Carnegie Mellon University

Are you ready to tell your story? 

Storytelling is the process of uncovering, understanding, and sharing stories. Whether through words or images, stories unite us and help create a mutual space for understanding ourselves and each other. That’s what the Pre-College Writing & Culture program works to develop: skilled, reflective, engaged storytellers who can share our stories well.

Program Overview

In this program, you explore writing, film, design, art, and culture through traditional, historical, and contemporary lenses, on CMU’s campus and throughout Pittsburgh. Throughout the weeks, you produce a body of work anchored in what you have learned about digital poetics and short-form writing, discovered regarding how films are developed and made, and engaged with what knowledge and stories visual design choices express.

The idea of the attic-bound creative is a myth. Writers, film makers, designers, they all live their lives out in the world, not hidden behind closed doors only.

This is not a Language Arts course. But, by participating in this program, you learn to think critically, express your thoughts creatively, and write effectively for college and beyond.


The Pre-College Writing & Culture program is an intensive program that introduces students to the range of ways to tell a story. Guided by the mentorship and instruction of the Department of English’s highly distinguished faculty members, you analyze complex, ever-changing problems through astute investigations of culture and society through written text and visual media. You also identify how to think through design choices for film production, cutting-edge poetic and short-form writing, and visual design. Above all, you gain a toolkit that allows you to interpret written and visual stories with fresh eyes and anticipate different viewpoints.

This program provides highly individualized feedback and guidance, drawing on each student’s personal strengths and interests. Through the breadth of experiences in this program, you gather concepts and ideas, using them to fuel your own body of work.

Classes, meetings, and enrichment activities are held Monday through Friday with occasional special events on weekends.

Students attend productions through Pittsburgh’s world-class cultural scene to experience storytelling in its various forms and from varying perspectives. This includes readings and events with prominent local artists and authors, followed by discussion and analysis in a small group setting. These experiences broaden the way in which students read, understand, discuss, and produce written works and design elements.

During the six weeks, students tour exhibits and permanent collections at Pittsburgh's many world-class museums and of Pittsburgh film locations to explore the connection between words and visual settings. Considering Writing & Culture in a rich historical context across print, visual, and film media, exploration includes hands-on visits to the Carnegie Mellon Archives and Fine & Rare Book Rooms, as well as maker workshops that explore book arts, film and filmmaking, and visual storytelling.

Each student receives personal mentorship and discussion in a creative environment with distinguished faculty from Carnegie Mellon’s Department of English. Faculty include published creative writers, program directors, literary and cultural studies scholars, rhetoricians, and technologists at the cutting edge of digital humanities scholarship.

From talking with alumni to gaining insights into career paths in English and related cross-disciplines, students regularly encounter college-level professional development opportunities. They also access mentorship on college application essays and resume writing from Carnegie Mellon’s Writing & Communication faculty, staff, and students. Upon completion of the program, students may request a recommendation letter and are inducted into a growing Pre-College Writing & Culture alumni network that provides continued support for future endeavors.

Program Schedule

Students learn and engage through several classroom courses and extracurricular activities. While many concepts are fluid across Department of English programs, the six weeks of Pre-College Writing & Culture have been sectioned by specific correlated themes and techniques.


Engaging in the craft of creative writing, students train their skills to connect individual writing to larger, significant messages, both personal and political. Topics are self-selected based upon areas of personal interest and used to inspire poetic and short-form writing. Students have opportunities to learn and practice different presentation techniques for their works.

With a focus on film, students sharpen cultural analysis, critical writing, and interpretive skills. Film is not just cameras, actors, and directors, but also scripts and stories that are part of cultural and social contexts. In this approach to studying film and visual media, the emphasis is on writing critically as well as creatively. In this course, students can connect a variety of interests in an interdisciplinary way around film and culture.

Connect with Your Readers: Designing a Lasting Impression (Weeks 5-6)

Through visual communication and editing, students explore design techniques and new CMU-developed technologies to notice patterns in written and designed documents. Students prepare their writing for publication, gaining strategies for critiquing and revising documents to communicate strong stories. Students also visit the Fine & Rare Book Rooms in the university library to consider historical and cultural contexts for visual design conventions.

Field professionals and Department of English alumni serve as guest speakers, discussing their personal career journeys and the many pathways from a humanities and English-focused undergraduate degree. Students discover different ways in which their passion for writing and culture can leverage an English degree into a viable career. This culminates in students producing professional writing documents that can be used for jobs and college applications, such as resumes and college application essays.


Each week, extracurricular activities occur to enrich students’ experiences and expand cultural connections. Although events vary each year, some example activities include: attending author readings, touring cultural sites, learning bookbinding, and creating illuminated texts. These activities take place at various times and places during the six weeks.

Eligibility & Application Requirements

  • Be at least 16 years old by the program start date.

  • Be a current sophomore or junior in high school at time of application submission.

  • Have an academic average of B (3.0/4.0) and/or have received a B or higher in their last English class.

  • Completed online application

  • Unofficial transcript

  • Standardized test scores (optional)

  • One letter of recommendation

  • Responses to essay prompts

  • Portfolio of selected work that can include up to 3 samples, including video

Essays are required for the following prompts (300-500 words each):

  1. What do you hope to gain from participating in Carnegie Mellon’s Pre-College Programs?
  2. What kinds of media (film, books, etc.) do you enjoy most and why?
  3. Tell us about what kinds of work you have produced, whether in writing or across various kinds of media.