Carnegie Mellon University

Pre-College Design introduces students to the discipline of Design, provides a foundation of skills, and gives a clear idea of what to expect from a college-level accredited program.

Design has never been in greater demand than it is now. Businesses, government, and local communities are turning to designers for innovation and problem solving which has created new roles for designers in every sector of the marketplace. Pre-College Design students will have the opportunity to attend classes taught by full-time faculty where they are given a primer on the design principles and practices that are the cornerstones of the undergraduate School of Design program.

Modeled after the freshman year experience, sessions will consist of studio learning, lectures, critiques, field trips to museums, workspaces, and community spaces, as well as guided work sessions with faculty. Students will be assigned their own personal studio space, providing them with their first foray into “studio life.” By the end of the program, participants will have portfolio pieces that have been critiqued by School of Design faculty. There will also be a showcase that will feature all of the work students completed during the program, for fellow classmates, faculty and parents to see.


The Pre-College Design curriculum consists of expert instruction in the following areas:

Studio Design for Products, Communications, & Environments

Studio courses allow students to experience the iterative process designers use when developing their best solutions. Teachers guide students through the problem-solving process, introducing basic tools (i.e., sketching, diagramming, prototyping) along the way.

Design Drawing

Design Drawing is a different way of drawing than fine art drawing. It is one of the ways designers work through their ideas, and effectively share their thinking with others.  Through guided exercises students are introduced to ways in which they can make their drawings a stronger communication tool, as well as a useful part of the problem-solving process.

Design Photography

In addition to the mechanics of using a camera, Design Photography teaches students how to effectively capture images that convey meaning and tell a story.

Design Research & Problem Solving Methods

Design Research & Problem Solving Methods will serve as an introduction to the way designers gather meaningful data, and to the tools required to apply that data to their design solutions.


To be eligible for the Pre-College Design program students must: 

  • Be at least 16 years old by the program start date (to participate in the residential program).
  • Be a current sophomore or junior in high school.
  • Have an academic average of B (3.0/4.0) or better.

Previous experience in art or design is NOT required.

Application Requirements

The complete application for the Pre-College Design program consists of the following:

  • Completed Online Application
  • Unofficial Transcript
  • Standardized Test Scores (optional)
  • One Letter of Recommendation
  • Responses to the following essay prompts (300-500 words):
    • What do you hope to gain from participating in the Carnegie Mellon Pre-College program?
    • Why are you interested in studying design?

Frequently Asked Questions

Work created in this program may be excellent material to package for a student’ portfolio. At the conclusion of the program, faculty will be available to provide feedback on portfolios.

There is no three-week option for the Pre-College Design program.

Students will have access to computers in the public clusters on campus. Most students find it is convenient to have their own laptops, but it is not required.

Students will need a digital camera and/or a phone capable of taking pictures and may be asked to purchase up to $250 in materials to support class work. These supplies may include items such as:

  • Sketchbook
  • Tracing paper
  • Newsprint pad
  • Pencils
  • Markers
  • Xacto knife and blades
  • Modeling Clay
  • Styrofoam
  • Color Prints