University of Pittsburgh (visited 11/7/15)
I was expecting a bit more of a campus feel from Pitt, but the university is very much incorporated into the city. The “crowning glory” is the Cathedral of Learning, a 42-story tower that looms over much of the area; the story is that when the university moved to its currently location, they wanted everyone in the city to know where it was … hence the tower. It was constructed in 1936-37, and contains classrooms, offices, and Nationality Rooms; all of them reflect the country at the time except for two: the French room (built in Napoleonic style), and the Early American room (as a side note, it’s supposedly haunted). The main room has large vaulted ceilings (very Harry Potteresque); it’s normally filled with tables and gets used as a meeting and studying area; during the holidays, it gets decked out, and banquets and dinners are often held in here. They also bring therapy dogs into this area on Tuesdays.
This is a public university but is not part of Pennsylvania’s university systems (Penn State & affiliates or the Penn. System of Higher Education). Originally opening in a log cabin in 1787, it’s now coed and home to more than 18,000 undergraduates – “but it feels small. I recognize a lot of people,” said our tour guide. It’s a relatively compact campus, taking about 10 minutes to walk from one end to the other. It’s easy to walk to off-campus areas, and public transportation is free for students. The college also runs shuttles to the airport, student athletic games, and more.
This is the first year that more than 50% of students have come from out-of-state. Students are guaranteed housing for 3 years. Rent in town is cheap (a friend of the tour guide pays $300 a month) and housing is easy to find. Eight of the freshmen halls are traditional dorms; the last one has suites. Sophomores are usually in suites and juniors tend to get campus apartments. Only about 9% of the student are Greek-affiliated “but it’s going up.” Rush is delayed and there are no sorority houses, but groups can live together in dorms if they want.
“The academic culture here is really collaborative. It’s not cutthroat. People are nice. They’re happy to be here,” said the tour guide. He couldn’t be happier with his education and the opportunities presented to him. He’s an Art History and PoliSci double major and isn’t having problems completing the requirements or getting to know professors who “are really accessible: I had one hold extra office hours at Dunkin’ Donuts down the street.” Almost all the faculty are full-time; the 6% of faculty who are adjuncts are professionals in their field, such as a police officer teaching forensics, etc.
All students must have a major and a minor (or a double major). If they aren’t finding classes they’re interested in (hard to imagine with the number offered), they can cross-register at one of nine area schools including Carnegie Mellon (literally across the street) or Carlow, about half a mile away. One of his friends took Bag-piping at CMU. Pitt also teams up with CMU to offer ROTC (Army and AF at Pitt, Navy at Case Western).
One of the special programs that Pitt offers is OCC (“Outside the Classroom Curriculum”) to help students engage in a variety of extra-curricular programming and events. There are 10 goal areas including wellness, career prep, and Pitt Pride; students get a $5000 scholarship every SEMESTER after they complete this!
Sports are a big deal here (and Pitt owns the home plate from the 1970 Pirates v. Cubs game, on display in one of the buildings). We visited on a game day; lots of schools buses were shuttling students to and from the stadium, kids were decked out in Pitt gear (including face paint), and there was a general sense of festivity in the air. Students pay $25 for a season football pass to Pitt football games, but most sports do draw out a lot of fans. Temple, Penn State, and Notre Dame are their big rivals. The major league sports in town give students deals if they want to professional sports: There are $7 nights for the Pirates, and the Penguins cost $27 for a “random seat – you could be in the nose bleed section or up against the glass,” said the tour guide.
For students wanting more than sports, Pittsburgh doesn’t disappoint. Town-gown relations are good, and lots of places cater to the large college population in town. For example, our tour guide got $25 tickets to Wicked. Pittsburgh has any kind of entertainment you want – museums, music, movies, food, etc. In the park across the street from campus, Conflict Kitchen has set up shop: it only serves food from countries that the US is in conflict with. They were serving Iraqi food when I visited.
Students interested in the schools of Nursing, Engineering, Business, and Arts & Sciences enter those directly. Students interested in the other schools (Social Work, Education, Info Sciences, Pharmacy, Health and Rehabilitation Sciences) must complete prerequisites and begin their major in the junior year if they qualify. A few noteworthy majors included Applied Developmental Psychology, Urban Studies, Mathematical Biology, History and Philosophy of Science, Ecology and Evolution, and Linguistics. Unusual minors include either Polymer or Petroleum Engineering, Aerobics, and Aquatics.
Applicants who visit Pitt (take a tour or attend a visit day) can get their application fee waived.