What is it Like to Attend University of Pittsburgh?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Brian is a New York City tutor specializing in MCAT prep tutoring, Physics tutoring, Algebra tutoring, and much more. He graduated from University of Pittsburgh in 2009 with a Bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences. See what he had to say about his school:

VT: Describe the campus setting and transportation options. How urban or safe is the campus? Are there buses or do you need a car/bike?

Brian: The University of Pittsburgh’s main campus is in the heart of the city’s Oakland neighborhood. While it has the feel of a college town, the university buildings are interspersed amongst city restaurants, shops, and cafes, so you’ll never be isolated from the rest of the world. There is always something to do, and everything you need is within walking distance. If something is slightly farther away, city buses are free to use for University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon students. Many students ride bikes around campus, and usually only commuters bring cars. Taxicabs and $5 limo services are also available for students interested in exploring other parts of the city.

Although the campus is in the city, Oakland and the surrounding neighborhoods are extremely safe. Dorm entrances require swipe access by 24-hour security guards. University police are very responsive to incidents and work closely with the city police. The university also provides its own campus bus service, as well as SafeRider, an on-call van shuttle service for non-emergency transportation during the evening and early-morning hours.

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

Brian: Professors, advisers, and teaching assistants (TAs) are as available as you choose to utilize them. I have never had a problem going to a professor or TA for help, whether for their class or for career advice and letters of recommendation for summer internships and medical school. To this day, I still keep in touch with a couple of my professors and make sure I stop by their offices when I revisit Pittsburgh.

The Department of Biology and pre-medicine advisers were wonderful, and I would often stop by in-between classes just to chat with them about non-academic issues. They were key for getting me into medical school.

The world-renowned University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Presbyterian and Montefiore Hospitals are also on campus and provide many research and volunteer opportunities for students interested in the healthcare fields.

VT: How would you describe the dorm life – rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?

Brian: There are numerous undergraduate dorm options ranging from single rooms to suites with private bathrooms-- even apartment-style complexes for upperclassmen with separate rooms, kitchens, bathrooms, and living rooms. Most dorms have their own 24-hour fitness centers in addition to the three campus gyms. Housing options are located throughout the campus and are chosen based on a lottery system favoring upperclassmen. Seniors are not guaranteed university housing, and many students move off-campus after their freshman year. Off-campus housing can be within walking distance and is extremely cheap. I was paying just over $400 a month, which included all utilities, but knew of friends who paid even less.

There are numerous dining options both on and off-campus. The university requires students living in dormitories to purchase meal plans, which can be used at cafeterias and Starbucks coffee carts all throughout the campus. As mentioned earlier, there are numerous private eateries and bars in the city that have wonderful deals and half-off menus for students. In warmer weather, Schenley Plaza has a large lawn and outdoor seating for their unique cafes.

There is so much to do as a student in Pittsburgh. PITT football games are played at Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and are a great opportunity to hang out with friends and make new ones while cheering on the Panthers. Student tickets are ridiculously cheap and allow one to sit right up to the first row of the lower levels! The university provides shuttle service to the stadium and also sponsors a tailgate for every home game, providing free hot dogs and food, as well as grills to cook them on. PITT basketball games are played on campus at the Petersen Events Center. There are also cheap tickets with a courtside student section.

Pitt also has large state-of-the-art recreational facilities, including the 40,000 square foot Baierl Student Recreation Center. It features cardio equipment, free weights, a matted stretching area, a multi-purpose room, and racquetball courts. There are two other fitness centers on campus, as well as an Olympic-size swimming pool, basketball courts, more racquetball courts, and other multi-purpose rooms with boxing and kick-boxing equipment.

VT: Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? What did you study and why? Did the university do a good job supporting your particular area of study?

Brian: The sciences are extremely strong at the University of Pittsburgh, especially anything that has to do with medicine due to the affiliated world-class hospital system. The nursing and physical therapy programs are amongst the top 10 in the nation, and the pharmacy school is extremely strong as well. I cannot speak much about other majors, but my former roommate was a business and political science major who recently graduated from law school at Pitt and who mentions it as a top program.

I majored in the Biological Sciences and had minors in Chemistry and Religious Studies. I was always interested in biology and found myself even more interested in medicine, so I chose the major that I did. As mentioned earlier, the department’s advisers and pre-medical adviser were wonderful.

VT: 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?

Brian: It was rather easy to meet people right away, as the university puts a huge emphasis on the orientation week before classes begin. They sponsor tons of social activities to get students together and comfortable transitioning to college.

While there is a large Greek presence on campus, they are friendly to non-members and will occasionally host events that allow non-Greek students to attend. Many of my friends were in fraternities and sororities, but I chose not to join. Even so, I was invited to hang out at their houses and attended Halloween gatherings and sorority date nights. Outside of fraternities and sororities, there are numerous opportunities for socializing.

VT: How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? Do many reputable companies recruit on campus? 

Brian: I did not take advantage of the Career Center, as I knew I was going to pursue post-graduate studies. I got my advice from the pre-medical adviser. The school does host a career fair once a semester at the Petersen Events Center, which always has an enormous turnout by many reputable companies.

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

Brian: Hillman Library is the main library on campus, and it has a large study area and floors with quiet study rooms. This library is the most popular and tends to get crowded, especially during finals week. Students are free to use numerous other libraries around campus that are quieter and far less crowded. Any of the classrooms in buildings throughout the campus are also fair game for student use, provided there are no classes taking place at the time. The Cathedral of Learning is a truly unique place to study in its castle-like environment or in its Nationality Rooms. The 33rd floor of the building also has a study area with an amazing view of the city. In warmer weather, many students study outside at outdoor tables and benches or on lawns throughout the campus. Students are also given a printing quota every semester, which they can use at seven computer labs throughout the campus that have Windows, Macintosh, and Linux computers.

“Nordy’s Place” (after Chancellor Nordenberg) is the university’s newly renovated student union that has a snack bar, dining area, flat screen HDTVs, table tennis, billiards, and other games-- even live performances. Each floor of every dorm that does not have suites or apartment-style living has a lounge with tables, couches, and TVs for student use.

VT: Describe the surrounding town. What kinds of outside establishments / things to do are there that make it fun, boring, or somewhere in between? To what extent do students go to the downtown area of the city versus staying near campus? 

Brian: As mentioned above, the campus is integrated into the city, so there is something to do for everyone. Division I and professional sports teams are huge in Pittsburgh, and it is hard to not get sucked into it. Pittsburghers are die-hard Pittsburgh sports fans and “bleed black and gold.”

Pittsburgh is an extremely cultured city boasting world-class museums, including the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and Carnegie Museum of Art, as well as the Andy Warhol Museum, all free and easily accessible to students. The Strip District is a market district featuring fresh foods and produce and shops of all cultures.

For religious observers or those who are simply curious, Pittsburgh churches and temples have gorgeous architecture and are extremely welcoming to students and visitors, often providing free meals and social events.

For the outdoorsman/woman, there are numerous trails to bike, as well as multiple opportunities for hiking/camping and hunting just outside of the city.

Although students will usually stay near campus on an average day, most students will take advantage of the abundant opportunities around the city throughout their college careers.

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

Brian: There are about 4,000 undergraduate students a year, which makes for a sizable student body. Because of this, the Student Government Board is taken seriously and is provided with a lot of responsibility and power for decision-making.

General and introductory classes are large and will often be 300-400+ students.  Upper-level courses will be much smaller and will often be only 10-20 students.  This was perfect for me, as much less individual attention is needed in introductory classes, while more difficult upper-level courses allowed students to interact closely with professors.

The University Honors College offers courses in all areas of study with smaller class sizes (10-20) even in introductory-level classes, but they tend to be more difficult and involve term papers.

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

Brian: Pitt offers many great electives, both serious and recreational. While I had a blast taking fun courses such as scuba diving, jiu jitsu, sports conditioning, and EMT, my most memorable experience with a class turned out to not be one of my strongest or favorite classes.

Writing has never been my strength, but during my junior year, I decided to take the upper-level writing course “Research Writing” even after hearing how tough the course was. I worked extremely hard and diligently, but struggled through it. I got a low-70 on my first paper and was devastated, but I did not give up. I talked to the teacher and asked for extra help and tips for improving. I took advantage of the writing center on campus and picked up pointers there, as well. I improved drastically as the course went on and got a 96 on my final paper, though it was not enough to overcome my slow start, and my average fell just shy of 90. While the end result was not what I envisioned for myself, I was extremely pleased with the experience and my improvement over the semester, as was the professor. I stayed in touch with her the rest of my college career and the year after, and she was more than happy to write a letter of recommendation in support of my applying to medical school. 

VT: Anything else you’d like to add?

Brian: The moment I stepped foot on the University of Pittsburgh campus, I knew that was where I was going to college. I applied to very few schools and up to as late as January, I had only applied to (and got accepted by) Rutgers University. I ended up applying to three other schools, but I didn’t send in my Pittsburgh application until the end of March. I had no special desire to go to any particular school and would have been happy staying in New Jersey where I was born and raised, but visiting the city of Pittsburgh in April of senior year prodded me to take a chance and experience a completely different setting than I was used to. I made my decision right then and there and never looked back… 

Check out Brian’s tutoring profile.

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