college) degree or higher. You’re still considered the first in your family to go to college if your parents or guardians received an associate’s degree, attended a four-year college but did not graduate, or if your siblings attended and graduated from college. It’s worth noting that different colleges define first generation status differently.

Need-Blind Admission: Consideration of an applicant regardless of their need for financial aid.

Open House: A program offered by a college to showcase the school's programs and opportunities. Typically, a variety of departments, such as campus activities, financial aid and housing, are represented.

Prospective Student: Any student who is a potential applicant for admission.

Regular Decision: How most students choose to apply to college. Unlike Early Decision, Regular Decision is non-binding. Typically, applicants apply and are notified of an admission decision a few months later. Applicants then have until a college’s declared deposit deadline to submit an enrollment deposit at the school they plan to attend.

Rolling Admission: An admission program in which colleges review applications and release admission decisions on a continual basis rather than releasing decisions for all applicants on a given date. Carnegie Mellon does not offer rolling admission.

SAT/ACT: The SAT and ACT are college entrance exams. Many colleges require their submission to be admitted. Colleges usually don’t require both, nor do they prefer one over the other. Carnegie Mellon has adopted a test-optional policy through fall 2022, removing the SAT/ACT standardized testing requirement for first-year fall 2022 applicants.

SAT Subject Test: SAT Subject Tests (also known as SAT II tests) are offered in many areas of study including English, mathematics, sciences, history and foreign languages. Some colleges require or recommend students to take one or more SAT Subject Tests when they apply for admission. For those applying to Carnegie Mellon, SAT Subject Tests are neither required nor recommended, and these scores won’t be considered in our admission review process.

School Profile: An overview of a high school’s grading system, course offerings and other features that's submitted to the admission office by the high school along with your transcript. It’s used to put an applicant’s academic credentials in perspective within the academic offerings of the school they attend.

Waitlist: A list of students whose academic qualifications are strong but are not offered admission to a college initially. A college will only offer admission to students on a waitlist if there is space available after the school’s declared deposit deadline.

Commonly Used Financial Aid Terms and Definitions

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid): A federal form required from all students who wish to apply for need-based financial aid, including grants, loans and work-study awards. The FAFSA is used to determine how much financial aid the federal and/or state government can be provided to a student.

CSS Profile: A web-based financial aid form required by some colleges, including Carnegie Mellon, in addition to the FAFSA.

Cost of Attendance: The total cost of attending a college for one year, including tuition, housing, books, transportation, fees and personal expenses. The listed cost of attendance on a college’s website doesn’t consider individual students’ financial aid. Your personal cost of attendance may be less than the listed cost of attendance.

Demonstrated Need: The difference between the cost of attending a college and your expected family contribution. Carnegie Mellon is committed to meeting the demonstrated need of all financial aid-eligible students.

Unmet Need (also known as "gapping"): The difference between the cost of attendance and a student's (and family's) ability to pay.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC): The amount of money a family could be expected to cover for one year of college costs, based on the data gathered from the FAFSA and CSS Profile. This figure often differs from the actual amount you will be required to pay.

Financial Aid Offer: A statement from a college that outlines the type and amount of financial aid the school is able to provide an admitted or waitlisted student.

Financial Aid Package: The total amount of financial aid a student receives, including one or more grants, loans or work-study in a "package" to help meet the student's need.

Scholarship: A form of financial aid that is usually based on merit, sometimes in combination with need, which does not need to be repaid.

Grants (also known as gift aid): A form of financial aid based on need that does not have to be repaid. A grant may be provided by federal or state governments, an institution or a foundation.

Federal Pell Grant: A federal grant awarded to students with substantial financial need, as determined by the FAFSA.

Loan: A type of financial aid that is available to students and to the parents of students that must be repaid when either the student finishes school or ceases to be enrolled at least half-time.

Parent PLUS Loan: A low-interest federal loan available to parents of dependent students that can be used to cover any costs not already covered by the student's financial aid package.

Subsidized Loan: A type of loan for which a student does not pay the interest while enrolled at least half-time.

Unsubsidized Loan: A type of loan that is not need-based and for which the student is responsible for the interest accrued while in college.

Work Study: A form of financial aid that allows a student to work on-campus or with approved off-campus employers in order to earn money to pay for expenses related to the cost of attendance.

Dependent Student: The status of most first-year college students; used for financial aid calculation. Dependent students must report their parents' income and assets on their financial aid applications.

Independent Student: A status used to determine financial aid. An independent student must meet any one of the following criteria as defined by the federal government:

  • 24 years of age
  • Married
  • Has status of a graduate or professional student
  • Has legal dependents other than a spouse
  • Is an orphan or ward of the court (or has been a ward of the court until age 18)
  • Is an emancipated minor
  • Is homeless or a veteran

Independent students report only their own income and assets (and those of a spouse if applicable) when applying for financial aid.

Custodial Parent: If a student's parents are divorced or separated, the custodial parent is the one with whom the student lived with the most during the past 12 months.

Non-Custodial Parent: If a student's parents are divorced or separated, the non-custodial parent is the one with whom the student lived with less during the past 12 months.

Full-Time Student: An undergraduate student who takes a minimum of 12 credits (the equivalent of 36 units at Carnegie Mellon) per semester.

Get an Insider's Perspective

Looking for more information about applying to college? Check out recordings of our Admission Insights webinars. This series provides information and insights from our admission counselors and campus partners, with each webinar focusing on a different aspect of the college admission process.