campus encounters

"Get the first-hand scoop about colleges and universities"

Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University (visited 11/7/15 and 5/25/16)

~CMU signCMU has a wonderful reputation for Computer Science and other STEM fields … but did you know that they also are highly ranked for Dance? It’s also 1 of 2 schools in the country to offer a degree in Bagpipe Performance. They take their Scottish heritage very seriously here! The official color is plaid, but “that’s hard to accessorize” so people wear maroon, gray, and white. The official mascot is a tartan, but unofficially, it’s the Scottie dog.

~CMU quad students

Students on the quad

In many ways, this is a nicer campus than the University of Pittsburgh in terms of it being an actual campus (rather than Pitt’s more urban feel). There is lots of activity on the campus between classes, and students tend to be a bit on the quirky side. When walking around on our own, we talked to a few students, two of whom were Computer Science majors, one from Seattle and one from Florida. “It’s the #1 program in the country,” said one when we asked why she chose Carnegie Mellon. Neither had much to say about the university itself which in some ways is telling.

~CMU walkway

The CS buildings with the raised walkway.

Students here are smart and motivated. Many of the kids here sailed through high school. They don’t know what it’s like to spend 4 or 5 hours a night doing work. “I’m stunned by the volume of people using the tutorial services and study sessions. Almost all the freshmen classes have them, and beyond that, any class that historically has been a sticking point will have them.” About 2/3 of classes have fewer than 20 students. The only class not taught by a full professor is English 101; these sections are led by PhD candidates in order to keep them small.

About 40% of students have a minor and 10% double major. The School of Humanities and Social Sciences is the most diverse and most flexible with 60 options for majors. Students can wait until the end of sophomore year to declare their major. Science and Engineering students don’t declare until end of the first year.

CMU dramaGenerally, double majoring in any BFA (drama, music, art) area will be difficult because of the number of credits in the arts required for the degree. The drama department actively discourages double majoring because they really want the students to focus on their major. Music, however, seems to be more accommodating. However, the BXA Intercollege Degree Program does allow students to combine a BFA and others. Students sacrifice a bit of depth in the original field, and participating in this program requires students to make connections and intersections between the 2 chosen fields. This program really is for those who want to investigate how the 2 inform each other. For example, students have combined Psych and Music or Chem and Ceramics. The students must be admitted to both the academic and the fine arts departments.

~CMU outdoor classroom

CMU’s outdoor classroom

Another notable interdisciplinary program is IDeAte (Integrative Design, Arts & Technology Network). The coursework students complete is equivalent to a minor in areas like Educational Technology, Game Design, Intelligent Environments, and Sound Media Design. They put together an interdisciplinary team and then apply creativity and teamwork to technology.

Many of CMU’s programs tend towards the interdisciplinary, even if they aren’t specifically stated as such. For example, their Business programs are more quantitative than most. “Quantitative analysis is our wheel house. What does the data tell us to do?” Students earn a Bachelor of Science so “it’s hard core.” Because of this focus, “I took math classes alongside engineers,” said one of the students. They’re learning from each other rather than students in different majors being separated out.

~CMU quad 1However, when students apply, they get accepted by a college, not just to the university. Students can transfer between schools as long as there is space and they qualify, but it’s more difficult into the more competitive schools. Econ, CS, and Engineering tend to over-enroll. For example, they got 7000 apps for 350 spots in CS.

The BArch program also requires that students demonstrate that they really want to be there. The application ask a lot of questions to get at whether students have a realistic view of what the profession is really like. “Architects look like science students – lots of math and science, but with an artistic portfolio.” The program is 5 years (required for the credential) with an additional 2-year apprenticeship before taking the exam. CMU highly recommends completing a pre-college architecture program.

~CMU acad bldg 4If CMU can’t admit a student to their first choice major, what’s listed as the second choice can determine admission. “There are some combos we know are historically going to mean that students will be unhappy. We look for genuine interest in the 2nd choice and evidence that they really will be happy in that major,” said the Dean of Admission.

According to the Dean, Cornell is their big competitor (“They do what we do but on a grander scale”), but they also compete with MIT for straight STEM programs, followed by Princeton, RPI, and Penn. Surprisingly, the top feeder state is CA (with 2 times as many Californians as any other state), followed by NY, PA, and NJ.

~CMU athleticsEarly Decision accounts for 20-25% of incoming classes. Demonstrated interest can factor into regular decisions, but it plays much more of a roll in the waitlist process. They only pulled 12 kids off waitlist this year, but they do all financial aid packages in March so even waitlisted students know what they’re going to get. This is the first year they’ve met full financial need. “We like to make a solid commitment, but right now it has to be year-to-year. It’s been challenging.” There is no financial assistance for international students, but there may soon be merit awards for them.

~CMU food truckThere’s a wide variety of housing options included themed living, single-gender (both male and female), and gender-inclusive housing. There is no centralized dining hall. Instead, venders come in. “It keeps people from going to the same place over and over and getting bored.”

© 2016


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