First Impressions: Carnegie Mellon University (PA)

Carnegie Mellon was the last stop in my recent visit to the Pittsburgh area, and I will probably return to learn more about the different schools there. I have gathered my First Impressions and also invite you to view a Pinterest page. 

Carnegie Mellon has one of the most accomplished alumni bases you will find anywhere, and one of the more eclectic college communities that you can ever visit. Faculty and alumni include 20 Nobel Prize winners, 12 Turing Award (in computer science) winners, and more than 150 Academy, Emmy and Tony Award winners. Chances are quite good that you recently used a product—especially on your computer—or saw a movie, play or television show that involved someone from Carnegie Mellon. If you read a business magazine over the past month, chances are that at least one ‘C-level’ executive featured in an interview went to this school. 

A mid-sized (6,400 undergraduate) university, organized around six undergraduate schools as well as flexible cross-disciplinary programs, Carnegie Mellon is one of the best places not only to get an education, but also to build a professional network, or even find a future business partner, presuming that you can get in. This is also one school where students are more likely to stick with their intended major, especially in computing, the visual arts and performing arts. Carnegie Mellon also has one of the most transparent admissions offices when it comes to sharing information. You can easily obtain admissions data about any of the undergraduate schools when you visit; it’s right on the wall in a welcoming waiting area.

Its tough to get into Carnegie Mellon. Across the full applicant pool, only 13 percent of the prospective freshmen who wanted to be part of the current class did. Acceptance rates for the Schools of Computer Science, Drama, Design and Information Systems were eight percent, or less. None of the undergraduate schools had an average ACT Composite score below 31. With the exception of the College of Fine Arts, a 1400 SAT (out of 1600) would put someone in the 25th percentile of the freshman class.  The majority of the incoming freshmen were women for the first time in the university’s history. Women represented nearly half of the entering class in the School of Computer Science, 43 percent of the first-year contingent in the College of Engineering and 57 percent of new entrants into the Tepper School of Business. 

While Carnegie Mellon has one of the brightest and most talented student bodies at any US college or university, it is not a “spirit and sports” school like Duke, Northwestern or Stanford. The Division III athletics are low profile, especially with a greater share of students enrolled in the more demanding majors. Students will party, relax and decompress as they do anyplace else, but they will have less time for it. When they have the time, they can spend it in Pittsburgh, one of America’s best college towns. Living and entertainment costs in the Steel City are less than they are in Boston or New York, and the mobility is  much better. While the campus resembles Columbia or MIT, as you’ll see in my First Impressions, it feels less congested. Carnegie Mellon is located between two of Pittsburgh’s nicer residential areas, Shadyside and Oakland, close to downtown, but far enough to have more of a college town vibe. 

Carnegie Mellon has one major downside. It’s a very expensive school, comparable in price to others that its students have considered such as Ivies or MIT. However, it does not have the endowment those schools have to offer gift aid, and offers few merit scholarships. While nearly half of the Class of 2016 borrowed nothing to cover the costs of their education, those who had to take out loans borrowed, on average, over $31,000 from the Federal Direct Student Loan program and other sources. That might not be much concern to those who have a job waiting for them at Apple, Google or Microsoft. But the debt could be a serious burden to a promising artist or entrepreneur. 

Carnegie Mellon is one of the very best research universities in the world. Anyone who comes ready to work will graduate in a position to do good work for a lifetime, as long as the costs to be there are within their means.

Report Card: Carnegie Mellon University

  • 4-Year/6-Year Graduation Rates: A/A
  • Freshman Retention: A
  • Costs: C+
  • Curriculum: A
  • Community: A
  • Comforts: B+
  • Connections: A

Check out my First Impressions of Carnegie Mellon!

Check out my Carnegie Mellon Pinterest Page!

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