What is it Like to Attend Carnegie Mellon University?

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Douglas specializes in algebra tutoring and physics tutoring. He graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. Interested in attending Carnegie Mellon University? Check out the college experience interview below.

Describe the campus setting and transportation options.

Douglas: Carnegie Mellon University is a great middle ground for students looking for a beautiful, green campus with traditional quads and outdoor gathering areas adjacent to an urban center. The campus is large and singular, considering its position in the Oakland neighborhood of the city of Pittsburgh. The campus itself was extremely safe, and there were very few reported crime incidents in my four years at the school. As part of the student activities fund built into tuition costs, Carnegie Mellon University provides free bus transit and entrance into local museums and venues with a student ID. You do not need a car or bike on the campus (especially in your freshman and sophomore years).

How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?

Douglas: The teaching staff at Carnegie Mellon University are obviously very busy, as you would expect from professors performing research at most universities. With that being said, my experience with professors and teaching assistants (TAs) was extremely positive. Professors and TAs post their office hours and contact information on the first day of every class. In addition, one-on-one meetings could be scheduled with professors and TAs with one week’s notice.

How would you describe the dorm life—rooms, dining options, location, and socialization opportunities with other students?

Douglas: Housing and meal plans are expensive at Carnegie Mellon University, but they are required for freshman students for at least one semester. The school allows you to pick your top three dorm locations before your first day. The rooms and dining areas are clean and are centrally located within a half mile of all freshman dorms/academic buildings. The school has many clubs and Greek organizations that are important outlets for students to develop their interests at Carnegie Mellon University.

Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? 

Douglas: The School of Computer Science and the electrical and computer engineering major in the Carnegie Institute of Technology are the top-rated programs. All programs are well supported. My major was mechanical engineering. The college did a great job of integrating micro-controllers and other ECE topics into design classes in mechanical engineering. For example, my mechatronics capstone class required teams of mech-e’s and ECE’s to collaborate on a master’s level capstone project.

The school does an excellent job instilling the fundamentals of engineering. (I cannot speak for non-engineering majors as I have little experience.) One frequent criticism is that the school prepares students for the rigors of a PhD in their area of study, but does not engage students with collaborative design projects until the beginning of their junior year. With that being said, I still felt prepared for the workplace after graduation.

How easy or difficult was it for you to meet people and make friends as a freshman? Does Greek life play a significant role in the campus social life?

Douglas: I personally chose to join a fraternity at the beginning of my sophomore year after trying a few clubs. I became close with my freshman floormates, but struggled initially to branch out to friends outside our dorm. Being active in a campus-wide club is important when trying to meet a broad range of people. Greek life has a large presence at Carnegie Mellon University at between 20-25%. Each group of people have their own group personalities, and there is a place for everyone if they are interested.

How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? 

Douglas: The school hosts career fair events that are crucial to landing a job after college. The Technical Opportunities Conference in the early fall semester for engineering and computer science students, alongside the Business Opportunities Conference for Tepper Business School, provides chances to meet university recruiters face to face during a two-day event. Many students land interviews the following week on campus in the career center. The career center partners with a wide range of companies and has a great reputation with those companies.

How are the various study areas, such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges? Are they over-crowded, easily available, spacious?

Douglas: With a relatively smaller student base, the large Carnegie Mellon campus is rarely crowded. There are tons of places outdoors to study or meet friends when the weather is nice.

Describe the surrounding town.

Douglas: The campus is surrounded by three communities. South and southeast of campus, the Schenley Park network of open parks is a great place to unwind in the warmer months. It is the biggest park network in Pittsburgh, providing great views of downtown Pittsburgh and Oakland. On the west side of campus, Oakland is home to Pittsburgh University. It is an urban area with many great places to explore. Downtown Pittsburgh is a 12-minute bus ride away, whereas Oakland is walking distance. People go to Oakland frequently, but downtown trips are more of a weekend excursion.  

How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?

Douglas: In 2014, the school enrolled 13,285 students according to the school’s website. That figure is broken down roughly 50/50 between graduate and undergraduate students. Freshman year classes are large because there is overlap between requirements for many majors. In my opinion, this is unavoidable. TA breakout reviews scheduled during the week are a more manageable maximum of about 25 students where questions can be answered. 

Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.

Douglas: I will always remember my experience with our school’s introductory economics requirement class, Principles of Economics. Professor Klepper, who sadly passed away in 2013, was particularly influential in my college experience. His class was notoriously difficult, and his exams were also difficult. His exam was the first test many freshman took in college. I scored under a 50%, along with a large portion of the class. Professor Klepper called meetings with every student who scored below a 50% on the first test with their TA in attendance. In our private meeting, he asked how much I had prepared for the exam and what methods I had used to study. He developed extra review sessions (which he taught) for me and the other struggling students. He told me in the private meeting that he “was absolutely positive that I could get an A on the next test and a B in the class overall if I was willing to put in the work and attend the scheduled review sessions.” He was correct, and his guidance during a very vulnerable stage in my college development helped me to understand that a bad grade should motivate you, not demoralize you.

Check out Douglas’ tutoring profile.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.