Carnegie Mellon University

Learn how to create unique game software on state-of-the-art technology.  

The National High School Game Academy (NHSGA) allows disciplined, passionate, and dedicated high school students to experience modern video game development. Sharing methods and paradigms used in Carnegie Mellon's Masters of Entertainment Technology (M.E.T.) graduate program, the NHSGA focuses on an innovative blend of hands-on team projects combined with in-depth traditional lecture and discussion. Designed to elevate a student’s rigor, working process, and discipline, the NHSGA prepares students for their college experience.

Who should apply?

NHSGA encourages students interested in ART, MUSIC & AUDIO, GAME DESIGN, and SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT to apply for this interdisciplinary program.

Students will be encouraged to expand their own creative possibilities in a unique blend of left- and right-brain college-level work. Every student accepted to the program will be expected to contribute to every area of development.

Program Options:
  • 6-week*
  • Residential OR Commuter**

*For specific program dates see, the home page.

**In order to be eligible as a commuter student, the parent or legal guardian must have a permanent residence within approximately 30 miles of campus or within Allegheny County. Families who relocate temporarily to the Pittsburgh area are not eligible for commuter status. There are no exceptions to this policy.


Carnegie Mellon University’s teaching philosophy is that all students learn by doing. The NHSGA enthusiastically embraces that philosophy and every student will learn all the skills needed to develop video games.

In Weeks 1-3, students attend classes that teach best practices and core skills needed in game development. Every student takes classes in the following disciplines: 2D and 3D art, software development, music composition, audio, game design, production, management, and interactive narrative.

In Weeks 4-6, students are divided into teams based on a combination of their area of interest and skills as demonstrated in class. No student is guaranteed any specific role on any team. We assign roles with the goal of creating the best possible teams for the current project. One student on each team is chosen to be the team’s producer. All other students receive deep instruction in all areas and will be ready to perform any role on the team to which they're assigned.

This program is a rigorous and demanding six-week experience. Participation throughout the entire six weeks is critical.

Curriculum Includes:

Weeks 1-3

In the first three weeks of the program, class instruction consists of daily lectures and workshops centered on crucial skills needed to build a video game.

Topics include*:
  • programming in Unity
  • 2D art
  • 3D art
  • project management
  • storytelling
  • game design
  • animation
  • sound design/music composition
*all receiving equal weight
During the first three weeks, students have assigned homework every night in every class. The NHSGA instructors evaluate the homework to assess student competence and assign the students to their teams for project work. A typical class day includes five hours of classes and two to three hours of homework.

Weeks 4-6

Student teams work on a one-week project to better understand how games are created.
After the first collaborative project, new teams build an original video game. In this project, teams are selected by faculty to maximize each student’s potential for success based on performance observations.

This project begins with a pitch process where the team presents three ideas to faculty. One is selected and the team builds it from scratch, using the expertise acquired in their classwork combined with daily hands-on mentoring by the faculty.
After the game project work begins, we historically find teams often work at least 8 hours every day driven by their own enthusiasm to complete a project of which they will be proud and submit with their college applications.
At the end of the six weeks, student teams present their games to an audience of faculty, students, and guests with feedback provided.

Games will be all-original ideas, playable on hardware assigned by the faculty, and designed to become a portfolio piece students could use in the college admission process.

Eligibility and Application Requirements

To be eligible for the NHSGA program, students must:
  • Be at least 16 years old by the program start date (to participate in the residential program).
  • Have an academic average of B (3.0/4.0) or better.
  • Have a strong interest in the entertainment industry (film, video games, tabletop games, music, etc.) and one of the following areas:
    • Software Development
    • Game Generalist (willing and able to explore a variety of roles, a highly valuable team role)
    • Visual Arts or Graphic Design
    • Sound Design or Music Composition
  • Demonstrate the ability to succeed in creative, collaborative coursework and/or projects.
The application for the NHSGA program will consist of the following:
  • Completed online application
  • Unofficial transcript
  • Standardized test scores (optional)
  • One Letter of Recommendation
  • Responses to essay prompts
  • Sample(s) of your creative work of all types (videos, music, images, art, writings, poetry, etc.).
Students must submit at least one portfolio piece that demonstrates their passion and ability in one of the following areas: 
  • Software Development
  • Game Generalist (willing and able to explore a variety of roles, a highly valuable team role; this can be in the form of an analysis of a game or a game proposal/design document)
  • Visual Arts or Graphic Design
  • Sound Design or Music Composition
Essays required for the following prompts (300-500 words each):
  • What do you hope to gain from participating in Carnegie Mellon’s Pre-College Programs?
  • Choose one of the following NHSGA short answer questions (300-500 words):
    • Tell us about your favorite game. Why do you like it?
    • Tell us about a time you worked within a team.
    • Tell us why you would like to participate in the NHSGA.
    • Tell us about something you are passionate about (outside of school and gaming).
Where are the game academy classes held?
  • The National High School Game Academy classes are held on our satellite campus at the Entertainment Technology Center. Students are transported by bus to and from their classes every day.
Is this a programming class?
  • This is not solely a programming curriculum. If students have those expectations, they will be disappointed. It is multi-disciplinary.
Do I have to attend the entire six weeks of classes?
  • Yes. Students will be working with a team in NHSGA, with each team member having a defined team role. It is critical that all team members remain engaged until the end of the six weeks. Each teams’ efforts will culminate with a final presentation on the last day of the program.